So much about Spike was memorable.
For Buffy, though, it wasn't even his personality that made him so – larger than life, brash, in-your-face and unafraid to speak uncomfortable truths (when so many around her seemed incapable of speaking any truths out loud at all). No, it was moments, glimpses, flashes of memory that stayed with her no matter what else happened.
She remembered the first night they met. He applauded and threatened – no, promised – to kill her in three days' time, then struck one night later. Because he was bored.
She remembered the way his kisses seared her skin even though his lips always started out cold. God, did she remember his kisses.
She remembered him sacrificing himself – willing to die, for her, for Dawn – suffering torture at the hands of a goddess. She remembered, now, how inadequate her show of gratitude had been. How completely lacking in compassion for his pain afterward. Just a kiss and a hollow promise not to forget what he had done.
And she knew, when she stepped into the empty cavern and finally found him, that she would remember this moment as well. Would probably never be able to forget.
That time with Glory – it echoed in her head, made her heart ache when she saw him again. Spike was always in motion. Perfectly capable of stillness if he wanted to be – he was technically dead after all – Spike preferred to move. To fight, to talk, to smoke, to roll his eyes at something stupid they had said in his presence. Even tied to a chair he managed somehow to give the impression of movement.
After Glory had left him "so totally thrashed", as Xander described it, Spike had been still. Movement hurt, so he didn't do it.
After he'd come back with his soul, he had been still. Half-mad, or maybe more than half, he said that if he was quiet the voices couldn't find him. It didn't hurt as much.
And now, here, in this cavern where he'd been held captive by agents of the First, he was still. Standing with his arms tied above his head, head hung low, not moving.
He looked up as she came toward him, and even though her face gave away nothing, her heart clenched painfully in her chest. Too thin, his eyes haunted and exhausted, and he still managed to come up with some bluster, some token defiance as she approached him, a blade from one of the Bringers she'd killed in her hand. Just a figment, he called her. Apparently the First had been appearing to him wearing her face – well, and why not. She had died, after all. More than once.
She said nothing. Could think of nothing to say that he'd believe.
They'd wrapped his wrists in leather thong, and just looped the trailing ends over some old broken pipes sticking out of the cavern wall. They were the kind of thing he should have been able to snap without even thinking about it. Shoestrings. And instead he was just standing there with his arms strung up and dangling, limp and unmoving, looking at her in confusion as she stepped up to him and raised the knife. One eye swollen shut, the other followed her hand up, turning his head painfully so he could watch her cut the thong.
His hand fell, landed on her shoulder. His knees buckled and he almost fell with it.
Her heart twisted again. Spike hadn't managed to break his bonds because he had nothing left.
She wasn't sure how he might finish that thought – you're here. You're real. You came.
She met his eyes, watched as the realization sank in. He ducked his head, fought what sounded like a sob of relief.
Buffy knew she'd remember that, later. Probably never be able to forget.
Still, she said nothing. All that had come out of her mouth lately had been speeches and strategy, and he deserved more than that. But words wouldn't prove she was the real Buffy; her hands could. Words wouldn't convince him he was safe now, but he could lean on her as they walked out of that pit, his arm across her shoulders, hers around his waist. The tail end of the leather thong brushed and tickled against her upper arm.
With the First, words weren't real. Touch was. So she kept herself glued to his side, supported him as he dragged weary feet through the dirt, caught him when he stumbled.
His head hung low, and he didn't speak. Didn't waste energy on excess motion, even to breathe – just put one foot in front of the other, while the rest of him was still.
"Xander," she called up the hole, "we're here."
His head appeared in the opening, blocking what little light there was. "You found him?" Tone of voice carefully uncommitted, one way or the other. That was probably the most she would be able to get from him, so she took it.
"Yeah," she said. Spike swayed on his feet, and she shifted her stance to keep their balance. "We'll need help getting out, though."
"Rope, or ladder?"
Buffy looked at him, his head hanging. "Spike?" she called softly. He jerked his head as if she'd woken him. "Stay with me, Spike. Just a little while longer."
He nodded, the motion drunken in his exhaustion.
"Think you can climb a ladder? Or should we rig a rope and pull you up?"
"Up?" he mumbled. Tilted his head back, staggered as his balance was thrown off. Dropped his head back down and swallowed. "Do my… do my best. Ladder."
One foot after the other, pausing on each step to gather the strength for the next one. He slipped twice, but she was right below him and she'd braced for that, so the worst that happened was that Spike basically ended up with her arm around his waist, sitting on her shoulder for a second while he regained his feet.
He didn't weigh enough.
When they reached the top together, she had to help him get one knee on solid ground so that he could crawl forward and out of the hole. He crumpled unmoving onto the frosty grass once he was clear; it took her and Xander working together to get him back to his feet.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Xander frown, but he didn't let go as Spike staggered and wove his way the few steps across to Xander's truck. Still…
"You looked worse after Glory," he said.
It took Spike a moment to lift his head and gather breath. Then he slurred, "Glory din't… she din't drain all th'… the blood out of… me. For s-… for sacrifice." He swallowed and let out a wheezing cough, took a couple more steps. "'S nothin' lef'... in me. To bruise with."
