Into the Jungle

~ Co-written by Mad Poetess [website]

It was night, not quite pitch-black. It got darker in the jungle than it ever did in the states. Nowadays, anyway, with the electric lights everywhere and the simple feel of civilization permeating everything. But it was dark, very dark here in the middle of the jungle, South America, location undisclosed because you don't need to know, soldier. Be quiet and do what you're told.

They'd made camp two days ago, hunkered down and bunkered in. For what, they didn't know. Team Leader Finn wasn't saying, wasn't telling them that even he barely knew. Hostiles category B. Vamps. Who, why, what were they doing here, this deep in nowhere?

No one asked, no one minded. They had a job to do, and eventually they would do it. Until then, they waited.

Riley hated waiting. He always had. It had gotten him into trouble a lot in his life - not because he failed to wait, but simply because while he waited, while he forced himself to stand there and take it like a good little soldier, he would think about things.

Thinking had always gotten him into trouble. Look where it had gotten him with Buffy.

If he hadn't thought that maybe here was someone he could be a normal guy with, he would never have followed her home. Asked her friend Willow whether to bring her some cheese. It embarrassed him, now. To think how much of an idiot she had turned him into in those first few weeks. Embarrassed him and made him yearn for it. The simpler times you always yearn for.

And he knew for yearning. Knew for simple times, long lost to the distances of time and continents and the oceans in between. He had them all to think about, now. Waiting here in the jungle.

Thinking about the nights before he left. He knew he shouldn't be - if he needed to distract himself there were other things to be done. All of his men waiting here with him, they could use something to do, too. Something not thinking, things the jungle wouldn't tell the next day. But he couldn't make himself stand up from his spot under a tree, crouched over a damp piece of plastic because who knew how the ants knew how to find you, but they did. They always did. Sometimes the soldiers struck camp after only a few hours, to escape them.

Riley still couldn't decide if he wished he'd stayed. Despite knowing that she hadn't come, knowing that it might just have been prolonging what had gone wrong, he sometimes thought he might have stayed. He looked around the campsite, saw a few men already in their tents. Three others gathered around a dead campfire, four others couldn't be seen, out beyond the circle standing guard.

This was where he belonged. He knew that. Where he was needed and his skills and experience counted for more than allowing him to survive. Irony, there. He wondered if he'd have the chance to tell anyone why. Anyone besides Spike, and who knew if he hadn't already told everyone. Told Buffy. Would it have helped give him a place, if he'd stayed? Or would it have made it all the more necessary that he go?

He wasn't entirely sure Spike would remember, though. God knows he had stumbled out of the crypt already feeling the pangs of the hangover. Lost count hours before of the number of bottles of wine Spike had dug out. Lost count of the reasons Riley had given himself why Spike would keep digging them out so he could stay.

They'd fallen silent after the first exchange. Both thinking about her, both wondering if the other guy really did have it better. It had taken another bottle and a half before Riley had talked again, though Spike had been babbling about something for the previous half hour. Something about peaches, and even not yet completely drunk, Riley hadn't been able to figure out what fruit had to do with Buffy.

He'd peered through the darkness at the vampire slumped in his chair, and hadn't wondered why Spike tried for comfort, even in a crypt. Half House Beautiful, half House That Dripped Blood. You made your home where you could, he'd certainly learned that in his time.

He'd shaken the contents of his bottle in Spike's direction, at last, startling him out of his slurred nonsense. "You envy me. Spike, you're a moron."

Spike had looked up at him over the bottle in his own hand. They'd long since ceased trading them back and forth. Each had his personal dollar thirty-five worth of long-dead fruit, and maybe that was what it had to do with Buffy. Riley couldn't even really taste his anymore.

"I'm a moron? I'm not the one thass... payin' to get sucked. All you'd had to do was bloody ask... and brought your own knife, of course."

Riley had started to fumble one of his knives out of his boot, and thought better of it. Or maybe he just couldn't get the clasp undone. He'd laughed at himself. Worse to think of taking Spike up on his offer? Worse to have fallen to lower levels than that already? Laughed again. Bitten his own knuckle to stop the laughter from turning into something else.

