It could have so easily gone another way. He could have gone out looking for her when she didn’t come home. He could have noticed that the blood on her face wasn’t hers. He could have – he should have! – noticed the wounds on her neck.
But he did none of those things. He didn’t even notice Rona, bleeding her life out on the floor behind the counter. He was so glad to see Buffy sitting in the kitchen, her head resting on her arms, that he just froze at the entrance to the room, blurting, “Where have you been? I’ve… we’ve been worried sick.”
“Nice try, Spike. I know the rest of them are probably just as happy that I haven’t been around.”
She never raised her head, just mumbled into her folded arms as he slowly approached her, his senses alerting to the scent of fresh blood. Not hers, he knew that, but fresh all the same. His eyes darted around the room, but she spoke again, drawing his attention back to her.
“I’m just so tired of it all. I just wanted… want it to stop.” She glanced up at him, her eyes glistening. “Can you make it stop, Spike? You used to be able to make the world go away. Do you remember that? When you made it all go away for me?”
His heart ached for her, even as his body stirred at the memories. “I remember, sweetheart. I also remember you hated yourself for it. As well you should have. I was a monster.”
“My monster,” she said, dropping her head again. “Now that you aren’t a monster, you don’t want me anymore. Damn soul….”
He stared at her curved back, the hair hanging over her face and fought a losing battle with his heart and his cock.
“You know that’s not true,” he said, his voice thick with need. “Come downstairs with me and try to tell me I don’t want you anymore.”
“Okay!” She bounced to her feet, smiling at him in a manner at once unfamiliar, and only too easily recognizable.
He blinked at her abrupt change in demeanor, realizing too late why she’d kept her head down and why he was smelling fresh blood. He recoiled against the wall as though he’d been punched in the gut, holding his stomach against the sudden need to vomit. His mouth moved, but no sound came out.
“Are you all right?” She cocked her head at him and for a brief, hopeful second, he thought he’d been mistaken. She looked so real… so Buffy. The flash of yellow in her eyes as she grabbed his crotch and squeezed him hard enough to bring tears quickly vanquished the flash of hope. “I wouldn’t want you to not be up for the fun we’re going to have… later.”
Without releasing her hold on his rapidly softening cock, she brought her other fist up in an uppercut that snapped his head back against the wall, leaving a dent in the drywall and him unconscious.
He awoke slowly, his brain trying its best to remain unconscious and unaware of what it knew to be true. The chains were no surprise. Nor was the smell of more blood and the screaming coming from the upper floors of the house. He squeezed his eyes shut but there was no avoiding the sounds and smells drifting through the open basement door. A whispered movement and his eyes flew open to see Dawn crawling down the stairs, head first, her eyes searching the dark frantically.
“Nibblet,” he whispered. “Over here.”
She scrabbled across the floor, throwing herself into his arms and smothering her sobs in his chest.
“Shhh, shhh,” he soothed, holding her tightly as if by squeezing her hard enough he could keep the gulping sobs in. “Quiet, luv. Maybe she’ll forget about you.”
“She wants to turn me,” Dawn hiccupped. “That’s why I’m not dead. She was going to save me for last, but I crawled away while she and Willow were yelling at each other.”
“Red’s still alive?”
“She was when I left the room. I think Buffy’s afraid to get too close to her – she’s trying to talk her into being all evil again. And Willow’s trying to talk Buffy into letting her put her soul back.”
“What about the girls who stayed home tonight? The baby slayers?”
She raised her head and fixed her silent stare on him until she felt him look away.
“Right, then. Doing the First’s dirty work for him,” he said grimly. “Don’t suppose they had a chance to fight back?”
“Kennedy tried to stake her,” Dawn said. She paused, then continued. “It wasn’t really a fight – Buffy just batted the stake away and hit her. I don’t think she’s dead, though. Willow pulled her away while Buffy was… killing… the other girls.”
Spike’s head flew up as a sudden silence fell over the house.
“Under the bed, Nibblet. And stay there, you hear me? Get as close to the wall as you can and don’t come out no matter what you hear out here.”
He shoved Dawn to the floor and watched as she crawled under the cot and disappeared from his sight. He knew she wasn’t really hidden in the sense that Buffy wouldn’t be able to tell where she was, but he hoped the fact that Buffy would have to get past him first might give her second thoughts.
Unlike the way grief and shock had immobilized him earlier, he was now ready to face the demon wearing the face of the woman he loved. Ready and more than willing to do what was necessary to keep Dawn safe. He watched impassively as Buffy came slowly down the stairs, her demon to the fore as she searched the dark room with her amber eyes. When she realized where Dawn was, she flicked the light switch and dropped her vampire mien.
