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I was leaving my son's bedroom when I heard them. He'd gone to tuck her in at the same time I'd put William to bed, and while the three-year-old had been out like a light, apparently five-year-old Anne was not yet ready to call it quits for the day.
"Tell me a story, Daddy."
Spike sighed at the request, as if he could fool anyone into thinking she didn't have him wrapped around her tiny pinky. "I've already read you one, princess. It's past your bedtime now."
Anne didn't seem to be buying the line anymore than I had. "But I'm not sleepy yet."
"You will be if you close your pretty blue eyes and put your head on the pillow," he insisted.
A moment passed before I heard him sigh again—this time in resignation. Anne had had him at her beck and call since the moment she was born, and tonight wasn't going to prove any different. I didn't even have to look into the room to know which weapon in her arsenal Anne had used to soften him up this time. He'd caved so quickly, she'd clearly pulled out the big guns—the one thing he'd never been able to resist.
The pout of a Summers girl.
"What story do you want to hear this time, poppet?"
"I want a new one, Daddy. One you've never said before."
Spike was quiet for a moment, and I knew he was thinking. I smiled softly to myself, imagining how he'd look now if I peeked in through the partially-open door. His expression would be one of concentration, his head cocked slightly to the side.
Finally, he spoke. "All right. I'll tell you the story of Beauty and the Beast."
"But I already know that one," Anne protested. "I've seen the movie a gazillion times."
"Oh no, princess. Those blokes over at Disney got the story all wrong."
I knew Anne's bright blue eyes had just widened in surprise. "They did?"
"Yes, they did. For one thing, Beauty doesn't have brown hair. It's golden. So golden in fact that she could easily be mistaken for that bird who ate those poor bears out of house and home after breaking all their furniture."
I smirked as I recalled Spike's version of that story, as told to Anne. I wondered if his version of Beauty and the Beast would go along the same lines.
"Goldilocks?" Anne asked.
"That would be the one. But Beauty, she didn't like it when the Beast pointed out the similarities. Made her go give herself a haircut, it did."
I moved closer to the door, their little exchange about "Goldilocks" making me wonder exactly what Spike was about to tell our daughter. And if he was doing what I thought he was, how could he possibly turn what we had been through together into a fairytale?
"Did Beauty look ugly when she cut off all her hair?" Anne asked.
"No. Beauty was still gorgeous—always would be, even if she had no hair at all. But that isn't how the story begins."
"How does the story begin, Daddy?"
"It begins with the Beast. Only then, he wasn't a beast at all. He was just a man—a man who wanted more than anything to find a woman to love him."
"So he found Beauty?"
"Sometimes he wishes, but no, he found someone else—the Dark Princess he thought was his true love. But she didn't want the man the way he was. She wanted a beast. So for her, that's what he became."
"Was she a witch? But a bad witch? Not a good witch like Auntie Dawnie."
"She wasn't a witch—good or bad—but she did talk to these little pixies who told her what she had to do to make the man into the Beast. So for years and years, he stayed with her, thinking he'd found a love to last forever."
"Wasn't he cross she made him a beast? I would be."
"No, princess, he wasn't cross at all. Not then. See, the Beast, he loved what he was. As a matter of fact, he wanted to be the meanest, nastiest beast there ever was."
"Yes. But it still wasn't enough for the Dark Princess. No matter what the Beast did, he couldn't seem to make her love him the way he loved her."
"What did he do?"
"Well, he did everything he could to prove what an evil beast he was—including trying to kill Beauty herself."
Anne gasped and I leaned forward, wondering if I should go in there and call this story over on account of age-inappropriate content. But surely Spike knew to keep the rating down with Anne, and besides—my curiosity level was moving way up.
"The problem was though, the Beast couldn't kill Beauty," Spike continued. "He knew as the evilest beast in all the land, he should. See, Beauty wasn't like the other girls. She was a great warrior—the brightest-burning star in all the armies of good. So the Beast knew he should hate her. And he did try to. Even had himself right convinced he did for a while. Only in truth, he couldn't."
"Why not? Because she was too pretty?"