Finally he'd been able to speak again. "Not what I mean. You're what, a hundred? Two? You think you're some kinda... sage of the ages or somethin'. You don't know squat. Heh. A little monster in her man." He'd tipped the bottle back, and if it tasted like anything at all, it was vinegar on his tongue. God. Apples. He'd tasted apple wine. Gotten so drunk on it he couldn't remember what time the sun came up, and God knew how many bottles it had taken back then. Apples. Blackberries. Even something made from peaches, once. This was made from gasoline.

It must have set his tongue on fire, because he'd opened his mouth again. Just to get in some cool air. Dank, damp crypt air, but it was air. The sound of Spike not doing the same thing was too damned loud in his ears. He'd laughed once more, and it had echoed nastily in the darkness. "Jesus, Spike. You're a child."

"Huh?" Spike couldn't have been drunker than Riley was... but then, he'd started earlier. "'M a what?"

"You're a kid. You're Eddie Haskell with fangs." God bless syndication. Even Buffy would have known what he meant, and Spike spent most of his time slumped in front of the tube these days. Half a century of history, available at the flip of a channel. "Gee, Mrs. Summers, I don't know what that boy was thinking, going to a place like that... He mush'tve... fallen in with bad companions."

Even Spike had laughed, but he was frowning at the same time. "Oh, and you make such an excellent Wally. Heh." Spike drained his bottle. Reached for the full one next to his chair. "Corn-fed... tow-head..." Biting the cork out. Frowning again. "Who's a kid?"

"You are." He'd sighed, and he'd been drunk enough to know this was not a good idea. Not drunk enough to stop. "I can't figure out what you were playing at, though. Did you want me out of your way? Or do you really love her that much that you wanted... wanted... me not to hurt her, I guess."

Spike had blinked at him a few times, and Riley wondered, now, just how many bottles of wine he had been through before Riley had ever shown up. "Am not." He'd pouted, and Riley had laughed. "M'older than you are," he'd said, almost clearly. Still managed to sound like he was sulking, as if age ought to have won him everything. Or at least a little respect from the human who was drinking him under the coffin.

"Yeah," he'd sighed. "Older than me, and not growing older." Looked at the bottle in his hand and wondered when the level of wine inside had dipped that much lower. "Growing older sucks." He'd laughed, and even now he could remember how bitter the laugh had tasted. Not just the wine, at that point.

He was surprised he could remember that part. But it had been.

"You say 'sucks' like it's a bad thing," Spike had slurred. "Some of my best friends suck. Well, used to."

Riley had looked at him, confused. A little alarmed. "Used to suck?"

"Used to be m' best friends," Spike had clarified. "Though I don't think Angel sucks anymore, either. Tryin' to be good or something. Not kill people." He'd blinked and looked cheerful for a moment. "Might use a straw, though. Then he'd still suck."

"Spike, you're insane. You're drunk and insane." So why had he stayed sitting there, then? Just because he was in no danger. Just because had he been, he might still....

"Oh, like you're any better." Spike had sat forward, and pointing towards him. His finger had swayed a bit, but in Spike's defense, Riley couldn't say that he hadn't been swaying a bit, himself. "You only think you're better. Because you're human, and you got official permission to go out an' kill nasty beasties. You and your so'jers." He'd paused and taken another long drink, and Riley had waited for him to fall over. Instead, Spike looked at him again. "You humans think you own the place. You don't. We got a right to be here, too, you know. An' fixing us up so's we can't feed ourselves is just... mean."

Mean? No. It had been something... something short of killing them. That was how Riley had forced himself to think of it, anyway, no matter the other thoughts that had sucked at him harder than any starving newborn vampire could have. No matter his suspicions of Maggie's intent. When he'd started thinking too much, in the months before her death, he'd shoved the thoughts away with that half-truth: at least he wasn't killing.

