I should warn you, it's rambly to the amount of ten. There may be vague spoilers for Angel episodes already aired, although nothing specific. And I apologise, as ever, for stating opinions as facts. I only do it for reasons of economy. ;) Contradict away, by all means.
When I say, "I love you"...it has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try.
So, go on, in which Buffy episode does that feature?
All of them, would be a good start, but I know which one I'm thinking of. Touched? Not on this occasion. It's Buffy to Spike in Chosen.
Here's a distinction for you.
If I tell you I'm in love with you, I'm telling you something about me. It's about how I feel about you, how you make me feel. It's about the way I feel when you're there, and the way I feel when you're not.
If I tell you I love you, I’m telling you something about you.
I've read some funny old discussions about whether Buffy "loved" or was "in love" with Spike, there at the end. I think it's kind of missing the point.
She's standing there looking at him, looking at him with the fate of the world burning in his eyes, and she loves him. How could she not? He is perfect. This man, who has loved her and trusted her implicitly and absolutely is standing there and he is perfect, just then, and that makes her perfect. That makes her perfect even though she is going to turn round and leave him there because she has a life she owes it to him to live.
If it hadn't got to that point, would she have told him that she loved him? No, of course not. Not then, because it didn't need to be said, and maybe it didn't need to be known or acknowledged. But it was there. I don't have to read between the lines, or fill in missing scenes that I dare to hope could have happened. I know what I saw there on the screen in front of me. I didn't need anything else.
I don't often indulge in a might-have-been, but imagine for a moment that somehow the First was defeated without Spike's death and without the destruction of Sunnydale. I know exactly how that works in my head.
Buffy would have carried on visiting the basement. Night after night, she would still have gone out on patrol, sometimes with him, sometimes without, but mostly, afterwards, she would have found her way down to that basement. And then one, nothing-much day she would have stopped going down to him, and he would have come up to her, and he would have stayed. And nobody else in the house would breathe a word about it, although they’d all make a brilliantly clumsy job of referring to it casually, as an accepted fact, when the subject came up in passing.
And eventually, barring apocalypses, she would have told him. One evening out on patrol she would have looked over at him, and said it, and he probably wouldn't even have been looking at her at the time. He probably wouldn't have come out with the response he'd meant to, either, just mumbled "thank you," or something. But later on that night he would have teased it out of her again, and maybe again, and did I mention again?
I don’t know that it would have lasted forever. Forever isn't part of the equation for either Spike or Buffy, nor is happy ever after. It doesn't matter, because ever after has never been something that either of them have sought or needed.
But before I sink irredeemably and forever into deep badficdom...
Buffy doesn't have a great vocabulary for talking about love. Come on, this is cookie dough analogy girl we're talking about here. "I love you" doesn't come easily and it doesn't come lightly. And the hundred other things that are actually "I love you", the hazy, blurred horizon of "I love you" – she doesn't know where to put them, so they’re either in, or out, or left in that metaphorical cookie mixing bowl.
Remember "does everyone think I'm still in love with Spike?" That isn't a startling revelation – it's very typical Buffy. She just doesn't have the vocabulary to make sense of her feelings for Spike, so she simplifies it the only way she knows how – she was in love with him, and what she feels is a consequence of that. And in doing that she sanctifies her relationship with him the season before – and that is immensely important to her, not because she denies what she did or what she was, but because she has to believe there is a way to make it right.
She feels something for him, and she consistently acknowledges that, even though she struggles to find the words to get hold of it. It’s very apparent in what she says to Giles - and, for that matter, Spike - in First Date. And the conversation she has with Dawn early in Him echoes that.
BUFFY: No, I just... I don't know what I'm feeling. I think I can't stand him, but sometimes...
DAWN:You love him?
BUFFY: No. I—I feel for him.
DAWN: Feel what, exactly?
BUFFY: (shakes her head) Dawn...
Intervention, of course, is the classic example of Buffy's confusion when it comes to talking about love.
BUFFY: Giles ... I love you. Love ... love, love, love, love, Giles, it feels strange.
Because the bottom line is – always – Buffy is never the girl that talks about love. She loves in who she is, in what she does, in who she dares to become. That is how Buffy loves the people around her, and that, above everything, is the way Buffy loves Spike.
FIRST SLAYER: You are full of love. You love with all of your soul. It's brighter than the fire ... blinding. That's why you pull away from it.
