It's her crazy-talk that draws him in first. Tiny girl, barely more than a child, spouting nonsense that makes perfect sense to him. He's intrigued, and it's so long since he's been intrigued by anything that he can't help but be drawn in. He always did have a soft spot for seers. River is so lonely that anyone who doesn't treat her like a freak or a patient is alright in her books.

They meet up dozens of times over the years. The first time is when River is just a teenager, and Spike is feeling his years. He knows it's wrong, and she's so young, but he can't help himself. It's been years since he felt anything.

They talk on the cortex, sending waves to each other a few times a week. Spike tells her about the missions the Higher Powers send him on as their Champion, and River tells him about the troubles that Serenity and her crew have gotten themselves into this time. Sometimes the tone is friendly, sometimes flirty, sometimes they just let themselves cry.

Whenever Serenity lands on a planet large enough to be called a planet, River gives him fair warning, and Spike tries to be there to meet them. Simon hates him in a brotherly way, and the rest of the crew tolerate him for River's sake, but River is always there when the ramp goes down, waiting to fling herself into his arms.

"I've been waiting for you, Sweet William," she says, standing on her tip toes to kiss him.

"I missed you too, pet," he responds, holding her frail body to his own tightly.

Mal grudgingly offers him a place on Serenity, as a favour to the "Albatross", but Spike can't take it. The Higher Powers send him too many places for that. Besides, blood doesn't keep for very long, and what would a vampire eat if he were out in the blackness of space for months?

But he tries to be there when she calls. Some might find River too eccentric, her flights of fancy too extreme. But Spike has been with a seer before, stayed with Drusilla for a hundred years, and he's used to that kind of thing. He doesn't even mind when River pulls his thoughts straight out of his head.

They lie together in the tangled sheets, skin on skin. Her warmth spreads through him, making him feel almost as if he had body heat of his own. She puts her hand against his chest, where his heart should be.

"I can feel your heart beating," River says.

"No you can't," Spike contradicts. "My heart hasn't beat for 600 years."

"I can feel it," she insists. "The heart inside you. The one that makes you a good man."

Spike doesn't argue. He just pulls her closer. River puts her head on his chest.

"Thump-thump. Thump-thump," she murmurs to herself. Then, she raises her head to look at him. "William?"

She always calls him that. Never Spike. Spike isn't sure he likes it, but she insists that's who he is now, and he can't get her to stop. Their time together is so short that Spike doesn't want to get into an argument.

"Yeah, luv?" he replies.

"I wish we could stay together and not have the Black between us."

Spike feels a dull ache in his chest, where she says his heart is.

"You know that's not possible, luv. I've got my work, you've got yours."

"Tell the Higher Powers I want my William," River replies, burying her face into his chest.

Spike chuckles, tangling his hands into her dark hair.

"Yeah, I'll get right on that," he says dryly. "But I doubt they'll listen to me."

"I love you. Did you know that?" says River softly.

Spike sighs. She's so young, and he can't help but feel guilty for stealing her innocence. Simon certainly hates him for it.

"I know," he replies.

River sits up so that she can look at him, her dark hair falling like a curtain around her.

"Do you love me?" she asks.

"You know I do," Spike replies. And it's true. He really does.

River smiles that beautiful smile that only comes out when she's around Spike. It makes her look radiant, like some sort of angel straight from heaven to redeem him. Not for the first time, Spike wishes he were human, so that he could marry this girl, give her what she deserves, not a shell of a man and a sham of a relationship.

"I'm not good for you," he says softly.

"I'll decide what's good for me," River replies patiently. They've had this argument before.

"I can't give you a life. I can't give you children." Spike outlines the objections, like he has a hundred times before.

"Serenity has enough babies. Captain says if Simon and Kaylee have any more he's throwing them both out the airlock."

Spike smirks, but under the surface his objections remain.

"This isn't what you deserve," he says, looking up at her. She's so beautiful, pale skin and dark hair and deep dark eyes that you can loose yourself in. "I'm not good enough for you."

River responds by kissing him, the kind of kiss that would steal his breath, if he had breath to steal. For a long time after that they don't talk, using their bodies to express what they can't seem to say.

It's nearly dawn, and Spike can smell the sun coming up behind the closed curtains, when River speaks again.

"Can feel the change," she murmurs. "I'm just a bloke with my ear to the ground, but even I can feel the rumbling."

Spike almost smiles at her echoed words, remembering the time when he spoke them.

"You can feel it too, then, luv?"

"Evil is in the hearts of men everywhere. Lots for it to work with. Can feel the movement."

Spike sighs.

"The First Evil. It never goes away, does it?"

"Not as long as humans are humans," River responds. "Will you fight again?"

"If I have to," Spike responds, knowing already that he will fight again. It's taken 500 years for the First to recuperate from the blow dealt to it in Sunnydale, but recuperate it has, and Spike can feel all the portents lining up for its return.

"Do you think we'll weather this storm?" River asks.

Spike strokes her hair in a soothing motion.

"Don't know," he says honestly. "Took my death to kill this thing last time."

"I'm afraid," River admits.

Spike presses a kiss to her forehead.

"So'm I. But hey, we're champions. We fight because it's what we do, right?"

"Please don't die, William," whispers River.

It's been years since Spike wanted to die. He's gone on so long, seen everything and everyone he's ever cared for turn to dust hundreds of years ago. Death once seemed like a release, a chance to finally rest. A chance for it to end, like he'd said to Buffy once so long ago.

"Everything dies," he reminds River gently. "Even me, eventually. When I'm done being a champion, the Higher Powers will let me rest."

"I don't want you to die," says River. "Is that selfish of me?"

"No, pet. It's not," he replies. "As long as I have you, I have a reason to keep on living."

"And when I'm gone? When I'm dust?"

"Everything turns to dust," says Spike. And he knows better than anyone. "Not all of us get to be real boys, and marry the princess. Even Peaches, and he was my sire's sire. Not everyone has prophesies about them."

He's lost in the memories now, of everyone who is gone. Buffy and Angel and Drusilla, and a hundred generations of slayers and watchers and friends and enemies, all gone.

"Everything turns to dust in the end," he says.

River's smile is gentle.

"Don't you know, Sweet William? The very stars that shine so bright in the Black, the ones that lead us on, light the way when we're lost, the stars are made of dust."