Tower of Learning
Leaving Wolfram and Hart was surprisingly simple, even with a lifeless slayer bound in a leather duster and cradled in the vampire's arms. Wright walked intently alongside his companion, ready to blow holes through anything that stood in their way, but nothing did.
It was fortunate that Spike had an armful of slayer, because he wasn’t sure what he’d do to the man standing beside him if his hands were free. One part of him burned with fury and the other…
Now that it was over, that the deed had been done, he didn’t know.
All he knew was that Buffy would not wake up in this god-awful place. So he’d wrapped her in the duster he’d pulled off his second slayer and kept his eyes locked ahead.
He did not want to think of what happened next. If she hated him, truly hated him, he didn’t know what he would do.
But it was too late now because there was no way he could be the one to kill her. And that was what Wright had done to him, never mind what he had done to Buffy. This bloke had damned him. He was in a place where he’d either let her open her eyes as a vampire or kill her as a human. And he didn’t have the strength to do the latter.
So he carried her, walking with intent through the sewers toward the Hyperion, and tried not to think about what was coming, what had happened, or how badly he wanted to bash in the brains of the man at his side.
He tightened his jaw.
Flexed his fingers over the leather of his duster.
"Spike, for Chrissake, say something."
"There's nothin' to say."
"I think there is."
At that, he couldn’t help himself. The demon roared, ready for a fight. "Yeah. And as we all know, you're bursting with brilliant ideas."
"It was all..." Wright sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It was everything...all that we could do. All that I could do."
"You've ruined her." Spike stopped dead in his tracks and turned to the man he’d come to think of as a friend. "You've... How can you not know what you've done? You out of all the bloody people in the fucking world oughta know that. You dedicated your life to this. To..." He fell silent again. There weren’t words enough for this. "You know what you've done."
"It...she..." Zack closed his eyes as though begging for strength. "She will keep her soul. Wes and Cordy assured me that if she was turned, she would keep her soul."
"Right. Small compensation for losing everything else. Guess that makes it okay, then? And why the bleeding hell were Wes and Cordy giving you tips on siring a slayer?"
"I wasn't planning this and you know it. It came up in passing conversation. I was worried about what would happen if Angelus turned her. I didn't..." Another sigh painted the air. "I didn't want to have to approach you with the possibility of having to kill her."
“So you decided to let her become the thing she hates instead.”
“She gets to live!”
“Would you wanna live like this, you stupid sod?”
Wright shrugged. “Working out fine for you.”
“I don’t have a soul!”
“Well, she will. Way I see it…” He looked down. “She gets to live. She gets to keep living. What is wrong with that?”
“As the thing she hates. Keep forgetting that?”
“She’s not going to be like Darla and you know it,” Wright snapped. “She’s not going to be the thing she hates because she will have a soul. All that’s changed is her diet. I saved her fucking life back there, so if you want to get around to a thank you, now would be the time.”
Spike stared at him, incredulous. “You believe that.”
“Yes, I do.”
“So if my fangs were to slip into your throat, you’d want me to open a vein to keep you in this world, is that it?”
Wright gestured at Buffy. “If I knew I’d wake up feeling like me, yes.”
“Even though you hate my kind.”
“I hate Darla,” Wright snapped. “Your kind? Fuck if I know anymore. But if there was a chance to stay with Rosalie, if all it meant was I switched up my diet, then yes, I’d take that.”
“How the fuck do you think this works? Buffy wakes up and sends you a sodding thank you card?” Spike stared at him for a moment, broke off with a laugh. Anger burned his chest but there was something else there too. Something more like pity. “I thought you knew your stuff, mate.”
“I couldn’t… I had a way to save her. I took it.”
“Yeah, and you were so keen on it being the right thing that putting two in my chest for laughs.” Spike shook his head, and he turned and continued toward the Hyperion. “You knew what you were doin’. You knew I wouldn’t go for it so you did it yourself. And now she’s gonna wake up and bloody hate me for all of sodding eternity."
"I didn't save her, did I?"
"You didn't kill her, either."
"No. I just handed her an existence that she's never gonna forgive me for. That...she..." A lingering beat of resented rage tore through him. "I can't believe you did this."