“Ran to you, huh? I guess she thinks you’re going to protect her?”
“Till the end of the world, pet. That’s the promise I made to the woman I love.”
“That woman’s dead, Spike.”
“She’s been dead before. Didn’t stop me from keeping Nibblet safe.”
“You can’t beat me, Spike. I’m stronger than you are – and you’re just another vamp in chains.”
“I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” His expressionless face gave no hint at the pain lancing through his chest as he prepared to test his theory that a turned slayer was really just another fledgling.
Buffy didn’t attack right away – instead she sat on the steps and stared at him.
“I really don’t want to have to kill you,” she said almost as if talking to herself. “If we can get rid of that pesky soul, you, me and Dawnie could really rock this world, you know?”
“This soul’s anchored, Slayer,” he replied, hoping his lack of conviction didn’t show on his face. He’d never asked the demon that put it in if it was permanent, now that he thought about it. For all he knew, he’d been cursed with it just like Angelus.
“Maybe…” She shrugged and stood up. “Doesn’t really matter, does it? Lots of people with souls do bad things – look at Willow. She tried to end the world one time – just cause her girlfriend got shot. Like another little gay slut wasn’t going to come along any minute.”
Buffy’s face had darkened as she talked about Willow and Spike felt a surge of hope that the witch had been able to face her down and keep her at bay with magic. Between the two of them….
His moment of inattention had been what Buffy was waiting for, she flew across the space and under the bed, grabbing Dawn by the arm and attempting to pull her out.
“No!” Spike’s roar accompanied Dawn’s shriek as he stood up and tossed the bed to one side. He grabbed Buffy’s hair just as she was about to sink her fangs into Dawn’s throat, yanking her head back and away from her sister. When she turned to snarl at Spike, Dawn was able to tear her arm loose and she quickly moved away from the now struggling vampires.
Dawn watched in horror as the two people she’d always expected to be safe with tore at each other in a frenzy of fangs, claws and chilling snarls. Spike had shifted into game face to match Buffy’s and he soon realized that his guess had been right. She was still Buffy, with all the moves and determination that had made her the longest-lived slayer, but her strength was that of a newly turned minion fledgling.
Even hampered by the chains on his arms, Spike was able to subdue Buffy fairly easily, once he got over his initial panicky reaction to seeing her teeth on Dawn’s throat. Using his vastly superior strength, and his knowledge of how Buffy liked to fight, he was soon holding her, face out, against his chest, his arms pinning hers, his legs wrapped firmly around hers, and his mouth on her throat, ready to bite if needed. Eventually she stopped struggling and softened in his arms. Remembering, however, how easily she’d lulled him into relaxing before, he kept his grip tight and was rewarded with another blood-curdling snarl.
“You idiot!” she managed to get through her fangs. “You could have it all – me, Dawnie…We could own this town.”
He didn’t bother to respond – pointing out that the town was rapidly losing both its human and lesser demon populations seemed to be stating the obvious – just held her more tightly. They remained locked together for several minutes while Spike tried to enjoy what he expected would be his last opportunity to hold the woman he’d turned his entire life upside down for. Even as he kept his iron grip on her body, he was inhaling her scent and brushing his lips across her neck. Ignoring the obscenities coming from her mouth as he continued to caress her with his lips and tongue, he closed his eyes and whispered, “Good-bye, my love.”
He turned his head and said calmly, “Dawn, get the stake off the table, please.”
Dawn whimpered in protest, but did as she was told, picking up the stake and walking over to where Spike was clutching her snarling sister in such a way that her chest was exposed.
“You’re going to have to do it, luv,” he said, meeting her horrified eyes with a glare that brooked no argument. “I don’t dare let go long enough to take the stake, and I won’t risk her getting to you again.” He arched his back, forcing Buffy’s chest forward even more. “You can do it, Nibblet. I know you can. You’re a strong woman – just like your sis was.”
Buffy suddenly stopped her swearing and snarling, dropping her vamp face and turning tear-filled green eyes on Dawn.
“You wouldn’t kill me, would you, Dawnie? It’s me, Buffy. You know I love you. I’m just trying to help you.”
