Chapter 5: Personal Jesus

Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know I'm a forgiver

Spike's Christmas

Spike, despite the fact he was frequently accused of spending way too much time in his own head, would not remember his trip to the bar. He never remembered the intermediate journey to these little rendezvous of his. In the narrative of his memory, it always went Message, Seething Glares from Roommates, Arrival at Location. He figured he never remembered because there really wasn't much going on. Thinking usually got him into trouble, and to dwell in the hyperactive funhouse of his psyche at these times would probably cause his brain to melt. So he shut down, turning his head off until his body needed it again. And even then, he tried his hardest to relegate communication to monosyllabic commands such as kick, punch, dodge to the left, and usually, "ouch." But that never quite happened. For the unresponsive zombie he was known to be, he had an unfortunate habit of letting his emotions get the better of him, and always at the most inopportune moments.

So one second Spike was turning his back on his partners and the next he was standing outside the bar with his hands in his pockets, debating whether to open the door. He figured there was either Julia or a shitload of heartache in that bar. No sense in waiting around to find out which. He didn't have to wait very long, though. He barely even touched the doorknob when at least half of his questions were answered.

"Merry Christmas... lover."

Spike's hand recoiled from the doorknob as if it burned him and he sighed a deep, throaty sigh that was a borderline growl. He wasn't surprised. Not anymore. But he still had to wonder exactly what he had gotten himself into this time. It could have been a trap. But maybe it wasn't and he beat her here. Maybe it wasn't and he killed her. Maybe it was and she was in on it. Somehow, not one of those scenarios lent him an ounce of comfort, which reminded him why he swore off thinking in the first place.

"I don't know why I ever hung out with you," the sinewy voice continued, a hint of playfulness permeating through the intended malice. "It must have been mind-numbingly dull to be around someone so predictable."

"You're one to talk," Spike snapped. He turned and locked eyes with the pale, sharp features of the man before him, all the more dulled by the lack of contrast against the snow. He was looking into the face of his greatest enemy, but with the way he was feeling in that moment, he might as well have been looking into a mirror. And so it always went with Vicious. "Next time it might be more direct to send me an engraved invitation."

Vicious leaned idly against the side of the building. He had come alone, and without even the slightest pretense of business. No one in the Syndicate knew where he was or who he was with. When he found out Julia was planning on meeting their old chum on the Holiest of Nights, he just had an admittedly immature desire to crash the party. "You came," he pointed out.

"Yes, well. Far be it for me to leave someone hanging," Spike said with a self-depreciating sort of air that secretly threw Vicious. "Was she here?"

"Hard to say. She is a clever little minx. She had you fooled."

Spike impulsively raised his weapon at the comment, all the while kicking himself for being so easily ruffled.

"So you have come to fight," Vicious smirked, drawing his sword. "I was worried for a second you wouldn't have it in you. Being twice jilted and all."

Spike rolled his eyes at his old partner's cartoonish malevolence. Vicious always had a gleefully tasteless way of twisting the knife that was humorous to Spike when they were on the same side. Now it was just annoying. "Have you shown up to gossip or to get down?" he hissed back, not at all in the mood for banter.

"Get down," Vicious smiled, and Spike did.


He ducked as Vicious' blade sailed over his head, coming so close he could hear it whistle in his ear. Spike shot his leg out from a crouching position which was enough to throw his opponent off balance, if ever so briefly. They attacked each other fiercely, their blows trading off so quickly and their bodies so violently entwined it was difficult to tell where one man stopped and the other began. Spike pounded at his opponent's flesh savagely, a lifetime of raw deals and bad breaks being avenged with every strike. But he never once fired his weapon.

In his head, it was because they were in a public place. God forbid some bullet ricocheted off something and went barreling into some family's Christmas dinner. It was what he would tell himself later when he replayed the night in his mind and what he would repeat to himself a few times before he went to sleep. After all, it was a perfectly reasonable and rational explanation.

But that wasn't what kept him from killing Vicious that night. He was not afraid to kill and he did not fear death. But there was one thing in this world that did scare Spike. There was one thing that shook him to his seemingly unflappable core. Spike Spiegel feared closure.

