A Will, a Way, and a Woman

Written by Phoebe

Content/Rating: Chapters 1-13 are rated R for language, violence, and adult themes.  Chapter 14 is rated NC-17 detailed m/f sex. If you are underage, you can read chapters 1—13 and still get the gist of the story.

Pairing: Spike and Buffy

Timeline: Set after "Grave." Season six spoilers.

Summary: On his jaunt in Africa Spike has obtained not only his soul but also his humanity. Now he heads back to Sunnydale…and to Buffy.

Disclaimer: I'm not lying—if I could make money at this, I would. But I can't. So…don't sue me.

A Will, a Way, and a Woman

Written by Phoebe

Chapter One

My beloved monster and me…we go everywhere together…


"I have restored your soul."

The words echoed in Spike's head as he stumbled blindly from the cave. It should have been a divine moment for him, an absolution of all his past sins, a rebirth. He should have felt energized and renewed—happy, even. Instead, he just felt sick.

The words themselves had little meaning for him. The thought of having a soul had no meaning for him. Angel had a soul for pity's sake. Having a soul was no big deal. To have a soul, even as a vampire, would make him little more than what he was. No, the fact that he had been given his soul meant nothing. His humanity was what mattered to him. It was the fact that finally he could go to Buffy and be all that she deserved him to be. All that she needed him to be. The moment in her bathroom could be forgotten, even forgiven. He was not the monster he had been then. He was no longer the creature she despised, loathed the thought of. He was reborn, a new being with nothing—nothing—on its conscience.

He still felt sick.

It was to be expected, he told himself. His heart had not beaten in more than a century; the feeling would take some getting used to. As would various other sensations he now found were assaulting his body. His limbs trembled with fatigue as he slowly made his way down the sloping sand to the small cluster of tents that were nestled less than a mile away, in a small valley in the desert. The native people who lived in those tents had been kind to him, even though they did not speak the same language. Spike knew part of this was out of fear—the Africans seemed greatly in tune with the supernatural and could sense right off he was not a human—but he was still appreciative of the favors the fear brought. He could expect a pallet in one of the tents and a plate of food upon his return.

For the first time in a long while, his stomach growled at the thought of food. As a vampire, he had craved food, certainly. But it was a burning in his gut, a lust for the kill, rather than a yearning for sustenance. This sensation was less intense but also less satisfying. In fact, it made him feel even worse, weak and even a little dizzy.

Eventually, he made his way to the tribe of people and, as he expected, they gave him a tent and some dinner, and then quickly left him to his own devices. They did not know he was not the same being he had been the first time he came to be with them, and they were still afraid. Spike was glad of this. He was still mentally and physically wrought, and he did not relish the idea of company at the moment. He needed time to think, to adjust.

He ate his dinner slowly but was so unaccustomed to the various physical sensations of digesting food he gagged several times and ultimately retched up the greater part of his meal. Eventually, necessity would push him to eat, even when it sickened him, but not yet. Now he was still strong enough to be contented with an empty belly and a full head.

He threw the soiled blanket outside the tent flap and then sat down on his rough cotton pallet to think. Part of him was quaking inside, wondering what he had done to himself. A human. He was a human now. An ordinary, weak- bodied, cold-carrying, bloodletting member of the human race—a race he had left behind one hundred-twenty two years ago and had scorned ever since. Spike wondered if maybe he was going mad. Why had he done it? He had given over all that was unique, all that was powerful about him, just for a woman. It certainly seemed crazy.

No, Spike!

It flashed in his head like a movie playing, Buffy lying on the floor of her bathroom, Spike kneeling over her, pinning her down, pulling at her clothes. And she was begging him to stop…begging him not to do this to her. A single moment in time that had changed him, that had driven him to travel halfway around the world just so the memory would stop torturing him.

He hadn't meant to do that to her. It wasn't as though he had gone into her house thinking, "I'm going to rape Buffy tonight." But she had mocked him, spurned him, as usual, and he had lost it. He had missed her so much—God, had he missed her—and here she was mocking him as though he were nothing, treated him like dirt. Somewhere in his fevered mind, something had snapped, and he could not take it anymore. He was dying to have her in his arms again, to have her near him. He was so maddened by his pain and desire he had been certain the way to accomplish this was to force her to give him what he wanted. He had thought he could force her to love him.

