Rating:  PG, gets rather disturbing

Feedback:  That would be kind, thank you.

Spoilers:  Up to the season 6 episode "Gone" (doesn't really enter into it, but it's about where it's set).

Distribution: Here.  If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary:  Buffy's attitude towards Spike is given a major jolt when she receives a parcel that makes her confront her worst fears about him.

Author's Note:   This takes place before and in place of "Gone."  It's also what I actually thought was going to happen.  And yes, I take a dim view of Buffy's behavior of late.

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

What She Wanted

The package arrived at the front door before the sun had risen, but Buffy didn't find it.  She'd left through the kitchen to go to her new job that morning, and it hadn't been until Dawn had come home from school that the plain, brown-paper-wrapped box was noticed.  There was no address, no postage.  The only mark it bore was the single word "Slayer" written in block letters with a felt tipped pen.

Curious, the girl had carried the toaster-sized parcel into the house and put it on the dining room table.  When Buffy arrived home two hours later, harried from a day at the office, the blonde had not appreciated Dawn's carelessness.

"It could be a bomb or something!" she declared loudly. 

"So, what, I should have left it on the porch because it wouldn't have still blown up the whole house?  And why wouldn't it have gone off earlier?" the teenager shot back.

"It could be on a timer," the older girl explained none too patiently.  She gingerly put her ear to the box and listened.  No ticking, no beeping, no weird noises of any kind were picked up by her heightened senses.  "Looks like you're lucky.  This time."

"So, you gonna open it?"  Dawn asked.

With a roll of her hazel eyes, Buffy ripped through the packing tape and spilled a small amount of Styrofoam peanuts on the table.  The box contained two items:  videotape, and an envelope labeled "Open First."

Raising an eyebrow, she tore the envelope open and looked inside for a note, but there was none.  Instead, she caught a glimmer of silver.  Frowning, she shook the contents of the envelope onto the table.  For a moment she was puzzled.  Why had someone sent her a square bit of metal?  Then her eyes widened with realization.

"Dawn, go upstairs," she ordered in a tense voice.  "Now."

"But Buffy, what…"

"Now!"

Startled by the tone in her sister's voice, the girl turned around and left the room, angry, but knowing that this was no time to toy with the slayer.

Buffy stared at the small microchip on the table.  He'd gotten it out.  Somehow, he'd had it removed.  Spike was free to kill and maim, free to enter her home at will, free to resume his life of violence, most likely with her friends and sister as his main targets. 

"I knew I should have staked him ages ago," she growled as she ran to the kitchen to call an emergency meeting of the Scoobies.

Within twenty minutes, they were assembled in the living room, holding their collective breath.

"Are you really sure it's his, Buffy?" Willow asked tentatively.  "I mean, computer chips kind of all look alike."

"And this is coming from a big cyber nerd," Anya agreed earnestly.

"Was there anything else in the package?"  Tara ventured.

"Yeah.  A videotape.  I haven't played it yet.  I'm really not in the mood to see Spike ripping somebody's throat apart for my viewing pleasure," Buffy spat out.

"Still, it could give us a hint what he's got planned," Xander suggested.  "If it gets too disgusting, we can just flip through it."

"Yes, like Xander does when we watch 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail,' so I'm not traumatized by the killer bunny," Anya agreed helpfully.

Buffy paused for a moment, considering her options.  Then, she took the tape out of its cardboard box, slipped it into the VCR, and pressed play.

The scene that greeted her was far from what she had expected.  It was a suburban basement, although it seemed to have the entire electronics section of the local Best Buy crammed into it. 

"Is it on?" she heard from a figure off screen.

"Yes, the red light's blinking, you idiot."

"So, who's gonna start," asked the first voice again, a voice Buffy found familiar but couldn't quite place.

"Me." The third speaker also gave her a feeling of déjà vu, and when he stepped in front of the camera, she knew immediately who he was.

"Warren," she muttered under her breath.

"The chickbot guy?"  Xander asked in confusion. 

"The very same," Buffy said with a note of disgust in her voice.

"Slayer, you may not realize it, but you are looking at your downfall.  We're taking over this town, and if you're wise, you won't do anything to stop us," Warren glared from the screen.

"That's good," the second voice giggled.  "It's almost something Darth Vader would say.  In the first two movies, though, not the third one."

"You mean when he was a kid?"  the other familiar voice asked in puzzlement.

"No, not the prequel version.  The ones where he was all bad and evil and stuff," whined the unknown speaker.

"And these guys are supposed to have me shaking in my shoes?" Buffy half-giggled.  "This is more pathetic than Harmony!" But the next image on the screen made her abruptly stop laughing.

Warren beckoned to the two other speakers, and they came into view dragging Spike, gagged, bound, and wearing an expression of supreme mortification.

