Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own ëem

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy own 'em. I just take them out and play with them. No money, no infringement, yadda yadda yadda. I'm poor so don't sue.

Pairings: Buffy/Spike: Post "The Gift"

Summary: The aftermath of Buffy's death. Spoilers for the season finale

Rating: PG

Promise to a Lady

By Terri Botta (2001)

Send feedback to: tci100@psu.edu

Also see my webpage at http://www.wordsmiths.net/Botta


            //I'm counting on you to protect her.//

            //'Til the end of the world. Even if that happens to be tonight.//

            //We're not all going to make it. You know that.//

            //I always knew I'd go down fighting.//

            'Buffy… Oh Buffy. It was supposed to be me…'

            //I know you'll never love me. I know that I'm a monster. But you treat me like a man, and that's…//

            //I don't smell a soul anywhere on you. Why do you even care?//

            //I made a promise to a lady.//

            Tears on his face, blood on his face, wrenching sobs that wracked his beaten body and he had no strength to stop them. He tried to stand, to make his way to the still and silent form, but his legs wouldn't hold him. At least one of them was broken. Still, he had to get to her, had to reach her.


            //I made a promise…//

            Sun coming up. Pale, golden light inching its way over her body, keeping her out of his reach. He'd burn if he tried to go any further, but maybe that wouldn't be so bad. Could any physical pain be more than the desolate, heart-tearing grief he felt now?


            //I made a promise//

            Just a little further and he could touch her. 'Buffy…'


            Dawn! Dawn's voice, thick with tears, calling him out of his horrified reverie, and he tore his eyes from the battered, broken body of his love to meet the teenager's ashen face.

            "Dawn," he choked, but it came out as a sob as the tears began anew, and he lost control. And then, she was in his arms, hugging him as tight as she could, comforting him, being the strong one because he couldn't, not now. Not with her death so raw and bleeding inside of him.

            "She… she told me to be strong. She told me to give her love to her friends…" Dawn gasped, and the words only made him cry harder.

            They clung to each other, two orphans tossed by the storm, and in that tempest he found something to hold on to.

            //I'm counting on you to protect her.//

            //I made a promise to a lady.//


            Dawn was all he had left of Buffy now and he was damn certain that he was going to keep his promise. It was the only thing that was keeping him from throwing himself into the morning light. Sniffing, he smelled her blood. Inside, he knew that if the portal had opened, that she had to have been cut and bleeding. She probably needed seen to by a doctor… Okay, something to do. One thing at a time. Get Dawn to a doctor.

            "Nibblet?" he managed.

            "Yes?" came the small reply.

            "You okay? You cut bad?"

            "It hurts."

            Instinctively he knew she wasn't just talking about the physical pain.

            "I know."

            Small hand on his chest, pushing him gently away, eyes meeting eyes.

            "We have to get out of here. We have to get you inside."

            He managed a small smile. "Don't worry about me, luv. I'll be alright."

            It was Willow who finally got them all together. All moving in one dazed, grief-numbed group. Spike would have liked to have been the one to carry Buffy's body, but his broken leg could barely hold his own weight let alone the weight of two. As it was, Dawn was practically holding him up, as they staggered, arms around each other, away from the carnage, and he wondered briefly who was taking care of who in that moment. Did she know? Did she know that she was his only link to life right now? Was that why she clung to him so tightly, her fingers digging into his clothing like ten claws? He didn't know, and he didn't really care. She was real. She was safe. And, oddly, no one was challenging his unspoken claim on her. For now, that was all he could handle. The rest would come later.

            To the hospital they went in a van stolen from the construction site. There to admit Dawn for treatment of her shallow, but dangerous cuts in her abdomen. There to hand over the lifeless body of his love for the doctors to declare officially dead. There to stand numbly as both his women were taken away, one to the morgue and one to triage as nurses took in his own battered form and tried to convince him to admit himself. He refused. There was too much to do.

            Going back to his crypt via the sewers that ran under the hospital, he gathered his meager belongings. He was moved into the Summers' basement by noon. He'd live there now. Close to Dawn. Protecting her. He returned to the hospital before sundown. Driving his black DeSoto into the parking lot and making his way to the waiting room. No one seemed surprised to see him when he limped in.

            "Willow's gone to tell Angel. Tara went with her," Xander said without preamble.

