Spike flicked a peanut at the television, a moody look on his face. Clem glanced at him anxiously. Ever since Spike had returned from Africa with a soul, he'd been depressed. It hadn't taken him long to accept that he bore no responsibility for the many deaths he had dealt out as a vampire. He occasionally recalled a particularly gruesome one with a shudder but he was dealing with his past well. His melancholy was caused by the chip.
"It's like I'm a bleeding kid," he muttered. "Can't be trusted. Still got my training wheels on. Don't they know I've got a soul now? I can make my own mind up, be good because I want to be, not because of this chip, this...”
Clem interrupted, heading Spike off because frankly he didn't think he could sit through another list of every curse Spike knew, recited in a flat monotone with 'chip' inserted at intervals amongst the swearing. "Well, you know, Spike, last resort and all that but, well, I'm here, I'm willing. If you trust me that is."
Spike twisted round to stare at his friend, impatient bewilderment chasing away the drunken gloom. "You what?" he asked blearily.
"The chip. How's about I take it out for you?" he said, beaming hopefully at Spike.
Spike's brow creased. "How can you take out the sodd -?”
"The chip, yes," said Clem hastily. "Well, I don't like to brag but, well, I am a brain surgeon you know."
Spike blinked at him owlishly. Even in the dim light of the crypt and after almost a whole bottle of vodka, Clem didn't look like a brain surgeon. He said so and got a reproachful look in return.
"I have a diploma," Clem said with a certain simple dignity.
Spike gestured vaguely at him, "Go on then. Tell us about it."
"Well, it was this ad in Demons Gazette. Improve your job prospects and never leave your lair. There were twenty life skills you could acquire for a down payment of fifty dollars and ten easy payments of -"
"You can skip that bit," said Spike cynically.
"Well, I picked brain surgeon. Didn't want to waste my money learning something easy. I'm not stupid you know."
"No, 'course not, " said Spike under his breath. "You thought you could learn brain surgery by post but you're not -"
"Hey!" said Clem, getting up. "I told you. I got my diploma. They don't give them out to just everyone you know."
Even pissed, Spike recognised hurt feelings. "Sorry, mate," he said. "I trust you. 'Course I do. You have a go at it then, why don't you."
Slumping unconscious the last thing he saw was the wide grin that spread over Clem's face.
Spike woke up with a headache that transcended anything he'd ever felt before. Moaning as quietly as he could, he groped for a bottle, any bottle, to get him back into anesthetised drunkenness and out of this distressingly painful state of sobriety.
"Now, now," a voice said reprovingly. "Can't drink until the stitches come out."
Spike processed this, his eyes shut tightly. Clem. Stitches. Aargh!
Sitting up too suddenly, the ensuing pain was sufficient to send him flying back into the velvety darkness of oblivion. Thank God.
The next time he woke, the pain was manageable and his head was clear. Sitting up cautiously, he glared at Clem. "What. Did. You. Do?" he enunciated menacingly.
Clem made a little face, like a gleeful child. "I got your chip out," he chortled. "Now, what do you say?"
Holding out a bowl, he proudly showed Spike a twisted piece of metal and plastic, the size of a golf ball. "I broke it, I'm afraid," he admitted.
"Never mind the chip; what about me?" said Spike urgently. "Did you break me?"
Clem looked thoughtful, which, with his skin was a major use of muscle power. "Don't think so. It was pretty close to the memory storage area though. Let's see. A test. What's the capital of Rumania?'
Spike frowned. "I don't know!" he howled.
"But, but did you know before?" said Clem hastily.
Spike glared at him. "I don't know," he said through gritted teeth. "If I knew if I knew it, I'd know it, you plonker."
"Well, you sound the same Spike to me," said Clem with relief.
Spike placed his feet on the floor and stood up. After a wave of dizziness had receded, he walked to the door.
"Where are you going?" said Clem, alarmed to see the ferocious look of anticipation on his patient's face.
Spike flashed fangs. "To kill something," he murmured.
"But you said, you said, your soul - "
Spike waved an airy hand. "After this, I'll be good as gold but a vampire's word is his bond. And I swore if I ever got this chip out, the first thing I'd do is kill that irritating little git, Xander Harris."
Spike left. A man with a mission. And a soul. And no chip. And a demon within and a -
"Oh bugger," he thought. "The girlfriend's not going to like this."
He mused and decided to settle for thrashing Xander to within an inch of his miserable life.
In the Bronze, Xander looked around him uneasily, a premonition of impending doom so strong that even he could sense it. Deciding that drinking alone and brooding over Anya was affecting him more than he realised, he stood and made for the door.
Outside he breathed in the crisp air and felt his head clear and a measure of happiness return. Which lasted for about three seconds before the muggers pounced on him.
Xander was confused. Groping for a stake automatically, he froze when they remained human. Thieves. Didn't get many of them in Sunnydale and he was at a loss. They had him against a wall and were rifling through his pockets when a whirlwind of black leather yanked them away and slammed them to the floor.
"Spike!" squawked Xander. "They're human! How? What?"
The muggers looked up at the demonic face of their attacker and left, swiftly and silently, resolving to be better men in the future. Or to move and carry on being thieves somewhere else. Whatever.
Xander ran a shaky hand through his hair and smiled ruefully at Spike.
"Never thought I'd see the day - " he began.
"Save it, Harris," interrupted Spike with a snarl. "Chip's out and I’ve come looking for you."
"Why?" asked Xander. "And hey, thanks for that whole rescuing me thing. I guess you don't need the chip now you've got a soul, huh? Wanna have a drink on me to celebrate?"
Spike looked at Xander's face, which was wearing the goofy grin that the demon girl had found so irresistible. He opened his mouth to set Xander straight, anticipating the moment when the fear crept in as Xander realised that the Big Bad was back.
Except he wasn't.
A numb paralysis gripped Spike as he tried futilely to explain to Xander that he was facing his worst nightmare. "Make mine a beer," he heard himself say through the roaring in his ears.
Xander smiled and clapped him on the back as they headed back into the Bronze.
Back in his lair, Clem idly leafed through the paperwork from his course, a proud smile on his face. Suddenly he froze, his hearts hammering away in his chest and lower abdomen. He checked again and again but there was no getting away from it. Page seventy-three was stapled in back to front. He cross-checked what he’d done out of sequence against the map of a vampire's brain (Appendix 8iii).
With a dawning sense of horror, he realised what he'd accomplished with one hasty slash of his scalpel.
Spike's demon was now speechless. It was a dumb demon.
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