Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
-Ash Wednesday, T.S.Eliot
The air felt different now, perhaps just a bit less stale; and sure enough as she followed Spike's eyes upwards she saw the outlining of some sort of metal hatch. The hinges were old and rusted, but as she peered with her improved night vision, she realised the whole thing, hinges and all, had been pulled out, and it was all merely balancing lightly in its slot in the stone. An access regularly used, but made to look impenetrable.
"The Jefferson crypt. " Spike announced by way of explanation. Her eyes darted back to him, trying not to seem unnerved by the sudden end to the silence that had descended.
"Oh, right…your neighbours." She commented lightly, realising they were in the tomb nearest to Spike's excuse for a home. A second too late she realised the callousness of such a comment at a time like this; as if reminding him that he was doomed to this future. But a shared glance showed that even if the same thought had crossed his mind, Spike wasn't showing it, and certainly wasn't offended.
He should have a real place. Not like the Mansion or a crypt; not a cold, stony place. An apartment or something, like Angel used to have. Buffy knew all too well how such a rush of thoughts was only accompanying the guilt she was now feeling, bitter and sharp. But still, it might be something to mention; to give him something to aim for after they…well, when this was all over.
Spike was watching her closely she noticed. But just as she was about to ask what he was thinking, he seemed to realise it himself.
"Dammit. Blanket. "
Sure enough, they'd left Buffy's only protection from the sun further back in the tunnels somewhere.
"Suppose the sun is still up right?" he continued.
She knew why he could ask such a question; while not technically true, they both felt like they'd been up all night. And after a day of wondering around tunnels they'd kind of lost all perspective time-wise. For all she knew it could be an hour since she last talked to Dawn, or five.
She glanced down at her bare wrists.
"No watch. " she muttered.
That brought a private smile to Spike's face.
"What?" Buffy asked, catching sight of it.
But even as he gently reached out to cover her eyes with his hands, she began to realise what she'd forgotten.
"I didn't ask for the time." His voice came gently teasing, but lowering to something of a nostalgic whisper. "I asked if the sun was still up."
Sure enough, drowning in darkness and thinking past the visual, she felt it in her bones. An uncomfortable, abstract feeling of unease. A warning in her blood, like the faintest of thoughts, just out of her mental grasp even concentrating as much as she did now.
It was instinct.
"Yes." She whispered back, filled with awe. "The sun's up."
She heard Spike's faint sigh as he took his hands away. After a moment of coloured dots before her eyes, Buffy saw him looking at her with a smile.
"Pretty nifty party trick, right?"
Trying to cling to this change in mood, she nodded and forced herself to smile back, gently teasing.
"Oh, definitely – like Spider-sense for vamps. Now that's gotta be top of the list of things I'm gonna miss."
He raised an eyebrow, as he started –awkwardly with his broken fore-arm - to take off his duster to use an as alternative to the blanket.
"I'll assume you're talkin' about all the speed, strength and fast healing as opposed to the severe sunbur-"
A memory flashed before his mind's eye of old heavy drapes, desperately pulled at by a slender hand, the searing pain as the sun streamed in across his game-face; how he'd lunged out of the rays with a yell, and pulled the terrified young brunette he'd captured away from the window roughly, hand over her mouth before she could scream, before venting his fury on her brutally while Dru watched giggling with dark glee…
Buffy was reaching out a hand to his shoulder nervously, at his suddenly still figure and face frozen in shock.
Her voice seemed to snap him out of it though, but the eyes that looked up at her wide in crippling horror.
"Spike, what is it?"
But he shakily raised a hand, and after a dazed second finished shrugging off his coat and handed it to her.
And with that he seemed to shake off whatever seemed to have held him locked in shock like a vice. Just in time to ward of the welling wave of guilt, that was creeping out from his memory. Don't think. Don't remember.
He turned towards the metal rungs built into the stone beneath the opening above, refusing to meet her eyes.
"You first pet – then you can pull up the wounded man here. "
She could hear it in his voice though. His tone always became distant, losing its usual intensity, when something was bothering him though. She hadn't realised she'd known that.
She saw his eyes dart nervously, still not wanting to meet hers but anxiously wanting her to do something.
She pressed a hand to his shoulder as she moved past him , and reached out to grip the rungs. As she started to climb he passed up his coat for her to hold above her head. Once she pushed aside the light metal hatch, it was unlikely she'd be in direct sunlight, but still – now was so the time to get dusted.
