“Crush,” by David Fury
Buffy has been single for long enough now that she’s allowed to sit in the Bronze watching, fifth wheel-like and somber but not actually crying, as WillTara and XandAnya boogie to the music. This happens a lot on the show: we see that point where one of the main characters has moved out of the just broke up phase and into some variation of wishing they weren’t the single one. Remember Willow and her vicarious smoochies?
As she’s doing this, Spike shows up and tries to chat—he’s going on about the flowering onion snack again, for one thing. Do they deep fry it in blood or something?
Buffy is baffled, but not about the onion thing. Why is Spike chatting her up? Actually, I’d thought she had a clue or two about this. I thought “Fool for Love” might have given her some idea. But no, apparently not—she blows him off just as Xander returns to the table, with Anya, to heap a casual insult atop the rejection.
From this exchange, we learn that you should never hurt the feelings of a brutal killer, because if he’s Spike he’ll steal your hard-earned cash and go buy beer for himself with it.
We also get to see Willow is having appalling, aspirin-chugging, OMG overdid the magic headaches. Teleporting Glory last week has left its mark.
But nobody wants to talk about Glory, at least tonight. No Glory anywhere in this conversation... oh look, there’s Ben! He’s got nothing to do with Glory. Let’s talk about him. Or, rather, to him: Buffy hops up and goes to thank him for looking after Dawn in the previous episode.
It’s a little chain of events that leads to Spike seeing Buffy smiling at Ben, and coming over all jealous. Later on, he’ll go home to the crypt and end up chasing Harmony around (this by way of foreplay) while she wears Buffy’s blue cashmere sweater and pretends to be all Slayertastic.
Elsewhere, death! You might think Amtrak would know better than to send a train to Sunnydale at midnight, and you’d be right. But passenger trains, you see, are always incredibly late, and so Drusilla has had the necessary darkness and leisure time to kill everyone on the train from L.A. (It’s a common enough problem: you get on the train, you don’t really eat junk food, and then you see that everything available in the dining car is over-processed, over-priced and generally yucko. Suddenly you have to source your own snacks... and, obviously, the vending machines aren’t going to cut it. Really, it’s a wonder non-vampiric customers don’t eat each other, routinely, on some of the longer runs.)
Next morning, we see WillTara and Buffy coming out of some kind of English class. They’re talking HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Tara argues that Quasimodo had no moral compass and was thoroughly motivated by selfishness, and that therefore he and Esmerelda could never work out as a couple. The message (as one of you mentioned just a few weeks ago) is plain for all to hear, but Tara underlines it anyway: don’t date the unfeeling inhuman bumpy-faced monster. Buffy, alas, isn’t really paying attention to either the text or the subtext, or even their upcoming HUNCHBACK exam. Her mind is on work: she’s just found out about the train slaughter.
It’s a day for bailing on your scholastic responsibilities, as it turns out. That afternoon, Dawn surprises Spike—who, in an odd twist, seems to be wearing one of Riley’s sweaters—and asks him to show her the sewers. After a quick attempt to convince her he has scary and dangerous stuff to do, he relents, and soon he’s regaling her with tales of his favorite killing sprees of days gone by.
Then Buffy shows up and ruins the punch line. Spoilsport.
As the sisters head home from the graveyard, Buffy opines that hanging out with Spike is dangerous and icky, then accuses Dawn of having a crush on him.
Dawn’s devastating riposte, of course, is: Spike’s totally into you.
This is a total jaw-dropper for Buffy. She runs it by Xander when they’re checking the train for fangprints, and he finds it hilarious right up until the moment that it also comes out that Dawn’s into Spike. Xander’s ego takes one on the chin—hey, didn’t she use to have a crush on meeee?—and they both miss the fact that Drusilla’s left one of her creepy dolls on the train.
(What Buffy says in this exchange is she knew Spike was obsessed with her, but didn’t clue into the romantic angle. Since she has had plenty to distract her of late, and no shortage of reasons to have gone in for a bit of denial, I’m gonna buy in.)
When Buffy gets home from this fun excursion, she finds Spike at Casa Summers, hanging with her family and then claiming to know who got peckish on the railroad. Buffy’s still all freaked out by what Dawn told her, but catching homicidal vampires—as opposed to the Sucking Consensual Rileys kind—isn’t really optional. Before she knows it she’s in a car, staking out a nest.
Trouble is, sadly, the vamps Spike has identified have nothing to do with the train slaughter. He doesn’t know who did it and also doesn’t care.
“Is this a date?” Buffy asks.
“Do you want it to be?”
She’s so revolted she almost barfs. She compares Spike and his chip to a serial killer and his prison cell, and rejects him most emphatically.
He staggers home to lick wounds and finds Dru there.
“I want us to be a family again, Spoik,” she tells him. (Over in L.A., you see, she and Darla are all vampy and hanging with the Angel cast, getting up to all sorts of trouble.) The ‘knicknack’ in his brain is no deterrent, she says. Mind over matter seems to be her argument here, which considering the state of Drusilla’s mind ought to give Spike pause.
Then Harmony interrupts, for about a nanosecond, before Spike tosses her out on her ear. He and Dru go to the renovated Bronze and kill some people. Well, Dru kills them in slow motion and hands one to Spike. He drinks.
That’s what you get, The Bronze, for getting rid of the onion thing!
By now, Buffy has confided in Joyce and Willow. They ask and she can’t remember—because she was that upset—if she really, truly, thoroughly discouraged Spike. (My answer: yes!) The consensus seems to be she has to go back and talk to him some more about how she’s not interested in having any kind of romantic relationship, now or ever. She heads for the tomb, where she finds the creepy Buffy shrine and then the business end of a taser.
But she’s not alone in the getting zapped unconscious department. Dru foolishly hands the taser to her Spoik and gets zorched, too. He ties everyone up and, once they’re conscious, offers to kill Dru for Buffy as proof of his love.
Can you love without a soul? Buffy votes no. Dru disagrees. It’s all very messy, with Buffy laughing at Spike, death threats a-flying, and him begging for any “little crumb of hope” she can offer.
Naturally, they (and we) have all forgotten about the third woman in the mix. Harmony shows up shooting and a big fight breaks out. Dru decides Spike’s beyond saving when he keeps her from killing Buffy, and flees. Harmony huffs away. Buffy slugs him in the face and revokes her invitation to her home.
It’s not, perhaps, his finest hour but everything Spike does in “Crush” is, I have to say, pretty . . . well, reasonable’s not the word. It’s consistent with his character, and it’s a good-faith attempt at being honest about his weird and twisted feelings. Once he’s exposed, he tries his damnedest to convince Buffy she feels something for him.
His offer to kill Dru shows that he doesn’t quite get it... and, of course, the tragedy is that he can’t. It would beggar belief if the Initiative, of all people, had been able to build a chip with soul. Spike’s argument that he’s changed has been proved a self-serving lie many times over even before this. In this episode it’s made especially clear, when he bites into the dead girl at the Bronze.
Perhaps it was especially important to reinforce this—chips ain’t souls—with the Buffybot waiting in the wings.
Next! More sick sad love than you can shake a stick at!
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.