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Every time his crypt door crashed open, a small part of him was certain it was her. After all, kicking down his door had been her thing for two years. Bust in, hips swaying, hair bouncy and flawless, eyes alight with irritation, stake, if not in hand, then certainly close by. With little exception, Buffy had been his most frequent visitor.

A part of him would always expect her.

Then that same part would crash headfirst into reality and shatter. In those moments, she died all over again.

He lost her all over again.

Spike pressed his eyes together, willing the witch to turn tail and hit the bloody road. He was in no mood to be sociable with anything except the bottle of whiskey resting on his lap.

“Spike.”

Fuck. Bloody pity vamps couldn’t play dead.

“What do you want?” he asked without opening his eyes.

“I… Gods, you reek. When was the last time you took a shower?”

He snorted. “If you’ve come to scold me about my hygiene, mum, you can go on and show yourself out.”

“She wouldn’t want this. You know she wouldn’t want this.”

There was that pang again—the one that came anytime he pictured Buffy, wondered what she might be thinking were she not six sodding feet under. Not that it ever went away, but it chose moments to scream at him—really scream—so that he thought he might dust simply from the awful ache in his chest.

“Don’t figure the Slayer much cared what became of yours truly,” he replied before bringing the bottle to his lips. “So if it’s all the same to you, I’m gonna drink until I pass out or I run outta sauce. Thanks ever so for dropping by, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

A still beat settled through the air, filled only by her heavy breaths and her racing heart. Well hell, if she was going to disrupt his evening plans, the least she could do was open a vein and make it worth his while. Or maybe then one of the Scoobies would do right by him and put him out of his misery.

“Spike.”

This was the no-nonsense tone. He grunted and finally peeked an eye open. But it hurt looking at her too—it hurt looking at all of them, even Harris. They were all extensions of her.

“What?” he barked at last. “Get on with it if you’re not gonna leave a man in peace.”

Willow crossed her arms, looking thoroughly unsympathetic. “I already said it. Just because you’re too stubborn to accept it doesn’t make it any less the truth.”

“The Slayer could give two pisses about me.”

It felt good to say—good to dwell on how much Buffy had hated him. Much easier than remembering the way she’d brushed her lips across his after his stint as Glory’s plaything. Or how she’d brought Dawn to him in the days after, knowing he’d die before he let the girl get hurt. How she’d snapped at her friends when they threatened to kick him out of that sodding Winnebago.

How she’d welcomed him into her home that night, the way she’d looked at him when he’d told her the way she made him feel. The disgust absent from her eyes.

Yeah, he didn’t want to remember that. Any of it.

“What about Dawn?” Willow asked, her voice a note softer but no less firm.

And there it was. The only hand that could beat any of his. Spike winced and looked away, sucking down another hard drag of whiskey. Yeah, he was doing a shit job of fulfilling his promise to her, but the way he figured it, the Bit was all right. The witches had all but moved into the Summers’ residence in the week that had passed since Buffy had taken her dive off the Tower, and smart money was on the bet they’d make it official by the weekend. Dawn had all sorts of muscle around her and no deranged hellgod looking to make her a pincushion. If the day came when that wasn’t true anymore, he’d be between her and whatever big nasty wanted to make her a snack.

“What about her?” he said at last, fixing his gaze on a point on the far wall.

“Are you serious? Spike, she just lost her sister.”

“Do I look like I need to be reminded?”

“And she had zero time to process losing her mom,” Willow continued heatedly. “She needs people she trusts around her. That means you too.”

He snorted. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned that I’m on that list in the first place?”

“No, because Buffy wasn’t.”

Though he thought it a million times a day, it still hurt to hear her name spoken aloud.

“And hell, Spike, if not for Dawn—”

“You know bloody well I’ll do anything for Dawn,” he replied, whipping his head back to look at her, his eyes narrowing. “Ever figure she might just need some sodding time without people hoverin’ about? What good’s my being around gonna do, exactly? I show up and suddenly big sis isn’t in a sodding hole?”

Something softened in Willow’s expression. “Spike—”

“I can hardly take care of myself right now—I’m in no state to try and comfort a teenager.”

“Well, you need to get it together.”

He blinked at her, irritation racing with incredulity. Then he huffed a laugh and gave his head a shake. “Yeah, thanks. Sorry if I can’t bounce back like the rest of you.”

“What in the world makes you think there’s been any bouncing of any kind?”

“The fact that you’re standing here cold sober, for one.”

“Well, what do you expect us to do, exactly?” A tremor entered Willow’s voice—one that plainly informed she was close to losing her control. Which, all things considered, could be very bad for him.

Or very good, depending on whether or not he really wanted to taste dust. At the moment he couldn’t tell.

“The world didn’t stop turning because Buffy’s not here,” she continued, that tremor becoming more pronounced. “Sooner or later, the local demon population is gonna figure out the Hellmouth is a slayer short. Buffy’s been gone before, so it hasn’t happened yet, but there’s already been more trouble than is usual for this time of year. You know the Bronze was hit a few days ago by a bunch of Glory loyalists. Twelve people died.”

That wasn’t anything new. The Bronze was constantly under construction due to the local creepy crawlies. And forgive him, but Spike couldn’t be bothered to care that anyone had snuffed it. Wasn’t like the sodding town had deserved her in the first place.

“And?” he drawled.

“And this is exactly what I’m talking about. The Hellmouth didn’t stop being under constant threat of whatever Big Bad is out there to kick-start the next apocalypse. Buffy died so we wouldn’t and I’m not interested in making that sacrifice all for nothing.”

