It wasn't until weeks later that Spike understood what Angel had meant when he'd said, in that pissy, constipated voice of his, that Buffy had moved on and to drop it, already.
He'd assumed Angel had meant moved on from Spike, from Angel, from vampires and Hellmouths, from Slaying and sacrificing herself for the greater good. Between his shiny new soul and his deep, abiding love for the girl – the girl he'd died for just so as she could make this exact choice – Spike had accepted it and been happy for her.
Well, mostly happy. He was only human – or once human – after all. Dreams of a cozy crypt for two, complete with white picket fence, would probably never die, no matter how much time passed.
His assumption had been reinforced the few times he'd heard Buffy's name mentioned around Angel's minions. He'd thought their pinched faces and averted eyes were due to some sort of sympathy for the great wanker, now that Buffy had Moved On with her life and given up vampires for good. Some days, Spike even fooled himself into believing part of that sympathy was for him.
It was Fred who clued him in, albeit unintentionally.
"It just proves what I've been telling everybody," she said to him, after Pavayne was locked away.
"That I'm a handsome devil who brightens the place up?"
She smiled. "That you're worth saving."
Spike glanced away, and swallowed. Since the death of his mum – his real mum, not the monster he'd created – nobody but Buffy had ever suggested he was worth anything. Certainly not worth saving from hell. Most would send him there gladly. If his heart hadn't already belonged to the Slayer, he would've handed it to Fred then and there.
"Don't have it so bad, really," he said. "Plenty of room, good company. Even picked up a few new tricks..." He concentrated, and picked up her mug, showing off his new skills. "I guess there's worse things than being a ghost."
"Still." Fred laid her hand over his temporarily solid one. "You're my hero. Thank you."
He looked down at her hand on his, mouth dry. Lines of verse spun out in his head, each worse than the last. He had to draw on all his years of badassery to silence the gibbering poet. Setting down the mug, Spike shrugged and said, "Don't have much use for corporeality, anyhow, not with Buffy off enjoying her shiny new vampire-free existence."
Fred's sudden, keening sobs surprised him. He'd pegged ol' Freddles as the sentimental sort, but this seemed above and beyond, even for her. Spike chalked her tears up to some sort of pent-up reaction to almost dying. Humans tended to be funny about that sort of thing.
But then… a terrible suspicion dawned. He knew he wasn't always the brightest bulb in the box, but this... He replayed what Angel had told him the day he'd emerged from the amulet.
"Buffy! Is she –"
"She's moved on, Spike."
"Where – where is she?"
"Moved on. Now drop it."
"Wanna see her… wanna talk to her."
"That's going to be tough."
That's going to be tough? The asshole couldn't have come right out and said it?
Blissful, willful ignorance. It was his only excuse for not having recognized the sodding euphemism for what it was.
He'd had other concerns, and if Spike had thought, for even a moment, that his sacrifice in the Hellmouth had been in vain… Well, Pavayne would have won, hands down. Hell would have been preferable to this.
He didn't blame the minions for not clueing him in sooner. Other than Fred, and haunting Angel, he hadn't exactly been chummy with the lot of them. They'd all but ignored his ghostly ass. Who would have realized his misunderstanding, never mind set him right?
"Fred," he said carefully, when she'd wiped her eyes. "Buffy – when Angel said she'd moved on…"
"Oh, god. You didn't know." Her eyes filled with tears again. "I thought you knew."
"Knew what, exactly? In the interest of being clear."
Fred reached for his hand, but hers passed right through his. She winced. "After… Willow stopped by. Before they left for England. She told us… well, Angel really, but I was there too."
"Told you what, pet?"
"Buffy didn't make it out of Sunnydale."
If he'd had breath to lose, or a heart to cease beating, the terrible, agonizing pain he felt in his chest might've made more sense. But he was a ghost as well as a vampire, and double dammed.
"I don't know. That's all Willow said. That Buffy didn't make it out of Sunnydale. Angel… he didn't ask for details."
Spike wanted to rage. He wanted to smash things, kill things, drink himself unconscious and never wake up. But he couldn't do any of that. He could only moan and groan about, useless and unpleasantly sober.
There was one outlet for his rage.
