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The figure stood on the boundary of an invisible line, feet slightly parted, head bowed; his sharp profile bathed in the pale moonlight that lit up the small clearing. It was a balmy evening but the expected chitterings and rustles courtesy of the wildlife which normally populated the area on a warm night were absent. The peculiar lull suited both the stoic mood of the visitor and the occasion, almost too well, but he didn’t dwell on such fanciful notions; he had come here with a purpose in mind, he had something he needed to do.

And after a few minutes, which he used to gather his thoughts, to compose himself, he fell to his knees and in a measured voice began to speak:

“When you're dead you experience time a little differently than the living do. It’s not that it moves faster or slower, or that the hours drag or disappear without so much as a by your leave. No. Time ceases to matter. It barely exists. When you get turned it's a novelty for a time; you revel in the freedom of knowing that you have no end. No natural end anyway. But gradually you stop thinking about it. It matters whether it's day or night but that's all. If you're part of one of those cults who care about ritual and prophecy then maybe you keep track of the important dates. But vampires like me? Days, years, decades: they're one and the same. Light to dark to light to dark. To a human tomorrow matters because they have hope for the future. They want to grow up and be a fighter pilot or god forbid, get married, have kids, become famous. Us vamps don't have any of that. We exist for the kill, the lifeblood pouring from a willing or not so willing victim, the high of the aftermath in the wake of a satisfying feed. Every day is the same more or less. Yeah, you pass through some interesting periods of history; provoke a rebellion here, pick off the stragglers from a mob there, but the days bleed into one for the most part. In the absence of a real honest to goodness life we just have an existence. Which is great, that works for us: vampires aren't big on existentialism after all.

“Here's the thing: that which separates us, my kind from yours, is desire. You want. We need. There's a crossover, I won't deny that, you need air and food and some kind of emotional sustenance but other than that the rest of your life is defined by the things you want. How to get them. How to keep them. For vampires; for me, there are only the things that sustain us: blood, the fight, the darkness. Everything else; the swanky crypt, the devoted minions, the cool demon hangout everyone’s talking about: it’s all just meaningless frippery.

“I would have gone on like that you know, happily. Because I was happy then. I didn't know it at the time; I thought I had to fix things, make them better. But in retrospect I was happy. Ignorance is bliss and I was the epitome of it. At least it seems so now. Things were simple back then, roaming about with Drusilla, knocking heads, gouging eyes, other things; we cut a bloody swath through Europe and the Americas and I loved every minute of it.

“And then there was you. Or rather and then there was Angelus. As much as I saw you, watched you, hunted you, our story, if left to its natural conclusion, could only have ended in one of two ways: me dust or you... dead. You learned a lot that year. Our first encounter I had you beat and if your mother hadn't been there. Well... without Joyce a lot of things would have been different; best not to dwell on them. But she was there and so we separated you and I, went stumbling back to our former lives, and you grew stronger in all the ways that matter, before my eyes you grew stronger, you became something... I want to say 'more' but it doesn't seem quite right. It diminishes you somehow. I don't want to talk about the rest of it; what happened, happened. We danced a little but we were still learning the steps; hadn't got it quite right yet; never did really. He came back. Took charge. Was everything I couldn't and wouldn't be. That changed me, although I didn't know it at the time; knocked me out of the overly-romanticised bubble I’d spent a century crafting.

“Me and Dru: Forever. That was how it was supposed to go. Belief had nothing to do with it, was simply a fact. Until it wasn’t. She knew, had always known, because this is Drusilla we’re talking about. But I was blind to it. I think I wanted to be blind to it. I lived for the ever after, both as a human and as a vampire, and if we didn’t have one, two gorgeous immortal creatures of the night, then who did? Sometimes I wonder if she knew about you before we ever set foot in Sunnydale; about how I’d feel, how you’d change me, where my weird obsession with the Chosen One would lead. I always enjoyed the epic fight; the never quite knowing if I was going to be solid or dust on the wind at daybreak. Slayers were a part of that; her blood, your blood, the rich elixir that runs through the generations, through you. I wanted that. Most don't want it enough to put the effort in. But I wanted it. I needed it. You know all this, of course. I told you once.

“I always felt you saw me for the first time, that night in the alley. Just for a moment. I don't know. But you hurt me more then you ever had before; insignificant barbed words, that's all it took. Inspire more pain than any beating.