He would not have hurt her for anything in the world. Even though it was Buffy who ended it by kicking him off her, Spike was certain he would not have been able to finish what he had started. He was just frustrated; he would have come to his senses eventually. Nevertheless, the mere fact he had started to do it was enough, and the memory of it plagued him. The look in Buffy's eyes when she told him, "Ask me again why I could never love you." It hurt with a pain that was almost physical, and Spike had to do something to make that pain go away. So he came here.

The memory was still there, still twisting his heart with guilt, but Spike no longer doubted the validity of his decision. He had a soul now. He was human. He could prove to her that he really did love her, that he wouldn't hurt her… After all, he had done this for her hadn't he? Gone through hell just to have the luxury of telling her, "I'm not bad anymore, Buffy." It had always been her excuse, her reason for not giving a tinker's damn for him.

How could I love you, Spike? You don't even have a soul.

Well, now he had one.

A small white glint across the room caught Spike's eye, drew him out of his reverie. On the other side of the tent, on the floor near the canvas wall, something was shining in the moonlight that filtered in from the open tent flap.

Curious, Spike moved closer, leaning down to get a better look.

It was a mirror, a small, square mirror with a pin on the back so it could be hung on a tent wall. Most likely, a tourist had left it while on safari. Spike picked it up, careful not to catch a glimpse of his reflection, and hung it on the wall. One would have thought he would want to look in it immediately, eager to see his reflection after one hundred twenty-two years, but for some reason the idea made him uneasy. He had a mental image of how he appeared to others and, without the luxury of mirrors, this was the only image of himself he had. He was afraid to look in the glass and find something completely different from what he had pictured, to find he was not really what he had thought. Perhaps even to find he was still just William.

Still, wouldn't it be better to know this before he went to Buffy? The thought rankled.

Slowly, Spike removed his hand from the glass and leaned in to catch his reflection more clearly. At first, it was dim and hard to see, but then a cloud moved from the moon and a bright light lit up the tent from outside, and Spike could see himself clearly. Still as thin and angular of face as he had been over a century ago, but pale of skin now, with peroxide yellow hair that still had streaks of wheat-colored brown near the roots. There was a scar across the eyebrow that had not been there before and a certain sly, world-weary, look to the dark blue eyes. No glasses.

He was the same as before, but still somehow different. Not in the dyed hair or the never-seen-the-sun skin, but some strange, intangible way he knew he was not William and not Spike either. He was something else altogether…and he had no idea what that might be.

Without even thinking about it, he moved his left hand over his chest, feeling the steady rhythm that beat out under the bone and skin, the warmth that it generated throughout his body. Sudden tears came to his eyes, because he had known what this would be like even before he felt it—before it had even come into his mind, he had known. Because even when his heart had not beaten, it had beat for her.

It was time to go back.



Sunnydale Cemetery

Three days later


Lumpy though it was, Clem's face was lighted up with genuine pleasure at seeing his friend again. He extended one droopy hand and clasped Spike's shoulder affectionately. "Am I glad to see you! How was your trip?"

"Never mind all that now," Spike snapped, brushing off Clem's hand as though it was nothing more that a fly. "Clem, what the fuck happened while I was away? What happened to this town? I passed the police station on the way here and the whole damn front wall is gone. There are wrecked cars all over the roads and someone trashed the Magic Box again."

A shadow passed over Clem's eyes. "Uh…yeah…well…"

Something in Clem's tone alarmed Spike; he grabbed Clem's arm and shook him violently. "What happened?" he demanded.

"Well, you see…that guy…the one that was causing the slayer so much trouble—"

Spike's eyes narrowed. "What guy?"

"Actually, I believe there were three of them altogether, but one…"

"Warren?" Spike laughed, much relieved. "What, did Warren's latest science project blow up half the damn town?"

Clem hesitated. "Not exactly… You see, Warren was angry at the slayer for putting his two friends in jail and he…he, uh…"

"What?" Spike asked impatiently. "He what?"

"He shot the slayer."

