Spike, controversy boy of the Jossverse.
I'll be honest, I agreed to write this essay on my boy and then had the 'OMG what have I done' moment. He is the single most controversial character in the 'verse, and more cyber ink has been spilled over him and issues pertaining to him than probably any other, I know that. Whatever insight I have to share about him will no doubt have others fuming with disagreement. But he is a character I've written a great deal on, thought through just as much, and I do want to share my conclusions.
This is an essay saying why I write Spike, my insights and beliefs about his character and why I find him an endlessly fascinating character to write. I'm not blind to his faults. Spike's a vampire, not a fluffy bunny with bad teeth. He's messy, complex, prickly, has an awful lot of blood on his hands and teeth - all of which he thoroughly enjoyed putting there at the time.
Yet he loves, though not always wisely and often too well for his own good. He's the man that reclaimed himself from the monster to save the world and the girl, only to be brought back and choose not to walk away from the good fight, but to sign on for it even in the face of eternal damnation. He makes mistakes, sometimes horrible ones, especially without a soul or while insane, but he does always pick himself up and try his best despite occasionally massive negative reinforcement to his efforts. He's the character that's taken the longest journey of any in the Jossverse of his own choice. Indeed, he's the poster vamp for free-will, as well as a certain level of attention deficit disorder. There's so much there that's interesting, so where better to start than at the beginning.
I watched BTVS from the start, and liked the show for Giles and Willow, but it was 'School Hard' that made me sit up and say Wow. It's that entrance by Spike, with the driving rock beat, knocking over the sign, lighting up a cigarette. The kick-ass hard-guy routine in front of the pack of vamps, which turns into something strangely beautiful as Dru enters and the macho posturing is exposed as a facade when the 'Bad Guy' puts his coat round the sick girlfriend he clearly loves, adores and takes care of grabbed me and never let go. Up to that point, the show is very black and white and the villain vampires very inhuman and mostly icky; Spike and Dru change that. They're Evil, as Not-Veal Guy could attest if Spike hadn't broken his neck. They're sexy together as she licks the blood off his cheek from her scratching him. And Spike is sexy on his own, in the club meeting his destiny and in what's obviously a well practised feeding strategy used on the dumb girl in the alley who thinks she's all that and ends up as Dru's lunch.
But, speaking of Dru's lunch, Spike's appeal is more than the sexy -- we get a vampire care-taking a bat-shit insane vampire he clearly loves, and who later doesn't kill Joyce when she brains him with a fire-axe to save her daughter. He puts Dru's life above his own desires to kill the slayer in Lie to Me. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure, and since I'm interested in grey and complex not simplistic models of black and white, I loved it.
I loved it even more at the end of S2 when the Evil vampire allies with the slayer to save her watcher and the world, and does it because he likes this world. He breaks all the rules of the universe he inhabits. That was a character I found interesting, and as he carried on changing while still being recognisably the guy I fell for in all that complexity, he's remained interesting to me.
Spike's strengths and weakness are appropriately enough mirrors of each other. He has an amazing heart. He retains his ability to love, to place the loved one and their interests above his own, through death and demonisation.
This is not something we see in other members of Spike's vampire bloodline without an external influence from a soul. Angelus' claims not to be able to love, and his actions without a soul that reject regaining it and his enjoyment of attempting to destroy the objects of his obsessions, support that hypothesis. Darla, a woman with a great deal of insight into her own nature, knows that she won't even remember the feeling of loving the child she kills herself to save. Dru's mind was utterly shattered by Angelus and Darla before she was turned 'during' and she carries over a daddy obsession and a need to reconstruct her destroyed family, which she does as part of the Fanged four and as Spike's lover for over a century. She loves her Black Knight the best she can, but she was irretrievably broken before she was turned and that puts limits on how well she can do that, and how close Spike can feel she was to him as a result.
So why is Spike different?
There's two main theories of vampirism the shows bring up. One that's taught to the poor sods whose lives are consumed by watching and slaying. It's not your friend, it's a demon that takes the body. It's a far easier thing to believe and sleep at night than the alternative.
"What we once were informs all that we have become. The same love will
infect our hearts -- even if they no longer beat. Simple death won't change that."
Darla in The Prodigal.
