Summary: Buffy finds Spike in her basement, and asks him some difficult questions. Follow-up to "Scorn."

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.

Time Frame: Not long after "After Life," with the timeline changed to reflect the events of my prior story "Scorn." (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.



ABSOLUTION



Buffy moved restlessly about the ground floor of the Summers house, looking for something to occupy her attention. Unfortunately, there was very little to do at the moment: it was mid-day, and everyone was off at jobs or at school. Willow and Tara had, as usual, done a meticulous job of keeping the house neat, and even Dawn had started keeping her surroundings rather clean. The Slayer frowned, then remembered the basement. . .surely there had to be something she could clean up down there.

Buffy darted over to the basement door with some enthusiasm and opened it, then went down the stairs two at a time, quickly reaching the bottom and pulling the chain on the light bulb above. The light went on, and Buffy scanned the damp surroundings, seeing annoyingly little mess and little else of note, until she caught the glint of light off of blond hair and pale skin and jumped back a step in surprise.

Spike frowned in concern and apologized, "I'm sorry, Buffy. . .you didn't give me time to let you know I was here. I didn't mean to catch you off guard like that."

Buffy smiled ruefully at Spike and replied, "Served me right. . .at least it wasn't someone who wanted to kill me." She paused a moment, then added with a hint of amusement in her voice, "Well, at least not right now, anyway."

Spike winced, then noticed that the look in her eyes was far less worrisome than what he had observed lately. He grinned at her, then asked, "So why are you down here, anyway? Looking for something of the rodent variety to Slay?"

Buffy snickered, then replied, "Just bored. . .thought I'd clean up down here: so much for that great plan." She shook her head and added, "Seems like most of the mess is gone from down here-" Her eyes fell on a mass of wiring and plastic, and the fact that she knew what she was looking at didn't stop her from looking up to where her own blank face topped the broken robot.

Spike swore loudly, and snatched at a blanket with all of his preternatural speed, tossing it over the wreckage of the Bot and hiding the staring eyes. He took two steps toward Buffy, then visibly stopped himself and whispered, "I'm sorry, Buffy. . .I should have covered it up before now: you didn't need to see that."

Buffy blinked, then looked up at Spike with a hint of her old energy as she replied, "Spike. . .I saw her destroyed by those demons. Seeing her like this isn't anywhere near as bad, believe me." She stepped forward and pulled the blanket away, revealing Buffy's features again. The Slayer reached out and touched the cold forehead for a moment, then reached down and closed the eyes before pulling the blanket back up. Buffy shook her head and whispered, "Willow told me about how useful she was while I was gone. . .even wowed the crowd at Parent/Teacher Day. Not too bad for a glorified toaster oven."

Spike started to speak, then stopped, sensing that Buffy wanted to say more. Buffy looked down and commented, "I was with April when her power ran down. . .she wasn't that bright, or deep, but there was enough there to make me think that she had some idea of what was happening to her." She shook her head and whispered, "Damn Warren for doing that. . .he made something with feelings and abandoned her." She looked down at the covered figure and concluded, "At least this one had friends who treated her well."

Spike looked over at Buffy and was silent for a moment before commenting, "Willow reprogrammed her after. . .after the little incident with her head being knocked off. Made her act a bit more like you. . .I don't think that Warren had much experience talking to women with a brain, or if he did he didn't pay much attention. Willow did the job right." He blinked, then realized that Buffy might take this bit of news amiss, adding, "Not that she would have fooled anyone who really knew you for long."

Buffy looked up at him and smiled, retorting, "Of course, she had Willow and the others fooled just fine when she was jumping your bones in the graveyard, then showed up looking for you." Spike went absolutely still, and Buffy's expression softened as she asked quietly, "Spike. . .do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Spike's eyes narrowed: he was completely unable to discern the emotion behind Buffy's request. He blinked, then replied, "Of course not. . .what do you want to know?"

Buffy looked back down at the Bot, then back up at Spike before asking bluntly, "Why did you have her programmed to act that way?"

Spike heard the question, then spent the next few frantic seconds trying to come up with an answer that wouldn't cause Buffy to stake him on the spot. Buffy saw the panicked look on Spike's face, then realized what the problem was and blushed crimson as she interjected, "No, Spike. . .not that! I get THAT part of it, and I think you're pretty aware of my opinion about it." She glared at him for a moment, then blinked and continued, "I mean, I know that Warren wasn't ever going to make her a genius, or even a decent conversationalist. . .but-" Spike frowned, waiting for Buffy to get to her point. Buffy blinked, then concluded, "Spike. . .why did you have him make her so nice?"

Spike was at a complete loss for words, and Buffy grew visibly uncomfortable at the silence before blurting out, "I mean, you could have had Warren give her a nastier personality. . .you met Faith when she hijacked my body, didn't you? Wouldn't that have been more interesting for you? I'm just trying to figure it out, Spike. . .I don't know why it seems so important all of a sudden, but it does."