“Then you walked away, dirty bills scattering on the wind.

“And I wanted to kill you. To remove you from my world. To make it stop for good.

“I just wanted it to stop, Buffy.

“So I took a shotgun and I loaded it and I stalked to your house, filled with righteous indignation; I was going to take you out and sod the chip and the government nancy boys who thought they could control me and all the pathetic ever-so-evil plans I'd had to kill you before, sod your stupid scooby friends and your ineffectual watcher and your white bread boyfriend and the Bit and your mum. Sod them all because I'd had it: I'd show everybody just who was beneath who at the final reckoning.

“I really thought I could do it. I believed on the short walk to your porch that nothing could stop me; I would take any pain the chip could throw at me, I'd die for it. Just for the satisfaction of seeing you dead. For the satisfaction of having finally conquered this awful thing that had clawed its way inside of me, turned me inside out, made everything wrong, made everything 'you'.

“And then there you were, revealed to me through the bristling leaves that shadowed my presence: The Slayer.

“I cocked the gun. You had seconds to live.

“Then you looked up and the world shifted; the vengeance, the hate, the pain, the depravity: it all just drained away. Left me a husk of a man. Of a monster.

“In retrospect that was the moment. The moment there was no turning back from. I could lie to myself, make myself feel better about these unwanted feelings before that. But when I saw those glistening tear tracks, the depth of feeling present there, it was all I could do to not make a fool of myself. All I could do to speak.

“More than that you let me in: I sat beside you and touched you ever so slightly.

“The first touch untainted by the violence we carry inside.

“A lot of stuff happened after that; the Incredibly Brainless Hulk left you in the lurch proving once and for all that he never deserved to be near you in the first place, Niblet figured out my feelings were a little more than friendly towards her Big Sis, I commissioned what was to become the bane of my life (the less said about 'her' the better) and your mum died.

“It's no secret by now that I love you and it doesn't take a man of Harris's stellar intelligence to figure out how important Dawn is to me but I never got the impression anyone ever really understood that I genuinely cared about Joyce. I know she thought nothing much of me; just a wacky local vamp, up to no good, who she would have preferred got out of her daughter's hair. But despite all that she never treated me like the scum the rest of your friends did. She was civil... and sweet. I felt more like a real person in her presence than much of the rest of the time put together. I saw a lot of her in you and the Bit. Joyce's death: it hit me hard. I know... preaching to the choir right? But this was relatively new for me. I felt bad your mum was gone, really I did, I tried to tell your boy the day after.... but he wouldn't listen thought I was just putting it on to impress you. Idiot. But it was more than that; the thought of you and the little one in that kind of pain. Well, it hurt just thinking about it. I hadn't felt distress like that in... let's say a lifetime; keep it simple. So, I did something I shouldn't have and I'm supposing Dawn never gave me up because I don't recall you dropping by the crypt to smash my face in over this particular transgression: I helped the Bit with the resurrection spell. I know it wasn't the right thing to do but I just thought if it came off everything would be better. For everyone. For you. I know you decided against it in the end. Or rather she did. It's for the best. Looking back it was a foolhardy thing to have attempted. Could only have ever ended in tears but at the time it seemed like bringing her back was something easily done, something worth paying the inevitable price for.

“I'm sorry, Buffy. Really I am. I'm sorry for a lot of things. So many things; but I should have apologised for this when you were alive; I could never quite bring myself to though. I should have stopped Dawn. I should have been the rational one. If I was better, less flawed and fucked up, that night would never have occurred. She told me about it, your sister, one evening shortly after and as she related the tale my stomach dropped in shame. I allowed myself to be weak when you three needed me to be strong. It wouldn't be the last time.

“There was one last hurrah though, in a way, didn't feel like it at the time. It hurt like hell, actually. Than again, I guess that's what you get when a hellgod kicks your ass from here to kingdom come. You saved me though, you and the gang and the Bot, inadvertently I'd wager. I figure you were planning on sticking a stake in me right quick until you saw the truth of it: I'd never give her up. Never.

“There you were pretending to be the Bot and there I was with no sodding clue blathering on about God knows what. But that kiss. It was just a little something. Just a brush of skin against skin. Soft and gentle; like nothing I'd experienced before. Not in a hundred years. I asked that wanker to build me a replica of you and for a time I thought he'd done it. She was a little rough round the edges but if I ignored the machine, the internal workings, I thought I could pretend it was you. Your kiss shattered that kind little fantasy.

