Talk to Me



Buffy pushed open the door to Spike's crypt and walked in, confident of a welcome. "Knock, knock," she called out chirpily.

"Be nice if you ever did, yes," retorted Spike from the depths of his favourite, or more accurately, only armchair. "Suppose vampires aren't entitled to any privacy, or consideration or - "

"Spike. Shut up," interrupted Buffy. "I don't imagine for one minute that you knocked when you used to break in to my house to steal stuff and sniff sweaters - yes, Riley did tell me about that so don't try and deny it."

Spike's attempt at the moral high ground having failed miserably he gestured at the fridge and said, "Help yourself to a drink. Mind you lay off the red stuff though; supply's running low and it's not like I can just pop out and pick myself a likely looking donor any more." He sighed heavily and took a long drink from a bottle of beer.

Buffy stopped herself from automatically chiding him for referring to his former eating habits and frowned instead. Walking over to his chair she perched on the arm and stared at Spike for a second. When he refused to turn his head or even acknowledge her she felt a mixture of chagrin and curiosity. "So, what's up with you tonight?" she ventured. "You're usually -"

Her voice trailed off as she thought about what she had been about to say, which was, 'happy to see me'. What she really meant was that Spike was usually just simply happy with life. Unlike her friends he had an uncomplicated attitude towards it, a zest for living despite leaving that state some time back.

In the 'reasons to be melancholy' column though, Spike was restrained from normal behaviour for a vampire, cut off from his own kind because killing them was the only outlet for his violence, living in conditions that were a far cry from luxurious and once, now, and forever more, love's bitch with the scars to prove it. Not to mention still recovering from a summer of mourning her.

Buffy looked closely at Spike and realised the truth. He was a mess. "Poor Spike!" she thought, feeling quite sorry for him and enjoying the unusual sensation.

Thinking about someone else's problems came hard to Buffy at the best of times. Her own always seemed to dwarf theirs into insignificance and since she'd come back from the dead, wrenched out of heaven, well, it was going to be hard for anyone to top that in the sympathy stakes.

But Spike had been there for her so many times since then. She'd come to rely on him, to trust him and, to be honest, to use him. Guilt and pity struggled to overcome Buffy's self-absorption and were given a boost when she glanced down at the hand that held the beer bottle. The knuckles were bruised and bloody, the wounds still fresh and open.

"Spike - your hand! What happened?"

Spike didn't even glance down, simply continued to stare at the wall.

"Did someone attack you? Are you hurt? Because if they did anything, I'll -"

Buffy stopped again, surprised at the flood of protective anger that had swept over her.

Spike finally turned his head to look up at her with a faint spark of curiosity and wistfulness in his eyes.

"Did it myself, Slayer. No need to go looking for someone to hurt. Unless you're in that kind of mood, in which case, on your merry way. Wouldn't want to stand in between you and a good punch up."

"You don't do that kind of damage by accident, Spike. What happened, did the wall say something you didn't like?"

"Buffy, I'm really not in the mood, OK? Just push off and leave me be."

"Isn't that my line?" said Buffy, needling him partly out of habit, partly to stop him slipping back into an apathy which bothered her for some reason.

Spike growled in his throat, making Buffy jump. She had to make a conscious effort to stay sitting so close to him and fear, no matter how fleeting or mild is something that a vampire picks up on instantly.

Spike leaned forward casually, placed his empty bottle on the floor, sat back and in a swift move, swept Buffy from the arm of his chair onto his knee. Holding her steady with an arm around her shoulders, he gripped her face and turned it towards his.

"Are you scared, Buffy?" he whispered. "Can you tell that chip or not, tonight the demon is awake?"

He triggered the internal change into game face and waited for Buffy to flinch, struggle or try to stake him. She was the Slayer, she would have a stake on her somewhere, he was sure of that. Counting on it, even. Instead she reached up and pushed his hand away but remained close and continued to look at him.

"I know what you are, Spike,” she said softly. "I've seen your other face this close, when you wanted to kill me. I didn't back off then and now... you saved my life not so long ago. How can you think I'd be scared of you? Put the demon back to sleep and talk to me."

As she had once done with Angel, she reached to stroke his vampire face, wanting to show him that it really didn't bother her.
Spike's face changed back just as Buffy's hand was about to touch his cheek.

"Don't touch me when I'm like that," he said. "That's not how I want you to see me. You really should go. Tonight I can't deal with you, the way I feel, the way you don't feel - not tonight."

"Nope, not going anywhere when you're like this. And stop being so melodramatic. Tell me what's wrong; I've bitched to you often enough when I've been down; it's your turn."

Spike stared at her in silence, waiting for the other shoe to drop, a punch, a cutting quip as she headed for the door but instead she wriggled off his knee, stood, gripped his hand and hauled him upright. "Let's go and sit down somewhere a bit more comfortable," she suggested, glancing round the crypt and taking in the lack of options.

Still slightly puzzled by her mood Spike tested the waters by gesturing towards his bedroom downstairs. "We can go down there; the bed's a lot softer than the tombs. To sit on, I mean, don't go getting all aggressive and assuming I meant what I didn't mean and hitting me."

"I won't and I didn't. OK, after you."

