An Indeterminate Man
Note: I really intended this as a one-off. But then it got complicated….
Xander couldn't believe they were giving him the third degree. Him! They all knew he hated Spike more than any of them. They all knew he was hard to lie to. And yet they still thought they knew better.
He supposed it was because none of them had seen Spike in person, had appreciated the calmness. Spike calm was completely nuts, and Xander knew that.
So he leaned back, waiting for them to stop talking. When they did, Giles spoke, his voice soft. "So you let William the Bloody go, after all our careful preparation and tracking?"
Xander let out a long breath. "Yeah, I did. He's too dangerous to hold. It was kill or release. And… he had some compelling reasons."
"Xander, we've all reviewed the tape," said Giles disapprovingly. "They weren't that good."
Xander stabbed a finger in the general direction of the TV. "It's not what he said; it's what he didn't say. He didn't say, I have a soul. He didn't say, I'm good now. He didn't say, let me see Buffy. I don't know what the hell he is now, but I knew him in Sunnydale, and I don't know him now. And, yes, he's still a vampire, and I still hate him. And it would have been easier and cleaner just to stake him right then and there. But, hell, the list of times he's saved the world… that, and that alone, earns him a little tiny ounce of trust."
He couldn't have said that three years ago. Maybe he was growing as a person; or maybe he was just stupider. Maybe he couldn't see clearly without the eye Caleb had taken.
Buffy's face might have been carved from stone. Nobody had ever really talked about Spike, at any point. What she and he had done. Why she had done it. But they all knew she was more than a little sensitive about the subject of vampire lovers.
"What did he mean about Angel?" she asked.
Xander shrugged. "I don't know. We aren't going to ask. We're going to keep contact with him to an absolute minimum. We'll use that cell phone to track him. We'll keep eyes on Drusilla and see if he's actually worth something more than he used to be. We will not go close."
Dawn hissed. "This is not the way we should be handling this."
Xander glanced at her, once more pleasantly surprised to be able to look down at her. "Dawn, I really did want to kill him. But he's right; he's been useful in a pinch before, and we followed him all this way and saw that he didn't take down a single human. He's on the pig's blood diet. We all know it doesn't make him safe and it doesn't make this right, but it damned well means something."
Giles harrumphed. "We did choose Xander for this job because he has been remarkably clear-headed about the vampire's intentions all along. I think that, altogether, it would be best if we were to respect that and continue assuming he did the right thing."
It was more than Xander had expected, and he smiled lop-sidedly at them. "Gee, thanks."
But it wasn't. Xander knew, bone-deep, that the only good vampire was a dead vampire. But just the same… if it came down to it, it was too grey for the Slayers. Asking one of the girls to pull the trigger on a monster who wasn't currently killing would be too much. It would make them too dark.
If it came down to it, he'd have Faith do it.
Spike was not given to brooding, in general. In fact, sometimes he avoided any hint of introspection at all.
But thinking about that last year in Sunnydale was like poison, like drinking. Once he started, it was hard to stop. Once he'd opened that door in his thoughts, it was hard to get it out again.
He wondered what he'd looked like, that last year. Some parasitic monster than hung around, following Buffy for violence? Some lovestruck hero, offering true love and a supporting hand?
Both were true. Neither were true. It was hard to parse them, really. Both were slightly true, rather. One was what he feared being, but hadn't been strong enough to stop being. The other was what he had dreamed of being, but had never been.
And if he had to be honest with himself, while he wanted to say that every flowery thing he had said to her was true, it wasn't all the story. It wasn't the complete truth. Because he'd been a ruthless and sadistic bastard, even then.
And he had tried to be all that she wanted, but it was still at least half a lie.
So he took an old trawler down into Brazil, and found Dru's old favorite haunt. He could tell she was there the minute he entered the city. That familiar presence, the one who had Sired him, ghosted over his neck, and he shuddered.
The bond was strongest between Sire and Childe. The one between him and Angel had always been weak, compared to this. Angel had been his Sire in all the important ways, but he and Dru…
Oh, he and Dru.
She was holed up in an old apartment building that had been the site of many massacres. He couldn't help the smile any more than the shudder, these days, old feelings of delight mixing with bitter recriminations so easily he wasn't sure which was from when.
He didn't bother trying to hide his approach, moving through the dark building with no pretense at stealth. He kicked every door open, looking for her.
No thresholds here. Nobody alive had lived here since their last visit, almost a century ago.
She had to have known he was coming. She could see the future, could see what was coming. She was waiting in the same penthouse suite they had occupied, fussing over three tied up maidens she had gathered.