"What?!" Spike shook Clem so hard his teeth rattled. "Is she okay? Did he hurt her? Is she…"

"She's okay," Clem assured him. "But a stray bullet went through an upstairs window and hit Willow's friend, and it killed her."

"Tara's dead?" Spike's tone was surprised but not overly concerned. "Ah, well, it had to happen sometime didn't it? The good always die young and that one was almost painfully good." He paused. "So what does that have to do with the mess downtown?"

Clem sighed. "Maybe you should sit down, Spike. This may take awhile to explain…"



The sun warmed Buffy's face as she stepped out onto the porch, but she shivered anyway. She had been shivering for three days, ever since Tara died. Ever since Willow…

She forced her mind from it. She had promised Willow that she would love her no matter what, and she was not doing either one of them any good by sitting here mulling over her breakdown. Yet there was some part of her, some little imp in her head, which whispered she was helping Willow get away with murder. Murder. Granted, it was the murder of a perverse sociopath, but still…a human life was a human life. Wasn't it?

Her head felt all muddled. Nothing made sense. Giles was telling her that they would have to keep this to themselves in order to help Willow, and Xander agreed with him. Dawn was creeping around the house, refusing to enter a room if Willow was there, demanding why Buffy was allowing her to live in their house. But no one save herself seemed at all interested in the fact that Warren was dead, and it was all Willow's fault.

Buffy did not begrudge Willow the abuse she had given her friends; she herself had almost killed them while under a spell. The Scoobies were able to handle themselves in such situations and were accustomed to them. But terrorizing the entire town, killing Warren, trying to destroy the world… How could they just forget about all of that, pretend nothing had changed? How would she ever be able to look at Willow without seeing the bloody figure in the trees? If she was capable of doing this once, who was to say she would not get angry and do it again?

Buffy sank down on the back steps, resting her head against a newel post wearily. Thank heaven Giles had opted to stay, at least for a while. Without his help, she doubted she would have been able to keep it together at all. She knew she would never have been able to sleep without the knowledge that he was there, just one room away, protecting her. Sometimes she wished she could crawl into his arms and stay there, snuggled on his lap like a child. Just the sight of him made everything so much easier. She just wished he would stay forever, protect her forever.

She closed her eyes, hugging herself until gradually the warm sunlight seeped into her bones and stopped her shivering. She had not been sleeping very well, and now it was so quiet; no one was home but her and Giles. It would be so easy to fall asleep, right where she was, to sleep and to dream and forget all that had happened, just for a little while.

She was almost to the point of peacefulness when the sound of a twig snapping fired her senses and tensed her muscles once again. Her eyes flew open and she jumped up, ready to fight even before she knew what she was facing. But demon or vampire, murderer or paperboy, it mattered not. There would be hell to pay for disturbing her tranquility, the first she had known in days.

She shielded her eyes against the assault of the early afternoon sunlight and gazed into the yard, toward the direction of the noise. At first, her eyes were adjusting and she did not recognize him, but when the spots disappeared and he stepped closer, she realized who it was. In the middle of her back yard, wearing black jeans, a long-sleeved gray shirt, and mirrored sunglasses, stood Spike.

Buffy's heart did an automatic happy leap at the sight of him, but she forced it back down. She forced herself to focus on what had happened (or almost happened) before he left Sunnydale. It worked. Anger boiled up inside her, and it was with a sneer in her voice that she asked him, "What do you want?"

Was it her imagination or did he look almost uncertain?

"I…I came to talk to you, Buffy," he said slowly. "I need…to talk to you."

"I don't want to talk to you," Buffy snapped. "I don't even want to look at you, you disgust me."

He flinched visibly. "I'm sorry—"

"Don't even start with me on that, Spike," she said, wearily. "You're sorry because I am mad. You're sorry because it means you don't get to play here anymore…You aren't sorry about what you did."

"I bloody well am!" he retorted. Then as suddenly as it came, the anger left him. He looked at her sadly. "I am so sorry, Buffy. I never meant to hurt you, or to frighten you. I just wanted to…"

"I know what you wanted," she said bitterly. "And I know you would have taken what you wanted if I hadn't managed to stop you."

She saw him swallow.

"It wasn't like that."

"No? What was it like then? Tell me. I would like to hear the excuse you think you have for trying to rape me."

