He had always enjoyed this time of night; early evening, when the warmth of the day persisted and the setting sun was low enough to allow him outside to appreciate it. This sunset was particularly beautiful, casting a glow of red and orange and pink over the wispy clouds of the horizon, painting the sides of the trees and nearby buildings with its colourful glow. He pondered the fleeting nature of its beauty. As intense, as brilliant as it was in the moment, it would soon fade into night as though it had never been.
The light breeze stirring the leaves and teasing his hair was warm, warm as the lingering heat of a midsummer’s day, but Buffy shivered in his arms and tugged the blanket up around her. His arms tightened reflexively, protectively around her, and though he could not see her face where it rested comfortably against his chest, he could imagine her slight, tired smile as he placed a gentle kiss into her hair.
“Spike?” she whispered, her voice weak, weary.
“Yeah, love?” he replied.
Buffy tipped her head up, caught his eyes with hers, clear and sharp as ever and greener than usual in the muted light. “Would you tell me a story?”
Booted feet caught on the space between two of the deck planks, halting the soothing, swinging motion of the bench. “Anything in particular you have in mind?”
She sighed, softly, the puff of air tickling his chin, her small fingers tracing absent-minded patterns on his chest. “Just talk to me,” she whispered, eyes drifting shut. “I just want to listen to your voice, for a while.”
“I can do that,” he answered her, drawing the blanket more tightly around the both of them when another slight gust of wind brought forth another chilled quiver.
She smiled up at him, though she kept her eyes tightly shut, and Spike traced a finger lightly over her lips in acknowledgement. She wasn’t unhappy these days, but her smiles were rare; rarer even than in the months following her resurrection. His motion caused it to widen, lips curling with genuine feeling, and when she gently nipped his finger, he was reminded, for the thousandth – the millionth – time that day alone why he had fallen in love with her.
“Right then, a story,” he murmured, the words muffled as he nuzzled her hair and stroked her cheek while Buffy whimpered in contentment.
The motion of her fingers against the fabric of his shirt stilled as he began speaking, voice low and soothing, not quite hiding the chirp of the crickets in the distance. “Long time ago, was this girl,” he said, the hand at her cheek moving to cover hers on his chest. “Wee slip of a thing, she was, but strong.”
“How strong?” Buffy asked, gripping tightly as he twined their fingers together. “As strong as you?”
“Stronger,” he corrected. “See, this girl wasn’ a normal girl. She was special.”
“How was she special?” Buffy wondered, her tone hinting at playfulness while her subtle smile suggested she’d certainly caught on to his subject.
“She was special in a lot of ways,” Spike replied, resuming the slow, gentle rocking of the bench swing. “She used her strength to protect the innocents from big, bad monsters tryin’ to destroy the world. But that wasn’t the special part, not really.
“She was most special in ways most others couldn’t see, or didn’t want to. Because, for all her physical strength, her true strength was inside, in her heart. She wasn’t perfect, but she tried so hard to be what everyone else wanted. Faced death and heartache every day of her life, an’ came out the other side standin’ tall.”
Spike paused, noting the stain of tears on her cheeks, leaning down to kiss them away. “Well,” he remarked, nudging her nose with his, “not tall . She was really kinda short.”
That earned him a laugh. Not more than a soft, barely audible chuckle, but genuine nonetheless. “But you know what her greatest power was?”
She took so long to answer he feared she had fallen asleep, but after an extended silence, in which the noises of the insects and the rustling of the leaves grew sharper, Buffy answered, “It was love, wasn’t it?”
“Was,” Spike agreed. “Still is. Her love turned monsters into men.”
Buffy sighed again, deeply, and borrowed into his arms, bringing her own trembling hand up to brush his cheek in obvious affection. He kissed her fingers and caressed the inside of her wrist with a calloused thumb, feeling the tremor in her arm that was a constant now, despite her remaining strength. When her arm dropped, he caught it securely and tucked it around him.
“I’m tired, Spike,” she whispered. It was the first time she had admitted it, though they both knew. “I’m going to sleep for a while, okay?”
The lump in his throat threatened to choke away his voice, but he managed, as his hand came up to cradle her head, to stroke her hair, to respond, “Okay, Buffy. You sleep. I’ve got you.”
“I love you,” she added, the final word trailing off into nothingness.
“I love you, too, Buffy,” Spike answered, leaning his forehead against hers.
He held her in silence as true night fell around them, feeling the rise and fall of her chest gradually slow, hearing the steady beat of her heart grow weak and irregular. Tears slid unchecked over his cheeks, blurring his vision and wetting the soft, silver hair of her head. When Buffy exhaled her last breath, and her tired heart forced its final beat, Spike clutched her to him, feeling the grief rising in his chest, the pressure building, straining, until he could no longer hold it in.
His bereaved howl split the night, reverberating violently through the air, startling all living things with its potency. Holding Buffy tightly, Spike sobbed as he had when he’d looked upon her broken body, lying motionless in the sunlight and rubble, out of reach, forever out of reach.
But she hadn’t been, not forever. The ups and downs of their tumultuous relationship had been devastating at their worst, enlightening at best, until they had found shared understanding in both having died twice, and learned at last how to make each other happy.
When he had no more tears to shed, Spike rose from the bench, Buffy cradled in his arms like an infant, and carried her into the house. In the flickering candlelight of the sitting room, familiar, beloved faces, eyes reddened and cheeks wet with tears, turned as one to greet him. Their family, some by blood – Dawn and her children, and their children – and others by choice, present to share his grief, to mourn the woman who had meant the world to all of them. They may have lost her, but they still had each other, and the memories of she who had brought them all together.
For now, it was enough.
It would have to be.
Spike nodded to them, seeing the understanding in their shimmering eyes, and moved through the room to the bedroom they had shared for more than sixty years. He laid her gently upon the bed, the blanket – her favourite, made by a great-niece – still wrapped around her.
Tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, passing his fingers over her still-warm cheek one final time, Spike leaned forward to gently kiss her forehead.
Straightening, he wiped away a new offering of tears, and whispered, “Goodbye, Buffy.”
Somewhere, he hoped, she would hear him.