Spike cocked his head, concentrating on the clomp clomp of somebody making their way down the hallway towards his flat. The footsteps were heavy, far too heavy to be the love of his unlife, so he stretched back out onto the sofa and resumed flicking through the cable channels. After a moment’s rattling, the door swung open to reveal a be-suited Xander shuffling through a large stack of catalogs and envelopes.
“Mail call!” he yelled.
“Hi, honey. How was your day at work?”
Xander jerked his head up, startled to find Spike already in their living room, but took it in stride. “Ah. Excellent.” He began tossing catalogs and magazines at Spike’s head. “Skymall. The Sharper Image. Rolling Stone. People. The Backyard Brewer. TV Guide. L.L. Bean.” He looked up. “Really? L.L. Bean?”
With a shake of his head, Xander went back to sorting the mail. He slung another glossy Spike’s way. “Leather Enthusiasts. And here’s my mail: bill, bill, bill, and oh look - bill. Funny how those are all in my name, you big mooch.”
“Not my fault the power company insists on a credit report before letting you sign up as a customer. Wasn’t exactly concerned with establishing my credit this past century.”
“And now look where your irresponsible ways have gotten you.” Xander paused his sorting and frowned. “Hey, an actual letter. For you. From…” He squinted at the envelope. “Nuh-suh… Nnn-ssssub…” With a frown, he said, “Some person in… Uganda? You got a demon friend in Uganda?”
Spike was already moving, using his preternatural speed to his advantage. He had the letter in hand and was halfway to his bedroom before Xander had finished his question. “Yeah, something like that,” he muttered, not paying any attention to his response, or Xander’s befuddled expression.
Bumping the door shut with his hip, Spike tore the envelope open, wondering what Nsubuga had been up to this month.
Buffy deepened her tentative explorations, sliding her fingers a little further down the back of Spike’s pants to cup one cheek, and he hummed his approval. He’d fantasized about taking her hard and rough while draining her dry, of course he had. But this gentle, hesitant, sweet prelude to lovemaking -
“God, I love you,” he said, too overcome for anything but the simple truth. Eloquence and clever wordplay could come later, after they were married. Maybe a sonnet for their first month anniversary…
She nuzzled into him, then abruptly pulled back to look him in the eye, leaving him cold. “Spike,” she said, urgently.
And far too seriously for his liking.
“What is it, sweet?”
“Did you really mean it when you said they were funny?”
He wracked his brains, but couldn’t suss out his offence. Pulling her closer, he said, “Said what was funny?” Spike loved the chit, desperately, but even he could acknowledge she was a tad on the self-righteous side.
“Famine pictures. From those dusty countries,” she mimicked, pulling back again.
Well, yeah, was his automatic response, but managed to stop himself from actually saying it. He was evil, Buffy knew that. Had agreed to marry him all the same. But Spike understood there would have to be some give and take if they were going to make this thing work. Some restraint on his part - and he was capable of restraint. Exhibit A: he hadn’t mentioned that the famine victims were even funnier in person, had he? No, he’d kept that tidbit to himself. And not gotten a drop of blood any faster for his troubles, he might add.
“Was just an expression?” he tried out.
Buffy pursed her lips. “You seriously can’t say anything like that around my mother, okay? She sponsors a girl from - from somewhere in Africa.” After a beat, she added, “I think it’s Africa? But, seriously. Mom writes to her all the time, and everything. She’d never forgive you for making a joke about famine victims.”
Sod her, then, Spike wanted to say, but he’d seen how important Joyce was to Buffy. And he had a bit of a soft spot for the woman himself, truth be told.
Once he’d gotten over the indignity of the axe incident.
“What’s the point?” he said instead. “So many starving kids. Can’t save all of them, hell, it’s probably doing them a favor to not send any money. One less mouth to feed. Why not let ‘em get on with dying, and decrease the surplus population?”
Her eyes blazed with righteous fury, and Spike squared his shoulders, readying himself for a dust-up. But then Buffy paused, her posture visibly relaxing, and Spike knew she was making the same allowances for differences in moral alignment that he was trying out himself.
