Chapter 24

"Spike, no!" she screamed pushing him off her, clawing at his chest and face to get away from her. Her legs were bending up to her chest to kick him to the side as she scrambled to the far corner of the bed.

Startled at Buffy's sudden reaction, Spike jumped backwards and fell to the ground next to the bed, only his forearm remaining on the edge as he looked at her, distraught. She looked so scared and as the tears stained her cheeks, he longed to comfort her, to reach out to her, but he knew better. He recognized the fear and the loss of trust in her eyes and he knew what she had found, there in the depths of their past—the most horrific and hurtful of Spike's attempts to love her.

It wasn't me. It wasn't me. It wasn't me. Spike recited it in his mind and began rocking back and forth while he pulled at his hair. His arms were pressed against his sides and his knees found purchase at his chest. Back and forth. Back and forth.

Buffy could feel her heartbeat start to settle from its alarm at having such a terrible memory triggered while she was with her Spike. It wasn't him, it wasn't us. She could feel the engraved lines of worry and terror on her face start to recede and she wiped the tears away as she looked to Spike shaking on the floor.

"Spike. Oh, Spike," she said quietly, unsure of her trembling voice. She scooted to the edge of the bed and slid down beside him, placing her hands on his knees trying to slow him. There was such pain between them; she had not realized how greatly their past could affect their present. For the first time since this had begun, she longed to forget. She longed for the chance to forget all of it. Except for him, she never wanted to forget Spike. Her Spike. Not ever.

Spike stilled and looked up at her, unwarranted shame present in his misty blue eyes, "I hurt the girl. You. I hurt you Buffy."

"No, not me Spike. I'm right here. You didn't hurt me. I'm sorry for reacting like that, I don't know how to control it. God! How do I stop it?" Buffy genuinely didn't know. "How do you stop it?"

Spike let his arms and legs relax. Buffy used it as an opportunity to climb into his lap so that they were both sitting on the floor, Buffy's legs enclosed around him and her head rested on his shoulder, her breath on his neck. She wanted to reassure him that it was just a distant, unlived memory and that she still found comfort in his embrace.

Surprised by Buffy's move onto his lap, Spike gingerly placed his hands on her back and soothed her with slow circles. He thought back to all the times he had been overcome with the flashes, with the pain, and he could admit that it had taken him a long time to be able to separate himself from his former self. But now, being with Buffy, that separation was being tested. With each touch and each moment he spent with her, the thoughts skirted on the edge of his consciousness, threatening to derail everything. Whatever punishment he had felt necessary because of his former self's approach to life and love, he had enforced it over the years to the point that he was able to realize that they were not the same person. Spike had taken his agency back because being ensouled upon waking as a vampire gave him humanity that let him make better decisions, more calculated and sustainable decisions. Now with Buffy, he knew that his past was nothing to be ashamed of—had he rebelled against his so-called destiny? Sure, but in those moments when he was on the verge of committing violence against himself, he stopped. He didn't want to hurt anyone and he didn't want to suffer as his previous self had all those years. As he sat with the woman of his dreams secured in his embrace, he could feel confident knowing that he hadn't hurt her, that he hadn't jeopardized his chances with her, and that they were going to get through this.

"Buffy, can I show you something?" Spike did not know if this was going to work, but he figured there was no harm in trying.

She nodded and leaned back to look at him. His fingers splayed at her cheek and his thumb rubbed the salt tracks from her tears away. He pressed their foreheads together and closed his eyes before securing his lips to hers, delicately massaging his full lips with hers. He focused on a memory from his past, the moment he had learned what happened between them in the bathroom—when he had tried to rape her.

Buffy felt her consciousness give way to Spike's memory and in a whirl, she was right there with him. The year was 1907.

