|The Longest Distance by Holly|
|Chapter #1 - I|
"Time is the longest distance between two places." - Tennessee Williams
“She’s asking for you.”
Spike swallowed hard and forced himself to nod before turning to Buffy. She had the same stoic look on her face that she’d worn for the past few hours. It was a look he’d seen before, too frequently as of late, but one he associated entirely with the time she’d spent in Hell. The way she used to gaze off at nothing at all, seeing something he couldn’t. Thinking about things she’d rather him not know about.
“Love,” Spike said, dragging his hand down her arm. “Joycie’s talking to you.”
The contact did it. Buffy blinked hard and shook her head, her eyes clearing. She glanced up and smiled—her everything’s all right smile. The one she brought out only when she knew damn well everything wasn’t.
“Mom is asking for you,” Joycie repeated. “Both of you.”
“Thanks.” Buffy pressed her lips together and rose to her feet. She waited until Spike was at her side, his hand around hers.
Then she pulled him forward, into the hallway and under the bloody unforgiving lights that hospitals everywhere seemed to rely on.
Spike had walked this stretch of hall several times now, all under different circumstances. Up until yesterday, he would’ve called the last time the hardest. But this trip was the one he’d dreaded the most. He wasn’t ready to see her like this.
He wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
But he knew the second he stepped into the room that it would be soon. The air stank of death. His gaze immediately fell to the figure on the bed, who greeted him with a brilliant smile that could make him forget why he was here. She didn’t look like a woman about to kick it. She looked just as she always did these days—crazy white hair going in all sorts of directions, a face lined with wrinkles she’d more than earned, her body frail but not broken, and her eyes as alert as ever.
“It’s my favorite brother-in-law,” she greeted. “And he was nice enough to bring my favorite sister.”
Buffy offered a subdued smiled at that. “You still in here faking?”
“Can’t blame me. Did you see the ass on that RN?”
At that, Buffy laughed outright. It was a beautiful, broken sound.
Spike felt the back of his eyes sting.
“Except we’re not one of those families, are we?” Dawn said a moment later. “We don’t lie to each other.”
“Now’s a good time to start,” Buffy replied.
“Nah. I’m too damn old to start learning new habits.”
Buffy smirked. “I’m older. Like way older.”
“Yeah, but I at least look it.” Dawn shook her head—or tried. She didn’t seem to have the strength. “Spike…come here, please.”
Spike felt his feet move forward independent of his brain. He held onto Buffy’s hand until he couldn’t anymore. The steps he took toward Dawn seemed more endless than those in the hallway. It was an odd thing, looking at someone and knowing it was the last time he’d see them. Knowing that they knew it, too. Knowing that the life behind those eyes would soon fade entirely and the world would be down one more Summers.
Well, not a Summers. Not anymore. Not for a long bloody time.
When he was at her bedside, Dawn aimed him a smile that time couldn’t change.
“I love you, blood breath.”
Fuck, now he was going to lose it.
“You too, Bit,” he replied. “You’re one of the only people in this sodding world I can stand, point of fact.”
“That’s what we call a lie.” She blinked slowly, and her smile faded. “I want your word.”
“I’m counting on you. To protect her.”
Spike’s chest tightened. He remembered this.
“Till the end of the world,” he said. “I’ll protect her till the end of the bloody world.”
“I know. Just make sure she lets you.” Dawn grinned, then blinked. Once. Twice. And he saw that she wasn’t as composed as she’d like him to believe. “Spike…I need a moment. With her. I just…I wanted you to know…”
Spike inhaled deeply and nodded again, then leaned forward and brushed his lips across her wrinkled, familiar forehead. The last time. He knew it. This was the last memory he’d have of her alive.
And no one warned him this would be so bloody hard.
He turned away before Dawn could see his tears. It seemed selfish, feeling like this when she was the one dying. Her own death shouldn’t be harder for her because the people in her life didn’t know how to say goodbye.
He caught Buffy’s eyes. She regarded him with a soft smile and a nod. That nod said “I’ll be okay” even if the rest of her could not.