Dawn’s moan was still echoing throughout the room when Willow appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Wait!” She hastened down, taking in the scene at a glance. She walked over to stand beside Dawn, laying a reassuring hand on her arm. “It’s okay, Dawnie. I think we can…”
“No!” Buffy’s cry of fear and defiance was genuine as she tried to shake her head. “No, I won’t go through the rest of my life brooding and whining. I won’t! You can’t…”
“I can and I will,” Willow said firmly. “You think you don’t want it now, but you’ll thank me later.”
“I’ll kill you later!” Buffy snarled, twisting in Spike’s grip.
“We love you, Buffy. We can’t let you dust if we can save you.” Willow’s lip trembled as she tried to reason with the demon wearing the face of her best friend.
“Please, Buffy,” Dawn added her own tear-filled plea, while Spike tried to tamp down the hope Willow’s words had sparked.
“I tried to kill you!” Buffy almost wailed. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you people? I don’t want a soul! Just let me go, if you don’t want to stake me. I’ll leave, I promise. You’ll never see me again.”
“She’s lying,” Spike said, his voice heavy with emotion. “You can’t believe her while she’s like this.” His voice dropped even lower. “Can’t let you go again, sweetheart. I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“How can you do this to me, Spike?” she whispered, cutting her pleading eyes toward his stoic face. “I thought you loved me. I… I think I love you, now. Now that we’re the same. Think about it… you and me… traveling the world together.…”
“Don’t,” he cut her off before the lies he knew she was telling could cause him to forget what he was holding. He glared up at Willow. “Are you sure about this? That you can do it?”
“I can do it,” Willow said confidently. “I have the Orb in my room.” At his raised eyebrow, she blushed. “Just in case I have to go running back to LA again. It’s just easier to have one close by.”
“Then let’s do it. I can’t hold her like this forever.” Even as he spoke, he knew that he would have held her until his arms dropped off if it meant that she was not dust. He tightened his grip again, reminding Buffy that he wasn’t going to allow his feelings for her to endanger any of the still-living people in the house.
It took every bit of his strength to hang on to Buffy when Willow began the spell to put her soul back. She writhed, she snarled, she snapped her teeth at his face – ripping his cheek with one fang when he was too slow to yank it away. When she arched back with a scream, then collapsed, unconscious, he shivered with combined fatigue and sympathy. He remembered only too well the pain when his own soul was forced into the body that had been without one for so long. As he lay on the floor, gasping for unneeded air and keeping one hand on Buffy’s inert body, he hoped that the short period of time that she’d been without would make the transition easier for her.
“Spike?” Dawn’s voice was full of fear and concern – whether for him or her unconscious sister, he had no idea.
“Did it work?”
“Don’t know, do I?” He forced himself to sit up and meet Willow’s confident gaze. “Just in case, I’m going put the chains on her.”
Willow frowned, then nodded. “Okay. That’s fair, I guess. But I think she’s going to wake up Buffy again. All souled and good and….”
“And wanting to kill herself for what she did while she wasn’t,” he said bitterly. “This isn’t over.”
He pushed himself to his feet, his arms trembling, and stretched out his hand for the key to the chains. When Dawn and Willow just blinked at him, he remembered who’d chained his arms and he glanced down at the unconscious girl at his feet.
“I’ll get it,” Dawn said suddenly, as he groaned at the thought of getting down and up again. She knelt beside Buffy, running a trembling hand against her cool cheek. She gave a sharp inhalation, and pulled her hand away, sending it instead into the pocket of Buffy’s jeans. She pulled the key out and handed it to Willow who quickly unfastened the manacles around Spike’s battered wrists.
He nodded his thanks, then gently fastened them around Buffy’s much more slender arms. He picked her limp body up and gestured with his chin toward the cot he’d thrown off earlier. Willow and Dawn dragged it back and put it in place against the wall, watching solemnly as Spike carefully laid Buffy down. He brushed her hair off her face, then straightened up.
“Now what?” Willow appeared anxious to leave and Spike was reminded that Kennedy was probably upstairs and injured.
“How’s your bird?” he asked, rather than answering her question. “Slayer didn’t kill her, did she?”
Willow shook her head. “No. She didn’t kill her. I think her jaw is broken, though. I need to get her to the hospital.”
He nodded. “Go ahead,” he said. “ I’m just going to grab some blood and come back down here to watch the Sla- Buffy. She’s going to need somebody when she wakes up – somebody who’s already been where she is,” he added as Dawn started to protest.
“Okay,” Willow said, starting up the stairs. “You’ll be all right, Dawnie, won’t you?”
Dawn blanched. “You’re leaving me?” She whirled on Spike. “And you’re going to stay down here?”