"You don't know. You don't..." He was suddenly angry at Spike, more than usual. For being what he was. For being there. For loving Buffy. For having half of the truth. For any of a hundred reasons, and probably mostly because the bottle was empty and Spike hadn't thrown him another one yet. Spike read his mind, or something. About the important one, at least.

"'Nother?" This had been slurred so much that for a moment, he'd heard "Mother." The word and the wine played lazily with his eyes, and Riley had thought he saw things moving in the darkened crypt. The flash of Maggie's smile when he'd done something she was particularly proud of, something he could be particularly ashamed of if he thought too hard about it, so he never had. And before that, the soft fuzz of faded calico, a sun-brown, work-wrinkled hand...

"She wasn't my mother..." he'd said to Spike, sincerely, then realized, and had shaken his head. Then nodded, and Spike had tried to fix him with a piercing stare, but had only managed muzzily confused. Like he'd been trying to work up the energy to say, 'I'm drunk and insane?' but really hadn't had it in him.

"'Nother bottle, mate?" One had come hurtling toward him before he could frame an answer, and he'd caught it out of some long-buried reflex. Even Spike had managed to look impressed, before frowning again. "Who wasn't... Er-- were we talkin' about your mum?"

"Yeah, Dr. Freud. William the Freudy. Huh. We were talkin' about my mother."

"Wasserface. Maggie the monstermaker. Yeah, she was impressive. Would've made a good vamp, come to it. Well, b'fore she was that zombie thing. Had a real style about 'er killin'. Cold as all hell. " Spike had lifted his bottle. "To Maggie, then. Wherever the bitch is roasting."

Riley had been just sober enough to focus his glare on Spike as the vampire chugged half his bottle down. And wonder why he was glaring. Because Spike had insulted her? Because she was dead? Because Spike was right?

"She meant well." Spike had given him a look, one so full of incredulity that he had to burst out laughing. "Yeah. Okay. Maybe she didn't. Maybe I knew that. But she wasn't my mother." And somehow that had meant something, in the dim recesses of his gasoline-fogged brain.

"Fine, she's not y'r mum," Spike had said, sounding confused enough in his drunken state to communicate that he had no idea why they were talking about Riley's mother, whoever she was. Riley hadn't known why, either, and even now as he sat in the jungle, he couldn't remember if he'd remembered. He watched it growing darker, and heard the soft, distant call of cats that lived at night, whispering to each other to stay the hell out of each other's territory.

"Right," he'd agreed, then, feeling some sense of satisfaction. Too drunk to know what it was. Glad that he'd remembered that much, at least. Whatever else Maggie had been - and, god, what had she done when she'd tried to make him over in her image? Adam's image? Had she known? Had she suspected? Had it all been coincidence, or punishment for his sins?

That was the other part he hated to think about. What she'd done to him without his knowing. Why she had done it. Why she had never looked at him with that secret burning in her eyes.

If she had known, she had never said. One more secret Maggie Walsh had taken to the grave.

"So...." Spike's faint voice had interrupted his thoughts, then, and he'd turned to look. The vampire had been slumped in his chair, doing that slow blinking that meant he was beyond ready to fall over and pass out. Riley had considered that he should go, find a safe place to sleep it off, when Spike had looked at him and his eyes looked deceptively clear. Clearer. "Who was she, then? If you remember why we were talking about her?" His eyes had looked inward for a moment. "She was a bitch, though. Never realized it til later."

"She wasn't," he'd insisted, suddenly angry again and wishing he was less drunk so he could stand up and walk over and threaten Spike as proper. All he could do was sway to the left. "She was... was...." And he couldn't remember. Kind? Not really. Firm. Too busy working to do more than tend to their needs, make sure there was food and clothing when it was there to be had. But... He'd tried to remember. It was so damned long ago. So much had changed.

"Huh?" He'd looked over to find Spike staring at him. Confused again. "She was," Spike had insisted. "Made me into a pansy boy an' never even asked me if I wanted to be out killing people instead."

It had taken a moment, but Riley had realized Spike was talking about his own mother. Natural or Sire, or possibly both, he hadn't been able to decide. Had decided it didn't matter, because Spike was talking again.