"Spike? Spike, are you okay? Wait, where are you…"
Fred's voice faded as he flew through the building, his insubstantiality an asset for once.
"What happened to Buffy?" Fueled by emotion, his fist connected with Angel's jaw with a satisfying crunch.
Angel staggered backwards. When he made to return the blow, his own punch met with nothing, and he stumbled before righting himself.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Eve, who'd stepped back when he'd appeared next to them in the hallway outside Pavayne's cell, cocked her head. "You didn't know?" she said. "And here I thought you were playing it cool. Hiding your sensitive nature under a mask of thuggish indifference. Either that, or you never really cared for the Slayer."
Spike spared her a look of withering contempt before rounding on Angel once more. "What happened, Angel? Please."
Angel stared at him, paler than usual, but said nothing.
Eve sighed. "If anyone should know, it's you. You were the last one to see her alive, after all."
"Get. Out. Of. Here." Spike accompanied his words with a growl and a flash of fang, painfully aware it was all the threat he could muster. With a small, tight smile, Eve shrugged and left.
"Angel, please," he said when the clickety-clack of her heels had faded. "Buffy. Is she really –?"
His stricken expression was all the confirmation Spike needed.
"What happened? How'd she –"
"I didn't ask. Does it matter now?" Angel turned away, broad shoulders bowed, and trudged down the hallway.
Spike floated after him. All the things he wanted to say – it does matter – she was fine – she made it out, I know she did – was it the amulet's fault? – it's your fault for leaving – it's my fault for not be faster, stronger – tangled up inside his mouth. Instead, he blurted, "You mean this," he gestured angrily at his insubstantial form, "all this was for nothing?"
"That's my boy," Angel said with a sneer. "Only worried about yourself."
"For fuck's sakes. You know that's not – the point was for her to live. For her to be free from all this shit."
Angel came to an abrupt halt. "Well, she is. Free. So, drop it." He strode away, fists clenched, leaving Spike to stare after him.
Spike's memory of the following weeks was fuzzy at best. He couldn't drink, but he could imagine himself drunk, and it was almost good enough. Reality could be bent to desire, and he desired oblivion.
He half-remembered Fred trying to get him to talk, and simply disappearing into walls to avoid her. Another time, Wesley might have approached him and asked him if he desired release. Spike had stared uncomprehendingly at the amulet in the man's hand before sinking through the floor and into the basement, where he had spend the rest of the day staring into Pavayne's unblinking, hate-filled eyes.
At least after the first time Buffy had… moved on… he'd had a purpose to see him through. Caring for Dawn, upholding his promise to Buffy, had kept him from sinking into the desolation and insanity that gripped him now. But even had he thought Dawn might want him around, he couldn't go to her. He was tied to Wolfram and Hart. To Angel.
"How can you sit there like nothing happened?" he raged at the man himself. "Sign your checks and make your deals, like she never even mattered? Like the light hasn't gone out of the world?"
"I swear to god, Spike, if you don't get out of my bedroom right now, I will have you exorcised. Some of us still have responsibilities, you know. Important matters – like saving the world from evil – to attend to bright and early tomorrow morning."
"I saved the world," Spike slurred, waving his conjured bottle of whiskey. "I saved it, and it didn't sodding matter one damn bit. The world could go to hell for all I care, so long as she was in it."
Angel swung his legs over the edge of the bed and sat, head in his hands and elbows on his knees. "Yes, I'm sure that's what Buffy would have wanted. Some champion you are," he said with a shake of his head. "If only she could see you now."
"Well she can't, can she? That's the whole bloody point!"
"Just go, would you? Go have your breakdown somewhere else. Anywhere, so long as it's not here."
"Not until you admit you loved her."
With a heavy sigh, Angel said, "You'll go if I do?" When Spike nodded, he said in a low, pained voice, "I loved her. More than anything."
"Not good enough. I know you. You're holding it all inside, like a big, brooding lump of manpain. 'S not good for you, Angel. You have to let it out."
Angel raised his head and stared. "You want me to what, cry?"
"Yes!" Spike smiled for the first time in weeks. "Now you're getting it. You and me, we'll have a good cry. Together."
