Every step he took sent spasms of pain shooting up his legs, but for the life of him, he refused to utter one moan of protest. Moaning took too much bloody energy. Whatever drive he had remaining was enabling him to put one foot in front of the other. Slow, agonizing steps that brought him and the Slayer closer to home.
Thirty-five. Thirty-six. Thirty-seven.
Or was it one hundred thirty-five?
Maybe he was more out of it than he thought. Hell, for all he knew, this rescue attempt was just another illusion of the First and any second now he’d awaken underground, knocked back into consciousness by a hard fist to the face. Taking blows to his body instead of steps away from the place.
Two hundred ten. Two hundred eleven. Bloody hell… Don’t pass out, mate. Just don’t pass out.
Wouldn’t do to have the Slayer toss him over her shoulder and carry him the rest of the way home. He already had one strike against him thanks to the soul – sure didn’t need to give the girl any more reason to look sideways at him.
Apparently, fighting for his own special spark hadn’t been the best of ideas. Then again, when had his plans ever come to a successful fruition? Not since he arrived in Sunnydale, that’s for sure.
Five hundred sixty-three. Five hundred sixty-four.
Spike stumbled as they finally turned onto Revello Drive and he would have gone down if not for the Slayer’s quick reflexes. The jarring motion shoved air whooshing out of his lungs, expelled on a gasping breath of pain. Soundless curses reverberated in his mind; he refused to give them substance. Bloody fuck, but he hurt. The First had done its best to break him. Had damn near accomplished it too. Physically and with the mental mind fuck thing it had going on.
Only the Slayer’s voice, Buffy’s voice, and her “I believe in you, Spike,” kept him clinging to the hope that someone would come for him.
“We’re almost there… just a few more steps,” Buffy murmured quietly at his side. Her grip tightened about his waist, taking even more of Spike’s weight upon her shoulders. The porch light was like a beacon in the distance, guiding them onward. She was whipped, both physically and mentally. But it was nothing compared to what Spike had to be feeling. How he was even standing was a wonder to her. She’d fully expected to have to carry him out of that cave.
The three steps onto her porch sapped the last of her strength, and she leaned wearily against the front door for a minute, trying to catch her breath.
“Can you reach the doorbell?” she asked with a laugh, though, in truth, she wasn’t joking. If he couldn’t do it, the two of them might have to spend the night right there. Propped against the door.
Shouting and footsteps erupted within at the sound of the bell. Buffy could practically picture the call to arms. Potentials and Scoobies scrambling about, Giles overseeing everything with that calm exterior firmly in place.
Then the door was thrown open and she and Spike toppled inward. And yay for Potential strength for catching both of them before she and Spike met the ground.
“I found him,” Buffy announced unnecessarily to the group.
No one seemed thrilled with her announcement, but they caught the vampire and carried him towards the basement at her less than subtle order.
“Be careful with him. The First really worked him over.”
Giles and Xander descended the steps into the basement with Spike’s arms draped around their shoulders while Buffy retrieved some blood out of the refrigerator. She made a mental note to get more in the morning. The single container left wasn’t going to be enough to get Spike better.
Buffy ignored the looks both men gave her as she passed them on the stairs. She really wasn’t up to listening to their lectures just then. Neither one of them could understand why she needed Spike around – never mind that he had a soul now.
Spike had a soul.
It sounded weird every time she said it in her head.
Spike had a soul. Spike went out and fought for his soul. No curse. Just his own desire to be the type of man he’d thought she’d needed. He’d not been kidding when he said he was Love’s Bitch.
She eyed him critically as she knelt down beside him. Spike was deathly still, and if she’d not had occasion in the past to watch him sleep and knew for a fact how little he actually moved, she might have been concerned.
He was a literal corpse, lying there on the mattress.
Too bad she had to wake him to get him to feed. If he’d not needed the blood so badly, she would have let him sleep for a few hours first. But his skin was paler than normal and his ribs stood out in stark relief against his bruised and battered chest.
“Spike, wake up,” she whispered near his head. “You need to drink this. Come on… it’s blood… it’ll make you all better.”
Like talking to the dead, she thought with a hysterical giggle.
“Spike! Dammit! Wake up! You’re not gonna die on me just because you won’t eat. Not after all the trouble I went through to get you back.”
Buffy shook his shoulder and still didn’t get a response. She was half tempted to open his mouth and pour the contents of the mug down his throat.
“Come on, you stubborn bleached blonde menace. Open up!”
“… r-room… to… t-talk… Slayer…” Spike gasped out.