"You have no idea what it's like, mate. You have no bloody idea."

"What it's like to have a bitch for a mother?" He'd asked, though it had been on the tip of his tongue. He'd wanted to say it, wanted so badly to just say it, finally, once and for all. Secrets he'd been hiding, hated hiding, even if it meant losing things he thought he'd wanted. Look what getting what you wanted got you. He'd wanted this, once. Once upon a time. Wanted this very thing - and now he was crawling, inch by inch, back to what he'd left behind.

"No. Not that. What it's like to want it, and know you can't have it." Spike's eyes had been practically gleaming in the darkness, and Riley remembered, later. How you can hide behind looking slower than you are. That you're not always as drunk as you seem. What you can do when ten bottles of gasoline-flavored wine just barely gets you in the mood to go out and kick some ass...

But were they talking about Buffy again? "You know damn well I..."

Spike had stood up. Hadn't been swaying at all. One hand still rubbing at his chest where Riley had staked him. Healing already. Like that. "I don't mean the bloody Slayer. She's a fucking side-effect. Prob'ly just my brain shortin' out from this thing you lot put in my head."

He'd moved like a bad Xanderspeak cliche. Like one of the jungle cats Riley was hearing now, fast and almost-silent and completely-deadly. Not stumbling, not swaying. Over to where Riley sat on the edge of the bier, and right in Riley's face, breath stinking of cheap wine and pig's blood and seething hatred. Riley had known he should be pushing Spike away, as one hand went to the marble on each side of him, as Spike's eyes had come within inches of his own.

"I mean the blood. The bloody red pumping, steaming, stinking blood."

Riley could hear the little beat in his own temple, and it had seemed that Spike's jaw clenched and unclenched to that same rhythm.

"Once you know you want it, it's never over. You think it goes away, you son of a bitch? You think just 'cos Maggie and 'er mad scientists made sure I couldn't get it, that I don't want it? God, if I could..."

He could feel Spike's fangs descend. In his head, he could feel them sliding down, feel the change, as he watched the pale eyes turn yellow, the face become something else. As he had watched from outside, outside himself even. Not even bothering to move. Not sober enough to be afraid. Spike had glared useless death at Riley for seconds that he could count by those pulse-beats, then jerked away. Turned around and kicked at one of the concrete pillars until Riley was sure the whole place was going to come down on their heads.

When, after a few minutes or so, it hadn't, Spike had faced him again. Eyes a bit duller now, as if that had taken some of the fight out of him. That he couldn't even destroy his own home if he wanted to. "If I could. Told Red that like it was a compliment. Do her if I bloody could. Now? Might leave the brats alone, might not, but you? I'd tear your heart out in a second. I can hear it beating, y'know? Heard you a hundred feet away from the door. And you're not even scared of me. Slow and fucking steady. So no. You don't know what it's like."

Riley had blinked at him, sluggishly, feeling as if the world had turned into slow, rich molasses. Maybe it had been his blood, pumping slower in his veins. He'd tried to bring his hand to his mouth, take another drink, but he'd been unable to stop staring. Hearing the words on his tongue, hearing the voice screaming at him to stop, because bad things lived in that part of his vocabulary.

No. He wasn't scared. He didn't want to run. Wanted to reach down and grab his knife, slice his throat in offering. Even that hadn't scared him. He'd looked at Spike, then, and Spike had just stared back.

"What do you want, mate? Do you want to know? Do you want to feel it?" He'd moved closer, again, swaying before Riley, but it hadn't been drunkenness then. "Blood pouring from your body, being sucked out by something that doesn't care, only wants your blood, wants your life, needs yours like you need air...."

And Riley had remembered. Clearly as he ever had in his dreams, in those few times he'd allowed himself to get drunk enough to remember that. Remembered, echoed by the tiny pinpricks in his arm. He wanted... he wanted.... He knew what he wanted, and that was what scared him. Because he didn't want that, not really, not anymore. He couldn't - except had he become so much better? Was this what he'd got in exchange?

