Riley comes back to Sunnydale alone, special liaison to Special Forces, and is welcomed by the Scooby gang almost with a sense of homecoming. Giles is traveling back and forth to England a lot. Buffy has a new boyfriend, Willow a new girlfriend, and Xander and Anya are together again, very much a nested couple these days. Spike is alone, taking up a position again on the fringes of their lives. He's got a room in the basement of an apartment house owned by a demon, and he gets free rent and a stipend for doing various odd jobs; he's sort of a resident manager, though he dislikes assigned titles and prefers to think of it as an informal arrangement.
None of the gang knows. They don't really question what he lives on, and Spike gives little thought to how he kills time during those sunny Sunnydale days. It's just a way to get by. Money for blood and fags and the occasional DVD rental. (It's amazing what people will leave in their rooms when they vacate, especially if they were a Bynaril demon that you had to kill one night when you found them stalking co-eds.)
He only truly comes awake when darkness falls. He's got a soul now, but he doesn't know what to do with himself, so he hangs around, he fights demons. He's more or less over Buffy, doesn't obsess, but no one has taken her place. He often has a restless, broody look about him, but if you compare him to Angel, he'll just stare at you, offended and disgusted.
In the normal course of things, Riley and Spike get thrown together for their share of buddy patrol and missions. They don't get along. Sometimes they make an effort--grudging, tight-lipped--other times they don't. It annoys Buffy and after a few months of slow steam she puts her hands on her hips and tells them they'd better learn fast how to make nice or she's going to handcuff the two of them together and lock them in a dumpster for three days.
She says to Riley: "You're supposed to be a professional soldier!" He looks almost shamefaced.
To Spike, she says: "Why don't you use that soul for something other than getting weepy over Meg Ryan movies?" Spike: sheepish, maybe even a touch horrified.
They work harder at getting along, and one night Spike shows up at Riley's door with a six-pack of imported beer and the diffident suggestion that they watch "the game." Game on satellite, could be a footie match. Riley stares at him through the screen door until Spike, deflating with a sigh, starts to dismiss the idea and turn away, but then Riley opens the door and says, "Come in."
Riley's a nice boy, well brought up by his parents. He's also got a temper and two strong fists, but he's willing to move an inch when it's called for. They sit and watch the game and drink and after it's over, Riley walks to the kitchen, turning the stereo on in passing, gets himself a snack. Comes back to where Spike is sitting on the couch. Spike makes noises about leaving, but doesn't, and it's convenient that Riley has a case of beer. An hour or two passes. They talk for the first time as if they're just two guys, and it turns out that--without outside pressures--they get along. No question it's kind of strange, but that's the Hellmouth for you.
After a while, Riley's loose enough to come out with something that's been on his mind.
Riley: "There's something I want to ask you. Buffy said she'd be angry if I did, but I didn't promise not to." A pause. "Xander told me about the rape...attempt."
Spike, sourly but without heat: "Surprised Harris hasn't taken out an ad in the paper."
Riley: "Why did you do it?" It's a flat question, but he seems to want to hear the answer.
Spike, in measured, matter of fact tones: "Because I was a demon and in love with her. And I wanted her to admit she loved me. She didn't, but I thought she did. So I forced something that shouldn't be forced." Lowered head, laughless laugh. "It'd always worked before."
Riley, voice changing: "Is that so?"
Spike, looking up: "Not what I meant. Meant, with her. I pushed, she pushed back. It's what we had together." Pause. "You're right though. I wasn't a lily-white lad...before. I raped the innocent in more ways that you can imagine. Tooth in the neck, or...whatever."
Riley: "Now you can feel bad about it. That's what a soul's for, right?" Pause. "You do feel bad about it?" The important question.
The honest answer. "Not all the same way. A soul isn't whitewash. I'm still the man I was. Just got a conscience. Some things I've done feel like pin-pricks. Others stab right through, like hot pokers." He gestures loosely, lets his hand splay against his ribs. "If it were all the same, all pokers, it'd be," a deep breath, "unbearable."
Riley: "Want another beer?"
Spike, looking up again: "Got anything harder?"
Weeks pass. Spike and Riley negotiate the small steps of friendship. Patrol together by choice rather than by lot, watch sports and occasional movies together, go to bars and shoot some pool. Xander is one half of a couple, and Anya is trying for a baby, so it's not as if Riley has anyone else to hang with, and god knows Spike lacks a life, so it seems natural that he and Spike would start to pal around, now that they're burying the hatchet in a non-literal way.
They really get along. No one notices, but they do. They share a taste in music--enough to make conversation. One night they go to a club when a blues guitar player shows up in town.
They watch more movies together, and sometimes before a night's patrol Riley makes and eats his dinner while Spike hangs out. Sitting at the table with him, nursing a glass of blood.
When you could die at any time, it's good to have friends. Some vampires you kill, other vampires you hang with. It actually gets easier to make these distinctions, as time passes.
