Author’s Note: I may be a minority, but I thought the First was about the lamest villain ever. How do you fight something like that? It’s impossible. And besides, it’s philosophically and logically insupportable that you’d have the First Evil and not a First Good of some kind. I’d give you the logical argument, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m treating the First as the S3 episode Amends treated the First—like some ghost that could be chased away by some fast talk and the light of day. I’m ignoring the rest of S7 canon pretty much. Oh, and the title is taken from a Christina Rossetti poem I thought was appropriate.
Chapter 1: Mission of Mercy
“Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig/and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:/maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,/a cracked bell, or a torn heart…” ~Pablo Neruda, Sonnet VI
Buffy traced her path through the basement with a feeling of trepidation. She was nervous about seeing Spike again. It wasn’t really a bad kind of nervous—she wasn’t scared of Spike anymore.
The scene in the chapel had her completely wigging, of course. Watching the vampire throw himself on the cross had been horrifying. Knowing that he had gotten the soul for her was—humbling. Not knowing what else to do, Buffy had hauled him off the cross and then watched him flee into the night.
He had been down in the basement for too long already. Buffy knew she should have dragged him home immediately after finding out he had a soul. That’s what the soul meant, right? Spike got a get-out-of-jail-free card, a clean slate, a fresh start. As the Slayer, it was her job to make certain that he got it, that he was taken care of— at least to a certain extent. She’d done no less for Angel when that particular souled vampire had returned from hell, and he had done worse things to her.
Spike, after all, hadn’t killed anyone. He’d just tried to rape her.
Buffy shook her head. That wasn’t fair either. The Slayer was pretty sure that Spike hadn’t meant it. He had wanted her to admit that she felt something and had taken things too far.
It’s not like she hadn’t done the same thing.
If the truth were to be told, Buffy had left Spike in the school basement because it was easier. Life was easier when Spike wasn’t around. Maybe not better, but definitely less complicated.
It was time to be the Slayer again, though. Time to deal with the tough issues that no one else wanted to touch; time to make sure that Spike wasn’t going to hurt anyone in his crazy state. Buffy didn’t think he was a danger, but it didn’t pay to be careless.
“Spike?” she called. “Are you down here?”
Silence was the only reply she got, and then she heard him. The words were too low for her to catch, but she followed the sound to its source. Spike sat, arms around his legs, curled up into a little ball.
He looked smaller without his coat, Buffy thought upon seeing him. The coat that was currently residing under her bed. “Spike?”
“Quiet,” he muttered. “If we’re quiet they won’t bother us.”
She approached him slowly. “Who won’t bother us, Spike?”
“They won’t bother us.” He repeated it over and over again like a mantra.
Buffy swallowed hard. It hurt seeing him like this. She might not be in love with him, but there was something there, some feeling. Enough that it had hurt to have him break her trust as he had. If Buffy hadn’t had any feelings for Spike at all, his attack on her person would not have been a surprise, and she could have quickly brushed it off.
It had stung to realize how much she had trusted him.
“Spike,” she said softly, reaching out to touch his hand. “You need to come with me.”
He skittered away from her touch, moving back into the deeper shadows. “Don’t touch! You ought not to touch!” The vampire started rocking back and forth, the back of his head hitting the wall every time he moved back. “No one ought to touch that which is unclean.”
“You’re not unclean, Spike,” Buffy tried to reassure him. He was definitely dirty. Spike had always been fairly particular about being clean. Now he smelled like a dead thing. It was the stench of an open grave.
And it broke her heart.
“Please, Spike,” Buffy said, trying again. “You have to come with me.” An idea hit her. “I need your help.”
His head snapped up, and a brief flash of lucidity passed through his eyes. “I can help?”
“That’s right,” Buffy said, feeling a sudden flare of hope. “You can help me, but you have to come with me now. It’s really important.”
He scrambled to his feet, trying to smooth out his clothing awkwardly. “Okay.”
Buffy wished she’d known the magic words a little earlier. Spike was pathetically eager to give his aid. He was acting like a whipped puppy, eager for more attention.
She always hated how Spike made her feel, even when he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Buffy reached out to take his hand to lead him, but he shoved both hands in the pockets of his jeans. “Don’t touch. It’s not allowed.”
“Fine,” Buffy agreed, just to placate him. “But stay close, okay?”
He followed her docilely enough, so close that she could sense him on her heels. For a moment Buffy allowed herself to remember the days and weeks right after she’d been resurrected when Spike had stayed as close as he could. Those were the days when his presence had been a comfort and a balm. What had happened?
Oh, yeah. They’d had sex.
Buffy heard his sharp indrawn breath as they passed through the front doors of the school. Spike was looking around everywhere but at her, obviously ready to bolt back inside. “You’re not going back,” she said firmly in her best General-Buffy voice. “Spike, look at me.” She waited until he’d complied. “You’re not going back.”