"A little, yeah," Spike replied with a light chuckle. "But the real reason was something neither Beauty nor the Beast knew yet. They were, in fact, two halves of the same whole. They were destined, see. Drawn together by forces neither of them could control."
"So the Beast fell in love with her?"
"He did. And later, when he looked back, he realized he'd started falling the first moment he saw her. Beauty was dancing, and her dance enchanted the Beast. He'd never seen a woman quite like Beauty before, and from that moment on, she began working her way into his heart. See, Beauty was so full of light that it spilled from her, touching everything around her—even the Beast."
My heart tightened at Spike's words, and I rested my hand against the wall. Spike had mentioned before the first time he'd actually seen me was when I'd been dancing at the Bronze, but never before had I heard him pinpoint that moment as the one where he'd started falling for me. Had it truly begun so early for him?
I realized only a second later I shouldn't have been surprised. Though part of me still had problems admitting it—even to myself—I'd begun losing my heart the same night, in the alley, when Spike had stepped from the shadows.
It had been the moment I'd first seen my soul mate.
However soulless he may have been at the time.
My reverie was broken when Spike began to speak again. "Then, as time went on, and the Beast couldn't kill Beauty, the Dark Princess began to know the truth. See, where the Beast still couldn't see the love for Beauty growing inside of him, the Dark Princess heard all about it from her evil pixies. So she sent the Beast away. Cast him out into loneliness and despair she did, and the Beast didn't know what to do. The Dark Princess had been by his side the whole time he'd been a Beast, and while she'd never loved him the way he'd wanted her to, she'd still loved him some, and the Beast was desperate for even that much. You see, the man the Beast had once been—the man who would do anything to be loved—was still a part of the Beast, and he still tried to guide the Beast's heart."
"Did the Beast realize he loved Beauty now, with the Dark Princess gone?" Anne asked.
"No, he still didn't. The Beast—he's not always the quickest to catch on. Some people think he's right daft, but he isn't. He just doesn't always use his brain, is all. The Beast, he follows his heart—follows his blood."
My lips turned up in a small smile at Spike's description of "the Beast." For all his idiotic moments, Spike was at least willing to own up to them, a trait I'd come to find strangely endearing.
"What did the Beast do, Daddy? Did he try to hurt Beauty?"
"He did, only again, he couldn't seem to do it. The Beast had always been a great fighter, yet it seemed Beauty always bested him. And still more, she continued to fill his every thought, continued to push her way into his heart, until finally, the Beast had no choice but to face the truth—he'd fallen deeply in love with Beauty."
"Did he tell her? And did Beauty love him, too?"
"He did tell her, but no, she didn't love him, too. How could she? Beauty was a creature of the light, made of goodness and sunshine. The Beast couldn't touch sunshine, so Beauty couldn't love him. The Beast wasn't worthy of it. He didn't deserve the heart of someone so pure."
Spike's words brought tears to my eyes. Was that how he still saw things, all these years later? He had been the one without a soul, but in some ways, I'd been the monster. I'd used him not just to feel like I'd claimed, but also to punish myself. I'd tried to turn the love Spike had for me into something as dirty and wrong as I'd felt.
It had never been a problem Spike being unworthy of my love. Not really. If anything, I'd made myself unworthy of the love he offered.
"The Beast," Spike continued, "He couldn't see that. He tried to pull Beauty down into the dark with him, tried to make her a monster, too. He knew what there could be between the two of them, and he thought he could make her see it, too. Only the Beast got it all wrong. Beauty was never meant for the dark."
"Because she was made of sunshine?"
"Exactly, poppet. Beauty could only wither in the darkness. But the Beast was so desperate to have her, he kept trying to pull her down with him, kept begging her to leave her world behind for his."
"What happened next?"
I heard Spike suck in a breath, then let it out slowly at Anne's question. What happened next… Spike and I still couldn't seem to have a real conversation about that, nor could we seem to agree on what exactly had occurred.
I'd stopped blaming him for that night long ago. Things were too complicated to try to fit the incident under a label. Besides, my hands had never been exactly clean in our relationship. I'd beaten Spike beyond recognition and left him to wait for the sunrise in an alley.
