Naked Burn


by Zero





I didn't begin to wake until my instincts of self-preservation kicked in. Daylight was beginning to push at the windows, and the demon within me clamored in alarm, as it did every morning, though the house was firmly shuttered up against the dawn. While my foggy mind quickly recognized the fact that I was in no immediate danger, it took it a moment longer to realize that I was stark naked, sprawled out on my back in the middle of the floor.

My left hand still clutched an empty bottle, and the right curled over my stomach. An annoying, indistinct buzzing echoed in my brain, as if someone were whispering too low to be understood, and I thought it was a byproduct of my hangover until I realized I'd left a Chris Isaak CD on "repeat" in a fit of depression and it was still playing sappily in the background.

I must've sprawled there for ten minutes before I finally sat up, very slowly. Once I was more or less vertical, my forearms resting on my knees, I surveyed the room.

The place where I'd fallen asleep had once been occupied by a coffee table, but I'd shattered that against a wall and used it as firewood sometime in the night. The couch had come through my drinking binge unscathed, though several bottles scattered its surface, and the two paintings that decorated the walls were intact, if a bit crooked. That was good. The only expense of my depression was a lot of alcohol, a table I hadn't liked much anyway...

Oh, and my entire wardrobe.

My leather duster was tossed over the couch, and my boots were flung haphazardly near the wall, but they were all that remained of clothing in my house.

Or perhaps not *all* that remained. A glance at the fireplace revealed the half-burned leg of a pair of jeans, and the sleeve of a red shirt only slightly eaten by fire. But I'd take care of that.

I rose cautiously, steadied myself on my feet, and left the room a bit gracelessly, snapping off the CD player along the way and stumbling over the short step up into the kitchen. I returned wrapped in a wool blanket and holding a mostly-used can of lighter fluid. One fumbling hand scooped up the remains of my clothes and shoved them all the way into the fireplace. The action stirred up a few burning red embers among the ash of several other pairs of jeans, t-shirts, and button-downs, and I quickly uncapped the lighter fluid and sent a stream of the liquid into the fireplace.

It caught quickly on the still-glowing embers and ignited quite spectacularly, and though I was fairly satisfied with the light show, I kept pouring on the lighter fluid until the fire roared, consuming its fuel too fast. It flashed and soon died with nothing left to feed upon.

For a moment I wondered whether there was anything else in the place that I could burn, but I discovered that I'd emptied the can of lighter fluid, so I tossed it aside and sat back on my haunches to contemplate the fireplace. For the most part it was quiet and returned my contemplation, but it still smoked, and occasionally it hissed as cool air hit dying heat.

"When the phone goes 'ring, ring'," her voice said from behind me, "that's your cue to pick it up. Traditionally you're supposed to say 'hello', but I think in your case even a grunt would do."

I didn't know if she expected a verbal sparring match or just wanted a punching bag. It didn't really matter, either. I wasn't up for it. Or anything, for that matter. I pulled the blanket around my shoulders a little tighter and remained crouched in front of the fireplace, balanced on the balls of my feet. The fireplace was completely dark, but I still stared at it.

Buffy sighed, exasperated. Her footfalls echoed in the sparsely decorated room as she stepped toward me. "You weren't answering your phone, Spike," she chided. "Giles wanted me to come and check on you before classes today, since you're his little vampire helper these days. So... are you okay?"

"They say you can see the future in a person's entrails," I said suddenly, after letting the silence drag out. Her snort told me that she expected exactly that kind of statement from the undead. "You think it works for ashes, too? Like maybe... if you burn something, what's left can tell you something? About yourself?"

Her heels clacked on the floor as she moved closer still, until she slid down next to the hearth and took a seat on the floor, leaning her back against the wall. She paused to see what I found so interesting about the fireplace, but then settled back and fixed her eyes on me instead.

"I think," she said, "that you'd better not eviscerate anybody because you hope to get some answers to questions you don't know how to ask. I'm feeling too lazy to stake your ass."

That was enough to draw my gaze from the ashes, and I turned my head to look at her, my body slipping rather gracelessly to the floor, cross-legged and wrapped up in the blanket. "Where did you learn a big word like 'eviscerate', Slayer?"

She smiled a little and said, "Trade lingo."

I returned a small smile of my own and a knowing nod. "Don't worry," I said. "I don't plan to eviscerate anyone. Just wondering, I suppose... if there's insight to be found anywhere at all."

My eyes once again strayed to the empty fire place, but Buffy recaptured it when she spoke again. "I see you didn't answer the phone because you were piss drunk," she said, conversationally. "And since you're thinking deep thoughts, I take it you're sober again?"

"Unfortunately."

"Want to talk about it?"

I leveled her with a searching stare, wondering if she meant it, wondering if I'd be capable of speech at all. Finally I shook my head: no.

She just nodded her acceptance and leaned her head back against the wall, her eyes falling sleepily shut. We sat in silence for what seemed like forever, and though I mostly kept unseeing eyes locked somewhere on the floor between myself and the hearth, some part of my brain did note that the growing daylight was putting an eerie orange glow at the seams where window met frame and frame met shutter. A bird was singing near the north window. The sun hadn't yet warmed the landscape; cool breezes still shifted in through the cracks and rustled the leaves of the trees outside.