Once settled on the bed, a safe distance apart, Buffy gave Spike an expectant look. "Talk to me?" she said gently.

Spike gazed at her quizzically. "Want all the dirt, huh? Going to go back and have a good laugh about me with your friends? Tell 'em how Spike's lost his edge?"

"I wouldn't do that Spike," she protested, hurt at his mistrust.

Spike sighed again, resigned to the fact that Buffy wasn't going anywhere until he'd spilled his emotional guts out for her to prod. Women. They always wanted to talk. Not that he minded a bit of sympathy for once but it was unbearably tantalising to have Buffy within arms reach, on a bed, on his bed and for her to be all touchy feely but in the wrong way entirely.

"It's my birthday,” he said abruptly.

"And you're upset because everyone forgot? Spike, I'm sorry but we're not mind readers; you have to drop a hint or something."

"Not exactly my birthday as much as the day I died and the demon was born. Tonight is the anniversary of Dru turning me. Never bothered me before, in fact, way back when, the four of us used to have quite a celebration on our turning days. Never our real birthdays; they didn't matter anymore. But now, it hurts to remember. Without the demon, I would have died long before you were born, Buffy. I would never have met you. But with the demon in me, you can never love me as I love you and it's killing me all over again."

Silence fell. Spike had spoken looking down at his hands, locked tightly together to stop them trembling. Now he raised his eyes, prepared to see embarrassment, pity or anger in Buffy's face. Instead he saw a look of fierce determination, a blazing resolve that only a woman who had stopped the worst that Hell had to offer could muster. "Spike," she said. "Supposing there was a way you could get your soul back. You interested? Or are you just all talk?"

Time froze as her words echoed in Spike's head, setting off a chain reaction of jumbled thoughts; "A soul? Me? Be all broody like Angel. Would it change the way she sees me? Or would it still not make a difference? Not to be a vampire, to be human, does she mean that? No! I want to live forever, I want this sodding chip out, I want to be free to kill or to choose not to by myself, I want...I want...just Buffy. Just her."

"If it meant I had a chance of getting you to love me, I would do anything, Buffy" he said finally, his voice subtly different, more like Giles, less of the assumed accent he'd chosen to use once he'd become a vampire.

Buffy studied his face. "Supposing I said I didn't think I could ever love you; would you still want a soul?"

"Trick questions, huh?" said Spike with a return to his normal manner. "Buffy, I'm evil. I have a demon in me who's fighting the very idea of a soul moving in and taking his place. That I can even consider it is amazing. Cut me some slack here. Your precious Angel never got given the choice - well, he did second time round and you know what his answer was; he killed the person offering it."

"There's no need to bring Angel into this!' snapped Buffy.

"There is if this is your way of getting a vampire lover who won't turn into a killer once he gets inside your frilly knickers! I'm not a stand in for anyone, Buffy. I won't be second best. I deserve more than that."

Buffy twisted round, slammed her feet to the floor and stood up. "Second best? You're not even on the list! And what do you deserve apart from a stake? You're a killer, that's all. A soulless killer who...and I let you kiss me. I must have been mad. I feel sick."


Bitterness and regret flooded Spike as he looked up at her angry face, all sympathy and friendship gone as if it had never existed.
Back to normal. Bloody Angel. Even when he wasn't around he spoiled everything.

"Every time you kissed Angel, you kissed a killer, love," he said quietly. "Not my fault if that spoils your memories of him as a gallant hero. A soul doesn't make any of you good or evil. It just gives you the chance to choose. Me, I don't get a chance. No vampire would go after a soul willingly but I'm not a vampire anymore. Not exactly. I can't kill my prey; I can't feed on their life, their blood. I eat dead things. I'm a freak. And I'm in love with you. But if you want me with a soul, fine. I’ll get one. Just for you.”

Spike's voice trailed off. Ever since he'd called Angel a killer, he'd been talking to himself. Buffy had given him one look of pure rage and stalked off, the crypt door slamming as he finished speaking. But it didn't matter. Now he knew what he had to do, even if he didn't know how to do it. But he knew a demon who did.

A smile flickered over his face. Life had just got a bit more interesting and that was always a good thing.

*****


Buffy reached the cemetery gates and stopped. Ahead were the lights of Sunnydale; people living their lives blissfully unaware, or in some cases deliberately blind to, the fact that they lived on a Hellmouth. Behind her lay a place that was as familiar as her own garden and home to a person who disturbed, confused, annoyed and excited her more than anyone she'd ever met. Yet he only had to mention Angel to get her close to hysterical. And Buffy knew why that was. Guilt. That word was just tied up with Angel and now it had her in its grasp too. She was guilty because the love she felt for Angel had faded to friendship and their meeting after she had returned from death had done nothing to rekindle the spark. She would always love the memory of loving him, always cherish the time they spent together but it was gone and she was sick of looking back at it.

So - should she go back to Spike and make up? An anticipatory shiver went through her as she pictured where that could go. Sitting on that bed with him and not reaching out to touch him had made her feel so edgy that screaming at him and running out was a welcome release of tension. Was she ready to start something with Spike? Was it fair when he loved her and she just wanted to rip his clothes off and drag them both into the hot darkness that was waiting for them every time they kissed?