"I had to."
"You keep saying that. Never heard of a vampire hunter forced to make a vampire."
"It had nothing to do with that and you know it. I did it because it meant something for..." Wright shook his head and sighed a deep breath. "When I lost Amber...it nearly killed me. It probably should have, given how naïve I was at the time. If I had had the opportunity, I would've done anything to save her. Anything."
Spike made a noncommittal sound, eyes drifting to Buffy once more. "Siring her wouldn't have saved her."
"It wouldn't have even been her when she—"
"Vamps have the memories and the—"
"I know. But she would...she was Amber. And I would've done anything then. Even that." Zack sighed. "It's different now, of course. I wouldn’t make that decision with her. I don’t think I would."
"But you would for the woman I love.”
"You know why I did it, asshole. She's...I couldn't stand to see someone go through what I went through, especially when there was a way to stop it. She's a slayer. She—"
"She doesn't deserve this. She doesn't deserve an eternity of pain to spare my feelings."
"You have the power to fix it now if you feel that I was that out of line."
Spike stopped shortly and glared at him. "You son of a bitch."
"Well what? If I did such an injustice to her, kill her before she rises. It'd be the merciful thing to do, wouldn't it?"
There was a long, dangerous pause. Then, slowly with marked resignation, he expelled a deep breath and allowed the tension in his shoulders to roll off. "You know I can't."
"You mean you won't."
Wright arched a brow and waited.
"I won't," Spike repeated, hating himself. "I won't lose her again. I'm not...I'm too bloody selfish to lose her twice."
His head shot up. "Don't do that. Don't for one second pretend you're better than me when you've just told me that—"
"I'm not, Spike. We're even. Completely." Zack shook his head heavily and they continued walking. "There've been a lot of things that I've done and I'm not proud of. A lot. The decision I made back there is not one of them. I might doubt myself, I might hate myself, but I know...I know that it's better to try and save someone from what I went through than sit from the goddamn sidelines. You're a vampire and I hate you for it. You know I hate you for it. But I think I hate you for being a man more than anything else." He smiled when Spike glanced at him in surprise. "It's easier when monsters behave like monsters. When they prove to be men, that's when you question your integrity. I'm not better than you, Spike. I'm the same. We're the same. We're both men with monsters locked inside, and there's not a damn thing either one of us can do about it."
For a few seconds, it seemed the entirety of the Los Angeles underworld went quiet. It took only a beat or so in retrospect for Spike's anger to begin to wane. It wasn't much, but it was enough. It was enough for both of them.
A sigh coursed through him and his guard slipped. "You still don't know what you've done to her."
"I know," Wright replied quietly. "Just as I know it had to be done. Angelus murdered her because he knew that you were coming for her. I'm not about to give him that advantage."
"This is more than him."
"It's about her. It's also about you. I know it would've destroyed you. It would've made you into one of them." Zack smiled grimly and turned to continue. "There might be a lot of wrong in what I did, Spike, but neither one of us is gonna fix it. You would've grieved, then you would've lost it. You would've...you would've become dangerous."
"And that’s no sodding reason to—"
“We agree to disagree.”
“I'm already dangerous, Zangy. You forget that.”
"No, I don't. I can't afford to. But I also know that you're a good man, despite being a bad vampire."
Wright snickered. "Right. You're not. Come on. Falling in love with your enemy? Going against your family? Becoming the honorary leader of Angel Investigations—the crime fighting squadron? Yeah. You're not. Tell that to me again, but this time try to sound like you believe it."
Spike went still for a minute. "I’m not the honorary leader."
Zack gave him a look.
"Right. And everyone's just sitting on their tail ends waiting on word from you because it's so productive."
"They just knew how important it was to get Buffy out."
"Important to you."
"She's the Slayer, mate! It doesn't get more important than that."
"There would've been others. So is the lifeline of the Slayer." Wright's hands came up in a measure of defense. "I'm just saying. I came into this not knowing shit about slayers, but I've done my reading and Cordy's filled me in on all the gray areas. Slayers aren't meant to grow old, Spike. Buffy's death was inevitable anyway you looked at it. Trying to save her, while noble, would've ultimately been a stall at best."