It should have been an amusing thought, but it left a chill in her unbeating heart.
~ ~ ~
There was a short distance to cover between this and Spike's crypt. Buffy never got a chance to see anything but the grass between her feet as she ran, bent almost double with his coat over her. Still she felt the freshness of being out in the open air again, albeit for a few brief rushing moments. She felt Spike's arm across her back, guiding her in a straight path.
But just as she took a last dash in through the entrance of the crypt into the shade inside, she felt the pressure of his touch vanish, and his presence fall behind.
Feeling the cool of the shade around her as she stood in the open doorway she whisked around, letting the duster drop. She looked out at the view before her from the shadows.
What she saw was something beautiful.
He was standing still on the grassy verge, gazing up into the vast expanse of the sky.
His duster gone, his pale muscled arms, one still unnaturally bruised and twisted, were bare to the sun for the first time in 120 years.
Buffy took a small step forward, watching entranced at this moment so painfully exquisite it felt like something sacred. Watching as he turned slightly, completely basking in the sun's rays shining gold , low over the top of the crypt. She had a perfect view of his expression as he closed his tear-filled eyes in near-ecstasy to feel the warm breezes of the day under a beautiful clear blue sky.
A demon's first and last true taste of humanity.
Only once before in her life had she been overcome with so much compassion. Once before had she ever had such scared eyes of a condemned man open and look at her pleadingly.
She'd never know what could have allowed him to leave that moment – to take those steps out of the day for the last time without a single look back.
She'd never know how the sight of her small, beaten form, shying away from the light, tore his heart. How his love of her had reached a point of utter selflessness.
Living wasn't breathing in the sweet air of the afternoon. Living was loving her.
And for that sort of life, he didn't have to be human.
As he walked in slowly, she retreated further back, eyes cast down as she heard him shut the door.
They didn't need to say anything. What could you say? No words could be of comfort after that.
Buffy merely kept her eyes lowered and allowed him to approach her with footsteps shuffling on the stone floor, the sound far too clear in the dusky cool of the crypt.
She felt his presence in front of her, but still she couldn't bring herself to raise her weary head, and let him see her tear-filled eyes.
His voice was broken, but quiet.
"How are you doing love?
She could laugh at the absurdity of a question like that after what she'd just witnessed.
But any laughter could so easily turn to sobs.
Instead this was a still and silent moment between the two of them. It carried the weight of the end of a line. Honesty was the only option. Pretence, sentiment...it had no place now. Not when they'd come so far.
" I'm tired. I'm so goddamn tired. "
Now she looked up. The dark circles of fatigue under her eyes confirmed her words. Her hair hung lank and tousled over her face.
Spike's good hand reached up slowly and absent-mindedly brushed the golden strands out of her eyes. His eyes were tracing her face as she continued.
"I want to get past today. Together."
Spike looked off then over her shoulder, sighing.
"I'm going to ask you something. And I want you to think about it and answer me straight… because if there's one thing we don't need right now love, its any more complications."
He looked down into her eyes, and, encouraging, she took his hand in his. He glanced down at that, and his face seemed even sadder as he looked back up.
"When you're human again. When you can go back home to mom and little sis; when you're hanging out with the rest of them having a grand old time; when you look your Watcher in the eye…are you going to try and forget about today? When you're not all alone, in the dark, looking for someone to understand your pain - your world – are you going to take back what you've said to me today? If you're happy…could you stop yourself hiding from this again?"
There was a beat, with him watching her closely with a gritted jaw and a searching gaze.
Her traced circles on the back of his hand with her thumb, while she swallowed hard.
A barely perceptible nod.
Her eyes were wide and helpless.
"I don't know. But…I think, maybe. Maybe I can. Because now, I - I think somehow, nothing can be the same as it was…"
Real fear came to her voice then, as she whispered her secret confession.
"I don't think I can bury this part of myself anymore."
And then Spike was sighing with relief, leaning in to rest his forehead on her own, their eyes closed in gratitude at each other's presence.
A moment later she felt his hand clench hers tightly, and a sharp intake of breath. His next words were spoken in a quiet, intense rush.
"Buffy – don't wait. If my – if a soul is really coming back to me, then the demon in you – it could take you too. You could lose control, mess this up or worse – you'll not want to go back at all."
As he broke away, she couldn't read his face to see if the last thing might not be just what he'd always wanted. How much of that last wish was because of his newfound conscience, and how much, if any, was his true self, would forever remain a mystery.