Spike had been so focused on the girl in his mind, loving her and only seeing the moments where they were happy or at least had the possibility of being happy. There was only his love for her and while his former self had been a crass and unsavory bloke most of his undead life, Spike had seen his romantic side with Drusilla and definitely with Buffy, and he identified wholeheartedly with it. The idea of meeting this Buffy someday was not only enticing, but it was what kept him going. He allowed the pieces of himself that had not matured yet to fill with lofty ideals of picking up where their lives had left off. He would live for so long in those moments that sometimes he'd convince himself that they weren't real. Only figments of his imagination. The doubt that plagued his mind in those moments opened him up to something else, something darker and more painful. New Orleans had always been a pretty popular vampire haven, he was seeking refuge there when the worst of it hit him.

The alley from the butcher's was dark and unpopulated that night as Spike walked back to the cemetery. The mausoleums in New Orleans were quite spacious and isolated, much to his liking. He wore his hair long and it was unruly and uncolored, the collar of his white shirt laid open against his neck and the brown three-piece suit hugged his frame. The shadows played on the planes of his face and he had all but forgotten that there were others like him lurking in the dark. A woman's desperate scream startled him and he turned toward the commotion at the other end of the alley. Spike was about to run to help when he heard her scream, "No! No, don't do this! Please!" The familiarity of the statement hit him hard and he could feel the bag holding the pig's blood he had just acquired slip out of his hand, the sound of it splashing on the cobblestones as distant from him as the slippery alley wall he gripped to hold himself. "I'm going to make you feel it, Buffy." The memory took him over as he slid down the wall, his eyes closed and his hands rigid against his ears, trying to hold the memory inside. He did not want to unleash such horror into the world. "Ask me again why I could never love you," Buffy's words stung his consciousness and her tears were acid in his mind. How could he have ever done that to her? The demon. It was the demon.

"Oi! Stop! What are you doing to yerself?!" a passerby running toward the screaming lady reached Spike as he was repeatedly hitting the side of his head against the wall, his body rocking and shaking while he whispered mangled words. The man was shaking Spike's shoulders and his eyes shot open, crazy and unfocused. He stood and ran off into the night. When he reached the mausoleum he locked the doors, placing a heavy wooden plank on the inside barring entrance from anyone and leaned against the door. The pain of that memory was excruciating and he knew then that he had not explored enough of his previous life to warrant feeling hopeful or worthy. He needed to know what he had done and why he had done it.

Spike forced himself into a tomb, the darkness enveloping him along with the damp feel and smell of dirt and death taking over his senses. He slid the concrete slab over the top, straightened out his limbs, and focused on the memories of becoming a vampire in his former life. With each new memory, more blood was on his hands, more death, more rape and unmerciless taunting, playing, and joy at the perversity of his demon. All the things he had done. As Spike lay in that tomb reliving every debauchery and murder he had committed, he longed to forget. He wanted to meet the sun, just walk out of that tomb and out into the daylight because he did not belong there in the first place. His ashes would do more in this world than he could. The wallowing persisted through his love and affection for Drusilla, however twisted it was. Without a soul, he did not understand how he could love her or anyone, until he met Buffy for the first time. What with the dancing and her hair bouncing while she laughed with her friends, he knew. Spike knew that the love he was capable of without a soul was of a possessive and unforgiving kind. A love that made him chase and torture, hit and bite, and take—take everything he could without giving anything back. The love he felt for Buffy justified his actions in the bathroom in his mind, justified the darkness that they shared together and it wasn't until she did not want to play anymore, until she was scared of him and his love that he realized how very wrong his understanding of love really was.

The soul gave him a chance to love selflessly and wholeheartedly without causing pain. It was a love that allowed him, in their last year together, to be patient with Buffy and to show her the parts of him that were trying and struggling to make sense. He finally knew what love was and she recognized it in him, so that when he told her that she was the one, the chosen one, he knew that she believed him. He could see her love for him reflected in her eyes when he held her closely in those last months. As he held her lifeless body in his arms, though, he knew he had run out of time. Time.

