Title: Pushing an Elephant Up the Stairs

Rating: This chapter is PC-13 for language.

Spoilers: Set after 7.14 First Date.

Response to the following challenge: Set anytime during season seven: Spike is back from Africa with the soul that he fought for and won. Make him lose the soul, however you choose: noble sacrifice, random quirk of fate, trick, whatever. Soulless Spike is back. What happens now? How will this effect his relationships with the Scoobies and with Buffy? The fic should be pro-soulless redemption, although it doesn't necessarily have to have a happy ending. Any ship you choose, any length, any rating.

Distribution: Let me know.

Review please.

Chapter 1

"Back from patrolling already?" Buffy asked as Wood entered the kitchen.

"Yeah."

"How was it?"

"Same amount of activity as usual."

"Where's Spike?" For the past two weeks everybody capable of fighting went patrolling in teams. Spike took Wood, Xander, and two of the potentials. Buffy took Willow and four potentials. Between the two teams they were keeping the demons under control, but just barely. Buffy knew they were going to have to train harder and work more girls into rotation or they would never be able to keep up. She was thankful for Wood's help though. Every extra body on their side was appreciated.

Wood shrugged. "He said he was going to do one more sweep before he came back."

Buffy nodded, it sounded like something he would do. She knew Spike had been doing his best to avoid the house. He had confessed to her that all of the noise and activity set him on edge.

It was nearly dawn when Buffy noticed that Spike still wasn't back. She normally wouldn't worry about Spike, he was capable of taking care of himself, but the First was still gunning for him. He may not survive being captured again, and she couldn't lose him. Not now, not when the final battle was so close.

She would have to go look for him, but she had no idea where to start. She didn't even know what part of town they were in last night. Of course, if the Bringers captured him again, then he could be anywhere. For a moment she could feel panic well up inside of her, but she quickly squashed it down. Spike would be fine. She repeated this to herself a few more times before she gathered an axe and decided to call Wood. He was the last one who saw Spike.

She spent ten minutes trying to find his phone number. She knew she should program it into her cell, but she didn't have the time. Little things like that had been slipping her mind more and more often these days. As soon as she found the number, she quickly dialed.

"Pick up, pick up, pick up," she muttered as the phone rang on and on. She counted 7 rings before he picked up.

" 'ello?" His voice was raspy.

"Hi, it's me. Did I wake you? Wait, of course I did. I'll be quick. Where was the last place you Spike?"

"Uh, the cemetery."

Buffy sighed, "There are 15 cemeteries in Sunnydale. Can you give me the general area?"

"The one where we killed that nest of vampires three nights ago."

Buffy knew that one quite well. It was one of the oldest cemeteries in Sunnydale and usually very quiet. The nest was unusual and, as a result, ominous. "Thanks. Sorry for waking you."

She didn't wait for his response before she hung up. She only had 45 minutes until the sun came up.

~*~

Spike could feel the heat from the first distant rays of sun long before the sky brightened. He had been walking for the past 5 hours, aimlessly wondering down back allies and quiet side streets. He killed any demons or vampires he came across, but he wasn't looking for them. He was just walking.

He used to walk a lot, back when he was still with the "family." He couldn't stand to be around Angelus and Darla, and they wouldn't let him be with Dru, so after he fed, he walked. Paris was his favorite city to wander through, but London was nice too. He fell out of the habit though when it was just he and Dru. She didn't like to be left alone, and she didn't like to walk when they weren't hunting.

He meandered down these streets and into the dark corners of the night after Buffy died. That was the last time he'd been this depressed. Everything around him seemed bleak and pointless. His existence was over, and now all that was left was to choose how he wanted to go. Did he want to wait for his first sunrise in over a century, or did he want to find Buffy and fight her one last time?

He shook his head. It would be too selfish to make Buffy do it. It would be better for everybody all around if he just disappeared quietly, without any fanfare. They wouldn't want him around anyway. He was far too dangerous. The chip was gone, and now so was the soul.

He didn't know how it happened. He just knew that it was gone now. He was a soulless thing again. Remnants of the guilt remained, flashes and shadows of intolerable pain filled his mind. But that didn't count. He didn't feel any blood lust, or any interest in hunting. As a matter of fact, he just wanted to go back to his cot in the basement and listen to the maddening sound of dozens of heartbeats pounding overhead as he tried to sleep.