The Powers That Be, ever interested in the Slayer's love life (Angel having been their first gambit; darn that pesky curse!) might have intervened if she had turned and gone back to Spike's crypt but there was no need. Buffy put her hand up to her face and realised that she was crying steadily as her body washed out the stress and tension the best way it could. That settled it. Go and see Spike with panda bear eyes from streaked mascara? Let Spike see that he'd made her cry? No way.

Buffy swiped a hand across her eyes, pulled out a stake from her jacket, reached sideways, yanked a vampire out of the bushes, staked him as he stumbled towards her and went home to shower off the dust feeling much better. Spike could wait till tomorrow. He was good at that.

Spike was good at waiting - if he absolutely had to -, every predator was, but that wasn't exactly what he had planned for the rest of the night. With a cool determination that rapidly degenerated into infuriated temper, he was searching his crypt for a small piece of paper. When it eventually surfaced, the crypt was trashed but his satisfied smile lit up the ruins.

He left without a backward glance, which was unfortunate, as he might have noticed the tendrils of smoke curling from the cracks around the door. His smile wasn't the only source of light in the crypt and one floating piece of discarded paper had gently settled on top of a candle....

*****


Spike walked quickly towards the Magic Box, his coat swirling around him, his face grimly determined. In his coat pocket was a piece of paper with the directions for a summoning spell, one that would call forth a Powers That Be wannabe who might be able to help him. Especially if she'd been promoted since the last time he saw her.

Gradually though, his raking strides became a slow saunter and eventually he stopped, took out a cigarette and lit up, leaning back against a wall. The last hour or so, he had been on an emotional high, racing towards a destination that Buffy had dangled in front of him like the proverbial carrot in front of a donkey. Did he really want to make an ass of himself?

There was also something nagging at his memory, something significant that Buffy had said...yes, that was it. Spike mentally replayed that moment when Buffy had leaned closer, her eyes glowing and said, "Spike. Supposing there was a way you could get your soul back. You interested? Or are you just all talk?"

So the question he should have asked was, "What way?" followed closely by, "and just why do you care anyway?"

But, no, he'd had to annoy her by bringing up Angel and she'd stormed off into the night. Not that that was anything unusual. Spike toyed with a vision of Buffy coming close, kissing him gently but passionately, then turning to leave, casting a sweetly roguish smile over her shoulder and giving him a tiny finger wave as she went through the door.

Giggling helplessly and feeling better than he had done for days, he got a few yards closer to the Magic Box before stopping again, wondering whether to go and find Buffy and ask for more details about her plan to find him a soul. No point in him going to a lot of trouble if she'd already done the hard work.

He might have remained mired in indecision until the sun came up and made him the perfect accessory for his crypt (from the outside at least, still standing but inside blazing away nicely) but higher powers are not known for excessive patience when it comes to the lower orders.

"William!" a voice said imperiously. "Have you quite finished dithering or am I to wait in this grubby little street forever?"

Spike did a swift spin and scan of surroundings but saw nothing. An impatient sigh whispered past his ear and a figure materialised in front of him. "Sally! I was just about to summon you," said Spike. "How did you know? Did you lose weight by the way? You look smashing, love."

"Make that 'Saladril' or I start in with the 'Sweet William's'," she replied, referring to a nickname he'd always hated. "And yes, I suppose I did drop a few pounds, as I pined away, waiting for you to call me."

Her voice lost its edge and became plaintive but Spike simply quirked an eyebrow and grinned. He and Saladril went back a long way but it had never been a romantic liaison. A demon had imprisoned Saladril in a stasis zone, the perfect way to stop her calling out for help, or using her own powers to free herself. He planned to release her when it was too late for her to stop him slaughtering a family under her protection. Luckily for both her and the family, Spike, an unlikely hero, had casually beheaded the demon in the course of a rather heated discussion over the merits of soccer over baseball. When the demon died, his spells shattered and Saladril, once free, lost no time in tracking down her saviour.

When she discovered that it was a vampire, a creature of pure, unsullied evil, she was disconcerted. For evil to do good, even inadvertently, was not unheard of but it was rare enough for her to delve a little deeper into Spike's past and (potential) future. She never mentioned her findings to Spike, who was deeply concerned over Drusilla's health and couldn't have cared less what the future held as long as it was violent, amusing and he had Dru by his side to share in it. Instead, she gave him the summoning spell as a thank you gift and added a layer of protection to the piece of paper. It could not get mislaid or damaged but Spike would forget about it until he approached the events that would change his life - or destroy it.

She saw Spike now and then over the years. The demon world is relatively small and Spike was a flamboyant if not universally popular figure, but he never showed any signs of reaching the point that would trigger the memory of the spell. Once he did, that was sufficient to alert her. She would have made him go through all the rigmarole of the spell with its esoteric ingredients and complicated chanting (the bit about doing the spell skyclad wasn't strictly necessary but she figured she deserved some fun) but he was just taking too long.

"So," said Spike shrewdly, "if you know enough to be here before I even start to raid the Magic Box for supplies, then I suppose you know why I wanted to see you, too."