BUFFY: (surprised) I'm full of love? I'm not losing it?
FIRST SLAYER: Only if you reject it. Love is pain, and the Slayer forges strength from pain. Love ... give ... forgive. Risk the pain. It is your nature. Love will bring you to your gift.
I have no idea where this quote comes from, but it fits. It has a kind of Jane Espenson ring to it, but maybe that's just wishful thinking. To be honest, I don't care who said it. It's nigh-on perfect.
"If someone is there for you, is asking nothing of you and has loved you faithfully and unconditionally for all those years and if that person is the one that you turn to for comfort and support when you are at your most vulnerable, and if they give you that comfort and support unconditionally asking nothing in return, then whether you acknowledge it or not, that is love, so yes Buffy loved Spike."
But to go back to the beginning.
"Nice work, love". In three words, I think, the whole of the Buffy-Spike relationship. It worked because it was worked at. And it had to be worked at, because this was never the easiest of relationships. These two are not soulmates. Don't get me wrong, there is a spark between them the moment they meet, something that crackles and sizzles and threatens now and again to set the air alight, but this isn't some mystic meeting of minds. It is two people thrown together by chance, not by design. But it just so happens chance tears them apart as often as it throws them together, and yet they still end up together, more often than not. That tells us something. There was obstacle upon obstacle upon obstacle in this relationship, and yet neither of them was ever quite prepared to let it go.
I'm a spuffy fan. Do I believe Spike is Buffy's one true love? No, hell no. For me, that's kind of the point of being a spuffy fan. I don't have any romantic ideals about this relationship – or, if it comes to that, any relationship. And these two come back to each other, again and again and again, not because it is their destiny but because it is their duty. They share enough history to owe it to each other to be there for each other.
And, goodness, such a history it is, but the relationship is never defined by that history. If anything, it is defined by the mutual acknowledgement that their history establishes the basis for the relationship, but the relationship exists always and only in the here and now. They never stoop under the weight of their history. Buffy taking Dawn to Spike in Villains is one of many examples that illustrates that. There's always a back doorstep, if you like – always a place the two of them can find where they can sit, side-by-side, and put everything else behind them.
But back then in the beginning, Spike and Buffy prove that they have enough in their favour to give this relationship something of a headstart. He engages with her. They click. They get each other, and they get each other in a way that strikes a chord in most of us, I think. I say this all the time, I know, but the moment those two start talking everyone else ceases to exist.
This is James Marsters, not so very long ago,
"There are very, very few people Spike connects with actually. His connection with Buffy is one of the reasons he was so attracted to her."
He gets it right sometimes. ;)
Season 2 Buffy and Spike play on that connection beautifully, such as Hallowe’en's "Hi honey, I'm home", beautifully replayed in End of Days, and the wonderful "I'd rather be fighting you anyway." "Mutual." From What's My Line.
And then, Becoming. Spike has already proved himself willing to go any length for his beloved Drusilla, but don't think for a minute he's taking a risk here. He knows the Slayer will play his game. He reads her beautifully. And here's the thing: it turns out, after all, that he knows her Achilles heel. Of course he does. Love's bitch knows love's bitch when they happen upon each other. The Slayer will save the world, come hell or high water, and God knows she's taken on both. But Buffy Summers will go along with him because there's an Angel factor in this equation. So there's the little matter of saving the world, and of course Giles, but she could dust Spike there and then on the spot and that would be an infinitely safer way of helping that cause. But she's not going to take the safer route.
Because Season 2 Buffy, Season 2 Buffy who will send the man she loves to hell but she doesn't know that right now, Season 2 Buffy who tells Kendra her emotions give her power, will take the risk and trust Spike. She'll trust Spike because she understands, because she needs to believe that there is a happy ending here. She'd make a bargain with the devil to save Angel just then, so she'll believe that the vampire will make a pact with the Slayer to save what he loves.
Spike isn't above stacking the odds in his favour (the assassins, the Judge, the gem of amara), but it's always a contest, and if the playing field isn't exactly level, it's at least an acknowledged and, to an extent, open one. It's a dance, and he's not afraid to keep in step with his dancing partner.
It's one of the fundamental differences between Spike and Angelus. Where Angelus takes a sadistic pleasure in manipulating relationships to inflict damage and distress, Spike engages with his opponent because he wants to establish something mutual, something meaningful, because as a game it is more satisfying that way. Where Angelus is driven by a lust for pain and destruction, Spike is driven by a desire to win. That, as much as anything, is what feeds his obsession with Buffy in early Season 5.
