From the moment she tore herself away from him, looking impossibly lost and yet so clearly affected by the kiss they had shared, Spike knew he should swallow his pride and go after her. And yet, he willed his feet to imbed themselves into the fetid asphalt beneath him as she took off running. Away from him. Away from everything.
The musical number was winding down inside the abandoned Bronze, and soon the whole gang would spill out into the night, shedding their grief-filled tears and wearing their misery like a choking cloud of cologne. He had less desire to witness this particular aftermath of revelations than he had to participate in the big group sing-along. No desire whatsoever to face the questions, spoken or not, of anyone who’d taken notice of the heat between himself and the conspicuously absent Buffy, or the fact that he seemed unsurprised at the announcement of where she’d truly been. Miffed as he was with her and her polar-opposite moods and confusingly mixed signals, he wasn’t about to discuss her behind her back with the so-called best friends who’d torn her out of there to begin with. No matter that neither the Watcher nor the Niblet had a lick of involvement. Right at present, he wanted no part of any of them.
What he wanted had run out of the alley at top speed while he, supreme idiot that he was, stood by like a bloody fool and watched her get away.
Hesitant footsteps behind him heralded the arrival of the first of the group, and thus marked the end of his lingering. Spike cast a brief glance over his shoulder and met the appraising eye of Rupert Giles, standing just beyond the broken remnants of the Bronze’s door. Spike’s eyes narrowed and his expression hardened. It didn’t matter that he’d come after all – the Watcher had intended Buffy face the demon alone, had turned her away when she cried out for help.
The reasonable part of his brain – when he let himself remember that he had one – told him that Giles had only been trying any way he could to get Buffy to deal with her own responsibilities, those Spike knew she had been avoiding. But anyone could see she was hanging onto sanity by the thinnest of threads, so completely overwhelmed with the duty placed upon her. That she had always been strong enough to handle whatever challenge thrust itself into her path seemed to matter more than the fact that she was so clearly struggling to adjust to life again. No accounting for where she’d been, the expectation that she should just grab onto her sudden adulthood and breeze her way through it with a smile on her face and a skip in her step was thoroughly and stupidly unreasonable. This all help or no help approach fell into a similar category.
He held no illusions that his recent interactions with Buffy were the best way to help her, either. He just knew that forcing her to suddenly face everything on her own when she was already dealing with far more than any one girl deserved, taking away the support of the one person she still trusted, smacked of cruel and unusual punishment – punishment for something that was done to her, beyond her control.
He had been so engrossed with his inner monologue that by the time the belated recognition of the Watcher’s address reached him, Giles had closed the space between them to mere feet.
Spike grunted and dug into the pockets of his duster in search of his smokes. “Got nothin’ to say to you that you wanna hear,” he growled in warning, flicking open his lighter and touching the flame to the cigarette.
Resignation showed on Giles’s face through the cloud of smoke, and beneath it, the anguish he clearly felt for his Slayer’s predicament. “I suppose not,” he sighed. “I had thought—”
“No, Rupert,” Spike interrupted, voice falling into that too-calm, low-pitched tone that clearly conveyed the sense of leave-well-enough-alone. He threw the partially smoked cigarette to the ground with more force than necessary, and looked hard at the other man, knowing his eyes glistened with threatened tears and far more emotion than he usually revealed. Giles took a step back, mouth set into a thin line as he met the vampire’s gaze.
When he figured he’d made his point, Spike dropped his head and lit another cigarette. “I’m bloody done with all of you.”
In a whirl of leather and a puff of smoke, Spike spun on his heel and stalked away. Behind him he heard the muffled sobbing and quiet murmurs that signalled the others’ emergence into the alley, and quickened his pace, wishing more than ever that the buggering hunk of plastic imbedded in his brain would short out long enough for him to toss Harris and his what’s he still doing here? comment into the nearest brick wall. The torrent of emotions raging inside him demanded an outlet, and despite the temptation, he didn’t need the headache involved in taking out his frustrations on the likes of Xander.
What he really needed, his demon whispered, was to go kill something.
The ache in his groin disagreed, but seeing as how that tentative possibility fled the scene not ten minutes ago, violence and bloodshed would have to suffice.