            "Dawn?" he asked, his voice tight with the pain he was fighting. He'd have to set his leg soon or it wouldn't heal properly.

            "They moved her to a room. They're keeping her overnight for observation. Abdominal wounds have a nasty tendency to get infected. They have her on intravenous antibiotics," Giles replied.

            "She's been asking for you," Anya admitted.

            He nodded and turned to Giles, his hand gesturing towards the double doors that led to the patient rooms. The Watcher's eyes met his, something flashing briefly through them, then lowered.

            "She's in room 217."

            "Thank you."

            The words weren't just for the room number, and somehow Giles knew it for the human took a deep shaky breath before raising his eyes to meet Spike's again. They didn't speak. There was no need to. After a moment, Spike broke the contact and made his way to Dawn's room.

            No one followed him into the tiny room that held the slight form on the sterile bed. The others. They knew. They had to know for still none challenged him, challenged his place by Dawn's side. The teenager turned her head to him as he came in, her eyes soft and relieved.

             "Spike," she said as he moved to her bedside and took her hand in his.

             "I'm here, Lil' Bit."

             "Where'd you go?"

             "To take care of a few things while they were fixin' you up. I'm no good at waiting around. Thought it best to be productive."

             "No one knew where you went."

            He gave her hand a gentle pat. "Like I said, pet, taking care of things. Makin' it so's I can take better care of you."

            She gave him a tired smile and he pressed on.

             "I moved some of my stuff into your basement. Gonna be stayin' there from now on. Be closer to you."

            The smile widened, showing a hint of white teeth. "That's cool. I'd like that."

             "I promised Big Sis I'd protect you, so from now on it's just you and me,

kid," he told her, proud of himself that he could say the words without bursting into sobbing tears.

            The hand in his tightened and squeezed reassuringly. "Yeah."

            His vision clouded with tears and pain, his leg throbbing. "No one's ever gonna hurt you ever again. They wanna get to you, they gotta go through me."

            "They gotta go through the Big Bad," she teased softly.

            God, how could she be so strong? How could she be strong enough to make jokes? Then he looked into her eyes and knew the truth. Knew that she wasn't strong, she was just as torn up and desperate as he was, and clinging to him as tightly as he was clinging to her.

            "Damn right. You and me against the world, until the end of the world," he vowed.

            Tears spilled and fell down white and rosy cheeks. "Thank you, Spike."

            "I… I always uphold my end of the d-d-deal," he stammered, losing it again.

            His leg gave out and he slumped down into the chair next to her bed, his hand never letting hers go. He placed the other over his face, ashamed that she was seeing him in such a state, but then her hand tugged on his and he found himself slumped over the side of the bed, his face buried against her arm.

            "I'm so sorry, Lil' Bit. I'm so sorry."

            "Don't be sorry, Spike. You did everything you could."

            "No. I let that bugger get the best of me and toss me off that tower. If I'd've beaten him…"

            "You were still weak from when Glory beat you up so badly, and from your hands getting all cut up by those Knights. And he stabbed you…"

            "But it was supposed to be me! I was supposed to be the one to die, not her. Not her. Not bloody her. I was supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, go down fighting, knowing she never loved me but willing to die for her," he blurted.

            Small hand stroking his head, soothing as he cried. "Buffy... Buffy told me that the hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it. We have to be brave. We have to live for her and take care of each other. And she did love you, Spike. I know she did."

            The soft words flayed open his already raw and bleeding wounds, and he wept uncontrollably, clutching her hand as tightly as he dared. "Oh God."

            "She loved you. And Mom loved you. And I love you. You're all I've got left now, Spike."

            He raised his face to look at her. "And I'll never leave you, Lil' Bit. They'll have to kill me first."

            She set her jaw and nodded, eyes resolved and sad, and they stared at each other as he got himself under control.

            "How's your leg?" she asked suddenly.

            "It hurts. I've gotta set it."

            "You should go home. You look terrible. Do you need Giles or Xander to bring you blood?"

            He shook his head. "No. I ate back at my crypt. Had a couple of packs in the fridge."

            "Still, you need to rest. Your leg's all broken and I'm sure you've got other wounds."

            "Nothing that won't mend in time," he assured. 'At least physically. Everything else…' No he had to be strong now. Dawn needed him and he'd made a promise to Buffy.