Again, I had to question who had been the monster there.
"The Beast he…he hurt the girl," Spike said softly, obvious pain in his voice. "He proved he really was beneath her, just like Beauty had always said."
"He hurt Beauty?" Anne asked in a soft voice, and the sound of it hit my heart. Still, I knew the pain it gave me couldn't be even near to as bad as it must hurt Spike. He was still carrying the guilt from that night all these years later, and now, to have our daughter ask him that seemingly innocent question…
I wanted to go into the room now, to wrap my arms around him and let him know I didn't hold that night against him—not now, not ever again. Things had been different between us then, and not just because he hadn't had a soul. We'd moved so far away from that dark place we'd fallen into—a dark place I'd let myself go without him pulling me. But if anything, I knew what we had now was stronger for knowing where it could go, where we never wanted it to go again.
Still, I stayed where I was, just beyond the door and out of sight, though I knew Spike had most likely already caught my scent. I wanted to hear what else he had to say, wanted to know how deeply his guilt still ran, and I knew it would be easier for him to say these things if he wasn't looking at my face.
"Yeah, poppet, he hurt Beauty. The Beast hurt her real bad."
Simple words, and yet they made my heart break even more.
"Could he kiss it and make it better?"
"No. Sometimes a kiss won't help."
I could hear the tears I knew he was probably fighting in Spike's voice, and I hated knowing he still felt that way. It had been years since our relationship had been so dark—and six of those we'd spent as husband and wife. Our past didn't matter anymore, now that we'd built something so strong out of its ashes.
"Did the Beast do anything to make it better, Daddy?"
"He tried." Spike was quiet for a moment before he started again, his voice a little stronger now. "Hurting Beauty made the Beast look at what he was for the first time. He was a monster now, no longer a man, and that could never be good enough for Beauty. He didn't deserve her. He didn't even deserve to love her."
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. I had long since stopped trying to deny Spike's love had ever been anything but real—soul or no soul. He didn't think he was worthy of loving me? He'd loved me with everything he'd had, loved me the best way he knew how, and all he'd asked for in return was a crumb, hope that maybe someday, I could look at him with something other than disgust. And what had I done? I'd thrown everything he gave back in his face and told him it wasn't enough—that he wasn't enough.
As a monster, he'd loved me more completely than anyone with a soul ever had.
"But Daddy, loving someone is a good thing. Why would Beauty not deserve love?"
"She did, princess. Just not from the Beast."
"From the mouths of babes, Spike…"He d I thought.
"I don't get it," Anne replied.
"Beauty deserved love from a man, not a monster. And see, the Beast, well, he'd lost his…his spark."
"His spark?" Anne asked, her tone perplexed.
"The light inside him he'd lost when he became a monster," Spike replied. "The part of him that could make him feel like a man, could make him love Beauty the way she deserved to be loved."
I gripped the edge of the wall, Spike's words making me realize something I hadn't fully before. I had in a way, but never as clearly as I did right then. His "spark"—his soul—had never been what made him feel the way a human does. I'd be lying to say it made no difference at all, but as far as being able to love me? That had come from something else, something so a part of Spike that even becoming a vampire hadn't been able to pull it from him.
Spike may have needed a soul to feel true guilt or to understand self-loathing, but he'd never needed a soul to love.
A thought entered my mind then, one that made me gasp softly.
Had Spike been in Angel's place, had Spike been the one with the cursed, tenuous soul, I wouldn't have woken up alone the morning after.
I wouldn't have had to send my boyfriend to Hell to save the world.
Even without a soul, Spike never would've done that to me.
Because he was worthy of loving—and of being loved in return.
"But he loved her, Daddy. Love is good. I still don't understand."
"He was a Beast, princess. A monster. Beauty was good, like an angel. She was too good to be loved by a monster."
"I don't think so. I think if the Beast loved someone as good as Beauty, then maybe he wasn't really a monster."
"He was a monster," Spike insisted. "He proved that when he tried to hurt Beauty. That's why he had to go find his spark."
"Did Beauty say he needed a spark?"
"Then why didn't he just say he was sorry and he wouldn't hurt her ever, ever again?"