"Well, thank god we had you to solve that problem."
"What I did had nothing to do with her being the Slayer. I had to get her back."
The vampire snorted. "Right. 'Cause she means so much to you."
"No. But I know you…better than I'd like to. Buffy is your link to humanity. I'm not so stupid that I can't see that. She's the reason you're here with me at all. She's the reason you're not the monster you're supposed to be." A sigh rolled off his shoulders. "I couldn't risk that you'd revert to form because then I'd be forced to kill you."
"You might hafta yet."
"It’s a part of having a vamp as a chum, Zangy."
"So you just thought you'd spare yourself and instead condemn the woman I love to an existence that she's gonna bloody well hate me for...for having any part of?" Spike sighed and shook his head. "I'd rather have her dead and feeling whatever she was feeling for me toward the end than alive and hating me forever."
Zack nodded. "How selfish of you."
"Bloody right." The vampire grinned wryly at his friend's surprise that he would accept such a calm resignation. "For the first few years, mate, I could live with it. I could live with it as long as she's happy. If by the grace of god she overcomes her transformation and…if she can be happy, that's all that matters."
"Why do I sense a big ole nasty 'but' in that clause?"
"Because eventually her friends are gonna snuff it. Then she's gonna be left alone." Spike expelled a deep, mournful breath. "And when it comes down to that, I don't want her seeking me out 'cause I'm all she's got left. I don't want her...like that. Whatever happiness she has for the whole of fifty years is gonna be nothing compared to the loneliness after that. There'd be no one else for her. No other vamps. No Angel. No one. I don't wanna be the last resort. Not after what we've shared." He shook his head. "I don't want her to spend the whole of eternity hating me for being too bloody selfish to give her up. I don't want her crawling to me for being the only one left. I just…"
There was no reason to clarify. Wright, it seemed, finally understood.
"But you still won't kill her."
"No. I can't." Spike made a pitiful sound and shook his head. "I can't kill her, even to spare her that. No matter what I…I lost her once today. It nearly destroyed me. Those few seconds nearly destroyed me. I can't do it again."
There was a snort. "What we have here is an ethical dilemma."
"For two blokes who don't really favor ethics, it’s a pretty sizey one."
"Maybe you're wrong. Maybe she'll see that."
“Gave up believing in miracles when I was a tyke. No reason to start up again.”
By the time he crossed the threshold of the Hyperion, Spike felt mentally checked out. He barely registered Cordelia’s gasp, or the way she commanded Rosalie to go upstairs. He didn’t want to chat with anyone. He just wanted to get her somewhere comfortable.
Fuck, it was the least he could do.
But then, as he’d learned, he never really got what he wanted.
"Oh my god." Cordelia approached him slowly. "Spike...I'm so sorry."
He tried and failed for a smile, a thousand different things swarming his mind. The Angel Investigations lot needed to know what was going to happen tonight. That they weren’t burying anyone. That Buffy might be dead but she wasn’t gone. But he couldn't say it—couldn’t bring himself to form the words.
So instead, he nodded at Wright. “Fill her in, would you? I’m going upstairs.”
Cordelia’s eyes were wide with concern. "Why?"
"To clean her," he explained. "I'm not gonna let her stay like this."
And that was it—there was nothing else to say.
He carried her to the master suite. Angel’s room, the one he’d avoided like the bloody plague, but it was the nicest one in the joint and that was what Buffy deserved.
Even better, Angel’s scent had all but faded.
In the adjoining bathroom, Spike stripped Buffy of his duster, turned the shower on hot, and entered, fully clothed, with her in his arms. It was quick. He scrubbed her skin until the water circling the drain was rust-red, massaged shampoo into her scalp, felt the places where Angelus had hurt her the most.
Feeling the rage he thought impossible to intensify expand and nearly break his chest.
But he didn't linger in the shower. Just stayed long enough to get the worst of her clean before moving them to the tub.
