Title: Soulless, Evil Things
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: PG-13 (language, violence)
Disclaimer: Joss is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me. Some dialogue was cribbed directly from Episode 88 "Into the Woods," written by Marti Noxon.
Written for: Inspired by You Got the Stones Challenge #44, which I will outline at the end of the fic.
Notes: Takes place sometime after S5's "Shadow" and goes AU from there. Many heartfelt thanks to HonorH, Illmantrim the Wanderer, Aeneas, Alliterator, and AppomattoxCO for being sounding boards and letting me bounce stuff off them. I did not want to make Riley the bad guy in this fic, but when it went that way in spite of my best efforts, they gave me a way to do it without making it a "BashFic." You guys rock!
Chapter 1: Decision
"So, Jung divided the unconscious into the collective and the personal," Riley explained. He and Buffy were patrolling together for once, and Buffy was taking the opportunity to get some help with her Psychology homework. "He--"

"What's that?" Buffy pointed to a slowly-moving, moaning lump under a tree. They separated a bit and approached it cautiously, weapons ready. Buffy relaxed when she recognized it. "Spike." Her eyes widened in concern as she took in his condition. Not so much concern for him, but worry about what could damage him, of all vampires, that much. Cuts and bruises covered his face, and blood matted his hair. "Riley, keep watch. Whatever did this might still be around. Spike?" She turned him over as gently as she could. "What did this?"

"Buffy," he whispered. "You came...knew you would..." His eyes rolled back, and he fainted.

"Oh, God. Riley? We need to get him someplace safe so he can heal and tell us what did this to him. If there's a new Big Bad in town, I need to know about it, and soon."

"Isn't his crypt right over there?"

"Yeah. Go get the door for me, 'kay?" She effortlessly picked Spike up and began carrying him that way.

"What a woman," Riley said, admiration in his voice. He loped ahead and burst through the door of Spike's crypt, surprising Harmony.

"Hey! Rude much? Don't you knock? People, like, live here, you know." She gasped when Buffy followed Riley in. "Blondie Bear? What did you do to him?" Harmony shouted, jumping to a logical conclusion.

"It wasn't us." Buffy laid Spike on the sarcophagus. "Have you heard anything about a new player in town?"

Harm sniffled a little while Buffy and Riley took Spike's duster off and cut his blood-soaked T- shirt away. "No, nothing. But he tends to protect me from nasties. Oh my God."

Spike's entire torso was one big bruise, from below his collarbones all the way down to his jeans. Several ribs were obviously, horribly, broken, and five deep claw marks sliced diagonally downward from his left shoulder to his right hip. "Jeez," Riley said. "I mean, I don't like the guy, but I wouldn't wish this on him."

Buffy was shaken too. "Good thing he has vampire healing," she said, voice trembling a little. "Can you take care of him, Harmony? He should recover in a couple of days, and we need to know what did this. In the meantime, I'll call a Scooby meeting."

###

The Scooby meeting didn't produce anything, since Buffy and Riley couldn't tell them what they were dealing with. After giving the group a head's-up that a new Big Bad had apparently hit Sunnydale (again), Buffy did another sweep through Spike's graveyard, but found nothing.

The following night, she made the crypt her first stop. Harmony's tear-streaked face portended bad news. "He-he won't wake up. And I think he's w-worse, not better," she said between hiccuping sobs, clutching a plush unicorn.

Buffy could see for herself that Harmony was right. The bruises, which had been dark purple the day before, had turned black, and the claw wounds, rather than healing, had grown deeper and wider. Spike also seemed delirious, shaking his head back and forth and muttering. "'s ridiculous. Don't love her. Couldn't possibly..." He trailed off and quieted.

"Have you been able to make any sense of what he's been saying?"

"No, not really," Harmony sniffled. "He's mentioned Dru a couple of times. And you. Not me though." She sounded a little bitter about that.

Buffy patted her arm awkwardly. "We'll start with the research right away. Can't be too many beasties out there that can do this to a vampire. You might want to lock the door if you can. Do you have the number for the Magic Box?"

