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Normal Is Just a Word by slaymesoftly
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Chapter Seventeen

It was a couple of days before she realized that she hadn't seen or heard from Spike, and a few more days before the urge to see him overcame her stubborn insistence that, since he'd walked out in a huff, it was up to him to come crawling back to her. The empty and deserted crypt hit her so hard she doubled over in physical pain. After doing a thorough search for his motorcycle and having a talk with an almost sympathetic Clem, she was forced to admit that Spike had left Sunnydale... and her.

The events following her discovery that Spike had left – something she'd been sure he would never do – were so traumatic and followed each other in such rapid succession that she really had no time to dwell on his disappearance until well into summer.

Being shot and watching her best friend try to end the world in a paroxysm of grief put the loss of her latest poor choice of boyfriend into perspective, and Buffy was able to accept that he was gone. If, in the privacy of her own room, she sometimes remembered his last words to her and allowed herself to believe that he wasn't gone forever, she didn't spend a lot of her waking hours worrying about it.

Summer slid into its normal slow rhythms, even slower than usual with both Giles and Willow now in England. Dawn seemed to be growing up, managing not to mention that Buffy had driven away her "best friend' more than once a week or so. Xander was reserved and quiet, still mourning both the loss of Anya and his own incredibly damaging way of breaking off the engagement. He and Buffy spent their free time together for no better reason than that they could mope in peace without having to explain to anyone why they weren't happier.

"So, you and the evil undead, huh?" Xander said one afternoon when they were lying in the shade and drinking lemonade.

Buffy turned her head to meet his cautiously curious gaze. He'd obviously figured it out. She shrugged.

"For a while," she finally admitted. "Didn't last. I was using him – using his feelings for me to help me forget..." She broke off at his guilty wince. "And when I finally was healthy enough to realize what I was doing and be ashamed, I stopped."

"Speaking as someone who shares the same Y chromosome, I'll bet that made him all kinds of happy," Xander said, adding quickly, "Not that I'm saying you should have...." He paused, frowning. "Is that why he left? Because you quit—"

"In a way, I guess," she said, her face falling into familiar sad lines. "But not the way you mean it. You don't understand."

"What? You cut him off, he left town. What's to understand?"

Buffy shook her head and sat up. "No. I 'cut him off', as you so delicately put it, right after Riley was here. We weren't even... whatever we are–were... until after my little crazy episode. And then we were just good friends. We weren't sleep— You know what? This is really none of your business. He loved me, I hurt him, and he left. That's all you need to know."

She stood up and carried her glass into the house, leaving Xander staring after her from his place under the tree.


"You miss him, don't you?" Dawn's question was casual, asked in between mouthfuls of popcorn.

"Sometimes," Buffy answered equally casually.

"Me too. I hope he comes back soon."

Buffy's head whipped toward her sister. "You think he's coming back?"

"Yeah. I think he'll come back." She stared at Buffy. "He promised to protect me till the end of the world, didn't he? How's he gonna do that from Afri-" Dawn quickly stuffed more popcorn into her mouth as Buffy sat up straighter and demanded, "From where? What do you know about where he is?"

With a sigh, Dawn slid a postcard from her pocket and handed it to Buffy. The postmark from Johannesburg and photo of a lion on the front made it clear where it had originated. On the back, in careful, elegant script, it said simply, "I'll be back, Bit. Try to stay out of trouble until I'm there to rescue you. Take care of your sis." It closed with a brief "Love you" and a large "S".

"When did...." Buffy turned the card over and over, as though she could find more information if she just studied it long enough. "What is he doing...?"

"You know as much as I do," Dawn said, tugging on the postcard until Buffy released it. "He just doesn't want us to worry, I guess."

"He doesn't want you to worry," Buffy said bitterly. "Apparently he doesn't care about me."

"That's bullshit and you know it," Dawn snapped, ignoring Buffy's "language!" "I don't know what he's doing over there, but I can just about guarantee it has something to do with you."


The counseling job at the new high school was a surprise. Buffy had been sure that someone with barely three semesters of college and no work experience other than asking "Do you want fries?" would not be hired. However, the attractive new principal seemed unconcerned about her credentials, insisting, after her first adventure in the new building, that the students were obviously taken with her and that her presence at the school could only be an asset. He'd assured her that she should apply for the open position, telling her immediately that she was hired.

Buffy was too worried about having found Spike in the basement that morning to do more than nod and agree to begin work the next day. With the sun shining brightly, even if she'd been able to get him to come with her, she couldn't have taken Spike out of the building. She left him huddled in the basement, muttering to himself. Wherever he'd been and whatever he'd done, it had clearly sent him into his own private world of insanity and pain. Remembering her own venture into insanity, Buffy's heart ached for him, but her presence often seemed to make him worse, so she stayed away as much as she could, hoping he would come to his senses before his craziness caused him to walk out into the sunlight.