"We're serious.  Now, a few months ago, this guy," Warren motioned towards Spike, "came to see me.  Wanted to know if a chip in his head was still working.  I ran a couple tests on him and found out that it was doing whatever it was it should be doing.  He left.  But I still had the data from him stored in my computer.  It didn't take me too long to figure out what he is and what that chip doesn't let him do anymore."

"He's just a big, declawed pussycat," the strange-looking blond kid blabbered.  Spike shot him a look of daggers, and he flinched.  "Right?"

"Yes, Andrew.  I'm sure he can't hurt us," Warren explained with an edge of exasperation in his voice.  Then, with a look of malice, he added, "Doesn't mean we can't hurt him, though."

Spike's blue eyes shifted to him. 

"See, Spike, you've got a choice.  You gave me tons of info about the slayer back when I made you that little playmate, so you must know all her weak spots."

"Like, is the Slayer affected by kryptonite?" the other boy, who they all now recognized as Jonathon, asked curiously.

Spike rolled his eyes until they almost went completely white.

"Shut up, for once in your pathetic life," Warren snapped.  "You'd be a great ally, Spike.  And I can fix that thing in your head, dig it out, make you what you were again."

Spike blinked slowly.

"You miss that, don't you?  The power. The old you would never have had to build himself a girlfriend, would he?  You've hit the bottom of the barrel.  I bet the other vampires won't even talk to you anymore," Warren said smoothly.  "And what have you gotten in return?  Does the Slayer or her little friends treat you with respect?  Are you one of them?"

Spike's eyes slipped to the floor.  The group huddled around the TV was unable to deny that he looked hurt.

"You're as much of an outsider as the three of us.  You don't fit anywhere.  The only place any of us belong is with each other."

The vampire jerked his chin, letting them know he wanted the gag removed so he could answer.  With a look of blind terror on his face, Andrew yanked the rag out of Spike's mouth.

"Exactly what do you want me to do?" he growled.

"There.  Knew you'd see reason.  It's very simple, really.  First, I'll put your chip into a sleep mode.  For twenty-four hours, the ability to cause your migraines will belong solely to me.  I'll fit you with this tiny little camera," Warren held up something the size of a shirt button, "and you kill the Slayer.  She may not like you all that much, but I'm betting her guard is down around you, so you shouldn't have any problem getting it done.  You do your job, and I'll remove the chip for you permanently.  You try to put one over on me, and I'll make your brain explode like a big, mush, gray-matter grenade, which, by the way, would not only be extremely painful for you, but would probably kill anybody within a ten foot radius.  Either way, I win."

"Am I the only one who just really, really doesn't like this guy?" Xander asked suddenly.

There was a long pause.  The vampire looked first to Warren, and then to the camera.

"What's that for?" he asked, motioning towards the lens.

"In case something goes wrong and you trick us somehow, we send the tape to the Slayer.  She'll kill you herself," Warren responded casually.

"Blackmail.  Nice bit of work you are," the blond sneered.  "Put a whole lot of thought into this, didn't you, mate?"

"Oh, you wouldn't believe it," Jonathon gushed.  "There were schematics and diagrams and decrypting programs and we hacked into government records…"

"And I built a diorama of your head exploding," Andrew added with pride.  "It was so cool.  But my dog knocked it off the table and it broke."

"Did you, now?  Well isn't that just swell!" Spike over-enthused before glaring at the boy murderously once again. 

"Forget about them.  I'm the real boss around here.  Will you do it?"  Warren asked quietly.

For a full moment, Spike's eyes met Warren's before he uttered one word.

"No."

"Why the hell not!"  Warren yelled at him in fury.

The vampire turned his face away, ignoring him and refusing to answer.

"You really do have it bad, don't you?  Pathetic," the mechanical genius scoffed.  "I should have known from all those stupid programs you made me write.  'Make her be happy:  no bad memories.' 'No, I don't want her to be in pain if she doesn't immediately obey me.' 'These pictures don't capture the fire in her eyes, but it's useless to even try.' For crying out loud, it was a robot and you still worshipped her!  She hates you; you know that, right?"

"I know."

"This is your last chance, Spike.  Think about it.  You're not walking out of here alive if you say no."

The sound of laughter filled the room.

"You stupid git, I was already dead when I walked in!"

"You know what he means," Jonathon said.  "We may be evil super villains, but we're still human.  You can't touch us."

The vampire's mouth began to open in a witty retort, but closed abruptly.  They were right.  Even though the three of them, or at least two and a half of them, were complete idiots, he was helpless as a newborn babe.  He had to think of something, fast.

Pulling together all his strength and doing his best not to harm the two who still had hold of his arms, he tugged himself free of their grip.  It would have been a perfect escape had Andrew not lost his balance and fallen to the floor, causing Spike to step on his stomach by pure accident. A howl of pain tore from the vampire's lips as he collapsed on the cement floor, holding his head.