If I started drawing a comparison of the Buffy/Angel and the Buffy/Spike relationships, I'd go on forever, but in all honesty, I don't know that there's anything to be gained by it. I've seen so many discussions of which of the two Buffy loved more, but I don't know that we love in amounts. We love in ways.
Besides, I suspect Buffy/Angel shippers either have a different concept of love to mine, or a different concept of what they want from a fictional love story. I can't argue with that.
All I can say is when I think of some of the key scenes each of them share, I think of them this way.
When I think of Buffy and Angel, they are always standing opposite one another, face-to-face. They are looking only at each other, caught in the moment, still, timeless, static.
When I think of Buffy and Spike, most often they are side by side. I think of the back doorstep in Fool For Love, in Flooded, the moment he sits down beside her in Touched, the night he holds her while she lies awake in Chosen.
That says it all for me.
It is impossible, I think, to come close to getting hold of the layer-upon-layer trust/power balance that is, more often than not, the driving force behind the Buffy/Spike relationship. But I think there are one or two very simple truths within that. When Buffy and Spike talk about trust, it is always about Buffy trusting Spike – whether she does, why she can't.
But actually, the entire Buffy/Spike relationship is built on this one very simple fact: he trusts her.
Do not underplay the significance of that, because the significance of that is immense. It is a lot of the reason they connect the way they do in School Hard. It is what underpins the key moments between them in Becoming, and Pangs, and what drives almost every development in that relationship.
Not only does he trust her, but from a very early point in their relationship Buffy protects Spike socially. It's true that their interactions early on are mostly about killing one another, but she is the person who gives him a reason to be there at all. Buffy is always the person that nurtures Spike in a social situation – because she gives him attention, even if it's only "what's he doing here?". With the exception of much of Season 4 – in which anti-social Buffy is a fairly major theme anyway - in a group setting Spike invariably turns to Buffy for social acceptance. She rewards his trust in her not only by acknowledging him, but by her unconscious acceptance of the role his trust in her gives her.
When Spike changes over the course of Season 5, it's because of Buffy – because he is in love with Buffy, as far as he is able to love at that point – but that is just the catalyst. What it is that actually changes him is any evidence he has that the trust he places in her is something mutual. The Buffy/Spike relationship is inevitable – they are in a relationship of trust almost from the beginning, because physically, they are matched. They have to trust each other, or kill each other. But over the course of Season 5 Spike needs that relationship of trust to be something meaningful.
Because if his trust in Buffy is worthy of being reciprocated, then it is worth something, and he is worth something. The more Buffy lets herself trust Spike the more she has power over him. And of course, there in The Gift, when she invites him back into her home in that one gesture of absolute trust that means so much, he surrenders himself to her entirely. Her opinion of him is everything - "I know that I'm a monster, but you treat me like a man."
And then we get to Season 6, and the tables turn, and this relationship of trust and power takes the most extraordinary, twist.
I don't have the space here to go into Season 6 in any detail. I could, and part of me would love to, but this isn't meant to be a defence of Season 6, or of Buffy, or of Spike. I will say this much.
You cannot generalise the Buffy/Spike relationship. It is a story about a reformed vampire legend with a chip in his head and a newly resurrected Slayer. It is a story about a relationship, not a statement about relationships in general. You can't pull abstract ideas out of it, and apply them to any other situation, and judge it on that basis. Even the tidiest analogy in the world will never prove a point, only illustrate it.
I happily concede that there are people associated with the show – writers, actors - who frequently do exactly that. But what I say about Buffy and Spike in Season 6 is about that and nothing more. It is not a reflection on my views on anything else – or at least, of course it is, but not in a direct, intentional way.
I've called the Buffy/Spike relationship in Season 6 an "identity hijack" - jonesiexxx, in the post beforehand, sets it out a thousand times better.
When Buffy is brought back at the beginning of Season 6 she can no longer trust the one person in the world she needs to trust above all others – she cannot trust herself.
She feels dead inside – every word she says to Spike in their last scene in Dead Things is a description of her feelings about herself. And so she turns to Spike simultaneously to reinforce that self-image, and save her from it. His trust in her means everything, because it gives her a reason to care enough about who she is to go on living. But she is worth nothing, she knows that, and so his trust means nothing, and if his trust means nothing then he has to mean nothing, and she will make sure he means nothing.