The balance of evidence, human insanity carrying over into the vampire and the mindless nature of the vampire demon exposed in Pylea indicates that it is the human sentience, the driving forces that drove the body at the time of turning which are the ones that form the vampire. They're twisted by a demonic animation that makes killing and destruction feel good, as well as a useful biological imperative for feeding. It's a theory that can be used to explain all our main character vamps, but here I'm concentrating on Spike.
Spike spends over a century loving and caring for Dru, an insane woman that catches him with his deeply Romantic desire for something beyond the mundane - something Effulgent. He wasn't much taken with her when she though she was a pickpocket or a whore. But the something unworldly gets him.
Spike was (an admittedly bad) poet in the time of the Pre-Raphaelites and the images of knighthood, fair ladies and the quest were ones he dreamt of in life and which find echoes in his death. Dru wants the bravest knight in all the land. Lurky calls him a legendary warrior. His last nights with Buffy are shown as deliberately pure and reminiscent of Lancelot and Guenevere after the shagging like bunnies period. The writers are too cowardly to answer the question whether he serviced the girl one last time, but the sex-bad, pure-love saves the world trope does lead to the Grail Knight imagery of his death in the pure light of love and destruction. His commitment to the quest, the cause of good in ATS S5 isn't for the girl, for atonement, for purpose even; it's one that's for fighting the good fight because it's what he wants, and it's fitting that he adopts a habit to save the baby. It's equally appropriate for this most human of knights, this Pre-Raphaelite Punk, that he's last seen, armoured in leather, about to launch into an impossible fists and fangs fight against impossible odds.
But that is the fade to black on a long journey.
A journey that begins with him trying to save his terminally ill mother in a way that makes sense to a demon. In an era prior to antibiotics, for even the wealthiest with access to the best medical care - which William's family has in the Queen's physician - TB is a death sentence. Spike tries to save her the way Dru 'saves him from mediocrity' by turning Mum, giving her a strong healthy body rather than the one dying a long, slow painful death. It rebounds on him and he has to kill the monster he unleashes, but his motive for turning her isn't the deliberate destruction of family of Penn or Angelus for pleasure, it's done out of love.
The end result is the same, as Demon but William's motivation in life and death is the same. William was a carer, and one of his last thoughts was getting home to take care of the dying mum he loved. He does get home - though the footman that would have opened the door to Master William and his lady-friend would have preferred he hadn't. Unfortunately the demon is inherently destructive and mother's emotions prior to her turning are the result of the fears and anger that his disappearance caused, which Turned Mum takes out on him in the way calculated to hurt him the most, so he kills her again.
It traumatises him. He has a survival need to create a facade strong enough to stand up to Angelus - who only keeps those that are a challenge or useful. But the reaction to that trauma is also key to Spike's adoption a of rough, tough, lower class persona that's as far away as possible from his image of the ineffectual man that he was - the man that couldn't save the woman he loved. He starts to heal from it when he's un-triggered, but being pulled back from the completion of death into a environment full of people with reason to hate him makes him retreat into the protective shell. He only integrates that last part of himself in exposing his poetry to a tough crowd when he's let the others in and is finally completely able to accept all aspects of himself.
Spike withstands torture rather than give up a child to Glory, because he couldn't face Buffy being in that much pain. It's the English gentleman that gives his word to the woman he loves beyond hope that she'll see him as anything other than a man. A man who promises he will look after Dawn 'until the end of the world, even if it's tonight'. A word he keeps even after the woman he loves dies, and with no knowledge she's coming back - unlike her friends, and despite the appeal of cutting loose with the other demons and enjoying the joys of destruction again.
And he does enjoy destruction. He's a vampire. He's got a lot of anger, resentments and need to cut loose left over from a life of responsibility - possibly from a young age. His father seems to have died (a high status doctor wouldn't treat a divorcee or deserted woman in that period) - leaving William as the man of the house).
He's very, very good at destruction and responsibility when given it. He can execute a plan, a good plan when he's sufficiently motivated and not 'so terribly bored' (then he blows it). He does it when he finds the cure for Dru, in finding the 'vampire holy grail' Gem of Armarra, and in capturing Angel to get it back after impatience and his own carelessness loses it to Buffy. He's also got the educational background in Latin and Attic Greek to do the translations necessary for cure and scythe, though his need to retain the protective cover of rough, tough Spike means he tries to mask his education as much as possible. It's also quite possible that he's still affected by the long-sightedness that required the human him to wear glasses to read and he's too vain to wear them. The magnifying glass in DT supports this.