"Grab him!"  Warren yelled.  In a moment, Jonathon had the vampire's right arm in a death grip once again, and Andrew managed to scrape himself together and get hold of his left.  They smiled triumphantly into the camera, which had managed to capture the entire scene.

It happened so quickly that the watching Scoobies were stunned.  One moment, Spike was shaking his head, trying to gain control of himself.  The next, Warren had produced a wooden stake from his pocket.  The movement of the boy's arm was fast, and in the span of a heartbeat, the unthinkable happened.  There was the sound of a rush of wind, almost like a muffled explosion, and then a cloud of dust fell thickly to the floor.  A single, tiny, metallic ping echoed in the basement as the microchip dropped onto the concrete.

Warren smiled smugly and picked up the piece of metal as Jonathon and Andrew stared in shock at their empty, dust-covered hands.

"Hey!  You never said you were really going to kill him!"  Jonathon yelled in shock.

"It was only a stupid vampire; nothing to get worked up about.  Anyway, I didn't really think he'd help us," Warren spoke into the camera.  "Still, this whole lovely little scene has served a very important purpose, Slayer.  You know we're serious.  Leave us alone, or the next one we come after will be someone you actually care about instead of just some pathetic, crippled, love-struck demon-wanna-be."

He flipped the chip in the air like a coin and caught it.

"Oh, and have a nice day."

The screen abruptly switched to gray static.

Stunned silence filled the room.  No one knew exactly what to say.  The Initiative chip lay gleaming on the coffee table, testifying to the truth of the scene they had just watched.  Suddenly, a quiet sound broke the stillness:  the sound of crying.

Turning around abruptly, Buffy saw Dawn standing in the doorway, her blue eyes filled with tears.

"Dawn…"

"Shut up," she spat out.

"But Dawnie," Willow began.

"Just shut up," she screamed louder.  "It's what you always wanted, isn't it? You all hated him!"

"W-we didn't," Tara stammered urgently.

"Yes, you did.  When did any of you ever say a single nice thing to him, huh?" she accused them.

"He was a vampire, Dawn.  They aren't good people," Xander began quietly.

"Really?  So, trying to save my life on Glory's tower?  Patrolling with you guys all summer?  Making sure I was safe?  Those are all, what, bad things?  You're right; he was a vampire, and vampires are evil by nature.  Do you have any idea how hard it must have been for him to go against what he was and do those things, especially since no one ever even said thank you?  And if you think human beings are so much better, why couldn't you manage to at least treat him with a little common decency for trying?"  Her words came out in a torrent of anger as the tears flowed fast down her cheeks.

"Hey, now," Xander interrupted her.  "He tried to kill us you know."

"And, of course, you don't forgive people who almost kill us, right?  Oh, wait, we should throw Willow out.  She almost got me killed in that car crash.  And Tara.  Tara blinded everyone and almost got us pulverized by the Lei-Ach demons.  Then there's Buffy.  Buffy was going to feed Faith to Angel and wound up putting her in a coma. Then you better ring Giles in England and tell him he's out because he called up Eyghon and nearly got everybody killed.  And Anya maimed and tortured and killed guys for over a thousand years and isn't the tiniest bit sorry about it, so she shouldn't be allowed in.  Xander summoned up Sweet, who killed at least one guy and nearly fried Buffy and all the rest of us.  Oh, and Angel.  Angel actually killed Ms. Calendar."

"That was Angelus and you know it, Dawn," Buffy countered tensely.

"And why is that different?"

"Because he couldn't stop what he was doing.  He didn't have any way of controlling the demon, so you can't blame him," Buffy argued.  "After he could control himself again, he didn't hurt anyone!"

"Exactly.  Just like Spike."

Buffy opened her mouth to argue, to bring up the differences between souls and chips, the presence of a conscience versus trying to avoid pain.  But she shut it again just as quickly.  Dawn was right.  Spike could have simply disappeared, especially after her death when there was no possible reward for his actions other than continued suspicion from the group and increased hatred from the demon population, but he didn't.  He'd kept his promise to her and protected Dawn.  He'd even gone beyond that and continued to help keep the population of Sunnydale safe.  Yes, he liked violence, but he could have been off killing good demons instead of evil ones or even ratting out the group to their enemies.  And when it had come down to it, when he'd been offered the chance to go back to who he once was simply by killing her, he'd refused.

She stared at the chip and began to mentally list off all the reasons to dislike Spike.  He was a soulless demon.  He could be rude and callous.  He drank too much and ate kittens.  And, of course, he was an unrepentant murderer.  That was a pretty big reason right there.  Suddenly, her thoughts turned to her waking nightmare of long ago when she herself had been a vampire.  There was no free will involved.  Staking them was perfectly acceptable because it was really a form of self-defense, but could she hold them morally responsible for what they did when there really was no choice involved?  And yes, when Spike had first gotten the chip, he'd done his best to hurt them through Adam.  He had remained evil.  But in time, things had changed.