Time and experience had taught him many different ways to care for someone he loved. He couldn't fathom how often he’d tended to Drusilla in a similar manner. Bathing her. Feeding her. Even before Prague, his deranged ex-lover had implored him to pamper her, care for her, bloody well wait on her hand and foot. And now he was taking care of the Slayer in a way that he never would have wished upon her. One of the things he loved most about her self-reliance. That and her fierce determination to care for others. He had never wanted to see her so weak. So needy. Drusilla had needed him, and that had been enough.
Buffy had needed him too—she’d said as much before—but he didn’t want her like that.
Despite how he tried, he couldn't see beyond tomorrow.
He had a feeling the night would be a plague of these thoughts. Right now, he needed to make sure that when she woke, she would be warm and loved. That she found the world a better place than the one she had left. That she knew, despite how things might have changed, that she was safe here. With him.
So he bathed her. Thoroughly. He cleaned her cuts and mended her wounds, even as they began to seal themselves. The transformation was claiming her. Vampirism in cahoots with her slayer power.
The gods themselves do tremble.
When he had done everything he could to make her wake comfortable, he dried her off with and carried her back to the bedroom, where he found a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt laid out on the bed and Cordelia’s scent in the room.
His chest filled with warmth. Thank you, pet.
Spike laid Buffy on the bed, dressed her, then situated her under the blankets. She was too pale. She had always been paler than any other normal Californian but her color now was nearly nonexistent. Kept too long from the sun and subject too often to torment and pain. And now this. Lifeless. Dead.
He hated it.
How long he sat with her, he didn’t know. Time had been his enemy from the start, and ultimately what had claimed her life. A matter of seconds between his arrival and her death, and another handful separating the moments between the instant he’d seen her and when Wright had put a bullet in his chest.
Wright. Fucking Wright. Just picturing the sod made his fangs itch, inspired the monster that called his body home to rearrange the demon hunter’s face.
Wright didn’t think in terms of forevers. His world was split between the dead and the living. Saving a life, then, meant exactly that—keeping the person in this world at whatever the cost. The fact that he didn’t see what he’d condemned Buffy to only reinforced this. As long as she awoke, he felt justified.
Wright might have dedicated his life to destroying the undead, but he’d never truly understood them. If he had, he never would have done what he’d done. He wouldn’t have viewed it as saving anyone.
And Spike didn’t know what to think about that. He’d be lying, though, if he said part of him wasn’t grateful. The part of him that was entirely evil and selfish and hoping beyond anything that Buffy would be Buffy when she opened her eyes. That she wouldn’t hate him for what she’d become.
But she would. Of course she would. And he’d deserve it.
Sometime past dark, the door creaked open and the scent of warm blood hit the air. Spike turned to the door and was greeted by Cordelia's warm, sympathetic smile. She offered him a mug, then took a seat at the end of Buffy’s bed without a word.
Spike regarded her carefully before turning his attention to the mug. It seemed forever had passed since he’d last eaten. "Thanks," he said hoarsely and indulged a large gulp.
She shrugged. "I thought you could use a friend."
"Is that what we are?"
"Oh, don't. Don't even."
"I'm not doing anything."
"Yes, you are. You're brooding." Spike’s eyes went wide, and she brought her hands up. "I'm just stating a fact, here. And trust me, I'd know. Hello, worked for a brooding vamp for two years. I think I know the signs."
He snickered and took another drink. "That was below the bloody belt, you know."
"Of course. I'm Cordelia. I only aim below the belt. It's the only way to get the point across."
Spike tried for a smile, but his heart wasn’t in it. His heart was in the bed, waiting to wake up and shatter.
"You did everything you could," Cordelia said softly.
He couldn't help it; he snorted. "Yeah. Sure did."
"I wasn't talking about that."
"Doesn't matter. I was."
"And again with the brooding. I'm going to need to whack you upside the head every few seconds to keep this from becoming a dangerous habit, aren't I?" She sighed when he didn't answer. "He did what he thought was right. You know how he feels about this."
"Y'know, after today, I’m seriously beginning to have my doubts."
"Right. And that's why you met him while at the wrong end of a crossbow."
"Pet, at my age, you're not looking to find many things that I haven't seen the wrong end of." A sigh coursed through his agonized body, and he leaned forward. "She's never gonna forgive me for this."
