Author Notes: Set between "Older and Far Away" and "As You Were".
She didn't hear him coming. It wasn't like those movies where the victim walks slowly down the alley, the unseen assailant's footsteps echoing in time with hers, echoing off the filthy, stained brick and concrete. She was capable of hearing even the quietest rush of a drawn breath and, if she strained, the slow, steady ebb and drone of a beating heart. There was none of that, though. She didn't hear him. She couldn't hear him. And she didn't need to. She felt him. In her bones she could feel it. The changes in air pressure as he moved and the je ne sais quois of his stare burrowing into her back.

"Please stop following me."

Her voice contained none of the coy arrogance she reserved for the balance of night's vile creatures. Instead it was the epitome of gloom, fear, and sorrow. The short sentence was followed by an even shorter sigh. She stopped, barely tilting her head to the side as she stood still on the well groomed grass of the cemetary.

There was a sound, the first of the night from him. Not directly from him, though. A cigarette lighter clicked open and a flame was lit. The embers of the burning cancer-stick glowed a brilliant red as he sucked the toxins into his lungs with an unnecessary breath.

"It's my right, luv. You are trespassing on my front yard."

"Spike, I don't need to be bothered by you right now," Buffy said, still not looking at him. She knew what he looked like. She knew what too much of him looked like. "I'm working." Buffy took two steps forward. "And I never need to be bothered by you." She started walking away again.

Spike replied in his Sweet 'N Low British accent, just loud enough for Buffy to hear. "Just hot and bothered every now and again?"

That hurt. Buffy knew that Spike knew that it was like a fist in the gut for her. She had already been slaying for hours and, despite her vehement denials to her friends, the action did get her worked up, or at least it used to. Now that it didn't there was only one thing that did - and Spike knew it. Buffy's walk slowed as she felt her eyes water, her knees grow weak. She knew with every fiber in her being that what she was going to do now was wrong. Not just wrong, but immoral and disgusting. But that wasn't going to stop her.

"Let me walk you home, Buffy," said Spike as he sauntered over to her, draping his leather clad arm over her quivering shoulder.

Buffy felt a pang of disappointment with his words, words that implied she wasn't going to get what she wanted. As Spike lead her to his crypt the disappointment changed to nausea; she realized that she was going to get it. It was home, his home (and slowly becoming hers too). They climbed down the steps into their darkness.

Tears and bruises. She always noticed them in the morning. They were his gift to her as they had been almost every night since her expulsion from heaven and refusal to meet the real world. The bruises were from him and they stayed for a while, even on a Slayer. Spike was strong and rough, and she liked it that way. She liked the pain. It made her feel. The weather was getting cold and she could hide the bruises easily enough.

Spike held her softly in his sleep. She could feel his lips against the back of her skull, the disconcerting lack of breath on her neck when they cuddled like this. There was no heat from his body, no beating in his chest when it was pressed against hers. He was a corpse. She was one too. Except when she cried.

Buffy hated herself every minute when she was with this man - thing (and wasn't getting her brains fucked out). She probably would have hated herself then as well but she was hardly capable of higher thought at those times. Self loathing. That was an emotion, right? Right?... Maybe the tears weren't from him afterall.

Her battered body ached when he hugged her a little tigher. She softly wiped away the residue from her eyes before it could dry.

"You could stay for a bit!" Spike yelled as Buffy opened the crypt's solid iron gate. "The Niblett's away for the weekend. You don't have to rush back." Spike was only partially dressed as he hurried after Buffy into the early morning twilight. He covered himself in a blanket in case he found himself caught outside for just a little too long. He tried to pull the blanket around his shoulders, bare where his wife-beater ended, but what little remained of the blanket after the previous night chose not to cooperate with him. Buffy walked away from him without looking back. "I mean, it doesn't have to be like this." He closed his eyes and regrouped his jumbled thoughts. Why was it that your mind was at it's most rampant when you most needed it calm? All the scientists who insisted it was chemical could go to hell, as far as he was concerned. He was in no better shape and his body didn't have any chemistry, unless you counted interactions with peroxide. "Bollocks," he muttered under his breath, which was a funny saying considering he didn't breathe. "Buffy. Why don't you stay? We could do the things that normal couples do." His voiced cracked. "The things that you deserve. And I don't mean the early morning quickie." His voice rose to a high tremble and he coughed. "I mean breakfast, watching the news... talk..." He raised his eyes to meet hers when he heard her stop and turn around.

"Why would I want to?"

"Because I was hoping you liked me, and wanted to..." Spike waved his hand in the air as he searched for the right words, " with me. In a non-sexual or beating the living daylights out of me sort of way."