Probably for him, as some kind of demented offering, to try to get him to give up his ways. Oh, she was tricky, his girl.
His girl. He made a face at that thought, then smiled and chuckled, striding into the apartment. "Inn't this just old times, then?" he asked, waving a hand around. He tended to slide more into the Cockney whenever he felt a little bit off his stride. Around Angel he was usually thicker-accented than usual.
And around Dru.
She smiled at him. "Sweet Spike, sweet William," she purred. "What are you doing here?"
He lit a cigarette carefully. "Allow me a minute to be introspective," he said. "I've been worse than the bleeding Poofter lately, and if this keeps up, I'll need to change my hairstyle."
Drusilla giggled. "No need to pour your heart's blood out to me, Spike. There never has been. I can smell it from here, can hear the burning fishes yelling out to us about it."
He nodded. "More for my benefit than yours, love. Who're all these, then? Some gift?"
She smiled knowingly. "It tempts you, but you've been a good Spike for so very long, haven't you? Never naughty, never bad! Never drinking, always sipping."
He sighed. "I know, I make you sick, etcetera et-bloody-cetera."
"Never me," she said. "Even when you were covered in Slayer, so drenched in her you couldn't breathe, only bleeding, you never made me sick. Only sad, so sad. Sad that my Black Prince had gone away, leaving this thing, never demon, never man. But now you're worse than the Angel-Beast."
This had been a lot less bloody and painful than Spike had expected, so far. Almost sedate. If his heart could still beat, it would have been hammering away. Any minute now this was going to devolve to screams and fighting, he knew.
But first he wanted to say it. "I may have been a brutal, sadistic, selfish murderer, but I always loved you, and always cared for you over and above myself, pet," he said softly. "That never changed."
"You're no Angel-Beast," said Drusilla. "Even with that soul, you have no bleeding heart. You won't ever brood. You're not some mindless zombie of good."
"No, I'm not," Spike agreed. "I'm not good enough to fill his shoes, it turns out. Nor am I selfless enough. Et-bloody-cetera. But, as it turns out… I am the good guy."
She pouted at him, leaning over the bound girls. Her pale hand played over their dark, tanned skin, long fingernails dragging hard enough to draw blood. One of the girls whimpered. "Doesn't it call out to your blood?"
He grinned at her. "Oh, it does. You have no idea how it does, do you? Forbidden fire is even better than just fire, isn't it? The thing you can't have builds up in your mind. And the longer you go without it, the more important it becomes." He stepped closer, swaggering. Letting the leather coat behind him fall to the floor, dressed now only in black jeans and a blood-red tee. "Until every minute, every day, there's nothing for you but that powerful need." He leaned close, sniffing deeply at the throat of the nearest girl, who whimpered. "But, Dru… there's other things. Things more important. Can you imagine anything more important? I know things that are far, far more important."
Then he met her hand, holding it as gently as he could. Which was not very gently, given their shared nature. Given that pain was better than pleasure to her. She moaned softly as he squeezed down, tenderly hurting. "Do you hear that, Dru?" he asked softly. "Do your burning fishes tell you the best part?"
Then he lunged over the girls, slamming into her and knocking her away from them. "Remember how I loved a bloody challenge, love?" he snarled, pressing her down to the floor and hammering a punch into her jaw. "Turns out there's all kinds of challenges fighting on this side of the fence. Remember how I loved the fight? Turns out you fight a lot more in this game, with higher stakes. Do you remember how I reveled in living in this world? Turns out, you get to fight for the right to keep living in this world on this side of the fence. Sure, everything else is all different. Sure, it's a change. But it doesn't feel as wrong as it ought to, for a vampire!"
She lashed out at him, the force of her blow knocking him halfway across the room, spinning through the air and crashing through furniture. He scrambled to his feet. The duster might have given him protection, but it also slowed him down. And she was so fast, he knew he needed all the speed he could get. He charged at her, jumping up and kicking at her face, spinning himself all the way around quickly and sending her further from the girls.
There was more comfort in the violence than in the quiet moments. This was more familiar, even with Dru. Especially with Dru.
He charged forward once more, piling into her. "I love you still, daft bint!" he roared, pressing her to the floor and drawing the stake he kept tucked into his boot. "Always have, always will, and sod it all!"
Then he stabbed it into her chest. When he got up he dusted himself off carefully, brushing her remnants to the floor.
Because whatever else he had been, whatever appetites drove him, he was used to doing the right thing. He'd fought at Angel's side, and that had been infinitely harder than dusting Dru.