Time. Spike did not know how long he had stayed in that tomb. The pangs of hunger had ceased a long time ago and his skin had dried out to the point that when he tried to move, the cracking of his skin pained him. When he awoke from his self-induced punishment, it was only because he had finally worked through the distinction between himself and his former self. He was not the Spike from his memories that had been plagued to live a life without a soul and attempt to love without it as well. No, this time around he had his humanity and he cherished it as he would cherish her when—if, they were reunited. Upon waking, he learned that over 12 years had passed. A chunk of time that he had not planned for and did not even feel except but for that first draw of blood he found in an unlucky rat. Twelve years it had taken him to toil and work through his own past, attempting to understand why he had hurt her and what he was going to do to make sure that he never saw that fear in her eyes ever again.

When Buffy opened her eyes, her body still positioned on Spike's lap and his hands gently gripping the sides of her face, she steadied her breathing with a prolonged exhale and looked at him. It amazed her that he let himself stay still for so long, just to convince himself that he wasn't the demon anymore and that he wouldn't hurt her. Ever.

His eyes met hers in a vulnerable stare, he was laid bare before her mind's eye and he realized that it terrified him.

"Does that mean," Buffy spoke slowly, "that in order for these memories to not sneak in and wreak havoc on me I'm going to have to lock myself up for a few years? Crazy, straightjacket Buffy here I come?" Her lips turned down into a pouty frown before lifting to a 'just joking' smirk.

Spike smiled at her, "No way luv, 'sides, they wouldn't be able to handle your demanding keen fashion sense in the asylum. Better to stay out here with me, all the shopping and slaying and shagging—sorry, not the last one, not yet. But the others, for sure." If he was capable of blushing, the sideways, embarrassed glance he gave at the mention of shagging would have been far more adorable.

Buffy was fascinated by the contradiction of Spike's innocence and his apparent raw sexuality. His body reacted to her instantly while his mind and his heart took time to think, a patience that clearly he had picked up from living without her for so long.

"1907, so that was the first time you wallowed. Were there others?" Buffy was curious.

He could feel her thinking, and yes, he had gone through years of this, this agony, living in memories, picking apart the differences and realizing that they were not the same. He hoped that together they would be able to save Buffy from years of anguish doing the same thing—Spike didn't want that for her, for them.

He lifted her up so that he could stand and placed her on the bed, sitting himself next to her, holding her hands in his.

The loss of contact worried Buffy, "Spike, what is it?"

Spike opened and closed his mouth a few times, not really knowing how to start.

"There are so many things that you should know, I just don't know how to tell you. I showed you a piece of my past, a piece of my perhaps maladaptive coping strategies that enabled me to work through the memories that pained me. This also served to eat away the time until I might be able to see you, to meet you," his eyes moved down as he thought about what to say next.

"You said that this world might have little things off about it, is that right?" Buffy interjected.

Spike nodded.

Buffy thought about how much he was giving up for her by waiting, she might not have ever been born, hell, she might never have been called as the slayer. She wore her worried face as she asked the next question, "What would you have done…you know, if I wasn't here. Or if I wasn't called."

Spike stood to pace the small stretch of carpet in front of her. "I tried to focus on sorting out who I was and who I wasn't for a long time. The thought had occurred to me, that you might not even be 'ere after all, but I didn't dwell on it. I was more worried about getting my head straight for you, for us. I figured out all the differences and did my best to convince myself of them. That in our previous selves' ability to hurt each other we were different, that in the ease with which they dismissed the possibility of being together we were different, that in the moments leading up the final battle they were the closest to who we are now and that gave me hope. It gave me hope because for however many ways we were different, I knew that their capacity to love each other was not a remnant of the past we would simply relive, but it was a tiny moment that we would get to expand on and live out to its fullest. That tiny moment, made up of many smaller instances in the months leading up to their death, the touches and glances and him holding her tightly, reminding her of her strength and her leadership—is what kept me moving all these long years. Some years were far longer than others, decades in some cases of wallowing in self-hatred and retreating into my mind, allowing my body to starve and my body to desiccate while I toiled over the memories. Each time what brought me out of it was that moment where I knew we were not them, when in their last minutes together they both had wished for another chance to make it right, not just the world but with each other. They had loved each other but fought for so long and so hard against it. This time around, it's different because we're different."