Buffy looked mad. Her fists were clenched and she was shaking ever so slightly. Spike knew that body language well. Usually the shaking was from fear - or at least it used to be - fear from his victims before he snuffed out their worthless lives. Now it was anger, but maybe still fear. He didn't enjoy it as much as he once did.

They stood there for precious seconds as the sun was making its presence known at the horizon. Spike, looking disheveled and filthy, covered in the rags of a blanket, staring at a furious, hurt, confused, and small Slayer, felt the need to get his closure on the subject before bursting into flames.

"Why do you hate me so much?"

The question caught Spike by surprise almost as much as it did Buffy. Her eyes closed for an excruciatingly long moment before she answered, never again looking at Spike's face.

"I don't hate you, Spike. I hate what I become when I'm with you."

Buffy turned and, as she did so often these days, walked away from Spike, softly chastizing herself. Eyes closed.


He tried to warn her. He tried to protect her. He saw it. She didn't. It came at her from her left side, slamming into her even as she turned with another verbal jab directed toward Spike on her lips. Spike leapt through the air, grabbing the Suvolte demon around the neck as it bent down over the stricken girl. Spike could see flashes of purple and green behind his eyes. He was strong and quick and he was enraged at what the demon had done to his love. He was no match for a Suvolte demon on any given night, but today was not any given night. He had failed Buffy once before. There was no way he was going to let this thing kill her. His very own unlife he pledged in that second. Spike rammed the ruined blanket down the demon's throat. It's long neck swiveled to bite at the furious vampire but it could not close it's jaws. Spike was thrown to the ground. More green and purple. He rolled out of the way as the Suvolte's claw pounded into the grass where Spike had fallen. Spike reached for the stake that had found it's way to the ground beside Buffy, who was wreathing in agony, clutching her wounds as blood poured from her chest onto the ground, staining the grass a dark shade of red. Spike ignored the welling up in his eyes at the sight of her lying there. He grabbed the stake and plunged it into the demon with all his strength.

The neutered vampire would have enjoyed tearing the once powerful demon limb from limb, relishing the destruction he could still bring to whatever his chip would let him. Today he wasn't even sure if it was dead at all when he dropped the stake and ran to Buffy's side. She was covered in her own blood, smeared over her pastel blowse and down half of her leg. Her hands where she had tried to staunch the blood flow were a deep red to her elbows. Her blonde hair was matted with red. She was shivering and drawing in short, rapid breaths.

"Come on, Buffy! I'm getting you to a hospital." Spike gathered up the Slayer in his arms and stumbled a bit under her weight. He turned to the east and was blinded by the early morning radiance peeking out over the hills. He felt pain on his lumpy face and could see smoke rising from his own flesh.

"Bloody Hell!" Spike shielded his eyes and ducked. It was hard to scamper on all fours while carrying a wounded girl. Spike's mind raced. There was no way he was going to get her to a hospital in the sunlight. If he left her out there she had a chance of being found by passers by, but not a very good one. And if she died she would be alone, without her friends or family, just strangers. She had an almost perfect death the first time, fighting the good fight, saving her 'sister's life, surrounded by friends. He couldn't let her death be alone or surrounded by strangers. Pulling Buffy's limp body over his shoulder, he scampered back into his crypt.

She lay there. Oh, how he wished she would move. Wished she would do something to make him believe that she could be alright. But she didn't. Spike wasn't a doctor - he'd eaten a few - but it didn't take much to realize that Buffy's time was running out. The blood flowing from her side was dark and slow, the beats of her heart fading. He cupped her head between his bloody hands and pressed his mouth against hers. He tasted her blood on his lips and in his mouth. He had longed, pined for so long to taste her. He had imagined her to taste sweet and salty and full of raw steel from the iron in her blood and the power that had been given her. Instead it tasted like death, painful and cold. It was bitter and rotten and it stung his mouth and burned his throat.

He couldn't lose her. He couldn't again. The first time he would have ended his undead life if he hadn't made a promise to protect Dawn. This time it he could end it right here when she died but his release from sorrow still wouldn't come soon enough...

Love makes you do foolish things. Things that are wrong and hurtful. Things that you normally wouldn't do. Some are romantic gestures of a great powerful emotion. Others are dying gasps of desperation before feeling terrible loss.

Spike knew what he needed to do.

Willow ran for the door when she heard the key turn in the lock. She was alone in the house. Being alone in the house sucked. Not having Tara there was bad enough, but on days like this when Buffy was a no show it was even worse. All sorts of bad had happened to Buffy recently - to all of them. Willow prayed to the Goddess for her safe return. And to HaShem, just in case she was right the first time. Better safe than sorry.