But Buffy wouldn't let him come back. Not now that he was unleashed. Not now that he was no longer a man. Just a thing. A thing that killed thousands and thousands of people, including two Slayers. She would be right to stake him.

He recognized in a detached way that this wasn't him. He should be fighting for his life. He should flip them all the finger and go off and do whatever he wanted to do. He missed Paris. He could find Dru again. Or not. He could be the Big Bad again if he wanted. But he shouldn't just give up.

Spike understood this, but he was tired. Tired right to his bones. He felt completely worn, and he just couldn't muster the energy to try again. He had the life of the Big Bad, and honestly, he didn't miss it. There was nothing there for him. And there was nothing for him in Paris or London or New York. The only thing he wanted was in Sunnydale, and he had been fighting for her for so long that he was too wounded to launch another attack. He was persistent, but he was out of ideas.

So he was about to do something he had never, ever done before. Simply give up. Lay down his arms. He had thirty minutes until the sun would sneak over the horizon, and he wondered idly if his final seconds on Earth would hurt as badly as the last two years had. A part of him resisted the thought and desperately tried to turn back to Revello Drive, but that part was tired too.

He vaguely remembered Dawn telling him about Angel and the miracle snow, and that made the thought of waiting for the sun far less appealing. But he already tried once to stake himself and failed, so it would have to be easy, quick, foolproof method. Sure it was a little trite, but there's a reason taking a long walk into the sunrise is a classic. Good ol' Peaches. He got a miracle snowstorm on Christmas of all days. Spike had to roll his eyes at the thought. What a fucking drama queen. Spike figured he'd probably get a hailstorm, with extra lightning. That was how his luck was running lately, anyway.

Twenty-five minutes. Did he really want to die in front of someone's suburban home? No, he still had some dignity. Besides, it wouldn't do to burst into flames in someone's front yard and scare the locals. Though it would be funny. Maybe he should knock on someone's door and give them a good fright. He smiled at the thought. One last hurrah! as the Big Bad. Maybe he'd get lucky and a kid would answer the door.

Twenty-two minutes. He shed his duster. He didn't want to wear it to begin with, but Buffy wanted the Big Bad, didn't she? And whatever Buffy wanted, Buffy got. But Spike didn't want to die in the coat. He dropped it as he walked, unmindful of where it fell.

~*~

Buffy checked her watch. 16 minutes until sunrise. If he was caught somewhere, injured and unprotected, he would be dust. She ran through the streets, her footsteps echoing loudly in her ears. The world was starting to wake up, and people were already stepping outside in their bathrobes to grab their morning newspapers.

Buffy found a few demon carcasses littering the streets and tried to find his trail. It seemed that he spent some time in a quiet residential section. That was her best bet and so she ran up and down the block, searching for black coat and crisp white hair.

She almost had a heart attack two minutes later when she saw his coat discarded in a gutter. Spike wouldn't take off his coat would he? Did somebody steal it from him? Was there a pile of dust under the coat? She tentatively picked it up and breathed a sigh of relief when there were no signs of vampire dust. Jesus, where was he?

She ran on. She knew something was wrong. Spike wouldn't just disappear on her, not now. Her mind came up with several worse case scenarios. What if she lost him again? And what if this time she couldn't find him?

Wait. Was that him?

~*~

Spike was so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn't hear her coming. No sense in being on his guard this close to daybreak, and besides, he didn't really have a reason to defend himself. As he turned another corner, walking down an ever-brightening street, 90 lbs of Slayer knocked him onto the ground.

"Ooof," Spike groaned.

"What are you doing?" Buffy demanded. "Are you stupid or something? The sun is coming up!"

"I know Buffy."

"So, what are you doing?"

"Let me up, Slayer."

"No, you tell me first."

"Slayer, let me up!"

"Who do you think you are? Do you think you can just run off and not come back? What the hell is wrong with you?"

Spike roared with frustration and flung her off his back, then stood up quickly. She glared at him, a tight bundle of fury and power. "It's gone," he said quietly.