He had walked over to the central tomb, on which lay his coat, picked up from the doorway on his way in, and placed there whilst her eyes had been averted. She walked over to join him as, rooting around in the inner folds of the material, he eventually pulled out the vial of glowing liquid.
He held it up to her, and said strongly.
"You take this straight away. As soon as it's done, you understand? Don't wait."
Nodding profusely, gritting her jaw through her pity, Buffy reached up and eased it out of his grasp, sliding it into the back of her belt.
Spike nodded distractedly as she did so.
And then it was time.
He leant back, perched on the edge of the stone tomb, alone with a Slayer trying hard to appear calm and sure of herself. As Buffy stepped up close, he tilted his face to catch her gaze.
"You know how this works right? When there's barely any life left…that's when-"
"-you drink." She nodded, wincing painfully at his words, wishing he wouldn't talk about it, wishing he could not make her so nervous. It was strangely discomforting not to have her body react to her inner anxiety, not to have her heart pounding in her chest. But she took strength from it; from a vampire's natural state being a steady, prowling calm. That's what she had to be now. A vampire. They could still feel love – she knew that for herself now. And even a twisted kind of compassion – more of an empathy perhaps. But there was also a far surer sense of being in the moment; living in the present. Doing what had to be done now.
When she opened her eyes she'd banished her fear. She was moved to see it momentarily in his own eyes.
"I will bring you back." she reassured him.
Spike looked surprised, but gave a faint-hearted smile.
"Oh I trust you love. I do."
Buffy watched him steadily, reaching out to take his hand once more.
He looked up at her with an almost sheepish look.
"I just remember how much this hurts…."
She gave a small smile back.
Then she stepped in further towards him, her palms resting lightly on his bare arms, one of which he reached round to hold the small of her back. And for a moment they stood there, their eyes closed, near cheek to cheek in a strange deadly embrace.
He spoke softly, his mouth by her ear. "I love you."
She whispered back, her breath on his neck sending a chill down his spine;
Neither of them moved as her features transformed into those of the demons. He felt her grip on his arms tighten, his eyes clenched tight, he took a breath of her hair, and breathed a sigh of contentment, a moment of peace, before Buffy gave in to the need within and their worlds came crashing down as her fangs sank pierced his skin, and her mouth filled with his blood in an instant.
In the shadows of the unlit crypt, she drank deep and hard.
It was intoxicating.
For both of them.
Never would either of them forget how they felt over the following minutes, as she drank, and drank, by instinct at first, and then with a hunger, her fingers trailing up to his neck, her nails digging in to his skin as she allowed herself to live in the action, the sensations, the pure dark exhilaration of the moment..
After an eternity, she sank her fangs into her own lips.
...later, on the edges of his dreams Spike could just about recall how in a haze of semi-consciousness, weakened to the point of collapsing back onto the tomb, her body draped over him, he had tasted her kiss; long, deep, and sweetened with the bitter taste of her own blood.
~ ~ ~
Then there was a silent stillness once more. One small figure stood gazing down with amber eyes at a corpse laid out on a tomb.
She wondered what it was like for him…where he was now. Wondering in some dreamscape, or lost in a dark abyss. Who was 'he', even? Had she just condemned one creature to death so that another – a killer, who'd stolen this body , but who she knew and valued far better – could live?
No…wherever the poor soul who'd be born into this body was, it was where it'd resided for the past 120 years. It should be allowed to rest there. Somewhere inside that body before her was the man she knew and…needed.
He would have to wake and face the world again; trapped in an existence that she knew now to be more alive than she'd ever imagined; but it came with so many sacrifices. Perhaps, after today, that would be too high a price for him. And if she couldn't find the courage to be honest with herself any more, he could be alone again. Maybe one day she'd come by, and find merely a pile of ashes…the last remnants of a creature that had had his last taste of the sun his life had been without.
It sank in then – how it would be if Spike truly did die. She would feel like a person had gone, not just a thing like she had with so many other vampires and demons. The thought of that arrogant smirk, or that trademark tilt of the head, more often than not accompanied by an unnerving perceptive look…or that soft, steady tone she'd only rarely before today; a tone that spoke of something serious, something that cared…The thought of that all being lost brought a lump to her throat and a sickening feeling to her gut.