And he is vain, on top of insecure, with all the ability to be hurt that loving means.
His ability to love and the ability to feel what other un soul-influenced vampires can't brings him to be able to feel what he shouldn't be capable of - guilt. It's there in his response to Buffy's death, where for 147 days he blames on his own failure. It's there most crucially in his response to his own actions in SR. He shouldn't feel guilt, he knows that, he's a vampire and so he shouldn't have stopped once Buffy knocked some sense into him. However, he did. He's caught between man and monster and he can't stay on the line, he has to choose.
He chooses to become what he once was - a souled being, one that has that instinctive voice of reason humans have to offset the take, want, have of the demon - even the demon that's influenced so strongly by the good man that he once was that he's retained the elusive ability to love.
He's not happy about the choice. Why should he be? As far as he knows, as far as we know from the only example we have of souling a vampire, he's committing a form of suicide. It's suicide as atonement as well as a self-sentence for what he's done, but suicide none the less. For all he knows, he won't be Spike anymore, and no matter how much he wants to sort himself out, give Buffy what he thinks she deserves to stop him ever hurting the girl again, he's not happy about it. He's angry, with himself, with her - since he really didn't enjoy the abuse she inflicted on him - and he hates that he feels angry with her, but he needs all that anger to fight his way through the trials, which he does.
That it's his choice, not something imposed on a demon against his will, seems to allow Spike to integrate himself even while he struggles with guilt-induced madness and the mind-games of the First. That he changed himself means that the immense weight of guilt, while crushing, is not a fatal blow to his psyche. His own personality and very English pragmatism allows him to integrate himself and be useful to the cause very quickly. After all, 'I came I saw, I felt really bad about it' doesn't save lives. Spike saves the Principal, Cassie (for a time) and those that would have been eaten if he didn't patrol in S7. He doesn't have to construct a personality to cope. He copes himself, with very, very little support, even though he asks for it in his need to talk the guilt and adjustment through.
But as a result, he doesn't fight well through much of S7 (though no one does since in Sunnydale no regulars are allowed to kick Buffy's butt on a regular basis) as he's not truly channelling the demonic force that animates him. He fights spectacularly well when he does cut loose, and when he's let out of the no one can be a stronger fighter than Buffy field that is Sunnydale. We see that fighting ability in FFL in his previous one on one fights to the death with two slayers. We see Spike the fighter most stunningly in S5 of ATS with victory over Angel, wiping out the Fell Breathren single-handed while holding the baby, and tag teaming with Angel against the forces of the Deeper Well and in Shells with Illyria herself. Spike's a great street fighter and uses the unpredictability and possibilities of the fight environment to win as we see over and over again in FFL, Destiny and elsewhere. But he's good - if decidedly over-flashy with a tendency to over-finish his strokes - with swords too on ATS When he gets the chance with the good fight choreography, he's a glorious fighter. (Look, I'm a fight scene junkie, indulge a girl.)
But love, not fighting, is the one thing that causes Spike the most problems while alive and dead. His key episode is 'Fool For Love', and it shows all too clearly that beneath the deadly facade and massive body-count, still lives the poet that wanted to love and be loved, to settle down with the woman he loved. This all carries over in his desire to nest with the women he loves, be they to add to the establishment with Cecily, eternal love with Dru or to love 'the one' in Buffy.
He's thwarted in this.
He doesn't take cruelty and humiliation well. The human retreats and expresses anger and upset in tears. The demon feels the same but will strike back at the one that causes it. The partygoer that expressed a preference for railroad spikes over poetry - bad call. Spike will strike back no matter the personal cost - he's willing to take the pain from the chip to show Buffy just whose beneath who, though when faced with vulnerability in the one he loves, he balks.
Conversely, if that vulnerability isn't there, or his ability to see it is clouded by vast amounts of alcohol the demonic take, want, have (unchecked by a crucial determining component in how humans determine how to respond) can be disastrous, as in SR.
He will take an awful lot from those he loves. He'll take second place to his beloved, and put up with a lot in the hope that things will improve. Buffy herself admits - to someone she disposes of immediately afterwards - that she behaved like a monster to Spike. Though that insight is rather gutted by the following sentence putting all the blame for her jumping him after he told her to stay away if she didn't mean it, and carrying on doing it. He takes all her pain onto himself when he tries to stop her throwing her life away after Katrina's murder, when his words - which echo Giles' in a similar event in S3 - result in her beating him to a pulp, and stepping over him to make herself the martyr.