He had hoped, not-so-fleetingly, that he might run into Buffy while trolling for something to kill. Whether she admitted it or not, a good fight was cathartic on a basic, primal level. Despite her recent openness with him, he knew he had no idea of the true depths of what she must be feeling, or – as her part in their duet hinted at – trying so hard not to feel that she had grown numb. He did know, however, that when she felt particularly strongly about something and didn’t want or know how to deal with it, she tended to seek something to slay.
As much as Spike yearned for a good spot of violence, he wanted to find Buffy instead, angry with himself for not following her in the first place, despite her recent volatility. That kiss left him aching for her even more powerfully than usual and he knew she’d wanted it, too. Reluctantly, maybe, but she did.
So when he caught her scent on the air as he neared Restfield, he was initially so satisfied with having found her that he noticed nothing amiss, at first. A full five seconds passed before he felt the burning bloodlust flare alarmingly to the surface of his consciousness. Buffy . . . and blood. Lots of blood.
When he found her, the sight of her body lying face down beneath a broken headstone sent him to his knees, paralyzed with fear of what he already knew, in his gut, to be heartbreakingly true. He crawled forward, pulled her limp form out from beneath the slab of marble and held her tightly to his chest. Blood soaked her deep red top and the grass beneath them. It stained his hands and his shirt with lukewarm stickiness that should have smelled heavenly, but instead left him impossibly nauseous as he silently willed her heart to start beating again even as his instincts told him it never would. Too much blood. She’d lost too much, and . . .
Oh God, no.
It wasn’t all hers.
With agonizing slowness, as though the world were trying to come to a shuddering halt but couldn’t overcome its own momentum, Spike touched a trembling finger to the smear on her face, and brought the stained digit to his nose.
The bastard that had nearly torn out her throat with the ferocity of his bite had made her drink.
Fingers of frigid fear and heavy, smothering dread clutched at his heart and the world jolted back into motion, moving so rapidly around him that it threatened to knock him so far down he’d never get up again.
No, not this.
Anything but this.
Spike touched her face, fingers ghosting over the soft, flawless skin that had yet to cool. So lost, Buffy was, thrust back into the thankless world she had sacrificed herself to save, and now, none of it mattered, because she was gone. She hadn’t even had the chance to find herself again before she left. Trembling hands moved to lift her into his arms when a sudden waft of scent, swirling around him in the light breeze, made him pause.
Spike spun around as he stood, slipping into game-face and adopting a fighting stance, placing himself between Buffy’s body and the approaching vampires, growling quietly, menacingly. There were four of them, sauntering casually in his direction, strutting as if they owned the graveyard and laughing amongst themselves. Three of them were covered in blood, and Spike didn’t need his enhanced sense of smell to know that these were the monsters that had killed her.
The foursome came quite close before they took notice of Spike, and he realized with fury that they were nothing more than fledglings. Bloody juveniles, and they’d gotten the better of the strongest slayer the world had ever known. Had their one good day. She deserved better than these bumbling fools, tripping over headstones as they shouted their congratulations to the one who had done it. The one who had turned the Slayer.
They froze, mere meters from where Spike stood, finally seeing the threat and proving to Spike how inexperienced they truly were. The leader, the scrawny redheaded teenager still wearing his burial clothes, went rigid, prepared to face off against the apparent challenger, while his followers, the buddies he’d likely turned, flanked him uncertainly.
“Go get your own, grandpa!” he shouted, flashing a cocky, fangy grin at his own wit while the others tittered with laughter behind him.
Spike growled, but remained still, though his entire body vibrated with the need to rip the braggart to shreds.
The redhead’s composure faltered for a second, but when his eyes drifted to the still form of Buffy behind him, he straightened, the smug expression returned. “Killed me a slayer!” he announced with immeasurable pride as he took one step, and then another, toward Spike and the prize he guarded. “That makes me master around here, I think. I order you to get lost.”
Again, the minions chortled, slapping each other on the back and muttering about how the stupid bleached vampire was so going to get it.
Spike clenched and unclenched his fists, waiting, watching, not daring to step away from Buffy, unwilling to leave her unprotected. They would come to him. They didn’t know any better. The leader continued to strut forward, filthy drivel falling from his waggling tongue, the content lost, but not the significance, as Spike stared at him through the blood-red haze. Just a little closer . . .