“Yeah… well…” Her voice trailed off; he had a point. “Here. Lemme help you sit up.”
Spike drank the mug in three long swallows and muttered his thanks before flopping back on the mattress. Recovery would be slow going, but the pig’s blood was a start. Already he could feel bones mending. Slowly… but mending, nonetheless.
“Better get the chains,” he told her, just before sleep claimed him once more.
Buffy stared aghast. Surely he didn’t think she was going to chain him up again. Not hurt as badly as he was. Then images of her friends drifted before her, her watcher’s pinched face at Spike’s return. Already his voice was sounding in her head. “Duty this” and “responsibility that.” Blah blah blah. Oh, and the “honestly, Buffy, what can you be thinking to have a dangerous creature like him around?”
Rolling her eyes, she stood and retrieved the chains, locking them carefully in place around Spike’s wrists and ankles.
Sometimes being the Slayer really sucked.
After a shower, Buffy felt marginally better. She was dressed for bed, but doubted sleep would come for a while yet. Spying Dawn curled up on one half of her bed, she couldn’t help but snort. With her sister bunking with her, having given up her room to the Potentials, Buffy doubted she’d be getting much sleep. She would have better luck with the vampire on the mattress secluded in the basement – even with his propensity to turn evil, really evil, at the drop of a hat lately.
Dawn was too much of a wiggle worm for Buffy’s peace of mind.
Still, it was her bed, and the mattress was more comfortable than the floor. It was giving off subliminal messages of “sleep… sleep…” Not bothering to hide her yawn, Buffy climbed into bed and snuggled down beneath the comforter. She sighed and closed her eyes.
Please just let me sleep…
An hour later, she was up and out of bed. It wasn’t her sister’s fault. Surprisingly, Dawn had yet to move. Her brain just wouldn’t shut down. Too many thoughts kept her awake – the majority of which centered on the vampire sleeping downstairs.
Careful, so as not to wake Dawn, Buffy got out of bed and headed towards her closet. Christmas had come and gone since Spike’s capture. The impending apocalypse made it impossible for everyone to get into the holiday spirit, and for the most part – aside from a few gifts being passed around – the day was spent like any other. Training, planning, keeping their minds off the looming threat of disaster in any way possible.
Buffy had spent it alone in the basement, plotting how to get Spike back. His absence made it impossible for her to join in the holiday atmosphere her friends had tried to create.
Her hands pushed aside shoes and the odd weapon until they closed around the gift she’d purchased for the vampire. She hadn’t planned on getting him anything, but on a rare trip to the mall, she’d passed a stationery shop, and her feet had carried her inside before her mind could play catch up.
Staring down at the carefully wrapped leather-bound journal and matching pen, she wondered what had possessed her to buy it. She remembered the story he’d told her a few years ago, what he’d been like before being turned. A shy, poetic soul.
The gift had been bagged and paid for before she could change her mind.
Now, as she descended the stairs into the basement, she wondered if she’d made the right decision. Spike had abhorred any reminder of being William. Yet, he’d gone out and gained his soul, thinking he’d needed that part of himself to be man enough for her. She’d bought the journal to acknowledge what he’d done. To show him that she appreciated his efforts, even if she couldn’t actually say so aloud.
“Slayer?” His voice was raw from disuse, or perhaps screaming. It was a wonder she could hear it at all, having been barely above a whisper.
“Hey,” she murmured back once she’d reached the side of the narrow bed. “How d’you feel?”
“I’ll live…” His attempt at humor produced a chuckle that quickly turned into a groan. “Well… you know what I mean.”
“Yeah. I do.” She smiled at him then stared at her hands, at the gift she held clutched tightly in their grasp.
Spike saw it. “Whatcha got there, pet?”
“I… it’s for you. Merry Christmas, Spike. Well, a little late anyway…” She held it out, unable to meet his searching gaze. “Here…”
“It’s not much… I…” A finger to her lips silenced her attempt at an explanation.
“How do you know? You haven’t even opened it yet.”
“You got it for me. Couldn’t be anything less.”
“Just open it,” Buffy told him, somewhat flustered.
Buffy stared out over the open crater that was once Sunnydale.
Numb. She was totally and irrevocably numb. Not even her sister’s “what are we going to do now?” penetrated.
Spike had done it. He’d saved them all at the cost of his own life. If she’d known what the amulet would do, she never would have given it to him.
She wasn’t quite sure how long she stood there. Probably longer than what was deemed appropriate. She didn’t feel her legs give out, or the tears begin. How Xander picked her up and carried her back to the bus as sobs shook her slight frame.