There were moments it hit him, just how strong she was. How strong she’d always been. This was one of those moments. Buffy felt more deeply than anyone he’d ever met, but she played the part of the aloof immortal convincingly enough that often, her mates didn’t realize just how close to breaking she was. He reckoned he would forever be the only one who could read her properly, and while that was just fine with him, it also meant he alone knew how much this was killing her.
Spike made his way toward the door, though he paused to brush a kiss across her brow. “I’ll be right outside.”
Buffy turned those old, wise eyes on him. “I’ll be okay. Go be with the kids.”
“I’m fine, Spike.” She turned back to Dawn. “Besides, we can’t really have girl talk if you’re lurking in the hallway.”
“Duh,” Dawn agreed.
Spike searched Buffy’s face a moment longer, uncertain, but nodded anyway. “All right.” He looked over his shoulder. “See you around, Bit.”
He drew in another deep breath, then forced himself out the door and into the hall.
Later, of course, never came.
Dawn’s last moments had, by all accounts, been peaceful. Her kids said so, at least, and Spike had no reason not to believe them.
For him, the time spanning his leaving of Dawn’s room and returning home alongside Buffy was something of a blur. He remembered stepping back into the waiting area and hovering near the door, anxious for Buffy to come back, nervous as fuck about bollixing up his role in all this. She’d need him, his slayer. She’d need him more than she had since the days when they’d been in Hell together.
And he needed her too because he wasn’t sure how to do any of this. No matter how much practice he got, it never grew easier.
The second he’d stepped back inside the waiting room, Dawn’s kids had jumped to their feet, looked at him with those familiar, expectant eyes, then deflated as they realized he bore no fresh news. He’d thought about going over to them, wrapping an arm around Joycie, giving Emmanuella a reassuring smile, but they had their own kids for that, and though Spike loved them as best he could, there was distance there he couldn’t deny.
Instead, he’d looked to Willow, whose face had been a beacon of understanding. She’d smiled at him, and he’d smiled back—a sort of smile that wasn’t really a smile, rather a silent acknowledgment. Then Willow had looked away and grabbed Tara’s hand with that familiar intimacy that came with time.
And he’d thought about how it would be their turn soon. The witches were both in excellent health, spry as ever. But they were mortal and no amount of magic or special herbs could keep the reaper away.
He’d thought about how soon—sooner than he wanted to admit—he’d have to do this all over again. He hadn’t been the only one thinking it, either. He’d caught the sideways glances Lavelle aimed his mums when he wasn’t tending to his cousins.
When Buffy had reentered the room, she’d looked older than Spike had ever seen her. Older than she’d looked when he’d first cornered her in Hell, older still than she’d looked after she’d remembered. Time wore people different, he knew. This loss wasn’t like the others.
But she hadn’t cried. Hadn’t even seemed close to it. Instead, she’d grabbed his hand before turning to the nieces and nephews and announced that it was time for Dawn’s children to say their goodbyes.
One by one, Joycie, Will and Emmanuella had filed out, followed by the cavalcade of grandkids, until the room was all but vacant.
This was the part of humanity Spike understood. How people rallied in bad times and celebrated in good. How they could fill up an entire sodding waiting room and then some with people who loved Dawn Harris.
It was what came after that boggled his mind. After the time of death had been called but while the family was still mopping up tears. Someone would come and ask about arrangements, and they’d make an appointment to come back at a time that wasn’t two minutes after saying goodbye.
Spike kept waiting to understand the business side of death, but no matter how many funerals he attended, this part never felt normal.
He knew there were conversations to have. Decisions to make. Insurance to sort through and so many things with dollar signs stamped to them it boggled his mind. The whole affair seemed predatory, even to him—vultures circling the bereaved and swooping down when they were at their most vulnerable. Coffins, burials, guest sign-in books, a sodding minister—all at a price. All prettied up so that poor sods felt compelled to fork over merry bushels of cash to make sure they didn’t look heartless in front of the neighbors.
And Buffy was supposed to manage it. He knew they expected it—all of them. The first thing Joycie had said to her after Dawn had passed was, “I need you,” and of course, Buffy had agreed without hesitation. She’d tugged her eldest niece into a hug and whispered that everything would be okay. She’d handle everything.