And this was why they were a match made in… well, not heaven. But something as close to it as he would ever see.
“You’re right, she can’t,” Buffy said. “It’s like that starfish parable. You know, the one where the guy walks along the beach and throws the stranded starfish back in the ocean? Mom can make a difference to her sponsored child. It’s the same way with me and slaying. I can’t save everybody.”
She looked truly distressed by this, which did funny things to Spike’s undead heart. Made him want to help save the world. All kinds of wrong, that, but didn’t actually surprise him. He’d always been willing to do anything for love, and if this was what would make his girl happy…
“But I save who I can, and it has to be enough. Just because I can’t save everybody, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t even try.”
Spike didn’t much care about saving innocents, whether in Sunnydale or Africa, but he nodded anyway. If it was important to her, then he’d learn to not let on that it was otherwise to him. “Not a word to your mum,” he promised, and was rewarded with a kiss.
Spike slammed his way into the Summers’ kitchen at a dead run. When he dropped his smoking blanket, he was assailed with the overwhelming scent of grief. His fangs dropped of their own accord, triggered by the delectable smell and his ever-present hunger. But his eyes, traitorous buggers, filled with sympathetic tears.
“What is it now?” he said gruffly. If it had been only Dawn, he might’ve given in to his grief, but Willow was present too, the pair of them seated at the counter and staring at a dog-eared sheet of paper.
“It’s a letter from Aluel,” Willow said. “Mrs. Summers’ sponsored child in Sudan? Buffy must’ve taken over writing to her after Mrs. Summers died, and Aluel’s answering letter arrived today. She - she doesn’t know about either of them. Passing.”
“Bugger.” He didn’t know what else to say.
Dawn looked up at him, tears streaming down her face, before running off.
Spike watched her go with a frown. He’d heard plenty about Aluel and her village from Buffy’s mum over the years, and even from Buffy herself a time or two. He didn’t give a toss about the girl, but he’d always honored his promise to never say a negative word. He wasn’t sure why - it wasn’t like it had been a real promise, given as it was under the influence and all - but he’d kept it all the same.
Willow sighed. “It’s up to me to tell Aluel, I guess. I don’t think Dawn’s up for explaining why she won’t be sponsoring her any longer. All these bills…” she said, holding up a stack for Spike’s inspection.
“I can do it. Write her.” When Willow gave him the disbelieving eyebrow treatment, he shrugged. “I’ve heard enough about the girl. I can handle it. And you -” He gestured to the stack. “You got plenty else to deal with.”
She hesitated, and he knew she was actually considering his proposition. Sign of desperate times. Spike swiped the letter and envelope off the counter and tucked them into his pocket, making up Willow’s mind for her. He examined Aluel’s photo - she was a pretty thing, if you were into the scarified African princess look - and tossed it back onto the counter. “In case the nibblet wants it,” he said.
Later, when Dawn was tucked up for the night and he was back at the crypt, he looked over the letter just long enough to get the gist of it. So generous. So grateful for your kindness.
Spike snorted. The Dinka bint was right, Buffy’s mum had been kind, too kind. “But your luck’s run out, brat.”
He scrawled ‘The woman’s dead, so piss off and don’t be bothering the family. They’ve themselves to worry about now,’ on a torn piece of notepad paper, and shoved it and a twenty dollar bill he’d nicked from Harris inside an envelope. Spike sealed and addressed the envelope to Aluel, care of PlanUSA, the way he’d seen Joyce do it a half dozen times. He squinted at the envelope. Something wasn’t quite right.
Eventually, he figured out that it was missing a stamp, but since he knew sod all about postage rates to Sudan, never mind actually having any stamps, he set it aside for another day. His duty discharged for the time being, Spike settled in for some serious drinking.
Maybe tonight he wouldn’t dream of Buffy’s last moments.
“Buffy,” Spike said quietly, letting her know he was there.
She ignored him a moment, continuing to shuffle papers on the dining room table into some semblance of order before looking up. “What do you want, Spike?”