Tears were streaming down Buffy's face at Spike's declaration, she knew then that they were going to be okay. No matter what scary memories invaded her thoughts and no matter what residual aspects of their lives they would have to struggle with, she knew they were going to go through it together. The warmth and security she felt at that thought was invigorating.

She reached for his hands and pulled him toward her, pressing her tear striped face against his stomach. Spike's hand lost itself in her hair as he held her to him. Before long, she stood in his arms and leaned up to kiss him fully and completely.

"I might not have my 12-step recovery chip for past lives or anything, but it's becoming abundantly clear that we're going to be able to get through this. You're clearly more practiced at this whole zen thing, so when I wig out we'll just have to take it slow and I'll need to remind myself that we're different, like you said." Buffy believed they would get through this, but was still scared about the next time she couldn't focus and let one of those terrible moments from their past rip through her consciousness.

There they stood, both nervous about what to do next and where to go from there. They had each other, they knew a little about each other and even more about a pair of themselves who had lived a more complicated and tragic life and they were now faced with the impending discussion about what to do next. But the longer she stared at his bare chest the foggier her mind got and the less obvious her options became. The darkening of Buffy's eyes upon staring at him was unraveling him at his seams.

"I'm a stupid git, I'll put a shirt on. I'm sorry," Spike stumbled in his words and over his feet to get to his dresser, pulling out a long sleeved grey shirt and quickly pulling it over his head.

"No, no don't apologize. I'm sorry for staring. You know, for being a silly sixteen year old girl." She remained silent for a moment, looking at the ground, before lifting her eyes to his and continuing, "Sometimes I feel perfectly normal, like I know what I'm doing and then there are times like right now where I can't even imagine what to do next. I can't disentangle which emotions and comfort levels are coming from me and which are coming from her."

At the confession, she looked at the ground again, unsure if she should have said anything. What if he feels the same way, that this is all fake? That their feelings and physical attraction is just residual? She started to panic and breathe more heavily at the thought of them not being able to come out on the other side of this whole physical thing. What if touching him and getting lost in him keeps triggering their past? Spike went to her and wrapped his arms around her all the while rubbing her hair gently and cooing that everything was going to be okay into her ear.

"You're right. We really need to work through this together or we'll never know the difference. That thought is unnerving to me too pet. I'm here and I want us to do this together. Okay?" Spike reassured her, and allowed the words to wash over him too.

"We're going to be okay and you know how I know?" Buffy shook her head against his chest.

Spike replied, "I know because there is no future for me without you in it. Our love was strong enough to allow the spell to happen in the first place and not just you and me, but your watcher's love for you and your friends too. You're the one Buffy and I'm determined that we'll get through this in the only way we know how: together."

Buffy was still against him and he kept talking, "There are a lot of agonizing things about our pasts that will make us question, but the best we can do is remind ourselves that we weren't them. That even the passion and love they shared was just that: theirs. You and I are going to have to work to distinguish between us and them, but I'm confident we can and it'll get easier over time. What is worrying you right now?" Spike felt like he was babbling, trying his hardest to give her what she desperately needed to hear, and perhaps what he did too.

Buffy leaned back and looked up at him, "I'm worried that you've spent the whole of your life looking for someone and now that you've found me I won't be good enough. I won't match the pedestal Buffy you had in your mind." The tears were starting to gather in her eyes again, her fear and pain palpable.

He placed his hands on both sides of her face and spoke clearly, "You are probably saying that because you haven't taken the time to sit and immerse yourself in the memories of them. I have and let me tell you, I was not doing it to relive and build vision of a perfect you. Many of our previous memories were painful, wrenching, we hurt each other Buffy. All the time we hurt each other. We never understood what we were to one another, even up until the very end, and we punished each other because of it. There are so many things that I wish I could forget about me and you," tears travelled down Spike's cheeks at the thought of the many times he had wanted to rip those memories from his mind.