Right. Because Buffy hadn’t given enough. She had the heart and body of a young woman—always would—and Spike reckoned that gave her the illusion of being unbreakable. After all, she looked years younger than Dawn’s kids and most of her grandkids. It was hard to believe anyone who stayed forever young could break, even for families like theirs.
Spike hadn’t said anything, mainly because he knew it’d piss off his lady and Buffy didn’t need to add a row to her list of concerns. But they used her. Always had. And she let them because that was who she was.
It wasn’t all their fault, he reckoned. The younger lot had been raised on the adventures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each of the kids, grandkids, and even a couple of the great-grandkids had their favorite Buffy stories, and all had been recited so frequently that many had passed the mark that separated fact from fiction. Even after Anya had been called, Buffy remained the perennial slayer. Fuck, to them, she was a legend. And legends didn’t feel. Legends didn’t cry. Legends didn’t lose—only people did.
Now in the quiet of the home they’d shared for decades, Spike drew upon his strength and waited for the Buffy he knew. The one that was his and his alone. The Buffy that had cried against his shoulder for days after Xander had thrown himself in front of the blade meant for his granddaughter. The Buffy that had mourned the loss of her Watcher the way others mourned their fathers. The Buffy who was still human beneath the legend, and let herself be around him because one of the many things they had promised each other in the beginning was honesty.
But that Buffy didn’t show up.
“I keep going back and forth on this, so I need you to help me,” Buffy said as she entered the kitchen, looking as exhausted as Spike could remember seeing her. In one hand she had the pad of paper she and Dawn had compiled after the diagnosis. The one with all the details—the things they’d discussed, dismissed, and discussed again. A pen was poised in Buffy’s other hand. Ready for work. Ready to be busy.
“Daytime. Daytime is better, right?” she continued.
Spike paused, the mugful of blood halfway to his lips. “For what, love?”
“The funeral.” Buffy looked up from the pad and met his eyes. “I… They know who she is. Too many of them, anyway. And as much as I’d like to think the local demon population won’t be, well, the local demon population, I think we’re asking for trouble if we schedule it for night.”
That much made sense, he wagered. Especially after what had happened at Harris’s funeral. Being one of the Scoobies and the brother-in-law of one slayer had been bad enough. Throw in the grandkid and Xander’s death had been the party of the year.
Of course, crashing a funeral with two slayers and more than one vampire in attendance hadn’t worked out quite like Spike wagered those specific demons had wanted.
And Dawn had been there that night, full of grief and ready to dole out as much pain as she could.
A pang struck his chest. Spike busied himself with his blood.
“I know that means…” Buffy pressed her lips together. “It means we can’t go.”
He paused, lowered his mug. “No,” he said slowly. “Means I can’t go.”
She shook her head, looking away. “I don’t want to do that without you.”
“I don’t. It’s okay.” She turned back to the pad. “I don’t like funerals anyway.”
“No one likes funerals. But…don’t you think you need it?” He paused. “To say—”
“I said goodbye already. I said it to her.” Buffy wrinkled her nose. “I don’t need to say it to the ground. I thought you’d get that. You’re always going on about how strange our death culture is.”
“Yeah, ’cause I hadn’t seen it from this side much. My mum snuffed it after I was turned.” He paused. “Well, because I… And that’s not the point. She’s your sister.”
“She’ll still be my sister even if I skip the funeral.”
“I don’t want to be there without you. I don’t want you here by yourself, unable to…” She pressed her lips together again, and at once he understood.
She worried about him more after someone died. Worried about what might happen if she was gone, if she couldn’t protect him. Worried about losing him, the one person she’d been promised she’d never lose.
He worried, too, but for entirely different reasons.
Spike nodded, swallowing. “All right.”
She looked up. “All right?”
“We’ll go together. You and me. We’ll go see her after. Just the two of us.”
A small smile touched her lips. “Thank you.”
“Anything for my girl. You know that.”
Then she was against him, her warmth pressed to his cold, her arms around his neck and her head at his chest. He reacted on instinct, setting down his mug of blood and wrapping himself around her. Relishing the feel of her familiar body, her scent, the reassuring thump of a heart that would never stop.