He freed the girls. And, yes, he did take advantage of their immense gratitude.
He might fight for the side of the angels, but he was no saint.
Xander scowled at the surveillance photos. "I could have done without the porn, Andy," he grumbled.
Andrew scoffed. "Our fabulous dark avenger, returned, has shown himself to possess the same indomitable appetites as ever," he assured Xander. "But he is also a penitent soul, not drinking when offered, and Slaying when required."
Xander coughed. "One more word of BS out of you, and I'll remind you exactly why you stay in Italy with the fake Buffy and not here where I can reach you and hurt you."
Andrew clammed up, giving Xander some time to compose himself.
It still didn't change anything, he reminded himself. This was still a selfish monster. This was still a terrible risk, letting this monster who had killed before, and killed Slayers before, run around.
And it was Spike. Spike, of the endless treachery. Spike, of the sex-with-Buffy. Spike, who had personally threatened Xander's girls countless times.
Most people only got to do that once.
So Xander picked up his phone. "You know who doesn't see in shades of grey?" he asked Andrew. "Me. I see things in stark contrast. Even with one eye. Spike was never any damn hero of good; but at least he knows it. Grow up. And get out."
Andrew looked down, but he still smiled. "Ours is a hard lot," he said. "Normality in the face of the superhumans. Our hearts to their muscles; our heads for them."
"What?" demanded Xander.
Andrew hesitated, dropping the Watcher-face he had developed so carefully. "We can't make the girls do right by doing wrong, Xander. We can't show them how angry and hateful we can be. You have to show them…"
"What? That it's okay to work with a vampire!" snarled Xander.
"You have to show them… You know why I look up to Spike, Xander? It's not because he's sexy, and it's not because I think he's the best hero in the whole wide world. It's because he was an outsider, among the Scoobies. It's because he was trying. And it's because he was the only one who I could see… really see… would be standing beside Buffy till he died. It took me a long time to see that you were the same way; just, you didn't wear your heart on your sleeve. You see what I'm saying?"
"Not really," ground out Xander.
Andrew pressed his fingers together, frowning hard. Trying to find the words. "Some of them don't see it, when they look at you. But the ones who remember Spike… they all saw it. They won't believe you if you say it wasn't there, because they know it was. They saw it. They saw him defend her, stand by her, and die. They believe, bone-deep. All the Sunnydale crew. Even Faith, who is not easily impressed, was more than a little impressed by that. I call him a hero now because I know what he was then, but also because I know what the girls think of him. If you throw hate at him, you'll make the girls hate you. And they need to not hate you. You have a lot to teach all of them; if you make them hate you over Spike, then they'll never learn the most important lesson there is to learn about Spike."
"And what's that?" asked Xander, trying to control his temper.
"That the best parts of him are the parts he had in common with you." Andy smiled gently. "Go out there and tell them all the truth. Sure, he was there fighting with us that last year in Sunnydale; but before that he was a villain, and he killed a lot of people. Tell them Slayers don't work with vampires unless it's a dire emergency. Show them that you have a nuanced view of Spike. Don't try to point out the selfishness behind his heroics. They won't understand. Just… just bury the hate."
It was surprisingly good advice, especially from Andrew. Xander glared at him through his good eye, furiously assessing. "Where'd you come up with all that?" he asked.
Andrew shrugged. "When I went to see Angel, when we weren't trusting him, and I found Spike sort of working for him? It made me look a bit more closely at him. At why I worshipped him. At what there was to him. Because it looked like he was part of that whole evil mess, and we'd already said we weren't going to get… we couldn't go charging in and do anything. It made me think hard about it."
Xander sighed, rubbing his eyes. "And what does that mean? All of it?"
"It means… if you want to do right by the girls, and we both know you do… bury it. All your hatred. It won't keep the girls safe."
Xander had told himself a variation on this theme once already. He looked down at the phone in his hand, surprised by how heavy it felt. "I can't do that, Andy."
Andrew leaned forward, over the desk. "I think you can, Xander. For the girls, you can."
And damned if the little troll wasn't right.
Spike had been well over Drusilla for a long time. He'd known it was a lost cause since Buffy's mom started telling him it was. You couldn't ignore that kind of truth.
But he had tried so damn hard for a long time, anyway.
But as much as he had lied to himself… in the end, it hadn't been enough. That 'forever kind of love' had been nothing to her indifference. And then, after all that, he'd lived happily without her, in the Slayer's life.
And now he was over the Slayer, too.
