Title: Soul Searching

Author: Aislin

Season: Takes place after "Grave"

Characters: Mostly Willow and Spike.  There may also be some W/S shippage, I'll just have to wait and see how the story plays out

Disclaimer:  I don't own any of these characters; I just amuse myself by playing with them when I'm bored.  They belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and whoever else owns them.  Please don't sue me, I have no money.

Feedback:  I would love that, thank you.  This is my first attempt at a Buffy fic, so please tell me how I do.  No major flammage, please.  I don't know that I could handle it.

Rating:  PG-13.  It didn't end up as bad as I thought it would.  And it doesn't need an R rating.

Authors Note: Okay, last chapter.  There's a longer note at the end.

            Buffy did a roundhouse and knocked her punching bag across the room.  She cursed and went to retrieve it.  The clasp had been broken; she was going to need a new punching bag.  Another new punching bag.  She had never gone through punching bags so quickly before.

            "What is that, the fifth one in a month?" Dawn asked from the top of the basement stairs.

            "Sixth."  Buffy corrected.  "Sixth one since Willow left."  Her eyes were cold and her voice held no emotion.

            "A month ago."  Dawn said quietly.

            "Twenty-three days.  I haven't seen her for twenty-three days."  Dawn swiftly made her way down the stairs and sat on a stack of mats next to her older sister.  This was the moment she and the others had been pushing Buffy towards.  The girl needed to be able to move on with her life if she was going to be able to continue her duties as slayer.  "Oh God, Dawnie, what if she needs me?  What if she's laying in a ditch somewhere, or starving?  What if some vampire or demon found her."  Buffy's shoulders started shaking with the effort of holding her tears back.

            Dawn wrapped her arms around Buffy's shoulders.  "It's okay to cry Buffy.  You don't have to be strong all the time.  She'll be fine.  And she'll come back when she's ready."

            "If she's ever ready."

            "Don't talk like that.  She'll be back.  She has to be." Dawn said.  She watched Buffy surrender and finally let the tears overflow; tears she had been holding in for twenty-three days.

            When the slayer's tears were spent, she looked lovingly at her sister.  "So, what did you want to ask me?"

            "I never said anything about wanting to ask you anything."

            "You were hovering.  Watching me fight.  I'm your sister, I know you.  You want something."

            "I was wondering, well, I don't want to be the helpless, defenseless one that you have to protect anymore.  I want to be able to fight, or at least protect myself.  Will you train me?"  Dawn glanced at Buffy and rushed on; scared the girl would say 'no'.  "Please?  You wouldn't have to worry about me as much anymore.  And, I could help you, maybe.  And I'm the same age you were when you became slayer, a little older even, so you can't give me that, 'you're too young' stuff."  Dawn paused for a breath and neglected to start again when she noticed the wide smile on Buffy's face.

            "Of course I'll train you, Dawnie.  We can start tonight."

            Dawn smiled as wide as her sister and the two embraced.  After a second Dawn pulled away.  "Eeww," she wrinkled her nose, "you're all sweaty."

            Buffy just laughed, not thinking about Willow for the first time in a long time.

~~~~~~~~~~*

            Xander's mouth wouldn't work.  His brain had somehow become disconnected from his vocal chords and words would not form.  Unable to do anything, he simply raised his eyebrows at the man behind the desk.

            The man smiled.  "I realize that you do not have a college degree, Mr. Harris.  I also realize that you are young.  But everyone has a niche in this world and this seems to be yours.  You're a fast learner and regular construction work doesn't seem to be challenging you at all lately.  I feel it's time that you move up the ladder, so to speak.  You've done very good work as a foreman out on the sites.  Let's see how you handle this."

            Xander cleared his throat several times before any words would form on his lips.  "Sir… Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful, very grateful.  There are not words to express how grateful I am.  But, are you sure?  I barely graduated high school; I never even went to college.  I haven't been working here all of two years.  How can you think I can handle this?"

            "I think maybe you've found you're calling.  You learn fast.  You do good work.  Aside from that incident with your friend, Betty was it, you haven't displayed a single lapse in judgment."

            "Thank you, sir.  I guess I don't really know what to say."  Xander fumbled for words.  His boss simply smiled expectantly at him.  Xander sighed, "What time tomorrow?"

            "Tomorrow's Saturday.  How does 9:00, Monday morning sound?"

            "Great, sir.  I'll see you then."  Xander stood and left, still in a bit of a shock.  With the economy the way it was, he had been expecting to get laid off, not promoted.

~~~~~~~~~~*

            Willow was laughing.  It felt really good.  Ever since the morning she had woken up in Spike's bed, they had gotten together every evening, after her shift at work ended.  They either went to his place, her apartment, or the coffee shop.  Tonight they were at her apartment.