"You want a soul," replied Saladril. "You think it's the one thing that will bring the Slayer into your arms for more than a kiss or two. You think without it she will never love you, never trust you, no matter what you do that proves otherwise. You love her and that love is affecting you profoundly, in ways you hardly realise."

"Well, yeah, sounds about right," said Spike a little taken aback by the calm certainty with which she had commented on what he had fondly thought were his private thoughts. "And I have this bleeding chip in my head too... that has to go."

"Hmm. Spike, we have a lot to discuss," she said. "We need to find somewhere else to do it though."

"Welcome to come back to my place," offered Spike. "Fixed it up pretty good, considering and -"

A pensive look passed over Saladril's face as she gazed into the distance for a moment. "I think my home might be coo... more comfortable, dear. Come now, we don't have much time."

"We don't? Why don't we?" asked Spike suspiciously.

"Because you keep asking questions!" With an impatient flick of her waist length hair, Saladril grabbed both Spike's hands, murmured a swift incantation and they both vanished, leaving behind a faint smell of roses and a few wisps of smoke.

*****



Going through the cemetery where Spike lived was a short cut between the cinema and their apartment building and, unlike most people in Sunnydale, Xander and Anya had few qualms about graveyards at night. They might not be confidently certain that they were the scariest people there, as Buffy was, but they'd slain enough vampires to be ever so slightly blasé about it. In fact, meeting Spike would have been more of a pain than bumping into a 'normal' vampire as he couldn't be dispatched with an accurately applied stake and had more ability to annoy than a dozen mosquitoes at a beach party.

Their path took them close by his crypt and Xander automatically glanced at it, subconsciously fretting about the fact that Buffy spent more and more time with Spike since she came back from the dead. He found it difficult to accept Buffy with any man but this thing she had for vampires was just silly in his opinion. She was supposed to kill them, not canoodle with them. Not that Spike was anything but a joke to Buffy, he hastily reassured himself. Stalker Spike and his Sexbot. Big laugh, right? Not canoodle material at all. Spike had saved Buffy from Sweet's spell of course but there was no way she would ever –

"I smell smoke," said Anya. "Are people allowed to build funeral pyres nowadays? I remember one really funny wish involving a - hey, the smoke's coming from Spike's crypt!"

Xander shook himself out of his reverie and after a split second of shock, began to run towards the crypt, followed at a close distance by Anya.  As they reached the crypt, the choking smoke and intense heat were enough to make them realise that whoever or whatever was in there was beyond saving. Xander shouted out Spike's name a few times but common sense told him that a vampire in that situation would be dust long before a human was overcome by smoke. They stood there helplessly for a minute or two. The fire showed no signs of spreading and trying to force open the door would only feed the fire.

Xander turned to Anya. "We should check on the others, see if they know where Spike is, make sure -"

"That Buffy didn't get consumed by the flames as well?" asked Anya.

"God, Anya, of course she didn't! Why would she be in there anyway? She patrols with Spike, she doesn't socialise with him."

"Yes, she does actually. If kissing is socialising. And if you don't think there's a chance she was in there, why are you going to check on her?"

Anya's logic was both irritating and correct but Xander focused in on only one part of her reply. "Kissing? Buffy and Spike – kissing? No way!"

"I saw them... in the shop basement. Spike had got in through those tunnels of his and was probably trying to steal something. I sent Buffy down there to keep an eye on him and when I went after her to get some orris root for a customer they were kissing. Passionately. With tongues and there was some groping. But all their clothes were still on,” she finished brightly, giving Xander a sidelong glance to see how he was taking the news.

Xander stared at her in disbelief. "I don't get this, but it doesn't matter. I know Buffy and Spike are fine, though when I get through with Mr. Blonds Have More Fun, he'll fit in a matchbox, but I have to be sure. And Anya - "

"Yes?"

"Spike is not moving in with us. Don't even let him try. Been there, done that, he stole my black T-shirt"

"If he's homeless, he might prefer to move in with Buffy," Anya suggested. "Especially if they want to move their relationship on a little further to the getting naked part."

"He can sleep in the spare room. I'll move out my chisel collection."


*****


Spike was perfectly safe but getting very confused. Leaning forward in his chair, he topped up his glass with blood from a discreetly opaque pitcher on the table in front of him - human blood, fresh and exactly the right temperature - and said bluntly, "Saladril, pet, cut the cackle. You want to take out the chip and put in a soul instead and I still stay a vampire. Sounds fine to me - so what's the catch?"

"Well," began Saladril, "it involves a tiny bit of meddling with your memory, but not painful at all, I promise you. And we'll put it back the way it was afterwards."

"I can't begin to tell you how much of that makes me feel suspicious. Well, OK, I will. All of it."

Saladril smiled slowly. Spike might be suspicious but he was also hooked, she could tell.

*****


Xander and Anya rushed over to Buffy's house but their speed deserted them as they walked up to the door. Tentatively, Xander raised a hand to knock, then unable to wait another moment, pushed the door open and went into the house. Relief flooded him as he saw four of the people he loved most in the world, safe, sound and, oh, in nightclothes, and showing a lot of bare skin and, OK, looking away now.