But even with all that time between them, with the buffer of another failed romance, it had hurt a lot to stake her. There was a part of him that said it shouldn't have been necessary.
That he should have been able to save her.
That he should have gone back to her.
He couldn't help the full-body shudder that thought elicited. Dru? His dark princess, the one who'd given him eternal life? He had lived for her for a very long time.
And now he'd killed her.
It was hardly the sort of thing a man could brag about. Even if he had been a man.
So he holed up in Brazil for a few weeks, just getting over it. Then he headed back to the States. He wasn't sure where he was heading, but in every town he'd stop in some demon dive. Stake a few vamps, tussle with some demons. Get information about what was going on.
He wasn't very good at it. There were stronger demons than him out there, and he lost a few fights, avoiding being staked by the skin of his teeth. He barely managed to avoid being killed by a nasty bunch of demons in Topeka.
Afterwards he burned their lair to the ground while they slept. He might be fighting on the side of angels, but he was still vindictive.
When he turned and headed for the East Coast he wondered at that, a little bit. But maybe California was too recent, too fresh. Maybe he needed to wander a bit.
He stayed in Boston a few weeks. While there he cleaned up a lot of the local nightlife.
On his fifteenth day there, he had to tend to an injured bint who'd walked through a dark alleyway. And she smelled like food. A whole damn lot.
He left the alley shaken, heading for a bar. He drank until he had a good buzz on, then went looking for somebody who'd talk to him. Some kind of white knight would have been good.
He found the local Watcher and Slayer without too much trouble. It took him a few tries to actually go in and knock on the door.
A petite strawberry blonde opened the door, stepping back. "Hi, vampire," she said.
He sized her up. "Slayer, right? Know who I am?" he asked, trying to sound as if he wasn't halfway to drunk and seriously shaken up. Trying to sound cool, evil, and …
Oh, right, not a good idea.
"I know." She hadn't been one of the SITs in Sunnydale. That was good. It meant fewer preconceptions.
"I need to talk to your Watcher," he said. "I have some information that needs to go back to Slayer headquarters." True enough. He'd call Xander directly, but he still hated Xander bad enough that it didn't seem like an option.
She shook her head. "Tell me," she said. "You don't go anywhere near him."
Spike thought about it. "I need help," he said carefully, very quietly. "Not Slayer help, or Watcher help. I need… no, this was a mistake. I can't… ah, dammit!"
He stalked off into the night, all too aware that a report of this conversation would go back to Xander, who might view it as proof that he'd gone evil again. And Slayers would come after him.
Spike wasn't selfless enough to avoid hurting a Slayer. He wasn't going to die on their stakes just to avoid killing one if they were trying to kill him for no good reason. He just wasn't good enough for that.
So he ran away, stealing yet another car and heading west again.
In Chicago he found what he was looking for. An old, long-dead connection. Somebody he knew.
Okay, so it was a demon. And, yes, technically evil. But he really needed to talk this out.
He knocked on Clem's door, hard. Clem opened the door, gulping as he saw him.
"Spike, man, I thought you were dead! Listen, I know the whole thing with Harmony and the TV…"
"Shut up," said Spike, walking in and sitting down. "Just listen, and tell me if I'm wrong. I work hard to save humans, right?"
Clem's eyes bugged out. "You what?" he squeaked.
"All day, all night. I run around, tortured, soul-like, the hero. Then, a jonesing. For a fix. Like I haven't had in years! Why?"
Clem's mouth worked open and closed. He had no idea what was going on.
But Spike kept talking. "Because if there's no connection, they're just meat. Meat and bones and blood. If I don't interact, if I'm not a part of their world, then it all balances out, right? And that's where I fail. Because if I try to go this alone, I become… I become the monster again."
He smiled, shaking his head. Clem still wasn't sure what to say. "Err…" he hazarded.
Spike grinned. "I need to put together a team. One with humans on it. Oh, hell, Clem, don't give me that look. You don't have to fight evil with me if you don't want to. But a Champion can't run around not talking to humans. Any ideas who I should recruit?"
"A Slayer?" squeaked Clem, thinking of the Slayer Harmony had killed. Wondering if Spike knew about that. Knowing that Spike had a thing for Slayers, and might be a little weird about that.
"No!" snarled Spike. "Normals. Maybe a Watcher. I wonder about Andy… no, he's in Slayer Central. I'll need to build my own time. Find them. Hey, is there anybody in this city—non-Slayer, mind—fighting the good fight? Somebody the demons fear?"
Clem swallowed. "Er, one or two…"
"Excellent!" Spike's grin was wolfish. "I can't wait to meet them."