"You really have gone insane."
Spike patted the couch. "Come on, old man. You'll have to get your own bottle, though. This one's mine."
When Spike noticed Eve coming his way, he faded back into the wall, ersatz bottle of whiskey gripped tight in one fist.
"Don't let me interrupt your brooding," she said.
He reappeared with a growl. "Not brooding."
"Of course not." She nodded to Pavayne. "How's our friend doing today?"
Spike didn't answer.
Eve watched him watch Pavayne, and then she said, "Cheer up, hero. You beat him. Saved the girl and everything."
He huffed out a disdainful laugh. "Still ended up in hell."
"But she didn't." The way she said it, he knew she meant Buffy, not Fred. "You know that, right? I mean, from what I heard, she's probably happier now."
Spike turned his stare on Eve. He wondered if he could corporealize long enough to rip her throat out.
"Between the two of you, you saved the world, back in Sunnydale. Again."
"Don't give a piss about the world."
Eve cocked her head, studying him. "No? Not even the sister – what is her name – Dawn?"
"Dawn?" he croaked, blinking as the name penetrated his artificial intoxication. He'd refused to think about her, refused to think about any of them after realizing Buffy had died. He was in enough pain already. He couldn't handle wondering who else might not have made it.
"You saved her. She'll probably have a long and happy life, thanks to you. I'm sure Buffy would appreciate it."
Spike shook her words off. "I died to save Buffy," he said fiercely. "And I didn't. So sod off and quit trying to make me out to be some damn hero, 'cause I'm not."
Eve smiled. It almost looked genuine. "Deny it all you want, but you are a Champion. Just as much as Angel."
"Yeah? And where's the bloody reward for it? Stuck as a ghost, failed to save the woman I love, tied to my berk of a grandsire and this hellhole for all eternity. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll pass."
"Good deeds don't come with rewards, Spike. If they did, the world would have a whole lot more heroes."
"And again: I'll pass. What's it to you, anyhow?"
Eve shrugged. "Nothing, really. Maybe I just can't help but wonder what Buffy would think if she heard you talking this way. But you're right. It doesn't matter to me." She turned and walked away, and then stopped and looked back over her shoulder at him. "Oh, by the way. I heard you got some mail."
Spike watched the girl shimmy her way up the pole, his gaze fixated on her shapely ass with the focus of the truly plastered. He emptied his glass, and signaled for another.
What would Buffy think?
Why the bloody hell did everyone have to keep asking him that? Now that he was flesh and bones again, the world seemed even more determined for him to pull himself out of the gutter and get on with the business of unliving. Fat chance, when he could finally get properly blotto. He had a lot of drinking to catch up on.
What would Buffy think? the damned voice in his head repeated.
"She wouldn't think anything," Spike muttered. "The Slayer knew I was no hero."
The little voice offered up an image of Buffy placing the amulet in his hand, right after telling him it was meant to be worn by a Champion.
Spike shook his head. "Bollocks. Girl was desperate, is all. Working with what she had."
If you're no hero, why did you stay until the end?
The voice sounded disturbingly like his mother's. Spike tried to drown it out with the fresh glass of whiskey in front of him, but the voice was persistent.
You'd done enough. You could have left with her. But you stayed.
"Bugger off, you dozy bint."
And the cup. You fought for the cup. For the right to be the Powers' chosen Champion. You won. If you didn't care, why did you fight for it, William?
The glass shattered in his hand. Spike watched stupidly as the blood ran down his arm. The waitress appeared, cooing over him and asking him if he was all right. Her breasts jiggled in his face, distracting him from what little pain there was.
He slapped a Benjamin on the table, courtesy of Angel's wallet, and headed for the sewer entrance. On the way past the bar, he snatched whatever bottles were closest to hand, and pulled the cap off one with his teeth.
Change of scenery was what he needed.
Somewhere halfway back to Wolfram and Hart's basement, Spike changed his mind. He stalked down a disused smelling tunnel, until he found an empty and relatively clean nook, and settled in for some serious drinking.
What would Buffy think?
