Summary: Willow comes to a realization not long after Buffy's death.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.

Time Frame: About a month after "The Gift." (spoiler warning!)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Authors Note: This has been written with some of the season six spoilers floating around in mind, so even for those of you who have seen all of the episodes through "The Gift," beware. : - )


SCORN


We hadn't gotten over it, of course: I sincerely doubt any of us ever will, to be honest. Sunnydale remained Sunnydale, however, and once the word of Glory's demise got out among the demon populace, demons began trickling back, hoping to seek new prey and seeking prestige by being the one creature of the night who finally brought down the legendary Buffy Summers.

Yeah, we had done a pretty good job of covering up Buffy's death, in spite of the tombstone that none of us had the heart to deny her, in spite of the immense stakes involved. Once we had buried her and intoned the most profound words we could muster over her body, though, we had been forced to think of the days to follow, and-much to our regret-we could think of no reasonable alternative to repairing the Buffy robot created by the much-despised Warren, and using it as a decoy to prevent the forces of darkness from descending en masse on Sunnydale.

I had gone to Spike, whose conduct in dealing with Buffy's death had been nothing short of heroic: he had pulled himself together and managed to compose a memorial speech for Buffy that had even managed to move Angel, who had attended the funeral along with the rest of our friends from L.A., and who had been staring daggers at Spike up to that moment. When I came to him and asked him for any codes that would be necessary to allow extensive reprogramming of the Bot for our new purposes, he had given them to me without hesitation, and offered to give me any help I needed in preparing it for patrolling duty. That cooperation, which genuinely touched me, made what followed all the more unsettling.

It wasn't until we had been patrolling with the newly reprogrammed Bot for about a week that it became obvious. I had been very careful in my reprogramming of it: I wasn't trying to replace Buffy in any real sense, but the painfully cheerful demeanor displayed by the Bot wasn't going to fool anybody for very long (yes, I know, I know. . .chalk it up to stress and brain cramps that we all were fooled by it in the first place). I went for balance: the Bot would fight coolly and efficiently, without any of the brain dead comments that marked its existence previously. . .and without its unnerving devotion to Spike.

We had all gathered at Giles' apartment to plan the patrol for the night. Even with Buffy gone, we had more or less reduced the whole thing to a science, and there was little or no disagreement as we discussed our approach, then went out to sweep as many graveyards as we could before midnight. The Bot, as usual, had absorbed our orders without question, and it moved with deadly grace as we checked each graveyard in turn, looking for vampires and any other demons feeling cocky enough to take us on. I had spent the recent days refining my spell selection (over the concerned objections of Giles and Tara) to include some particularly nasty items, and I had just incinerated a vampire that had been about to blindside the Bot when I noticed that Xander was giving me a rather concerned look. I smiled at him and asked, "You're not getting cold feet about making things unpleasant for the undead all of a sudden, are you Xander?"

Xander blinked, then shook his head and replied, "Not as far as frying random vamps is concerned, anyway. . .though I'm with Giles and Tara: I'm a little scared that you'll push it too far, Willow." I felt a pang of guilt on seeing the expression on his face before he continued, "But I think you might have gone too far in one way, Willow. . .I mean, I know he's tried to kill us God knows how many times, but did you have to do this to him? Better to just stake him and get it over with."

I blinked, and managed to say, "Huh?" It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Xander was talking about Spike, but I hadn't done anything to hurt him. . .I knew how much he was hurting over Buffy. Even if I wanted to make his life hell, what more could I have done to him? I looked at Xander and elaborated, "Xander, I really don't know what you're talking about."

Xander looked exasperated for a moment, then pointed over at the direction where the Bot and Spike were and stated simply, "I have eyes, Willow."

I looked, and after a few seconds I was transfixed. Spike was walking along quietly, scanning the trees for potential opponents, and the Bot was following twenty feet behind him. . .and directing a look of pure hostility at the chipped vampire that would have been worthy of Buffy herself. Spike was obviously trying to ignore the glare, but every so often he would glance involuntarily over his shoulder, and his entire body shuddered for a moment before he managed to turn around and continue his search. . .until he was compelled to look back again and start the cycle over. I looked back at Xander, and was amazed to find my oldest friend giving me a vaguely accusing look. I took a moment to throw off both the empathy I was feeling towards Spike and the resentment I was feeling towards Xander before I replied, "Xander. . .I see what you mean, but I didn't do it. . .I don't know why the Bot is acting that way."

"Xander, Willow is many things, but for her to be malicious in this way is completely out of character for her. . .I think you owe her an apology." Giles' voice abruptly intruded into the tense situation, and I felt a brief moment of affection for my mentor before turning back to him and interjecting, "I can understand why he thought I did it, Giles. . .I was the one who reprogrammed the Bot, after all." I had a moment of clarity, and I had to stop for a moment before turning to Xander and adding, "If I did it, Xander, I didn't mean to. . .I'll deal with the problem: I don't want Spike to be any more miserable than he would be anyway just from what has happened to all of us."