Spike made a sound that could only be described as a whimper. “They’ll punish me.”
“No one’s going to be punishing anybody,” Buffy replied. “I won’t allow them to.”
He didn’t look as though he believed her. “I’m bad.”
Buffy sighed, not wanting to do this. She didn’t want to be gentle; she wanted Spike to snap out of it so she could kick his ass and then make him promise not to leave. “Fine, Spike, you’re bad,” the Slayer replied. “So is pretty much everyone else I know, and no one’s punishing them. Let’s go. I’m tired and I want to go to bed.”
Dawn was torn. Sure she’d been all big with the threats on Spike’s unlife, but that had been when he was looking sane and in one piece. Now Buffy was bringing home crazy-but-with-a-soul Spike, who had helped the gang save Willow .
Spike, who had watched over her the summer Buffy was gone. Spike, whom she’d had a crush on. The same Spike she had loved.
In the darkest hours of the night, Dawn could admit not only that she had loved Spike, but that she still did. He had been the only thing in her world that made sense. Then he’d attacked Buffy. It was that betrayal that had hurt the worst, knowing that her anchor was just another sinkhole.
Maybe if Buffy had been a little more forthcoming with the details, Dawn would have had a better idea of how to feel about the whole thing. Instead, her sister had simply announced that she was going to collect Spike from the school basement, and that they would talk about it later.
“Where are they?” Dawn asked Willow , who was trying very hard to appear calm and collected. Willow had to admit that she was also a little nervous about seeing Spike. He’d been acting really strange the last time she’d seen him.
The witch looked over at her. “I’m sure Buffy’s on her way back.”
“What if she’s not?” Dawn demanded. “What if Spike tries to hurt her or something?”
Willow bit her lip. “Spike wouldn’t try anything, Dawnie. Buffy said he has a soul now.”
Dawn wasn’t sure what all this talk about a soul was. Everyone made a big deal about the soul. Angel had a soul, and that was the only thing holding him back. Well, so what? Just because Spike had a soul didn’t mean he wouldn’t hurt Buffy.
“So what?” Dawn said, the thoughts too big for her head to hold. “It’s not like people with souls don’t do really horrible things.”
She knew it was a mistake as soon as the words left her mouth, of course. Willow was just beginning to get back into the swing of things, she was obviously trying very hard, and now Dawn had to rub her face in it. Willow turned bright red and went back to playing around on her laptop. “You’re right, Dawnie, but the soul does make a difference.”
Dawn might have said more, but the opening of the front door interrupted her. She dashed out into the hall to see her sister tugging a recalcitrant Spike through the door. “Don’t make me do this the hard way, Spike,” Buffy warned him. “You are not going back to the school basement.”
He looked bad and smelled worse, Dawn realized, and almost in spite of herself, she softened slightly. “Somebody’s going to have to clean him up, Buffy,” she said.
“I know,” her sister replied irritably. She glanced towards the stairs. “It’s not like we have anything for him to wear, though. It’s probably a good idea just to stick him down in the basement tonight.”
“Will he stay?” Willow asked, coming out to join them. “I mean, he looks ready to bolt.”
Three pairs of eyes turned to look at the vampire, who appeared as though he wanted to be anywhere but there. “I don’t know,” Buffy said reluctantly. “We could…” She stopped that thought right there. Chaining Spike up was her last resort since he wasn’t a danger to anyone else but himself.
There was a moment of silence, and then Spike announced, “Standing right here.”
His eyes reflected a glimmer of sanity. “So are you going to stay, Spike?” Buffy asked, her tone revealing her impatience. She was not used to being a nursemaid, nor did she want to put on the act.
“You said you wanted help,” he accused, looking like a sulky little boy.
To Buffy and Dawn’s surprise, Willow grabbed his arm. “We do need your help, Spike, but you can’t do much from the school basement. It’s much better if you stay here.”
Spike stared at her intently for a moment. “You know.”
Buffy frowned in confusion, but Willow understood immediately. “I do. What do you say we get you cleaned up. I’m sure Buffy wouldn’t mind getting something for you to eat.”
Spike shook his head frantically. “I don’t eat anymore. I won’t. It’s not mine to take.”
“It’s okay, Spike,” Willow soothed. “It’s just pig’s blood, and that’s okay to eat. Buffy and Dawn eat pork all the time, and that’s just the same.” She glanced at Buffy. “We’ll just go get you cleaned up.”
Speaking in a low voice, the witch managed to coax Spike up the stairs, leaving Buffy and Dawn with their mouths hanging open.
“I want details, Buffy,” Dawn said flatly. “What’s going on?”
“No,” the girl said stubbornly. “I don’t understand why you’d want Spike in our house after what he did to you.” Buffy looked away. “He did—did he do what Xander said he did?” Dawn demanded.