He'd been unable to hide from that question, then. Not a killer anymore, he'd said to himself. Not killing, only capturing and rendering helpless and not-- Spike had crouched before him, looking at him with eyes that threatened to see him. Would that be so bad?

Because he knew. Still wanting it. Still needing and not having. He knew, maybe better than Spike.

He had been drunk enough - or possibly just desperate - to say so.

Spike had looked at him, confused for a moment, then his expression was one of disgust. Mild amount of pity. "Don't mean the Slayer. She doesn't count - everyone in the world could fall in love with her, and only one guy's gonna have her heart. Stand in line or get over it."

He'd blinked. "Who?" He had realized a moment later that Spike had been talking about Buffy. But before he could say as much, Spike was answering.

"Bloody poof, that's who. Angel. Waiting to get his soul back permanent, then he's off to Buffy for a life of reward."

He hadn't been able to tell if Spike sounded angry, or jealous. Then he'd realized what else he'd heard. "Get his soul back, permanently?"

"Yeah."

All Riley had been able to do, was laugh. Even now the thought made him smile a little. Angel. Wanting to be human again. Give up his demon and be normal.

Heh.

Spike had looked at him, and this time there was no question who was drunk and insane. They both were. Spike, suddenly chuckling too, but hard. Ragged. "Yeah, it's a laugh, innit. Angelus, Scourge of Europe, and all he wants is to be human. So he an' Chosen One Barbie can settle down with forty bloody acres and a mule. Raise two point seven five squallin' brats and make sure the genes for mousse-worship an' bad bleach jobs ain't forever lost to the future."

And was that bitterness in Spike's voice from the wine, or the past, or the present? The Sire he'd lost, or the Slayer he'd never get? Or maybe he would. If she really wanted monster in her man, which of them had the most of it left in him? He had felt it, in the dark, in the inches between them. Spike wanting. Slayer and Sire, present and past, but mostly blood. Not the wine that he had grabbed from Riley and swigged, not the wine that Riley had grabbed back from him and wrapped his lips around like it was something else. Sucked at it, probably chipping his teeth on the glass, tasting second-hand pig's blood on it, and imagining so easily that it wasn't. Bloody red stinking steaming...

He'd leaned down into Spike's face. Inches away, and then centimeters, and maybe Spike had thought, blinking, that Riley was drunk enough to kiss him, but he wasn't. Not quite. "I remember. You think you have something to teach me? You're a child."

Something in his voice made Spike frown. Something of his mother's, maybe? He couldn't see her face anymore, but was there the barest hint of her voice in his own? The one that used to sing 'La Trois Cerises' as she hung out clothes to dry? She'd been sorting them by the fire that night. Them smelling of sun and pine and whatever had blown across them in the afternoon wind, and then it was night, and the door had opened....

"I remember. The little kids were sleeping, and Ma was sorting clothes. This one needed darning and that one needed handing down, and that one was no damn good for anything but rags, but she still had to wash it, 'cause God forbid we had dirty cleaning rags. Jeannie was-- God, sewing up a doll's dress, I think, for one of the girls, and I was..." Studying something, reading in the smoky light, because no son of his mother's was going to grow up a fool.

"I was still awake, and he came into the doorway. Didn't smell like you, Spike. Not like crappy wine and old leather and Marlboro Menthols. Smelled like sweat and stink and dead animals, like he'd been rolling in blood. Living in it for days. And none of us even looked up-- 'cause he always smelled like that, when he came home. Meant he'd had a good week out."

Spike had cocked his head a bit, and backed up a few inches. As if Riley wouldn't notice the vampire sneaking away from him, looking for something he could clobber the insane human with. He'd had no clue what Riley was talking about. Absolutely no idea.

"No one realized anything was strange, didn't even blink when he stood there, smiling at us, and Ma laughed at him and told him to come inside after he'd washed up. But he didn't, just walked right in. Looked at us like we were a feast for the eyes. You know what? We weren't."

Riley had suspected that his eyes must have been glowing - in that eerie, possessed kind of way that makes even demons step out of the way of a raving madman. But Spike had been drunk enough - or bored enough - to just stand there and wait.