They never knew what hit them. Spike pounded his fist into the face of the leader, the redheaded idiot who had stolen his world, once, twice, three times before snapping his neck. He hadn’t managed even a single retaliatory hit. Spike grabbed him by the lapels of his bloodied suit jacket and tossed him over the heads of the suddenly silent, trembling minions and into the side of a nearby crypt.
The minions stood in a knot, one of them daring enough to raise his fists, none of them capable of running away. The first one, the only one not bathed in Buffy’s blood, he staked without a second thought. He tore the head off the second, scattering his dust over the third, pleading vampire, who had slipped out of game face and cowered, staring at him with the wide, terrified eyes of the teenager he’d been only days ago and begging Spike to let him go. But Spike was beyond hearing, beyond caring. The supposed child before him was painted red with Buffy’s blood, and Spike barely noticed his screeching cries as he wrapped his hands around his neck, twisting until he turned to dust.
His chest heaving with breath he did not need, Spike stalked toward the motionless vampire, lying bent and broken at the base of the crypt. Also back in human visage, he simply cried as Spike crouched down next to him. The elder vampire traced the contours of the fledgling’s face with the pointed end of his stake, slicing a bloody path into the pale skin and its stolen warmth.
“You. Are. Nothing.” Spike whispered, voice hard, cold, remorseless, as he dragged the stake down the vampire’s neck. “Don’t deserve it.”
The fledgling flinched as Spike raised the stake and plunged, sinking it into the right side of his chest, pulling it out as the fledgling howled in pain, noting the blood that flowed from the wound. “Outta there,” he breathed, circling the stake above the terrified vampire’s body. “Get you out . . .”
Over and over, Spike plunged the pointed weapon into the paralyzed fledgling, until he was certain that the last of Buffy’s blood had spilled into the grass of the graveyard, the place she had hunted, guarded for years against the monsters that had ultimately taken her life and left her with something far, far worse. He left the redhead undusted, drained, in agony, and unable to move. Let him know suffering, before sunrise took it away with blazing finality.
Spike staggered back to the inert form of the woman he loved, sinking to his knees as the fury faded and the weight of his grief settled again in his heart. He rose on tremulous legs, Buffy’s body cradled in his arms, catching the flood of tears falling liberally from eyes that burned with the sight of her. Unless he could force himself to move now, while his body remained under his control, he would soon collapse in a heap on the grass next to the bloodied remains of Buffy’s death sentence and gladly kiss the sun good morning.
He still might, but he had to do this, first.
The frantic pounding on the motel room door dragged Giles out of a light, restless sleep. Muttering to himself, he pulled on a housecoat and stumbled to the door.
It was a devastated and bloodied Spike that peered back at him through the peephole, still pounding on the door as though the world were ending and sobbing so hard that Giles felt a stab of very real fear that it already had. He hesitated, considering the folly of dealing with Spike in so obvious an emotional state, but something about the sheer desperation in the vampire’s eyes, and the lingering pang of alarm sounding in his own chest, reminding him tangibly of the only other time he had seen Spike in such distress, had him fumbling to free the latch and pull open the door.
What he saw when he did sent him staggering backward until his legs met the bed and gave out completely, tumbling him to the floor while Spike stumbled inside. The vampire fell back, closing them off to the world as he slid down the door and landed heavily, Buffy’s lifeless, bloody body clutched protectively in his arms. Giles voice left him, and all he could do was stare at the gruesome sight, throat tightened with grief.
Buffy was dead, and this time, she wasn’t coming back.
Spike struggled to speak around the wracking sobs that shook his entire body and echoed through the spartan room with grief so powerful, no being could deny the veracity of the vampire’s feelings for the fallen girl he held so protectively. Through his own ringing ears, Giles struggled to make sense of Spike’s garbled words, leaning forward, squinting in concentration, until his heavy heart sank even further.
“Bloody . . . bastard . . . made her drink.”
The burning ache that rose in his chest with the comprehension of the words drained away the vestiges of self-control, and Giles threw his head back as a raw, anguished scream tore past his strictured larynx, fading into a strangled sob.
Giles retained no concept of the amount of time that passed as he and the vampire sat, sharing a heart-wrenching mixture of cries, yells, and hopeless screams over the broken, bloody body of the woman they both loved deeply, if differently. The room and its surroundings faded away into meaninglessness. All Giles could see was Buffy, beautiful, silent, ravaged Buffy, and the grieving man who held her.
