Author: Meltha (Melpomenethalia@aol.com)
Rating: PG for disturbing imagery
Distribution: Fanfiction.net, BAPS Yahoo; soon at the Warren. If you want it, I'd be stunned, but please ask.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Spoilers: Through season six's finale "Grave"
Summary: William's guilt has overwhelmed him completely and left him despondent, but the Powers have other plans for him.
Author's note: I've always loved Spike, but the (completely out of character, in my opinion) events of "Seeing Red" caused tremendous problems with his redemption. William needs some serious healing… and so does the old pro-Spike contingent.
Disclaimer: Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose charcters 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.
Dedication: For all of us who were traumatized during the last half of this season.
Under African Stars
The moon had grown full once again in the night sky. He couldn't see it, yet somehow he knew it was so. An entire month had passed since that horrible night when the demon's followers had dragged him, insensible with grief, into a ramshackle hut and left him alone, curled into a ball on the floor, his wide, staring eyes seeing nothing.
His first movement had been completely involuntary. With a series of choked coughs, he had vomited up the contents of his stomach. The retching became ever more violent as it became plain to him what the liquid actually was that pooled before his face on the floor: blood. Not human, not this time, but blood none the less. He had continued to spew forth the fluid in unadulterated revulsion until there was nothing left at all inside him, nothing but the incredible pain that threatened to swallow him whole.
For a full month he had lain in the same position, the blood and bile drying and caking against his face, unheeded. After the first two weeks, the villagers outside had begun to hear a low, keening howl erupt from the tin walls, animalistic yet horribly sentient. It was a sound of such anguish and remorse that they fled from the place, leaving the being within utterly alone, not caring if the demon they both worshipped and feared was angered by their departure. It was the sound of a soul in the depths of agony, caught in the devil's whirlwind on its way to hell, the cry of the forsaken.
He had grown so thin his bones were visible through his now filthy skin. Not a drop of sustenance had passed his lips in all the time he had lain there, calling out his misery in a voice that slowly became harsh with the abuse inflicted upon it until at last his violent sobs died to rasps as subtle as footfalls on a sandy beach. When he had exhausted even this, his body demanded the rest he had refused it for so long, and he collapsed into unconsciousness, his form still twitching in convulsions from the nightmarish visions that danced grotesquely before his mind's eye even in his catatonic state.
Many hours passed, and the silence that hung like a black pall over his shattered body was unbroken by even the sounds of breath. And it was in that utter silence of the soul that pity was taken upon him.
His eyelids ached with the effort of trying to lift, scraping across his blood-shot eyes that felt full of dry dust. He didn't know why he was attempting to open them at all; he wanted nothing more than death, final and absolute. Yet something was different, and he couldn't place what. As he managed to pry apart his lashes, clotted with the gore his face had been pressed to for so long, his eyes met with something out of place.
Instead of the hard dirt and gravel floor that had rubbed his skin raw until his flesh bled, he saw a shimmering pool of turquoise. It shone with a dull radiance beneath his down turned face, the texture smooth. Silk. His next realization was equally out of place. His head was raised out of the filth, resting upon an object that was soft and warm. With a flinch, he became aware of something repeatedly coming into contact with his head, a gentle, stroking sensation. He didn't deserve gentleness, he told himself. He had to make it stop.
With a tremendous strain, he lifted his head and was immediately hit with a spell of dizziness so intense he screwed his eyes shut in agony and gave a soft moan. As this happened, he felt strong, careful hands lifting his body until it was cradled tenderly, his face upwards and his body trailing off over the blue softness he had first seen. A cup was pressed to his lips, and the liquid within was urged firmly but delicately within his mouth, traveling down the parched passage of his throat. He sputtered at the taste and knew it for what it was, revolted. A soft voice shushed him wordlessly like a mother comforting a sick child, then the cup was replaced to his lips. The blood flowed down his throat once again, and yet again, until finally he had drunk the last of it.