"You think I don't know what it's like? To have blood in my mouth?" He'd stood, then, started to throw the bottle away, hard against a wall. But it had still had gasoline-wine in it, so he'd taken a drink. Drinking had given Spike a chance to talk.

"So, little soldier boy has killed somebody, eh?" Spike's voice had been snide, but Riley had heard the confusion below it. Spike had been faced with something he didn't understand, and had known there was something else going on. Had known, perhaps, even at that point that Riley hadn't been talking about his life as a soldier.

He'd shaken his head. Stared up at the ceiling of the crypt and the words just poured out of his mouth. Dripping like blood from his lips. "He turned us all, that night. Turned us, not just killed us. I never could figure out why - god knows he wasn't about telling us his reasons."

Spike had gaped, for just a second, then he'd laughed. "Hate to tell you this, Ri, but you're not. Dunno what you've been drinking, but nobody's turned you." He'd walked over, cocky once more, and patted Riley on the shoulder. "Can hear your heart beating."

Riley had just looked at him. Felt all his years, faced with this arrogant child who simply didn't... didn't... Riley hadn't known. Still didn't. He'd almost seen something in Spike's eyes, but had lost it before he could understand. He'd just looked back at him, and asked calmly, "You think your Sire is the only one given the chance to earn his redemption?"

Fear, then. He had seen that well enough in Spike's eyes. Riley still didn't understand quite why. Even now, with the heat around him and the low sounds of men's voices, talking. Passing time. Girls, sports, how bad the damn foot rot was getting... Even here, this far away, Riley didn't quite get the fear he'd seen in Spike. Disbelief, maybe. Anger, if he'd thought Riley was lying-- and he had, or seemed to-- but behind all of that, there was the look, and more, the stink of fear. So strong even a human could smell it over wine and leather and ancient cigarettes.

"You're out of your mind, Finn. You want her that much you convinced yourself you're one of us? You're not. You never were. You're human. You're Captain bloody America, in love with the Slayer next door, and you're human. You grew up in the middle of a cornfield with a mum, a dad, and six or seven tow-headed brothers and sisters snottin' around after you. You're a sodding innocent."

"Four." He'd stared at Spike with a hardness, a precision, that he'd known from long ago, and lost, and learned again under Maggie's tender care. "Three sisters and a brother. Jeannie was fourteen. He took her first, while Ma just backed up against the fireplace and screamed. He bit, and he drained, and he made her drink, and I just sat there. Sat there at the table behind that damn stinky tallow candle that I could've thrown in his face, if I'd known. What he was, what he'd become. I just watched, because all I could think was it was a dream. I'd fallen asleep over whatever the hell I was reading, and when I woke up..."

Ma's screaming had woken the little ones, and they'd got to watch, too. Ma against the hearth leaning back as he'd lowered his head to her throat, and he'd stroked it, once, with his fingers. Like he remembered who she was. Like he had some reason. Then Michel, and Annette, and then he'd turned to the back corner and the little bed, and Riley had moved. Finally. Unsure of dream or nightmare or reality, but moved, all the same. Just not fast enough.

"Marie was three. Three, Spike." Spike hadn't even blinked. He'd managed to mesmerize a vampire. There, in that crypt, as he was, as he was still, now, he'd managed it. Utterly motionless. Wide-eyed. "Have you seen 'Interview with the Vampire'? Crock of shit, wasn't it." A slow nod, either agreeing or simply humoring the madman.

"Everything but her. Everything but that little girl. That's what she was like. Three fucking years old, racing around the woods chasing after rabbits. All she could catch. Innocent and beautiful and evil as all hell, and she'd sink her fangs in and drink deeper than any of us when one of us big ones would bring back something human to eat. You know what that's like? To see something like that? To love it?"

Spike had mouthed the word, the name, and Riley had nodded. "Yeah. Maybe you do know. If she was like that too." Then suddenly there was belief. Belief in Spike's eyes, and the fear smell had suddenly smelled even stronger, and Riley couldn't understand why.

