She was well into her conversation with Willow and Dawn in which she explained why she was sure it was Warren who was somehow responsible for the death of Katrina when the words, “You always hurt the one you love,” slipped from her mouth. With a rush that was physically painful, she remembered who’d last used those words and the state in which she’d left him.
She stammered an explanation to Dawn and Willow and flew out of the house and down the darkened street. She used every bit of her Slayer speed to get back to the alley in which she’d left the man whose only fault had been to try to save her from making a gigantic mistake, only to find nothing there but a small puddle of clotting blood. Her eyes followed the dark streaks made as something was dragged from the area until they stopped abruptly.
Her eyes darted around frantically, her breath catching in a gasp at every speck of dust or cigarette ash she could find in the dim light. She sank down against the wall, holding her knees and rocking back and forth as she had to admit there was no way to tell if Spike had dusted or not. If he had, there was not enough left to even be bothered trying to save. She never questioned why she would have wanted to keep Spike’s dust if the spirit that inhabited it was no longer there. All she knew was that she could not accept that he might be gone from her life.
Pushing herself to her feet, she wandered blindly through Sunnydale, staking a fledgling vampire - too new and stupid to know who she was - with a viciousness that startled her momentarily. Anger that the vamp tingles she’d felt just before he attacked her were not from the vampire she wanted added force to her blow, shattering the vamps chest before the stake could reach his heart.
The sudden interruption of her misery-filled walk around town had her looking up to find she was just outside Restfield Cemetery. Telling herself she wasn’t masochistic enough to spend the night on Spike’s now-empty bed, she never the less walked slowly toward the familiar door. She remembered vividly standing outside that same heavy door earlier in the evening and forcing herself to walk away. Walk away right into the time-shifting demon attack that had indirectly led to her mindlessly beating her lover to death.
She placed her hand against the weather-roughened wood and pushed gently, slowly opening it to peer into the candle-lit interior. Her gaze was immediately riveted on the still body sprawled atop the sarcophagus. Without thought, she raced across the big room to fall to her knees beside the crypt crying with relief. When she saw his hand twitch, she stood up and leaned over to sob on his chest, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You were right- it wasn’t me. It was Warren. I’m sorry, Spike, please forgive m-”
The vampire was struggling weakly to push her away, something she would have never expected, and she renewed her apologies, sure that she had finally succeeded in destroying his love. That even Spike had his limits and her touch was no longer welcome. She looked down at him, seeing not the rejection she was expecting, but a warning in his eyes as he continued to try to move her away. She frowned at him in confusion, then jumped at a sound from behind and to the side.
The familiarity of the voice that reached her ears was as startling as was the tone of disgust in it.
“YOU did this to him? This was you, Buffy?”
Buffy whirled toward the familiar voice and met the confused brown eyes of her best male friend. Xander was staring at her with an expression she’d never seen from him before. He looked back and forth between the battered vampire and the woman he thought of as a hero, correctly reading her guilt and the vampire’s dismay at having been caught out.
“You told me it was a bunch of ex-Initiative guys,” he said accusingly, glaring at the immobile man on the stone slab. Spike gave his best attempt at a shrug and closed his eyes again.
“Buffy…” Xander shook his head in confusion. “What did the evil undead do? And, if it was that bad, why didn’t you just stake him? Why would you…” He gestured wordlessly at the bruised and bleeding body lying in front of her.
“I…we…he…he tried to…” Buffy fumbled for an explanation, knowing that there really wasn’t one that was going make her friend feel any better about her.
“He tried to what?” Xander transferred his question to the inert body lying on the lid of a coffin. He started to move toward the vampire he’d just rescued, not sure what intentions he had but positive the Slayer would not have done something like this without a good reason. Buffy’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“Nothing – he didn’t do anything to me. He was trying to stop me from…from making a big mistake.”
His gaze flickered back and forth between the two blonds again before he said slowly, “Remind me never to get between you and any errors in judgment you might want to make.” He gave a crooked grin to indicate he was kidding, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“Will you help me get him downstairs?”
“There’s a downstairs?” The obvious unspoken additional question, “and how would you know about it?” was left unspoken as Xander absorbed another previously unknown fact about his friend.
Without answering him directly, Buffy carefully lifted Spike off the sarcophagus and put him gently on the floor. She cringed when the movement caused him to moan softly, even though he seemed to be unconscious. The effort to push her away so that Xander wouldn’t see her touching him with tenderness had exhausted whatever life he had left in him. When he was as comfortable as she could make him on a concrete floor, she stood up and easily slid the stone lid off the entry to Spike’s bedroom.
Xander watched with his mouth open as she picked the unconscious vampire up and propped him against the now open grave.
“Here, you hold him up and when I get downstairs, you can hand him to me.”