Buffy remembered his awkward attempts to comfort her when she'd first realized her mother was ill.  When Dawn ran away, he reassured her that her sister would be found.  When Glory had threatened both her mother and Dawn, she never hesitated in trusting the blond vampire with their lives, and he hadn't backed away from the responsibility in spite of the odds against him.  When he had been tortured, he'd nearly died simply by refusing to tell Glory what she wanted to know.  He, Dawn, and Giles had been the only three who were innocent about the plot to bring her back from the dead, yet he was the only one who ever apologized to her.  Despite her greatest efforts to deny it, Spike was the person she felt most comfortable with after her return.  Until that horrible night in the abandoned house when everything had gone so desperately wrong, she could have honestly said the two of them were friends, although she never would have admitted to anyone.  What did that say about her? 

And after that night?  There was no doubt that they'd both done horrible things to each other.  She'd tried to convince herself time and again that he was just a thing she could use to feel alive for a few minutes when the world was too much.  She made herself ignore the look of tenderness his eyes could hold sometimes and the way he bit the inside of his cheek when her harsh words hit too close to the mark. 

No, he wasn't a knight in shining armor.  But it suddenly hit her that he had been the best he could be.  How many beings could say that?

Buffy found herself staring into Dawn's eyes once again.  Anger and hurt were both present in the orbs, and for one horrifying moment Buffy found herself being reminded of the look that a different pair of blue eyes had once held when they looked at her.  Dawn's hand snatched the chip from the table.

"I hope you're happy now.  Go ahead.  Have a party.  Break out the champagne.  He's gone," she spoke coldly.  "Just leave me the bloody hell alone."

As her younger sister disappeared up the stairs, Buffy dropped to her knees.  Willow was by her in a moment, wrapping her arms around her best friend.

"It's okay, Buffy.  She's just looking for someone to blame."

Buffy shook Willow's arms off and drew a deep breath.  "She's right."

"Yes," Anya agreed.  "She is.  We should have been nicer to him… maybe invited him over for dinner or something.  You don't happen to have any more nachos, do you?  There aren't any left in the bowl.  Oh, never mind, I'll get them myself."

Buffy gave her a look of disbelief.  Then, abruptly, Anya grew a pair of large purple wings and flew through the front window while singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

It was at this point that Buffy's alarm clock woke her up.

It took her a few moments to process what had happened:  a prophetic dream.  Warren, Andrew, and Jonathon were the ones who had been behind so much of the strangeness going on in Sunnydale.  But… just how much of it was prophecy?

In less than half an hour, the door of Spike's crypt banged open.  Startled awake, he began to cautiously climb the steps when a pair of familiar stilettos appeared in his line of view.

"Oh, it's you.  What you want, pet?  I'm a mite tired at the moment, so if it's anything too strenuous, perhaps you'd best come back later, if you get my meaning," he said, his eyes glued to the floor.  In truth, the whole situation was becoming humiliating to him, and he wasn't feeling particularly up to another round of emotional gymnastics at the moment.  He'd been having the strangest dream, but he couldn't remember for the unlife of him what it had been. 

"Uh, no, that's not, um, why I wanted to see you," Buffy mumbled in an embarrassed tone.  "It's just, I think there's a new big old brewing evil afoot, and, well, it's human.  And I think it might, uh, be after you."

Spike blinked.  She was warning him?  Well, this was interesting.

"Thanks for the heads up.  I'll keep my eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.  Anything else?"

"No.  Didn't mean to disturb your sleep."

She turned to go and was almost out the door before she suddenly whirled back around.  "The gang's having pizza over at our place tonight at 8:00.  Can you make it?"

Spike cocked his head to one side before asking, "Strategy planning?"

"No.  Just watching some old movies on TV and hanging out.  Nothing special."

Spike looked to either side of him briefly.  "You are speaking to me, right?  There aren't any other blokes hanging about in my crypt that I don't know about?  Because it actually sounded like you wouldn't mind being in the same room with me in front of your friends."

"You showing or not?"  The ghost of a smile played on her lips.

"Eh, I don't have anything better to do tonight.  The poker game's scratched this week… Clem came down with fleas."

"Good.  Well, not the flea part.  See you then.  Just watch your back, okay?"

"Always do, Slayer," he replied with a grin.  "Oh, and tell the Nibblet I'll bring some of those nachos she likes."

With a quirked eyebrow, Buffy opened the door and walked purposefully back into the sunlight.  After all, she had three incredibly nerdy nemesises to pursue.