Penance by agora

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Chapter Notes: Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including all characters in this story, are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox Studios. This story is not meant to infringe upon anyone's rights or generate income. It is intended only to entertain. The few lines of actual dialogue are directly lifted from the series to keep in context of the situation.
Spike hung on the wall in as much as one might hang a framed photo or a painting. He was no longer animate; he longed for a quiet death. He played on the edge of consciousness. The First paced in front of him, a coy smile playing across her lips. But they weren’t hers. They weren’t hers. They were Buffy’s, and the First did not deserve to wear them.

Anger brought a brief spurt of adrenaline, almost gone before it even began coursing through his near-empty veins. He meant to rattle his chains and scream in rage. He meant to cry out in defiance. He barely managed a whimper, scarcely accompanied by a twitch.

It was enough to re-attract the First’s attention, however. She reminded him that he was alone. That he was forgotten. That he was worthless. He wasn’t loved, and in his whole ungodly and unnaturally long life, he never had been.

She spoke in the guise of his beloved, meaning to hold his gaze. Spike chose to let his swollen eyes slide shut, and instead saw a different Buffy, heard different words.

“Listen to me, you're not alive because of hate, or pain. You've alive because I saw you change. Because I saw your penance. …You faced the monster inside of you and fought back. You risked everything to be a better man. And you can be, you are. …You may not see it, but I do. I do. I believe in you, Spike.”

He would have sworn there was no rebellion left in him, no shred of dignity remaining. The memory of her words brought him new sustenance, though “ sweeter than any bread or blood had a right to be. His body shook with unshed tears and he screamed in his head. She will come for me!

He didn’t realize that he had spoken out loud until the First approached to better pull the words from him insolent mumblings.

The litany continued to pour from his lips.

“She will come for me. She will come for me. She will come for me. She will come for me. She will come for me. She will come for me. She. Will. Come. For. Me.”

The First who was Buffy gazed at him, almost as she would have. Compassionately. Almost lovingly. And then she crushed his dead heart with three small words.

“No, I won’t.”

He slipped numbly into unconsciousness once more, allowing it to swallow him. His thoughts ran away without him, dodging through his mind down a maze of hallways. He no longer had the strength to chase them, and so they ran without him.

His mind eventually wandered back to him, and he slowly pried his eyes open. The First stood before him again, still wearing Buffy’s face. She stood before him, appearing tired and vulnerable. Holding a thick, angry knife. He had no energy left for games “ even as an unwilling participant.

“A knife, now, is it? What'll… what'll that…” he trailed off, packing his fear back in the small compartment where he had been keeping it. “You “ you can't hurt me. You're “ you're just a bloody figment, you are. You're just...”

She approached him silently, her eyes revealing nothing. She raised the knife, and he knew that this was it. This was somehow the moment at last. He relaxed, accepting, and his life “ what there was of one at any rate “ flashed before his eyes.

It was ironic. He was the Slayer of Slayers. He had earned the title through mortal combat. He had been the Champion of the Darkness. He had slaughtered the young martial artist in China more than a hundred years ago amidst the blood and chaos of the Boxer Rebellion, and he had starred as the leading villain opposite the Watchers’ oddly contemporary blaxploitation queen in an empty train to Harlem. No one else had come as far as fast as William the Bloody had.

For nearly a century and a half, no one could touch him. Except of course his warped family: Darla, Drusilla, and Angelus. At their hands he learned true pain, and it twisted him until he loved it. The darker emotions “ fear, jealousy, anger, hurt, insecurity, rage “ had ravaged him and scarred his soul. Made him forget what true love felt like. Erased the memory of selflessness and charity. He robed himself in his inadequacies even well after the sunshine that was Buffy Summers had started to thaw his frozen dead heart.

Those same scars had killed his Buffy once too, even after he had promised that he would never, ever hurt her.

It was ironic. He was the Slayer of Slayers. He had earned the title through mortal combat. He had been the Champion of the Darkness. Yet he still renounced his claim for this soft, brave girl who was barely a woman. He had chosen to apprentice himself to the Light, if only for a chance to one day be Her champion. Yet he still managed to kill her anyway. He strangled her trust and choked any shreds that remained of her innocence on her own bathroom floor.

His quest for absolution had led him to the far side of the Earth and back, to here. To this moment. And he knew without a doubt that he deserved to die. He only clung to life because his nature “ his existence as an evil, undead thing “ would not allow him to do anything else. He would not find pardon. He would not be embraced by forgiveness. He deserved Hell. He was prepared. He opened his eyes to bravely meet his Fate.

She was the only thing he could see. At least if he was finally meeting his death, hers would be the last face his eyes caressed. Even if it wasn’t really her.

She reached forward slowly and cut him loose from his tethers. The world moved as though in slow motion, and Spike felt confusion and traitorous hope wrack through his body as he pitched forward, reaching out for purchase as he fell. Anguished, he knew that it must be another trick, knew that he had just allowed the First to kill him a bit more without ending his misery. He collapsed forward until his hand made contact with her shoulder, bracing himself.

He braced himself. Against her very real shoulder. Despite himself, he smiled, searching her eyes for any sign that his trial might be finally be complete.

She met his gaze, without guile and without fear, and in that moment he knew what it was to find redemption. To be chosen and forgiven. To be loved.

“You. Oh.”

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