Author’s Notes: The title and some of the philosophy behind this story comes from Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, a must-read if you haven’t already. In any case, it’s basically about the importance of finding meaning in our suffering, since that’s the only way we can avoid giving into despair. On a side-note, not everything in this story may be physically possible. But I didn’t have Spike to experiment on, so you’ll just have to take it as a plot device and leave it at that. As always, thanks and love to my beta, Heather.
Chapter 1: A Broken Body
Sometimes it works. You know, those things that you try so hard to do, the ones that really matter, but that you manage to screw up. Well, there are places that exist only because one time you got it right. In this life, Spike got it right.
It was split-second timing. One minute the knife was sliding in, cutting flesh, making him bleed, and the next he was being shoved out into thin air. In this particular reality however, he managed to twist and grab onto the first thing he could lay his hand on, which happened to be Doc’s ankle. Strong hands took firm purchase on the demon’s black-clad leg, and they fell together, falling end over end to the hard ground. He had one thought before he lost consciousness. And it was of Dawn.
They came down from the tower together, hand in hand. Their eyes went to his body, laying there amidst the rubble. The others, the Scoobies and Giles, stood looking at his still form, and as the first rays of the sun lit the sky, there was the thought that it might be easier to just let it go. To let the sun take him. He would have died a hero, and it would be over. The thought crossed Buffy’s mind as well, but Dawn tugged at her hand impatiently. “Buffy, we have to get him out of here. It’s almost light out.”
Buffy looked at her sister, and then at the fallen vampire. Perhaps it would be easier just to let the sun come up, but he lay there because she had asked him to make a promise. If not for him, Dawn would be dead. Perhaps she would be dead. He had saved them, and if there was one thing that Buffy understood it was duty. There was an inherent fairness in keeping him alive, so that’s what she would do. “Giles,” she said quietly. “Get Dawn home. I’ll need to take Spike through the sewers.”
There were no arguments, though the thought of letting him dust hung in the air, unsaid. Buffy simply picked him up, quickly carrying him to the nearest sewer entrance, knowing that Willow would want to spend time with Tara and Xander would be busy taking care of Anya. For now, Dawn would be safe with the Watcher, and Buffy would have plenty of time to spend with her as soon as she got back to the house. Now that the world wasn’t ending, they would have all the time they needed.
He woke slowly, the sweet, coppery smell of blood filtering through his nostrils. It wasn’t the blood that brought him completely out of the darkness however. “Dawn.”
“She’s safe. You saved her.” Buffy’s voice was actually gentle, and he relaxed as he opened his eyes.
“Doc?” he asked, not even bothering to take the blood. He’d made a promise and he would keep it.
“Gone.” Giles had gotten Dawn back to the house shortly before she’d arrived with Spike. She’d had to run to prevent the sun from singeing him too badly, and had arrived breathless, partly from the exertion, partly because she’d remembered that they hadn’t taken care of Doc’s body. Giles had looked rather grim, but he’d left to take care of it, and she assumed he had. There’d been no word to the contrary.
“Harris and I—” he began, but she cut him off. They’d had experience with the Master; enough to know how to dispose of a hard-to-kill demon.
“Giles was going to burn the body and sow the ashes with salt. It’s done, Spike. You need to eat.” She smiled, encouraging him, and he took the proferred straw and sucked greedily. When he’d finished, she reached out to touch the gash that he’d gotten across one cheek. “How’s your leg?” she asked softly.
Spike tensed, and the little niggling feeling in the back of his brain erupted into full-blown panic. He’d asked about Dawn and Doc because he knew there was something wrong, something he was forgetting, and now he realized what it was. His face must have shown his surprise, because Buffy gave him a look that was laden with sympathy. “I think your leg must have been broken when you fell. It was purplely and swollen. Does it still hurt?”
He didn’t lie. “No, it’s alright. You know us vampires, luv, we heal fast.”