They’d been together over eighty years and this—having her in his arms, trusting him, needing him, loving him—could still bring him to his knees. Though the part of their relationship that hadn’t been this represented just a sliver, he kept its memory alive, because without it he feared he wouldn’t appreciate the gift he’d been given as much as he should. Their past had informed their present. The day he stopped thinking of her as his miracle was the day he stopped deserving her, if in fact he ever had.
Spike shivered and tightened his arms around her.
It wasn’t until later, when Buffy curled into his side, the familiar weight of her leg draped over his, that Spike felt his thoughts wander back to the thing he’d avoided thinking about. Because thinking about it meant worrying about it, and he wasn’t sure he was strong enough to add worry to the mix now.
But there it was anyway. That worry.
Buffy hadn’t cried yet. Not once.
“She’s not going to be there?”
Spike gave a stoic nod, feeling both vindicated and terrified at the surprise in Willow’s voice. That it was there told him he wasn’t wrong, but he’d wanted badly to be wrong.
Willow shifted a bit on the sofa and turned her gaze to Tara. “I’m not wrong in thinking that’s weird, right? I mean…it’s Dawnie.”
Tara didn’t answer right away. She seemed to be considering a point at the wall with interest. Then she turned to Spike.
“How has she been?”
Loaded question, that.
“Normal,” he replied. “Too bloody normal.”
Tara nodded. “And where did you say she’s gone?”
“Joycie wanted help figuring out what to bury her mum in.” His throat tightened. “Then Anne asked her to go shopping. Find something to wear, or so I gather.”
“She could just be keeping busy,” Willow said. “Dawn didn’t process Xander’s death like we thought she would, you know? It took a while before she—”
“Xander was run through with a sword,” Spike retorted, somewhat clipped. “Bit hard to process that, I’d wager. But Nibblet…” He trailed off, the words not coming. He still didn’t much care for thinking them—speaking them was an entirely different matter.
Tara cleared her throat. “Every loss is different. Expecting Buffy to act a certain way or compare this to what happened when Xander died, or Giles or Anya… There is no pattern. Grief is what it is.”
Willow offered a somewhat sheepish grin at that. “You’d think we’d get used to it.”
But Tara did not smile back. “There is no getting used to it. Every time… It’s different every time. And you’re never ready for it.”
Spike nodded, though the motion was mechanical. This conversation was doing rot to make him feel better. “Right,” he said, then looked up. “What should I be doing?”
Willow and Tara exchanged a glance that told him they were silently communicating.
“She’ll regret not going, won’t she?” Spike pressed, a slightly manic edge creeping into his voice. “She stays with me and misses this chance to say goodbye to kid sis good and proper, and—”
“You can’t make her do what she doesn’t want to do,” Tara said.
Well, that was bloody unhelpful.
“But it’s not right, is it? She should be with you two and the rest of them. She—”
“Buffy’s not like the rest of them.”
Right. She was a legend. A legend among mere mortals. Spike fought the urge to fist his hair and start yanking.
He raised his miserable eyes to Willow.
“I…I shouldn’t have reacted like I did,” she said, tucking a lock of snow-white hair behind her ear. “Buffy knows what Buffy needs. If Buffy needs to stay with you, then don’t push her to anything else. You know how she gets when pushed.”
He couldn’t keep his mouth from twitching at that. “Right.”
“And…funerals aren’t for the dead. They’re for everyone left behind. But maybe that’s it. Buffy will always be left behind.” Willow smiled sadly. “She’ll always be, unless…”
Spike’s chest tightened and his throat seemed to close up. He did not want to go down that road, though he knew it loomed ahead, waiting to be explored. The same fears he’d had since Xander died. Anya had been a blow, but losing Xander had nearly crushed her. And the bloke had lived until he was in his seventies. Not a young man anymore—not exactly old, either, by modern standards, but he’d lived a good life.
Not only that, he’d died a good death.
And losing him had hit Buffy like nothing he’d ever seen. That was the first time Spike had thought the dark thing—the thing he didn’t want to voice, lest it grow legs.
But here he was again. Sitting now with two witches who would soon be pushing one hundred and five, and thinking about the way his and Buffy’s world would look after the last parts of her old life were memories.