             "'Sides, if I know my Grandsire, he'll come winging back here as soon as Will gives him the news, and I wanna be here when he gets here. I need ta talk to him." He stroked her hair tenderly. "You should rest too, Lil' Bit. You've had a bitch of a day. Go on to sleep. Big Bad's here."

            She gave a nod and a tired sigh, and he watched her as she settled back onto the mattress and closed her eyes. Lying there in the pale, harsh light, she looked so frail and small, and all of his protective instincts rose to the fore.

             'This one. This little one. All I have left of Buffy. She is mine and I will protect her with my life.'

            He waited until her breathing slowed before going to turn out the overhead lights. Then he moved the chair, placing it between the bed and the door in an obvious position of defense, and sat back into it. Gripping his leg and trying not to scream from the pain, he set the bone with a quick snap, and slumped back, exhausted, heart sore and soul weary. Lying there, sprawled over the chair with his leg straight out, he tuned his vampiric senses into Dawn's vitals and tried to relax. He'd wake the instant there was danger, the moment Dawn's breathing or heart rate changed. Closing his eyes, he fell into a fitful sleep.

            No one bothered him. Later, Spike would wonder if Giles had something to do with that because he had vague memories of hearing the Watcher's voice speaking to someone in the doorway.

             "He's her brother, you see, from a previous marriage. They're very close. Poor Dawn's lost her mother and sister in such a short time. If he's not there when she wakes, I fear it will traumatize her more than is necessary. As long as he's not in the way, what harm could it do to let him stay?"

            The nurse had reluctantly agreed.

            Sometime several hours later, in what had to be the wee hours of the morning, Spike woke abruptly. Disoriented at first, it took him a moment to remember where he was and how he had gotten there, then another to rein in the crushing grief. Now was not the time for weakness. He had awakened because another of his kind was approaching; he could feel it. Rising to his feet, he quickly assessed his situation, judging whether he was up to fighting. His leg had set at the very least, but it was far from healed. Any stress on the bone and it would snap like dry tinder. Still, if there was a threat to Dawn, he'd have to risk it. Briefly, he wondered where the rest of the Scoobies were, then spared another thought to determine what items in the room could be used as weapons. All of his hasty planning was for naught, however, as a vampire as familiar to him as himself came through the door.

             "Spike," the newcomer said, his voice harsh and raw.

            He shifted into a defensive position, hands clenched into loose fists. "Angel. Been wondering when you were gonna get here. Little late aren't you, Poof?"

            He saw Angel take a deep breath. "I didn't come here to fight with you, Spike."

            "No? Well maybe I need a good fight. Maybe I need to kill something right now."

            Angel regarded him calmly. "I don't doubt it." Eyes never leaving his Grandchilde's angry, grieving gaze, he stepped closer, speaking softly.

             "Willow just spent the better part of three hours convincing me not to throw you out the window when we got here."

             "Yeah? Well, good for her. I always knew Red was on my side."

            Angel ignored the last jibe and continued with what he had been about to say. "She told me how you've been helping them, how you fought by their sides, how you protected Dawn. How you did everything you could in the fight against Glory at great risk to yourself. How you were willing to sacrifice your life for Buffy and her sister. How much you… loved Buffy."

            He stopped just inches from Spike's face, and they stared at each other for long moments, then Angel's lower lip began to quiver and Spike's eyes began to tear up.

            "Thank you," the elder vampire whispered. "I'm so proud of you."

            "But she's dead, Angel," Spike said, his voice breaking, tears rolling silently down his cheeks. "She's dead."

             "I know. But she died knowing that her death would not be in vain; that those she loved would be protected. She had a purpose, a destiny."

             "Rot. She died to protect me? I'm a bleedin' monster. She was worth ten of me. She told me we weren't all gonna make it. I thought I'd be the one to go. I was alright with that. But now I'm the one left behind. Now what do I do?"

            Angel put his arms around his Grandchilde, pulling him close. "You live. You keep your promise and you protect Dawn."

             "Always," Spike choked as they both broke down and wept unashamedly.

            In the hallway, ignoring the withering glares of the night staff, Willow and Cordelia stood listening to the wracking sobs that echoed from the room. Cordelia hugged herself, her own face red and puffy from tears as Willow put a hand on her shoulder.

             "It's all right, Cordelia. We'll get through this."

             "I know. But right now I don't see how."