Author’s Notes: I debated for a long time before writing this one, although the idea was there before I even finished CMNA. Some of you will believe that I have ruined the previous stories, which is fine. All I ask is that if you’re unhappy with where this goes that you’ll go back, re-read Cast Me Not Away through Silver Bells, and then you can flame me if you’d like. I’ll calmly pull out the fire-extinguisher and ignore you, but that’s alright. The themes have been there; I just hadn’t quite managed to elaborate on them yet. (Oh, and before anyone screams Nika, Wesley, Spike and Buffy will survive. More than that I won’t promise.)
Prologue: January 2017
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.” ~Song of Songs 8:6-7
“I don’t want you to leave.” Buffy spoke as though her words alone would prevent Spike from going. For a moment he paused in his packing, only to begin again, the tension in his shoulders obvious. “Please, Spike.”
He zipped up the duffel in one vicious jerk, the long months of arguing having taken their toll. “No, Buffy. This time, it isn’t about you.”
She flinched as though he’d hit her. “Spike—”
“‘ve done everythin’ you’ve ever asked of me,” he continued relentlessly. “I need this.”
“And what if you don’t come back?” she demanded. “You promised you wouldn’t leave!”
“I leave every time I walk out that door to do a job,” he snarled. “An’ so do you. We get no guarantees in this life, Slayer, except the ones we create ourselves. I told you I’d always come back, an’ I always will. Don’t start doubting me now.”
“I’m not doubting you!” she shot back. “This is—this is a lot more risky than anything we’ve done in the past, and you’re going alone.”
Blue eyes sparked as he tried to brush past her. “That’s a funny way of puttin’ it when you know Wesley’s goin’ with me.”
“No.” The word was stark, layered with years of fear and anger, sparked by one off-handed comment several months before. “How long before I’d have to leave anyway, Buffy?” Spike demanded. “You think the neighbors wouldn’t begin to notice that I’m not agin’? ‘s not just gonna be Meg’s teachers who make comments, Slayer, ‘s gonna be everyone who sees us together. And meanwhile I would watch as you, an’ Wesley, an’ the rest get older. You think I’ve forgotten that ‘m goin’ to watch you die one of these days, if I’m not dust first? Well, I won’t. ‘ve lost you once, an’ ‘m not goin’ to let it happen again.”
It was the same argument, the same words. They had gone round for months, Buffy unwilling to let him leave to find a solution that he could live with. Spike unwilling to give up on the idea. The thoughtless comment of a teacher, that there was no way Spike could be Meg’s father because he appeared to be too young had sparked an intense debate that showed no signs of diminishing.
Spike, who had been as patient as he was able, finally gave up on convincing Buffy that this was the best thing to do. Wesley had been an unexpected advocate, and after months of research they were embarking on a quest that would hopefully grant the vampire his wish.
Buffy wanted to threaten him. She wanted to tell Spike that if he left now, he could never come back, but she well remembered the pain those words had caused her when Joyce had used them. She had left anyway, and months later, they had both still been reeling.
Besides, on the off chance that Spike was actually successful, Buffy wanted him to come back.
“I love you,” she said, her voice carrying a resignation that hadn’t been there up till now. It was that tone which caught Spike’s attention and caused him to pause in his flight. “Just—be careful.”
He stood, torn, wanting both to go to her and to walk out. Spike was raw from months of arguments, weeks of feeling as though she wasn’t listening to him out of her own selfish reasons and fears. “I will come back.” He didn’t move, not even when he felt Buffy’s arms around his waist.
“I believe you.” They stood in silence. “Please look at me.”
Spike turned so that he could face her. “Buffy—”
“Come back to me,” she said intently. For the first time, Buffy understood the necessity of loving Spike enough to let him go. “That’s all I ask.”
“I swear it.”
She released him then, and Spike opened the door of their bedroom to find Meg standing there, looking up at him with those great big eyes of hers that were so much like Dawn’s. “Dad? Are you leaving?”
“Gotta go, moppet,” he said gently. “But I’ll be back before you know it.”
Meg knew that adults lied sometimes, and she knew there was a good possibility that her father was probably lying to her now. Her parents had been fighting for months about her dad leaving, and from what Meg had overheard, Buffy didn’t think Spike was going to return.
On the other hand, her dad had never lied to her before. Meg gave him a hug, feeling his arms come around her, their familiar strength comforting. “Love you.”
“Love you too, moppet.”
And then he was gone. It was a day that Meg would remember forever.
Wesley embraced Nika with a desperation he hated to let her see. “You’ll be alright?”
“I do know how to take care of myself, cariad ,” Nika reminded him. “Besides, Nain is here to help me, as is Hannah.”
Wesley stole a look at both Enid and his Slayer. “I know I’m leaving you in good hands,” he said to his wife, pulling back.
Unlike Buffy, Nika understood completely why the vampire was making the choice he was. After all, as a woman who had lost almost everyone she loved, she could see why Spike would take steps to prevent suffering the same kind of loss.
Wesley gave Enid a hug and then put his arm around Hannah’s shoulders. “Buffy is in charge while I’m gone,” he told her. “You’ll do as she says?”
“Why would I treat Buffy any differently than I treat you?” Hannah replied cheekily.
Wesley tugged on her braid in remonstrance. “Take care, Hannah.”
She smiled back at him, recognizing his caution for the concern that it was. “Will do, Watcher-man.”
Wesley had already said goodbye to his children, who were in bed at this late hour. He hated leaving them. He—who had never thought to be so settled—was the perfect example of a family man. Nika gave him a final kiss. “Take care of Spike, Wesley.”
Enid touched his stubbled cheek. “Be safe.”
He went, buoyed on the well-wishes of his family.