An automatic retort sprang to his lips, but her bleak expression had him biting his tongue so hard it bled. He counted to ten before answering. “You up for a patrol?”
“Sure. Let me just… not have the money to pay any of these bills, first.” Buffy dropped her head to the table with a thunk.
Spike reached out to touch her back, but pulled his hand back, unsure. “Got plenty more booze back at the crypt,” he offered.
She turned her head just enough to peer at him with one eye. “I don’t think it helped, last time. Not in the actually making things better way, anyway.”
He acknowledged that with a nod and a grimace, and waited uncertainly.
With a heart-wrenching sigh, Buffy sat up, accidentally knocking a small square of paper to the floor. She reached for it, then stared at the photo the other side revealed.
Spike recognized it instantly: Joyce’s sponsored brat. When Buffy continued to stare, frozen and silent, Spike tapped her on the shoulder. “So how about that patrol, eh? Chop chop, Slayer!”
“I wonder what happened to her?”
He had to strain to make out the words, even with vampire hearing. “Who now?” he said, shifting uneasily.
Buffy held the photo up for his inspection. “Aluel. You remember, Mom’s starfish?”
Spike gave the photo a cursory glance, and shrugged. “I’m sure she’s fine.”
“I wrote to her, after Mom... She must’ve written back, because this is a new photo. Well, one I’ve never seen before.”
He took the photo from Buffy. “Very pretty. Looks like she’s doing well for herself, no need to worry. On the other hand, plenty to worry about here on the Hellmouth. The night’s a-wasting. Evil’s afoot. So…” He dropped the photo into his pocket, then twisted Buffy’s chair with her still in it, tipping it forward until she stood. Taking her by the arm, he guided her towards the front door. “Grab your things, and let’s be on our way.”
“Why are you in such a rush?” Buffy said.
“No reason. Just feel like getting out there tonight. Don’t tell me knocking some heads together doesn’t appeal to you too? Taking your frustrations out on the undead populace?”
“And, hey, I could start right now!” she said, painfully chipper.
But she grabbed her stakes and coat and headed out after only a token protest, Aluel forgotten.
Spike stumbled out of the cave. Hours, days, weeks later - he didn’t know how long it had been. Just later. The last rays of sunshine were fading now, and the villagers were lighting their fires. They watched him warily as he shambled past their huts, not making a move to help him, but not retreating either. One of the elders lifted a burning brand high overhead, but whether it was to better see him or ward him off, Spike didn’t know.
Couldn’t find the energy to care, either.
He needed food. And clothes. And shelter. Mbale was the closest town of any size, but Kampala was the better bet for a butcher willing to serve a walking corpse, especially with the way he looked the part at the moment. If he’d been in fighting trim, Spike knew he could steal a car or hitch a ride and make it there in one night. As it was…
Just keep heading south, he told himself. Not north.
Or he could just… not. Not head north, or south or anywhere. Just wait right here for sunrise. It was a tempting thought, but didn’t seem right that he should end himself. Not when he had so much to atone for.
A dusty, naked child, barely big enough to come up to his knee, ran across his path. The child looked up, and froze. On the trip in, Spike would’ve relished the sudden tang of acrid fear, and the terrified deer-in-the-headlights look. Now, it left him faintly nauseated.
So the soul was in place, then. Good to know. He hadn’t been entirely sure.
Spike altered his path and carefully stepped around the child, willing away the sudden rush of memories. Though it had been over twenty years since he’d been in this region last, nothing much had changed. The circular huts, the dark-skinned locals barely eking out an existence, the absolute poverty and despair… The only difference was him, this thing inside of him that had him crying now, ashamed of who he was and what he’d done.
This is not Karamoja. Do not think about Nakapiripirit, or Namalu. These are not the people you and Dru -
He forced himself to keep walking, pushing on until he was far outside the comforting circle of firelight. When he could no longer hear the villagers’ voices carrying on the clear night air, Spike dropped to his knees and bowed his head.
Just another monster in the darkness, crying over his sins.