The fact that he began venturing out at night – even if was just to act crazy in the outside world – she took as a good sign. Until his accidental slaying of a human disguised as a giant worm sent him into another guilt-fueled rant – one that ended with the smell of burning flesh and Spike draped over a large cross. For precious seconds, Buffy was frozen in place as the shock of what she'd learned kept her from running to him immediately. A soul. He got a soul. Then she snapped out of her daze and tackled him away from the cross, wincing when he cried out as he hit the floor.

"Your soul," she gasped, staring down at his seared face. "You got your soul."

"'s what you wanted, isn't it? Did I do right, Buffy? Is it what you wanted?"

"Your soul," she repeated. "Oh my God, you got your soul." For me. You did this for me.

A quiet moan brought her attention back to him and she berated herself for not thinking of his burned flesh first. She moved off his body and gently tugged him to his feet.

"Come on," she said. "Let's go get some ointment on those burns."

"Hurts, Buffy," he whimpered, clutching his burned chest. "Hurts."

"I know it does, Spike. But we're going to make it better. As soon as we get home and I get some cream on those—"

"Not what hurts," he said, staring at her with reproach. "That's just skin. Here!" He hit himself in the chest. "The spark is what hurts. All those things I did..."

Buffy's moan of realization matched his. No wonder he was crazy! She cupped his face and pressed her forehead to his.

"I know it does," she soothed. "We'll make that better too. I promise."

"Shouldn't lie," he muttered, shuffling after her out the door of the old church.

"He's hurt." Buffy's terse response to the raised eyebrows when she brought Spike's burned body into the house did not invite more questions. She took him through the house and straight into the kitchen, asking Dawn to get the first aid and bring it to her.

Dawn stood behind Buffy, holding the first aid kit and staring at Spike's charred flesh in horror. "What happened to him?

"He decided to take a nap on a cross," Buffy said, pushing him gently onto a stool and reaching for the burn ointment and bandages.

"Oooookay. So, still crazy then?" She frowned as Buffy began smearing ointment over the burns. "Shouldn't you be running cold water over them or ice or something first?"

"Oh God. Of course I should have— I'm sorry, Spike. Come over to the sink, let me—"

Spike put a gentle hand on her arm as she leaped to her feet. "Let it go, Buffy," he said, sounding temporarily sane. "I'll heal. You know I will."

"But..." Her face reflected her fear and confusion. "But I want to help... help you. What you did..." She took a deep breath. "I want to help."

"Blood!" Dawn burst out. "He needs blood to heal."

"Of course he does. Why didn't I think of that? I'm not doing this right. He needs—"

"Forgiveness," Spike whispered. "He needs forgiveness..."

"I forgive you. I already forgave you. You couldn't have known what would happen after you left...."

"Not from you, love. Never from you. Don't deserve it." He shook his head and gestured around the kitchen expansively. "Them. All of them. All those people I... Don't know how Angelus bears it. Should have gone crazy, he should... I can't..." He put his head in his hands and began sobbing. "Can't... can't..."

"Buffy? What is he talking about?" Dawn's voice was barely audible.

"He's talking about his soul." Her own voice trembled. "He got his soul back, and now he's paying for it. He's remembering all the people he killed."

'Why did he do a crazy thing like that?" Dawn moved closer to Spike and leaned over to shout at his bowed head. "What did you do a crazy thing like that for? Are you insane? "

He raised his head and gave her a look that said clearly he was questioning which one of them was not in full control of her faculties. Then he shook his head and dropped it back into his hands.

"Spike, why? Why would you do that to yourself?" There was no response to Dawn's plea until Buffy spoke.

"For me," Buffy said. "He did it for me." She stared at the vampire she'd been so sure she couldn't or shouldn't love; the one who shouldn't have been able to love her. Suddenly her world seemed upside down. "He did this to himself for me," she repeated. She whirled and ran to the door. "Take care of him," she said over her shoulder. "I'm going to go get blood."

"There's some in the freezer," Dawn shouted after her. "I never threw it away."
She stared down at him, shaking her head. "Oh, Spike," she said in a softer voice. "What have you done to yourself?"


Getting Spike to agree to live in the basement so that Buffy could take care of him was harder than she would have expected.

"Could just go back to my crypt, Buffy," he said. He sounded more and more lucid the longer he remained away from the school basement. However he was reluctant to stay in Buffy's house, even though she'd explained it was the logical thing to do.