"I wasn't trying to rape you."

Was it her imagination or was his voice hoarse?

She steeled herself against him. "No? Then what were you trying to do, exactly?"

"I was trying to…force you…to make you love me. I thought…I mean when I got rough before you had liked it. I thought if I did it then I could make you want me again."

Something in her hurt because what he said was true. She had wanted the abuse before…even when he did not want to give it. Even when he lapsed into moments of tenderness she had dragged him back, practically begging him to hurt her, control her, make her like it. But that still didn't make it her fault.

"Don't try to pin this on me, Spike. I told you no; I begged you to stop. If you thought I was kidding or lying then that is your fault. I didn't want it and you couldn't force me to want it! You can't force me to want you."

"I know that," he said. "I don't want to force you…I was just…upset. But I don't want you to hate me…"

She tossed her head. "Too late."

He clenched his jaw. "Damn it, Buffy! If you would just listen…"

"I am listening," she said. "Just because I don't believe your bullshit don't try to say I'm not listening."

"But you aren't! You're hearing only what you want to hear…you aren't really listening to what I am trying to say."

"What are you trying to say, Spike? Quit beating around the bush and spell it out."

He cleared his throat. Here it came. He knew if he didn't tell it just right he would ruin it, but he wasn't entirely sure what the right way was. This would be so much easier if she wasn't staring at him as though he were the scum of the earth.

"Buffy…I was gone from Sunnydale for awhile…"

"No kidding," she interrupted. "Do you even have any idea what I've been through while you were on your vacation?"

"Well, if I had known Willow would do that do you think I would have left?" he demanded, temper blazing. "Damn it, Slayer, I can't be everywhere at once and I am not a bloody psychic!"

"No kidding, Spike. You can't even see something when someone screams it to you, let alone read someone's mind."

He growled under his breath but struggled to keep his temper in check. "Buffy, I know you have been through a lot in the past couple of weeks, but you know what? So have I." He pulled up his shirtsleeve to reveal a series of deep gashes on his arm—tokens of his battle in Africa.

Buffy stared at the wounds for a moment then snickered. "What? Did you try to rape someone else and get bitch slapped for it? You never learn do you?"

"I didn't do anything to anyone! Buffy, I got these for you…I went to Africa…There is a demon there who—"


It was Xander's voice calling her from the kitchen door. She turned just in time to see him emerging, to see him see Spike. There was rage in his face.

"YOU!" Xander crossed the yard quickly and within the space of a nanosecond was standing directly in front of Spike. "You've got some nerve coming here after what you did to Buffy!" Xander shoved Spike so hard Spike almost fell—had it not been for the ex vamp's catlike reflexes he would have fallen. As it was he stumbled backwards a moment before regaining his balance.

Xander didn't even give Spike time to react. As soon as he had oriented himself from the last attack, Xander shoved him again, even harder this time. "Is this what you get off on? Huh? Stalking women, raping them…and all the time claiming your sick obsession is love! You make me sick!"

Xander threw a punch, fully intending to bust Spike in the jaw, but Spike was too quick for him. He darted a safe distance away and said, "I'm not going to fight with you, Xander." All the while, he was keeping one eye on Buffy.

"No?" Xander asked. "And why is that?" He raised his hand again as if to hit him, but Buffy grabbed his arm before he could follow through.

"Xander, don't," she said.

He stared at her incredulously. "You are actually defending this guy after what he did to you?"

She gazed at Spike, who stood several feet away, watching her.

"No. I am not defending him. I just don't think he's worth the effort." That said, she took her friend by the elbow and led him inside, closing the door behind them.



"Damn him!" Spike stormed into his crypt, throwing the door back so hard it crashed against the wall, startling Clem.

"Damn who, Spike?" Clem asked, gazing at his friend from his position in front of the television. "What happened? Did you see the Slayer?"

"Yeah, I saw her…her and that little Tonka toy construction man friend of hers. He just bounded out of the house when I was trying to talk to her, full of accusations. And she let him! She took his side, left with him, left me…"

"Oh…" Clem stood up. "I'm sorry, Spike. But maybe you can catch her when she is by herself, talk to her then."