It's probably this on top of the repeated taking back of Dru after her infidelities that leads to some people writing Spike as a masochist that enjoys pain. It's certainly one of Buffy's rationalisations for how she treats him, along with the assertion that his feelings are only real to him. All of it helps to dehumanise him and so let her live with herself. However, it's not the case that Spike enjoys this. Spike calls Buffy in the next episode on her beating him up. She doesn't even flinch, but he's clearly got no pleasure out of it or desire to repeat the experience, and the nervous breakdown he goes into as he's systematically isolated and verbally and physically abused all season show it's not something he enjoys and not something he wants to continue. When he goes to the Magic Box in Entropy, it's for something to make the pain stop not for more of the same only worse.
If he wanted a woman to torture him, he'd have fallen in love with Glory and given her Dawn as a gift. He's essentially suicidal with guilt and self-harming for much of the first third of S7, but still doesn't look back on being used with fondness and while sane and insane does call Buffy on the way she treated him. He will take a lot from and for those he loves. We see this over and over again, with Dru, Buffy, Dawn, and in taking the amulet that saves the world that he knows might kill him. He's a carer; he's used to it. But abuse him for long enough and he will snap and belt the abuser repeatedly around the head with a crowbar. The period prior to snapping takes months at most, not years.
It's the same with Angel in both souled and unsouled forms. He might only beat him in a fight for the first time in Destiny, but he doesn't roll over and beg. He goads Angleus in the mindshaft into losing control and wins that way. He doesn't want to get caught on the sub, and the carer has to have some need to make a vague effort with Lawson, so he will swim for it. He is the youngest of the Fanged Four, and so lowest in status, especially as a fledgling, but the relationship with Angelus we see in TGIQ is more fraternal than sub-dom with Spike enjoying being beaten and abused.
The Fanged Four do seem to have been flexible in sleeping with each other - hey, Vampires free of the rules of the human society of the time. In SP, Angel's markedly un-surprised to wake up to find Spike shagging his woman in the bed next to him. Spike admits he and Angel have been intimate. The level of intimacy and any subsequent 'concurrently' with Darla and Dru is open to ficing - and probably has to be given the extreme prudishness of US network television.
While S/A appears to be as canonical as ME can make it in those circumstances, and if Spike's drunk and miserable enough, he'll look for some solace or fun wherever he can find it, he primarily seeks out women to make emotional connections with. This be it mum subsitutes like Joyce, friends like Fred and Anya or women he wants to settle down with like the loves of his life.
This is Loves, plural - Spike loves, deeply, truly and often desperately. But he can move on and love again - he has that amazing heart. The process often involves backsliding and going back to try and work it out after the initial break-up, but he does move on.
He might enjoy playing with chains and handcuffs. Dru certainly liked pain, and mused happily on him having a branding iron and there being worms in her baguette, as well as asking Darla to drown her and being unhappy that daddy wouldn't hurt her even a little bit once Angel had got bored with his broken toy. Spike's spent most of his life with her, and that relationship is his baseline experience of relationships. It's bound to influence what he thinks is normal, and indeed for a demon, the ability to heal changes the cost/benefit equations.
But from the start, we see there's the domestic side of Spike too. He'd rather snuggle with his girl than make nice with the chanting, disposes of the Annoying One to take control of a pack of vampires he needs to helps get Dru well again and then wants to know what's on the telly. He'd like nothing better than to play footsie in the rubble and he wants to talk about the relationship with Buffy repeatedly.
He only moves onto trying the 'in the dark' talk when she's punched him in the face for wanting to talk on multiple occasions, and threatened very seriously to kill him if he talks to anyone about their sleeping together. She bans him from the house and any contact with the kid he's spent the summer looking after - without asking a Dawn pining for any contact with those she loves - and she not only loved Spike, she was probably the only person that's loved him unconditionally since his mum. But Buffy's ashamed of sleeping with Spike because of what he is, and it's that dehumanisation of him which allows her to barge into his home while invisible, destroy his possessions, rip his clothes off while he doesn't know what's happened, follow it up with trying to make him look a fool in front of Xander, and not respect his 'no'.