Spike was a purgatory kind of guy. He loved limbo and the lack of definition that came with it. He wasn't comfortable with committing himself fully to black or white, but he appreciated the gray, that hazy place between the rock and the hard place where his dreams weren't dead and gone but simply unrealized. It was the place where he had a future.

He just didn't know what it was.

And he loved not knowing. He thrived on not knowing. Because the second he knew for sure, than the story of his past would be over. His best friend would have turned on him, his lover would have deserted him and he himself would have abandoned the very people he cared for. If he cut his ties than the story would be finished. And he did not care for the ending.

So he clung to the What If's and the If Only's like a lifeline. He kept his past meandering about, waiting to strike whenever he got comfortable. He needed that uncertainty. He needed to keep it alive, gasping for breath on some sort of mental Euthanasia, because it was too much of himself to surrender.

Vicious, he knew, felt the same. He knew it because Vicious showed up tonight and he knew it because Spike himself was still breathing. He knew it because they were friends, and what are allies, really, then two men with a common enemy?

Vicious suddenly managed to clip Spike deeply in the shoulder, his blade passing easily through his flesh. Spike growled like a cornered animal as he brought his foot up to connect with Vicious' face, the blood and saliva splattering intensely on snow. They paused for a moment, glaring at each other. Both of them had reminded the other of the damage they could do and neither one had missed the message. They stood panting, daring the other to make the next move, when their stand off was interrupted by a cautionary squeal of a police siren. They shielded their eyes from the blinding light as a figure emerged from the abyss. "What the hell is going on here?" the man snarled. It was an ISSP agent.

"Personal matter," Vicious said coolly, both men's weapons already concealed by their own slight of hand. "Nothing of consequence."

There was a roguish charm in his voice that Vicious always acquired when speaking to authority figures. For one brief moment, Spike was 15 again, stuffing candy bars in his pockets while Vicious distracted the drug store clerk, but then he felt a throb of pain shoot down his arm and the nostalgia passed.

The officer looked over the condition of his suspects and decided it was very personal indeed. "Well, this is my beat, Tinkerbell. And when you punks pull this shit on my beat, I take it very personal. Which one of you assholes started this?"

Again, Spike had a perfectly logical and rational explanation for what he did next. To allow Vicious to be hauled into the station would potentially fold the entire operation. There was really nothing objectionable about that in theory. It was just that if Spike was to be Vicious' undoing, it couldn't be like this. This wouldn't be vengeance, or whatever he was supposed to be after. This would just be lame. It would join the ranks of Organized Crimes Biggest Bloopers, right next to Capone's failure to pay taxes. It wasn't simply about revenge. It was about honor! Valor! The way of the gun!

It was really about stalling for time. But Spike didn't admit that to himself, even as he "admitted" that he had started the fight.

Vicious shot him a subtle sort of glance in an attempt to catch his eye. They were always able to have full and complex conversations with their eyes, and Vicious was curious to see exactly what it was Spike was thinking. But Spike would not look at him. "Is that true?" the cop asked Vicious harshly.

Vicious' eyes shifted quickly back to the cop's tired face. "Yes, sir," he said smoothly. The whole situation was darkly amusing to him. After a lifetime of high crimes and misdemeanors, he was two seconds from being undone by a damned bar room scuffle. A crude understatement of the situation to be sure, but an accurate one to an outsider nonetheless. Surely, Spike had to see the irony in this. He wanted to ask him, but he knew now that their friendship, even the twisted perversion of friendship it had become, would have to be officially, undisputedly dissolved. The whole incident had proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

This was a mistake that Vicious could not afford to make again. Spike was a mistake that he could not afford to make again, no matter how much he secretly enjoyed making it. He was staging a coup, not playing desperado. The time had come to put away childish things or else he could risk everything he worked so hard for.

He watched the cop push Spike's gangly frame into the squad car and glide off into the snowy streets. Next time would have to be the one, he decided as he turned and spit out a loose tooth. He had toyed with him long enough.


Reach out and touch faith



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