All About Spike - Plain Version
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CHAPTER 23 - DECISION
Late Wednesday Night
The branch whipped Buffy's face and she cried out. She stumbled to a halt, touching the cut on her forehead. It bled heavily and for a moment she found herself thinking of Spike's bleeding face and his look of despair. She had been running blindly and now she was in the woods. She leaned against a tree trying to stop the bleeding, then slid to the ground. Blood and tears mingled as she sobbed helplessly.
It was her worst nightmare. She had allowed herself to love Spike and now he was back to being an unchipped killer. Nightmares of when she had been forced to kill Angel rose to haunt her. How could she do that again?
For months she had been holding on to that stupid scrap of paper. The blood of a Mhora demon would return him to a human, back to the man she had finally allowed herself to love. But he wouldn't do it. And how was she supposed to argue with him. "What do we do the next time Dawn opens a portal, luv?" He wasn't even refusing because he was afraid of a soul or wanted to stay higher on the food chain. He wanted to be able to protect her and her sister. He had already faced two hell worlds to save them and was willing to face more.
"I'll spend eternity in hell before I stand by and watch you die again."
Back when she had faced Glory, she had told her friends that she would kill anyone that came near Dawn and tried to hurt her. She would have allowed the universe to be destroyed rather than see her sister die. Now she had someone who could and would protect Dawn, no matter what the cost.
But it was Spike. He might love her and her sister, but without a chip, he was a murderer. How could she allow him to remain and kill people? Yet how could she destroy the one being who would always be there when her sister was in danger?
Dawn needs him. Then, more reluctantly she found herself admitting I need him.
She suddenly remembered Xander, "But if you really think you can love this guy ... I'm talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred need ... if you're ready for that ... then think about what you're about to lose." Despite the tears, she found herself smiling slightly. How irritated Xander would be if he knew the words about Riley really applied to Spike? But Xander, as irritating and judgmental as he could be, sometimes got it right.
He was right about love. It was a scary, messy and a no-holds-barred need and it was worth fighting for.
She didn't know if she could win. She really didn't know if a vampire without a soul and without a chip could be kept from killing people. According to the Council of Watchers, it was impossible. But then, according to the Watchers and their prophecies, she should have died at the age of 16. She had won impossible battles before.
And the first step was to finally stop running.
* * *
She tried to find Spike. He hadn't returned to his old crypt.
It took two days. Buffy hadn't found him at any of his old haunts. No one at Willey's had seen him. It wasn't until she posted herself at the one butcher's shop that stayed open late that she finally found him. He didn't seem pleased to be found.
"Slayer." Not a good sign.
"We need to talk."
His eyes were cold and angry, "Not really." He walked into the butcher's shop. She waited outside. How strange was this? She was the one that needed to talk; he was the one with no time to listen. Still, if he was buying blood, it must mean that he wasn't hunting. She allowed herself to feel a touch of hope.
He came out carrying several pouches of blood in a brown paper bag. He didn't bother looking at her. She followed him as he strode away. They walked two blocks in silence before he turned and growled. "Bugger off, Blondie. I'm not in the mood."
"Well that makes everything ducky, doesn't it." He didn't slow down.
What could she say that would stop him? "I need to talk to you about Dawn."
She couldn't quite see his face but got the impression that he rolled his eyes. "You said you would spar with her. She needs to know when."
Without breaking stride he said, "Tell her I'll meet her tomorrow at the Magic Shop after school."
"The Magic Shop is closed. Willow wrecked it."
That stopped him. She watched him flex his jaw then turn around slowly.
"All right Slayer. You name a spot. I'll be there for the Bit." He was coldly controlling the anger.
"We need to talk."
"No. You just need to tell me where to meet your sister. Then you can bugger off."
She was finally noticing the first difference between this Spike and the man she had loved. The anger in his eyes was deeper. Had he always been this angry at the way she had treated him? Last year, he seemed to forgive her for anything, but last year he had been chipped. Now he wasn't.