"Sure she is."
A bitter chuckle rumbled through his lips. "It’s not that simple."
"Of course not. But everything's forgivable, Spike. Even for stuck-up slayers."
She arched an eyebrow. "You speak as though it's not the truth."
"Haven't you ever heard of respecting the dead?"
"Yeah. Kinda figured that one's a pick and choose type of thing. Selective respect. Wouldn't want to be respecting the wrong sort of dead."
Spike smiled ruefully. "Got that for bloody right." His gaze once again fell upon the Slayer. She remained as she had before. "This is a terrible feeling."
Cordelia nodded. "Being afraid?" She smiled at the look he gave her. "It's okay to be afraid from time to time, you know. Even for a vampire."
"I've never been afraid before."
"Yes you have. You've been terrified since you first came here. Terrified that she'd die." When he stiffened, she sighed. "It wasn't your fault, Spike. You did everything you could. Absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent everything you could. I've never seen anyone care for anyone the way I saw you care for her these past few…however long you've been here."
An embittered chuckle rumbled through his body. "Funny how you lose track of time when you're having fun, innit?"
"That's not how the saying goes, and you're purposefully steering me from my point."
"Didn't know you had one of those."
She smirked. "Thanks. My point is, this is the first time that waiting has been a part of the saving-her job. That's why you're feeling your fear now."
He shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I don't like it."
"Well, Pouty McPoutsAlot, what are you gonna do about it? Sit up here and brood?" Cordelia followed his gaze to the bed, where Buffy lay still unchanged. "She'll forgive you."
A choked sob that he hadn't realized he had been harboring spilled from his lips. Funny how emotion could creep up on him. He had never thought he’d be so fucking open. "You can't know that. You don't know… She's gonna hate me, Cordy. And I can't bloody well—"
"Anyone who's seen you at all since you got here knows damn well what you've been going through to get her back. And if you're that transparent to us, then I can't begin to imagine just how much you've revealed during your private time with Buff." She covered his hand with her own, encasing his cold with her warmth. "She'll understand. It wasn't your fault, Spike. She'll have to see that."
He shook his head. "She's gonna hate me."
"Then, frankly, she doesn't deserve you."
When he whipped his head toward her, she offered nothing more than a sincere smile. And at that moment, he knew for the first time what it meant to have friends. Real friends. People that would stand by him, through the good and bad decisions. People that accepted him for what he was.
It was spectacular and only served to terrify him more.
Things were so much simpler when one lived alone.
"I'm gonna head back downstairs," Cordelia announced, patting him twice in support before standing once more. "You really oughta come with."
"No. I’m staying here." Spike turned back to fully face the bed. "I'm not gonna leave her until... I’m not gonna leave her."
"Man, talk about commitment."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'll be back up in an hour or so…just to see if you need something."
"Thanks, pet. I appreciate it."
She droped a kiss on his cheek. "No prob. Anything's better than sitting around while Wes is in research mode. Something about the girl I saw in my vision earlier."
Spike nodded noncommittally. "Oh."
"Yeah, it was a thing before…well, it was a thing." She moved to the door. "Remember, we're all downstairs if you need anything."
"Kinda hard to forget."
Though he sensed her linger a few minutes, Cordelia didn’t say anything else. And then she was gone, and he was alone again. Alone with Buffy, who still hadn’t moved. Alone with his dark thoughts. Alone with his fear.
He ended up on the bed beside her. Couldn't explain why fully.
Well, he could. Sure he could. The separation was enough to kill a weaker man—he felt it through every unholy strain in his body. The connection their combined blood had forged. Anything and everything.
And if he were being honest, he would admit that he wanted the opportunity to hold her once while she slept. Just once. Once before the world he had created for them shattered. Before his nightmares became reality. Before he looked into her eyes and saw hatred bounce back at him.
Spike rested then, his hand finding hers. And then, the words he hadn't allowed himself to say stormed his throat, and he had to let them out.
"I love you."
There. It was out there. At last, it was out there, even if she hadn’t heard him
With that, Spike's eyes fluttered shut. And for the first time in days, sleep caught up with him.