In all this he had never dared to raise his eyes from the floor. He knew nothing of the one who held him, and he had only submitted to the figure's ministrations because he was far too weak to fight them. Now, however, with the strength of borrowed life beginning to flow through his weakened system, he dared to look into the face of the one who had intruded upon his misery.
His eyes blinked once in shock. But it was impossible. He must be hallucinating. His lips began to try to form words through their cracks and sores, and at last, a single word, so weak in volume that it wasn't even a whisper, broke from his throat. He stared with undisguised fear at the figure who held him, ready to be beaten in rage and disgust.
A slow, lop-sided smile, filled with a warmth like the summer sun, spread across her face as she nodded. "You remember. That's good," she said softly, her hand once again gently petting his head.
"Re… mem… ber…" he said painfully in a voice as dry as the African desert that surrounded them. "Leave… me."
"No," she said simply, then dipped a clean cloth into a waiting bowl of cool water and dabbed at his face, her brow furrowing in concentration as she tried not to hurt him. "Rest now. Heal. Sleep."
Whether the witch had uttered a spell or whether his body had simply decided to take what it needed, he fell into a deep sleep that lasted for a day. In that time, Tara continued to clean him and coerce food down his throat until, when at last his eyes opened again, although he was still ghastly malnourished, he was well enough to speak.
For a long minute, the two merely regarded each other. She was exactly as he remembered her, only somehow, she had a quality about her that made her seem more real than anything else in the shed they occupied. She wore a skirt of blue silk the color of an oasis, full and floaty, which puddled around her ankles as she sat on the floor. Her blouse was a rich ivory, edged in ruffles that swayed gracefully with each movement and fastened with strings of lace. Her blonde hair seemed to glow and blew about her face in loose tendrils from the breeze that found its way through the cracks in the walls. At length, he was barely able to meet her steady gaze. The gentle, gray-blue pools of light seemed to simply wait for his inevitable questions. At long last, he asked.
"Will you kill me? Please? I don't have the strength."
"No." A frown marred her face at his words. "That's not strength, William. That's cowardice."
"It hurts," he murmured, sounding like a small child for a moment. "It hurts so much I can barely think."
She nodded gently, her hand softly passing over his now equally brown and yellow hair. "I know. But I need you to listen to me. Can you do that?"
With a tremendous effort, he managed to lift himself out of her arms, and if he'd been able to, he would have blushed from having been in such close contact with the girl. It simply wasn't done. But if a lady asked for a favor, a gentleman should always do his best to grant it. At least, that's what his mother had taught him over a century past.
"I'm sorry, Tara," he said simply. "It's not enough, but I am sorry."
"William, Spike didn't really harm me."
"I struck you once, though. I remember," he insisted guiltily.
"Yes, well, you were proving I wasn't a demon. Plus, I vaguely recall frying your hand with a beam of sunlight and you being pretty nice about it, so what do you say we call it even," she suggested kindly.
He couldn't help thinking, one absolution down, about one million to go.
With a start, he was reminded of the incongruity of the situation. What on earth was Tara doing in the wilds of Africa? As though she'd heard the unspoken question, Tara, answered him.
"William, I was sent here to make you an offer. Well, maybe not an offer, exactly. More like to show you the choices you have and try to help you decide what you want to do," the girl explained softly.
"I'm not sure I understand. And, well, forgive me for asking but, ehm, I'm not exactly certain you're actually here," he said delicately.
"Great. So now I'm Marley," she asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't wish to offend at all; it's just that I see you and hear you, but why is it that I can hear the sound of the scrabbling of that colony of ants building a new nest ten feet away outside, but I can't hear your breath or heartbeat?" he asked.
"Because I'm dead," she said in a strangely distant voice. "I was shot by Warren the day after Spike left Sunnydale."
"I'm… sorry," he said, and the shock in his voice showed he meant it. "I… that's horrible. I'm not quite sure what to say."
Tara fixed her eyes back on him again. "It's okay. It doesn't hurt anymore, and Warren will never bother anyone again. Anyway, that's how I got here. When I… when it happened, I asked the Powers to let me watch over the other Scoobies. Believe me, they need all the help they can get. So now, I'm sort of a guardian for them."
