Buffy stood at the door of the dark underground room she had left a few hours earlier, hesitating – suddenly very unsure whether or not she wanted to open it and go back inside.
By doing so, she would not only be going into a rather creepy section of the new Sunnydale High’s basement – she would also be stepping into a dark, painful part of her past to which she had vowed never to return again.
The part containing Spike.
*Actually, that’s a pretty big part, Buffy…be a little more specific why don’tcha?*
The Slayer swallowed hard, staring down at her white knuckles locked around the doorknob, though apparently lacking the strength and courage to push it open. Her throat was dry, and swallowing painful, and to her dismay, she found suddenly that her vision was blurring slightly. She raised her free hand to swipe at the tears angrily, drawing her hand away from the knob and turning her back on the door in a swift, decisive motion.
*It’s not cowardice,* she told herself firmly. *It’s not like I’m scared of Spike anyway. It’s not like he can hurt me, really. Not anymore. Not – not like he is now…*
Her footsteps slowed to a reluctant halt, and she drew in a deep breath, her back still turned to the door.
“Admission gate’s this way.”
Buffy started, whirling around in surprise at the sound of the deep, painfully familiar voice that suddenly echoed in the hall behind her. She froze, unable to keep herself from staring. He looked so different…and yet, in some ways, he hadn’t changed at all.
His clothes were dirty and ragged, as was his strangely disheveled hair, now revealing more than an inch of dark roots that the old Spike she had known before would never have allowed to be seen. Familiar eyes of crystal blue stared back into hers with a sort of blank detachment that…well, that part *was* new.
“Forget your ticket?” Spike asked her matter-of-factly. “Gotta have it to get in.”
An uneasy, sick feeling began in the pit of Buffy’s stomach, as she was reminded of the most obvious difference between the vampire standing before her now, and the creature he had once been.
This Spike was quite insane.
“Gotta be quick, too…gotta be smart,” he continued, oblivious to her curious eyes as she watched him carefully. “Sometimes they don’t let you in…even if you’ve got it. Sometimes…your ticket’s not good enough, yeah? Not good enough…not nearly good enough…”
He was pacing the hall in front of her, his eyes averted now, his voice low and trembling slightly as he ran a shaking hand through his dirty blonde hair every few seconds in a nervous gesture that was so very un-Spike-like that it nearly brought tears to Buffy’s eyes…though why she should want him to have his old confidence-bordering-on-arrogance back again was a mystery to her, after what he had done.
*Because you got yours back, didn’t you? Even after what *you* did,* a small voice in her mind that had become very familiar over the past few months accused her, before demanding impatiently, *Say something, idiot!*
“Spike…” Buffy hardly recognized her own voice, hoarse and distant and choked with tears – though for which of them they were shed, she could not be sure.
The blond vampire stopped his pacing, looking up at her through wide, shocked eyes, and it occurred to Buffy to wonder how long it might have been since he had heard his own name…where he might have been all this time…what might have happened to him, to take his very sanity.
Slowly, cautiously, Buffy took a step toward him…and that seemed to be the motion that galvanized him into action.
Spike lurched backward in obvious alarm, shaking his head vigorously and holding his hands out in a warding off sort of gesture. “No, no, he’s not here…not him. Wasn’t me…he did it…not here now, though…”
“Spike,” Buffy tried again softly, still moving cautiously toward him…but his next words stopped her in her tracks, chilling her blood with sudden apprehension.
“Wasn’t me…*he* hurt the girl…”
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion as she took another step forward, not so concerned this time with whether or not she frightened him.
“Hurt what girl, Spike?” she demanded, her voice taking on a hard edge, her heart sinking with dread of what his answer might be. “What girl did you hurt?”
“Didn’t, wouldn’t hurt her…wouldn’t ever…don’t know why…” Spike insisted incoherently, backing up rapidly until his back was to the door. “Don’t know why he did it, why he hurt her…”
“*Spike*!” Buffy cut him off sharply, moving quickly to close the distance between them now, her fears making her impatient with his frightened, confused ramblings. “Spike, *who* did you hurt?”
As she neared him, Spike flinched, dropping to a crouch, raising his hands to shield his head as he shook it rapidly, rocking slightly back and forth against the wall.
“Bad…wicked…evil boy…must be punished…can’t be allowed to hurt the girl…to treat her that way…oughta know better…”
“Spike!” Buffy snapped as she reached him, her residual fears fading in her urgency to find out what he had done. She grabbed his arms and yanked down the shield he had formed of them, crouching in front of him and leaning forward until there was only inches between them to demand, “What have you done? What girl did you hurt? *Look at me*! *Who did you hurt*?”
Strangely obedient for once, Spike raised his eyes to meet hers as she had commanded, and there was a startled look on his face, as if he was only seeing her for the first time. His head tilted slightly as he stared at her wonderingly for a long moment, before finally whispering a response.
“Her…it was her…”
Buffy recognized immediately that by “her”, what he really meant was “you”. She was the only one in the room with him, and his gaze was locked onto hers as he spoke – which meant that he could only be referring to one thing.
The one thing she wanted more than anything else to forget.
She released him suddenly, rising to her feet and taking a couple hurried steps backward, staring down at him in shock and dismay.
“Right…mustn’t touch, mustn’t, not hardly good enough…” Spike muttered, his head bowed, his arms folded across his chest defensively as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet for a few moments before suddenly looking her in the eyes again, his own eyes wild and intense.