"Out in the woods. Wasn't any corn, then. Just Indian territory. Miles and miles of it. Trading post. Little cabins, some land, couldn't call 'em farms. And woods. All that dark, dark land to run through. Tear through. Nobody missed a few extra trappers when they didn't come back. They didn't come back before, and they didn't come back after. If it wasn't us, it woulda been the snow, or the river, or a horse that stepped in the wrong hole. And we were a family. Even then."

Spike had looked torn between backing away more, and asking. As if he hadn't known which he might regret more.

"Three hundred years, Spike. Three hundred and one, to be precise. I'm told I only look 24." He'd smirked. Wondered briefly in that moment what it might have been like to be telling this to someone else. Someone who might be proud of him for what he'd done, what he'd become.

Someone who might want him back, and offer him reasons to stop wanting anything else.

"Look 27," Spike had said sulkily. Riley had laughed. It had seemed to startled Spike, and he'd thought about controlling it, thought about going for something calmer, less drunken. But he was still scaring Spike, and suddenly that seemed more intoxicating than the wine.

He'd started walked towards Spike, and Spike had backed up three steps before he'd stopped, and looked defiant. "There's a farm in Iowa, not far from where our home was. Kind of ironic, do you think? I went back there deliberately, looked for the place. After they changed me back. Went back and wandered around, and they found me. Social services. Found a cold, confused, starving boy who couldn't tell them where his family was. Sent me to live on a farm that touched the edge of the woods I'd grown up in. The Finns took me in, raised me up right," he'd said with a proud, sarcastic tone. Except of all of it, that was one thing he never wanted to lose.

He'd stopped, then, for a moment, and for an all too short a time, he'd felt a tug of something not-blood. Not fear, not hunger. But he'd lost it, as he always did. Kind as they were, his foster family could never truly be his, and he knew that was why he kept leaving them behind. Forgetting about them, when the pull of his other memories threatened.

"So, uh," Spike had almost stuttered. "Whadya do?"

"Forty-five years ago Marie found a friend, a little Indian girl from a reservation. They played together for hours before... well, Marie only looked like a three year old. Most of the time she didn't mind. But sometimes...I think it made her more cruel. We found the girl's body, and father tossed it into the river. Told us we should be moving on. Nothing out of the ordinary there. We moved wherever it was safe, over the years. All across the country. Wherever it was dark and quiet and there were still places to hide."

"This time, we weren't fast enough."

The hunt had been swift. The deserted areas smaller, then, the wild taken over by quickly growing towns and cities. The best places for a family of vampires to hide were the places near the mountains, near the inhospitable areas that no one wanted, where the white men had imprisoned the natives. They'd been tracked down quickly, his brother slain by an arrow and his father too, a moment after. He and his mother and sisters had turned to fight them, despite the number of warriors sent to hunt them down.

Only his mother had escaped. His sisters cut down, and he, taken. Bound hand and foot and carried away.

"Got yourself cursed?" There had been a hint of sympathy in Spike's tone.

"They performed a ceremony. Told me that when my deeds were done, I would be turned back. As my reward." And had there not been anything but regret? Then, facing the shaman who had pitied him, there in the crypt with Spike. And now. Regret and pain, though still he did not know for which. He told himself it was for what he'd done. Little enough cruelty, for as much as he'd seen in his siblings, he'd mostly watched, and been the one to direct them.

But there were times he'd been unable to avoid facing that night, with Spike looking at him and being a shadow of what Riley had been. His regret was for what he'd lost.

He'd looked down, found a bottle in his hand. Barely one last swallow in it, so he'd taken it. Dropped the bottle and had looked around. He'd found Spike looking at him, and he'd been unable to smell the fear anymore. "You asked me what I want?" He hadn't been able to remember if Spike had, or if he'd asked Spike.

Spike had just shrugged.

"I want to forget what it was like. So I can stop wondering if that's what I really wish I were."