Spike tore the cap off the second bottle and guzzled it down without pausing for a breath. The alcohol finally silenced the voice in his head, but in its place came his own self-recriminations. Why the bloody hell had he let Eve goad him into going after the cup of perpetual stupidity in the first place? Why had he thought, for even a second, that he deserved it?
Buffy, handing him the amulet, flashed before his eyes once more. "I believe in you, Spike," she said in Fred's voice. "You're my hero."
"Bollocks." He upended the bottle, carefully sucking out the last dregs. "All bollocks," he muttered, and slumped over, eyes shut.
"Go on then," he says.
Buffy's face is frantic. "No, no. You've done enough. You could still –"
"No, you've beat them back. It's for me to do the cleanup."
Faith calls to her, but she doesn't leave. He needs her to leave. To be safe.
"Gotta move, lamb. I think it's fair to say school's out for bloody summer."
She wants him to leave, to live. He can see it in her face, and he appreciates it.
But she chose him for this, to be her Champion, and he needs to justify her belief in him. Prove he is the man she thinks he is. She'd stood by his side, after all he'd done to her. Taken his side over the man she considers her father. Spike knows what that cost her. Once he would have reveled in it. Now -
"I mean it. I gotta do this –" He holds up a hand to stop her from taking the amulet from his neck herself.
He will stay. For her. To atone. To her.
She laces her fingers with his. Their hands catch fire. The pain is unbearable, but the feeling of her hand in his, bound together in this moment, bring unspeakable joy. His soul is afire with it, and he realizes now that he has to stay for himself as much as for her.
For the first time in his life, he knows he is doing the right thing. For the right reasons. And it holds more weight with his soul than Buffy's soft and sincere, "I love you."
"No you don't, but thanks for saying it," he says. Not because he doesn't believe her, but because he doesn't want to be tempted. What he is doing is bigger than both of them.
She leaves, and as Spike fades into nothingness, the idealistic man he once was claims his final thought.
"I could not love thee, dear, so much/ loved I not honor more."
He'd thought about taking off, now that he could. Going off to Europe, to help out with the Bit, if she'd have him. Or maybe hopping in one of Angel's cars and driving off into the sunset, to wander wherever the roads took him. But at the end of the day, it all seemed like too much effort. Spike had lived for Buffy for so long, and before her Dru, and before her his mother, that he had no idea what to do with himself now. With nobody to guide him, to mold him, he didn't know who he was.
Didn't care, either.
Maybe Sunshine would agree to be his new muse, he thought, and reached into his pocket to pay for another drink.
He paused when a fresh drink slid in front of him, and looked up to find a rhinestone cowboy smirking at him.
"Uh, yeah, thanks… but not really my type, Mary. So be a good lad and push off." When the bloke didn't leave, he added, "What are you gawking at?"
"A guy like you, whiling away his time in some cheesy downtown strip dive. Look like somebody who's feeling kinda lost."
Wanker thought to make easy prey of a fellow deep in his cups. Spike did his best to send the fellow on his way, cordial-like, but the tosser wouldn't take a hint. He'd resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to walk away if he wanted to be left in peace, this being a human establishment and less complacent about violence than demon haunts, when the bloke called him by name and asked him if he'd gotten any interesting mail lately.
The conversation got more dramatic after that. Spike stayed, but only because he wanted to know just who it was that had been jerking him around lately. And there was something vaguely familiar about this fellow, though Spike could swear he'd never laid eyes on him before.
The fellow – Doyle – tried to lay the hero trip on him. What was it with everybody trying to convince him of his worth lately? It was enough to make a poor vamp believe in destinies. Or conspiracies. Spike had had enough. The new Champion of the Powers, he wasn't. He got up with the intention of taking off and never looking back, when Doyle managed the right combination of words to bring him to heel once more.
"You don't have to believe me, but if a young girl gets murdered tonight and you didn't lift a finger to stop it, ask yourself… Can you live with that?"
Spike wanted to say yes and walk off without a backwards glance. Wanted it with all his undead heart.
What would Buffy think?
He went with Doyle. Just in case the wanker was telling the truth. And he saved the girl, or a girl, at any rate. Back alleys were filled with bimbos just waiting to become a late-night snack, as the century-plus murderer in him could attest.