“Good.” She took the mug and got up to leave. “Look, it’s still mid-afternoon. Why don’t you get some rest, and we’ll see how you feel tonight before I kick you out.” But the way she said it took all the sting out of her words, and he knew she didn’t mean it that way. If she had, he wouldn’t be in her house in the first place.
When the door closed behind her, Spike wasted no time, throwing off the covers and looking down at his legs. Buffy’d managed to find a pair of sweat pants to fit him somewhere, and he was grateful that he was decently clothed at least. Still, looking down at his motionless legs gave him a sinking feeling in his gut that he couldn’t chase away. He focused on his toes, but they stayed stubbornly still, not even a twitch.
Spike ignored the lump that threatened to form in his throat; the Big Bad didn’t cry. He did need to figure out what he was going to do, however. The last time he’d been stuck in a chair Dru had taken care of him. Well, sort of, anyway, but this time there was no way he could depend on the kindness of Buffy or the Scoobies. It would be worse than being around his Sire and Angelus. Somehow, he needed to convince Buffy to get him back to his crypt, without letting her know what was wrong if at all possible. Either way, if she’d get him there, he could finish it off. He should be able to drag himself out to meet the sunrise at least. He had that much strength left. First, he’d get himself dressed and from there it should be simple to get her to get him home. Knowing Buffy, she’d be all too ready to get rid of him anyway.
“So how’s the undead fiend?” Xander asked, as Buffy came down the stairs and into the kitchen. Buffy quickly rinsed the mug out in the sink and stuck it in the dishwasher.
“Xander!” Buffy scolded lightly. “Spike saved Dawn’s life.”
The man had the grace to at least appear repentant. “Sorry. How is he?”
Buffy shook her head. “He’s still pretty badly beaten up, but it looks like he’ll be staying around for a while.” She watched her friend’s face, but he bit back the comment he’d been about to share. Despite the robot, despite getting chained up in Spike’s crypt, in spite of all the bad blood that lay between the two of them, she felt something for the blonde vampire. Probably not what he wanted, but she did feel sorry for him.
He’d been badly wounded by his fall from the tower; his leg had been broken, almost crushed, and he’d been bruised and lacerated from head to toe. And it hadn’t been that long since his encounter with Glory had left him completely broken and bloody. She gave a soft sigh, beginning to think she might have underestimated him.
“Buffy?” Dawn came into the kitchen, still in her pajamas. “How is he?”
Buffy smiled at her sister reassuringly. “He’ll be fine, Dawnie. He’ll probably be up and around in no time at all.” As if to immediately prove her wrong, there was a loud thump from overhead, which could only be Spike. She moved towards the stairs instantly, Xander and Dawn following closely at her heels, but Buffy stopped them with an outstretched hand. “I’ll take care of it. Stay here.”
They stayed, her tone brooking no argument, and she raced up the stairs two at a time. When she opened the door to her mother’s old room, Spike lay sprawled out on the floor, an indecipherable expression on his face. In an instant, Buffy knew exactly what was wrong with him, and she quickly shut the door behind her lest someone decide to follow after all and see what she had.
Buffy walked over to Spike’s form, politely ignoring the angry tears that were threatening to roll down his cheeks. It would be hard, she knew, for him to be put into this position again. She quickly lifted him up, not quite meeting his eyes. This would be the second time she’d be responsible for putting him in a chair. And this time around she felt guilty about it.
“Are you okay?” she asked softly.
He glared at her. “Don’t,” he replied sharply.
“I don’t want or need your pity, Slayer,” he continued. “In fact, just get me back to my crypt and I’ll take care of the rest.”
It took a few seconds for his words and their meaning to register. She would take him back to his crypt and he would dust himself. Buffy was surprised at how her stomach twisted in protest. “I’m not going to let you hurt yourself, Spike.”
His blue eyes blazed. “And I’m not going to take your soddin’ charity just so you can laugh at the helpless vampire,” he snapped. “I told you, get me back to my place and you won’t have to worry about me again. Isn’t that bloody well what you want?”