"So many Buffy. Too many. I don't and have never looked at you as a promise to relive the past, no. I see you as a miracle and a chance to create a new future together. You and me, without the pain, without the doubt. If you want us to start over from the beginning, if you wanted me to leave today and come back and we could do this whole thing right, I'll do it. It'll hurt like hell, but if you thought we would have a better chance starting with a handshake in some college classroom, I'll do it." He didn't want to leave her, he had already lived for so long without her that the thought of leaving was excruciating. But he would do it if it meant that they would have a real shot at this. He would do it if it was what she wanted.

Buffy wiped away his tears and looked into his eyes, speaking perhaps too sternly, "I've only just found you, there's no way in hell you're leaving me. Not now, not ever. Don't even think about it. And something tells me that I have never particularly liked it when other people made decisions for me in the name of my best interests, so don't. With that said," she softened a little. "Thank you for coming to me when you did and for staying to tell me the truth. You could have kept yourself hidden, stayed away to work silently in the background to ensure things turned out right this time. I'm sorry I was so weak," a sob wracked her body," that I didn't want to be here anymore. That I might not have been here for you not because of some cosmic fuck up but because of my own sadness and selfishness. I'm sorry, Spike"

Her shoulders shook as she realized how fucked the state of affairs were for her when Spike entered her life. How her death wish had almost taken her away from him. Forever. Buffy wanted to be stronger for herself and for him.

"Buffy, there's no need to apologize, pet. You're not weak, never was, never will be. This chosen gig is hard stuff and what with the life you've been living—I say it's been far more broody and restrained than it needs to be. I should know because I've done it to myself time and time again. You find strength in your mum, your friends, and although you bitch and complain about being the supernatural battlefield's one and only champion, you love the fight. You love knowing that your strength can and does save the world. You have plenty to live for kitten, you just lost your perspective for a second there. That doesn't make you weak, that makes you human." He smiled at her, her eyes hopeful and thankful for his words.

He knew they had lost track of time, it was easy to do that when he was with her. The problem with it was that they were actually supposed to be patrolling and saving innocents and all that. Spike pressed his lips to Buffy's forehead and moved away from her to the doorway, flicking off the construction lights in the tunnel.

"So, no treasure hunting then?" Buffy pouted. "I'm even all dirty what with our rolling around and getting your construction dust all over me," she was being cute of course, but it was true. Her clothes were rather dirt-filled at the moment.

Spike raised his eyebrows, remembering that she did come here to help him find the Gem. "Well, we could go take a quick look if you want. I broke through the ceiling, it might be up there or it could be a few chambers removed." He held his hand out to her, "Want to check it out?"

Buffy nodded and he switched the lights back on, holding her hand in his as they walked back to where he was working earlier.

"What's up there?" Buffy looked skeptically up at the small hole in the ceiling.

Spike shrugged, "I don't honestly know. First time 'round there was gold and trinkets, the ring nestled among all the baubles. We'll just have to go and see, now won't we?" He reached up to light some lanterns to carry with them and then jumped up into the void.

"Come on up, Buffy. No scare things up here," he called down to her.

She jumped up with ease and crouched near the entrance as she watched him walk slowly out into the chamber. His light was glinting against some shiny things and casting long shadows in other places and when she heard the clinking of coins, she stood up and moved around to the other side of the room. Allowing their circles of light to intersect they could see most of the space. There were shrouds and burial clothing mounted on the walls and long tables with decorated skeletons laid out surrounded by gold and jewelry and weapons. They were silent as they moved, careful not to disturb the long since peacefulness of this place.

Spike could remember what the space looked like to his former self, along with all the unwanted memories of wanting to use the ring to kill Buffy. He was sure that she would remember that as well and all the terrible things he had said to her if she thought about it, but he hoped she wouldn't think about it. He winced at remembering how much worse his words had been than his punches during that fight outside UC Sunnydale, stop thinking about it Spike. He chastised and reminded himself that this was him, a different him, one that would never treat her that way. And as he watched her move, her blond hair gathered messily in a bun and the dim light playing on her suntanned skin, it was easier to remember that they were here, now and they were stewards of their own destinies.