Spike sighed, exasperated. "Will you let me tell the story?"
Anne sighed back, sounding so much like her father I had to stifle a giggle. "Tell the story, Daddy."
"The Beast decided to go on a quest to earn back his spark. He sought out a legend about a creature in a far away land who could give it back to him—if he proved himself worthy by passing the trials."
"What sort of trials?"
"Well, he had to fight a man with fire for hands. And he had to let all these bugs crawl under his skin."
"Eww! Daddy, that's gross. Bugs are the ickiest things in the whole wide world."
"Well, he had to prove he truly wanted the spark, and what better way to do that than to face the ickiest things in the whole wide world, yeah?"
"I guess. But that's still gross. I hope the Beast got to take a bath."
"He was a bit more focused on getting back to Beauty than the bugs, poppet."
"Well, did he get his spark at least?"
"Yes, he did. Only it made him see just how bad all the things he'd done since he became a monster were. It burned inside of him, made him see he'd been even more unworthy of loving Beauty than he'd realized."
"What! But he has the spark. You said he needed the spark to be good enough to love Beauty. The Beast is a loony, Daddy."
It took all my willpower not to laugh at Anne's assertion.
"Oi now! The Beast had things to atone for, even with the spark. Now you be quiet over there and let your da finish the story, all right?"
"Now that the Beast had the spark, he was ashamed of what he was, and what he'd done. So he hid in a cave, where he was forced to relive all of the horrible things he'd done in his past."
"See? I told you he was a loony, Daddy. He's living in a cave."
"Would you be quiet?"
Anne sighed. I could see her in my mind, arms crossed over her chest, one eyebrow raised.
"But Beauty found him in his cave. She found him, and much to the Beast's surprise, she didn't seem to really hate him. She didn't love him, but she did decide to help him. Well, to a point, anyway. She got him out of the cave. Made him go live in the closet of a brainless, smelly ogre, but it was better than the cave. Sort of."
"Ew! Beauty shouldn't have made the poor Beast live in an ogre closet."
Again, I fought the urge to put my two-cents in. Xander wasn't smelly. And it was a fairly big closet…
"Well, he only lived there for a little while. Then Beauty brought him to her home."
"Because she loved him?"
"To help him. The Beast was in trouble."
"You help people you love when they're in trouble, Daddy."
"Are you telling this story or am I?"
"Okay then. Well, the main reason why Beauty brought the Beast there, see, was because there was an evil ghost-making monster who wanted to end the world, and he was trying to control the Beast. So Beauty had to stop that."
"An evil ghost making monster?"
"Yeah. He would torment people by pretending to be ghosts of people they used to know."
"It's scary. Now let me go on. The evil ghost-making monster had an army of right nasty creatures, and he was going to use them to end the world, all right?"
"How would that work?"
"I don't bleedin' know. It just would. Anyway, the Beast agreed to help Beauty fight the nasty monsters. And in order to do it, he had to wear this shiny amulet meant for a Champion. Another ogre with a great big forehead, stupid hair—and a steadily expanding waistline, I might add—had brought it to Beauty, said he'd wear it in the big fight, but she said no, and brought it to the Beast. Called him her Champion, she did."
"Aww! See, Daddy, Beauty does love the Beast."
"Not yet. She just knows he's changed now, that he's working to make himself a better man. She still couldn't love the Beast, but she could believe in him."
"Cause she loves him. Duh."
I wondered why it had taken so long for me to realize I was in love with Spike.
Apparently, it was obvious enough to be seen by a five-year-old.
"No, she doesn't. But the Beast wore the amulet and went down with Beauty into another cave—this time one filled with nasty monsters."
"Were there bugs?"
"No, no bugs this time."
"The nasty monsters are worse than the bugs. They had big claws and sharp, pointy teeth. And there were too many of them to fight. It looked like Beauty was going to lose."
Anne gasped. "Did the Beast save her?"
"He did. The amulet, it began to glow. The Beast was able to give it power—through the spark he'd earned for Beauty. It was burning inside of him, coming out through the amulet, and the Beast knew it was going to burn him, too."
"Burn the Beast? Daddy, no. The Beast can't die."