"You're… you're an angel?" He looked terrified, half-expecting the usually shy girl to produce a shaft of lightening and smite him down.
"Not exactly. I'm just me, but a little different. I'm still helping them, but not exactly the same way I was when I was living. I can't let them see, though. It would be too difficult for them," Tara broke off, but William supplied the idea that it might also be difficult for the spirit to be with yet not with her Willow, too. He nodded his understanding.
"I'm still not exactly certain why you've come to me, though," he said.
"They were planning on sending someone anyway. The guy they picked… strange demon. Weird fashion sense. Still, he got lost last time and it took him over eighty years to find Angel, but since I already knew you, I could track you down a little more easily," she said. "I'm here to tell you that, even though it looks bad right now, you've got options. And you're not the first one to have those options, either."
William nodded his understanding. "Angel."
"Not just him. Did you really think the Rom just cooked that soul restoration spell up for him alone? It's been around for a millennium now, though it's rarely used. There have been just over three dozens vampires cursed with it. Angel was the first one not to throw himself into the sunlight, though. And the demon that gave you your soul? He's had five other vampires here in the last eight centuries, and he tricked all of them the same way he did Spike."
"What happened to them?"
"Same as the cursed ones. They didn't have the strength to face what had happened." The witch regarded him intently. "But I believe you do."
William blinked and, before he could stop himself, he asked, "Why?"
Tara bit her lip thoughtfully for a moment, trying to put the thought into words. "Do you know what made you different from the other vampires?"
"I wasn't any different, so far as I can see," he said, his eyes falling to the floor again. Murder. Hunting. Reveling in violence. And that last night… he shuddered.
"No, actually, there was one. You were as evil as the rest of them, yes. But you also had one very strange trait. When Spike made up his mind to do something, it didn't matter what the odds were or what was normal or easy. He'd do it or get beaten to a pulp trying. You were determined," she explained, then paused. "To a fault, in some cases."
"You… know…" he uttered in shock. "Oh, God, you know?"
Tara bowed her head. It was the one thing that had almost kept her from coming here. Even knowing that William had had no say in the attempted rape of her friend, it had still been a difficult hurdle for her to overcome. "Yes, I know. Spike was so determined to get what he wanted that night that he even blocked out Buffy's cries. It was cruel and mindless. It was disgusting. And it was something that you had no control over, William. I know you remember everything that happened, but there was nothing you could have done to stop it. You had no choice in it. In a very strange way, it's almost as though Spike tried to rape you, too."
"Not the same thing," he mumbled quietly. "I loved her. And I almost hurt her so badly that…"
"William, look at me. In my eyes. This soul wasn't just some whim of fate. There's a purpose to it. Spike was at the end of his tether. He'd helped all of us at different times, and without him, we'd all be dead, and by 'all' I'm actually referring to the entire universe, by the way. But he was way past the breaking point. When it comes down to it, vampires aren't supposed to be good. They're evil. Walking the borderline between the two was too much for Spike, and eventually, he just couldn't do it anymore. That he was able to do it at all, even for a while, is really… well, strange. The only thing any of us has been able to chalk it up to is you."
He turned away from her at that, ashamed. He was worthless. She was wrong. But as he stood, his face down turned and every muscle of his posture screaming in humiliation, she reached out and put her hand under his chin, forcing him to look at her again. He noticed once again that, even though they were both technically dead, her skin held none of the unnatural chill of his own.
"You were right, William. You really were a good man. And somehow, that goodness was so much a part of you that it almost was able to tame the demon. Almost, but in the end, the demon was going to win. It doesn't have to now. When Spike was on our side, he could be a powerful ally. So powerful that the Powers that Be decided they couldn't risk losing him to the darkness again. You haven't just been given a soul. You've been given a choice."
"To live or die, you mean?" he asked.
"Not quite. Although that is still a choice you have to make. And no matter what you decide, I won't be the one to end your existence. That isn't in my realm of power. I mean, a soul is quite a gift, although it probably feels like a pretty raw deal about now, I'm guessing. But you can choose oblivion, or you can choose to ignore your soul and become purely Spike again, or you can try to do something right. Something decent."
