Chapter Nine: If I Could

The sun was already coming up by the time Buffy had arrived back at the castle, but Buffy didn't care. The day could wait. Right now, she had something much more important to take care of.

Her hands shook as she put on her pajamas and brushed her hair. She wanted to get this over with. Amelia's explanation of the gift had left her excited and nervous at the same time. If it worked as Amelia had promised, then Buffy would be able to see him again. One last time.

She opened the box as she sank down onto her bed. It was very ordinary-looking, if Buffy were to be honest. A simple white candle. There wasn't even a candlestick or base for it. However, sometimes magical objects didn't need to look flashy.

Buffy lit the candle, breathing in the herbal scent that began to permeate the room. Amelia had said that this was a one-use object. She'd only have one chance to get it right.

She turned off her light and lay back onto her pillow. She was tired from being up all night, but almost too jittery to fall asleep. It was only the soothing smell of the candle and Amelia's promise of the dream that calmed her to the point of sleep.

It wasn't the past. It wasn't anywhere. It was just where she was now.

There was only the present as Buffy reclined on the unfamiliar bed with the strange smell of someone else's laundry detergent. Words having just left her mouth and still echoing around the room: "Will you just hold me?"

Spike was standing by the stranger's armchair with the stranger's clothes thrown on it. His face was inscrutable as he looked at her before starting to move back to the bed.

Time skipped. The seconds when he wasn't touching her. They weren't important. She was in his arms again. Him wrapped around her, arms entwined. She was drawing strength from him, as she'd done before. She watched his face as he fell asleep, knowing that she'd never find another person like him again. Not another person with such all-consuming love and fire. Strength, resilience, intense loyalty, and years of wisdom that often went disregarded in the face of pure emotion. That was all Spike. He was the man she'd known for years. Fought as an enemy, tolerated as an ally, turned to in despair, leaned on for strength. They had hated each other, fought each other, hurt each other, and loved each other. She had a history with him unlike anything else, and they knew one another in the most intimate of ways. Soul, body, mind. He was her companion in all ways possible. That was Spike.

It wasn't William. William was the starting point. He was a good man. However, he wasn't the man she'd fallen in love with. She could accept that now, as she held Spike close to her. It was only here, in this place that wasn't, that she could come to terms with that.

She'd left him then in reality. Here, though, she'd stay with him till morning. As long as she could. After all, the end of the world didn't matter here.

Her cheeks were wet when he stirred, waking up. He could probably sense her hitched breathing. Those damn vampire senses made it hard to hide anything from him. Or maybe he was just that attuned to her.

He frowned as he saw she was crying, hand stroking her arm in a comforting rhythm. He didn't need to ask what was wrong. The question hung in the air, unspoken. Whenever she cried, Spike wanted to do whatever he could to make things better.

She took a breath, whispering, "I'm never going to see you again after this."

He frowned further, pausing for a few moments. "You'll remember me?" he asked, only a hint of insecurity creeping into his voice.

She bit her lip, nodding and feeling fresh tears form in her eyes.

He smiled. "That's alright, then."

She could have told him that he'd die a hero and that he would have been loved at the end. That would be a waste of the moment, though. Here, he didn't care about being a hero, and he knew he was loved. Instead, Buffy leaned forward and kissed him. It wasn't a frantic, desperate kiss of their time together before. It was gentle and comforting as he held her, and she tried to memorize his taste, his smell, his soul. His soft lips spelled promises against hers. That he was hers and would be until the end. In return, she told him the same. No words were needed between them to know that.

She pulled away, and he brought his hand up to brush away her tears. She smiled in embarrassment, knowing that she probably looked awful now after having cried so much. She also knew that he didn't care.

"I just wish," she said. "That I had something to remember you by."

He stroked her hair, laying her head down under his chin and holding her in his embrace. She could feel the rumble of his voice in his chest as he spoke. "Wait till morning, love."

The night was silent then as the two held each other for the last time, resigned to their impending separation. The future didn't matter. Only this moment did. It was a moment outside time that would be seared into her memory and impressed upon her heart for her to keep with her.

Buffy's skin tingled, and she felt herself begin to wake up. Quickly, she raised her head to look at Spike, reaching a hand to caress his cheek. She wanted to see him as she left this place. Spike held her hand and squeezed, nodding at her in understanding. She whispered "Good-bye" as the room faded away.

Reality hit her hard when she woke up. Details overwhelmed her as the stark contrast of the real world collided with her senses. Her head pounded. She could almost feel his skin beneath her palm, still, and the impression of his body underneath hers.

She looked at her night table, noting that it was just past noon. The candle had burnt down to almost nothing. Amelia had been right. One-use only.

She sat up, feeling like she'd just passed through some type of barrier. Her world today was not what it had been yesterday. And that was a good thing. The confusion that she'd had before was gone. Spike, William, the amulet. It was clear what she had to do now that she'd been granted one final night with Spike's memory.