"Xander!" squeaked Dawn. "Don't you knock nowadays?" She was sitting on the floor, painting her toenails and hastily tried to push her nightie down to cover her thighs without getting bits of carpet fluff stuck to her tacky nails.

Willow and Tara disentangled themselves from their cuddle on the sofa, where they'd been watching a movie with most of their attention elsewhere and stared at the couple who had interrupted a rare, quiet evening in. Buffy who had been half heartedly (hypocrisy can only go so far) lecturing Dawn about wearing too much make up to school stood up swiftly and walked over to Xander and Anya.

"What's up?" she asked. "Are you two OK?"

"We are now we know you're all safe," replied Xander.

Buffy and Willow exchanged puzzled glances.

"Why wouldn't we be?" said Willow. "Maybe that's a stupid question, considering how often we're in this house and we're not all right but it seems pretty quiet tonight. Is it a bad quiet? A spooky, menacing sort of a quiet? They can be so scary."

Xander floundered for a second then blurted it out; unable to look at Buffy's face as he said it. "Spike's crypt. It's on fire. Pretty much gutted and the door is tight shut. If he was in there, he's gone. I was worried in case any of you were there too. Of course, he might not have been inside but in that case how did the fire start?"

"But I was there!" said Buffy. "I left about an hour ago and Spike, Spike was downstairs in the bedroom. We had a row and I left in a hurry. I shut the door behind me and as far as I know Spike didn't come after."

"You were in Spike's bedroom?" demanded Xander. "More kissing going on? Or is that something you were going to share with us all when we really needed something to laugh about?"

There was a deadly hush and Xander's bitter words seemed to echo in the silence. Buffy gave him a long, level stare, and then turned away.

“Willow, Tara, can you stay with Dawn? I have to get changed and go find Spike. He's not dead, he can't be but I need to find him."

Before they had finished stammering out reassurances, she had brushed past Xander as if he wasn't there and run lightly up the stairs. In less than five minutes she was fully dressed again and heading out of the house, her face pale and expressionless. Willow turned to Xander, still standing, rooted to the spot.

"Sit down, Xander," she said gently. "You can make it up with Buffy later. She's just upset."

"Why is she upset, Will? If Spike is dead, and he's probably just out at a bar somewhere or in a fight, still, why should it bother her? How many times has he tried to kill us or betray us? He's better off -"

Dawn stood up and glared at Xander, "Shut up! Spike looked after me and Mom when Glory was trying to find me. He was my sitter all summer while you lot were off playing Pseudo Slayer. He nearly died trying to save me. He's my friend and, and Buffy likes him too."

Tara put a consoling arm around Dawn and turned to face Xander but whatever she was going to say was drowned out by Anya who had been fumbling in her purse for a few seconds. "Look everyone!" she said brightly. "Xander, who is not still obsessed with Buffy, and I are getting married!" Triumphantly waving a ring bedecked hand, she effectively stopped all conversation in the room for a second time. Xander saw the identical looks of shocked amazement that passed over the faces of his friends and felt sick. Turning, he bolted out of the door, leaving Anya with a hurt look replacing her confident smile.

As Anya began to cry, Tara and Willow exchanged glances. "Ice cream?" Tara whispered. "With butterscotch sauce," replied Willow glumly. "It's going to be a long night."

*****


Spike had never been known for his patience and he was close to losing what little of it he possessed. "So," he said through gritted teeth, tempted to make it gritted fangs but restraining himself, “is there a test I have to go through? An ordeal or something? I have to kill a demon, yeah?"

Saladril looked puzzled. "What good would that do? We know you can fight and kill already."

"An ordeal of pain then? Touch of the holy water?"

"If you really insist on being tortured, I'm sure that could be arranged but no, why should we hurt you when you're voluntarily trying to become good? Shouldn't we be encouraging you?"

Spike gaped at her, totally thrown by this idea. "I won't necessarily be good with a soul," he said slowly. "Plenty of humans do worse than I ever did and with less excuse and they all have souls."

"True, but you were never one of those humans, William and you know it. You were weak and insecure, but gentle and loving too."

"Here, hang about!" protested Spike. "Got an image to consider, you know."

"Spike, did you ever think about how unprecedented it is for a vampire to want to be given a soul? Do you know why you're the only one who's ever asked for one? I'll tell you. The chip."

"The sodding chip did nothing but screw me up!" Spike replied angrily. "It’s obscene, a terrible thing to do to someone, messing with their brain. Those Initiative wankers want prosecuting."

"Spike, you're a vampire who feeds off humans. Lots of humans in your case. You're lucky they let you live. But you're right; the Initiative was seriously flawed. Not a problem though; carried the seeds of their destruction within them sort of thing. They would never have succeeded even without the Adam disaster."

Spike glared at her. "So what's so good about the chip then? Thought you said you would take it out."

"The chip gave you a breathing space, Spike. It gave whatever was left of William within you a small chance to fight back against the demon. The demon needs blood, but more than that, it thrives on, is addicted to, the blood that flows from a still living victim. Tainted blood, filled with fear, spiced with violence. It hasn't had that for a long time, Spike. It's weak. This is your best chance to throw it off, to bury it so deeply that it will never resurface. To be Spike still, yes. Your decades of life as him have changed you. William is truly dead in that sense, but you can be Spike with all your humour, your drive, your loyalty to those you love - your ability to love - but no urge to kill wantonly, no evil at your heart."