It scared her. She didn't want to lose him. "Please, Spike." She felt like crying, but tried to hold it back. "I'm so sorry I hit you. I was so scared." Now the tears were escaping and it was all she could do not to sob out loud.
He stood silent and gradually she saw the tension fade from his body. He shook his head. "Damn you, Buffy, that's cheating." He almost reached forward, as if to brush her tears away, then sighed. "Fine. I have to put this blood away, then we'll talk."
They walked quietly, side by side. She watched him out of the corner of her eye. He was still gaunt, and looked older, worn, if that was possible for a vampire. Combined with the duster and the unconscious swagger of his walk, he looked dangerous.
They approached a creek bed in the poorer part of Sunnydale. There hidden in the brush, was the old De Soto. Spike opened up the trunk and popped the blood bags into a cooler. He kept one and tore it open, pouring blood into a mug.
He leaned wearily against the car and sipped out of the mug. "So, talk."
"This is where you're staying?"
The vampire shrugged. "It'll do until I get my strength back. I'm not really in the mood to fight with anyone for a home right now." He had finished the mug and filled it again.
"It's not right."
He tilted his head, watching her. "I've stayed here before, Buffy. It's dark. I'm safe during the day."
She looked at the battered car with the painted windows. He had saved her and her sister, endured hell and now he had to live like a bum, huddled in a car during the daylight. "You could come back to our place." She realized what she had said and hastily added, "For a shower." He looked at her and she found herself remembering what they had done the last time he had taken a shower at her house. She flushed. "That wasn't what I meant. I mean, that wasn't what I wanted to say."
"Then what do you want to say?" Spike's voice sounded patient, almost resigned. He looked so tired of the tangled games they always played.
Buffy was tired of the games too. There had to be some sort of way to make their relationship work. She knew what she wanted to say, but not how to say it. "I want to say. . . I want to ask . . . have you hunted since you got back?"
He threw his head back and looked at the sky as if searching for an answer. "How am I supposed to answer that, luv? If I say yes, you stake me. If I say no, you think I'm a bloody liar." When she didn't say anything, he looked directly at her. "No, Buffy. I haven't killed or hurt anyone. You don't tolerate serial killers. I told you a long time ago, I've changed. Do you think," He suddenly hurled the cup away, "I'd be drinking this swill if I was hunting?"
The mug shattered against the ground. Buffy looked at it, then at Spike. "I wish I could trust you."
"For God sake, Slayer. You're living on the Hellmouth, the center of magic. Even the soddin' Watcher had a truth spell. Find an amulet or someone who reads auras. Have Angel send over his bloody demon and I'll sing a stupid song for him. I'm telling the truth, Buffy."
"How can you give up killing?"
He exploded. "I love you!" He leaned forward, and grabbed hold of her arms, his fingers digging bruises into her flesh. "I've told you, again and again, I love you. I'm drowning in you. If it means giving up evil, I will." Buffy stared up at his intense face, reading the desperate love in his eyes. She froze. He slowly leaned forward and kissed her. It was hard, almost violent. He pulled her towards himself.
She almost surrendered. She yielded, then weakly tried to push him away. "No, we can't."
To her astonishment, he let go. He turned and slammed his fist against the car. He took a deep unnecessary breath. "Right, Slayer. Time for you to start running.
"I'm not running. I won't run any more. But I have to understand. How am I supposed to believe that you won't kill? No vampire has ever done that except Angel and he has a soul."
"I don't have a bloody soul. I don't need one to remember the bloody difference between right and wrong."
"But no other vampire has stopped being evil."
He snarled. "Maybe no other vampire has been stuck loving a slayer or with a soddin' chip in their head. Maybe no other vampire was stuck for a damned eternity in hell, having to think about everything they lost when they were murdered and going mad trying to figure out some way to get it back."
She didn't know what to say. The anger seeped out of him and he looked at her with the face she had seen once before, when he stood in her doorway after the disinvite spell and saw all that he had lost. His voice was weary. "Everything seemed so clear when I was a man. I was suddenly able to say the right things and understand why you could never love a monster. I saw what I'd been doing to you, telling you that you were wrong and trying to pull you into my world."