Doyle talked at him some more, laying on the Champion thing a little thick for Spike's tastes. "You just helped a girl when there wasn't anything in it for you. That's not like the Spike I know."
You don't know me at all, asshole. "Oh, is that right? And what Spike is that?"
"The Spike that's only out for himself. The one who does good deeds to impress… women."
Spike whirled on him. How dare he use the memory of Buffy to – "You'd best watch your –"
"I'm just saying. You did good. From what I hear, Angel didn't save the girl on his first mission."
"What's Angel got to do with this?"
Doyle shrugged. "Well, nothing. Not anymore."
Spike eyed him suspiciously. He didn't trust this Doyle as far as Fred could throw him.
But on the other hand – being useful. Having a purpose. It was mighty tempting. He knew he needed a reason to keep on going on without Buffy, else he was going to walk out and meet the sunrise one of these days.
What would Buffy think?
"Say I believe you. How's this gonna work? 'Cause I don't fancy myself dogging your heels day and night, waiting on the chance of a message from above."
Doyle grinned and handed him a phone. "This here is all the bat signal you'll need. You do know how to use one of these, right?"
"Fuck you, you little twerp."
"Sorry, Mary, but you're not really my type," Doyle said with a smirk. He saluted and walked off.
Wanker, Spike thought, and sniffed. Doyle rounded the corner, and the familiar something that had been niggling at him came clear.
The man – or whatever he was – smelled vaguely familiar.
He smelled like Buffy.
Spike wasn't too happy to see Doyle again the next night, but it did give him the chance to do some surreptitious sniffing. Along with the time after that, and the time after that. But all he ever caught was a vague almost-Buffy scent, just enough to make his skin itch and his eyes water.
Whatever it was about Doyle's scent that reminded him of Buffy, it wasn't Buffy herself. Couldn't be, what with her being dead and all. Maybe the cowboy had a girl who used the same shampoo. Or maybe with Buffy on his mind so much – especially whenever he played at this hero gig – his mind was playing tricks on him.
Right now he had a different Slayer to focus on. A psycho slayer.
Anxious to get the intel he needed and be on his way again, Spike strode into the conference room of Wolfram and Hart, and -
"Oh, for the love of –"
"Spike! It's you! It's really you!"
This little twat had made it out of Sunnydale? And was Rupert's top man? Bloody hell.
Spike endured Andrew as best he could, slumping with relief when the boy let him go and got on with his story.
After getting Angel's crew up to date on the history of Slayers – wanker – Andrew went on to explain how they'd changed the world back in good ol' SunnyD. "Six months ago, Buffy Summers, Vampyr Slayer extraordinaire…" Here, Andrew's eyes slid to Spike, and the boy nodded, one comrade to another. Spike blinked, eyes stinging, and nodded back, to his surprise. Bloody soul was making him soft in the head.
"... had her lesbian witch make with the beaucoup de magic. One light show later..."
Andrew went on and on. Kid still hadn't learned the art of brevity. After Spike had heard enough, he stood and said, "You corporates go ahead with your talky-talk. Anybody needs me, I'll be out doing Angel's job."
When Andrew found him later, out hunting for Dana, Spike heaved a sigh of annoyance. He let the little runt tag along, though he refused to admit it had anything to do with being happy to see a familiar face, and one that approved of him no less. One of the only ones who had approved of his feelings for Buffy, in a demented and somewhat disturbing, but still gratifying, way.
Andrew updated him on the rest of the Sunnydale gang without him having to ask. Spike was surprised to find he cared, only a little, mind, about what had happened to them all. He wondered how they were taking the loss of the leader for a second time.
"What's it smell like? Blood, I mean?" Andrew asked out of the blue.
"Oh…" He had to think. "Metallic, sorta. You ever taste a penny?"
"No. Wait… no."
"Smells like that." They'd walked on a bit before Spike got up the courage to ask, "So, the others… they cut up over Buffy?"
Andrew nodded glumly. "Yeah. Nobody says anything, but I think that's why everybody's scattered to the four corners. Too painful, you know?"
Spike knew. "And, uh… No talk of resurrection this time, right?"
He wanted Buffy back, god, how he wanted her back in this world. But he never wanted her to go through that kind of pain again. Never.
