CHAPTER 22 - CHOICE
Buffy assessed the vampire doubtfully. It was very new, the dirt from the grave still flaking off its clothes, mud caking his lips. His hands were still torn and bloody. She winced and unconsciously flexed her hands that still bore the scars from her own desperate climb from a grave. Was the mud in his mouth from when it had screamed in panic and bewilderment?
At one time he had been a strong young man with the sun-bleached hair and lean muscles of a swimmer. He was strong enough to be dangerous. Still, he was obviously confused. Reluctantly she nodded.
Dawn grinned and surged forward. The vampire turned. After gazing at the teenager, he stumbled forward. He was inexperienced but he recognized food. Just as he almost had her, Dawn whirled and kicked. Buffy's nervously clutched her stake. The kick was a little slow. A more experienced vampire would have grabbed the girl's foot and thrown her. But this vampire was too new and clumsy. He fell backward, a surprised and betrayed look on his face. He landed on his back and Dawn was on him.
Buffy gritted her teeth. Faster Dawnie! You have to move faster. Dawn plunged the stake into its chest and - whoosh - one less vampire in Sunnydale. The girl looked up amid the falling dust, her eyes glowing with pride.
Another vampire. Buffy's senses tingled and she whirled. And heard the clapping.
"Looking good there, Niblet."
The teenager flew into his arms, almost knocking the vampire off the tombstone, where he had been sitting, watching the action. He grinned and hugged her, his face tender.
"Did you see me dust that vamp? Buffy lets me patrol with her and I'm getting pretty good, aren't I?"
He looked up and Buffy could see that he had been just as scared as she had been, watching Dawn learn the deadly art of fighting monsters. "Can't argue with success can we? But if Big Sis lets me, I'll spar with you and show you some secrets of the trade. We'll work on speed."
"I'll whip your . . ."the teenager's eyes twinkled, "arse."
"My, my and you kiss Justin with that mouth?"
"Justin is so yesterday. Oh Spike," the teenager hugged him tighter, "you've been gone so long."
"Ninety eight days," Buffy whispered.
His head turned and she almost lost herself in the depth of his gaze. "Eternity, Slayer."
That seemed to bring Dawn around. "Spike, you're a skeleton!"
"Yeah," he smirked. "Does wonders for the cheekbones." His face softened when he saw the girl's troubled expression. "It's all right, Bit. The other place I was at didn't have a lot of food. But I'll recover."
"I'm so sorry, Spike. I didn't mean to open anything up. I just wanted to stop them. Everything hurt and I was so mad and scared." Buffy was startled. She knew Dawn was troubled about the whole, horrible attack, but it never occurred to her that her sister had felt any guilt. She had been the victim. But apparently she had gone through these long three months feeling guilty for ripping open a portal and endangering everyone. Worse yet, she must have felt responsible for Spike disappearance when he closed the opening. Why didn't she tell me?
The vampire just hugged the child and wiped away the sudden tears. "Shhh, Niblet. You saved everyone. Those bastards had us stopped cold and you turned everything around. Dont be sorry. You were a bloody hero."
"But . . . you . . .?"
"I had to close it and got a little hungry. That's all right. Give me some blood and bloomin' onions and I'll be back in fighting form." He held the child out at arm's length and examined her. "Bit, you look like you need to get to bed. It's been a busy night, you've made a good kill and tomorrow's a school day."
He was so good with her sister. Without thinking, Buffy found herself asking, "Would you walk with us back home?"
The look of simple pleasure he gave her made her melt. The three of them walked back to 1630 Revello Drive and it felt comfortable. She remembered that last walk the three of them had had before Wolfram and Hart had invaded. Spike had been human and she and he had been a couple. They had sat together at the Magic Shop with no raised eyebrows from her friends. It had felt comfortable, almost like he was becoming part of the family and she had felt free to kiss him in front of Dawn, She had left them to patrol, expecting another delicious night of showers, sex and cuddling after she finished slaying.
And now what? She had a surprise but didn't quite know how Spike would react. She watched him with her sister and wondered. He still seemed to care about them. She felt so hopeful it almost hurt.
"What about the other guys? If you couldn't find any food, maybe they couldn't? Do you think I killed them by creating that opening?"
"Don't know. Never saw any of them. I was in sort of an Arctic area, but they might have been in a better place. I wouldn't worry about them. They knew they were risking their lives when they decided to kidnap and murder people."