Spike’s fangs itched as he followed the two girls up the steps and he suddenly realized what was bothering Dawn.
“It’s alright, Bit. You wait here, yeah? Just let me know if it looks like sis is waking up.”
He grabbed a bag of blood from the refrigerator and tore it open, gulping it down cold as he followed Willow into the living room. As he’d expected, he found two bodies sprawled on the floor – one with her throat torn out, the other with a broken neck. He grimaced and exchanged looks with Willow.
“I’ll clean it up as best I can while you’re gone,” he said. “But if Buffy wakes up…”
“If Buffy what?” Kennedy’s words were barely understandable as she gritted them out through broken bones and missing teeth. Her meaning, however, was impossible to mistake. She came the rest of the way down the stairs with disbelief and fury in her eyes.
Willow hastened to reassure her. “It’s all right, baby. Don’t try to talk. I’m going to take you to the hospital and Spike’s going to clean up while we’re gone.”
Her eyes promising more discussion, Kennedy surrendered to the pain and didn’t try to argue any more. She followed Willow out to the car. Spike watched them drive away, then turned back to the chore at hand.
Unsure of what to do with the bodies, he carried them to the back yard and covered them with a tarp. In addition to the two girls in the living room and the one by the kitchen door, he found another dead one upstairs and one cowering in a closet. She whimpered and cringed back into the pile of clothing on the floor when Spike peered in at her.
Murmuring reassuring and soothing nonsense words, he managed to get her to understand that the danger was past and that she could come out when she felt ready. He quickly took the other body downstairs and outside, noticing the burn marks on the walls as he went through the hall – indications of how Willow had managed to keep herself and Kennedy alive.
He was debating about digging graves for the dead potentials when Dawn called his name. He dashed into the kitchen, skidding to a halt in front of the basement door.
“She’s awake,” Dawn whispered. “And she’s crying. Why is she crying?”
“She killed four people, Dawn. Gonna be a bit of shock, isn’t it?” He pushed her towards the hallway, saying, “There’s a very frightened, but alive, girl upstairs. Think you can talk her into coming out of the closet?”
“Outside. Under a tarp until I can get the graves dug. House could use a bit of clean-up, but it’s not too bad considerin’. No entrails hanging from the curtain rods and what not.”
“Sorry, Bit. Had a bit of a flashback there. Go on with you, now. I’ll take care of Buffy.”
He watched as she moved cautiously through the wrecked but dead-potential-less, living room and turned to go upstairs. Then he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and went down into the basement, taking care to make noise on the stairs so Buffy would know he was coming. He approached slowly; her quiet sobbing seemed to indicate the soul was present and making itself known. But she’d fooled him once already.
Her head came up and he could see the soul shining in her wet eyes. His shoulders relaxed and he moved closer.
“How many people did I kill?”
“Not as many as you might have,” he avoided.
“Tell me, Spike. How many?”
“Four. And you broke Kennedy’s jaw, but kind of hard to fault you for that…”
“I killed four girls and you’re making jokes?” She cringed away from the sympathetic hand he’d automatically extended, her face horrified.
“I’m sorry, love. I’m just saying… it could have been worse. Much worse.”
“There was somebody else. I remember it… a man… I was so hungry, and he was there, and….” Her eyes grew wide and her breathing – still a habit – grew erratic as she remembered. “Ohmygod.”
Knowing he was risking rejection, he still couldn’t help himself. He took her by both shoulders and pulled her closer, her head resting against his stomach as he bent forward in an awkward attempt to comfort.
“Wasn’t you, pet. It was the demon doing what it needed to do. You might not have been able to prevent that kill even if you’d had the soul when you rose. That was all about the demon needing to feed.”
“And making a beeline for home and tricking Rona into letting me in? Killing four girls who trusted me and trying to make Willow watch another lover die?” She pulled away and with tears shining on her lashes, she demanded, “And trying to turn my own sister? Was that the demon too, Spike? Was it?”
He sank down beside her on the bed and held her against his chest in a loose imitation of the way he’d held her down before she got the soul. She didn’t struggle, just rested against him, trembling.
“No, love,” he said quietly. “That was probably you. I’ve no doubt that at the time it seemed like a good idea. I’m sure you thought you were saving her.”
“What? What kind of bizarre theory is that? I wanted to kill my sister to save her?”
“Do you remember what you were thinkin’?”
He rested his chin on her shoulder and continued to hold her with a light touch. The chains clinked whenever she moved, but she didn’t complain or ask to be released. Buffy frowned, staring across the room at the washing machine as she tried to remember why she’d wanted to turn Dawn.