Buffy winced. “Not exactly,” she said uncomfortably. Xander had assumed, and then he’d told Dawn his assumptions, and Buffy had never really bothered to correct them. It had been easier. “He—it’s complicated, Dawnie.”
“Then uncomplicate it,” she said flatly. “You said Spike went and got his soul. Was it because he raped you?”
“He didn’t rape me,” Buffy replied. Glancing up the stairs, she grabbed Dawn’s arm and tugged her into the kitchen. “He was trying to make me admit that I had feelings for him.” This was why Buffy hadn’t attempted an explanation before now. It was too hard. “Look, Dawn, I told you it was complicated. I don’t know how else to explain.”
“Then explain why you’re okay with him being in the house.”
There was a challenge in her sister’s voice that Buffy couldn’t ignore. “He has a soul.”
“So what?” Dawn demanded. “What difference does the soul make, other than make him crazy?”
“He got it for me!” Buffy hissed, and there was a flash of emotion in her eyes that Dawn could read like a book. “Spike got his soul for me.”
Dawn sighed, admitting defeat in the face of her sister’s obvious distress. It was no wonder Buffy was being all weird about this—what with the whole comparison thing that neither of them could help making. Angel lost his soul and Angelus didn’t want it back. Spike went looking for his soul because he hurt the woman he loved. Dawn was the brainy one—she could do the math.
“Come on, Buffy,” she said. “Let’s get Spike’s blood. He looks like he could use a decent meal.”
Willow had to admit to feeling a certain sympathy with the blond vampire. She completely understood the whole guilt trip thing. If Giles and the coven hadn’t been so great, she honestly wondered if she wouldn’t have gone crazy.
If not from the guilt, then certainly from the grief.
She knew that Spike’s remorse was a hundred times heavier than her own, and Willow also knew that Buffy was probably not the best person to deal with him right now. Willow loved her friend, but the Slayer often had a hard time with the softer side of things.
Spike needed soft right now.
As they neared the door to the bathroom, Spike stopped dead in his tracks. “No,” he muttered. “I hurt the girl. I can’t—I won’t. You can’t make me!”
His voice was rising rapidly, and Willow hurried to soothe him. “It’s okay, Spike. No one’s going to make you do anything.” She tugged him towards the master bedroom, the room she had once shared with Tara . “We’ll just use a different bathroom.”
Spike shook his head. “I won’t tell. I promised I wouldn’t tell.”
“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Willow replied. “It’s okay.”
He twisted slightly, his eyes unfocused. “Will you punish me?”
“No,” Willow replied slowly. “I’m really not in a position to punish anybody.”
Spike lowered his voice, confiding, “I wasn’t supposed to leave. They said so.”
“Who said so?”
Willow realized that Spike wasn’t up to explaining anything. “Okay, well, if they bug you again, you just tell Buffy or me. We’ll tell them where to get off.”
He looked skeptical, but the conversation had gotten them into Buffy’s bathroom without any more fuss. Spike started to look panicked again as he realized where he was, and Willow wondered if he had generalized his fear to all bathrooms. It would explain why he was so filthy, even just beyond the whole craziness thing.
Willow decided it was time to use her best take-charge voice. “Spike, look at me.” He glanced away, obviously uncomfortable, complying only when Willow grabbed his chin and forced his head around. “I want you to get undressed and put your clothes outside the door. Then I want you to take a shower. Can you do that?”
“Good.” Willow gave him a quick pat on the arm. “I’m going to find something else for you to wear.”
She shut the door behind her and then paused, feeling a chill. There was a sense of wrongness in the air, although she couldn’t define it any better than that. Willow shook it off, chalking it up to the general weirdness that was always around the Hellmouth.
Willow didn’t trust her instincts these days.
His ears were buzzing. All Spike could see or hear was Buffy’s voice. No!…Ask me now why I could never trust you…
He whimpered. Clean. He was supposed to get clean.
“You’re never going to be clean.” Spike whirled to see Buffy standing there. “You get that, right? This is never going to be over, Spike. People don’t forgive things like that.”
“No,” Spike said. “You’re not—you’re not real. You’re—”
“I’m real enough,” Buffy replied. “Oh, come on, Spike. Like I’m ever going to love you after what you’ve done. You’re a monster, and now you’re insane. What kind of woman wants something like that around?”
“No!” Spike shouted. “I won’t listen to you! You’re not real!”
“Spike?” Buffy’s voice came through the door. “What’s going on in there?”
He had turned involuntarily towards the door, and when he looked back at where Buffy had been standing, the spot was empty.
It was too much.
Spike collapsed against the wall, shaking uncontrollably. He buried his head in his arms and rocked back and forth, repeating over and over, “You’re not real.”