"When is the Slayer ever by herself? She never goes anywhere without a horde of Scoobies in tow, and they won't let me within ten feel of her. Prejudice little prigs! What right do they have to judge me when one of their own just attempted to destroy the whole fucking world?"

"What about when she is patrolling?" Clem asked him, eager to find some way of helping. "Don't they usually split up when they patrol? Maybe you could catch her then, talk to her before the rest of the group has a chance to catch up."

Spike's eyes lit up. "That…is not a bad idea at all, Clem."



As it turned out, however, Buffy was no longer patrolling alone. When Spike found her in the cemetery that evening, she was strolling alongside Dawn. What was even more surprising was what Dawn was carrying weapons—the same type of weapons Buffy held in her hand.

"Just what the hell do you think your doing letting the Little Bit patrol with you?"

He hadn't meant to say that. But it was such a shock seeing Dawn walking through the darkened graveyard that he had forgotten what it was he was going to say.

Buffy gave him her patented I'm better than you look and asked him, "What business is that of yours?"

"None. I'm just surprised you are being so stupid! Don't you realize she could get hurt?"

"I can take care of myself," Dawn said defensively. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Anyway, I don't see what you are so concerned about. You care so much about me, but you don't mind raping my sister in our bathroom."

"Hey! I did not rape her!"

"Attempted to then," Dawn acknowledged dismissively. "Same diff."

He was trying very hard to be civil but after all this, his patience was wearing decidedly thin. "Look, Little Bit, I've got to have a word with Big Sis for a minute, so toddle off to your toys now."

"I'm not leaving her alone with a rapist!"

"Don't worry, Dawn," Buffy reassured her little sister, "I'm not going to talk with him at all."

"You damn well had better!" Spike warned her, "Because I am not leaving or letting you leave until you listen to what I have to say."

Buffy sighed. "Okay, fine. Have it your way, Spike." She turned to Dawn. "Run catch up with the others. I'll be along in a minute."

"Buffy are you sure? What if he tries to—?"

"If he does," Buffy said grimly, "then I guess I'll just stake him."

The two of them watched as Dawn disappeared beyond the massive stretch of tombstones, silent for a moment.

When Dawn was out of sight, Spike turned to Buffy indignantly. "What the bleeding hell has gotten into you? You'll get her killed bringing her on patrols!"

"Dawn is old enough to help out and able to take care of herself," Buffy answered. She turned to look him full in the face. "Is that all you had to tell me?"

"Of course not," he snapped. "I just think it is incredibly irresponsible for you to allow her—"

"Spike, either shut up about my parenting skills and get on with it or I am leaving. Now which will it be?"

Spike shut up about her parenting skills.

"Buffy…the first thing I have to tell you is I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?" Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Sorry for what?"

"For all that you've been through the past few months…and I know what I did just made everything worse…and I'm sorry for it. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to be here to help you when Willow went all wicked witch of the west…"

"I did just fine without your help, thank you."

He looked away. "I—I know that. I know you don't need me. Do you think I don't know that? I've always known it. But I wanted to be there for you…just to help, even if you didn't need it."

She sighed. "What is the second thing?"

He took a step forward—not too close, but close enough to see her reaction when he said, "I love you, Buffy."

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, uneasy. "Don't…"

"But I do," he insisted. "I do love you…I love you more than anything or anyone I have ever met. You're like salvation to me. I know I'm disgusting and that I have done disgusting things to you…but I want to change. I want to make up for all that."

"Spike, you can't make up for it. No matter what you do or how bad you feel, it will always happen again. You will always let me down again, because you are a vampire. Nothing you feel can change what you are and what you are is evil."

He grabbed her forearms eagerly. "But that is what I am trying to tell you, Buffy! I'm not evil anymore! I did change what I am…"

She rolled her eyes, heavenward. "Spike…"

"No, Buffy it's true. Didn't you notice anything different when I came to see you earlier?"

She shook herself free from his grip. "I noticed that you seem to be getting even more obsessive over this."

"No." He made an impatient sound. "The sunlight, Buffy. Didn't you notice that I was standing in the sunlight?"

Her eyes clearly told him that she hadn't noticed this, but now that he had mentioned it, she suddenly flashed back on it. But for some reason Spike couldn't fathom she did not look pleased.

"What did you do?"