“I was thinking that she’d be just like me and we could leave Sunnydale before it all goes to hell and just enjoy life for a change….” Her eyes opened wide. “I was thinking I could save her from… how did you know?”
“Did the same thing when I was turned. To my mum. She was sick and I thought I’d make her all well again.”
“What stopped you?”
“Nothing,” he said flatly, releasing her and pulling the key out of his pocket. “So, you ready to face everybody yet?”
“Oh, god. No! I can’t… no… no….”
“It’s alright, luv,” he soothed. “You don’t have to. But I’m going to unchain you, yeah?”
“Are you sure I’m safe? What if I….”
“Got that soul you’ve always believed was so soddin’ important, don’t you?”
“I don’t want to see anybody. Make them stay away.”
Her face set into stubborn lines only too familiar to him. Without responding, he loosed the manacles and automatically rubbed the thin wrists. Her cool skin and lack of the familiar pulse went through him like a knife, bringing him to his knees in front of her, clasping her hands with trembling fingers.
“I’m so sorry, Buffy. Should have been there. I never wanted….” He dropped his head onto her limp hands and let his own tears fall. Buffy sat, waiting for him to stop his apologies, then pulled his head up.
“It’s not your fault, Spike. Somebody got his one good day. I’m sorry it wasn’t you – but you’ll just have to deal. I’m hungry,” she said abruptly, ignoring the grief-stricken shock flaring in his eyes. “Do we have any blood left?”
“I never… would never have... I couldn’t….”
“Well, why not? This is kinda of perfect, isn’t it? We’re both vamps. We both have souls… I’m surprised you didn’t think of it last year when you were nibbling on my neck all the time. You could have made yourself a girlfriend who didn’t cringe from you.”
He pulled away from her. “You would have hated me.”
“I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully. “I don’t hate you now. Now that I’m not the Slayer anymore… now that I’m just like you.…” She ran a cool hand down his cheek. “Now I can love you. Just like you want me to.”
“What do you mean, you’re not the Slayer anymore? Of course you are! Not as strong as you were – gonna have to be careful about that for a bit – but you’re still the Slayer, still Buffy….”
“No, Spike, I’m not.” She shook her head vigorously, blonde hair bouncing just as it always had. “You proved that when you were able to beat me so easily. I’m just another fledgling. I might not want to randomly feed on humans, but I don’t feel any strong need to save them, either. I’m free, Spike. Free to do whatever I want. Somebody else can save the world.”
“You don’t mean that.”
She thought for a moment, then shrugged and said with some surprise, “I do actually. I don’t feel all evil, like I did before you and Willow ignored what I wanted and shoved a soul into me. But I still feel free. Free to walk away from this mess and leave it for Faith… or somebody.”
“That’s just the shock talking,” he said, hoping he sounded more convinced than he actually was. “Gonna take you a bit to get used to things, yeah? It’s a lot to take in – being dead, then undead and evil, and then undead and not evil.” He leaned forward and brushed his lips across her forehead. “I’ll be right here, love. I’ll help you get through this… you’ll feel better after a day or two.…”
“I feel fine right now,” she said with a frown. “I told you. I’m finally free – and, hey, bonus, not evil! Why can’t you see that?”
“Because the Buffy I know would never talk about quitting.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow and he shrugged, admitting, “Alright, she may have talked about it, but she never did it – never would do it. She’s all about saving the world, my Buffy is.”
“Your Buffy is dead, Spike. Permanently, this time.”
They stared at each other – Buffy’s gaze so calm and certain that Spike felt a chill go through his body. He stood up abruptly.
“Gonna go get you some blood, love. I’ll be right back. Don’t… don’t worry. It’s going to be alright.”
Fleeing to the kitchen, Spike leaned over the sink and fought the urge to throw up the cold blood he’d ingested earlier. His mind refused to accept what his body was trying to tell him – the dead woman downstairs was not the one he’d been in love with for years. She’d often mocked him the year before, saying that he only loved her because she was the Slayer, that he wouldn’t want her anymore if she was an ordinary girl. He’d denied it vigorously, of course. Certain that the feelings he had for her, the admiration he felt, were based on who she was – not what she was.
And yet, here she was, seemingly Buffy – and yet… not. Not a dangerous vampire to be staked and mourned, true enough. But not his Buffy either. Not his brave girl who never stopped fighting the good fight.
