Chapter 10

Love Me Tender

April 2082

Love me tender

Love me sweet

Never let me go

He'd known it was coming for years now. After all, it was inevitable. She was only human and, despite being a slayer, aging much slower than a normal person; still, she was only human.

You have made my life complete

And I love you so

William Summers stared into the mahogany coffin, a sad smile twitching off and on as he stared at the beautiful image of his wife of seventy years. Even in death (a repose he had seen her in once before) she was magnificent. Her once blonde, once brunette hair that had fallen past her waist for the last decade, was now a shimmering white and wisps of blonde littered throughout. Although her skin was not the soft, unblemished canvas of her youth, neither was it the wrinkled visage of a woman a century old. He always thought it funny that, after fifty years, it was as if time let her be. Oh, the little things gave away her slowly aging body; even when she didn't know it, he did. He studied her with the most critical eye, never judging her but barely keeping his heart from breaking as the years piled on. How he wished that her abilities had remained static like her appearance. But it was not to be.

Love me tender

Love me true

All my dreams fulfilled

"You still look beautiful, love," he said, his knuckles brushing across the silken tresses of her hair. "Just as beautiful as the last time we…" He caught a sob before it rang through the halls of the church. He knew his two companions would say nothing and, in fact probably spilled tears of their own. But he wouldn't. No, he had promised her that he wouldn't cry--not if it meant losing himself completely…

"Are you daft, luv?" He sits up, staring at the woman who has been by his side for decades.

"Spike," she says and her voice is a lamentation not even a seraphim could produce. "I'm serious. I want you to…"

"No, luv," he yells, jumping from the bed, ignorant of his nudity. He claws at his hair, and turns toward his wife. Her body, as fit as if she had never stopped slaying--though she's filled out quite nicely--is bathed in the moonlight that cascades through the window. The black satin of the sheet covers nothing but the lower half of one leg, the rest of her exposed to his cerulean gaze. "How could you even ask that of me?"

"Spike." She motions to get up but he shoos her back into place.

"Don't, Buffy, please don't."

She hesitates, then gets up and crosses the short distance between them. Taking his hands into hers, she wills him to look into her eyes. He does and is surprised to find tears in those hazel suns. He wants to wipe them away but she doesn't relinquish her grip.

"Spike, I love you. I love you with all that I am and God knows that if I could, I would stay with you forever…"

"There's always…"

For my darling, I love you

And I always will

"We both know that's not an option. I may be a lover of the undead but I don't wanna become one. No offense."

"None taken, luv, none taken."

"Spike," she says and again he is drawn to the slight curve of her lips as his name falls from them as if a prayer. "But I would, for you, if I knew you'd feel the same way about me, if you wouldn't feel guilty for the rest of our lives for turning me."

Though he takes slight offense to that, his face contorts into anger. He rips his hands away from her and snarls, turning his back. A relief has swept over him, the anger pushing past the pain of thinking of the--the unthinkable.

"Is that how shallow you think my love is? You think that being a vampire would change the way I feel about you? How dare you?"

"Spike, I…"

"You know we could get your soul back, anchor it right and proper. Just like Peaches."
"Are you sure it would be mine?"

He opens his mouth to call her a daft chit but stops. He's never thought of that. "But Angel…"

"Angel said that the way he is now is nothing compared to his human self. Spike, he remembers how he was as Liam. Despite the horror that Angelus reigned over the world, even he doesn't think Liam could have ever become what he is now."

"I don't get it."

"I don't, either. But that's not the point. The point, Spike, is what if the soul I got was not my own? What if there was the tiniest change in the way I saw you, or the way you saw me? Could we live our lives like that, with a piece of our love missing?"

She touches him on the shoulder and he pulls away. She's right, the bloody bint. Seems like the older she gets the more time's she's right. Still, he's not gonna give her the satisfaction.

"Spike…" Not yet, at least.

She doesn't react to his movement, probably didn't see it. But just like that, she's in his arms, her head pillowed against his chest.

"God, Buffy, I…I can't even think about it. Losing you, it…" But he can't finish and now it's she who is comforting him. The sobs are like nothing he's ever heard and it takes him a minute to realize they are coming from him. Somewhere deep inside of his soul--the thought of losing Buffy--his love, his soul mate--more unbearable than the seething pain of all the tortures he's ever faced. Her voice is distant, but he hears her words and they give him a modicum of strength.