"What? What's gone? What's going on Spike?"

"The soul."

"Your soul is gone? How?" Buffy's voice was rising in pitch. She was scared.

He shrugged, "I don't know, Slayer. It just is. It was inside of me, making me all warm, making me alive, and now it's not there anymore."

"Well how do you know it's gone? Maybe you just can't feel it."

Spike shook his head, "It's gone."

Buffy was reeling with the implications of this. He didn't have his chip either. God, would she have to kill him? She couldn't do it. "You weren't going to tell me, you were just going to leave town?"

"Slayer, look around. I'm in the middle of the bloody town, and the sun will be up in 10 minutes."

"So you're going to." She couldn't even finish the thought. "Why?"

Spike blinked, "Well, so you wouldn't have to."

"You didn't even say goodbye." It was a stupid thing to say, but her heart was in her throat, and she was too shocked to form complete sentences.

"Didn't think it was necessary."

"Not necessary? Not necessary! Spike, you can't just leave me."

Spike smiled sadly. "I can't stay either."

"So you're just going to kill yourself? Jesus, Spike, it's not like you to just give up."

"Don't you see Buffy? It doesn't matter. You've said it yourself. Without the soul I'm just a dead thing. And without the chip, I'm a killing machine, right?"

"I don't know Spike." And she didn't know. If he lived, he would be unchecked forever. Sure he could abstain for killing half the population of California while she was alive, but what happened when she died? What happened if he fell out of love with her? What would she do if she ever had to hunt him down? "I need you."

"No you don't Buffy. You have Wood. He's a good fighter, he can help you. Raised by a watcher even, what more could a Slayer ask for?"

Spike's face was highlighted by the pink sky. She was running out of time. She couldn't let him go through with this. He was different. Her instincts screamed at her to haul him to safety. And honestly, her heart did too.

"You," she answered softly.

He laughed. He actually laughed at her. "Buffy, please. You've never lied to me before, do me a favor and don't start now."

"I'm not lying."

"Right. Look, why don't you toddle on home and tell them that Spike is out of their hair. They'd be thrilled, I'm sure."

Buffy grabbed his arm, "I'm not going home without you."

"You want the honors yourself, Slayer? Fine, go ahead."

She could feel tears in the back of her throat, but she choked them back. She would not cry. "I don't want to kill you Spike, and I don't want you to die."

"Did you not hear me? I don't have a soul, Buffy."

Oh god, oh god, he was standing in the shadows, but a patch of light was only inches from his boot. She was going to lose him. Could there be a world without Spike? Was she willing to beg him for his life, like she begged Angel? She didn't think the Powers that Be would intercede and block the sun, and now the light was nearly touching his boot. He could take one step forward and be gone from her life completely.

"I don't care."

"What?"

She shook her head. "I don't care, Spike. Not anymore."

"So you're saying my soul quest was worthless? Well that's just bloody fantastic."

"No, it wasn't. You proved yourself Spike. You proved yourself over and over, and I'm sorry I didn't see it before, but I do now."

Spike shook his head, "You're a sodding illusion."

"What? No I'm not."

"Yes, you're the First fucking with my mind again. It's not going to work." He lifted his foot and moved to take a step back, and Buffy frantically grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him back into the shade.

"If I was the First, I wouldn't be able to do that."

"What do you want from me Buffy?"

"I want you to go come home with me."

"Why?"

Buffy took a deep breath. "Because, with or without a soul, I can't live without you."

Spike could almost smell his hair start to smoke. The back of his neck was itchy, and he felt extremely uncomfortable. All of his instincts were telling him to run. And now, she was standing before him, bathed in early morning light, all soft curves and hard muscle. He started breathing hard, indecision tearing him apart. But what was there to decide? His Slayer had already made his decision.

"What happens if you change your mind?" he asked.

"I won't."

Despite himself and their past, he believed her. "Fine, let's see if we can get out of the sun."

Buffy sighed in relief. "Yeah, let's get you home."

They moved quickly through the shadows, outrunning the deadly rays. Buffy knew they were going to have to deal with all of this, eventually. But she told him before that she trusted him, and she meant it.

TBC