Xander gave me an apologetic look and smiled at me to show that he was sorry, and I nodded at him and went about my business, thinking all the while about the conversation I would have to have with Spike.

* * * * *

"Spike, I know what you've done."

We had finished the patrol, and I had lingered at Giles' apartment long enough to make sure that I could leave at the same time Spike did, without arousing suspicions or having any inconvenient witnesses. Spike had accepted my presence as more or less normal, and we had almost reached the apartment that Tara and I had rented at the end of the school year when I abruptly confronted him with the conclusion I had reached two hours before.

Spike flinched, and I saw him visibly compose himself for several seconds before he turned to me and replied with his most charming manner, "What are you talking about, Red? We're not back to the 'Spike is evil and can't be trusted' days, are we? I thought we were past all that."

I felt a genuine pang of guilt. While Spike still wasn't someone I trusted in the same way I trusted Xander, Giles, or Tara, he had certainly earned my respect, and I had been less than happy to realize that I now had real grounds for distrusting him. I took a deep breath, then replied, "I thought so too, Spike. . .but I can't ignore what I know. I've seen the way the Bot is behaving towards you, and I know it isn't because of anything I've done to it. . .which leaves you, and that means that you have the ability to do things to its programming that I'm not aware of, which means that you're a threat to all of us, and I can't ignore that." I looked at Spike with an expression of betrayal, and concluded pointedly, "Tell me I'm wrong."

Spike started to speak, then stopped and looked down as he replied, "You never did miss much, Red." He paused, then looked up at me with a pleading look in his eyes as he added quietly, "I don't suppose you'd accept my word that I don't have any influence over her other than the. . .behavior that you have noticed?"

I sighed, then responded, "I'm sorry, Spike, but the stakes are too high here: I need more." I looked at him, then concluded, "Spike. . .I need to cast a truth spell on you to know for sure."

I expected that he would react with outrage: as far as he had fallen in the last two years, William the Bloody had more than a little pride left. I was surprised when he looked at me in resignation and replied, "All right, Red. . .I've seen you throwing around the mojo enough recently to think you won't fry my brains with a botched spell, but I have one condition." I nodded for him to continue, and he added, "I want you to use a version that will let me refuse to answer: I won't lie to you, but there are some things that I will not tell you, no matter what the cost."

My expression tightened, and I locked eyes with him and asked, "And if I decide that I need that information, no matter what the cost?"

Spike didn't hesitate: he reached into a pocket and pulled out a stake, tossing it to me and replying, "In that case, do what you have to do."

I resisted the urge to throw the stake away like a venomous creature, and wondered at how my feelings towards this being who had on more than one occasion caused me and mine so much pain had changed before nodding gravely and taking him back to the Magic Box, where the components I would need for the truth spell were to be found in abundance.

The preparations for the spell presented no problems, and Spike posed no resistance as I tossed the powdered silver over him, then chanted the lengthy phrases in Latin. There was a flash of light, and Spike assumed an expression of mild interest as I instructed him, "Spike. . .try to lie. Tell me something that we both know is a lie."

Spike snorted, then snapped, "I think that Buffy and Peaches were just bloody perfect for each other." Abruptly, crimson light swirled around the vampire, and both of us took a moment to calm down a bit before Spike raised an eyebrow and commented, "Looks like you have the goods on me, Red."

I smiled thinly at him, then replied, "It seems so. . .Spike, do you have the ability to cause the Bot to turn against us?"

He didn't hesitate: he looked at me and responded, "No. I gave you all of the command codes, so unless you were dumb enough not to change them after I gave them to you-which I sincerely doubt-I can't do anything else to influence it one way or another any more."

I waited, and no sign of deception was detected by the spell. I sighed in relief, then asked, "All right then, Spike. . .what did you do to make the Bot treat you as it did tonight?"

Spike blinked, then looked down and muttered, "Before you came to me and asked for the codes, I used them to change how it reacts to me, then locked the change with a password that only I know. Without the password, the codes are useless for changing the behavior."

I shook my head in distaste, then asked bluntly, "What is the password, Spike?"

Spike looked up at me and replied, "Here's where I fold my tent, Red: I'm not going to tell you." He grinned and continued with a sardonic edge to his voice, "So, do we stop this, or are you ready to stake me if I don't give up the password?"

I glared at him, feeling seriously frustrated. At least Buffy would have had the option of beating the crap out of him to relieve the feeling without doing any permanent harm. . .the spells I had available would either kill him outright or be useless, and he knew damned well I wasn't going to stake him. I walked right next to him and met the icy blue gaze as I asked, "Why, Spike? Will you at least tell me why you've done this?"

Spike was silent for a moment, then stared back at me with an expression of matter-of-factness on his face as he replied quietly: "Because it's how she'd be looking at me if she were here."

I felt nauseous, and my hand was moving in an arc at his face without my even being aware I had done it until just before it struck his cheek with a loud popping sound. He rolled with it slightly, sparing my hand from any bruising, and he just stood there without any expression of disapproval, contempt, or any of the emotions that I would have expected from Spike in the old days. I glared at him without apology and snapped, "How dare you! Buffy came to you when she wanted to make sure Dawn would be all right: not any of her old friends who have been with her from the beginning. She trusted you with the life of the person who meant more to her than anything, even her own life. . .how can you possibly think that she would be treating you that horribly if she was here now?"