Without waiting to see if he needed more explanation, Buffy stepped over the edge and went down the ladder, quickly lighting a lamp before stopping at the bottom of the ladder to call up, “Okay, now see if you can lower him down to where I can reach him.
“Be careful!” she hissed when the vampire whimpered as his arms were pulled over his head while his body was slowly lowered to the waiting hands below.
By the time Xander had followed Spike down the ladder, Buffy had already carried the still inert vampire to the bed and lowered him gently onto it. She spent a few minutes moving the rich-looking coverlet and blanket away from its bloody owner and settling his head on a pillow before moving into the cave entrance to get water and washcloths from Spike’s make-shift bathroom.
When she came out carrying a basin of water, towels and washcloths as well as a first aid kit, Xander was almost too preoccupied with gawking at the lavish furnishings, soft rugs, and huge four-poster bed to notice the familiarity with which Buffy made her way around what was clearly Spike’s bedroom. Almost, but not quite.
His mind went back to the day Buffy had been invisible and he had surprised Spike “exercising” on his other bed upstairs. He groaned in sudden realization of what he’d actually been seeing that day. His gaze went back to the girl he was just beginning to sense he really didn’t know as well as he thought he did and he watched quietly as she carefully washed the blood off her lover’s face and tenderly applied ointment to the places her fists had opened cuts over his sharply-defined bones.
When she struggled to hold Spike up while she pulled his shirt off, Xander stepped to the other side and supported the still unconscious vamp for her. She shot him a startled look, then smiled softly and finished removing the bloody tee shirt. They lowered Spike back to the bed and she went to work on the now-exposed bruises they could see all over his torso. She stood up quickly and ran to the ladder.
“Where are you going?” Xander’s suddenly frightened tone suggested he had no desire to be left alone with an unconscious vampire in a crypt in a Sunnydale cemetery in the middle of the night.
“I’m just going to get some ice, Xander. I’ll be right back.”
“I knew that,” he blustered. A twitch from the vampire brought his attention back to the bed and he saw Spike peering at him with one eye.
“Sure you did, whelp,” he whispered hoarsely, trying for a smirk but failing to move his bruised lips.
Xander glared back at him momentarily then said, “So, push-ups to stay in shape, huh?”
The fright on Spike’s face told him more than he wanted to know about whatever was going on between the vampire and the Slayer. He sighed heavily and gave the vampire a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
“Relax, if she didn’t want me to figure out what was going on, she wouldn’t have been so quick to let me see how well she knows her way around your bedroom…or your bathroom. No matter how bad she might be feeling about what she did to you,” he added with a grimace. “And trust me when I tell you I am so grateful that my girl friend doesn’t have superpowers and a violent streak.”
He jumped when the vampire growled, “Don’t say anything like that to her! Not tonight.”
“She almost killed you, Spike. As much as I might applaud your demise, this just isn’t right. Especially if you two are…have been…okay, not going down that road, but still…”
“Leave it, Harris,” the vampire said, his eyes drifting closed again. “Jus’ leave it. Girl’s got enough on her plate. I’ll mend.”
The conversation ended with Buffy’s entrance holding a bowl of ice cubes and some paper towels. She looked curiously at the two men, but Xander’s face and the vampire’s closed eyes gave her no clue what they might have been talking about. She shrugged and began making small ice packets to place around the vampire’s head and body everywhere there was a visible, fist-shaped bruised. When she was finished, Spike lie immobile with small bunches of ice cubes carefully balanced all over him.
“Now what, Buffy?” Xander’s question startled her out of her bemused study of her handiwork and she flinched slightly.
“Now I guess I’ll make sure you get to your car safely and then I’ll…I’ll wait here…with him…to make sure he’s going to be okay.”
Now that the initial shock and panic over Spike’s condition was over, realization of what Xander had seen and heard began to sink in and she sent a quick look out of the corner of her eye to see how he was taking it. To her surprise he just shrugged and said calmly, “Sounds like a plan. I should get going. Anya’s going to be wondering where I’ve been.”
The Slayer nodded and preceded him up the ladder, waiting for him at the top and walking with him to the still open door. She saw that his car was parked just a short distance away and wondered how she hadn’t noticed it when she first approached. Xander opened the unlocked door and from force of habit checked the back seat and the floor before getting in.
Buffy smiled at the sight of the automatic ritual; without which anyone who had grown up in Sunnydale would never enter a vehicle. She touched his arm before he could get in and reached up to give him a grateful hug.
“Thank you,” she whispered, the phrase meaning so much more than simply gratitude for his recent assistance with Spike’s unconscious body.
“You’re welcome, Buffy.” He stared at her still-troubled face and added, “You’d better get back in there and make with the TLC. I need somebody to shoot pool with this weekend.”
“He’ll be fine by then, Xander. I promise,” she said firmly as she stepped back from the car. “He’ll be just fine,” she repeated softly as she watched her old friend drive away. “I’m going to see to it.”
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