Buffy had spent a thousand years alone in Hell, but this was different. Death was permanent separation. He’d gotten her through Hell by giving her hope. What happened when that tapped out?
Spike tossed a furtive glance to the door, needing beyond anything for her to walk through it. Come back from picking out dresses for her dead sister, shopping with her great-niece and back to where he could see that she was alive. She was fine. That she wasn’t wishing she was dead as well.
“Spike,” Willow said, her voice soft, “I shouldn’t have said that. Especially, well, now. Odds of Buffy being killed in action are…well, most demons know to stay away from her these days. Plus—”
Tara placed a hand on Willow’s knee. “Sweetie, you need to stop.”
Spike forced a small grin. “Yeah. Thanks.”
Willow looked downright miserable, which made him feel marginally better. Marginally.
“If Lavelle and Frank are going to be by the house at six, we better get going,” Tara said, rising to her feet. She flashed Spike an apologetic smile. “We need to run by the store and pick up a cake. It’s their anniversary, you know.”
He hadn’t. “Ah. That’s…”
“Inconvenient timing,” Willow supplied. “Lavelle has been trying to cancel all day, but we won’t let him.”
Spike arched an eyebrow, entertaining a rush of amusement in spite of himself. “He still lets you call the shots, then. Pitiful.”
Willow blinked. “Of course he does. We know best.”
“And Frank agrees with us,” Tara added. “That helps. It’s their fiftieth, if you can believe it. Dawn would want them to at least go out to a nice dinner.”
Spike smiled. He and Buffy had celebrated their fiftieth by charging into a hive of Fryn’al demons, then shagging like bunnies amidst the wreckage. Then they’d had a proper party, courtesy of Dawn, Joycie and Emmanuella, who had made up the place where the Bronze used to stand. Hell of a night.
If Dawn were here, she’d be right brassed at her nephew for trying to skimp out of his anniversary and using her death as an excuse.
“Yeah, we better boogie,” Willow said, now standing. She and Tara clasped hands on cue. “You’ll let us know if Buffy needs anything, won’t you?”
“And you,” Tara added. “If you need anything, just—”
“Right,” Spike said, and jutted his chin toward the door. “Thanks.”
“She’ll be okay,” Willow said. “She’s…it’s different each time.”
He nodded, though there was no feeling behind it. He wasn’t sure what to think at the moment. Except that he wanted her home where she belonged. He wanted the funeral to be in the past. He wanted Dawn to not be dead. He wanted this aging and dying business to stop. He wanted to not worry that Buffy might wake up one day and find that life was no longer worth living. That death had carved out the last of her hope and she was ready to leave this world. That Spike alone was no longer enough.
He wanted not to be a selfish git, but he didn’t have the wiring for it. He’d always crave more than he could have.
Death never felt the way he assumed it would. Once upon a time, Spike had imagined throwing a bloody kegger when Harris snuffed it. In reality, he’d felt a pang of something he wouldn’t call grief, but admiration. The boy had been arthritic and slow moving, but the second he’d seen that sword aimed at his granddaughter, he’d channeled the strength of a much younger man and taken the killing blow for himself.
Spike remembered standing here at Xander’s funeral, before the gate-crashing demons had arrived. Knowing that the bloke who had once hated him—the same bloke who had asked him to be his best man at both his weddings—lay still and cold beneath six feet of dirt had been a moment out of someone else’s life.
Now, staring at the disturbed ground where Dawn Harris lay, Spike felt that sense of unreality creep back over him. He’d figured it would hurt more to stand at her final resting place—that he’d feel her here the way he’d felt her anywhere else.
But Dawn wasn’t here. Not really. Just the bits of her that were left behind.
And oddly, that thought was rather comforting. He didn’t want Dawn here. She didn’t belong to the world anymore. She needed to be with her husband and granddaughter. With her mum, too. She’d earned her peace.
Spike slipped his arm around Buffy’s shoulders and pulled her into him. “You figure she and Anya are duking it out now?”
Buffy snorted, sliding a hand around his waist. “Xander really didn’t think that through, did he?”
“Don’t reckon he thought much of anything through, love.”
“No, he didn’t.” Her voice carried with it a note of pained fondness. “I’d like to think that Anya would have understood. Even been happy for him.”
