She never sleeps, not really. She pretends she does, and it seems to fool her lover, but Spike? No, he's not so easily misled. Not when he sees the odd cast to her skin and the shadows under her eyes and the desperation with which she performs every task (and there are many, so many, that she's expected to perform).

She's running on fumes, trying to get where she needs to go with nothing in her to get there except her will, a will that's dangerously close to taking her to places she shouldn't go - places with too much magic and the loss of what makes her so special: that innate purity and goodness that always made her the one he most wanted to turn and corrupt and devour. It wouldn't be right for anyone but him to be the one to bring darkness to the sunlit brightness of her soul.

Something has to be done.

It's not hard to get her to come to his crypt, some pathetic excuse he can't even remember is enough. She's too tired to even see through the worst of his ruses, which is good since lately he's been too tired (and drunk and grieving) to come up with good ones. She's impatient though (she moves constantly, as if the motion is keeping her awake - and it probably is) and as he hems and haws and tries to think of the right way to say what he means (words were William and William seems so far away), she moves to leave.

He grabs her.

Not difficult to keep her there; he doesn't even need to hold her harshly enough to hurt her, though he'll endure the chip-borne agony if he must.

"When was the last time you slept, pet?"

She is taken aback, but she lies as smoothly as she can. "Last night."

He raises one eyebrow. Does she really think he can't tell? He's a predator, with senses that can easily spot weaknesses like fatigue. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Red, you might be able to fool the others, but me? For shame. If you've slept in the last week, I'm a souled poof with a taste for too much hair gel."

She comes clean, angry, but clean. "When do I have time to sleep, Spike? When? When Dawn doesn't need me or Tara and I aren't arguing or when the house isn't a mess or when the Buffybot doesn't need fixing or when you or Xander or Giles don't need to cry on my shoulder? Because that time never comes. There is always something I need to be doing, or worrying about, or planning for. It doesn't stop, Spike, and neither can I."

"You need to sleep."

"I know!" She's screaming now, this close to breaking down. Which is exactly what she needs to do - break down and let go. "But I can't. I can't."

Within seconds she's in Spike's arms, sobbing brokenly. "I'm letting her down, Spike. I'm letting her down."

Buffy. The one they both idolize, both miss, both love. The one who is gone. The one whose life and mission and family Willow is doing everything to tend.

"You're not, pet. You're not."

"Yes, I am. If she were here, no one would be falling apart and I feel like if I was more like her, everything would be better. But I'm not her, and no matter how hard I try, I can't be her."

He holds her tightly, letting her know she won't fall. "No, you're not her. You're you, and that's a wonderful thing. Believe me, no one could do a better job than you've done and none of us thanks you or gives you half enough credit, but you're amazing, luv." He kisses the top of her head. "Time to rest now. I'm here and everything will be all right 'til you wake up."

She looks up into his eyes, her own wide with longing. "Really?"

"Yeah, really. Promise."

She's asleep in his arms before he's even carried her down to his bed. She looks so peaceful and he hopes her head is full of happy dreams. But if there are nightmares, he'll be there to chase them away. After all, he promised her that everything would be all right, and he's always been a man of his word. He stares at her as time passes and the rise and fall of her chest is all the movement there is in the room. Maybe William isn't so far away after all.

The End.