The cellar door opens, and he looks up expectantly. It is just before dawn and today, he thinks, there is a very real chance that he will die. A very real chance that they will all die. Permanently.
She appears at the bottom of the stairs, looks at him, silent. He stands, pocketing the amulet.
‘Is it time?’ he asks.
‘Almost,’ she replies. Her face is solemn, her eyes bright with lack of sleep.
‘Buffy…’ He hesitates, not entirely certain of what it is he really wants to say. He reaches out towards her. ‘Come here, love.’
She looks over at the window, then turns her eyes to his. They bore into him, as though she’s trying to read his mind. Then she comes to him. Slow steps, never breaking eye contact. They sit down on his cot together, and he puts his arms around her. Strokes her shoulder. She looks up at him.
‘Don’t,’ she interrupts, looking away. ‘Spike… You don’t have to say anything.’
‘No, I do,’ he says emphatically. ‘It might be the last time I get to say it.’ He pauses, to see if she is going to stop him again. She doesn’t. ‘I love you,’ he says at last. ‘More than anything. And it’s all right that you don’t love me. Today… if I die, I’ll know it was to protect you. And that’s all I could ever ask for.’ He kisses her forehead. ‘I just need you to know that. Whatever happens now… Well.’
‘Yeah,’ she breathes. ‘I know.’
He burns with want just then. Not for her body; if he wants to shag her now, it’s to be as close to her as he can possibly get. In the past few days he has felt closer to her than he ever has to anyone before, in his life, and still it’s not enough. He wants to be closer. He holds her tighter, and she squeezes his hand.
She turns to him again, her sombre eyes meeting his once more.
He lifts his hand and brushes a stray strand of golden hair away from her brow. His index finger lingers at her temple, before he cups her cheek in his palm, revelling in the warmth of it. She covers his hand with her own, her warmth surrounding his hand now, making his fingertips tingle. He spreads his fingers to entwine them with hers. Lifts his hand away from her cheek, taking hers with it. He brings it to his lips, kisses her knuckles gently. Her green eyes are still fixed to his, and she doesn’t pull her hand away. This makes him feel brave, so he leans in and touches his lips to hers, very softly. She responds.
It is a chaste kiss, but it fills him with warmth, from the tips of his toes to the core of his very soul. His gut clenches, and he wants to cry, but he doesn’t. At least he thinks he doesn’t. It’s possible that a single tear finds its way down his cheek, because there is a faint taste of salt to the kiss now. Or it could be her tears.
He pulls back, feeling just a little pathetic as he feels his face to find it wet. She smiles a melancholy smile at him, and wipes the tears from his cheek with her thumb.
‘It’s time,’ she says.