Buffy was touching a particularly beautiful piece of metalworking when Spike came up behind her and wrapped his arm around her, kissing her hair. She leaned back against him and they looked over the trough of artifacts together. Simultaneously, their eyes caught a shimmering green ring cast in a scarab-like gold band. They both knew that was what they were looking for and yet, they were both hesitant to reach out and grab it. It meant a lot, way more than either of them could admit in that moment. The possibilities and what this meant for their future, hell, their ability to even have a future hinged on this small, seemingly inconsequential piece of history.

"So, what do you say Buffy? Should I try it on?" Spike was apprehensive because he knew that this was going to open up a whole new world for them and as much as he wanted it, he was worried that she might think it was moving too quickly.

Buffy twisted in his arms and looked up at him, reading his doubt in his azure eyes. She leaned up on her tiptoes and kissed him softly, closing her eyes. Her lips moved against his and her tongue tested its way into his mouth, mingling with his lazily. She wasn't interested in consuming him at that moment, she wanted them both to feel how absolutely necessary they were to each other, like the slow and patient movements of the earth and time. She wanted him in every way possible and if putting on that ring allowed them to live a fuller and more complete life together then that was what needed to happen. He could feel her response in their kiss, she wasn't pushing him or demanding anything from him and she was happy as long as they were together.

They leaned their foreheads together and he reached behind Buffy to retrieve the ring, pulling it in between them to appraise. She took it from him after a minute of them poring it over, positioned at the end of his right ring finger, and looked up at him. They were both nervous as she slid it down his finger. There were no flashes of light or tingles through his body, but then again, he wasn't expecting anything special. Instead he reached over to the trough and hovered his hand above an ornate cross and met Buffy's eyes, "Well, here goes nothing."

He palmed the cross and braced for the pain. Nothing happened. Buffy's eyes widened as she witnessed Spike pick up the cross in his bare hand and toss it between his open palms, even venturing to rub it against his cheek with no effect.

"Ha! Look at that! Nothing, no blistering searing pain of Christ!" Spike was jubilant that they had found it and it seemingly worked. Buffy was amazed and excited to experiment with the limits of the ring, namely going outside.

She grabbed his hand in hers, bringing her lantern down to look more closely at the ring, "Who knew you would look so good in a piece from Elizabeth Taylor's collection baby." She teased him, but inside she was exuberant. He smiled at her and picked her up in his arms, swinging her around and kissing her all over her face. When he put her down he was still kissing her and imagining what it was going to feel like to kiss her in the sunlight with the sun gleaming in her hair and accentuating the hazel flecks in her eyes.

Tired of being in the dark and damp and now knowing that they would be spending more time together in the light of day, they did their best to right the tunnels. They sealed off the chamber leaving it as undisturbed as possible and backtracked their way to the crypt removing their footprints and taking any signs of their presence with them. Spike would go back and double check, but for the meantime they did a good job of concealing their search and subsequent acquisition.

When they entered the downstairs room of his crypt, Buffy wasn't sure where to stand or what to do. They had come dangerously close to losing each other in their physical need for one another, before their ghosts interrupted them, and while she was excruciatingly interested, she knew that she wanted to continue to get to know Spike better on all levels, not just a physical one.

As Spike moved around his room fixing things here and there, he was suddenly nervous at having Buffy there with him after so much time just imagining it. For however much confidence he may have displayed around Buffy over the last couple of days, he was so nervous about mucking it up and frightening her away. He was, after all, still very new at all of this too. He had never touched another woman and had certainly never felt the urge to challenge another person the way he had in her bedroom that morning. No, he was learning more about who he was every time he was around her. The reflection of each other that they both sought in each other's eyes was an adapting and interesting one to say the least.

Buffy could feel the tension rising between them and spoke up, "If we don't get out of here right now, I'm going to jump you and I kinda feel like there would be no stopping us."

"Right, let's go," Spike didn't want to rush their first time. He wanted her badly, to be sure, but they needed to wait. They couldn't risk throwing themselves into it and being taken over by their past, not like today. There would of course always be a risk, but the more time they spent together, talking and living and growing closer, the smaller it would be. Spike wanted their first time to be real and beautiful.