“You should wash,” he informed her severely. “You’re contaminated. Mustn’t touch the unclean thing…lest you be defiled yourself…you’d better go and wash, wash his filth off you…”
Buffy’s mind was racing with a million thoughts at once, and it took her a few moments to register that he was talking about himself. But his actual words were so strange, and the depth of broken emotion in his voice, the shame and guilt she heard in his trembling tone…
None of it made any sense.
*Vampires don’t feel guilt...*
*But he loved you…surely he *had* to feel…*
*It was just obsession…he never really loved you…he’s a vampire, he’s not sorry for what he did…*
Buffy shook her head, trying to clear it of the mental argument she was having with herself, and focused once more with an effort on the trembling blond vampire, huddled on the floor against the far wall.
Despite all she had been taught to the contrary, she knew what it was she was seeing.
Spike was wrestling with guilt and regret for what had happened between them the year before.
*But…if he’s feeling guilt…*
She frowned. Despite her desire to simply turn and walk away as quickly as she could, she found herself moving toward him again, crouching down in front of him much more gently this time. Spike cringed back away from her, covering his face with his arms, shaking his head in disapproval of her nearness.
“Mustn’t touch,” he repeated in a broken whisper. “Filthy…unclean…mustn’t come near…”
“Spike,” she murmured, reaching out a hesitant hand toward him. “Spike…look at me.”
“No, no, too bright…too bright…belong in the dark, I do…not like you…never like you, no matter how hard…no matter…” His voice trailed off, and Buffy was suddenly aware of how very weary he sounded, exhausted by the struggle taking place in his own mind.
“Spike,” she repeated simply, waiting.
After a moment, the vampire’s arms came down, and he glanced sideways at her uncertainly, his arms still crossed and hovering about shoulder level, as if ready at the first sign of danger to erect his protective barrier again.
“What happened?” Buffy whispered, not quite sure she wanted to hear the answer. “How did you get…what happened to you?”
“Got what I asked for, didn’t I?” was his reply, his voice tinged with a hint of bitter anger. “Got what I had coming to me…what I deserved…all sparks sold as is, no exchanges, no returns…even if the one you get is damaged, can’t trade it in for another, no you can’t…”
Buffy let out a heavy sigh, as it became obvious that she not going to get any logical answers from him at this point. She began to relax a bit, despite the troubling situation, as it also became apparent that she was in no danger whatsoever from the confused, disoriented vampire. She looked him over a bit closer, frowning as she remembered the strange marks she had seen on his chest that day.
She reached out without hesitation to pull the side of his tattered, open shirt aside, jumping when he startled, jerking away from her and pulling the shirt closed, shaking his head emphatically and whimpering.
“Okay…okay, I’m not touching,” Buffy assured him, keeping her voice gentle despite her irritation. “I’m not touching, Spike, okay? I just…I just wanted to see…I mean…Spike, what did you do to yourself?”
Spike stared up at her for a long moment, before breaking into a fit of manic giggles. “Done to myself…done to myself,” he echoed amidst his insane laughter. “Didn’t do it to myself…had it done to me…asked for it, all the same…”
“*Spike*,” she pressed, struggling not to display her impatience. When he looked at her, soberly almost instantly, she clarified, “The scratches. What happened? Why did you…? How did that happen?”
“Told you,” he replied immediately. “Tried to cut it out. Won’t bloody well come out, though. No exchanges, no refunds…”
Buffy frowned in confusion. “What won’t come out?”
Spike stared at the ground, sniffling and suddenly swiping at tears that seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere. “Bloody spark,” he muttered, so softly that Buffy could barely make out the words. “Asked for it…wanted to be good…asked for it…didn’t help, though…still dirty…still bad…must be punished…sure to be caned…”
He was rocking again, as his words increased in speed and pitch, and tears rolled down his face unchecked.
Buffy’s uneasiness intensified, as she tried to put together the pieces of the strange puzzle, but it seemed that there was a single piece missing, and that she already knew where and what it was, if only she could remember. The answer was hovering just in front of her, just out of sight, if only she could grasp onto it…
*Vampires don’t feel guilt…don’t know right and wrong…can’t feel guilt, can’t feel anything, without a…*
The Council party rhetoric that had been echoing through her mind ground to a sudden halt, as Buffy’s eyes went wide with sudden, stricken understanding. For a long moment, she couldn’t speak, couldn’t think; the entire world around her seemed to have frozen in time, as her mind struggled to catch up, to process what seemed to be impossible.
“Your soul,” she whispered. “Spike…how…?”
“Had to, didn’t I?” he replied simply, staring up at her through haunted eyes, his voice rising to an almost panicked tone as he gave her his nearly incoherent explanation. “Only way to give you…what you wanted…what you deserved. ‘Cept, that’s the rub, in’nit? *Can’t* be that…can’t ever. Lot of bloody good the soddin’ spark does me if it’s *broken*!”
The anguish, the betrayal in his voice shook Buffy to the core, and she suddenly felt overwhelmed by all of it. It was too much to take in all at once…maybe too much to take in at all.
Suddenly, more than anything, she wanted not to be there.
She rose to her feet, stumbling backward, shaking her head in disbelief.
Spike stared up at her bleakly, a sorrowful resignation in his vulnerable blue eyes. Perhaps fully coherent for the first time that night, he whispered pleadingly, his voice trembling with tears, “Don’t go. Don’t leave me alone with him, Buffy…”
But the shaken Slayer just shook her head, unable to meet his request. She had to make it all make sense to herself, before she could even begin to deal with what had happened.
This was the sort of thing that could shake a person’s entire foundation.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, swallowing back an involuntary sob as she backed toward the door. “I…I have to…”
And without another word, before he could say anything else to stop her, she turned and fled the basement, up the stairs and out the door into the night.