They were talking softer now and something he said made Dawn give a watery chuckle. They reached her home and Buffy took her sister inside. "Will you wait here for me? I'll be right back."
Dawn looked at the two of them. "It's OK, Buffy. You two need to talk."
"No Dawn, I have to get something in the house anyway." She turned towards Spike and gave a tight hopeful little grin. "I got a surprise for you." She leaned over and gave him a quick PG rated, Dawn-is-watching kiss. She almost giggled at his shocked expression. She put her arm around Dawnie and they went inside the house.
* * *
He certainly hadn't expected that kiss. He stepped back towards the tree and lit up a fag. OK, in his wildest dreams he had taken her in his arms, she had whispered that she missed him, everything would be all Gone-With-the-Wind and they would go off and shag like bunnies. But he had really expected that she would reject him. She may have loved the human Spike, but now he was back to being a soulless demon. He knew what that meant.
He blew out smoke thoughtfully and watched it drift away in the slight breeze. He definitely had missed smoking; it had been right behind Summers women and blood. He wondered what surprise the Slayer had for him. She had been secretive and pleased and had given him a little kiss . . .
Bloody hell. If this were back in Victorian England, she would come back with cunningly knit little booties. He had felt like a complete pillock back when he was alive and realized that he had had sex without any protection. It wasn't like he hadn't seen enough afternoon specials while trapped in his crypt during the daylight hours. If they were to be believed, one bout of sex between humans and bang, the woman was pregnant and her life was ruined. Actually that didn't really disagree with what he had been taught as a young man in Victorian England. Was Buffy . . . ?
He discovered he had snapped his cigarette in two. He contemplated lighting another but decided his hands were too shaky to play with fire. He'd probably incinerate himself. He paced nervously, especially when he remembered that Buffy had worn a loose jacket rather than her normal skintight apparel.
Buffy came out of the house with a smile, looking around almost eagerly for him. He stepped towards her and she approached him, carrying something. As she drew close, he inhaled deeply. Normal Slayer hormones, none of the warm, almost milky tinge of pregnancy. He was relieved, yet was surprised at the pang of disappointment.
"Spike, is anything wrong?"
"Huh? No, of course not. Oh my duster. Thanks luv."
"Sorry, I took so long, but I had to clean up and Dawn and I had some talking to do. It's been so hard for her since Tara."
"I'm sorry about Tara. She and Dawn got really close over the last summer."
Buffy's face clouded. "She was a good friend. And when she died, Willow . . ." She shook her head, "I can't talk about this now." She turned. "Let's go and sit in the back. We need to talk."
How often had he used that line on her? Spike trailed her, wondering what was up. They sat in the old deck chairs in the back yard and he watched her as she gathered her courage.
"Spike, did you like being human?"
He felt like he was hit in the stomach. "Yes."
She was leaning forward. "But back when we talked about you becoming a vampire, you said you liked it, that getting killed made you feel alive."
It was hard not to touch her. How long had he dreamed of having her here, this close. He didn't know how to explain himself. "Buffy, I've been in hell. I don't know if it was a real hell, but. . . it snowed all the time and there was no food and after a while the snow buried me and I was too weak to fight my way out. I couldn't see or hear or smell and after everything hardened to ice, I couldn't move."
"Oh my God!" Buffy reached out and touched his cheek.
He ignored the pity. "I almost lost my bloody mind. For a while there, I was worse than Dru. But I kept thinking of you. I dreamed of you and remembered everything about you." He held her hand. "And the part I focused on, the part that kept me going were my few short days as a man when you let yourself love me."
He couldn't read her eyes. She seemed so hopeful, almost happy. She reached out and handed him a small, creased piece of paper.
He unfolded it. "The blood of a Mhora demon." He looked up, puzzled. "What's this?"
"It can make you human again."
He stared, disbelieving. "Never heard of such a thing."
"Angel gave it to me. A couple of years ago, right after the Thanksgiving you came to us for help, I was in Los Angeles and was attacked by one. Angel killed it. He must have done research on it. Anyway, after you vanished, he told me about what its blood can do and Willow . . ." Again she hesitated at the Wicca's name. "Willow read up on it and say's he's right. Mhora demons are really rare, but if we can find one," her hands were on his upper arms, "we can go back to where we were." She kissed him.