"I love you more than anything, William. Know that. Please don't cry baby, I'm not going anywhere, not if I can help it. I just don't want to be the reason that you die. And if you cry for me when I'm gone, I know what you'll want to do. That's the only reason, baby. I don't want you to die because of me, god I don't…"

Her tears join his as she repeats her mantra and Spike's heart fractures even more at the despair in her voice, as if she were already being pulled away from him. His tears come faster, harder and his unnecessary breaths come in gasps. And yet he hears himself uttering his promise to her. As the words leaves his mouth, she nods, holding him tighter, promising to stay with him. Stay with him forever…

Love me tender

Love me long

Take me to your heart

That had been three weeks ago. Between that night and Thursday morning they were closer than usual. He watched her with an even keener eye and she him. He never would have thought anything to be wrong, what with the vitality she showed in those last few weeks. And then…

He rolls over, his arm falling across her stomach, his face nuzzling her hair. He smiles in his sleep as her scent pulls him from the pits of exhaustion. There is nothing greater than waking up next to her, the warmth of her body, the fragrance of her hair, the staccato rhythm of her heart. He frowns; her skin is a bit cooler than usual but he feels the draft blowing through the open window. Course it doesn't help that she's sleeping with a dead guy, room temperature body. He thinks that he's gonna have to just wake her up. He kisses her jugular, waiting for the adorable murmur of annoyance and arousal that always accompanies such a move.

For its there that I belong

And we'll never part

She doesn't stir.

He chuckles, still swimming from the deep ends of unconsciousness. She must be in just as deep a sleep. It's unusual for her not to instantly react but there have been times he's had to use more than one tactic to wake her.

His hand settles on her belly, rubbing her soft flesh and he nips the hollow of her neck.

She doesn't stir.

"Tryin' to play possum, luv," he whispers in her ear, knowing that the sound of his voice always has an effect that she can never hide. She's told him the sound…

His eyes widen and he remains completely still, concentrating everything on his acute hearing, his listens to the birds chirping, the fridge doing its thing, the house settling. But there is nothing from her. Nothing.

"Buffy." His voice is unintelligible even to himself. He sits up slowly, bringing a shaking hand to her face. She's so still. He's never seen her this way, except…except that night when she jumped.

"Oh God, please no." Bile rushes to his mouth and his throat constricts. He thinks he will spasm his guts out but tries to hold it in. Just as it's becomes too much, he turns away, spilling the contents of his stomach onto the sheets and carpeting. Wiping his mouth, he turns blurry eyes back to her. He can feel the prickling at the back of his neck, the telltale alarm of sunrise. But try as he may, he cannot focus on anything but her still form. His mind is blank, he doesn't know what to do but the twittering of birds draws his eyes back to the window. A single ray of light slides under the shade and calls to him. It wants to end the pain that has yet to register, ease his suffering. God how he wants it. Every fiber of his being tries to push him towards the open window, whispering to him, "Hold her once more, watch the sunrise with her in your arms." For one second the urge is too much and he slips his arm underneath her head. His other arms freezes and as much as his soul wants to, he can't.

He promised.

Love me tender

Love me true

All my dreams fulfilled

Laying her head gently onto the pillow, he rolls over and grabs the phone. He's promised her, but as strong as his word is, it will not save him today. Not if he's alone…

"Hello?" The voice is gruff, a twinge of annoyance and a bone-deep weariness.

"Angel…" All things considered, his voice is not nearly as weak as he tumbling soul. "I need you…"

The hand on his shoulder drew Spike's mind back into the presence. He turned to the imposing figure on his right. The man there had become a true Sire in the past fifty years, due in part to their tending of Drusilla but more along the lines of Buffy's stubbornness. Aside from the two women in his life, he'd never been as close to anyone as he now was with Angel.

For my darling, I love you

And I always will

He hoped to see the older vampire's strength, his resolve not to be broken. He needed that to stay sane. But when he saw the tears flowing freely from his Sire's brown eyes, Spike's world crumbled.

Angel's arms were around him before he fell to the floor and Spike held on to the larger man's body with all the strength in his undead arms. His mouth was open in a silent scream and, were it any other time, he would have laughed at the delay. But when the horrible cry pierced the air, Spike didn't know if he would ever laugh again.