She reached out and took his pale lifeless hand, seeing again those familiar blue veins and fingernails with chipped black nail polish, and a small smile came to her face at the familiarity of it all. It was Spike. Spike who'd been as much of as a constant in her years of being a Slayer as Angel had. Who'd been there through this today...who'd been there that night she'd cried on the steps of the backyard. Feeling helpless and scared for her mother, she'd poured out her heart to him as an equal. She'd let herself need him when she couldn't bring herself to need Giles, her friends - or Riley.
Both of them had been at the mercy of the Fates this last year. Both of them had changed in ways they'd never have imagined when first facing each other as mortal enemies all those years ago; a committed Slayer and just the latest Big Bad. Now allies in a darker, desperate world. This was a world where a video-fest after a hard night's patrolling didn't chase the horrors away, or where humans were just another perk in a life of brutal pleasures.
Looking around she just absorbed the strangeness of not breathing again, of the strangeness of sitting in silence here in Spike's crypt. This place, where he was banished to spend his days. This place he thought was a vamp's paradise simply for the fact .that it wasn't some hole beneath the ground. Looking around at the TV, the armchair, the bed, the magazines, the booze...the obvious lack of cursed relics, devil-worshipping idols, charms or anything else demonic. It was as if he was trying to be human.
But of course, there was still that edge. Those hints of a life less ordinary. A short-sword was stood up against the wall in the corner. The small fridge she knew held blood-packs as well as drink.
And as for her? She still had to stop herself from creeping out in the night to hunt. Waiting for test results, making meals for her and Dawn, or listening to Anya and Xander banter on, she would increasingly allow herself to wonder…what would happen if she just gave up now? What if she just turned and walked out the door, and let the Slayer within run wild?
Oh yes, they lived in the shades of grey now.
Stroking the back of his lifeless hand – a hand that had struck her many timed in the past – she promised herself something. She swore she'd never look down on this existence again.
No matter what anyone said.
She slowly crouched down and picked up his heavy leather jacket from the floor. Absent-mindedly brushing the dust of it, she draped it over him. Eyes never wavering as she took in his torn and bloody neck she looked at his face, more peaceful than she'd ever seen it. Of course, she'd never watched him sleep before. Once she'd caught him dozing at Giles', but awkwardly tied up and half-starved for blood, her presence had stirred him from his light sleep in an instant, and he'd awoken grumbling and scowling. And she'd gloated.
Now though she merely bent over him and kissed him lightly on the lips, her game-face evaporating as she did.
"I have to go now", came her steady murmur. " My mom…she's coming home tonight, from the hospital. I have to be with my family or else - I'd stay. I would. I 'd be here when you wake up. Like you were for me…"
Not a breath past his lips in answer, and she tried so hard not to think of him waking, disoriented and lifeless alone here. Instead she knew she had to go home – before anyone came looking around here for her.
And she had to turn back. While she still could. She knew she couldn't even start to contemplate staying as she was…or else she'd never drink the cure. The demon make her give in to her enchantment with this life or…and friends and families' horror aside – she'd be incurring the wrath of The Powers, for meddling in the very order of the universe.
With that thought driving her she reached for the vial in her belt, pulled out the seal, and pausing for a second to feel alive with the raw ancient strength of a vampire in the wake of quenching its bloodlust, she closed her eyes and downed the glowing liquid in one go.
She was dimly aware of the sound of the glass shattering on the stone floor, as she sank to her knees, every inch of her body searing with pain before her chest tightened and felt like it was going to explode. After what seemed like an eternity of her body feeling like it was being crushed, she felt the hard thud of a heartbeat, and gasping, took her first true breath.
She was alive.
~ ~ ~
It took many minutes of the blood pumping round her veins again, and tentatively trying to get her aching limbs to regain their strength, before she could think about standing. Then, a very few more before she could bring herself to touch his face and feel it colder beneath her warm touch.
Her eyes were shining with tears but she blinked them back, not allowing one to fall.
"Song's over." She whispered. "But only for today."
She walked out into a sunlit world to see her mom, sister and friends safe at home…to try and fit into a world she'd almost lost forever. A world where she'd forever more have to hide who she was from those she loved.
All but one that is.
All but the one, cursed man she'd left sleeping alone in the dark…Finis…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thankyou so much everyone for all your support and reviews for this piece over the last few months. Lord knows I left you with some cliffhangers, but having your reactions to each chapter to guide and encourage me was a wonderful experience for me.
And if by chance you've not grown sick of this fic yet, you might be pleased to know the sequel is already in the works. I've got more challenges and developments ahead for these two. And hopefully a chance at finding happiness.
- and hey – don't forget to review!