            They hadn't mentioned anything that had happened the past year.  They only talked about 'before', as Willow called it.  She would tell Spike stories about growing up with Xander, Jesse, and Amy.  In turn, Spike would tell Willow stories about his life as a human, sometimes quoting a bit of the poetry that earned him the nickname "William the Bloody" Willow never mentioned anything after winter break of sophomore year and Spike talked only about the time before he was turned.

            Tonight, Willow was laughing at one of Spike's escapades at school.  He was telling her about when the other boys thought it would be funny to place a frog in the teacher's desk, Spike claimed it was the first time anyone had ever pulled that stunt.  The other boys were all afraid of being caught, so Spike, in an effort to prove himself to his classmates had volunteered.  Tears ran down Willow's cheeks as he went into detail about how the frog didn't want to stay in the desk and kept jumping out before Spike could close it.  He finally got the desk closed, with the frog inside, just before the teacher entered.  Unfortunately, he was still standing by her desk when she entered.  He had been caught red-handed and couldn't sit down for four hours after his mother found out.

            "Okay, you're turn.  Did you get into any trouble at school?" Spike asked as he finished his story.

            "Spike, come on.  This is me you're talking to.  Little miss perfect.  Straight A's and the teacher's pet."

            "No one's perfect all the time.  You must have done something that made your teachers mad at least once."

            "Well, one time, I blew off a homework assignment because I didn't feel like doing it."

            "Oh, what a rebel you are."

            "Okay, okay.  There was this one time in seventh grade.  We had a school dance and I had been really hoping that Xander would invite me.  Of course he didn't.  I was always just his best friend."

            "Until you two started necking when I kidnapped you."

            "Actually, that was the last time, hey!  Spike, I don't want to talk about that stuff.  I've told you before."

            "I'm sorry."  Spike said, "please go on with you're story."  As he listened he wondered how to get her to talk about Tara.  The girl needed to talk about it to heal, but she was completely ignoring the entire issue.  She was even going so far as ignoring Buffy abd everything the girl stood for just so she could ignore her girlfriend and their relationship.  He wondered briefly why he even cared about this girl at all.  She had never been anything more than Buffy's best friend to him.  Once or twice he had considered making a snack out of her, but he mostly just ignored her.

            "Well, Jesse felt bad for me, so he agreed to go with me.  Anyway, I decided that I wanted to make Xander jealous, so I convinced Jesse to make out with me in a corner.  Only Xander didn't see us, my homeroom teacher did.  I got detention for PDA."

            "What did your mom say?" Spike asked her, coming back to the story at the end.  He hadn't heard most of it, but he figured he had to at least make it seem like he had been paying attention to her.

            "My mom never cared what I did," Willow responded, a bit forlornly.

            "Never?  Not once in your life? That's awful." Spike couldn't believe that a woman wouldn't care about her children, especially one like Willow.  Then again, he mused, that could be the reason she threw herself into her schoolwork.

            "Actually, it was for the better that she never noticed.  It made life a little easier.  Especially now.  I didn't have to explain to her where I am and why.  She just gave me the money I asked for.  She probably thinks I'm taking extra college courses over the summer or something."

            "I still think that's awful."  Spike said, spotting an opening to get her talking about Tara, or at least Buffy.  "What if you had gotten killed or something?"

            "She would have come to my funeral, been the dutiful mother and cried.  The she would have moved on with her life.  She'd probably use it to publish a new book about what parents should do when their children die prematurely and make a fortune off the sales and book signings."

            "And she never cared about who you were dating?"

            "She thought Xander and I were cute.  Of course, we were only five.  She really didn't like that I was dating a musician, but that was a weird week."

            "When did you date a musician?"

            "Oz played guitar, more or less."

            "Oh yeah.  I remember."  Spike decided to see how far Willow was going to let him push the envelope.  "She doesn't care that you're a lesbian, though?"

            "I'm not sure she knows.  I told her, she even met Tara a few times.  But she tends to forget stuff a lot.  Must be a symptom of living in Sunnydale.  Most people have highly selective memories."

            Spike smiled.  She hadn't stopped him yet.  He would have to choose his words carefully if he wanted her to keep talking.  "You're mom met Tara a few times?  What did she think of her?"

            "Oh she thought she was nice.  Everyone thought she was nice.  Even though she was shy, you know?  She at least seemed happy that I had found someone to love…Spike!  How did you do that?  And why?  I told you that I don't want to talk about it."  Willow yelled at him.

            "You have to.  If you want to heal, you have to deal with it." Spike told her gently.

            Willow snorted.  "You're not exactly forthcoming with your life as a vampire.  Don't you have to deal with that?"