Telling himself that he’d seen her discouraged before – even to the point of going into a waking coma when she’d thought Dawn lost to a Hellgod – he poured another bag of blood into two mugs and warmed them in the microwave. Clutching the mugs, he made his way back down to the basement to find Buffy wandering around, touching objects on the shelves, taking practice swings at the workout bag and gazing around her as if she’d never been there before.
“It’s all different, isn’t it?” she marveled, taking one of the mugs from him and sitting at the small table. “Everything’s different, more… more.”
He nodded and sat down across from her. “It is. Another thing to get used to – heightened senses.”
“You have so much to teach me,” she said suddenly. “There’s so much I don’t know about being a vampire – not to mention one with a soul.”
“I’m here for you, love. You know that.”
“Are you?” she asked, giving him an arch look. “No matter what I want?”
“Whatever you need, Buffy. That hasn’t changed. It never will.”
The both sipped their blood and tried to pretend they hadn’t used different verbs.
Before the steadily more uncomfortable silence could become unbearable, noise upstairs told them that Willow was back from the ER – minus Kennedy. Spike raised an eyebrow at Buffy, but she shook her head.
“Not ready to see them, yet,” she said, her face showing the first sign of remorse and fear since her initial meltdown. “Just tell them I’m… I’m… I don’t know. You’ll think of something.”
“Alright, pet. I’ll be right back.”
Leaving her sitting at the table, staring into her blood-coated mug, he ran up the stairs and closed the door behind him. Dawn and Willow were just entering the kitchen, stopping when they saw him pull the door shut.
“She’s not ready to talk to anybody, Bit. Just give her some time.” He turned to Willow. “How’s your bird?”
“Mad as a wet hen,” Willow said with a grimace. “They’re wiring her jaw shut and keeping her overnight to make sure it’s going to heal properly.”
“So,” Dawn kept her voice carefully neutral. “She can’t talk, then? That must suck.”
Spike willed himself not to meet Dawn’s eyes, which he knew would reflect his own lack of distress over the brash potential’s condition, but Willow glared at them anyway.
“All right,” she growled. “Just get it out of your systems before I bring her home. She wants to stake Buffy, you know. We’re going to have a situation here tomorrow morning.”
“Not gonna happen, Red,” Spike said with quiet conviction, putting a reassuring arm around Dawn.
“I know that. But it’s going to be tense. There are three… four? dead girls in the house. Four girls that Buffy killed. You can’t blame Kennedy for thinking she should pay for it.”
Spike narrowed his eyes, giving her a suspicious glare.
“And what do you think?” he asked quietly, making no attempt to pretend he wasn’t putting himself between Willow and the basement door.
Willow exhaled sharply. “Not the one to throw stones,” she said. “I know that wasn’t Buffy, and I know she’s probably devastated about it. It’s just going to take a while to convince Kennedy that revenge isn’t the answer. She doesn’t have the… history… we do.”
“Yeah,” Dawn spoke up. “Besides me, she’s the only one here who hasn’t tried to kill people. Oh, and that girl upstairs hiding in the closet. I guess she hasn’t.” She gave the glaring witch a small smile, blinking her eyes innocently.
“Speaking of the girls who… died….” Willow looked around, realizing she hadn’t seen any bodies when she came in the front door.
“They’re out back,” Spike said curtly. “Under a tarp. I’ll start on the graves straightaway. You and the bit might want to sort out that living room and see what else you can clean up before anyone else sees it.”
Willow nodded. “I guess we can be grateful that Andrew took so many girls with him when he went to that all-night movie thing. With a little luck, they won’t be back until sometime tomorrow.”
Dawn glanced at Spike.
“You’ll tell me when you’re done, right? I want to… I really liked Rona.”
With a small twinge of guilt, Spike realized that Dawn had probably bonded with some of the girls living in her house. Although not a potential, her experience living with the Slayer and on the Hellmouth had given her more in common with the girls than just her age. Now that she was past the first flush of terror and grief over Buffy’s new status, she was beginning to realize that she had lost friends during that brief, terrifying time when Buffy first got home.
“I’ll come and get you when it’s done,” he promised. “I s’pose we should say something….”
“We can leave that until the others get back,” Willow said firmly. “If Dawn wants to say her ‘good-bye’ tonight, that’s fine, but I don’t think I’m up for a mass funeral.”
Spike nodded and left them picking up furniture and trying to make the living room look less like a place where two people had lost their lives to a bloodthirsty demon. He went outside and grabbed the shovel from the wall it had been leaning against since the last time it was used. He walked to the back of the yard where Buffy had buried Chloe and began to dig.