"Oh," was all Xander said in reply.
Spike nodded off twice in the truck on the way back to Buffy's house. Each time he would start to slump, then jerk awake, his one good eye wide and his expression bewildered, afraid, as he glanced around. Each time Buffy squeezed his shoulder, rubbed his arm to get his attention, and he would look at her as if he couldn't quite believe she was real.
The second time he reached up with shaking fingers to touch her face, stroke her hair. She closed her eyes and let him.
"Buffy," he breathed.
She opened her eyes and looked into his, pressed his palm to her cheek. The leather thong was still wrapped around his wrist. The tail end brushed against the inside of her forearm and made her shiver.
When Spike tried to climb down from the truck's cab, his legs gave out and only Buffy's speed kept him from dropping to his knees in their driveway. His eyelids fluttered and he struggled to keep his head upright, to focus on Buffy's face.
"Almost there, Spike," she said. "Just inside and then you can rest for a little. Get some blood in you."
"Rest," he said. He swayed forward and closed his eyes, fought to open them again. "Rest. Okay."
Then they were at the dining room table and Spike was slumped in a chair, legs splayed, holding his ribs with one hand and holding himself upright with the other. Too weak to hold a mug full of blood without his hands shaking and spilling it all, he leaned forward over the table and sucked hungrily through a straw, weary yet focused utterly on the meal in front of him. Willow stood nearby and kept pouring heated blood from a pot into the mug, whenever the level dropped low enough. Spike never looked up, just kept drinking and drinking.
At the other end of the table, Giles leaned toward her, his arms folded and face hard. "You haven't asked him?" he demanded in a harsh whisper. "You had the entire ride home to interrogate him –"
"I'm not 'interrogating' Spike," Buffy answered heatedly. "I will ask him what the First wanted from him, as soon as he's able to answer me in words of more than one syllable. God, Giles, he was there for nearly a month. They used him as the sacrifice to open the Hellmouth and let out Neander-Vamp, and then they tortured him the entire time he was gone. He can barely even hold his head up and you want me to ignore that and just grill him?"
"If he's given away information that will hurt our cause –" Giles began.
"Glory," said Buffy flatly. "He didn't break then, and he hasn't broken now."
"You can't know that," said Giles.
"Yes. I can," said Buffy.
Looked at Giles, her eyes hard and flat, until he was forced to look away.
There was a cough from the other end of the table.
"Punishment," said Spike softly. He dipped sideways in his seat, caught himself, didn't lift his head. "The First – it wanted to punish me."
"For what?" asked Giles. Arms still folded, voice cold.
"What d'you think, Rupert," slurred Spike. Slowly he raised his head to glare at the Watcher. "Not doin' what it wanted. Buffy's still alive."
They made it upstairs, one foot in front of the other, having dodged a crowd of girls in the living room (all their questions and their incessant staring), before he spoke again. "Was more to it than that," he said. Voice a little stronger for all the blood in him.
"What?" asked Buffy. Reached out and shoved the door open to her room awkwardly, still keeping herself under Spike's arm for support.
"The First," said Spike. "What it wanted. Was more than just punishing me."
Buffy glanced up at him, but said nothing. Instead she got him inside, shuffled him the few steps to her bed and got him seated, his face screwing up in pain. He reached again for his ribs, but didn't make a sound as she slid out from under his arm.
Clicked the lamp on, drew the curtains tight, closed the door softly. Moving slowly, careful not to shake the bed around, she sat down next to him and put his hand in her lap.
"You didn't want Giles to know?" she asked.
Spike nodded wearily, watched as she started to pick at the leather thong on his wrist. "Take it the wrong way," he said. "Wouldn't believe my answer. Not worth it."
Buffy looked up from her lap, met his eyes. Bruises were already starting to rise across his swollen eye, now that he had enough blood in his system to produce them. "Tell me," she said.
He blinked once, twice. Looked down at his hand where it rested in both of hers. "It told me I was only alive because it wasn't finished with me," he said. "And because it wanted me to choose. Said there were only two sides in this battle and I had to pick one."
Buffy's hands stilled for a moment, then went back to unwinding the leather from his wrist. Tossed it into her little garbage can, got up and moved to his other side. Reached for his hand and drew it into her lap. His fingers twitched.
"I told it to get bent," he said. He huffed a tired little laugh that turned into a wheeze and a pain-filled cough. "Didn't like that much."
"You chose our side," said Buffy. "And even if you hadn't you'd still say you did, so of course Giles won't believe you."
"Sod the watcher," said Spike. "And I made my choice before the First ever dragged my arse out of your cellar." He reached up with his free hand, touched her hair again. "It wanted to know how I could possibly think I had anything good in me, and I told it you believed in me."
Buffy bit her lip, kept her eyes on his wrist, so he wouldn't see her eyes tearing up.
"Knew you'd come," he breathed. He lowered his hand back to his lap and was still.
"I wasn't sure I'd be able to," she confessed. She looked up to see him watching her, memorizing her face, his own a study in wonder.
"I was," he said. "You believed in me. Least I could do was believe in you."