“You do remember Anya, don’t you, pet?”
“Yes. Which is why I said I’d like to think she’d have understood.” Buffy buried her face in his throat and released one of those full body sighs that said more than words ever could. “I hope she’s happy. If Anya screws up Dawn’s afterlife, I’m going to kick her ass.”
“Right behind you.”
She chuckled, tightened her arm around him, then relaxed, her gaze focused on the place where Dawn’s headstone would go. She didn’t speak again, and Spike decided to follow her lead. Just as well since he didn’t know what else to say.
He didn’t know how long they had been standing there when the scent hit him. Expected and familiar. Spike inhaled, pressed a kiss to Buffy’s brow, and murmured, “Angel’s here, pet.”
She lifted her head from his shoulder and craned her neck to the space behind them. “Hey Angel.”
For all the changes the years had brought with them, this was the only one that still managed to catch Spike off guard, likely because he’d spent more time hating Angel than he had not. Perhaps in another hundred years or so the novelty would have worn off. He didn’t know. But as he watched Buffy bury herself in the arms of her first love in a welcoming hug, he took a moment to appreciate the fact that the sight didn’t make him want to tear the man’s head off.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get away sooner,” Angel said, releasing Buffy and stepping back. “You know how things…”
“I know how things,” Buffy agreed, a watery smile flitting across her face. She began pacing backward, stopped when Spike pressed his hand to the small of her back. “And you didn’t need to come at all.”
“Of course I did.” He glanced to Spike and nodded once in acknowledgment before turning his attention back to Buffy. “Faith sends her condolences, too. She would’ve come but she finally got a bead on Prometheus and I couldn’t ask her to not go after him.”
Spike stiffened, his demon roaring with familiar bloodlust. Prometheus.
“No,” Buffy agreed, her voice sharp. “No, she needs to kill that son of a bitch. I’d be out there too if…” She glanced at the place where Dawn rested. “If…things…”
“She knows that.”
Spike nodded, his jaw hardening. One of the things he’d managed to ignore the past few days was the best way he knew to work out complicated feelings he’d rather not feel. At once, the drive to tear into some beastie seemed to cord itself around his muscles, fueling him with energy he needed to release. “Tell her to kill the fucker twice if she can.”
“Twice?” Buffy looked at him. “Why stop there?” She went quiet, then looked back to Angel. “If she calls, tell her to be careful. And we’re there if she needs us.”
“Buffy, you just lost Dawn—”
“Dawn would want us to finally put the asshole that killed her granddaughter in the ground. I can think of no better way to honor her.” She paused. “And I really don’t want to have another funeral. Faith is probably not thinking clearly.”
Angel lifted a shoulder. “You’d be surprised.”
Somehow Spike didn’t doubt it. Though he still didn’t know the bird too well, he reckoned she had a good head on about what she was doing. If there was ever a slayer who could adapt to life as a vampire, it was her.
And Buffy was right. Dawn would want them to keep fighting, whether it was Prometheus or the next asshole. She’d want them to never stop, because even if it wasn’t her grandkid on the line, it was someone else’s.
“I shouldn’t have mentioned…” Angel sighed and slid his hands into his coat pockets. “Buffy, you need to take care of yourself. Give yourself time. You just lost your little sister.”
Spike tightened his arm around Buffy to keep her from doing something she’d regret, like dusting the great ponce. As much as he didn’t hate Angel these days, the bloke had a fine way of reminding Spike why he had for so long.
“Yeah,” Buffy said at last, terse. “I know.”
“I didn’t mean—” Angel looked to Spike, defeated. “How do I always manage to say the wrong thing?”
“The gift of being you, I expect.”
His elder scowled.
Buffy remained tense for a moment, then let out a breath and relaxed. “I know what you mean. Or tried to mean. But…” She looked back to the grave, and a haunted, horrible look filled her eyes—one that had a direct line to the dark thoughts Spike was doing his damndest to keep at bay. “It never ends, does it?”
Angel’s face flooded with alarm. “Buffy—”
“We should get back.” She stared at the grave for another long beat, then blinked and nodded at Angel. “Thank you for coming,” she said. “It means a lot. And it would’ve meant a lot to Dawn.”