Saladril's voice had become urgent, impassioned. Now she fell silent and gave Spike time to assimilate all she had said. She watched his handsome face, seeing the emotions pass over it like clouds before the sun, saw his brilliant blue eyes gleam and sparkle as if new life were already flowing through his veins. She waited and watched.

Spike finally looked at her and said, his voice a husky drawl, "Fine, Saladril. I'll take it. And a certificate or something, please, so I can show Buffy I really went through with it."

There was silence. A sneer distorted Spike's face as he stood. "But it's not going to be that easy, is it pet?" he whispered, moving over to her chair. Bending over her, his hands on the arms of the chair, he trapped her with his body and she felt the force of his personality wrap round her. "The truth. The details. The catch. Now."

Saladril was not easily intimidated. Glaring back at the arrogant vampire she put a hand on his chest and pushed. Spike allowed her to move him away but remained standing. Speaking in a low voice, emotionless and cool, Saladril told him the test and as uneasy doubt passed over his face, she took away the chip, took away his memory of his time with her and put him back on the streets of Sunnydale - a killer unleashed. A moment later, she sent out the adversary who stood between Spike, a soul and a chance at love with Buffy.

*****


Buffy stood before Spike's crypt, breathless from running, her eyes filled with dread. The crypt, as Xander had said, was gutted. Unless Spike had escaped through the tunnels, he was gone. Buffy refused to contemplate that possibility until she had to. So many deaths, so many people she loved had left her but Spike had been constant. His love for her had been embarrassing at first; in fact, she still didn't think he really had loved her back then. It was his fixation on killing Slayers, turned upside down, and ultimately, when he and Drusilla had kidnapped her, it had almost made her his third Slayer trophy.

But that had changed gradually, culminating in his rescue of her from the despairing, suicidal dance that Sweet's spell had forced on her. His song, the look on his face as he had knelt and told her that he would be her 'willing slave' - raw desire had ripped through her then, a desire for his body, a need to return his love, but she was still too fresh from death to want to embrace a vampire, a living corpse. She needed life. Odd that no matter how much she looked elsewhere, Spike was the only one who seemed to have it in abundance.

Enough, she decided. She was going to find Spike, right now, drag him to the nearest place with a bed - or a flat surface, horizontal or vertical, either would do and she was going to take everything his eyes had promised her in that song. Tonight.

Turning away from the ruins, she headed for town.

*****


Xander had been walking around aimlessly after leaving Buffy's house. He was working himself into a rage, justifying his actions and words but with a growing sense of guilt building up that no amount of self-righteous fury could crush. Eventually he stopped dead and smacked his fist hard against a wall, hoping that the dull ache in his heart would be masked by the blazing pain in his hand. It didn't work. It never did but he kept on trying.

Glancing far down the street, he saw a familiar figure slouching along, black coat billowing out behind him. A feeling of relief was swamped by a resurgence of the jealous rage. Xander hurried towards the vampire, filled with a need to punch something that was a little more deserving of it than a wall. And maybe a bit softer.

*****


Spike wandered down the street, feeling strange. He wasn't quite sure what had happened. He was going to the Magic Box, to break in. Fair enough, but why? As he walked past an alleyway, he heard a moan of pain and turned his head automatically. Slumped near the entrance to the alley, her back against the wall, was a young girl in her early twenties. Spike went towards her and leaning over saw that she was bleeding from a deep cut across her face, probably caused by knuckles with a sadistic fool attached to them.

"You OK, love?" he asked gently. The scent of her blood was strong enough to make him shudder with need but he made an effort to stay out of game face. No point anyway, he couldn't hurt her with the chip embedded in his brain.

"Get away from her, Spike!" said a voice behind him. Turning, Spike was confronted by Xander, his face contorted with anger and hate.

"I didn't do anything you prat, I just found her like this," Spike protested.

Xander was past caring. All the tensions that had plagued his life recently; the secret engagement with Anya, his growing suspicions about Buffy and Spike, the feeling that his life was narrowing down to leave him only one path to follow; the one that led to the place his father lurked - all this suddenly became too much. He dealt with it in time-honoured fashion by lashing out at Spike and punching him in the face. Spike roared in pain and anger but didn't retaliate. Needing to do more, confident that Spike was a safe target, Xander grabbed him by his collar and hauled him out into the street.

As he threw punch after punch, Spike, still bemused from the memory spell, still affected by the smell of fresh blood finally cracked. Deciding to get in at least one good hit before the chip kicked in, he blocked an incoming fist by crushing Xander's hand in his own and used his free hand to smash Xander's nose flat against his face. The blow landed on target, Xander's head snapped back, blood gushing from his nose and Spike remained standing, no crippling pain surging through his head, not even a twinge.

Spike couldn't quite believe it. Almost hesitantly he threw another punch, this time to Xander's ribs. Again, no pain. Xander, holding onto his aching side, stared in disbelief at Spike as his punching bag morphed into a vampire in full game face, with a most unpleasant expression in his eyes.

"Spike? Your chip?" he stammered.

