Disclaimer: Joss owns all. I own four cats, half a house, and a dyspeptic Chevy Caprice. Please don't sue -- you wouldn't want any of them.

Spoilers: If it isn't obvious from context, and I hope it is, this trilogy is set between 'Restless' and 'Out of My Mind' -- though a few Buffy season 4 events were obviously affected by the AU.

Notes: Inspired by a poem of James Walkwithwind's, called A Thousand Dreams To Be Had.

Stuck In the Middle

I don't get why I'm in the middle. It ought to be Spike. It's Spike who drove that piece of shit car of his back and forth between Sunnydale and L.A. for months, and thought I didn't know where he'd been. Thought I couldn't smell hairgel and Drakkar Noir on him when he picked the lock on my basement door, like he always did, and slid back into that ugly red barcalounger they decided was hideous enough to throw down here for me to use. He never would just come to bed; he had to sit and stare at me a while, wait until I opened my eyes and acknowledged that he was there, and gave him permission. Spike, who never asks permission for anything, wouldn't come within a foot of the crappy fold-out couch unless I told him he could.

The Tuesday after Memorial Day, he showed back up, and I waited a long time to open my eyes, after I heard the lockpick turning the tumblers in the new deadbolt, after I heard the tiny squeaks as he came down the stairs. It had been two weeks since we came up from the Initiative base and I looked around for him, to tell him it was okay, that I forgave him-- and he was gone. The others were relieved; they didn't have to deal with him, didn't have to deal with me still being with him. I had nightmares. What if he hadn't made it out? The last time I saw him he was pulling some hairy, toothy son-of-a-bitch off me, and then he ran out into the crowd of monsters again, with that duster snapping behind him like he thought he was Angel or something. Just a flash of neon blond hair in the mosh-pit of bobbing heads and flying fists, and I couldn't see him anymore.

So I waited around the basement, as the gang came around less and less, getting on with their own lives, and I stared at the walls. The ones he'd covered with his posters, since I've got no taste, according to him. Sex Pistols and horror movie ads and that disgusting Spitting Image one of Gary Glitter. Looks like a Muppet version of Elvis if somebody barfed rhinestones and sequins all over him. It's an ad for BBC Radio Four that he ripped off from an Underground station sometime while I was in middle school, and no, Spike doesn't make me feel like jailbait. Not at all. He put up a map of the Tube, too, all coordinated in pretty colors. Never been outside California except for one trip to visit the grandparents in Cleveland, but I'll bet you if you dropped me in London, I could find my way from Cockfosters to Hatton Cross, wherever the hell they are besides on the Piccadilly Line, after staring at that poster every time Spike took off for L.A, and for two weeks straight at the end of May.

When I heard that metal scrape in the lock, I thought I was imagining things. Or maybe my dad was just a little less drunk than usual, and decided he was gonna try to get reacquainted, since the black DeSoto hadn't been parked in back for a while. But even Dad's not that stupid, not since Spike found out. Rammed him up against the wall with his hands around Dad's throat, fuck the chip, fuck everything, and Dad was unconscious before he saw Spike hit the floor. He never saw me drag Spike back downstairs and put him in the bed, and neither of them saw me cry, thank God. Dad never did touch me again, hadn't even looked me straight in the eye since then, and it wasn't him. I kept my eyes closed, and the movements were too quiet to be anybody but Spike, and there wasn't any breathing, just the little creak of that chair as he sat down in it, and I finally opened my eyes.

Damn if he didn't look even skinnier than he did before he left. And a little scared, but happy, too, those quirky lips caught between a frown and a smile, the way he always was when he got back from Angel's. Because being with Angel made everything okay for a while, and I ought to be jealous, but I'm not. Ought to hate Angel for his pretty hair and his prizefighter's body and how he always seems to have been where I wanted to be before I got there-- but I can't. There's Spike between us, and a hundred years of history between them, and that's why Spike should be in the middle, and I don't know why it's me.

Maybe it's that I knew Angel before I knew Spike-- but back then I was too busy hating him for having what I thought I wanted, to ever look straight at him and see that he was doing what he always does: taking care of someone I loved. Spike won't let you not see, though-- he opens his big smartass mouth and points everything out and you feel like a complete moron, and then if you're lucky, if you're me, he takes you in his arms and says you're cute when you're a dumbass. And so I couldn't hate Angel, had to love him for loving Spike. Have to love him for sending Spike back to me, even if he didn't know it was me then, to sit in my chair and wait for me to nod at him and give him permission to talk.

"Fucked up again." And he always underestimates himself, or maybe just how much I love him, because like usual, he thought I cared. Thought anything he'd done with Adam mattered more than the night that Anya walked away from Sunnydale and demon-hunting commandos and me, and I'd been curled up in my bed trying not to cry, trying not to think about the next time Dad came down those stairs, and Spike... Spike had gotten up out of that damn red chair, slipped those ropes that he could've slipped any time, and come and knelt next to the bed. Stared at me for a while, and asked, very quietly, if he could get in. I thought he was nuts, thought he was playing with my head-- and there wasn't much left to play with at that point-- but I didn't care anymore, so I shrugged and said whatever. And there he was, Spike, thin and cool and he slipped his arms around me and said he understood, and he never laughed when I turned around and fell apart and snotted all over his shirt. His arms felt like the strongest things in the world that night, and ever since.