"What did you burn, Spike?" she asked, not opening her eyes, maintaining her relaxed posture against the wall.

"My clothes," I answered, somewhat sullenly.

That earned a reaction. She opened one eye, looked at me like I was a complete idiot, and said, "Why'd you do that?"

I shrugged, pulling the blanket up a little to bunch at my neck. "Didn't want them anymore."

"No desire to help the less fortunate, huh?"

I rolled my eyes, shooting her a glare. "I may help you and your little friends save the world, Slayer, but I draw the line at donating to the Salvation Army."

She chuckled, momentarily diverted, but granted only a moment's respite before speaking again.

"I always wondered, Spike... what was it with you and that outfit? I mean, sure, it looked good, but there is such a thing as overdoing it." She paused, considering, then said, "Also, it's possible to overdo it in getting rid of clothes. You can just throw them out, you know."

I smiled faintly, though I'm sure it looked more like a wistful grimace. "Drusilla liked it."

"I guess she liked it *a lot*."

A million images ran through my head in the space of a few seconds. My dark queen; so many moments with me, so much love and devotion and tenderness, so many rough touches and excited whimpers, so much blood and glorious moonlight.... But the memories went more quickly than they came, a reminder of the fleeting, fickle nature of love itself.

The tale began tumbling from my lips before I could stop it, and once it began it only gathered steam.

"I obviously wore it all once in the eighties; Dru and I were going out to hunt, and I dressed the way you've always seen me dressed. She loved it, and she insisted that I wear it for three days, straight. I don't know why. I don't think she did, either. But I'd do anything for her, so I wore it. On the fourth day I changed into something else. She saw me, panicked, ran back into her room and refused to come out until I put those clothes back on."

Buffy cocked an eyebrow inquisitively, but she didn't say anything. She wanted to ask why. She wanted to say something witty and cutting about Drusilla. Because she knew the story was coming, she refrained from the former. Out of respect for me -- odd concept -- she refrained from the latter. Her silence was heartening.

"You know how Drusilla was," I finally said, drawing a meaningless pattern on the floor with my fingertip. "She was like a child sometimes, senseless of the things happening around her, unable to make sense of the things she saw and heard. Most vampires... they stay stuck in the time they crossed over for a long time, they wear outdated clothes, because they don't really want to admit that their time as a human being is over. Drusilla... she wore her old dresses and she used her old combs. But not because she denied she was dead. Because, like a child, she was confused and scared by change. The past and its trappings were the only things that still made sense, completely and absolutely, because she'd been there, and she remembered them."

"She got used to you wearing those clothes," Buffy murmured. "And when you changed into something different, it confused her. She got scared, like you weren't the same person anymore."

I nodded.

"So you wore the same outfit for two decades just because it was easier on Drusilla that way."

Another nod. "I had several sets, of course, but they all looked the same."

She shifted forward and took a close look into the fireplace. "Now they *really* all look the same," she said, a smile in her voice. When she looked up at me, her gaze was serious and sympathetic. "Finally decided you don't need them anymore?"

My silence was answer enough. It was filled with pain, and longing, and complete heartbreak, but foremost... acceptance.

The quiet stretched on for at least ten minutes, then, broken only by tiny rustles of movement when she shifted. It was oddly restful, and I felt as if a secret had been imparted to a willing ear. Perhaps it had.

"So what are you going to wear now?" she blurted out, voice sounding strangely loud.

I looked down at my body, covered only by the blanket. "Oops" was the only thought my guilty brain could supply.

"I was drunk," I said, with a bit of a sigh. "I hadn't thought that far ahead."

Though she tried to hold her laughter in, it bubbled out anyway, erupting until she lost her breath and began to gasp, still giggling. I waited patiently for the fun-at-Spike's-expense portion of the day to end, and was rewarded with a shamed look when her laughter finally died out.

"I'll get some stuff for you today," she promised. "I'll make sure I get it here before sunset."

"Thanks," I said, both grateful and fearing she'd return with something in purple polyester.

She rose without another word and retreated back to the doorway, stepping softly this time to keep her passage quiet. My voice stopped her at the same moment her hand rattled the knob.

"If Dru saw me now... she wouldn't know me, would she? Even though my face will be the same forever, she wouldn't recognize me as the man she loved."

Buffy was quiet, perhaps debating whether to stay or go. I didn't turn to see which option she would choose, but waited, with my back turned, for her response.

"Change is the only constant," she murmured. "I'll see you later tonight." And then the door closed with a muted thump behind her.

I remained in place for at least an hour, until my feet became as numb as I wished my mind could be. Then I shifted forward slightly, slowly, sinking my hand into the pile of ashes in the fireplace, filling my fist with reminders, only to unfurl my fingers and let it all go again. Lurching to my feet, ignoring the pins and needles as sensation rushed back to my limbs, I stepped into the kitchen and turned on the faucet.

The water flowed clean and clear, splashing into the basin with a liquid sparkle. My hand was black with soot and ash, and I stuck it under the water's flow, watching as my fingers washed clean and the remains of things lost gurgled away down the drain.


THE END

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