Buffy needs Spike to be strong, because she needs his trust in her to be worth something. It's never about him being worthy of her trust. It's one of the things people miss about As You Were, I think (and yes, the demon eggs plot is shameful, even if it was all for the sake of helping Buffy through her financial crisis).
It isn't about Buffy comparing Spike to Riley and deciding he doesn't meet the standard. It's about Buffy hitting rock bottom – not just because Riley seems to have his life so much better sorted than she does, but because Spike, who is the only person who knows the truth and sees what she really is, and yet goes on trusting her and loving her even so, lets her down. He is a monster when she needs him to be a man – and make no mistake here, up to this point Buffy has seen herself as the monster in this relationship since the moment she heard she "came back wrong." But she doesn't know whether she needs Spike to be a monster the same as she is, or be the man that can save her from the monster she is. He can play both, and he will play both.
And so we see Buffy contradict herself over and over as she tries to make Spike's love worth something and worth nothing all at the same time. "It's just Spike" becomes both the defence of her relationship and the reason for ending it.
BUFFY: Look, i-it can't be, okay? He-he's too incompetent. (Spike glaring at her) It's just Spike, Riley.
SPIKE:You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same.
BUFFY: That's just you. I should have remembered.
Often enough we love people harder when they let us down, because they give us the opportunity to rise above ourselves – unless we need them to be better than us, to be the person that saves us. And then when they let us down we either fall apart or we let them go. Buffy has to let go. But she only lets go so far. This isn't a relationship she's about to put away.
When I thought about what might happen in Season 7, I thought that Spike would have to make some kind of ultimate decision between good and evil, and that he would pulled both ways. And I thought that in his vulnerable, newly souled state Buffy would be drawn closer to him – because Buffy has always fallen hardest for the men in her life when they have been vulnerable and needed her help.
But I always anticipated that Buffy would take a lot of persuading to get to that point, and that if she and Spike were to reconcile in any way at all, it would be because of something he did. I had an idea of how it would end. He would die, in one, last, heroic act – and then, only then, in the midst of the final battle, would she accept him and his love for her.
I was so wrong.
Season 6 and Season 7 both get a fair amount of criticism, but I don't know that they work judged independently of one another. To embrace one but not the other is to underestimate what they are as an organic, intricately interwoven whole.
Of course Season 7 lacks the sexual tension that crackled all the way through Season 2, that simmered under all of Season 4, that blazed through Season 5, that blitzed its way across Season 6. It lacks it because these two have shagged their way all out of hardcore sexual tension for the time being.
But they are still in a relationship. He is hers. Buffy doesn't deny that for a minute. It's a weathered, worn relationship, but it is there and it is real, and it is not any the less a relationship for the battering it's taken. The argument they have in Sleeper is so deliciously, wonderfully a couple having an argument about their relationship it makes me dance round the room (and, you know, shirtlessSpikeinleather). Yes, she wants to get to the truth, but there's that lovely underlying sense all the way through that scene of "I thought you would have told me."
I love it beyond reason when two characters are drawn inexorably to each other, the riveting chemistry that drives a story even when everything around it is standing still. But my other love story is this one: that when you're broken, sometimes the only thing you have that isn't broken are the relationships that keep hold of you even when you can’t keep hold of them. I never thought that would be Buffy and Spike. It was, and I am eternally grateful for it.
Buffy talks a lot in Season 7 about the fact that Spike has a soul. Of course it matters to her. It is everything to her, because she is the one who lost Angel his soul. That is who she is. That is what she is worth. She is the destruction of what is good and the end of hope, and she can save the world a thousand times but that will still hang over her. Until now. Because suddenly this is how much she is worth – she is worth a soul. She is worth a vampire going out and getting a soul for her, all for her, and yes, it matters to her. She is the Slayer and she can do anything and everything but she cannot earn back that soul, that damn soul that was lost at her hands and regained only for her to destroy it again, sending it to straight to Hell. But this time, this vampire takes it out of her hands. She cannot earn back that soul but he can. And what Buffy is only just starting to understand is what he can do for her is as much hers as what she can do for herself, that this gift of a soul is part of who he is, and who she is, and who they are.
I think what I love most about Season 7 is that over the course of it, Buffy and Spike become stronger and more dependent.