He then moves into trying to get her to be honest with herself and her friends - one way or another, which fails, and then he makes a catastrophic mistake in not respecting her 'no'. He then tries to make amends and stop it from happening again. He makes the biggest change in himself that he possibly can. He loves her. He didn't want to hurt her. And his relationship with her is pivotal in his growth back to the good man he once was, and his changes get him there.
Buffy's changes are far harder to detect. In S7, she's still blowing away his feelings of upset as unimportant and pulling admissions of love and support out of him and returning 'does it have to mean anything'. She does go to him when he's injured ahead of others, but the rationalisions she offers that it is because he's her strongest warrior who she needs to guard her back are all too obvious to Spike. He does believe that she'll come for him, that she needs him to be of use. Her telling him that she believes in him does help him withstand torture. But he never sees anything other than cannot be argued away as using him, such as possibly Buffy telling Wood she has no time for his vendetta now. The Angel jumping, and Buffy's lack of guilt for doing it reflects a pattern of behaviour all too evident in As You Were, where she's ready to jump Riley and punches Spike to make herself look better even before they've found the eggs that allow her to walk away into the light. She does the same in S7 with the Principal, where she's still simpering after him in the episode after he's tried to torture and kill Spike.
Spike might want to believe that she loves him very much. He really doesn't have any reason to believe that her statement of love is anything other than a last minute bone thrown to a dying man to make herself feel better. He doesn't have the benefit of a DVD commentary. All he has is the evidence of her past behaviour towards him and what she's told him. And what she's told him when he offered to leave is that 'She's not ready for him not to be there', that he's her strongest warrior she needs to guard her back, and that she doesn't know about the other man/men. He's not going to push her again to stop with the mixed signals. His past attempt at that proving horrific for both of them.
He does want to get her out of the cavern as it falls down on their heads. He wants her to live and get out as his deleted line about it being 'her world up there' illustrates, just as much as he wants to finish the job of bringing down the Hellmouth though it's killing him. Therefore, he doesn't let her try to take the amulet off him. There is very little time to say what there is to say, and the experience of flamy hands and feeling his soul as his body burns up from the inside out very slowly is undoubtedly overwhelming. But when it comes to his response to her telling him she loves him, he's acting for what he thinks is the last time as a truth speaker.
He doesn't believe her.
And it's hardly surprising that that declaration of love is the one thing he never throws at Angel in their battle in Destiny, and why he doesn't go to try and find her once he's corporeal. It might have been real to her, in that moment, in the event of the re-runs tanking (being cynical), but here Spike's the grown up. He knows love, and he doesn't believe her. From the smile over his still warm ash, the bodies of the fallen kids and Anya, and the complete lack of upset shown by Buffy (less than she's previously exhibited when faced with a split end) over that in the final shots of the series I don't believe her either. YMMV.
If he had believed her, nothing would have stopped him going to her in S5 of ATS, certainly not after he got his body back and was freed from the mystic chain to Wolfram and Hart. He was certainly gutted in TGIQ when Andrew's words imply that she loves both vampires but has moved on and they should do the same. Whether that hurt is because he finally believes that ephemeral epiphany girl has finally had the one he wanted and that he's missed it through his own inaction - and a perfectly understandable lack of belief in a word she said - or whether the thought that she knew he was alive again and simply couldn't be bothered to pick up a phone, or take a plane, to find out why he said what he did is unclear. It's probably a bit of both.
Fred is the first person Spike really talks to at Wolfram and Hart. That choice is unsurprising; he's always talked most comfortably to women, and been a good judge of people when his own emotions don't mess it up. He's correct to go to her for help in stopping being pulled into hell. She helps him, going close to falling back into madness to do so, and he saves her life at the cost of what he believes is his only chance of getting his body back. She goes with him when his hands are cut off and makes sure he gets the best possible medical attention, continuing to help his recovery with games systems to get his hands working again properly and stopping him being bored (always a problem for Spike). She talks to him off-screen and tells him about Lawson. Spike has a friend, one that doesn't want anything from him, but who does care about him as well as doing the right thing. In turn, he respects her and tries to say his thanks for her help even as he's being pulled into hell for possibly the last time and she can't see him. He's also commits to trying his utmost to saving her when she's infected by Illyria, Not this girl, not this day.