It was only as she was about to stand that she noticed the photo behind the candle. She picked it up and smiled. Spike had been true to his word.

***

Buffy was dreading this. Her footsteps echoed down the stone corridor, and she found herself walking as slowly as possible. She'd been making arrangements all day; doing everything except face William. Now, finally, as the evening had wound down and she had nothing left to procrastinate with, she had little choice but to go through with this.

Still, she found herself almost walking past William's door instead of knocking. She hated having to do this.

William answered the door, looking surprised to see her. "Buffy," he said, though it was more to himself than to her. "Would you like to come in?"

She nodded, throat suddenly dry. She could face down apocalypses, vampires, and demons of all sizes, but she couldn't do this?

She entered his cubby, looking around briefly. He hadn't had much time to decorate, so the furnishings were sparse. He did have a desk in the corner that was covered with papers. She turned to face him.

"William, we need to talk -"

"No, Buffy, I have something to say," he said quickly.

Buffy bit her lip. She didn't want to hear anything he had to say, but she let him continue anyway.

"I know that our…encounter was less than satisfying for you, and I admit that I am embarrassed at my performance." Buffy tried to interrupt him, but he kept talking, obviously going off a script he'd had prepared. "I have, however, been researching on ways to improve in that area, and, if you would be willing, I would like to try again." He finally took a breath, eying her nervously.

He'd been researching? There're ways to research that? Buffy didn't want to think about that too much because all roads led to porn, and that just left her with the image of William watching some Penthouse movie while scribbling down notes. Perhaps with Xander munching on popcorn beside him. No, no. Bad image.

Still, Buffy couldn't deny that there was something strangely endearing about William doing research as to how to be a better lover. It was sweet and enthusiastic. Just like William.

It just made this harder.

She sighed, shaking her head. "William, we can't." The words hung in the air. William's reaction was muted, as if he'd been expecting it. Buffy quickly continued, "Not because of the sex. I mean, this - researching - it's very sweet. I appreciate it. But we can't be together."

William shook his head. "There's something there, Buffy. Between us. You've felt it -"

She looked away. She couldn't do this while looking at those damn blue eyes of his. "No, William. There's something that was between me and Spike. And…I was just seeing parts of him in you. It's not fair to you to do that."

He looked confused. "So was there nothing in me that you were attracted to? Nothing that I, alone, possess or that you appreciated as a facet of being me rather than a reminder of him?"

She scrunched her forehead at his words. She didn't like what he was asking, and she didn't really want to answer him. However, he deserved honesty from her. Especially after what she had put him through.

"Every time I looked at you, I was looking for Spike," she said, cringing as the words came out. "I just missed him so much."

Buffy looked up and instantly regretted it. William was looking down at his shoes, hands shaking and obviously trying not to cry outright.

"But I do love you," he whispered softly.

"I know," she said. "And a part of me loves you, too. But it's the wrong part, and you deserve better than that."

He still didn't look up, and a silence fell between them.

"William," Buffy said. "I'm going to Cleveland tomorrow morning to take over operations there. It's time I actually get involved with the Slaying again." She stepped forward, placing her hand at the back of his neck as she touched her forehead to his. "You need someone who will love you for being you. Not because you remind her of her dead boyfriend. You're a good man. Someone will see that."

She paused for a second before kissing his cheek and stepping back. She reached into her pocket and took out the amulet. The shiny piece of jewelry that had started everything shimmered in the dim light of William's cubby.

"This is the amulet that brought you here," she explained, though he was still avoiding her eyes. "I gave it to Spike last year…because he was a champion. I think you should have it. You need something to remind yourself of your own potential." He didn't reach for it, so she placed it on the coffee table. "It's yours by right."

He didn't seem like he was going to be saying anything, so she turned to leave.

At the door, she stopped. "I'm sorry," she called back before finally exiting.

***

The clock told him the sun was coming up, though William couldn't see it.

What was there about him? Was he so plain and ordinary that he could not hold her attention? Did he aim too high in his affections? Surely, that was something beyond his control. He had thought that she returned his feelings. Did she not smile at his poetry? She had desired him, after all. She'd said so, herself.

She'd never said the words, though. She'd given him words of encouragement and friendship, but not of love.

Every time she looked at him, she was looking for Spike.

That was the harsh truth that William kept coming back to. He'd been a convenient stand-in for her in her grief. It seemed that he could be made a fool in this time, as well.

The middle of the night had already seen him play out his anger and frustration. Now, he only had the numbness as he tried to figure out where he had gone wrong, and how he could have changed things.

There was a knock on his door, and Xander entered without waiting for a response, ready to go in to work together.

"Hey, there! Brought donuts-" Xander paused in his entry.

Xander took in the mess of a room with the torn bits of poetry as William remained on his spot on the couch where he'd been sitting for hours during his struggle to come to terms with Buffy's departure. He knew his face was likely red and blustery from tears shed earlier, but he didn't much care at the moment.