Then Spike had shaken his head. "Can't forget. Trust me, I've tried. Drink enough a' this shit, might pass out for a few hours, but is'still there in the mornin'." Then, as if he'd passed that one word, let go his hold on it, his eyes had widened at the rest. "S'wat you wanted, then? Starvin' fledges suckin' on you, so's you could forget what it's like? Sounds more like you've stopped wonderin'. Like you were playin' the edge. That close." Spike had closed his eyes. Thinking of when he was that close, somewhere, sometime, when he still had a heartbeat? Picturing himself in that dark little room, not standing behind Buffy in the doorway, but kneeling at Riley's feet, drinking deep from one vein or another, and listening to a heartbeat slow and falter?

"That close..." Riley had repeated it after him, and then Spike had swayed. Eyes still shut, that close in front of him because Riley had kept walking closer, as Spike backed away. Spike had swayed, and he had put his hand on Spike's shoulder. Just like that. Eyes snapped open, stared at him with something that wasn't fear.

"Why?" As if, for all his talk about how wonderful it was to be a vampire -- power coursing through his veins, run through the night, blah, blah, Spike has a big dick even though he can't bite -- he didn't know. Hadn't truly believed that you could be free of it, no matter his snotty comments about Angel, but once you were, couldn't understand why you might want it back. "What, for her? To be what she wants?"

Riley had looked close in Spike's face, as if he could have found his own answers there, when it was questionable if Spike even knew what Spike was thinking. "No. Not for her." Then he closed his own eyes. And remembered. Beyond this recent darkness, few moments in the light, beyond the years of fear and guilt and eating what Spike was eating these days, beyond the fire in the clearing and the chanting and snarling and the feel of rope around his wrists, to that one simple thing.

The taste in his mouth. Hot and hard and flowing into him. Not caring, like Spike had said. Not caring who was dying, just needing it more than they did. The wanting beforehand, ripping him up like he could never be filled, and then to tear into softness and find it there, and the taste. There... he could smell it in the crypt with his eyes closed, and not old blood on Spike, but hot and fresh and yes, stinking, but it was sweeter than any apple wine.

"You never stop wanting it."

Riley had opened his eyes again, and what had Spike seen there, then? He'd seen something which made him stop backing up. Stop inching away and face Riley. Defiance, there on his face, daring Riley to do it. To say it.

And he should have. Sitting here in the jungle now, midnight crawling by on the paws of a cat content with its kill, he looked up at the canopy of trees and wished. Wished he had said yes.

Wished he had kissed Spike long enough to stay until morning, because everything always looks better in sunlight. Wasn't that what she used to say, when the wind blew cold around the corners of the cabin at night? Nothing so wrong it doesn't look better by sunlight.

Riley rubbed at his face. Glanced around the camp, taking note of those who had crawled into their tents, noticed the guard had changed ten minutes ago. Remembered nodding to Graham as the other had moved past. Nothing that required his attention, nothing here needed doing.

Still no closer to his answers. He hadn't found any with the wine and with Spike, hadn't been able to decide which path he wanted. Reject or accept, appeal or relinquish. The only choice he'd been able to make, in the end, was to run. Needed something cleaner, clearer cut, to build his life on so he could tell if it were him, or something else pushing him into a future he didn't want to go to.

What did he want? He hadn't known then. Had never known, not when the shaman had asked him if he wanted to die, join his family in the river sprinkled with ashes. Hadn't known when he'd committed his final act of remorse, and found himself walking along a highway, covered in dirt and nothing else, looking at the noon-time sky. He hadn't known when he'd found himself in the Corps, being asked if he believed in monsters.

He hadn't known when he found himself with Buffy, being asked if he believed in love. Or something near enough to it that it might not have mattered. He knew what he didn't want: he didn't want to feel this uncertain about what he was supposed to be.

What did he want? He looked around, and saw the jungle. He wanted to take a piss. He stood, and walked away from the circle of tents. Nodded at Justin as he made his way out. Walked into the darkness, listening with long-honed senses that told him there was nothing here to fear.

Stopped much farther away than he'd had to be, and stood there.

Looked over when she appeared.

"Mother."