Then she’d pulled away from Spike and started back on the path that led home.
Spike stared after her, somewhat hurt she hadn’t waited or pulled him along with her, but understanding all the same. There were times when she needed to be alone. He knew the cues too damn well to ignore.
“I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I don’t come here planning to say the wrong thing,” Angel said. “I just…don’t want her to get hurt.”
“Got news for you, mate. She’s hurt. She’s hurting now and she’ll hurt tomorrow. If going after Prometheus or any one of ’em helps, then that’s what we’ll do. Kid sis isn’t gonna be less dead.” He paused and eyed Angel warily. “That’s the one thing you never got. She’s like us. That’s how she mourns.”
Angel’s expression didn’t change, but he offered a solemn nod. “I’m glad she has you.”
“How much did that hurt to say?”
“A lot, but it’s the truth.” Angel shifted his attention to the path where Buffy had disappeared. “You’ll watch out for her, right? Make sure…”
“’Course I will. Made a promise to a lady, didn’t I?” Spike felt his mouth contort into some semblance of a smile. “But that’s the thing, too. I don’t watch out for her. We watch out for each other.”
Time was an old bald cheater, or so someone had said.
Over half of Spike’s existence had been spent hanging in the bowels of Hell. He’d suffered the sensation of his skin rotting and flecking off, his eyesight fading, his hair withering and falling to the ground, his insides shriveling like dried fruit. At the end of each century, a fuckwad guardian had shown up and offered the blood he needed to regain his strength. Blood he’d been forced to turn aside because of what it would cost. Because at the end of his sentence was Buffy, and she was worth anything.
How was it that those three hundred years had crawled by and these last eighty or so had flown? Buffy herself had spent a millennia in solitude, wandering the empty streets of her personal Hell. She’d lived longer without her family than she had with them, and time had made victims of them all.
Escaping Hell did not make living in the world easy. Hell was at least predictable. Hell didn’t have an apocalypse on schedule. Didn’t send nasties like The Collector or Prometheus—there was no need there. One by one, the pillars of Buffy’s reality had been reshaped. First when Anya died, sending Xander crawling to the bottom of a bottle to dull the pain, until one day he’d realized that living was better than dying. Then Dawn had been there, all grown up, and together, they’d built a life. A life full of warmth and laughter, first with their kids—Joycie, Will and Emmanuella—then their grandkids—Anne, Anya, Rupert, and Nathan. Time had been kind then.
Kind until Anya was Chosen, and Xander had sacrificed himself to avoid burying another person he loved by that name. Until Dawn had been hit with the full weight of grief, only to be hit again not a year later when death came again and there was no Xander to jump in its path. Because death was the Slayer’s gift.
Unless that Slayer was Buffy—Buffy’s gift was life.
Life had given her a thousand years in Hell and less than a hundred with her sister.
Time was an old bald cheater.
Spike stood in the living room of the home he shared with Buffy—the home that had once been her mum’s. The space inside these walls was a living time capsule—the only thing of the Sunnydale he’d known before that was the same. Furniture came and went, of course, and Buffy had a steady stream of help from her grandnieces and nephews when it came to repairs, painting, and other upkeep. Once or twice, she’d thought about listing it, only to have Dawn kill the idea before it could grow legs. The house had been the one constant—the thing that made everyone feel safe, because no matter how much the world changed, there was always the Summers’ place to call home.
He wondered how long that could last. If it could still be home without the people she’d loved. There were the kids and grandkids, of course, but Buffy’s generation had more or less already passed on. And he was terrified of the day she came to him and said she was ready to do the same.
He was terrified that she was ready to do that now. That she wasn’t crying for Dawn because she didn’t plan on it being long before they saw each other again.
“Well, that’s done,” Buffy said, jerking him from his thoughts.
He turned as she entered the living room, watched as she dropped her cell phone onto the coffee table.
“The headstone. Order’s placed and it should be up within a week or so.”
He swallowed hard, gave a nod. “Good.”
Buffy pressed her lips together and nodded back.
And then it happened.
She burst into tears.