"Ew, that place that sells all those smelly weeds and mummy hands and stuff? No."

Buffy searched her pockets and came up with a business card. "If he wakes up, or there's any change, call and let us know, okay? It's important, Harmony." She looked down at Spike, who had resumed his muttering and thrashing. "See if you can get some blood into him. That might help. I'm going to go tell Giles and Willow about this."

Harmony padlocked the door after Buffy left and sat beside Spike, holding his hand and crying. She hadn't even been this scared at the Mayor's Ascension, and she'd died then. Spike was all she had, and she was terrified of losing him. "Please, Blondie Bear," she whispered. "Come back to me."

Spike couldn't hear her. Lost in a haze of madness and mist, he wandered through his own mind with Drusilla at his side. "Come, my Spike. We have much to do. Must stop the bad Slayer from guddling about in your head so. And fix what the men in white broke."

She led him upwards. They passed the Chaos Demon from South America, which raised its glass at them, then morphed into Angel, wearing a pair of novelty Christmas antlers. "I dunno, Spike," Angel said. "Maybe you should be wearing these, all things considered." He held them out, but Dru escorted him past without stopping.

Willow stepped out from behind a tree. To Spike's astonishment, she pulled a Hershey bar from her ear. "Magic," she explained. "But magic won't help you. It's always blood. Screaming inside you to work its will. Makes you other than dead." She began to eat the chocolate. "Blood is life."

Dru pulled him onwards, but he watched Willow over his shoulder until she was out of sight in the fog. They stopped at what Spike felt was the top of the incline. Dru hummed to herself for a minute, then recited, "Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water." She gave Spike a violent shove. As he tumbled down the slope, he heard her faint voice. "Jack fell down and broke his crown..." Then everything went black.

Back in the crypt, he abruptly sat straight up, eyes open wide, and clutched his head. "Ow! Bloody hell!" He crashed back and lay still.

Harmony waited to see if he'd move again. He didn't, so she left his side momentarily to get herself some sustenance from the refrigerator. She figured it was going to be a long day.

###

"I think I've got it," Willow said.

They sat around the big table in the Magic Box, books scattered all over. Xander and Anya were sharing one book and holding hands, Buffy and Riley sat across from them with another, while Willow and Giles had a book apiece.

"An Elaphip'antera demon." She frowned. "Oh. This is bad. Really bad."

"Worse than the apocalypses we've dealt with before?" Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"Bad for Spike, I mean," Willow clarified. "If he doesn't get...oh." She closed her mouth with a snap.

"What, Will?" Xander asked, looking at the book...which was in a language he couldn't read. "Ew, ugh." The demon looked like an unearthly cross between a centipede, a cobra, and a jaguar, with huge fangs and claws and a pair of curly horns around its ears.

Willow looked over at Buffy, uncomfortable. "I just remember how it went the last time you had to do that, and, and, it wasn't good, and so, so, I don't think you'd want to do it again, considering how y-you don't even like him."

Comprehension dawned on Buffy's, Xander's, and Giles' faces at the same time. Anya and Riley still looked blank. "Someone wanna fill me in?" Riley said.

"Slayer blood," Buffy whispered. "He needs my blood, or he'll die."

"No. Absolutely not." Riley's voice was filled with concern. "You can't, Buffy."

"How long has he got, Willow?" Buffy asked softly.

"He got attacked yesterday? Maybe another day. He'll just get worse and worse, and then he'll poof."

"I wondered how Dead Boy Junior would bite it," said Xander. "I always thought you'd be the one to finally bring him down, Buff."

"Well...if I don't give him my blood--I will be the one who kills him."

Buffy wasn't sure how she felt about that.

###

She stopped at the crypt on her way back to her house. Observing with satisfaction that the door was indeed locked, she pounded on it. After verifying who it was, Harmony let her in.

"Any change?"

"I think he's a little worse." They walked over to him, and Buffy noted that Harmony was wrong. Spike was a lot worse.

He was muttering and shaking his head again. "Never asked for this. Not right nor proper. Bugger all..."

Harmony started sniffling again, reaching for a glass of... "Harmony? What is that?"