"Oh, not as much fun when they can hit back is it? Seems my chip's not working anymore, carpenter boy. Pity. For you that is. I always thought if I got myself back together, you're the first one I'd bite and now you've just made it ever so easy."

Fangs glinting in the streetlight, he grabbed Xander and roughly tilted his head over, exposing the vulnerable neck. Xander struggled weakly, gasping out some incoherent pleas but Spike just whispered softly. "Get ready, boy."

*****


Buffy had tried several bars looking for Spike and was on her way to the shop she knew he got his cigarettes from when she saw the fight begin. Running down the street, her thoughts were tangled between relief that Spike was obviously alive and worry that he seemed to be fighting - was that Xander? How could Spike be fighting a human?

She skidded to a halt just in time to see Spike lift his head up before swooping down to bite. "No!" she screamed. "Spike, don't!"

Spike turned his face towards her, yellow demon eyes instead of dizzying blue, twisted vampire face instead of the smooth contours of his human face. In his eyes were no love, no tenderness, and no passion. He looked deadly, determined and dangerous.

Buffy’s lips firmed. If Spike was able to kill again, she had to slay him. No question. Her lips parted as she thought about seeing Spike disintegrate in front of her. She couldn’t do it. Torn apart, she clung to one thought; save Xander, stop Spike. “But don’t make me have to slay him,” she thought helplessly.

For a moment, it all hung in the balance. Unnoticed by the three figures in the street, the girl in the alleyway shimmered and vanished, to be replaced by a watchful Saladril. This was Spike's final and only test before he got a soul. If he failed he would die. Saladril would see to that. The girl was supposed to be his test but Xander had provided a twist. Was the trial still valid? Saladril decided that it was even harder. Buffy's presence was foreordained of course; she had to see the outcome, had to see Spike get his soul or see him die. Which would it be?

Buffy's eyes were fixed on Spike’s face as her lips shaped his name and tears began to form in her eyes. She blinked them away impatiently but remained frozen, unable to begin a fight that might end with death for one of two men she loved in different ways.

A look of concern flashed over Spike's face as he saw her distress. Suddenly, he started to laugh, a raucous, shocking sound in the stillness of the street. Releasing his hold on Xander's head for a second he allowed the man to stand upright then leaned forward, gave Xander a mischievous kiss full on his lips and took an impudent lick at the blood on his face.

"I'm not going to bite you, Harris,” he said half contemptuously. "You'd give me heartburn." His demon face melted away and he turned to Buffy. “Sorry, love," he said. “For some reason the chip's stopped working and he was being such a wanker about this girl he thought I'd hurt that I couldn't resist scaring him."

Saladril stepped out of the alleyway. "Well done, Spike," she said, applauding him with an ironic smile on her face. "You pass the test. You discovered the chip wasn't working and without remembering that your soul was at stake, if I may use that expression, you didn’t kill."

“Sal? What are you doing here?” asked Spike, giving her a puzzled look. “And what test? Am I getting a medal for not killing Xander? Reckon I deserve one.”

Flicking her fingers and murmuring a few words, she restored his memory. Spike stood still for a second, catching up with all that had just happened and then nodded his head. “So, no chip anymore. You don’t feel an overpowering urge to stake me, do you, love?”

Buffy hesitated. “No,” she said uncertainly, “you know I don’t. But if you’re going to start to kill again, I might not have any choice. I can’t let you do that.”

Spike took her shoulders, ignoring the other two and gave her a steady look. “I won’t. I can manage on the animal blood if I have to; I’m not wasting away, am I? Question is, do you trust me? I’m still that evil, soulless demon Harris over there loathes and detests.” Xander had the grace to look a little uncomfortable.

Saladril opened her mouth and then paused, curious as to what Buffy would say.

Buffy reached up her hand and cupped Spike’s face, studying him intently. “I trust you,” she said in a low voice, “but it’s going to be so hard for you.”

“Not with a soul,” said Saladril, noticing the time and remembering a rather amusing party she was missing. “Weren’t any of you listening to me? Spike’s was asking for a soul. He’s got one.”

“I do?” said Spike. “Don’t feel any different.”

Saladril sighed impatiently and threw an arm in the air dramatically. White fire shot from her fingers and enveloped Spike who sank to his knees, roaring in pain. Buffy turned on Saladril and demanded, “What are you doing? You’re hurting him!”

Saladril shrugged. “No pain, no gain. He’ll be fine.” The fire died away and Spike collapsed forward, his chest heaving, his eyes wide and bewildered.

Buffy moved to him but Xander beat her to it. He held out a hand to Spike and when Spike gripped it, he hauled him up to his feet. It was as close as Xander would ever get to an apology. Spike gave him a small nod and turned to Buffy. She stared at him, shaking her head in wonder. “I can’t believe you did that,” she murmured. Then she hugged him so hard that he winced.

“I’m going now,” said Saladril. "Sorry about your crypt, Spike but -”

“Huh?” said Spike, who had just been about to kiss Buffy to see if she’d let him get away with it in front of Xander. “What about my crypt?”

“Burned down,” said Xander, a little too cheerfully. “Tragic really. I actually thought you were making progress with the decorating, too. Could have sworn there were three less cobwebs last time I dropped by.”

