Chapter 3

He thought of what he had been, first as William and then as the Slayer of Slayers. Even before the soul, she had forever changed him. He was more than he was supposed to be able to be, more than he had ever imagined. Through her, he had learned to care for those he once thought of as nothing more than food, prey. Through her, he finally had the ways and means to be a creator of beauty as he had once aspired to be. He had choices unimagined before she graced his life.

He had never stopped valuing love, but she had finally helped him define it. The demon had been tamed along with the remnants of the man. Thanks to Buffy, he was as close to alive as he had ever been and actually had begun to be his own man.

He'd not offer his love again, but he would damn sure offer his life. He was hers to command, always had been, but now he expected no return. She was his liege Lady, his Guinevere, and he her faithful Lancelot, an unworthy vassal born to see to her need, her comfort, her safety. He owed his very self to her and the debt would be paid.

X. My Debt

Love waked by your kindness. Your inner light
made me a man again because of you.
Yours: not the man alone, but the beast too.
Unmerited mercy earned you this knight.
Once I held you in my arms, my delight
was falsely felt. Your heart intact, I knew.
I thought to make you feel the love was true.
Now know I well my sins, my soul contrite
within. I seek no love from one so pure,
One I did defile. Now you have my pledge
Of loyalty, my life is solely yours.
I'll be your paladin, you can be sure.
I follow where you lead. Hell's very edge
will not deter me. All I have is yours.

He closed the notebook and thought about all that Buffy inspired in him. She had led him without much protest into the light. Her fight had become his, just as his very desire to exist was tied up with her survival. Until Buffy Summers, he had only glimpsed love through a glass darkly. He had never plumbed the depths of his own passions, his willingness to give all for another. He thought of the words he had just composed and knew he was still a bloody awful poet. Buffy would likely cringe if she ever read his pitiful attempt to immortalize her and what she had made of him with ink and pulp this way.

He opened the notebook again and added a postscript to his work.

"My very dearest Buffy, I wrote this pathetic jumble of words while listening to the music of your voice, your occasional laughter, deepest sighs, and even the sounds of your gentle breathing while asleep. You are the orchestra and I vainly tried to play lyricist. I learned a century ago that I was no Byron or Wordsworth and to do justice to you, my shining star, that sort of talent is required and no less. If you ever have cause to read these words, please know that the feeling behind the words could not be put into adequate expression with the human tongue or demon either. You made a man of me. You gave me true life. One day I may be called to give that life for you and I will do so willingly.

I expect nothing from you, precious one. I am not fit to speak your name! You have looked down and given notice to one far beneath you and I am ever grateful for that. I love you for all that you are, all you do. You have gifted me with the chance to serve you after I committed the worst sin upon your person that any man can a woman, much less a woman he adored. You have taken me into your home, if not your heart, and given me the benediction of your forgiveness. I would never have dared ask for half of that.

Now, in case you DO read this sad tribute one day, I should give you something well written at least. I called this "Songs from the Cellar," an echo of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's "Sonnets from the Portuguese" and no other I have ever read encapsulates my emotions towards you better than the last part of that famed poem and so I leave you with that."

Printing in neat letters words older than himself,

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace."

Spike's pen shook as he made a notation in script, "And that soul resides in me because of you alone. I doubt even one immortal as I will live long enough to count the many reasons though."

"I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light."

Spike smiled and noted, "You are my sun in the darkness, my peace in the turmoil of my soul's endless screaming." He continued returning to the block print letters,

"I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise,
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith."

"Only you," Spike chuckled as he penned, "I've never known the heights and depths of love 'til you Buffy. You are my true religion."

"I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost Saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life…"

The poet within his breast protested his breaking into the good lady's sonnet but he had to-truth demanded it. He put his notation in the elegant script his tutors had beaten into existence. "My life has been long in years, but only truly began with you. When I was a man, I only knew reality as a dreamer knows it. As a demon, I knew nothing but blood and taking what I wanted. I lost all that I was and had nothing to fill the void until you. I know I haven't loved you nearly as well as I should have, too selfish by far. Got distracted by what I wanted and hurt the only one I never wished to hurt. I lost all that made me more than that monster within and only through you found myself again…my true self. A self that might be better worthy of your regard one day should I live long enough. But know this, Buffy, should this battle not turn out well for me," He finished the Sonnet in a bold hand, his resolve complete,

"and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death."

He closed the notebook, at last content that he had said all he could to put his feelings out there properly. Likely she would not see them, but he felt better knowing he had created the beauty he had long desired to, to the best of his meager ability. There was a battle coming soon, an enemy he knew well might take them all down this time. Time was growing short and Buffy didn't need the distractions of a lovesick vampire or all the baggage they carried between them. Still, he felt a sense of relief that the words had been formed at long last, even if she who inspired them never laid eyes on them.

~*~
Epilogue

The school bus rattled its way towards Los Angeles and the medical facilities available there. Some of the new slayers were in need of at least an overnight stay and Robin Wood looked like he could use Intensive Care.

Buffy stared out the window as they traveled, not paying much attention to the conversations going on in hushed tones around her. Dawn watched with worry, knowing that her sister was most quiet when she was bottling up too much emotionally. She suspected that Buffy's seemingly casual reaction to the battle and their losses covered a deep well of sadness. Sooner or later Buffy would have to talk to someone, and Dawn hoped it would at last be her.

"Hey, hand me my backpack, will you?" Dawn asked a tired but upright Rona.

She was rifling through the items she had packed in haste before leaving for the school, looking for her Discman and earphones, when her hand brushed against something she didn't recognize. "Huh? What the frilly heck is this?" She pulled out the lined notebook with her mother's printing emblazoned on the front cover with "Must do's and really should's". "Wonder if Buffy slipped this in to remember Mom by. Personally, I'd have picked a few more pictures," she mused as she opened the notebook and started to read.

She only got as far as the first stanza when she quickly closed the book and nudged her sister. "Um, Buffy…," she hesitated. "I don't know if now's the right time or even if there is a right time, but I think this is for you." She handed the notebook to Buffy. She discreetly placed a box of tissues next to her numb sister and smiled gently before moving away to give her the privacy she knew Buffy was going to need.

~fin