"It all feels different now. It's like I know right from wrong, but humans are back to smelling like food." He grimaced. "I guess I'm back to being evil. I won't do evil, but everything is fuzzier now."
"Is it just because you love me. If you got mad at me or I died, would you go back to killing?"
"I won't lie to you, luv. I don't know." He tilted his head, looking thoughtful. "When you were dead and I was fighting with the Scoobies. . ." He looked reminiscent. "It was a good fight." He met her eyes. "You know me. I like a good brawl, back against the wall, nothing but fists and fangs. It drove Angelus mad. I was always looking for something bigger to battle with, a mob or a slayer. This fight that you do, against impossible odds to save the world, it's like nothing else."
"Back when we first worked together, we saved the bloody world. I'm not just preying on creatures weaker than me, like I used to. We're destroying knights, demons and hell-gods. I may not be good, but I'm a fighter, and this is the best battle there is. Even though I know you can never love a monster, I want to be able to fight by your side."
She wanted to touch him, to reassure him somehow. "I want that. I want us to be able to go back to sparring and patrolling together." She sighed. "I'll ask Giles to help me come up with something."
He shrugged, resigned to the fact that she couldn't trust an evil soulless thing. "Make it some sort of amulet or aura reader. A truth spell would ruin my poker games."
She hated the resignation in his voice, the fact that for the sake of other people and their safety she would always have to doubt him. She owed him so much more. "Spike. I wouldn't have staked you. Somehow I never have been able to slay you." His eyes widened. "But," her voice grew firm, "I can't love a killer. If you kill or even try to hurt a human, I'll destroy the monster in you. I'll take you down and give you the Mhora blood. I'll force you to be human and you'll never be able to close a portal again."
He whistled silently. He remembered being held captive, watching Dawn scream when the goons were on her and being too weak to help her. He remembered the 147 days of agony, knowing that Buffy had died because he had failed her. "You wouldn't put your little sis in danger?"
"Try me." She stared at him coldly. "I can find a way to protect her without using a mass murderer."
She means it. For a moment he could imagine what it would be like, living with the anguish of a conscience, remembering the face of the person he killed and knowing that Buffy or Dawn could die because he had been weak. It shook him to the core.
"Find your magic, Slayer." It was hard to keep his voice from shaking. "I won't kill."
* * *
She was as good as her word. Four days later, she stopped by and told him that Giles had sent something by special delivery. Dawn would pick it up that afternoon and they would use it when she got back from work.
Dawn opened the door when he arrived that evening. She smelled sweet and sleepy and fresh from the shower. She smiled and let him into the house that had so briefly been his home. "I'm making hot chocolate. Want some?"
He wondered if this was how divorced dads felt, separated from the children they wanted to nurture. As if she read his mind, Dawn asked, "When are you coming back to live with us?"
"Don't know if I ever will. Buffy has to trust me first."
"She will. But it's hard. She's the Slayer and responsible for protecting people. And it's hard to believe that a vampire could give up killing." Her tone changed. "How can you?"
"I love your big sis. Besides, you saved me." He smiled at the surprise in her face. "Gave me a chance to cool off. Back when I was first turned, I was a fledgling. You know them, pretty much running on instinct. If I'd stayed, I probably would have done something stupid, like draining people and trying to hide it from Buffy. But your portal put me someplace where I couldn't hurt anyone. And it gave me time to think, not something we vampires do very much."
He'd never tell her how long he had been trapped or that by time he was free he was far, far too old to act like a fledgling. Maybe being sired by minions this time, instead of the Master's line, had left him weaker, he didn't know. But he was old now and far from stupid. Except that human, fledgling or Master Vampire, he still loved the Slayer. Maybe that was stupid, but it remained the core of his existence.
Now he was talking to a girl burdened with incredible power. She was the Key and he wanted her to stop feeling guilty.
"Spent a lot of time thinking of a story. Wanna hear it?"
She grinned. "Is it as good as the 'little girl in the coal bin' story?"
"I liked it."
"Tell me a bedtime story." She sipped on the chocolate and for the moment looked as sleepy and young as a four-year-old.