"Whaa…" he asked, bewildered by her comment. "I did it for you. There's a demon in Africa who can—"

"Oh, my God, Spike…" Buffy back away from him slowly. "What did you do?"

He couldn't understand why she was looking at him in that shocked, fearful way, and as usual, confusion made him angry. "I did it for you!" he snapped. "I let that demon torture me over and over for you, for us. I did it so we can be together."

"Be together?" she echoed. "Spike, you tried to rape me! I don't even like you! How could you possibly think anything you could do would result in us being together?"

Her words hit him like a fist—he felt a literal, physical pain, so that he staggered backwards as if from a blow. "But I fixed things, Buffy." Spike tried to take her hand, but Buffy jerked away from him. "I—I'm not the person I was when that happened. I'm better now…I'm…human."

"You very well may be a human, Spike, but you aren't any better now than you ever were." She turned and began walking away from him, pausing only once to say this: "Even rapists can have souls, Spike."



Spike watched her willowy form weave between rows of tombstones, eventually fading into the inky darkness. He bit his lip, forcing back the angry tears that stung his eyes.

"Damn it," he said. He meant the words to be sharp, angry, but instead they just sounded broken. "What does it take?" he asked, gesturing to the darkness around him. "She wanted me to be good and I was good. She wanted me to fuck her hard and I fucked her hard. She wanted me to have a soul and I got a soul…and still she isn't happy."

He sucked in his breath, heavy with the thought that maybe he was fighting a lost cause. Maybe she would never be able to love him, no matter what he did. Then something occurred to him. If she didn't want him…if she couldn't want him even with a soul…then that meant he had gone through that torture for nothing.

He had given up his entire life, his reputation, his power…and it was all for nothing. The thought made him shudder.

Spike took a moment longer to regain his composure then he began to slowly make his way across the cemetery. After all the emotional and physical stress he had been through the past several days, he was eager for the safety and quiet of his own crypt. He would have made it—had it not been for the flash of red that caught his peripheral vision. Something, some curiosity or desire prompted him to turn and look again. When he did look, he could not keep walking, though he would.

Willow Rosenberg, longtime friend of the Slayer and recent apocalyptic nightmare to the town of Sunnydale, was sitting on a raw mound of earth. She was hunched over, her forehead resting on the slab of marble that served as a monument, and she didn't see him at first. But even though Spike could not see her face, it was obvious from her movements that Willow was crying.

Spike didn't have to think twice to understand why. He knew whose name was engraved on that marble slab; he had sought it out as soon as Clem had told him of Tara's death, feeling an unusual—and unaccountable—urge to pay his respects for the fallen Scooby. Maybe it was because Tara had always been polite to him, even when everyone else had treated him with hatred, but Spike was still uneasy about his newfound sensitivity. It wasn't like him to feel the need to express grief. Hell, it wasn't even like him to feel grief. The only person he had ever truly mourned—besides Buffy—was her mother, Joyce. And he had mourned Joyce as a genuine friend, one of the few truly kind people on this God-forsaken rock. Tara was different. Though no doubt kind, she had never expressed any real interest in getting to know Spike, and their encounters had been brief to say the least. There was no reason for him to feel sorrow over her death.

Even as these uncertainties ran through his head, Spike felt another even more disturbing emotion. Now he wanted to help Willow. Willow, for pity's sake! She had not been kind or even polite to him. She had been downright hostile on occasion and as of late, she had treated him as little more than a nuisance to be ignored. Even when he had worked beside her that summer after Buffy had died…even then she had not trusted him. Why should he care if she was happy or sad, if she lived or died? Yet he had the most uncomfortable feeling that if he had been carrying a handkerchief he would have offered it to her.

Spike sighed. Bloody hell. If it weren't for that little bitch, he would never have gotten the sodding soul and would not, therefore, be feeling such uncomfortable pangs of pity for her friend. Nor would he have the uneasy notion that if he left without helping Willow, he would be faced with the equally unpleasant sensation of guilt.

Still, a soul he had, and despite his better judgment, he could not help but put it to good use.

"Willow?" He sidled up close to her, close enough to reach out and pat her shoulder—which he did somewhat awkwardly. "Are you all right?"