He's lost the girl before, and while his feelings for Fred are not the same as those for Buffy, he doesn't want to go there again, and he doesn't want others to suffer that way either. But he stays behind on the bridge when Drogyn offers the choice of madness - save Fred or condemn thousands, in her place. He makes the same choice over her that he makes for himself in Hellbound. He won't sacrifice her in his place then. He knows she would choose the same way. His staying behind on the bridge and not being on board with the choice to save Fred is key to Angel changing his mind and coming to the same decision. But they both have to bear the guilt from that decision and that guilt surely has a role in Spike being on board with Angel's attempts to call Willow in to raise the dead. This is not something he'd be expected to be comfortable with after his original upset with Willow raising Buffy and the problems she went through after it. But after a good deal of suffering for many, that call did come right, and Spike has made peace with his soul and so feels that he can support attempts to recall Fred's.
He's certainly devastated when it's revealed that her soul has been destroyed. But he's functional about it, since he wasn't romantically in love with her, and he uses the skills he's picked up as Angelus' apprentice to extract the needed information on Illyria from the doctor that helped bring her back. He tortures, when a year earlier hurting of even an ex-monster triggered the complete loss of any semblance of sanity. But he does it as a matter of fact, carefully wiping his hands clean of the blood. He takes no joy in torture - not even in such an arguably deserving case. Spike's shows himself able to integrate the vampire he was, and the skills taken from that time, and work with the strong moral sense of the good man he once was to act as a very effective warrior for good in ATS S5.
He did function well in S7, once he got his act back together, but he never truly got his self-respect back on that show. And it's not until he does step up when it matters, saves the girl and gives everything he has and is to die saving a world that doesn't appreciate him that he does regain that self-respect. It's the knowledge that he did do that that enables him to act as a voice of moral reason to Angel in his sinking deeper and deeper into the clutches of Wolfram and Hart.
Spike doesn't just get his self-respect back in ATS S5, he gets his sexuality back too. No longer relegated to Buffy's Care Bear with Fangs, and devoid of belief that she meant it when she said she loved him, if not devoid of a tantalising hope that it wasn't a lie, he becomes a sexual being again.
And he does treat Harmony badly in the first rush of giddiness and self-absorption of getting his body back after a gruesome, painful death, inability to feel any sensation at all - when not being horribly tortured by Pavagne in his warping of reality to fit his will. He does learn though, once the initial hunger for food, touch and sensation is over, and in his way he does try to make amends to Harm. He does it in a way that a vampire ex will appreciate in telling her that someone thought she was important enough to want to kill her. It gets through and cheers her up, and does it in such a way that he makes it clear that he's not interested in restarting their rebound relationship. It might not be what she might hope for, but once his initial adjustment from freedom from a living hell post-death experience is over, he is honest with her and doesn't use or string her along, but does try to make her feel better in his own way.
But it is an improvement on his previous un-souled use of her as rebound girl, with staking, dress-up games and dumping with a complete lack of any appreciation for her feelings. But Spike's never going to want Harm as anything other than a fuck-toy. He doesn't really respect her and pretty much never will. She's not the kind of girl he'd have wanted to marry in life, and she's not the type of girl he wants to settle with in death. She might think she's a California Princess but to Spike, she'll always remain the disposable parlour-maid you might treat with some absent kindness, but don't want to keep.
He does make an effort to keep Illyria. He has no problem hitting Illyria in sussing out her moves, despite admitting loving the girl whose body she's wearing, and he's pragmatic over potentially destroying her in front of an increasingly worryingly dark Angel. But he conspires with Wes to power her down enough to survive. He's been where she has, lost his power, his world, and in his sometimes clumsy way he seems to want to help her make the transition so she can survive the way he did. He gives her nicknames and does seem to become fond of her.
Post the 'move on' speech and Wes not wanting to continue their interaction after her impression of Fred with the Burkles, Spike takes her out - on a outing very reminiscent of the 'date' in Crush - to hunt demons killing homeless kids. In a post NFA scenario where they both survive, it's certainly plausible that they will be on good terms, especially as he knows the pain of losing a loved one all too well. In her turn, even early in their interaction she wants to keep him as a pet - which is probably a compliment to a god.
In training with her, Spike develops the ability to get his blows in and go mano a deus with a god equipped with a time-stop. He gets knocked around a lot getting there, but he's determined and he does get there. Paraphrasing Angel in School Hard about Spike, if he goes for something, nothing stops him. He just has to want it enough.
