Shade: Loitering in the Houses of the Dead

lyrics from "Bother" by Corey Taylor

Wish I was
Too dead to cry
My self-reflection fades
Stones to throw at my creator
Masochist to which I cater

Without Spike, the crypt was empty. It didn't matter that Clem, foolish, good-natured, considerate Clem, Clem the anti-Spike, stayed there now- he only occupied space, only floated aimlessly in the void left by Spike's abrupt departure. No, without Spike, the place was shadow of itself, a dark grave good for nothing but hiding memories that can't stand to be looked at too closely. Spike had been gone weeks now, gone without a goodbye, without a backwards glance, without an explanation. Or maybe the explanation was all too easy to figure out; the bruises on her body were only just fading, the ones in her mind and memory would be there forever. After all, when had the two of them ever needed words anyway? They had done all their talking with their fists or, in more gentle moments, their fingers. Buffy figured that all she needed to do was to look in the mirror if she wanted to know why Spike had left.

And still she came here anyway. No matter what else could be said about Spike, and a lot could be said, very little of it good, he had been a constant in her life. Those were few and far between now, even if they were barely more than enemies, even when they shared a bed. But he had known her in high school, and he had been there when she died, and he was there when she came back, trailing grave dirt behind her like some sort of morbid veil. How many people could she say the same of? It was him and the Scoobies. Just 'cause a person figured they hated another person didn't mean that they didn't feel the loss when the other left. And if she really wanted to convince herself there was no way she could love Spike, she ought to be trying to hate him less. Apathy was the opposite of love- hate was just its darker twin. She really should stop coming to his crypt. There was something seriously wrong with her that she was here again, for no reason, just to stand in the shadows.

The sun never reached its fingers into the crypt; it stayed outside in the real world, where it belonged. This was a place beyond nature, beyond understanding, a place where light shouldn't come, a place where shadows ruled. Whatever strange darkness her affair with Spike had been born into, it had its roots here, hardly the classic trappings of romance. There was where the shrine had been, alter to his obsession, and there was the place he had tied her, ready to swear his love for her in Dru's blood. There was the place she had first kissed him, the first and maybe last kindness she had ever shown him, when he had let himself be tortured rather than give Dawn up. There was the wall she had thrown him against, when she snuck in, a ghost of herself, so hungry for his taste she couldn't stop even with Xander watching. That was the bar he had been standing by, when he threw her out for not loving him, for only taking him when it was easy, when she could lie. That was the grave they were on when Riley walked in on them, part of her cheering that here at least was one person she wouldn't need to lie to. And Spike was standing right there when she left him, left him looking lost and confused as she walked out the door with finality she had never shown before. Strange kind of an affair, that marks its milestones in pain and not pleasure. Spike had been her punishment, never her pleasure, or so she told herself, even when she ached for his touch. Spike had been purgatory, managing to be both heaven and hell when he was neither.

"Where did you go?" Buffy asked into the silence, into the dark. She did not miss him. What was there to miss? The pain, the bruises, sex against alley walls as she died her slow death in Doublemeat Palace? Insults when she wanted softness, kindness when she wanted a fight, Spike's endless look of confusion when she couldn't love him like he loved her? Obsessively, destructively? Fuck this. She didn't even know why she had come here, she didn't know why she cared where he went or why. So he was gone, saved her the dust of killing him.

"Love?"

No way. No way. Buffy spun around, shocked, scared, not alone. A familiar figure stood in the darkest shadows against the back wall, wrapped in his own darkness. How long had he been there? How long had he been hiding? She hadn't even seen him there, watching her make a fool out of herself. "Spike?"

He stepped forward, body a perfect picture of pain, bruised, bloody, scarred. "In a manner of speaking." There was something different about his voice, about his eyes, about his walk. She couldn't pinpoint it, maybe it was the limp, or a voice worn thing with screams. But if anybody ought to know that pain alone didn't leave marks that deep, it was her. It was more than pain that had changed him. It was something stronger.

Buffy strived for sarcasm. "Gee, Spike, I thought you wanted me to be the only person to beat you."

He ignored it, like he had been ignoring her a lot lately. "When you came back, and everything was the same except for you, was it like hell?" His words held a sort of shell-shocked curiosity, like he wanted to care about her answer, but couldn't really bring himself to believe it.

Strange question. But he had listened to her when she couldn't tell the truth to anyone else, and for that alone if nothing else, maybe she owed him. She stepped closer, still out of range, but not so far. "Yeah. Yeah, it was... what did you try to change Spike?" The differences were all strangely familiar, an echo of something from her past. She stared at him, trying to figure out what about him now reminded her of anyone else, when Spike had always been purely unique in her mind.

He turned away, stared at the door, looked anywhere but at her. "I went to this demon, dark as they come, wanted him to make me what I was. Wanted him to burn the love out of me, wanted him to rip this sodding chip out. Wanted him to make me a monster. Instead, he tried to make me a man." He laughed, a hollow sound that sent chills down her spine.

"What?"

He spun to look at her dead on, and she saw his eyes under black and blue, saw something familiar hiding in their depths. Not Spike-familiar. Older. "What did you do, Spike?" If that was fear in her voice, she was going to have to kick her own ass. What did she care what Spike did to himself?

"Didn't ask the right question. Said I wanted to be what I was. Damn demon gave me back my soul. I guess, figuring it's not real likely I'm gonna die soon, I get my hell on Earth." There was a thread of bitterness in his voice, woven through the words like a poison in a river.

And that was where she had seen the look before. In Angel's eyes. The eyes of something that knows damn good and well what it has done with its life. He had a man's eyes in his demon's face. Buffy felt like the world was spinning out from under her, spinning away. She felt like she was all alone with Spike, lost in a swirl of confusion, lost in his confession. "What have you done, Spike?"

He tried his old leer on for size, failed miserably, lost it in a grimace of pain. "So, what'dye think, pet? Could you love me now? Now that I'm just like your fucking precious Angel?"

She knew there were about a million things she could do in response to that, starting with killing him for not wanting to take no for an answer and ending with saying yes, like she was as mad as Dru, some strange reversal of fortune. Instead, she took the simple route, the easiest road. She ran, out of the crypt, out of the darkness, and into the light. And it might have been a trick of her imagination, but she could have sworn that she heard Spike's laughter, tinged now with madness, trail after her.

He had his soul back... what the hell should she do now?

You don't need to bother
I don't need to be
I'll keep slipping farther
Once I hold on
I won't let go till it bleeds.

To Be Continued...