For once, he was too shocked to respond. He stared at her, not daring to hope.
Strangely he found himself remembering that night when the two of them had smashed each other with their fists and slashed with words before dissolving into their first bout of mind-dissolving passion. "Poor Spikey. Can't be a human, can't be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in?"
Since that dark night in a London stable over 120 years, he had been a pawn of others' choices. Angel and his pack had turned him into a vampire so that Dru would have a caretaker. The Initiative had crippled him as an interesting experiment. Wolfram and Hart had dusted and revived him for their own purposes. Dru and her minions had murdered him to soothe her wounded pride.
He stared at the face of the woman he loved and realized what she was offering. For the first time, he was being was being given a choice. He could be a human. He could be a vampire, this time without a chip to limit his powers. It was his choice.
He finally had the power to determine where the hell he fit in.
He stared at her and realized he was seeing her for the moment as a predator would. She was so close, her mouth vulnerable and her throat unprotected. He could lean towards her, lulling her with soft whispers and slash her jugular. He would stop being chained to a mortal and finally bag his third Slayer. Better yet, as she lay dying, he could savor her blood and force his own blood on her dying lips and she would be his forever. The two of them could roam the world and once again his existence would be simple. He could once again live for blood and the kill, carousing through Europe with the one he loved meekly devoted to him. He would be the Master Vampire and she would worship him.
He smiled. Hell, he could take out the entire Scooby Gang. Red, with her powers and hint of evil, would make a fascinating vampire. Giles and Xander would be minions and he would finally once again be the Big Bad.
He reached forward touching the tender vein in her neck, feeling the glorious pulse. He had the power to return to his past, to once again be a soulless killer. After being crippled for so long, he loved the sense of power. But being a Big Bad was hollow compared to loving the Slayer, protecting and treasuring this brave and precious life. Her fight was his fight, he had learned to cherish her family and even, reluctantly, like her friends. (Except Harris, wild horses couldn't force him to ever admit liking the Whelp.) Since that day so long ago when he had first seen her dancing at the Bronze, his enjoyment of the casual, evil existence of a vampire had been draining and he had increasingly longed to be the man she could love. He could once again be the Big Bad. But he didn't want to.
He wanted to be human again. Even with the nightmares, the soul lashing him for his century of carnage, he wanted to be by her side. He had tasted it and life had been sweet.
He'd actually done humanity right this last time. Who would have imagined that William the Wanker could finally end up with the girl? Buffy had loved him and he had experienced more joy in those three short days than in the rest of his entire existence. He had even begun to dream his old Victorian dreams of sharing a life with the woman you love, of raising children and growing old in each others arms.
That was what Buffy was offering. All of his dreams.
He gazed at Buffy's face. It was glowing and hopeful. For a moment Spike saw the trusting girl who had been destroyed when Angel had left her. He leaned forward and kissed the Slayer on the lips. It was as tender as a good bye.
"And what do we do the next time Dawn opens a portal, luv?"
Buffy drew back, her eyes wide with shock.
The price of his dreams was to be helpless when the women he loved were in danger. It was more than he could pay.
"You know it will happen. She's the Key." He held her hands, trying to force her to listen. "You know the bad guys just keep coming. You fight a hundred, a thousand and they still are going to keep coming. And it won't just be monsters, pet. Humans driven by greed are going to want to use her. And if I let myself be human, then only the death of Dawn or you will close the portals."
Just the memory choked him, but he kept his voice firm. "I can't let that happen. I'll spend eternity in hell before I stand by and watch you die again."
Buffy's eyes were filling with tears and it was tearing him apart. He grabbed her shoulders trying not to lose her, trying to explain. Angrily she shrugged his hands off.
"I love you, Summers. I can't be a normal man any more than you can be a normal woman. You need a monster in your man, someone to help you fight and protect Dawn."
"I don't need a monster. I don't need a soulless monster." She lashed out with her fist. He was still weak from his long starvation and too slow to protect himself. He reeled back and slammed against the fence.
"Buffy!" He was losing her. He had lost her when Dru and her minions had stolen his life and soul. But how could he chose to be helpless again, unable to protect her or her sister? "Buffy, wait!"
She gazed at his bleeding face in horror and turned. He closed his eyes so he didn't have to watch as she ran away.
Continued in CHAPTER 23 - DECISION