Chapter 1, In the Mist

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Prologue, In The Mist

"You're not her." The battered warrior used his enhanced vision to make out the figure through the swirling white mist. "I may be dazed, but I'm not daft."

"True. You see well, vampire." The voice was rather melodic with a hint of amusement. "We come in a form that you equate with acceptance, kindness and even affection. We can take another form if that is what you wish."

"No," Spike shook his head quickly. "Kinda nice seein' Joyce again, even if you aren't her." He took a moment just to enjoy the view of the one person who had always treated him with fairness and compassion. The vampire doubted he'd be seeing the real Joyce anytime soon, owing to his vampiric nature placing him among the damned and thus denied heaven no matter how many apocalypses he helped stop.

He ran a weary hand over his eyes and brushed away the blood that still trickled from his forehead. "What in the bloody hell happened? Fight over already? Only got a few dozen of those lumbering beasties before it got all misty-like. Where's the Great Poof?"

"Your grandsire is still fighting his dragon. His weariness with the constant battle has led to a great disruption. The time for his great choice is not now though soon enough. That apocalypse is yet to come and at a time of OUR choosing." The voice held a slight reprimand, but Spike knew it was not directed at him.

"Choice, yeah?" Spike snorted. "That the choice that'll lead to his great reward? Make Angel a real boy again with that wayward soul of his all shiny clean? Hope I didn't just help the wanker get that early."

The being that appeared in the form of Joyce Summers smiled and nodded. "You are most perceptive. The reward Angel may or may not achieve has yet to be determined. He will survive this current battle, however." The being seemed to be having some sort of internal conversation with many a nod and head shake.

"You are the true rebel," the voice continued. "The one who chose to forsake your very nature. There is no doubt the side you have chosen. Angel has yet to decide."

"Yeah?" Spike huffed, "Unless you want a taste of that rebellion up close and personal, I'd like some answers. Where am I, and why am I here and not skewering uglies in the alley with my mates?"

Another figure moved in the mist. This one was smaller, but Spike couldn't see well enough to even try to identify the being. The Joyce-like being nodded in the direction of the approaching figure. "You are here because this one erred badly."

The second being emerged from the swirling white wisps. He was an odd-looking fella. Spike could sense that he was a demon of some sort. He had a nearly round face under a battered fedora. He was short and dressed in clashing colors in a style that seemed to be a bad merger between used car salesman and mafia street punk. He also had a pungent odor that made Spike nearly gag.

"Hey now! You guys were the ones all vague with the orders!" The newcomer sounded indignant. "I did what I was told: 'Go seek the vampire who will fight on the side of goodness for the love of the Slayer.' And that's what I did. It made sense to me that the vampire in question must be the souled one." He spared an apologetic glance at Spike. "Excuse me…at the time…the only souled vampire. No one stopped me when I tracked Angel down in that rat-infested alley and took the road trip to sunny California. How was I supposed to know it was this one you wanted?"

The Joyce being scoffed. "The key word was LOVE, Whistler! Liam is only beginning to learn how to love even now. THIS one never forgot!"

Spike had watched the interplay as if watching a tennis match. "'This one's' standin' right here, still waitin' for an answer to my questions." He fixed his glare on the one looking like Joyce and said, "I take it the Poof got drafted for a slot meant for me?"

Whistler shrugged. "That pretty well sums it up, yeah. Angel took a look at the girl and signed right up. Course, that led to him losin' the soul, and a world of nastiness. Didn't see that coming. I expected him to actually help the Slayer, you know-kill the Master, save the girl, that kind of thing. Turns out he was more interested in dropping hints as vague as my orders and pullin' a Houdini routine. Man of mystery routine gets the young girls every time, that and the bad boy vibe."

The first being sighed in exasperation and then turned to Spike. "So now the question is what is to be done about YOU?"

Spike wasn't too sure he wanted to know the answer to that, so he volunteered another choice. "If I get a vote, I'd say send me back into battle. With Oxford dead, Charlie close to it and me gone, there's only Blue and the Poof against that horde from hell."