For a long moment, Spike didn’t know what to do. He just stood, watching her as she dissolved. Then his brain kicked on and he was moving, and she was in his arms. Her soft, perfect weight molding against his body, her face buried in his shoulder, every inch of her vibrating as hard sobs tore through her in waves. He didn’t know what to say so he didn’t try.
“God,” Buffy said, pulling away and dragging a hand under her eyes. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Those words nearly knocked him over. Spike took her face between his hands, doing his best not to tremble. “What?”
She looked at him, her vivid eyes swimming in tears, her skin feverish beneath his fingers. “I-I… I have nothing to be sad about, right?”
“She lived a good life. A long life. She was ninety-eight years old.”
Spike shook his head, thumbing her tears away. An odd bubble rose in his chest, somewhere between a need to laugh and a need to cry. “Why does that matter? She was your sister.”
“Yes, and I got what I wanted. She was happy. She was loved. She had adventure and she had great kids and grandkids and even though…” Buffy broke off, pulling back until he released her entirely. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. What more could I have asked for? And now she’s gone and it… How selfish can one person get? To want more than—”
Spike closed the space between them and swallowed her protest with his lips. Buffy stiffened, then melted into him, curling around him the way he loved most. She nipped and pulled at his mouth, her kisses desperate and pained, but echoed enough of his own need that he felt the weight that had lived in his chest since leaving the hospital roll away.
Finally, his Buffy had come home.
She pulled away with a gasp, pressed her brow to his. “I love you.”
He smiled and licked his lips, tasting her tears. “I love you, too.” More than he thought she’d ever know.
“I just feel so…” She blinked and met his gaze again, her eyes still shining. “I get to live. They die and I get to live. Anya, Giles and Xander. Then Anya and now Dawn…”
Spike tightened his hold on her. “Yeah.”
“I get to live and they don’t. I get this—with you. And yeah, some parts suck, but most of it is… It never ends for us. How is that fair?”
He frowned, his brain tripping over itself to keep up.
Then several things fell into place, and he understood.
“Buffy,” he murmured, then kissed the corner of her mouth, “you get to live because you earned it. Fuck, if anyone earned it, you did.” He waited a moment, then expelled a deep breath, a giddy, drunk-like sensation shooting up his spine. “I’m such an idiot.”
“Shoulda figured that was it.” He ran a hand through her hair. “Knew something was off, but I thought it was—well, what do I know about losing a sister?”
“A lot. She was your sister, too, Spike.”
That punched him right in the gut. His eyes stung and he gave a jerky nod. “Yeah. Suppose she was. I just…worry. Every time we do this.”
Buffy blinked, beautifully confused. “What do you worry?”
The words were there on his tongue, but he couldn’t find the strength to voice them. At once, they sounded small and ridiculous, and bloody selfish, given what had happened. So he didn’t say anything, and as it turned out, he didn’t need to.
She saw what he meant. She understood.
She always did.
“I lost everyone once,” Buffy said. “You…helped give them back to me. Losing them again… It’s awful, but it’s only awful because it was good. I’m not done with good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”
His lips twitched. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” She smiled and kissed him. “Not the least of which, I don’t want to go anywhere you can’t follow. So we need to figure out how to get a vampire into heaven before I’m ready to think about calling it in.”
Buffy nodded. Then her eyes grew distant and fogged over again with tears. “I…I might not be okay for a while,” she said. “Just warning you.”
“You don’t need to be okay. You’re already perfect.”
“And…I might want to join up with Faith. Go after Prometheus.” She froze and looked at him, her expression cautious, as though she expected him to balk. As though he could refuse her anything. “Killing that asshole would feel really good.”
“Then we do that.”
“Never known me to turn down a good hunt, have you?”
“No.” A smile touched her lips. “Thank you.”
Spike stared at her for a moment, his throat at once backlogged with a thousand replies, all half-formed and confused. Yet he understood what she was saying, too, and that floored him. As though it wasn’t instinct—as though he’d want it any other way. For however much the world around them changed, she remained his constant. He didn’t want to think about what the long expanse of his existence might have looked like without her.
Loving Buffy might not have been the easiest thing he’d done, but it was the best.
If she doubted it ever, he’d just have to convince her.
After all, they had time.