"Let me finish, poppet. The cave began to collapse, and Beauty rushed everyone out of the cave except for her and the Beast. He told her she needed to go on, to let him make sure he did what needed to be done, but she didn't go. She reached out and took the Beast's hand, clasped it tight, until the fire burning from him surrounded both of their hands, joining them together."
"Did it hurt them?"
"No, it didn't. But the Beast knew Beauty had to go. He couldn't let her stay in the cave with him. He loved her too much to let her get hurt again. So when they broke apart, he told her to leave him there."
"What did Beauty say back?"
"She…she told the Beast she loved him. But she didn't really love him—she just thought he should hear it before he died."
He still believed that, too? Hadn't I proven to him in the past six years how much I love him? I loved him when I stood with him in the Hellmouth and spoke the words, only, as I realized at the time, I'd waited too long to say so.
No you don't, but thanks for saying it…
Those words had haunted me for a year afterwards, driving home how cruelly I'd treated Spike in what I'd believed then would be our only time together. But I'd thought when we'd gotten our second chance, I'd proven to Spike how much I loved him, and how long it had been the truth.
Apparently, I hadn't.
It was time to stop being quiet.
"Yes, she did."
Anne and Spike both looked up at me as I walked into the room and joined them on the bed. "Beauty did love the Beast. She'd always loved him, really, she'd just been too afraid to admit it, even to herself," I said as I reached out and pushed a lock of Anne's hair behind her ear.
"Buffy?" Spike asked softly, his eyes intense as they met with mine.
"She's also told the Beast this over and over again, he's just stubborn," I said with a smirk before looking back at Anne. "Your daddy only got the story partly right, Annie. The Beast was once a monster, and he did hurt Beauty, but Beauty hurt him, too. So much that when she was finally ready to let him know how deeply he'd found his way into her heart, he couldn't believe her. She'd made him think he wasn't worthy of loving her, but it wasn't true. The Beast was very worthy. Because even when he was a monster, he could love Beauty like a man—and that meant everything."
"So can you tell me if they lived happily ever after, Mommy?" Anne asked, the eyes looking up at me now so much like Spike's it made me smile.
"Yes. They did. But not at first. Beauty lost the Beast that day in the cave, and it shattered her heart. She realized then just how deeply the Beast had truly loved her—and how much she had loved him in return. For a year, she had to try to move on without him, but she felt empty inside, a piece of her heart gone with him. She begged the Powers That Be every night to bring him back to her, even when she worried all hope was lost."
Spike and Anne were both focused intently on me now, wanting to hear how I would end the story—albeit for different reasons.
"Then one day, Beauty heard the Beast had come back. She was overjoyed, only her happiness was short-lived when she heard the Beast had gotten himself in trouble again. The Beast did that a lot. He was always getting himself into some fight that was way over his head."
"Just one of those things he and Beauty had in common," Spike retorted.
I shot Spike a look, but didn't comment. "Anyway, Beauty, knowing the Beast would need help—and determined to make sure she didn't lose him again—went as fast as she could in order to fight beside the Beast in the battle. And she got there just in time to save the day—and her Beast."
"And then they lived happily ever after?" Anne asked me, hope in her eyes.
"Yes, they did. Because at the end of the battle, something wonderful happened. Right before Beauty's eyes, the Beast turned back into a man, and from that moment on, they were never apart again."
Anne smiled brightly. "And then did they get married, Mommy?"
"They did. And they had two beautiful children who made them even happier than they'd been before."
Her bedtime story having reached a satisfactory conclusion, Anne yawned and stretched back against the pillows. "See, Daddy? I told you Beauty loved the Beast."
"Yeah, you did, princess," Spike said as he leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Go to sleep now."
Anne nodded, her eyes already beginning to drift off to sleep. "Good night, Mommy. Good night, Daddy."
"Good night, sweet," Spike replied, tucking Anne's blanket around her, then getting up from the bed and stepping back to give me my turn.
"Good night, Annie," I said as I leaned in and kissed my daughter on the cheek. I started to pull back when I heard an annoyed call from the bed.
"Mommy, you forgot something."