When the knock came asking if everything was all right, Spike growled out a furious, “Get the bloody hell away!” and struggled to his feet.
He approached the bed and laid her body gently atop the counterpane, sitting down beside her, hovering over, guarding her, one hand clutching hers while the other stroked her bloodstained forehead. Giles struggled to pull himself up, grateful when the vampire held out a hand to help. The watcher slipped his hand into Buffy’s other, noting with a painful twisting of his gut that she was already starting to cool.
“What if . . . what . . .” Spike broke off, lifted his red-rimmed, tortured gaze to meet Giles’s eyes.
Giles swallowed, clenching his free hand into a fist that threatened to drive his fingernails straight through his palm. “We’d have to . . . we should . . .”
The vehemence in Spike’s cry echoed the fury in his eyes, and he pulled Buffy’s body across his lap, arms tightening around her protectively, possessively. “Can’t! Not when . . . Oh God . . .”
“Can’t,” Giles agreed in a devastated whisper.
He knew what he ought to do. He knew what he was supposed to do. He also knew that he couldn’t do it, not when the small amount of reason he retained told him that she might not have been turned. The severity of her neck wounds may have killed her before her attacker forced his own blood down her throat. Yet the very real possibility remained that she had swallowed some of the blood on her lips before her life left her. But Spike was right. He couldn’t. Couldn’t take the steps necessary to ensure she never rose. The thought of cutting off her head or setting her body aflame filled him with crushing, soul-eating guilt and a sense of panic so severe, he suddenly felt unable to breathe.
He struggled, sucking in gasping, stridorous breaths, while Spike watched, never relaxing his hold. “Won’t,” the vampire stated, hard, devastated eyes boring into his panic-stricken face.
When he had calmed himself, Giles again met Spike’s eyes. What truths the vampire read there seemed to satisfy him, for he nodded, some of the tension easing, and he again allowed Buffy’s body to lie sedately between them.
“What do we do?”
That he had said to Spike, not hours before, that he would never ask for his opinion, was not lost on either of them. Through his grief, Spike managed to grant him a scathing look before his expression softened. His voice, though hoarse and shaky, was calm as he replied, “Can’t bury her.”
Spike looked down at her, stroking his fingers gently through her hair. Fresh tears fell, splattering softly over her face, mixing with the blood and running away, into the bedclothes in pink-tinged rivulets. “Diggin’ out once is enough,” he elaborated, smiling softly. “Not gonna put you through that again, sweetheart.”
Though he knew Spike had not spoken this last to him, Giles nonetheless felt the need to reply. “No, not that.”
Spike looked up again and nodded. Giles swallowed and pulled his glasses from his face, holding them aside and blinking away his own tears. “Would you . . . can you . . . stay with her?” he asked, so quietly only Spike’s vampiric hearing allowed him to understand. “If she . . . you’re the only one—”
“Yes,” Spike interrupted. “I dunno if I can . . . if she’s still—”
They looked hard at each other again, somehow finding understanding, common ground where none existed before. Both of them knew that if Buffy became a vampire, they would have to kill her, likewise understanding that neither one of them could do it alone. A sired slayer would make a dangerous fledgling. She had the abilities and the knowledge coupled with the bloodlust to not only survive, but cause a great deal of death in the process. Spike invariably knew that Giles could not let that happen, couldn’t let the Buffy-shaped demon cut a bloody swath through Sunnydale. Giles knew that if any part of Buffy remained after her turning, Spike would not be able to drive the killing stake through her heart.
Part of him hoped that Buffy’s mortal memories and Spike’s influence would be enough to control her inner demon. Most of him feared it would not. The recognition of Spike’s unique nature amongst his kind reminded Giles painfully that he knew of no other vampire without the benefit of a soul to shift so far toward the side of good that he couldn’t remember the last purely evil thing he had done. His hopes for Buffy’s vampiric disposition dwindled to a dismal throb in his aching heart.
“You’ll make sure they stay away, ‘til I send for you?” Spike asked.
“I will,” Giles replied.
Without further word, Spike stood and collected Buffy’s body, gently, reverently cradling her to his chest. As he turned to leave, Giles called out, “Spike?”
The vampire turned, waiting.
“Take care of her.”