"Your crypt is still a mess downstairs, and who knows..." She took a deep breath. "Look, this being... crazy. I could be my— Just let me help you. Please? "

"Well, if I'm doing it for you..."

She nodded. "You're doing it for me. And for Dawn. She missed you this summer."

He cocked his head at her, looking more like himself than he had up till then.

"The bit missed me, huh?"

"Quit fishing. I missed you too. You know I did. Don't be an ass about it."

Immediately, souled, subdued Spike was back.

"I'm sorry." He stared at the floor, his shoulders slumped. "I didn't mean to—"

Buffy shook her head. "Just tell me you'll stay here - only until you've got yourself back together and I don't have worry about you. Then you can go live wherever you want."

He nodded his silent agreement; his head was still down, so he missed her visible relief as she left to get him some sheets for the cot.


Not until her she'd plunged her stake into Holden's chest – barely even looking at the cocky fledgling vampire as she did it – did the full impact of what he'd said sink in.

Killing. Spike's been killing. All those times he went out without me... I thought he just needed some time away from... but he's killing. Killing and siring more vampires.

Blinking back the tears that weren't going to help, she ran home, determined to find proof one way or the other. The new vampire could have been lying. He'd never mentioned Spike's name until she did... He's probably lying. Just stalling for time hoping he could keep me talking. That's what it is...

Willow's computer search turned up several missing women. The sympathetic, if misguided, information from the bouncer at the club did nothing to relieve the cold lump growing in Buffy' chest. And following Spike's own prowl through the bustling nightlife - a prowl that ended with her losing sight of him, and another girl dead, all combined to convince her that something had gone very wrong. When Spike called to tell her he thought he remembered something, she sighed with relief, knowing he would have a good explanation. The explanation wasn't what she wanted to hear.

As the new vamps Spike had sired held her arms, she watched the vampire she hadn't seen in years sneering and swaggering as he closed in for the kill. Even as she tried to reason with him, telling him he really didn't want to bite her, she felt herself ready to do her job. She had almost pulled her right arm free when the taste of her blood sent him into his human face and scuttling back into a corner. There was no mistaking the shame and horror on his face as he stared at her.

It's like looking at two different people. One minute, he's the old, evil, William the Bloody, and the next he's the cowering, confused vampire who came back with a soul. Something's pulling his strings... and I think I know what it is.


"Yes, he's been killing, and no, I'm not going to stake him for it. He's being controlled by something and he doesn't even remember what he's done."
Buffy took the cup of warmed blood out of the microwave and opened the door to the basement. "Just stay out of the basement if you're afraid of him."

Dawn and Xander stared after her as she disappeared down the stairs.

"Do you think he'll hurt her?"

"No," Dawn replied shortly. "She already told us he was going to and then he snapped out of it."

"When her blood snapped him out if it. Don't forget that part."

"I remember. The point is, as soon as he tasted her blood, he knew who she was and he snapped out of whatever was making him kill. He isn't going to hurt her."

"I hope those chains are strong," Xander muttered as he turned away from closed door.


"Hey. I brought you dinner." Buffy set the mug down beside the cot and tried not to notice how defeated Spike looked.

"Thank you," he said, his voice so low she could barely hear him. "Condemned man's last meal?"

"Spike..." Buffy's voice was tinged with irritation and worry. "I'm not going to stake you. It won't bring back the people you... who died. And it wasn't your fault."

"The people I killed, Buffy. You can say it. I killed them, and if you were any kind of a slayer, you'd stake me for it."

"I'm so tired of having this argument... Could we just go back to fighting over whether or not to tell everybody we got horizontal for a while?"

"You should kill me for that too. Had no right. Was bad enough that I touched you... never should have...."

"Gah! You're making me so mad!"

"Mad enough to stake me?" He looked at her hopefully. Buffy's breath went out in a defeated gust. She came closer and knelt down, putting her hand on his leg.

"No," she said softly. "I will never be that mad at you. Will I do it someday if you give me reason?" She bit her lip. "I suppose I would. If I could send the man I loved to hell, I guess I could... But I don't want to! And I won't do it over something like this. So stop being such a big baby and just drink your dinner."

"Bloody stubborn bint," he muttered, sounding almost like the Spike she remembered. He picked up the cup and eyed it warily, sniffing it and growling when she rolled her eyes.

"It's pig. I know better now." She shuddered as she remembered his reaction to the expired human blood Clem had somehow obtained from the hospital. Her voice softened again. "Just drink it, Spike. I need you to be strong enough to help me."