"It's a blood milkshake. Comfort food." She sucked the red liquid up through a straw. "Do you want one? I could--" Buffy made a face, and Harm hastily said, "Never mind. Did you guys find anything out?"

"We're still looking," Buffy evaded. "Has he said anything that might help?"

"No. Just babbling." A big tear slipped down Harmony's cheek. "Are you going to be able to help him? 'Cause, I know none of you like him much and the only reason you haven't staked him before now is because of the chip, and because he gives you information."

"We're working on it, Harm. Honest."

"Hurry. Please."

###

"...so, I'm really torn," Buffy said to Joyce. Her mother had made them hot chocolate, and they sat next to each other on the couch in the living room. "On the one hand, soulless evil vampire who would start killing again if he ever got that chip out of his head. On the other, he's helped us--and you like him, which counts for something."

"Oh, honey." Joyce took her hand. "What a hard decision you've had dropped in your lap."

Buffy took a deep breath. "And if I do...help him, the others won't understand. Riley would have a fit."

"You can't be concerned about what the others would think, if that would interfere with what's right."

"But what if they're right? What if they disapprove because helping Spike is wrong? Soulless, evil thing, remember?"

"If helping Spike was inherently wrong, I don't think this would be that hard a choice." Joyce took a sip of chocolate. "How long until you have to decide for sure?"

"Tomorrow." Buffy took a deep breath and stood up. "I guess I'll sleep on it."

Joyce smiled up at her. "I know you'll do the right thing."

Her mom's faith in her good sense was nice, Buffy thought as she climbed the stairs to her room. She just hoped it wasn't misplaced. She sat on her bed and picked Mr. Gordo up, looking into his inanimate eyes for answers that wouldn't come. She lay down and cuddled the stuffed pig to her chest; before she knew it, she'd fallen asleep.

###

She found herself walking across a foggy moor. Off in the distance stood a bleached-blond figure in a black duster, with his back to her, and a bloodstain in his hair. She strode up to him and whacked his shoulder. "Spike, what are you doing in my dream?"

"Your dream? Isn't it mine?" he countered, giving her that snarky grin that infuriated her so much. "I'll play the Red King, if you'll play Alice."

"Whatever, Spike." Buffy had the uncomfortable feeling that this was a Slayer dream. "What happened to your head?"

"Dru pushed me down a hill. Hit it on something."

"Dru? She's here too?"

"Haven't seen her since she gave me that shove. There's some bald bloke wandering about with cheese on his head, though. Don't know what that's all about."

"So..." Buffy twisted her hands together, a little lost. "What happens next?"

"Dunno, pet." There was that grin again. "Thought this was your dream."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, I'm tired of waiting for something to happen. Hey!" she yelled. "Don't have all day here. If this is a Slayer dream, then hurry up with the message already."

As if in answer to her demand, Glory, clad in a revealing red mini-dress, strutted out of the gloom. "I can't believe you're actually considering letting that--" she pointed at Spike. "--live. This is your opportunity to get rid of him, once and for all. And all you have to do is...nothing."

"And after the severe ass-kicking you gave me, I should listen to you because...? Not to mention the fact that you're, you know, evil. I kinda frown on that."

"Your dream, Slayer. I'm just the messenger." Glory disappeared.

"Well, that was pleasant," remarked Spike. "Nothing like having one mortal enemy give you advice about another mortal enemy."

"Cryptic enough?" Buffy complained. "Could the stupid Powers be more vague? Gah." She heard Spike grunt in pain. "Spike? What's wrong?"

"Buffy...I lo--" Before her horrified gaze, he burst into dust.

Gasping, Buffy woke from the nightmare. Resting her chin on Mr. Gordo's head, she reflected that now she was more confused than ever. Why had she been so appalled when Spike had dusted? She didn't like him, right?

Right?

After she spent the rest of the night restlessly tossing and turning, Buffy made her choice and got out of bed. If Glory wanted Spike dead, then that was a good enough reason to keep him alive. She'd tell the others after the fact. Better to ask forgiveness than permission...especially knowing how they'd react.