Giles got the rest of the gang loaded into the bus then assumed his seat behind the wheel. The drive to Los Angeles was accomplished with a minimum of fanfare, and Willow got them to Angel’s hotel.
Angel took one look at the Sunnydale refugees and ushered everyone inside. He directed Xander to take Buffy upstairs and put her in one of the rooms; the others he administered first aid to as needed. Getting everyone else patched up before directing them to the rooms above as well.
It wasn’t until the lobby cleared out and he was alone with Giles that he asked about Spike. His absence from the group had only meant one thing, as did the pang somewhere in the region of his heart.
Spike was gone… dead.
“He died saving us,” Giles replied to his terse question. “Buffy… she told me. But I didn’t want to believe…”
“It fed off his soul, I think… then harnessed the sun and killed the entire legion of Turok-Han. At least that’s the way Faith explained it. I wasn’t there. I was in a different part of the school when it happened. I’m sorry.”
Angel nodded at the watcher’s explanation.
“Er… I think she’s grieving. She and Spike… well, they were rather close there at the end.”
Again Angel nodded. Buffy had alluded as much.
On some level, Buffy was aware of being lowered onto the bed. Of Xander draping a quilt over her body as she lay huddled on her side. How he soothed the hair off her face and told her to get some rest.
She didn’t think she’d ever be able to sleep again.
Not without seeing Spike standing before her, beseeching her to run. To get out before the cave came down around their ears.
No. No. No. Think of something else. Anything else…
“You got it for me. Couldn’t be anything less.”
“Just open it,” Buffy told him, somewhat flustered.
“Don’t rush me, pet. ‘s not every day I get a present from the Slayer.”
His smirk would have had more effect if his lip wasn’t split in two places and one of his eyes wasn’t nearly swollen shut.
Buffy waited with bated breath as Spike tore into the wrapping paper as best he could, her eyes trained on his face to witness his reaction to her gift. Time seemed to stand still as the journal was revealed. At his slight smile, Buffy let out a relieved sigh.
“Do you like it?” she asked anxiously, still needing confirmation.
Spike nodded, his hands running over the leather-bound journal.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to sleep.”
She stood and headed towards the stairs. Was almost to the top when she heard Spike’s voice call her name. She turned, her hand on the doorknob and waited.
Buffy smiled softly.
“You’re welcome. Merry Christmas, Spike.”
Buffy smiled through her tears, remembering their time in the basement. She’d gone back to her room afterwards and, surprisingly, had managed to fall asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Neither one of them had talked about it the next day. In truth, she doubted Spike had even used the journal. She’d not seen it lying about, not even when she’d gone to him that last night. Spending the night with him as they counted the hours until the confrontation with the Turok-Han.
For all she knew, it had been lost in the rubble.
“She hasn’t moved?” Angel asked.
“Not since last night,” Xander confirmed. “I don’t think she’s even closed her eyes.”
“Did someone bring in her bag? Perhaps Willow can…” Giles gestured vaguely with his hand.
“It’s by the dresser. Along with Spike’s.” At the watcher’s sharp look, Xander shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know what else to do with it.”
Xander’s comment cut through Buffy’s grief and she flung off the comforter and hurried across the room, much to the amazement of the three standing in the open doorway.
“Buffy?” Angel knelt down beside her as she rummaged through Spike’s bag.
“Please be here…” she whispered to herself. “Please…”
She shoved shirts and jeans aside and nearly wept when her hands closed around the journal.
He’d kept it.
She pulled it out of the bag and hugged it to her chest. A hand settled on her shoulder and she looked up to see Angel staring at her.
“He kept it,” she told him. “I didn’t think he would, but he did.”
“This…” she pulled it away from her body to show him. “It was a Christmas present from me.”
Angel traced the edge of the journal.
“William always did like to write. I’m sure he treasured it.”
“You think so?” Buffy asked hopefully.
“I do. Now come on… your friends are worried about you. Why don’t you get cleaned up then come downstairs and get something to eat.”
Angel helped Buffy to her feet then left her alone to shower and change. Both Giles and Xander had already left and he closed the door behind him, leaving Buffy alone inside. Rather than join the others downstairs, he headed for his own room.
Buffy locked herself in the bathroom and sat down on the toilet seat. She stared at the journal in her hand, debating whether or not to open it.
The words seemed to leap out at her. His bold scrawl filling the lined sheets. Instead of reading them, she closed the book and set it aside.
It was enough to know that he’d used it; she didn’t need to read what he wrote.