Spike stood, mouth hanging open and then moaned in anguish. “Sal,” he said, turning to her pleadingly. ‘Everything I own after over a century of pillaging was in that crypt. Can’t you do something? For me?”

“Or we could make a trip to the dump tomorrow and it’ll be like it never happened,” said Xander brightly.

Saladril was slightly annoyed by Spike’s request - had he even said ‘thank you’ for his soul yet? – but she wasn’t going to allow a mortal to make fun of him. “Young man,” she said in her most regal tone, "have you forgotten that you left dear Anyanka distraught? Unless you want me to grant her a wish for old times sake, I’d suggest you go back and make things right with her.”

“You know Anya?” gasped Xander.

“Of course. A lovely young woman. You don’t deserve her.” Saladril turned to Spike. “I’ll certainly be glad to restore your home, my dear. Suppose I make a few improvements while I’m at it?”

Spike missed the glint in her eyes and nodded eagerly. “Like a bathroom? You’d like a bathroom, wouldn’t you, Buffy?”

Buffy nodded agreeably. “Would come in handy,” she said, her imagination dwelling fondly on a soap-slick Spike needing help to get those hard to reach spots.

“Fine,” cooed Saladril. “I’ll be off then. No, don’t bother to thank me, Spike.” Her voice turned form sugar to acid but she vanished as Spike opened his mouth to answer her.

“What’s the matter?” said Buffy, seeing how worried Spike looked.

Spike rubbed the back of his neck and gazed at the spot where Saladril had stood. “Nothing, just, she’s got a weird sense of humour, is all. Especially if she’s in a mood.”

Xander interrupted. “What say we go home, break the news and – ”

“And you can start groveling,” Buffy said unkindly.

“Oh, yes,” breathed Xander. “There’s going to be wear and tear on my knees, I can tell you.”

*****


The aftermath of an event is always a little awkward. Buffy, Spike and Xander wandered back to Buffy's house in virtual silence, though Buffy walked between them, her hands linked in their arms. When they reached the house they separated and entered in single file.

The others were still in the sitting room, sticky with ice cream and well into a slightly censored, 'all men are pigs' conversation to console Anya.

Dawn was the first to react. “Spike!" she cried, running over to hug him. "You're not dead!"

"Well, technically - hey easy there, Little Bit, you've got as much muscle as your sis."

Dawn pulled back, puzzled and looked at Spike closely. "There's something different about you, Spike," she said.

Tara and Willow came over to join her, leaving Anya and Xander to exchange glances and slowly drift away to the kitchen together.

”It’s a long story, well, I don’t know what the story is exactly, but I’m guessing it’s long,” said Buffy, "but Spike has a soul. Like Angel. But not quite,” she added hurriedly, as Spike glared at her.

Excited babbling filled the next few minutes interrupted by the return of Anya and Xander, holding hands and with an air of settled happiness that they had never shown before. "Everyone," said Xander. “I should have told you all a long time ago. I love Anya, and for some strange reason she loves me too, and we’re getting married.”

“We sort of got that,” said Willow wryly. ‘I hope you’ll both be very happy.” Tara slipped a consoling arm around Willow’s shoulders, knowing that Willow wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of Anya and Xander being together.

"I do love you," Anya said, beaming at Xander. "Can we go home now and make up?"

Instead of cringing or trying to cover up Anya's frankness, Xander grinned and said, "You bet. Night everyone. Oh and Spike?"

"Yeah, mate?"

"No hard feelings?"

"Guess not."

"Good. Get yourself a tux; you're best man."

A slow smile from Spike, a giggle from Dawn, and Xander swept Anya out of the house.

Buffy had been quiet but now she stood, walked over to Spike and wrapped her arms around him. Turning her head she said, “Since your jaws are all on the ground anyway, I’ll just tell you that –”

“You and Spike are in lurve,” Dawn interrupted with a cheeky grin. “We know. It’s so cute!”

“’Cute’? " said Spike. “I don’t do cute.”

“Course you do,” said Dawn. “Especially when you’re drinking cocoa and you get a chocolate moustache.”

Spike howled with rage and began to chase a giggling Dawn around the room, intent on seeing how much tickling torment he could inflict before the others rescued her. It turned out to be quite a lot.

*****


Later that night, Spike and Buffy approached Spike's crypt. There may have been a faint hint of smoke in the air but it was overwhelmed by the scent of roses. Buffy gave Spike a questioning glance. He shrugged. "Sal likes roses."

Pushing open the door they stood still on the threshold. Saladril had not stinted on the renovations. The air was warm, the floor covered in thick carpet and comfortable yet sturdy sofas and chairs were scattered around. Exploring further they found an en suite bathroom was now attached to the bedroom and it really was a little ungrateful of Spike to swear continuously for an entire ten minutes.

Of course, pink never had been his favourite colour and now everything in the crypt was pink or white. With ruffles here and there.

Buffy shut him up eventually by pushing him over to the bed, tripping him up and landing on top of him.

"Tomorrow you can redecorate," she said firmly. "Tonight, you've got better things to do."

Spike grinned up at her and started to do them.

 


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