"You are outside of time, vampire; no need to worry about your fellow warriors." The being smiled. "They won't even know you are gone."

"So that whole bit about me throwing everything out of balance because it screwed up the Shanshu prophecy was a crock of shite then?" Spike was still a bit bitter over the whole Cup of Torment that turned out to be Mountain Dew. He had been willing to pay the price to give Buffy what she wanted: a normal man without the baggage of a century of sin. He'd even detoured from his plan to seek her out just to battle his grandsire for it.

"Angel is the vampire of the Shanshu, provided he chooses correctly. It was always about him. He is the souled vampire who could easily choose either side in that apocalypse, whose loyalties would be in question. You made your choice even before you dared take Legba's trials to regain your soul."

The voice continued softly, "You were to give your heart to the Slayer while hers was yet soft, before all her losses made it impossible to see you clearly. You were to pledge yourself to her and her cause out of your love for her." She looked at Whistler again and shook her head sadly. "Instead, that which was to be your reward was thwarted. So now we are to discuss what sort of reward YOU desire for the many times you have fought on the side of light and goodness. The records show you to have stood at the Slayer's side through several apocalypses, as well as everyday battles between good and evil. You even sacrificed your entire existence to close the Sunnydale Hellmouth. What would you desire, vampire?"

Spike didn't know what to say. He beat back the selfish urge to ask for Buffy's love. No, she had made her choice by telling him to move on while she shagged the bloody Immortal. Spike had also heard from Angel how Buffy had practically promised herself to him after she finished 'baking', whatever that meant. The last thing Spike wanted was a woman who wanted someone else; he'd done that with Dru. Aside from Buffy's love, though, he was at a loss to think of anything he wanted.

After what felt like an eternity of thinking, Spike asked the only relevant question he could come up with: "Is she happy, she and the Bit?"

The being smiled fondly on Spike. It was clear that his requested reward would likely be more of a prize to the Slayer than to himself. "Happiness is relative. She maintains and matures. She does her duty, finally embracing her specialness, but she is not fulfilled." She leveled a pointed glare at Whistler that Spike didn't notice as he digested her response.

She didn't want Spike to ask for something that didn't remedy the situation, so she decided to nudge him in the right direction. "If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?"

Spike didn't hesitate. "I'd do it right. I'd go back to where it all buggered up and do it right this time, not hurt the girl."

The being frowned slightly and sought to clarify the point, "You mean the incident that led to your soul? You would undo that?" She sounded shocked.

"No!" Spike replied quickly. "Before that. Hurt the girl before that. She needed me to help her, turned to ME and not the mighty Scoobies. I was doin' okay for a soulless vampire 'til I got a taste. Like to think I was really helpin' her adjust 'til I got sidetracked with my own desires. Got my crumb and lost my focus. Tried to drag her into the dark just to keep her with me, make her see how good we could be together. Made a bad situation worse, hurt the girl."

The higher being became a bit teary-eyed at the vampire's self-reproach. Clearly he didn't see how extraordinary it was that he had even tried to help the Slayer of his kind at all. Indeed to have inflicted as little pain to the Slayer as he had when he had no soul to guide his movement was astonishing.

"I wish I could have helped her, REALLY helped her when she needed me most. I didn't have the soul then to tell me what to do. I loved selfishly, grabbin' for all I could get, whatever I could get. Buffy got hurt. Bit got hurt. Hell, we all got hurt."

"So the moment your focus changed after her resurrection is what you would alter then?" the being prompted.

"Better if she hadn't died, yeah…that'd be my wish there," Spike amended. "Then she wouldn't have needed my help at all for me to bugger it up."

"That we cannot undo. There are too many issues, eternal balances involved," the being said sadly.

"You asked me what I wanted and then tell me I can't have it?" Spike snorted. "Typical. Offer a bloke a carrot but never let him eat it."

"I said we could not undo the sacrificial death of the Slayer for her sister. We could, however, allow you to undo the damage you feel you did upon her return," she said gently.

"Yeah? How's that work then?" Spike asked and then felt a sensation like falling as the mist began to swirl about him, blocking the other beings from view.