Spike blinked, then looked down, staring at the ground as he whispered, "Because I failed, Willow."

I blinked in shock, and he continued, "I loved her, Willow. . .I still love her, but she had a dark side, whether you want to admit it was there or not. . .probably part of what drew me to her. I've got good information sources around town, so I know some of the things that have gone down in the past when I haven't been here." I frowned and looked away, and he quietly continued, "This last year, it's been even worse. I was quite happy to see Soldier Boy take a powder, but she was pretty harsh with him: he saved her life, what, three or four times at least, in the span of a year? Ever wonder if she would have chased off one of you if you had done what he did?"

Another spasm of anger went through me, and I snapped, "She tried to stop him from going, Spike. You're not being fair to her."

Spike raised an eyebrow, then replied, "She knew exactly when he was leaving, Willow, and where he was leaving from. I talked to him before he went, Willow, and he was a mess: he had no business going off to fight for his life on a daily basis. . .and you know I couldn't stand him, so this isn't me feeling sorry for him: just calling it like I saw it." He paused and waited for me to turn back to him before concluding, "And she cared about him. . .me, she had just gotten back to tolerating due to recent good behavior and the demands of the emergency: what makes you think that she would cut me any slack if she was standing in front of me, knowing that I had failed and almost let Dawn get killed and the universe destroyed as a bonus?" He shook his head firmly, then whispered, "I know I'm right, Willow. . .just let it go."

I paused and took a deep breath before managing to compose my expression and ask him quietly, "Spike. . .isn't there anything that I can do to make you give me that password? No matter what you think Buffy would have done, none of us want you to go through this: even Xander said that it would have been kinder just to stake you rather than make the Bot act that way towards you."

Spike's eyes widened for a moment, then he shook his head and commented, "Always thought that boy had a soft streak. . .it's going to get him in trouble someday." He looked at me and added quietly, "All right, Red, I'll give you that password. . .on one condition."

I sighed inwardly in relief and asked, "All right, Spike. . .what do you want me to do?"

Spike blinked, then looked down and whispered, "I want you to swear that you will not change the Bot's behavior toward me--or let anyone else do it for you--even if I beg you to do so, from here on in." I blinked, and felt a pang of concern that Spike spotted immediately and added, "Willow, it's already programmed to kill me if I become a threat to you, or on an order from any of you: that was the first thing I did when I made the changes."

I stared at him, then had a thought of how to dissuade him from making me promise something that I really didn't want to promise him. I paused, then glanced over at him with a contemptuous expression as I replied, "So what makes you think I won't swear the oath, then go back on it the second I have the password? Let's not forget, it wasn't that long ago that I lied to my best friend's face in order to facilitate a glorified suicide attempt." I shuddered and looked down: once I had recovered my composure to some degree, I had felt ashamed at how I had deceived Buffy and endangered her life by forcing her to go into Glory's lair to rescue me.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I looked up to see a compassionate expression on Spike's face. I stared at him as he responded quietly, "I know the same way I knew that you'd go after that hellbitch, Willow. . .I know you rather well by now, almost as well as I knew Buffy. If you give me your word on this subject, you'll keep it: I'm positive of it."

I shook my head, wondering if he was complimenting my sense of honor or condemning me as a heartless bitch, before looking at him and replying, "All right, I'll give you my word, but I have a condition of my own." Spike blinked, and looked interested as I added, "You have to give me a condition that would permit me to abrogate this agreement. . .some future event that would cause you to say, 'It's time for this to stop.'"

Spike looked at me quietly, and I wondered how he would respond. After a moment, he nodded, then uttered a single sentence. I felt the blood drain from my face, and it was all I could do not to scream at him until I managed to compose myself again and nod in agreement.

He gave me the password, and I used it to confirm that he had been telling the truth: all of the programming was as he had described it, and it took long moments of struggling with my conscience before I closed up the Bot and left it intact. . .and I still wonder if that decision was the right thing to do.

I had to tell the others, of course: I couldn't let them think that I was doing this to him. Their expressions upon hearing the story were as appalled as mine had been, for the most part, and even Anya shuddered at the torment that Spike had constructed for himself. Over the next few weeks, Xander, Giles and Tara had all tried to convince him to change his mind, but they had all failed, and they all remarked on the serenity with which he seemed to be viewing his situation.

The one thing I had kept from them was Spike's final condition. He had whispered, "If Buffy comes back and says to me, 'I forgive you for failing and letting me die, Spike', then you can remove the programming, Willow. . .with my blessing."

Those words haunted my dreams and caused a growing anger in me as time passed: they represented a cruelty aimed both at himself and at me. He stands in front of me now, scanning the trees for threats as we have done nightly for weeks now, and ignoring the glare of the Bot as he walks along. I'm not going to let him get away with this; somehow, I will make him keep that promise, no matter what it costs me.


As before, comments are welcome and desired.