Without waiting for an answer, she went up the stairs, wondering if he would ever be that strong again. His reluctance to eat, his worry that he might accidentally hurt one of the people in the house, and his abject sorrow for the things he'd done before he got the soul all combined to keep him depressed and unwilling to be released from his chains.


"I believe in you, Spike." No sooner had Buffy spoken and watched the awe and happiness begin to spread over Spike's face, than she was shoved to the floor, unable to see in the dark. Leaving him to fend for himself, she ran upstairs to defend Dawn and Willow against the Bringers that had broken in.

It was much later when she went down to continue her argument with Spike, only to find the chains hanging empty against the wall.

"It was Spike they were after..."


"Buffy." Giles' voice showed his impatience. "I fail to understand why you are so eager to get Spike back. There are so many more important things to do. The girls need training, the new arrivals need to be met as soon as they reach Sunnydale, that creature—"

"You said it was called a Turok-han."

"Yes. Yes, it is. An old term that I had hoped to never have reason to use. The point is, you are facing the most dangerous vampire you have ever come up against, and yet you want to waste time trying to rescue a vampire that, by your own admission, seems to be under the control of the enemy."

"Sometimes, Giles. Sometimes he is. We just need to find the trigger – the thing that makes him go off. If we figure out what it is, we can fix it." She straightened up, wincing from the bruises left by her battle with the Turok-han. "But I'm going to have to go through that... thing... to do it."

"Perhaps easier said than done."

"Yeah, thanks for that vote of confidence, Giles. Don't you have more potentials to go find or something?"


Buffy allowed Willow to put a butterfly bandage on her cheek, but then insisted on leaving to find Spike. To her surprise, Xander gruffly volunteered to drive her to the tree lot. Neither of them mentioned the possibility that there would be nothing left but a little more dust on the floor of the cave.

With a quiet, "Wait here - but don't wait too long. If I'm not back in—"

"We'll be going in after you," he said firmly. "Go on. Find fangless and bring him home."

Buffy gave him a grateful smile as she dropped the rope into the hole. She lowered herself down the shaft, leaving the rope in place, and cautiously picked her way toward the glow she could see far ahead. Although she was fairly confident that there had only been one Turok-han, she knew better than to assume anything and she held herself ready. It was almost anticlimactic when she rounded the corner and the flickering torches showed her Spike hanging from metal rings in the wall.

His sarcastic response to her presence and the knife in her hand was a surprise – until she understood that he didn't think she was real. She remembered what he'd told her about how she had appeared to him in the school basement, mocking him and telling him how worthless he was. With calm understanding, she walked up and began sawing at the ropes holding him up. She felt the weight of his hand on her shoulder, and the tremor that went through him as he realized she was really there.

Still without speaking, she released the other hand and, supporting his weight, began to lead him out of the cavern. Her arm was wrapped tightly around his waist, allowing her to feel every bone that protruded to the point they seemed to be pushing their way through his skin. She blinked back useless tears and concentrated on getting him to a safer place, where she could take care of him. It took only a soft "Xander" to bring him to the edge of the hole, peering down and suggesting she wrap the rope around Spike's wasted body. He easily pulled the emaciated vampire up to the surface, and tossed the rope down to Buffy.

Spike's defiant comments to what he'd thought was the First coming to torment him again and his subsequent relief at being rescued appeared to have exhausted what little strength he'd had left. He slumped against Buffy's shoulder, seemingly unconscious until they reached Revello Drive. Xander frowned, but didn't argue when Buffy pointed toward her room. He easily carried Spike up the stairs and into her bedroom, hesitating for just a second when Spike whispered, "Basement", then shaking his head and depositing him on the bed.

"Sorry, man. You're not the boss."

He stepped back and went to leave, pausing when Buffy put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Thank you," she murmured into his chest.

"No problem." Xander tried for a grin. "I'm just happy to have another testosterone producer around again - one that's, you know, actually manly."

From outside the door, where he'd been watching and listening, Andrew's voice could be heard. "Hey! I'm manly!"

Xander rolled his eyes at Buffy, earning a small smile before he stepped away and put her hand on the door. "Thanks again," she said. "I would have had a hard time getting him home by myself."

Buffy closed the door behind him and stared at the body on the bed. Having had no idea what she was going to find, she'd stocked her room with bandages, splints, painkillers and a cooler full of blood. But, as she studied the exhausted and apparently sleeping vampire, she decided that what he needed most was to be allowed to rest and get used to feeling safe again.

She quickly brushed her teeth and checked her cheek to see that her slayer healing was hard at work, then got into her pajamas and slipped into the bed beside Spike. After making sure that he was covered, she curled herself against him and fell into her own exhausted sleep, one arm wrapped possessively around his torso.
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