"Once upon a time there were some monks."
"Oh I think I might like this one."
"They were very good men with a very important job. They had to protect a magic Key. It was green and glowy and very powerful. It could open the doors to new worlds, both good and bad. They had to keep the bad guys from ever getting the Key's power."
"Everything comes to an end, so when the line of monks almost ended, they made a very brave decision. They would make the Key alive. They made it into a little girl."
"Was she beautiful?"
"No, she was a shiny-haired brat. Quiet, Niblet, I'm on a roll."
"So now instead of the monks deciding how the Key should be used, the Key could learn for herself. They put her with the very best family, so she could learn right from wrong. She was given a mother so loving and kind that she could even pity a monster. And she was given a big sister who risked her life every night to save other people. She was surrounded by friends who were basically good people."
He growled and ignored her. "She learned to be powerful. She learned to open portals and she had a nifty little trick of inventing a portal that would suck up any bad guys that tried to use her. It no longer was possible to use the Key for evil because she wouldn't allow it."
He watched her smile. "And now that the Key was powerful, she could open portals for good reasons. Like to help lost babies or find worlds where they had a cure for cancer. She could make things better."
"Is there a vampire in the story?"
"Yeah, a Big Bad. She and her sister somehow made him a bloody white hat."
"But not too good."
"No, they never quite tamed him, but they let him help."
"But the best part of the story is this. Keys can open doors, but they can also lock them. The girl's big sis could handle day-to-day fighting . . ."
("Don't you mean night-to night?" "Hush.")
". . . but it was when someone tried to end the world that things got risky. Bad guys were always trying to open up the Hellmouth and let the forces of evil flood the world. That's when big sis would face death."
Dawn's face was still.
"So the Key learned to close portals and lock them up. And she closed the Hellmouth forever. She and big sis were able to grow old and live happily ever after."
"And the vampire?"
"He just got better looking with age. And the Key did him a favor and stopped opening portals to cold places. Bad guys only got sent to worlds with lots of shade and good beer."
He heard a giggle and turned surprised. How long had Buffy been there?
" 'Night Spike." Dawn kissed his cheek. "'Night Buffy." She vanished upstairs.
He was slightly embarrassed. "How much did you hear?"
Buffy looked greasy but happy. "Enough." She held up the UPS package. "We need to get this over with."
He grimaced. She opened the package and dumped out a yellow crystal and a note. She glanced at it. "Giles says it's from that coven in Devon. If you hold it and tell the truth, it gets a pink glow." She put the note down. "Shall we try it?"
He grimaced and grabbed the crystal. "I'm still hunting." The crystal stayed yellow. "I've given up killing people." It changed, glowing a deep radiant pink. "I'm not hurting any one." Pink. "I'm not stealing." Pink. " I'm not going to hurt anyone. I'm so soddin' virtuous it hurts." Bright pink. He threw it down on the table.
"There's your answer, Slayer."
If his face was still human, she knew it would be flushed with humiliation. "I believed you before. But I couldn't risk other people's lives. I did that with Angel and I won't do it again." She looked at the misery on his face when she mentioned his grandsire and knew she owed him something.
She took the crystal firmly in her hand. "I love you, Spike." The crystal glowed again, a deep luminous pink. "I love the humanity I see inside you." Pink again. This was harder to get out. "And I love the monster in you as well. It's fierce and strong and I've always found it beautiful, even when I was afraid of it." Her cheeks turned as pink as the crystal glowing in her hand.
They sat across the table, staring at each other. Her Spike, her monster, was speechless. Finally, just to break the silence, she asked, "Are you strong enough now to patrol with me again? I was in a hurry to get this all over with and I haven't done my rounds."
"Ah . . ." He cleared his throat. "Right."
She went over to the weapons chest and got out a couple of extra stakes. As she opened the door, she turned. He still looked stunned and hesitant. "After the patrol, we can come back here and shower."
The hesitancy faded and suddenly the obnoxious cocky look that she had missed so much returned. "Right. I got your back, Slayer."
And the two of them went out into the night, side by side.
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