"They need you, William," Tara said simply. "Whether they know it or not, they're going to need you very badly in the fight ahead. I can't promise that you'll make it out alive. I can't promise that they'll accept your help if you offer it. And I can't even promise that our side will win. About the only things I can promise you are that it's going to be painful, there will be times when your mind will be so overcome with guilt that you'll feel like crawling into a corner and never getting up again, and that the people you care about will probably hate you and mistrust you and want you as dust. In a way, Angel had it easier; by the time he started helping others, everyone he'd wronged was dead." Tara paused for a moment. "Well, except for that Holtz guy, but that was a really weird situation."
"Sorry," she said with an apologetic grin. "I've been doing some background research. Habit."
"But, if everything you've said is true, wouldn't they do better without my sorry carcass in their way? Why would they want we about?"
"They won't want you. That doesn't mean they aren't going to need you to face what's coming."
William took a deep, unneeded breath, and rubbed his face in his hands, trying to comprehend everything Tara had told him. He wanted to hide in the shadows forever, alone with his guilt, but that would make him even worse than he already was. If he had a chance to make this even a little bit better… but the thought of facing them again made him almost physically ill. A wave of crushing worthlessness descended upon him as he imagined how Buffy's face would contort in rage at his audacity to return, how the Nibblet might scream and run from him on sight, how Willow and Xander would most likely try to leave him to turn to ash in the sun.
"Yes," she spoke softly in a tone that said she'd heard his thoughts. "If you go back, that is how it will be."
"Then why should I go," his broken voice almost yelled. "Why?"
Tara looked straight into his eyes and, in a voice that was full of painful honesty, said words almost like what someone else on the verge of a breakthrough had once spoken.
"Because it's right."
With a sob, he fell back to the ground, his physical weakness and emotional exhaustion at last breaking forth as he wept uncontrollably. It was some time before he realized Tara was holding him once more, her arms wrapped around him as she let him cry, urging him softly to take his time. Hours passed, and as his enfeebled body shook with the full force of the agonizing choice that lay before him, Tara never ceased in her gentle reassurances that he wasn't alone.
After the breaking of the storm passed, a calm stole over him. And in that calm, a quiet certainness flowed through his being. He knew his path.
"I'll do it," he said. He tried to stand up, but fell. "Although perhaps not just this minute."
Tara smiled at him sadly. "You don't have to leave right now. It might work best if you spent another month or two here. You can take some time to recover, get your strength back, because you will need it. And if you want, when you're ready, there's another village about three miles from here. Desperately poor. They're trying to fix up an irrigation system for their crops, but they don't have the manpower to get it finished in time for the worst of the hot months. In a few days, could you maybe give them a hand?"
William smiled slowly, amazed that he was even capable of it. "It would be a privilege."
Tara gave him a bittersweet smile in return. "Take care of them for me, okay? Es-especially Willow?"
He nodded. "I promise. Will I, ehm, see you again?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not."
"Yes, well, for some reason I feel compelled to tell you that Spike always thought you were 'quite a bird'," he said, wondering where on earth that was coming from.
"Thanks for the compliment… even though you're a guy." Tara blushed in embarrassment, but gave him a flirty wink.
"In all seriousness, though, thank you," he said and, going back to the days of his humanity, he took her hand and kissed it in heartfelt gratitude. "I'm not sure what I would have done without you."
Tara's eyes shone brightly with hope for the soul before her. "Goodbye, William. Take care. And remember, none of you are in this alone."
With a soft rustling noise, a pair of butterfly wings that caught every color of the rainbow as well as some that had never been seen before unfurled from the shoulders of the spirit before him, enveloping her form in dazzling light. With one last smile, she waved goodbye to him and fluttered unhampered through the ceiling and into the African sky full of stars.
Well, thought the newest Spirit of Compassion as she ascended into the vault of the heavens, looks like my new friend Doyle isn't the only one who gets to watch over a group that includes a vampire with a soul.