He had one grave dug to a reasonable depth when he felt the air stir beside him.
“Come to help?” he asked without looking over his shoulder.
Without responding, Buffy began to dig a few feet away, struggling a bit with the older, dull garden spade she was trying to use, but shaking her head at his offer to trade tools with her. They worked silently, side by side, until all four graves were finished. She hesitated when Spike walked over to the tarp-covered shadow next to the deck, then joined him.
Between the two of them, they soon had all four bodies lying under several feet of loose dirt. As Spike slapped the shovel down on the last of the filled graves, he turned to thank Buffy for helping, only to find her already walking back to the house, spade trailing behind her. She dropped it by the deck and went into the kitchen without looking back. He shut his eyes briefly, taking a deep breath and telling himself she was just overwhelmed with regret.
He put the tools away in the garage, washed his hands off with the hose and let himself back into the house. There was no sign of Buffy, but the basement door was closed again, so he followed the sound of voices upstairs.
“We’ve done the best we can,” Willow said, indicating the newly scrubbed walls and floors. “We’re going to bed now. I want to get a least a few hours of sleep before I have to go back and get Kennedy.”
“Alright. Sounds like a good idea.” He gestured towards the stairs. “I’ll just.…”
“Go, Spike. She’s going to need you,” Dawn said with a weary tone that he hated to hear in the voice of a girl her age. With a start, he realized that he’d heard that same tired tone from Buffy many times over the past five years – going back to when she’d been a teenager herself. Suddenly he wasn’t as sure that she would change her mind about quitting as the Slayer and he bolted for the lower level of the house.
He found Buffy standing in the kitchen, staring out the window at the new graves. He walked up behind her and rested his hands lightly on her shoulders, snatching them back immediately when she shrugged them off.
“Sorry, pet. Didn’t mean to take liberties.”
“It’s all right,” she said, turning to look up at him, a sad smile curling the sides of her mouth. “It was just reflex. I don’t think I’m likely to be as touchy about ‘liberties’ as I have been before. That’s part of being a vampire, isn’t it? Being amoral?”
“Soul, love,” he reminded her. “I don’t think amoral’s in your future.”
“Well that sucks,” she muttered, sounding more like her old self. “Here I thought I was going to be able to run barefoot through naked men, smoke funny cigarettes and drink that foul-tasting stuff you like so much.”
“Can do all that, if you like, Slayer. But I wouldn’t count on the soul letting you enjoy it.”
“Stupid soul.” She felt, rather than saw, his flinch and immediately put her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, Spike. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m grateful for what you and Willow did. I am. I know I didn’t exactly jump up and down with joy, but I’m glad I’m not dust, and I’m glad I’m not evil and slavering to kill everybody.”
“Wasn’t going to let that happen, you know,” he said, wondering if she remembered how he’d offered her up for staking.
“I know,” she said softly. “And I know how hard that would’ve been for you.”
“Would’ve torn my heart out,” he whispered. “But it was already in pretty bad shape – just seein’ you like that.…”
She nodded. “I’m different, aren’t I?” She moved closer and studied his face carefully. “Too different for you? Is undead, souled Buffy not the Buffy you want?”
He cupped her face, stroking her cheek with his thumb.
“Can’t imagine not wantin’ you, pet. God knows I’ve tried. The soul kicks me in the arse every time I think about wantin’ you, but it doesn’t help. Loving you… wanting you… it’s part of me, and it’s not gonna go away just because you don’t have a pulse anymore.”
“Show me,” she whispered, leaning into his hand. “Show me that I’m still Buffy. Make me believe it.”
“Ah, Buffy… love… you don’t want….”
“I do want, Spike. I never stopped wanting, I just thought I shouldn’t. That doesn’t bother me now. Now I can take what I want.”
She took his hand and tugged him towards the door to his room, pausing on the top step.
“I need this, Spike.”
His surrender was complete. He followed her down the stairs, taking care to lock the door behind them before joining her beside the small bed. A sudden awkwardness took hold of them as they stood only inches apart, each waiting for the other to make the first move. As Buffy grabbed the waistband of his jeans and pulled him those last few inches closer, he gave a groan and wrapped his arms around her pliant body.
Their first kiss began tentatively, but quickly flared into familiar desire as they tumbled onto the narrow cot, already tearing at each other’s clothes. If Spike missed the way Buffy’s warmth had once suffused his whole body, if the lack of her pulse pounding in his ears left him wanting, he was too enraptured to let himself think about it. For the first time in over a year, Buffy was writhing beneath him, her moans and whimpers music to his ears, as were the barely audible whispers of his name that escaped her from time to time.