Spike swallowed hard, then looked directly into Buffy's curious eyes and replied, "Well, for one thing it should have been pretty obvious that I didn't exactly get the results I was trying for." Buffy nodded, and Spike continued, "When I went to Warren, I had given up hope of ever winning you over. I was settling for a shadow of the one I wanted." He paused, waiting for Buffy to get angry or show disapproval, but she remained silent, watching him intently. Spike looked away and continued, "I just wanted the image of a happy Buffy. . .or at least a Buffy happy to see me. A Buffy who would look at me with joy, not with disgust. . .and even more importantly, a Buffy who was glad to be alive and doing what she did." He looked back at Buffy and whispered, "I'd seen what the years had done to you, then what the mess with Sold-with Riley had done, even before the whole Key thing blew up. Then Joyce died, and as angry as I was at you, I just couldn't bear to be reminded of it any more." He laughed self-deprecatingly, then added, "I just made it worse. . .the Bot was nothing like you, and it just reminded me of how miserable you really were, and how much you would despise what I had done. When Glory's goons grabbed me, I was almost relieved in a way. . .until the torture began, which tended to change my viewpoint a bit." Buffy's expression went blank, and Spike nodded and turned toward the stairway, concluding, "I'm sorry, Buffy. . .I'll go now. . .you need some time to yourself."

Spike had taken two steps toward the staircase when he heard Buffy say calmly, "Willow told me about what happened after I died. . .how you changed how the Bot treated you and wouldn't let her change it back."

Spike flinched, remembering the intense conversation with Willow, then turned back to Buffy and shrugged, replying, "It's rather academic now, anyway. . .the Bot won't be looking at anyone ever again, much less glaring at me. No use dwelling on that."

"You thought that I would have hated you for failing. . .that I would have been looking at you the way you made her look at you." Buffy's voice was flat, and her eyes locked with Spike's, demanding a reply. Spike flinched again, then nodded slowly. Buffy nodded in response and added, "You told Willow that if I came back and forgave you for. . .for letting me die, you'd let her change the Bot's behavior. She was furious at you over that, you know. . .she felt responsible for letting you suffer unnecessarily."

Spike's expression hardened, and he replied coldly, "It's my business. . .Red needs to learn that she can't control everything, particularly how people feel about things."

Spike was surprised to see Buffy nod ruefully and comment, "Yeah. . .I know, but Willow really isn't the issue here, Spike." She stepped forward until she was right next to Spike, then added, "Spike. . .you're still waiting to see if I've forgiven you for letting me die, aren't you?"

Spike was silent, but the pain in his eyes spoke volumes. Buffy looked up at him, then stated simply, "I'm sorry, Spike. . .but I can't forgive you for that."

Spike reacted as if slapped, then turned away, whispering, "I understand, Buffy." He began to step toward the stairs, then felt a small hand grasp his arm. He paused and turned back to Buffy, wondering what she could want after confirming his worst fears.

Buffy recoiled slightly at the depth of the pain in the blue eyes, and she whispered, "Spike. . .I can't forgive you for that because there's nothing to forgive. You swore to me you would defend Dawn to the end of the world, and you gave it your best shot. I spoke to Xander and Dawn. . .Doc was playing possum against Xander-he was planning something all along, though I don't have clue one as to what it was. If it had been anyone else up there protecting Dawn, Doc would have killed him or her, and we would have had two funerals instead of one. You spared me coming back to a situation even worse than it is now, not to mention watching over Dawn all of these months I've been gone. . .what kind of monster do you think I am, Spike, that you would think I would hate you for that?"

Spike stared at Buffy as if he'd never seen her before, then managed to whisper, "Buffy, I-"

Buffy held up a hand, interrupting him, and Spike halted in mid-sentence. The Slayer took a deep, shaky breath, then continued, "Spike. . .there are a lot of things that I may never be able to forgive you for, things that I don't even really have a right to forgive you for. The people you hurt and killed before you ever came to Sunnydale. . .the times you tried to kill me and my friends, and succeeded in killing people I was sworn to protect. . .the misery short of attempted murder that you've managed to inflict on us, even after that damned chip was put in your head. I don't think I need to talk about Dru. . .or Angel." Spike was silent, and Buffy added, "That's all going to be there on some level forever, Spike, no matter what you do, and the amazing thing is that I do feel rather bad about that, no matter how just it is." She looked up at him and concluded, "But. . .what you did in those last days, Spike. . .you did your best, and it mattered: it made things better than they would have been, and even if I don't owe you an ounce of forgiveness for whatever went down between us before that happened, I do owe you the truth: you did good, Spike, and you've kept doing good. I hope it lasts, because I like being able to look at you without hating you, Spike. . .it's something I've gained that I didn't really have before, at least not like it feels now." She reached out and squeezed his arm, whispering, "You were probably right, Spike. . .I'm never going to love you. . .but right now, I want you to be here, and I really hope that gives you some comfort, because it's probably the best I can do."

Spike was still staring at Buffy, and the Slayer sighed and released his arm, commenting, "The cellar doesn't need any cleaning, and there's too much sunlight upstairs for your comfort. I'm going upstairs to hunt down a good crossword puzzle and wait for the others to get back. . .maybe we can Bronze it tonight." She smiled and asked, "You feel like coming with us?"

Spike blinked, then nodded slowly. Buffy nodded in response, then walked up the stairs, carefully ignoring the quiet sobbing coming from below. She closed the door and sighed: her new life was far more complicated than her old one. . .but it did have its compensations. She shook her head, then went off in search of one of Joyce's crossword puzzle books; for now, more important issues would have to wait.


As before, comments are welcome and desired.