He wants it when he saves Gunn's life even when he's a ghost and so has to focus all of his massive willpower to accomplish the feat. While bored and incorporeal he plays games on him - in the sometimes rather juvenile way he has when trying to build new relationships - and he's the one Spike asks to come out for a beer when he does get his body and taste buds back. He's willing to listen to him when Gunn comes with Wes to ask him to come back to Wolfram and Hart, but as his primary relationship in S5 and ATS remains with Angel (whose not asking), he refuses. But he seems to continue to like him and he's certainly not happy about leaving him behind in Suburban Hell and registers upset about his mortal wounds even in the face of an all out attack by the Senior Partners. Gunn in return, expresses equal apologies (and so concern for his feelings) about his enthusiasm to get back to killing vamps to Spike as he does to Angel. He doesn't go out for a drink owing to throat injuries, as well as a need to talk to his old friend, but he doesn't blow him off because of what he is. Spike finally made a friend, only to lose him (probably).
Spike's not always articulate when it comes to his own feelings, and can be clumsy with a tendency to open mouth and insert his foot. But a lack of tact and pleasure in snark isn't a characteristic confined to demons. Spike and Cordy (pre-Birthday) both act as truth speakers and are honest to the point of painful with no compunction -when not totally crippled by guilt or hijacked by higher beings in - calling the 'heroes' on their crap. They're both truth speakers, as they see it, and when their own emotions are not involved they usually see very clearly.
The mirror image of that truth speaking is that Spike really isn't a good liar. He can lie with the truth, and be economical with it. We see this in The Yoko Factor where he sets the SG on each other with a few leading sentences that allow the SG to convince themselves of what the others are saying about each other, but it's them that do the job on themselves not Spike. When it comes to really attempting to lie, he's rotten at it. It's no wonder that he ends up with poker debts in S6. His face tends to give him away every time. He can mask it in very real upset, and does in LMPTM where he exits to avoid humiliation as public spectacle. He can maintain an omission but he's not good at telling an actual lie.
Spike does have a drink problem. He uses alcohol to self-medicate pain and especially depression. Spike gets miserable, Spike kills things or drinks to make himself feel better. It's a recurrent theme from Lovers Walk through to S5 of ATS. Unfortunately, alcohol being a depressant, it doesn't help in the long term and can lead to him making some extremely poor decisions. He does make some progress in reducing his intake in moving from consuming industrial quantities of spirits to moving onto weaker beer. But the continued drinking in S5 does appear to be an indicator that Spike hasn't fully got over his guilt induced nervous breakdown and is using alcohol as a crutch to keep himself moving forward and self-medicating to keep himself functional and so with a purpose in the good fight.
Certainly Spike can get lost in himself and in madness if he does look back. As a vampire, he was in it for the rush, for the crunch, for the cutting loose from the shackles of duty he had as a human and as he tells Angel in Damage, he never looked back at the victims. When he did, in the basements of S7 and in ATS S5, he loses the hard-man front and the soft chewy centre rips him up with guilt. In ATS S5, he's got enough distance from the initial psychological shock of the soul to know that he and Liam were both once innocent victims too, though they're both monsters now. In S7, it's all new and overwhelming and that amazing heart renders him insane with guilt and almost catatonic as he tries to adjust, adapt and find some purpose and someone to talk with to help him do that.
Spike likes to talk the talk that he's the lone wolf, and that he doesn't need anyone. But he does need people to talk to and he functions very badly without it - and generally drinks even more. Like many people who've been bullied (in Spike's case in life by his peers at the party and in death by an Angelus that delights in taking what's his to torment) he takes standard measures of prickliness and snark to repel those that might come too close and so hurt him again. And he is hurt all too easily. He's hurt to the core by being thrown out of the house and gang by Xander as soon as they've got their preferred muscle back and they don't need to use him any more. As he says, "I fought beside you all summer!"
That hurt keeps him apart from Xander even before Xander tries the 'punching Spike to make oneself feel better' approach to life and attempts to kill him. And even when Xander agrees to Buffy's request to take him into his closet, that hurt has clearly rankled. Spike enjoys getting one punch in as retaliation, as well as knocking out the obstacle to finding out what the hell was happening with the missing time in his memories. He's very unlikely to call Xander a 'Nummy Treat' again, even if he did it to wind up Mr Insecure with his Sexuality in the first place.