"Not that I've heard. But Mr. Giles expressly forbade it. Just in case, I guess." Andrew's response cut into Spike's thoughts, saving him from having to relive the guilt of how he'd made everything worse for her with his demands, of how selfish and destructive he'd been.
"Yeah. Smart of him. Who's got the Nibblet – I mean Dawn – then?"
"She went with Mr. Giles to England. She's in boarding school there." Andrew stopped, arms folded across his chest. "How come you didn't tell anyone you were alive?"
Spike shrugged. "What would be the point? Not like any of that lot would care. Good riddance to bad rubbish, and all."
"That's not… well… I care! You and me, we road tripped. Fought the First Evil side by side. We had a bond."
Bloody hell. Spike walked on before things could get any more awkward. "Sure," he said, throwing the kid a crumb. Apparently the soul made him incapable of crushing the boy's feelings any more than he could his head.
Andrew scurried to catch up to him. "Do you want me to tell the others? I could break it to them gently. I'm good at that sort of –"
"Don't bother. No need for any of them to feel obligated to pretend to care about yours truly."
"Got it. You're a loner. Playing it cucumber, as in 'cool as a'..."
"Just keep your mouth shut."
"No problem, brother. You're a troubled hero. Creature of the night. El creatro del noche."
Spike grimaced. The kid really didn't know when to shut up. "Please stop."
"Living by his own rules. Unafraid of anyone or anything…"
He began to run. Andrew had to huff and puff to keep up, but at least it shut him up. The exertion, which was nothing to Spike with his vampire physique, didn't stop the maelstrom of thoughts in his head. He was on the verge of asking Andrew if he knew any of the details of how Buffy had died when he smelled Dana's blood.
The other Slayer was close by.
He came to a sudden stop. Andrew crashed into him, asking, "What's wrong?"
"Blood. Smells different. Stronger."
Ignoring Andrew, Spike took off, all his predatory senses focused on the hunt. He refused to think about how good it felt to be hunting a Slayer once more.
The pain – the pain was incredible. And the idea – he couldn't accept it. His hands, gone. Gone. And worse yet to come, no doubt.
Just let her kill you. Be easier.
Part of Spike wanted it, no question there, but another part of him had decided to live. For now. To see if he could play the hero, make a difference. Honor Buffy's memory by being the man she'd seen in him.
"You've got me confused with another man," he said, hoping Dana was listening. Hoping she was capable of understanding. "Visions are mixing with your real memories. All right? Other Slayers, other places. New York. China…" Dana said something he couldn't understand. He realized it was Chinese. "Yeah. That's what you're remembering – other Slayers."
"You killed her."
He tasted the tang of the Chinese Slayer's blood, felt the rush of the kill. It revolted him.
It excited him.
He was a monster. Still.
"Yes, but –" he said.
"You killed them both."
"That and worse," he whispered. He'd only killed the Slayers. Hadn't tortured or raped them, like the thousands of others whose memories she didn't share. "But I was never here."
Dana's lips curled back from her teeth, a maniacal mix of contempt and insanity. "Ask me again why I could never love you."
Spike could only stare, the pain in his chest making a mockery of the pain of his arms.
"I stopped you. Something I should have done long ago." She squatted in front of him. "Can't hurt me anymore."
"No… wouldn't… Buffy." His heart was trying to tear its way out of his chest.
"Doesn't matter," Dana shouted. His head rocked back from the force of her punch. "Head and heart. Keep cutting until you see dust."
"Yes," he whispered. She punched him again, and again, then set the saw to his neck.
Spike kept his eyes closed. Didn't say anything. What could he say? He deserved it. Welcomed it.
He'd never deserved her faith in him.
The stroke of the blade across his skin made him gasp. His blood gurgled down his neck, in slow, sticky streams. Eyes closed, he grit his teeth, trying to prepare himself for the second and hopefully final stroke.
Spike smelled his rescue just before he heard the clatter of the saw on the cement basement floor. He heard Dana's body thump on the far side of the room, heard Angel's low, soothing voice attempting to reason with her.
Buffy, he thought. Eyes still shut tight, he slipped into the dark.