She looked up at him with big, tear-stained eyes. She looked the way she always had, little redheaded Willow with the shy eyes and round face. It was almost inconceivable to him that she had nearly destroyed the world. Inconceivable, yet still somehow easy to understand. The person she loved most in the world was dead, murdered. Spike could easily see why she would want to extract revenge on the person who had taken Tara from her, and he could also see why she felt unwilling to live in a world that didn't have Tara in it. He had felt much the same way when Buffy had died. What he didn't understand was why she wanted to take the world with her…but Spike had never been one to fantasize about the destruction of an entire planet, so maybe that didn't really mean anything.

Willow looked at Spike, seeming almost confused. "Who are you?"

She sounded disoriented, drunk maybe. Made perfect sense, Spike thought. Her honey was dead so she was drowning her sorrows in alcohol. He understood that completely.

"Don't you recognize me, Red?" he asked, once again feeling that repulsive tenderness melting his heart. "It's Spike, love."

"No…" she shook her head slowly. "You're not Spike. You…feel different."

He raised an eyebrow. "And what have you been feeling to know that, huh, Willow?" He meant it as a joke, something to make her feel better, but she only seemed more perplexed.

"You aren't…the same person anymore."

"How astute you are." His voice was calm but inside he was soaring. She recognized a change in him—she knew he was different. If Willow could see this in an instant, who was to say Buffy would not eventually catch on to it also? He sat down in the dirt beside Willow.

"So what makes you think I am different, Sabrina?"

She rubbed her eyes, and then looked at him. "You did something while you were away. Spike, what did you do? You aren't…you don't feel the same."

"What do you mean feel the same?" he pressed. "How do you feel me?"

"I dunno," she muttered. "I just…sense something different…some change in you."

He raised an eyebrow, amused. "And have you always been able to feel me, Red? Or is it just since you decided to put all of us poor bastards out of our misery?"

She sighed. "Of all people I would think you would understand this."

"But I do understand, Willow. I understand completely. I understand that you have always had to play Velma in the Scooby gang. You were the smart one and, therefore, expected to be the steady and forthright one. And you got tired of it. You wanted to let loose…and when you did you couldn't find your way back."

"That wasn't it at all!" she spat. "Tara is dead, Spike. I—I had to do something. He killed her! I couldn't just let him get away with that!"

"And Buffy?" queried Spike, a strange, little smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "What did Buffy ever do to you except love you? Or Dawn…I suppose she had a hand in Tara's death too. And the poor bastards down at the police station who were just trying to do their jobs when you tumbled the building down around their ears? All of these people were to blame for Tara's death? You were punishing all of them for the same crime?"

She looked uneasy. "I got carried away."

"Bollocks," he said easily. "You were never out of control—you knew what you were doing the whole time you were doing it. You just liked it, that was all. You liked the power of having everyone afraid of you…even your friends. Especially your friends. They always saw you as such a sodding weakling. You wanted to show them what you were capable of." He reached into his pocket for a cigarette, not even bothering to catch her reaction to his tirade.

Willow flinched, but she didn't try to deny the accusations. Instead, she reached out and stroked one finger over Tara's marker, tracing the letters that spelled her name.

"How do you know?"

He snickered, lighting his cigarette. "How do I know? I'm surprised you feel the need to ask. I know because I have been there, Sweet Pea. I have been in your shoes…an ignored, mocked bit of nothing, always used for his brain but never respected for it. And then when you get a bit of power…it's like a drug to you. It rushes your head, dizzies you until all you care about is that feeling, keeping that feeling, no matter what. You'd have to be crazy to give that up."

"But I did," Willow said, speaking more to herself than to him.

"But you did," he agreed. He took a drag on his cigarette and added, "It was an honorable thing, giving it up for Xander. It's right touching, actually. You gave up power—you gave up the world—for love."

Willow dragged her eyes from the tombstone, meeting Spike's so evenly for a moment he felt almost nervous. After a moment, she spoke—calmly, as though his newfound sensitivity was something she had expected. "So did you," she said.

Spike made a great show of examining the tip of his half-smoked cigarette. After a moment, he threw it to the dirt, grinding it beneath his heel before he looked over at her.

"Did I?"



End of Chapter One