            "I am.  You're helping me.  Just talking to you, it helps me convince myself that I'm not completely evil."

            "Uh-huh.  Sure.  Well, I don't want to deal with it, Spike.  It hurts way too much."

            "You'll have to deal with it sooner or later.  The sooner you do it, the less it will hurt.  Trust me, I'm talking from experience here."

            "Or you could just make me forget completely."  Willow's face suddenly spread into a somewhat sinister smile.

            "I'm not doing a spell on you.  They always backfire."

            "Not a spell.  I was thinking of a more old-fashioned way to keep my mind off of stuff." Willow slowly crawled closed to Spike on the bed.

            "What, exactly, are you thinking of?" Spike asked warily.

            "Fuck me, Spike.  Make me forget the pain."

            At that moment Spike's brain went into overdrive.  Maybe if he shagged this girl he would lose his soul, it worked for Angel after all.  He wanted to be rid of the soul, it was driving him insane.  He could use this girl, what was so wrong with hurting one person?  He'd already hurt her so many times already, what would one more matter?  And no more soul would mean no more guilt.

            But it was his soul, the very thing that was driving him so crazy that made him pause.  If he lost it, he might just go back to killing again.  And he had gone through so much to get it.  Not to mention that Willow was already in so much pain.  He could be there for her, but he couldn't bring himself to use her and discard her.

            She was still looking at him, rather seductively.  But there was pain, too, in her eyes.  "No."

            "What?  But, please, Spike.  You have to."  Willow pleaded with him.

            "No.  It would, it would be wrong." Spike said.

            "You sound like your sire," Willow spat, hoping to hurt him enough that he would take her, hurt her, anything to help her bury her emotions.

            "That's not going to work, pet.  I'll stay here and talk to you.  But I'm not going to shag you.  That's not the way to get rid of your problems."

            "Oh and you're such an expert."  Willow shot at him.

            Spike looked at her for a moment.  "You need your friends.  It's the only way you'll ever stop hurting."  He stood and left her apartment.  Willow sat on her bed for a long time before she was finally too exhausted to stay awake any longer.

~~~~~~~~~~*

            "Blasted phone!  Who could be calling at this hour?" Giles cursed.  He hated getting those middle of the night, or in this case, early morning, phone calls from the council.  "Hello?"  Giles said groggily into the receiver having located the cordless between his couch cushions.

            "Giles?" a small voice asked tentatively.

            "Willow?"  Giles was immediately awake.

            "I'm sorry.  I woke you up.  I forgot about the time zone thing.  I'll call back later."  She quickly apologized.

            "No!  No, Willow.  It's great to hear from you."  Giles said quickly, wondering briefly about the time zone thing.  "Please don't hang up."

            "You worried I won't call back if I do?"  Giles smiled at Willow's correct assumption.  She was always right.  Then he noticed something else in what she said.  She sounded tired, and broken.

            "Are you all right?"  He asked worry laced through the question.

            "No," came the honest answer.  "I thought I was getting better, but I really wasn't.  I think…"  Willow stopped talking.  Giles was worried that she had hung up the phone, but he hadn't heard a click.

            "Willow?  What is it?"  He asked, hoping she would respond.

            The answer was long in coming, but it finally did.  "Help."

~~~~~~~~~~*

            Willow was at the airport by late morning.  Digging into the money she had earned working for Beth had about half paid for a plane ticket to London.  Money from her savings account had paid the rest.  Giles would meet her in London.  They had decided it would be the best place.  She wouldn't have to deal with her friends just yet and she would get all the help she needed with her magic.  She hoped people wouldn't be too worried when they discovered that she had just picked up and left.

~~~~~~~~~~*

            Spike couldn't believe it.  She was gone, no sign of her.  He had rushed over as soon as the sun had set to apologize and she was nowhere to be found.  She couldn't be gone.  She was the only thing keeping him sane, the only thing that kept his mind off all the horrible things he had done.

            He paused to think the whole thing through logically, even though that had never really been his thing to do.  He had told her that she needed her friends, that they would help her more than he could.  Maybe she had listened to him.  But that didn't make sense, she never listened to him.

            Still, he could think of nowhere else that she would go.  He left her apartment quickly.  If she had returned to Sunnydale, he would follow her.  Even being in the same town as Buffy would be better than being all alone with his past.

A/N:  I know it isn't really the greatest ending in the world.  But, it ties it into the season seven fairly decently, in my opinion.  And, I sort of needed to finish this.  I've got a bunch of other ideas floating around in my head.  I realize that this hasn't been a great fic, with grammar and spelling errors galore.  Everything I post from now on will be better, I promise.  Anyway, review and tell me what you think.  Of the plot, anyway.  Thank you, it is much appreciated!