TITLE: Free Will
PAIRING: Willow, Spike (friendship)
RATING: G
SPOILERS: S7 – Set during "Dirty Girls" after Willow's return to Revello Drive, while Buffy and Faith are out following a bringer to Caleb's lair; i.e., before the vineyard massacre.
SUMMARY: Spike and Willow have things in common
DEDICATION: for Claudia_yvr. Many thanks to LadyCat, Claudia_vyr, Mikelesq and Snoopysgirl for their input and help.
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The place looked like a war zone: empty cereal boxes and Lipton's bottles everywhere, the sink overflowing with dirty dishes, the stove splattered with what looked like dried blood but probably was burnt tomato sauce. Tea and coffee mugs were scattered all over the kitchen, and most of the surfaces were sticky and full of crumbs. Two stacks of empty pizza boxes sat beside the backdoor, waiting to be put into the trash. Willow barely registered their presence. It was beginning to feel like a feature, not a bug.

She filled the kettle, the running water drowning out the chatter of agitated voices from the living room. Shaken by the preacher's brutality, the potentials were taking advantage of Buffy and Faith's absence to discuss Buffy's intention to lead them into battle. The girls were scared and with good reason. They didn't know Buffy like Willow did; they didn't know that Buffy always found a way…

Willow tried to hold on to the comforting thought while going through the cupboards in search of a clean mug. There wasn't a single clean one left in the whole kitchen.

A few words of power and one snap of her fingers and the pots and pans would clang a merry beat while plates, cups and cutlery dove into the sink like ducks into a pond. The mop would swipe the floor and there'd be rainbow-colored bubbles.

Child's play.

"Higitus figitus migitus mum, skitun de bitun de baton de dum," Willow hummed under her breath. "Who cares as long as the work gets done, rubbedy scrubbedy sweepety flow.…"

"You're right, this dump needs a spell of cleaning," Spike startled her, striding through the kitchen to open the fridge. "Don't stop on my account."

Willow flinched. "I—uh—I wasn't. Doing magic, I mean. It—it wasn't a spell, I don't do magic, not anymore, not for trivial stuff. It was just a song - you know, from the movie?"

Spike grunted something unintelligible and noncommittal and began to ruthlessly move things around in the fridge, totally destroying any semblance of order.

Willow sighed and switched the electric kettle on. Spike might sound all cool, but she recognized his casual-on-the-outside-jumpy-on-the-inside act. Spike was wary of her, just like everybody else. He was only better at hiding it.

It wasn't really fair; Merlin didn't have to worry about turning black-eyed and zombie-faced, or pink, fat, and ugly like Madam Mim, whenever he made his sugar bowl hop across the table.

With another sigh, Willow piled the dirty dishes up next to the sink and turned on the hot tap.

Meanwhile, Spike had found and dug out the brown paper bag that hid his jar of pig's blood from sensitive teenager eyes. Seeing that there were no clean mugs available yet and that the jar was only half full, he shrugged and stuck it into the microwave.

"Looks like a lot of stuff happened while I was in L.A," Willow said and started putting dirty mugs into the hot water. "Is it true, that Principal Wood tried to kill you? And that…um…the trigger got deactivated?"

"Where d'you hear all that?" Was the guarded reply. Spike's voice was flat, unemotional.

"I have my own nefarious sources." Willow answered. "Actually, I kinda heard it through the grapevine. Buffy told Anya, um, or maybe not so much 'told her' but 'snapped' at her, because Anya was on one of her usual why-does-Spike-get-special-treatment rants, and then Anya told Xander, but only to annoy him I think, and Xander, well, he told me."

Spike's "uh-huh" coincided with the 'ping' of the microwave.

Unexpectedly, Spike stayed in the kitchen to drink his blood, instead of skedaddling back to his lair in the basement. She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him eat. Certainly not around the potentials. When he wasn't helping with their training or something Spike kind of avoided them altogether.

"You could pick up a towel," Willow suggested, putting another mug on the drying rack.

"I'm souled, not housebroken," the sullen vampire muttered and took another sip.

Willow was not offended. She dried one of the mugs, then rifled through the cupboards.

"I'm— uh—making coffee? If there's any left. Would you like some? Oh, look I found some cookies. Yay me." Willow waved a packet of chocolate-chip cookies in the air. She studied the yellow post-it that said: 'Do not touch!!!!! Andrew' and weighed the consequences. Deciding that she had more serious crimes to feel guilty about than confiscating Andrew's cookies for therapeutic purposes, she opened the packet and helped herself to a cookie. Mmmm, chocolate!

Spike watched her with disconcerting intensity, silently drinking his blood without even morphing into grrr-argh-face.

"So, um, how does it feel, you know, being all Free Willy?" Willow asked him, spurred onwards by a spark of almost forgotten mischief.

"Willy?" Spike spluttered, almost choking on his blood.

Willow grinned lopsidedly at his mock horror, momentarily free of the gravity that always seemed to hang around her shoulders like a leaden shawl. "Oh, uh—not the whale. And not the… you know… *other* meaning. I meant: having a free will," Willow explained. "No chip, no trigger, just you and your soul."

Spike snorted

"Or is it: you, your demon and your soul? What about id, ego and super-ego? How many of you are in there?" Willow peered into his eyes, half expecting the answer to be written there, but the only thing she found was sadness.

He sighed. "Just me."

"Oh, um—okay. So, how does it feel?"

Spike rolled the empty jar between the palms of his hands and stared into the sanguine dregs as if they held the answer. "For starters, no more chains. Unless for kicks, that is." He flashed her one of his trademark leers, but it looked a size too small, like it belonged to someone else, and crumbled quickly. "And," Spike continued, "nobody looks at me like I'm a nuclear bomb about to go off."

"Oh, I get that." Willow said emphatically. And she did. Because that's exactly how she felt – as if there were a countdown ticking inside of her. As if everybody – including herself – were waiting for her to fall off the wagon and go kablooey.

Spike studied her face, then nodded. "Yeah, I guess you do."

"But that's over now, right?"

"Still a vampire here, Will. But yeah. 'S good, not havin' to worry about… the things I might do if the First should decide to pull my strings. Can't help wonderin' though - what's the puppet to do, now that the strings are history?"

"Walk on his own?" Willow suggested. Her mouth twitched in amusement as a stray thought popped into her mind. "Go to school?"

"Tie a rock round his leg an' go for a swim, more like. Yeah, I know the story." Spike's face scrunched up in disgust. "Only I don't think the Hellmouth is just gonna sneeze us out. And how come we're talkin 'bout whales again?"

"Actually, it's not such a bad analogy, you know," Willow said earnestly. "What with the devouring and all."

"Yeah? Well, bugger that. Life's not a tidy analogy. Not a song or a box of chocolate. Life's just messy." Spike set down his empty jar, but instead of slinking away he leaned comfortably against the counter, read Andrew's Post-it, smirked and pinched a cookie.

Of course, that was precisely the moment Andrew walked in on them, catching them with the hand in the proverbial cookie-jar, or rather package.

Which only proved to show that life - box of chocolate or no - sure had a wicked sense of timing.

THE END

Pop culture harmed in the making of this story:

Disney's Sword in the Stone

Disney's Pinocchio

Free Willy Forrest Gump