"Here!" yelled Xander as he and Dawn made their way through the door. "Hey, Will," he said chipperly, noticing Willow but not the worried look on her face. His was followed by an unenthusiastic, "Hey," from Dawn.

"Buffy here?"

Red hair waved in the air as Willow shook her head. "Nuh-uh, and I'm getting worried. She hasn't been back all day and it's getting late. No one's seen her since she went for patrol last night. It's major spooky and I'm scared."

Brief pause. Count on Dawn to be the first to make a comment about Buffy not being there.

"Yeah, like she's never just disappeared without telling anyone before."

"Dawn-" Xander began his defense of Buffy.

"Well?" prodded Dawn.

Much handwaving. Xander shrugged a bit. "That's mean, Dawn. True, but mean."

That got Dawn looking smug. If you can't get people to listen to you, you might as well revel in being right. It's pretty much all Dawn got these days, other than lectures on kleptomania. As if being a thief was that big a deal when you live with two witches and the Slayer. Or at least one witch.

Xander walked over to the kitchen. "If you guys, uh... girls, need me here I can call Anya, cancel our plans for tonight."

"Would you?" pleaded an obviously distressed Willow. "You're the best, Xander."

"Sure, I'm always here." Xander sipped a 7-Up from the fridge as he walked back in the room."What's a night of yummy, naked love compared to chick-flicks with my little, girly buds?"

"You could at least keep it PG-13," said Willow, jabbing a thumb in Dawn's direction. Dawn made a face. How quickly they forget what they were like at her age.

"I'll give her a call." Xander went to get the phone.

Knock, knock.

Willow ran for the door again. "Please let it be Buffy," fell in a whisper from her lips. She pulled back the curtain. "Spike!" It was a yell of disappointment, confusion, anger, and several other things. Hatred was probably one of them. She threw the door open anyway.

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"Easy, Pet. You'd better sit down." Spike drew a long, deep, useless breath. He tilted his head. His eyes moved from the floor to the ceiling, never meeting Willow's or, espcecially, Dawn's. Some human habits you lose when you become a cold-blooded evil vampire. Some not so much.

"What is it?" Dawn had rushed to the door by then. Leaning on the frame she begged Spike to hurry. She was the only person in the world who trusted him. Another one of the things that made her life complicated and sucky.

Spike banged the side of his fist against the door frame. He had to do this. Eyes to the floor. "There was an accident." Another procrastination breath.

Xander didn't like Spike as much as Dawn did. "Hurry up and spit it out so we can all go on with our lives."

"There's the rub. We were attacked in the early morning. Right before sunup..."

Willow interupted. "Is she okay? Where is she?"

There. She peeked out from behind the tree in the yard. She looked like shit. All pale and staring off blankly into space. There was no focus in her eyes, though Willow could swear Buffy was looking straight at her. Slowly Buffy walked up the stairs to the door. She stopped beside Spike.

"What happened? She doesn't look that bad." Willow saw a pained expression cross Buffy's face. Maybe it was worse than she initially thought. But her demeanor changed too. What was that?

Dawn didn't notice any of that. "You gonna stand there all night? Come in already," she said, turning away from her sister.

Spike and Buffy walked in. Something was wrong. Willow knew it but couldn't place it and there was no way Xander was going to figure it out. She looked at Buffy from head to toe but couldn't see a wound on her as she walked. Blonde hair, all mussed up, a few scratches on her face, all her bones looked intact. Willow could see that her jacket had been roughed up and that there was grass and dirt on the back. She did seem a bit on the pale side for California. Then she noticed them. Two little scabbed over holes at the base of her neck. Willow's blood began to boil over.

"You monster!" She yelled at Spike. Willow rushed him. Even took a swing at him. Xander saw what Will saw seconds before and he too rushed to attack the vampire. Dawn stood beside her sister in shock at what was happening.

"Hold up a bit!" Spike caught Willow's forearm. He was lucky Willow was trying not to use magic. Willow took another swing with her other fist. It was then that she saw something she didn't immediately understand. On Spike's neck, at the base where it met the shoulder, were two fresh fang punctures as well.

She got it. And she cried.

Buffy stopped Xander before he could attack Spike with his stake. She reached out and turned both Willow and Xander toward her. Chills flowed up Willow's arm when Buffy touched her. They weren't the good kind of chill.

Buffy's hands went to the hem of her own shirt now. She slowly raised it halfway. She had a fatal wound.