Spike is a vampire, and he knows when someone wants him. It's a scent, like the air just before a storm. Even so, he's capable of denial when something is too weird and incomprehensible to take in. His rut is comfortable and he knows his place. When Xander gets his digs in, Spike accepts this as his due, snarks back but not as hard as he could. When Anya dismisses him as a man--"I mean, it's not as if you can join a dating service, is it?"--he cultivates tolerance, thinking of how she once praised his dick, even if she tries not to remember.
When Buffy smiles at him with her blonde distraction, no longer seeing him, Spike...exists. He's committed himself to this path. This boring, soulful path that so often seems to have no point. But it's his, and maybe it'll turn out to have a purpose if he keeps on it long enough. Maybe it'll have a brave, violent death, at least.
He notices Riley's smiles, the attentive interest of his eyes, but it doesn't add up, so Spike ignores the signs even while he smiles back, sometimes laughs, listens to Riley's stories, learns his moods and scents and tells.
One night they're sitting and watching a football match, and it's that lengthening domestic hour from eight to nine, everyone else doing their own thing, having lives, leaving the commando and the vampire to shared company. It's no more than usual, but weeks have passed, and apparently things have changed.
Spike is aware of how close they're sitting, but he doesn't let himself think about it. It's a good game, it's a close--
Riley's arm moves, and then his hand is resting on the back of Spike's neck, and Spike can't see the game on the TV any more, it's just a blur of color and motion because the heat on his nape is sinking into his skin. A burn, like sunshine. He can't remember the last time someone touched him. Not like that. He can't move, so he sits and feels and stares ahead, gaze unfocused.
A shift and Riley's thigh brushes his, and then from the corner of his eye he sees Riley look down, and then up. Spike didn't think his prick could get any harder and tighter in his jeans, but it does. The hand against his neck strokes him, palm riding the curve, thumb twitching. Spike clenches his fist around his beer bottle unawares, until it makes a soft cracking sound, until Riley takes it away and puts it on the coffee table, turns sideways on the couch, turns the sound off on the game.
Spike makes himself look at that mild and easy face, human eyes watching him with a steadiness Spike himself doesn't feel. He's like that, watching back warily and unsure what's coming, when Riley asks in a low but otherwise ordinary tone, "Can I kiss you?"
As if there's two answers.
Raw. "Yeah, all right."
It must be some kind of semi-drunken experiment, Spike thinks, or the first move in an elaborate game of torment and revenge. He doesn't really care. He's tired, in a place far beyond his bones. He deserves whatever he gets, no matter how much or--looked at another way--how little. Riley cups his face and kisses him. It's not going to make anyone's short list of kisses, not skilled or passionate enough to rank him a Casanova, but Spike arches closer as lust crashes through him, a wave breaking against the rock of his tensed muscles. He must have come disconnected from his own body for this to be a surprise. His body, dead and hard to damage and useful for fighting, hasn't been confiding in him in the weeks up to now.
Spike's left hand rises before he can control it, and he grips Riley's arm to hold him there. He needs this kiss. He's already gasping desperately into it, mouth begging, tongue talking. And if he had any thought in his head, he'd be embarrassed at how his hips keep lifting and twisting as if trying to find something to rub against.
They kiss for a few minutes, Spike's touches getting clumsier against Riley's arm and side and leg. He's aware enough to control himself; he's afraid to be rough. He won't make any demands, and so when Riley breaks away, he goes still, preparing himself, half-expecting he'll be asked to leave.
Riley's arm is around Spike's shoulders, and now he lets his free hand move between Spike's thighs. It's confusing, like pain, the things that Spike feels, bringing a frown to his face. He lets Riley caress the inside of his thigh and then cup his hardness through denim. Spike can't say anything, can only sit there and take it with stoicism, eyes down. Or so he intends, but Riley unzips him and eases him out, and Spike can't stop the sound of gratitude he makes.
Riley: "Want me to take the edge off?"
Stunned, Spike nods dumbly, and Riley's hand begins to jack him, taking his measure and figuring out how he likes to be touched. His prick is already swollen and slick at the crown; he's that close. It's hard to sit still. Spike's head falls back on the couch and he stops trying to think of what to say, what to do next.
Watching Spike's eyes close, his face knot with what looks like pain, Riley loosens his hand, lets it work more slowly. Spike's hips twist with urgency, and Riley lets go. Spike still isn't talking, but his eyes drag themselves open, fixed and glassy and frantic, to stare at Riley. Riley pushes Spike's tee up over his head so that it's twisted around his arms, behind his neck, then touches his bared chest, thumbs a nipple. When he begins jerking him off again, Spike nearly sobs, and arches up--hips rising off the couch to thrust into Riley's hand. Riley can see his balls drawing up tight, feel the heavy shove of blood through the veined skin. He doesn't feel like a dead man.
Riley moves his hand faster, sliding the foreskin up and down just below the head, staring at it with fascination, so closely he almost misses it when Spike begins to come.
That's the first time, and it happens the way it would in a porn movie, a segue from boring and masculine pastimes to the intimacy of sex--the everyday need that sometimes breaks free of its schooling, the helping hand.