Those words hit him square in the chest. “What is it you want me to do, then?”

Willow released a long breath, her shoulders slumping. “We have a couple things in mind. Nothing in stone just yet, but we’re getting there. And we know we’re going to need your help. So we’re fixing up the Buffybot—”

“You’re what?”

“That Warren guy might be a sicko, but he builds a decent robot.”

“You think I want that thing?” Spike snapped, hot anger bubbling inside, and fuck, that felt good. Too good. Anger was familiar, natural. Infinitely superior over the vacuous nothing that his life had been the last week. And the thought, the bloody notion that the Scoobies figured they could persuade him with it made his fangs ache.

The Buffybot had been a mistake from the beginning—a piss poor substitute for the thing he wanted. A nicotine patch solution to an addiction he’d stopped wanting to cure. That anyone would dangle a toy bearing the face of the woman he loved after he’d seen her lying broken and still on the ground was enough to make him want to say sod it and attack until the chip fried his brain permanently. At least he wouldn’t have to live with the knowledge that he’d failed her anymore.

The only thing stopping him from snapping at the witch and putting that plan into motion was the bewildered look on her face. “None of us want it,” Willow said slowly, cautiously. “But it’s the best solution. For now. Until we think of something else.”

“So that’s the big plan, is it? Keep bribing me into doing your bidding and hope I don’t just—”

“What are you talking about?”

He gestured to her. “That bloody bot is… It’s not her. It never was.”

The confused look didn’t go anywhere. “I…know that.”

“And just the thought of touching it now…” He winced and felt a familiar sting prick his eyes, and didn’t know whether roaring or screaming was the better option. “Just leave me to do what the dead do in tombs, all right?”

“Spike…we’re not giving you the bot, if that’s what you think.” Willow’s tone had gone from bemused to somewhat incredulous with a hint of disgust. “We’re fixing it up so it can go on patrols.”

He snorted. That plan was even zanier than the other. “You’re off your bird.”

“It was good enough to fool Glory, so we think it’ll help stave off rumors that Buffy’s dead.”

“Rumors bein’ the truth, you mean. Nasty secret to keep goin’. Sooner or later, the sodding bot’s gonna get into a scrape and lose a wire or two.”

“Yeah,” Willow agreed, “but this will at least buy us time to figure something else out.”

“What is there to figure out?” Spike demanded. “Nothing can bring her back. And nothing can defend good ole Sunnyhell like the Slayer. Just as well to let the place burn.”

Something strange flickered across Willow’s face—something he wasn’t sure he would have caught had he not been looking at her. Like she had something in her back pocket, some grand solution to the problem at hand, but she wasn’t sharing and he didn’t much care to hear it anyway.

“If you loved Buffy at all,” she said after a considerable pause, “this is the way you show it. This is the way you keep her alive.”

He barked a laugh. “Do you pulsers really fall for that rot?”

Willow sighed again, but this time, the sound carried a finality to it—one that smarted more than he wanted to admit. Because a part of him really wanted her to give him a reason, a purpose.

Anything.

“If you change your mind,” Willow said, heading toward the door, “you know where to find us.”

Spike turned away, words lodged in his throat. He waited until the sound of his crypt being sealed shut clamored through the air before letting himself move.

Not that moving was in his best interest. The world seemed to tilt every time he blinked. Fucking globe didn’t have the common decency to stop turning, as Willow had so keenly pointed out. Everywhere he looked, it was business as bloody usual, and fuck if that wasn’t what hurt the most. That the sun did continue to come up, that people who had no clue how close they’d come to the end of the world got to live their lives as though nothing had changed.

Living felt like an insult—why should a dead man live but the most alive person he’d ever known be gone?—but it was all he had left. Because when it came to brass tacks, and as much as he hated to admit it, the witch was on the money. He’d do no good to Buffy’s memory as a drunk. It might feel better in the moment, but there wasn’t enough booze in the world to completely drown the pain. After all, it hadn’t worked much when Dru had tossed him out and this pain was a breed apart from that. That had been a paper-cut—this was emotional disembowelment. And it kept getting worse.

Like today with the Buffybot. The thing should be rotting in a scrap yard; the fact that it could be pieced together again after falling off Humpty Dumpty’s wall when the real thing was gone from this world forever was its own kind of sick.

But maybe it was what he deserved—maybe this was his penance for failing her. Staying behind when she couldn’t, fighting the good fight in her place. While Buffy might not have cared two figs for him in life, she had trusted him in some way. Trusted him with the things that mattered, at least, and wallowing at the bottom of a bottle wasn’t the best way to honor that. To keep deserving it, if he ever had to begin with.

This was typically the point in his reflections when he’d drink until the deep thoughts became fuzzy and intangible again. Spike eyed the neck of the bottle still in his hands and considered downing it in one terrific gulp, but a voice—one sounding so much like hers it made his heart want to explode—convinced him to set it aside.

He hadn’t saved Buffy, but the reason Buffy had died was still alive. And knowing the littlest Summers, she wouldn’t keep her nose out of trouble for long.

He hadn’t pulled through when it mattered, but he would every night thereafter.

If he could figure out a way to live without feeling the hole she’d left behind with every sodding move he made. Liquor wasn’t going to cut it, fun as it was. He needed something stronger. More permanent.

Spike eyed the bottle again, sighed, and scooped it up.

Starting tomorrow.