Again and again, she crashed around him, barely waiting for him to recover before beginning the dance anew. Only when they’d both collapsed, gasping for unneeded air and too exhausted to continue moving, did she relax and allow him to roll her to one side.
“I love you, Buffy,” he dared to murmur as she snuggled into him. “Love you so much.”
“I know. We’re going to be so happy together. You’ll see.”
“I hope you’re right, love. Not sure the First is going to give us that chance, but I’ll do my best to make you happy for as long as I can.”
Buffy stiffened beside him.
“Not our problem, Spike. We’ll get Dawn off to someplace safe – maybe Mom’s sister in Indiana – and then we’re free to go wherever we want.”
The hand he’d been stroking her arm with stopped moving.
“Slay- Buffy, we can’t just scamper off and leave Red to face an apocalypse with nothing but a bunch of frightened teenagers and an aging Watcher.” He didn’t bother to mention an unreliable murdering slayer, a carpenter, an ex-vengeance demon, and an annoying formerly evil twit – none of which were likely to be much help in the long run.
“But we can!” Buffy sat up, frowning in confusion. “What don’t you get about that? Just because I’m not evil doesn’t mean I have to be… you know… good. Not actively good, anyway. Death made me free, Spike. I’m not the Chosen One anymore. I’m just another vamp. You don’t have to fight evil for me anymore.”
Satisfied that she’d explained it in a way even he could understand, Buffy snuggled back into his side, shocked when he carefully moved away from her and sat up.
“I can’t leave them,” he said quietly. “Even for you. It’s not right. They need us.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” She sat up and stared at him with wide eyes. “Spike, we’re free! Don’t you get that? We can do whatever we want, go wherever we want… we don’t have to do this anymore.”
“Not doing it because I have to, love. Doing it because it’s right.”
His voice was flat and dull, the old familiar ache already settling in his chest as her eyes narrowed and she glared at him.
“You’d choose them over me?”
He shook his head. “Don’t want to make that choice, Buffy. But if I’ve learned anything from watching you all these years, it’s that doing what’s right can be a bloody bitch….”
She bit her lip, then allowed her face and body to relax. She sank back down and patted the spot beside her.
“Let’s just get some rest, huh? We can fight about this tomorrow.”
Barely able to contain a sigh of relief, he dropped down and put a tentative arm around her, exhaling loudly when she snuggled back into his side and put her head on his chest. He allowed himself to fall into a deep sleep, both arms now cradling her in a way he’d never thought to experience again.
The emotional ups and downs of the previous hours, the fight to hold Buffy down so that Willow could do her spell, digging the graves and the vigorous lovemaking all combined to keep him in a deep, restorative sleep. He couldn’t have said what woke him – but the empty space beside him immediately drove all thought of sleep from his brain as he bolted upright, staring around the darkened room.
There was no response, but his ears picked up the slightest sounds from the floor above and he ran up the stairs, not even bothering to pull on his jeans. He burst into the kitchen to find Buffy with one hand on the door, a duffle bag over her shoulder. He froze… her tear-stained face telling him all he needed to know.
“Weren’t… weren’t even going to say ‘good-bye’ then?” he managed to get out around the lump forming in his throat.
“I thought this would be easier,” she whispered. “You can just… just pretend that vamp killed me.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, struggling not to let his need to scream overwhelm the sarcasm. “That’ll be ever so much easier – thinking you’re dead and gone and that the last few hours were just another bloody dream.”
“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Spike.” Her own tears had dried, replaced with a look of sullen determination. “I need to be gone… and you obviously think you need to stay here… so.…” She stood up straighter and faced him. “Tell Dawnie I’m sorry, please; and try to get her to leave town. I’ve left the money for the train ticket and a note for our aunt on the desk. Tell her… tell her I love her.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this.”
“Believe it, Spike. I really wish you would come with me….” When he shook his head, more in denial than refusal, she shrugged. “I don’t have to do this any more – and I’m not going to. That’s the bottom line. Tell Giles I quit. I think dying three times is my quota. I’m done.”
Without another word, she opened the door and slipped out into the waning darkness. He watched the door swing shut behind her, staring vacantly at the last place he’d seen her as if, by looking hard enough, he could make her reappear – laughing at him for being so gullible as to believe she would actually walk away from her duty. He slid down to the floor, his bare back against the wall that still bore the imprint from his head.
The Slayer was gone.