"There now, William," Angel whispered in his ear and the tenderness only made the gash in his soul wider. The salty tears of his Sire bled with his own and Spike's nails dug into the leather of Angel's coat. They rocked back and forth, entwined in the most intimate embrace and it took eternity for Spike to gather the strength to voice his pain.

"I can't do it, Angel. I can't go on without 'er. God, please don't make me, Angel, please don't make me…I can't, Angel, I can't." As much as he believed the words, Spike wanted to hear something--anything--from his Sire. He knew that if Angel said it, he would have no choice but to go on. Yet all that answered him was a choked sob and Spike knew he would not last the day.

Love me tender

Love me dear

Tell me you are mine

"You can, William," the dulcet voice whispered in his ear, just as a fragile hand smoothed his shirt. "You can and you will."

"Dru…" But words were lost in the realization that Buffy was gone and Spike could only reach back, pulling Drusilla against him.

She didn't speak for several minutes, not until Spike and Angel's cries had tapered off somewhat. When she did, Spike heard the agony in her voice; it had been Drusilla that had been there for Buffy when Dawn had become ill; it had been Drusilla that had coaxed the slayer from her malaise when Dawn had finally died. And it had been Dru that became Buffy's surrogate sister and it had been that way for twenty years. He had always teased Buffy about the screwed up family they had but he never could have been happier.

I'll be yours through all the years

Till the end of time

"She'd want you--us--to live, William. I loved her as much as I've loved anyone, even you and Angel, and it hurts more than I could ever put into words. But we cannot let it stop us, Spike, we cannot."

"But how, Dru? How do I go on?"

The slender woman slid to Spike's side and her arms fell across his and Angel's shoulders. As she rubbed their necks, their eyes slowly turned to her and Spike saw her own tears shimmering in the candlelight.

"We make the best of it, for her. There is still so much we can do. So many people we can help. Buffy would have wanted it that way." She lowered her eyes and when she looked back up, a sad smile infiltrated her thin face. "Evil may never sleep, but good never dies."

Spike was shocked when he laughed. It may have been a near deathly sound but it was a laugh no less. "When did you get to be so poetic?"

"I didn't," she said. If possible, her melancholy grew. Her eyes skirted up towards the coffin on the dais before settling back to his face. "I learned it from watching the strongest person I've ever known."

The following silence stretched well into the night and the three vampires never moved from their position. They took comfort in their bonds of blood, emotions and souls, knowing that with each other they could get through this.

"Don't mean to break up the Kodak moment, folks," Spike said after a long pause, a part of his old self coming through, "but if Dru's right, don't we have Evil to vanquish."

"Spike," Angel said and the softness in his voice nearly pulled the bleached blonde back into the oblivious depths of despair.

"Not tonight, Angel, please don't." His sapphire eyes took in Angel and Dru. He saw that they understood yet he spoke the words anyway. "Tomorrow, we'll grieve. But tonight…"

"Tonight…" Angel repeated.

"…We'll be heroes," Dru finished.

Love me tender

Love me true

All my dreams fulfilled

They rose as one and, arms linked, strode out the church but not before each gave a final kiss to the woman who had delivered them all from the paths of despair, evil and madness. Buffy was their savior and the least they could do was to keep her memory alive. Oh, Spike knew that one day they would all be dust; either they would meet their end fighting the good fight or finally gaining their redemption. No one, even vampires, was meant to live forever. Only the memory of his slayer could ever do that. Yeah, he would see her again, all three of them would. And when that day came, Spike would welcome it with open arms. To finally be at rest, to spend eternity at peace with the woman who had driven him to do the impossible. Oh, how he looked forward to that day. But until then…

For my darling, I love you

Until then, he would live.

And he would fight.

But most of all, he would make her proud.

And I always will…

THE END

A/N: Well, that's it. This chappie was really tough to write. I've done Buffy/Spike deaths before but never like this. Dying saving the world, dying as a hero has more substance to me. To die like this, so quiet when you lived so proud, larger than life, really hits a spot. Maybe it's because that's what live has prepared for us. Like Spike said to Buffy in the kitchen (a line I borrowed) "We'll go be heroes." And you may not do the big deeds in life, but if you do the little things to make people feel better about themselves, then you are a hero. And isn't that what we all look to be in our lives--even if no one else knows.

Cause that's the sacrifice a hero often has to make.