Buffy looked for some reason to keep him here, in the land of the living and unliving. Logically, of course, there wasn’t one. If he was willing to kill himself, she should be jumping for joy. In the end, she gave him the only reason that made sense to her. “Dawn would be devastated if something happened to you,” she pointed out.
“Something already has happened to me,” he replied, using brutal logic. “I’m no good to you, Slayer, a burden. She’ll get over it.”
Buffy wasn’t so sure. She was almost as uncertain about her ability to get over it. Spike wasn’t a friend, but he was a comrade, and she hated to lose him. “Dawn just lost mom, Spike,” Buffy said quietly. “Losing you would really hurt her. Don’t ask me why, but she really cares about you.” She paused as a thought came to her. “Ooh, plus you promised you’d take care of her.”
Spike’s face twisted with some unknown emotion. “Kept my promise, didn’t I?” he pleaded. “Just let me go, please, Buffy. I’m used up; you won’t get anything more out of me.”
“Spike, I can’t. Dawn would blame herself, you know she would.”
He was almost crying again now, hating himself for his weakness, hating her for her refusal to release him. “And what happens when you get tired of me a week or two from now, and you decide you don’t want to do this? Will you just dump me then?”
Buffy understood what he was asking. It would be better for her to let him dust himself now than to give him hope and kill him later. If she agreed to help him, she was in it for the long haul. “How long were you in the chair the last time?” she asked softly.
He shrugged. “Maybe three, four months. Somewhere in there.” He looked at her. “Don’t do this, Buffy.”
She studied his face, his high cheekbones, the right one with a gash running across it. His blue eyes, still shadowed with bruises, both old and new. His chest and abdomen were mottled with contusions from his encounter with the Hellgod. The fact that he was quite attractive suddenly flitted through her brain, and she thought he looked like a battered angel. A battered, wicked angel.
“I swear I’m going to get you back on your feet,” she replied, promising with every ounce of her being. After all, she owed him big time.
He looked away from her, not at all happy with what she had to say. “Why?”
Buffy looked at him incredulously. “Because you just saved my little sister’s life. Because you probably saved the world.” He kept his eyes trained on the wall, and she sighed. “Just promise me you won’t try to kill yourself, Spike. I really don’t want to have to explain to my sister that somebody else she loves just died.”
“Promise,” he mumbled, still not looking at her.
“You should probably get cleaned up,” she said quietly. “If I can get you into the bathroom, do you think you can handle the rest?” He nodded shortly, and she frowned when she realized he wasn’t going to say any more. “Come on then.”
Spike shut his eyes against the humiliation. “Right.”
Buffy could feel his helpless rage emanating off of him, and she knew she wouldn’t be much happier if she were in the same position. What was more, she had friends who would be with her every step of the way. Spike had a bunch of people who didn’t really like him, and whom he had no reason to trust.
It would have been easier just to throw him over her shoulder and carry him to the bathroom, but she didn’t. Instead, she put one of his arms around her shoulders, and one of her arms around his waist, and then half dragged, half carried him.
Sitting him down on the toilet seat, she started the bath water. “Can you manage the rest?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
She pulled out a towel for him and handed it over, then left and headed downstairs, hoping she wouldn’t have to come back to find him in a very compromising situation. Both Xander and Dawn looked at her expectantly as she came back into the kitchen. “Tell us Spike’s done us all a favor and spontaneously combusted,” Xander said, only half-kidding.
“Xander, stop,” Buffy said quietly, her face completely serious. Too serious for someone who’d just defeated a Hellgod, really.
“What’s wrong, Buffy?” Dawn asked.
She looked away, wondering what she was going to tell them. She hadn’t slept in what felt like forever, hadn’t been able to in spite of her exhaustion. And she was tired. Tired of being the Slayer, tired of being a mom, tired of being a friend. She ached to just take a vacation, just get away from everything, and knew that it wasn’t going to happen. At least, not in this lifetime. “Spike was hurt worse than we expected.” She sighed, and then quipped, “It looks like I put him in a chair. Again.”