So I shook my head in May, and pulled back the blanket, and told him to get the hell into the bed, now. Stupid prick. He sees everybody else's ugly little secrets, knows just what they're feeling and can use it to twist them up like those bendy pink dolls with the wires in their arms and legs-- but he can never see in the mirror to figure out that he's better than he lets himself believe he is. He can walk around like he's the devil's gift to anything with a working crotch, but he's totally clueless to that fact that at least two people in the world wouldn't care if he gained a hundred pounds, learned the two-step and changed his name to Bubba. Love him so much that nothing else matters. Not even the smell of Angel on him when he came back into my bed, and held me, and told me he was sorry, over and over and over.

He thinks I'm a kid, he thinks I don't know what he is or was, or I'd kick him out of my life so fast his ass would throw off sparks when it hit the sidewalk. I know. I'm not a complete dumbass. I've seen him kill and I've read the books Giles thinks he hid from me when they all found out about me and Spike. And it doesn't fucking matter. He loves me, no matter what he is, no matter what he's done or who he's killed. Somewhere in the middle of the spring, when he was holding me for the umpteenth time and kissing me and telling me I was his beautiful boy, or maybe later when we were playing video games and eating ice cream, I fell in love with him, too. So it's too late for all that heroic Angel shit, even if Spike could pull it off. Every time he came back, he whispered, real quiet so nobody but me would hear him being all poofy, that he wished he wasn't too selfish to stay away. Every time he sat down in that red chair, I thanked God that he was.

The summer passed, and Spike stayed, and the gang slowly stopped coming at all, once they realized that he was back. It wasn't that they didn't care, or refused to deal, it was just...we'd grown too far apart. They don't need me anymore. Anybody could've done my part in that First Slayer spell. Anybody. Oz, Tara. And with both of them around, Willow has enough to worry about. And I... I needed them to be people they aren't anymore, maybe never were. People who could accept everything, including Spike. (Right, I know, the way I did when Angel was with Buffy. So I'm a hypocrite.) None of them could, quite, though they tried in their own ways. Willow understood the most, but she was scared, and I couldn't take her looking at me like that. Knowing that someday, sooner or later, Spike would ask, and I'd say yes, and we'd come to her for that spell.

And early in September, Riley went kaboom. Only not so loud. Sick. Bad sick. And there was this Initiative doctor, and there was Buffy knocking at my door when I hadn't seen her in over a month. Twisting her hands in front of her and asking if I wanted to bring Spike along. It isn't that they don't love me, you see. It was never that. But his face. Spike's face when they told us that chip was too far in to ever come out. I don't know what was worse: the shock and disappointment, like everything he was had been ripped away, like somebody'd just run over his favorite puppy--- or squished his favorite spider, I guess, in Spike's case-- or the relief. Because he'd never be able to hurt me or anybody I care about, even accidentally.

And that night, he took off. Got into the Fireflite and sped off down the highway, just like I knew he would. Only this time, I didn't wait in the basement for him to come back. Just stood up, took down the posters and rolled them up, and shoved them into the back of my rustbucket, where everything else besides Spike that I give a shit about was already packed. Had been since that morning. Left the door unlocked behind me, and tore out after him. He had a fifteen minute lead on me, and a speeding ticket later, it was up to half an hour, but it didn't really matter. I knew where he was going. After nineteen years of studious application, I've actually figured out how to use the phone book.

Pulled up to this big old hotel where Deadboy's moved, and the front door was unlocked. Walked right past my ex-girlfriend and my ex-rival with my best doofus smile ever, didn't say a word, and followed the smell of menthol and hairgel. There's still a little bit of hyena in here. Just a little. There they were, in a room at the end of the hall, and Spike thinks I have no taste in decorating? It looked like something out of Martha Stewart's Unliving. The two of them, in this big huge dark wooden bed all covered with black satin. Like a newspaper photograph, white skin on black sheets, dark hair on a silver pillowcase, blond hair on a black one. And this space. This space between them, right down the middle. The covers pulled back, and they were both naked, and you could see they'd fit together like nothing was ever meant to be between them, but there was this space, complete with a third pillow, a white one, and they both looked at me. Waiting.

So here I am. They need me, and I never expected that. Back in Sunnydale, they don't need a guy with a fake soldier running around in his head, not when they've got a real one. They don't need a little bit of hyena when they've got a wolf, and they don't need somebody to go out for donuts. Dawn has a real sweet tooth, and if she makes the run, she gets first pick. But here, they didn't have anybody to do any of that, and Wesley's not nearly as good at driving Cordy crazy as I am.

And then there's that space. I don't know why I'm in the middle, like I said. It should be Spike, because we both love him like bibbling idiots. Maybe they both like having somebody warm next to them, for however long that lasts, before we call Willow for that spell. Maybe I make it easier for Angel to never cross that line again, by helping Spike do nasty things to his mousse cans, drawing cartoons in the margins of his dirty Victorian pictures, watching Dangermouse at eight in the morning when he's trying to get to sleep. Pissing him off just enough to keep us all safe. Hmm. Possibly Angel can't exist without my cooking; kind of unlikely, but I did get him to eat a fluffernutter sandwich last week. Or maybe Spike just likes having to put his leg over me to kick Angel out of bed at twilight. All I know is I'm here. In the middle, between them, around them, under them sometimes, and it's the best damn place I've ever been. And I mean including Baskin-Robbins.