"Yup." Anne reached under her blanket and pulled out a stuffed pig with a disproportionally-large head. "You didn't say good-night to Mr. Gordo, Jr."
"Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Gordo, Jr.," I replied as I leaned in and kissed the pig on the head. "Good night to you, too."
Anne smiled sleepily at me before wrapping her small arms around the pig and turning her head to the side as her eyes closed.
Spike followed me out of the bedroom, switching off the overhead light as we left Anne behind. I waited until we'd made it to the living room before I turned to him. "You really don't think I loved you then?"
Spike sighed and ran a hand through his bleached curls. "Buffy, pet, it's late. Let's not get into this now."
I shook my head. "No. If you've felt that way through our whole marriage, then it's already gone on long enough." My face set with determination as I reached out and cupped his cheek, forcing him to look at me. "Spike, we both made mistakes then. The burden isn't only yours."
"Buffy, I tried… I tried to…"
He never could say the word, but he didn't need to. "You didn't, Spike. You didn't go through with it."
"Because you stopped me, Buffy."
"Did you come to my house that night with the intention of forcing me to do something I didn't want to do, Spike?"
He looked away from me again, causing my hand to drop from his face, but shook his head. "No. I just wanted… I don't know, I couldn't take losing you. I wanted you to see what there was between us. But I shouldn't have…"
"Hey. Don't. Both of us were messed up then. We both took something that could've been beautiful and made it something else. But Spike, it wasn't because you were a monster I couldn't love. It wasn't just because of you. It was me, too. Even before I jumped, I wasn't sure I could love anymore, and then what I felt for you…it scared me, Spike."
"I scared you."
"No. I scared me. When I said you were beneath me, or that I couldn't love you, it wasn't because it was true. It was because, well, because I wanted it to be true. I couldn't feel anything for the people around me except for a soulless vampire, and it frightened me. So I hurt you because of it, and that wasn't right."
I moved a step closer to him. "Annie was right tonight, you know. Love is a good thing, and I was wrong to treat your love like anything but. I spent the last year in Sunnydale trying to let myself accept that, and when I realized I was about to lose you, I knew I had to tell you, because you needed to know. Not because I felt like I had to give you your crumb before you sacrificed yourself, but because I realized I'd wasted all my chances while I was, I don't know, trying to make myself ready to accept what I felt for you."
I reached out and lifted his hand, then intertwined my fingers with his, mimicking our position from down inside the Hellmouth. "I meant it, Spike. I meant it then, and I mean it now. I love you."
He swallowed and his eyes shimmered. "Buffy…"
"I want you to believe I loved you then, Spike. I want you to know you were right."
"How could you have? With what I was…"
"Do you think I just love you now because you have a heartbeat?" I asked, letting my hand drop from his again.
"No," he replied, and I was relieved to hear it seemed to be a genuine answer.
"Then when did I fall in love with you, huh? In the year we spent apart when I didn't see you at all?"
He blinked, as if he were suddenly considering something he never had before. "I don't…"
"I fell in love with you in Sunnydale, you dope," I told him, a small smile twitching at the corner of my lips.
"I didn't do right by you there, pet."
"Probably not, but I didn't do right by you either. Like I said, both of us made mistakes, but we learned from them. Look where we are now. We have a good marriage, a nice home, two children. We got our happily ever after, Spike."
He smiled gently at me as he reached out and stroked my hair. "I guess we are a bit of a fairy tale, you and me. A little more Brothers Grimm than Disney, though…"
I chuckled. "Yeah, we are."
After a moment, I sobered, and took both of his hands in mine. "I love you, Spike. I promise I won't ever make you doubt that again."
"I know, sweetheart. And I love you, too. With all my soul and my beating heart."
"You loved me without either of those, too," I replied as I realized I had tears in my eyes as well. "You couldn't be the man you are today if you hadn't." I leaned in, my mouth against his ear. "Besides, this beauty likes a little bit of the beast."
Spike's smile turned into a leer before he scooped me up and carried me away.
I'd had the idea for this one kicking around in my head for a while, but I finally got to where I could get it out. Please take a moment and let me know what you thought!