There were almost completely expected reactions from both of them. Dawn was upset, and immediately started thinking that it was entirely her fault. Xander, on the other hand, bit back every snide comment he wanted to make, mostly because of the teen. He might not always be the most sensitive of men, but he could keep his mouth shut. Buffy knew she’d hear it later though.
Spike was out of the tub and had dressed by the time she’d comforted Dawn. She knocked softly and entered when he invited her. “How’s it going?” she asked.
His hair was damp and curly and his face tightly drawn. “You want to get some more rest? Do you need anything?”
“‘M fine, Slayer.”
Buffy swallowed. “Would you mind talking to Dawn?” she asked softly. “She pretty much feels like this is her fault.”
“Bollocks,” he replied, rudely. “Did it because I wanted to.”
“I know,” she replied, and he finally looked her in the eye. Something he saw there made him straighten.
He nodded slowly. “I’ll talk to her.”
“Thanks, Spike.” Buffy came to him, and prepared to help him move. She seemed about to say something, and then changed her mind. “Dawn will stay with you. I’m going to go to your crypt, pick up some of your stuff. Is there anything you want?”
He hesitated. “There’s some blood in the fridge, my clothes. There’s a box, in the sarcophagus. That’s about it. Don’t have much.”
“I’ll take care of it,” she promised.
Xander immediately started giving Buffy an earful as soon as they were on their way to his crypt. “Come on, Buf. Why not just leave him at his crypt? It’s not that big of a deal.”
Buffy shook her head. “First of all, because he pretty much promised he was going to make himself all dusty if I took him back there. And secondly, because there are a lot of things that are out to get him. If any of them found out he was helpless, he’d be dead in a minute. Or worse.”
Her friend hesitated. “All I’m saying is that your place might not be the best vampire hospital, especially for Spike. You know how weird he is about you.”
Buffy shook her head. “Spike is harmless, even more now than he was before.” Looking into Xander’s eyes, she tried to make him understand. “It’s more than that, Xan. I owe him. I asked him to protect Dawn and he did. That’s why he’s hurt. And I promised I’d make sure he got on his feet again. I’m not going back on my word.”
He sighed. “I just hope you aren’t making a huge mistake, Buf.”
“Remember Glory?” she asked quietly. “He could have died trying to protect my sister. And he could have died last night. He didn’t have to do any of that. This is what’s fair, Xander. There isn’t a lot of fairness in this world. I’m just trying to make sure there’s a little more.”
Spike was prepared for Dawn’s knock when it came. He still wasn’t happy with Buffy for not just taking him back to his crypt and letting him dust himself. But he’d promised her. And her description of Dawn’s reaction made him think that there was at least one person who would care if he were gone. Buffy’s response was a bit more puzzling, but he’d always known she had an inherent sense of fair play. It was one of the reasons he’d been able to trust her enough to go to her during the whole Angelus affair. He couldn’t let himself hope for any more. “Come in, Niblet.”
Dawn poked her head around the door cautiously. “Buffy said I should come keep you company.”
“Always glad to see you, Bit,” he replied as gently as he knew how. So much of the time, he wasn’t sure what to do with the girl. She was so fragile to him, and yet so precious. He wasn’t sure when he had started caring about Dawn for herself and not for a way to get to Buffy, but then again, he’d liked Joyce too. Maybe he liked the teen because she seemed to like him. She was the only one besides Joyce to think of him as something other than a monster.
Dawn came up to the bed slowly. “Spike, I’m really, really sorry. I never wanted—”
“Hey, now. This is the Big Bad you’re talkin’ about. I’ll be on my feet in no time.” When she didn’t look convinced, he waved her nearer, and he could see she was about to cry. Spike had no clue what he was supposed to do with a crying Dawn. If he’d had a choice, he’d have bolted, but that was out of the question now. “Come ‘ere.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, and suddenly was in his arms. Now Spike was really uncomfortable. He hadn’t liked a woman’s tears back when he was human. As a centuries old vampire, he had even less understanding of what to do. He patted her awkwardly on the back and whispered over and over, “It’s okay. It’ll be fine.”