Spike needs to belong. He thought he did with the "Band of Buggered". And he did respond to being included and needed by keeping his promise without hope of reward and saving Buffy's friends and mentor as a result. Finding out he wasn't wanted, that he was regarded as an Evil Soulless Thing whose opinions no-one wanted and that he could be decapitated for the heinous crime of having consensual solace with an equally miserable, used and discarded demon-girl was a deeply unpleasant surprise. Spike expected better from people he regarded as white hats and whose moral sense he was trying to use as a substitute for a soul in operating in a human dominated world.
Spike respects honesty and straightforwardness. It's the English Gentleman in him. He comes from an era where my word is my bond was not only socially essential but legally binding in many areas of business. He's also from an era where a man could be sued for breach of promise on bolting from an engagement. He's the most adaptable of vampires and one that's kept up with the times, but he's still the product of his time.
It's unsurprising that he can understand and relate to Anya. He likes and appreciates her honesty and straightforwardness, though he'd prefer her to stay a friend post solace rather than enter a sexual relationship with her. He respects her too much to put her in the position of fuck-buddy. He also doesn't want her to get between his repairing his relationship with Buffy.
The reverse of his inherent need to keep his word to keep his self-respect is that he doesn't like deceit. It's pisses him off when Lindsey plays with him. It's that and the underhandedness that Spike fixes on when he returns from a mission he's undertaken from someone he knows set him up, but which he does anyway for the cause, only to find Buffy thrown out of the house. And he takes that dislike for it out on those he has some reason (and is given no clue where he might be wrong) to blame for it.
It's the dishonesty as well as the torture that leads Spike to twist the verbal knife in Robin Wood. Spike went with him in good faith after putting up with much baiting from someone he has no way of knowing has reason to hate him. Spike respects opponents that are open and honest, and fights that are the same. His big fights against slayers are generally one on one, Halloween being an exception where his sense of humour gets the best of that usual preference. Spike doesn't respect ambushes and being stripped of his free will. Robin gets him there under false pretences of at very least being an ally, mind-rapes him of his free will - after he was suicidal with guilt the first time it happened - and then tortures him for pleasure prior to attempting to murder him. Spike would have to be a saint to be any more nice than not killing him, and Spike's no saint, he's very, very human.
With regard to Giles' part in events, he seems to understand why he's acted in the deeply pragmatic way he has - he did know what Giles thought should be done with Dawn in The Gift despite Giles' personal affection for the girl. Spike is a survivor and for a big and small R romantic, but he has a strong streak of pragmatism that helps him adapt and survive. He might not want to hurt Dru to save the world, but he will. It's what lets him understand Giles' call and save the many not the one in the Deeper Well.
Spike does bear his share of responsibility for the events of LMPTM. He does respond badly to humiliation, and he's clearly uncomfortable with a pysch session in front of a mass of people who don't have any reason to spare him embarrassment. Given how keen Spike was to be chained up earlier in the season (when he was closer to discovering he'd been used to kill against his will) his assumption that the stone falling out of his eye meant that the artificial trigger mechanism was gone is not the most responsible call, even if the desire not to be a public spectacle is understandable. He does seem to need quite desperately to get out of a situation that's adding to stress that's never helpful to talking about a human life he's always kept very private.
But while Spike can understand a S7 Giles who has retreated further into doing what he thinks has to be done to keep the little girls alive in an impossible fight, he didn't appreciate the set up applied to him, even though he survived. That does seem to colour his treatment of Wes in ATS S5, which is a little harsh. However, overhearing Wes support him being sent to an eternal rest even as he's being pulled into hell does add to the watcher baggage to make the 'Percy' nicknaming, bad jokes and not going to him for help understandable. And the two men do seem to come to enough of a rapprochement post mind-wipe undoing to act together against Angel's wishes and Wes comes to Spike for help with his fears about him. It's unsurprising that there should be a baseline where they can work together, as they both come from similar positions in society though they take different routes through good and evil in the fight, before Spike is honestly upset at the loss of Wes.
Where that element of deceit isn't there, he can be horribly tortured by a victim that's not even his like Dana, and forgive and understand, even while he knows she's become like him and Angel, a monster --
But the most human of monsters, and ultimately a good man.
In fic, Spike's the little black duster of the Jossverse. He can work with anyone - including characters he's never met - or indeed more than one person.
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