"There a problem, William?" Xander asked carefully. When William didn't say anything, Xander continued. "Would this have anything to do with Buffy leaving for Cleveland later this morning?"

William tensed at the mention. Xander nodded knowingly and put the box of donuts down to sit across from William.

William looked up at his friend. "She didn't care for me," he said.

"What? She say that?"

"No, but…she was wanting him. Not me." William rubbed his eyes, aware of how tired he was. He was also aware that sleep would bring unpleasant dreams of blonde sirens who would entice him until he was smitten and then would cruelly discard him at their convenience.

"It's good she told you now before this got way out of hand," Xander said. "Trust me on this. I've seen it get out of hand before."

"I suppose some people aren't worthy of that type of love," William said wryly.

"What? William, it's one girl. There's a whole world out there!" Xander said, standing up. "If you had windows, I'd be pointing that out to you."

William shook his head. "Buffy is -"

"Special," Xander interrupted. "Yeah, I get that. Listen, Buffy has a 'type'. And guys like us? Don't fit it."

William looked up, frowning. "Spike did?"

"Yeah, he did. But if you were like Spike, I would not have brought you donuts. So, see? It's a fair trade." Xander sat down again. "Look, I know it hurts, being rejected by her. But it was the kindest thing she could have done. Don't hate her for it or anything."

William smiled as he considered Xander's words. Not about the donuts but about Buffy.

Try as he might, it was hard for him to maintain that resentment towards her. Oh, yes, it had been going strong throughout the night. But as morning came, he was starting to come to some realizations. Buffy had gotten caught up in the past and accidentally ended up hurting him. He couldn't begrudge her, much as he might want to. His eyes wandered to the amulet which had been saved from his tantrum earlier in the night. It was the object that had brought them together, and yet it represented that which kept them apart. What had Buffy said about it? That it would remind him of his potential?

"Hey," Xander said. "I'm leaving in a few days. Doing my traveling thing. Finding new Slayers and such. You should come with me."

"Go with you?"

"What better way to get used to this world than to travel in it? Plus, you'll meet more people that way. Learn more about the work we do." Xander shrugged. "I could use the company."

William had never left the country in his own time. Traveling to faraway lands sounded exciting. Lord knew that he needed to get away from this place. Though Buffy was leaving, this castle would still hold memories that he found unpleasant to recall.

Also, with Xander teaching him about their work, he might be able to make himself useful in the future. Despite whatever Buffy was looking for when she looked at him, she'd always seen a good man. She'd said so. She may not have loved him, but she did believe in him. The amulet she left was a testament to that.

He didn't want to let her down.

William nodded. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yes," William looked at Xander. "I'll go with you."

"Great! I've always wanted a sidekick. I'll be Xan-man and you can be Victorian Boy. Or we can work out the names later," Xander smiled. "You obviously need sleep," he waved his arm at the mess in the room. "I'll leave you to it. We'll get together tomorrow to work out the details."

Xander left, leaving a chocolate donut behind, just in case William wanted a snack before going to bed. William found he wasn't very hungry, actually. He did feel, however disastrous the evening had been, that the morning had brought forth a resolution that might be the best for his future.

He was looking forward to it.

***

She didn't have many clothes to pack, which was fortunate. Buffy had made the mistake of waiting till the last minute to get her luggage out and actually gather her things together. She was racing the clock before she had to leave to get to the airport.

Everybody had been happy to hear she was going to Cleveland to take charge. She thought she saw Giles get giddy, even. They'd all been so used to her "hands-off" approach lately. Buffy hadn't realized how much of her slack they'd been picking up. Work that, by all rights, she should have been doing was being taken care of by Giles or Dawn. That's not what she had fought for in this last battle, and that's not what Spike had sacrificed himself for.

Talking to William had been difficult. It was necessary, however. And she felt better knowing that William had a close friend in Xander to help him through this time. She knew William was resilient. He'd do well.

She had to start thinking about herself.

As she folded her last shirt and put it in the luggage, she grabbed the last item left to put on top.

It was the photo from this morning. It looked like the type of couple photo you might get done at some photo place. She was in Spike's arms, leaning back against his chest, head resting on his shoulder. She wore a huge smile. He, predictably, had a cocky smirk on his face that told the world exactly how he felt about having Buffy in his arms. His eyes made it clear that he was happy. And he was loved.

Buffy smiled. It was a beautiful photo. They'd never actually had photos taken, of course. They'd never managed to reach that point in their relationship before the end. If they had, though, she's sure this is what it would look like. She silently thanked Amelia for the token. She finally had something to remember Spike by. It was something she could look at and treasure while moving on with her own life.

Carefully packing the photograph, she closed the luggage and glanced around, doing a last look to make sure she wasn't leaving anything behind. The cubby was completely empty.

She flipped the luggage upright and extended the handle to roll it to the door. The wheels clacked on the stone floor, and Buffy turned to look around one last time. Living in a castle had been fun, but a change in scenery would do her good.

With that final look, Buffy opened the door and left.

fin