“A cipher, a shell, an empty and inadequate substitute. That's what it is.

“An abomination.

“And we're stuck together. Me and it. We're the muscle, the fighters, the strongest.

“I failed you in every way possible. My failure could not be any more complete and 'it' is my reward, my comfort, my companion. It's only right, I know that. I know I deserve it so I try to serve my penance. Hell has to be worse than this, right? That's why they call it Hell. I was never bothered by it before, honestly never thought about it, what does a vampire care for any of the myriad gruesome dimensions he could spend eternity rotting in? But now, after feeling 'this', this... I don't even know what to call it; excruciating agony doesn't do it justice, I don't want to experience anything that could be called Hell. Because this it for me. This feeling is the limit of what I'm able to endure. Maybe that makes me weak? It wouldn't be anything new. I came to terms with my utter inadequacy a short time ago.

“One hundred and forty six days to be exact.

“That's okay though. I know my place. It's here with the Bit, keeping watch, being there for her even when she doesn't want it. The others have accepted me, sort of. Harris still objects from time to time. Token gesture. Make sure we both know where we stand and that's fine, the less time I have to spend making small talk with that waste of oxygen the better. Watcher is at a loose end, I almost feel sorry for the useless old bugger, I won't be hanging out with him in his flat listening to Cream anytime soon but I think we understand each other now: you were everything to both of us. The memory of you binds us together stronger than anything Willow could conjure. Speaking of; Red and her little witch friend have been decent towards me since... the tower... for the most part. Dawn's in good hands with those two: I think she's happy, or as happy as she can be anyway. She's settled now. Got used to it. They made her out of some sturdy stuff, our girl.

“Those last few days are a blur to me now; Glory, Ben, glowy green figments, tossers playing dress up, the wreck of an RV, standing at your weapons chest with my skin singing, that evil little warlock, the wrecking ball, the knife, shallow cuts drip dripping her life in rough spatters across her toes. My fall. Your jump.

“I could barely see your body through the roar of borrowed blood, seeping from my flesh into the cold dead ground which would swallow you whole, soon. I mean to say that looking at you, lying there; so serene, so at peace, it was all I could do to remain tethered to the earth. Fixed to the ground. I was coming apart, turned inside out, shown up for the hollow shell I have always been. I believed that moment would go on forever. You on the ground, us in array.

“But time marched on. Somehow. And it was then that I finally knew it for what it was. Time: it’s the shackle binding my ankles and wrists and it’s the death at your heels. How cruelly dichotomous.

“So I mark the passage of days and weeks and months, like I never could have conceived of once upon a sunset. I scrawl those little lines onto my wall with the enthusiasm of a being that knows the world he exists in contains only himself and nothing else.

“I am alone now. But in my dreams you're there, and she's there, and I'm there and it's all alright. It keeps me going; the torment, and that's good because it means Dawn will always have someone. To hold her. And love her.

“I will never leave her, Buffy. I promise you. You’d probably laugh at that considering what happened. Laugh in my face. But I know the value of a promise now I’ve broken one, and it won’t happen again while I walk this earth, while there’s still strength in my bones.”

The insistent tingle that served as sunrise’s herald was beginning to tug at Spike’s back and he knew he would need to return to the crypt soon if he was going to fulfil his babysitting duties later that evening. Slowly he stood, mindful of the aching muscles and joints which were unused to spending so long stuck in one position. Placing one hand on the granite headstone, he bowed his head, “It may seem like I waited a long time to tell you these things, to have this admittedly one-sided conversation, but I wasn’t ready before. It was too much; the pain, the grief, it was overwhelming, love. I will never let you go, that wasn’t what this was about, but I want Dawn to be alright and for that to happen I need to be… if not alright, then at least better. So I can help her. So we can go on together and remember you in the way you deserve to be remembered.”

Bending down to retrieve his coat which he had left folded on the ground nearby, Spike took the opportunity to brush his fingers softly through the dew-covered grass which had grown over her grave in the last few months. Life from death; something she would have liked. He smiled a little, the slightest quirk of the lips, and whispered, “I love you, my brave, beautiful girl.”

And then he was gone, off into the distance, a dark shape moving between the headstones, making his way home in the waning darkness. To sleep, to dream, to wait for the evening. To do it all again tomorrow.