In a world that loves to tell us we should all be strong and independent there's something very extraordinary about that.
Where do we go from here?
When you give up a place, a home, a history, you give it all up, the whole shebang. Every relationship you have, everything you know about yourself, is redefined. Because let's not be romantic about this – relationships are defined by circumstances. You are defined by circumstances.
There's a caveat to it, of course – a Buffy one, in fact – that what you are chosen for is never as significant as the choices you make. You rely on circumstances but you are also bigger than those circumstances.
Sunnydale Spike belonged in Buffy's world. Belonged with Buffy because that was what circumstances asked of him.
Buffy's world doesn't exist anymore. And those relationships are going to have to be built from scratch. The history she has with those people, the connection she shares – that's the motivation for building the relationship. It isn't the relationship itself.
Relationships that exist, that continue to exist independently of any interaction, that lie about waiting to be picked up next time you happen across each other – those relationships? They exist only in our heads. And we don't get to share heads, so it's kind of a guessing game. If I can make the relationship in my head something that clicks with the relationship in your head, then we have a relationship.
And this is what it comes down to – what are the rules? What do you need to win at the guessing game?
Because this is the point we diverge in Buffy shipdom. There is the "soulmate", who second guesses you, just because. The "friend", that guesses because they care, because they watch, because they learn. The um...Rileycharacter...who guesses because their guessing runs along the same lines as yours - it has to, because you’re each living the same life, not together, but parallel.
There's another rule in the guessing game, and it's maybe the simplest one of all. It's the rule that says you guess right, because the person you're guessing lets you guess right.
Buffy-and-Spike are a little bit of all of these – they guess each other, and they understand the nature of their relationship, because they've had a lot of practice. The history they share, for all it's buried deep in the ground somewhere in California, counts for something. But I suspect even more than that, these two guess each other because they let each other. Spike guesses Buffy right often enough for her to need him to be right always – and as long as she believes in him, he'll let her guess right because he wants to be what she believes in.
So when those two crazy kids run into each other – and they will, one day, way, way into the future - they'll pick up that guessing game where they left off. And they'll guess right, for the same old, same old reason – because they want to.
But it's still start over, and here's the thing – you can't build a relationship on want to.
Want to isn't a bad start, by any means. But there are all sorts of things that have to be in place to make this work, circumstances that both of them have to learn to live in.
Buffy's choices are infinite – but I suppose what it comes down to is this – she can choose a future that is all new, a future that may include a somebody else, or a nobody else. Or she can choose Angel, or she can choose Spike. (Or, of course, all the thousand-or-so other people she's encountered previously...really, I'm not discounting them, but my poor LJ will curl up and die if I go on much longer...not to mention anyone still reading at this point!)
My philosophy was always desperately simple. I loved Buffy. I wanted Buffy to be happy. I believed Buffy would be happy with Spike, if she let herself. And I think one of the reasons for that is she doesn't feel the need to make Spike happy. "Treating him like a man" was never about making him happy, but acknowledging him, and acknowledging that he made a difference to her, and that somewhere along the line it mattered that she made a difference to him.
Angel needs to be a hero. I can never quite make that work in my head, when I put Buffy and Angel together. Would she be content to play Riley to his Buffy? I've talked about this before, but I think where Angel fought for the greater good of the world, Spike was content to be "her" hero.
I honestly think that if either Angel or Spike shanshu and end up with Buffy, it will be the most un-Joss-like thing ever to have happened on either BtVS or AtS. I mean that.
But to get back to Buffy and Spike. I've said this before, somewhere, but it's worth reiterating, I think. Maybe Spike didn’t get to be the love of Buffy's life. But he got to give her the love of her life. Because after all, love isn't something we are, it's something we do. And if it's something that we go on doing, when there's nothing more to be gained by it, then that is what makes us who we are, and in that, we gain everything.
And – oh damn it, I've got so far without quoting Winnie the Pooh – wherever they go, and whatever happens to them along the way, that back-door-step will always be there. And I think they will always know how to find it.
I think I mangled two quotes. ;)
In other news, I am still behind on comments, and will put that right as soon as I am back in the world of Broadband. And I have finally seen Pirates of the Caribbean! I picked up an ex-rental copy of the DVD, and...well, I'll leave my reaction for another day, but I'll tell you this much – I've changed my PC wallpaper for the first time in a good four or five months. That should tell you everything you need to know. ;)