A/N: WOW this is like, um, months and months late? But I just wasn't really in a space to write (though I love these crazy kids and I really want to get this story out of my brain) and all of a sudden it was like BAM inspiration on a plane ride, and I banged this out and here it is! I'm on vacation, so here's hoping I will get out semi-regular updates for anyone who is even still reading this, as well as something new I'm working on.
THANK YOU for reading, if you are!
And double thank you for reviews, they feed my soul and my hungry typing fingers.
Spike sat on the ground, hardly bothered by the damp or cold as he leaned back against a wide tree. It was a good spot, with a view of his graveyard. He'd taken to sitting there and having one more smoke in the last hour before dawn, looking on at the seemingly quiet and peaceful view below, contemplating just how much turmoil and grief was hidden there, buried just below the surface.
And he should know, having buried his own grief only a few yards away.
Lately, he'd taken to pushing his luck. Staying beneath his tree longer and longer, almost daring the sun to come and get him. Sometimes he thought he might just sod it all, close his eyes and just wait for the relief of nothingness to come. He bloody well didn't have the strength to stake himself, but…just sitting, waiting for the sun? He thought he could do that pretty easily. Might even be a nice way to go out. Probably be warm.
He shook his head, exhaling a stream of smoke in a long sigh. It was those kinds of thoughts that had been threatening to drown him for months now, and only one thing was keeping him from going through with them.
He'd done what he'd done to be the strong one. She was too broken to be strong, no matter how much she defied it, tried to show him how she could be okay…he knew. He always knew. He always did have a knack for cutting right through her bullshit.
He remembered the day he'd told the witches what he wanted to do and asked for their help like someone would remember having to saw off their arm. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but it was the only thing he could think to do. He had been a desperate man, trapped in a desperate situation and he'd done what he'd had to do.
Always for her.
So, taking the easy way out and offing himself? Well, it would sort of make his whole martyr bit kind of a moot point.
Plus, he noted, flicking his cigarette away with a rueful smile, he could just imagine Faith going off on him for even thinking about it. She'd probably call him a pussy, he thought, the smallest trace of a smile on his face as he thought of his fiery Faith.
The first touches of sunlight were beginning to show just above the horizon, and Spike took that as his cue to go home. He wouldn't do anything drastic, or stupid – at least not today.
"So, can you do it?" Spike's voice was terse; thin with desperation and panic and a million other things that he forced beneath the surface because the only thing he could be was strong. Because somebody ought to be the strong one.
Across the small hospital room, Willow's gaze flickered from the vampire pleading for her help to the broken woman lying unconscious against the stiff pillows.
"You have to understand what you're asking for. This isn't anything to be taken lightly, or decided with emotions running high." She tried her best to sound authoritative, but also gentle, because Goddess knows that all Spike needs right now is someone to be there for him. In front of her, Tara sat stoically in a bedside chair, stroking Faith's unresponsive hand with her thumb.
"Willow is right." She spoke up quietly, putting her hands carefully in her lap and watching Spike's bowed head across the bed from her. "Th-there's no take-back's with something like this. Could you live like that, f-forever?"
The silence in between the not-quite denials, but clearly apprehensive responses, and Spike's answer, was pregnant with tension. He brushed a strand of hair away from Faith's face – so carefully, like he thought he might break her with a simple touch – and let out a long sigh, before crossing the room to stand with Willow in the doorway.
"Please, Red.." His voice cracked in a way that had Willow yearning to do anything in her power to help him, to fix his pain and make everything better. "She'll try again. I know it, I know her. And I can't-" A choked sound stopped his second attempt at convincing her, and he had to take a deep, steadying breath before he could keep going.
"If I have to lose her, I'd rather it be like this."
Willow knew then that she would do the spell. It went against all her better judgment, but there was a broken man in front of her, a shattered Slayer lying in a hospital bed…the people she knew were dropping like flies, and if this was the only thing that would help then she would do it.
"Okay…okay. By this time tomorrow, she won't remember you, or this, or any of the things that got her here."
Spike's reverie on the day that had shaped the rest of his miserable unlife was cut short by the tell-tale scraping of stone on stone that meant someone was opening the door to his crypt.
Giles entered hesitantly; well aware he could find the vampire in one of two states – completely inebriated and too surly to deal with, or hung over and just melancholy enough that he'd be able to hold a civil conversation. He sincerely hoped that Spike was hung over. They needed to speak, and they needed to do it soon. Faith was becoming more and more cognizant of her situation with every passing day, and the dreams she'd come to him with was the thing to tip him into desperation enough to go and reason with Spike.
"And what do you want, Watcher Boy? Little busy, if you can't tell." Spike indicated the half empty bottle of whiskey in his lap with a curt nod, skeptical eyebrows glowering at the former Watcher, wary of what was coming.
Giles sighed. He should have seen surly coming from a mile away, but the hopes of men and all that. "Please, Spike, it's urgent." He did his best to convey exactly how serious his visit was, but was greeted with nothing more than a derisive snort bordering on mocking.
"What? Not killing your baddies up to spec, am I?"
With a shake of his head – he wished it were that simple – he sat gingerly on the small coffee table across from Spike, with a quick moment to hope that it wouldn't drop him on his behind.
What he had to say would not be greeted well by the vampire. That much was obvious. He would have to approach with delicacy, making sure not to set off any conversational landmines. Spike did not talk about Faith. He didn't listen to anyone else talk about Faith. And as far as Giles knew, he took extra care to avoid her altogether.
Except apparently, a few nights ago. At the Bronze.
He was met with the kind of silence only a vampire could maintain, waiting with held breath to see how Spike would respond.
Spike's jaw clenched, hand tightened on the neck of his bottle. And all he could think in his head was a jumbled mess of Faith. Was she alright? What was wrong? Had she gotten hurt? Oh, Christ, it had something to do with his careless stalking of her, didn't it? Did she…was she…remember- No, don't get ahead of yourself, mate.
"What 'bout Faith?"
Giles almost breathed a sigh of relief at the relatively calm reaction, but didn't want to jinx himself, as they hardly gotten to the worse of it. He decided the best approach would be to just jump in. Lighten the load with the cold reality of all the facts, perhaps.
"She's been complaining to me – well, not complaining. You know Faith. – But nevertheless, she's come to me with recurring dreams she's been having. And while I won't burden you with those details, I do have firm suspicion that they are a result of small pieces of her subconscious surfacing in a vague manner, namely dreams, while she sleeps." He took a breath to steady himself for the rest; Spike's carefully composed stoic face looking back at him.
"And I believe, that these…flashes, of memory, have only started to come up because of a trigger. You, Spike. When you ran into her at the Bronze, I'm afraid her subconscious – however buried – recognized you, and brought what few scraps of memory she had left to the surface of her sleeping mind."
Spike kept his face passive. Blank as he could. He should've known. He should've bloody known it was every kind of wrong to try and see her. Of course she was gonna discover him, and of course they would have a half-baked confrontation that had some kind of cataclysmic consequences. And then there was the tiniest bloom of hope in his shriveled and dead heart. If she was already remembering bits and pieces on her own…
"But, she's alright? Don't remember 'cept for dreams?" He had to know. Had to make sure he hadn't ruined everything he'd tried to do for her.
Had to squash that little sprout of hope before it killed him.
"As far as I can tell, yes that's correct. The spell is still holding, she doesn't remember you or anything else. It's just dreams." Giles gave the vampire a sad look, full of pity. Because, while they had been grave enemies only two years ago, he felt genuine sorrow for what Spike was going through. He wasn't sure he himself would be able to carry through with such a task, if put in the same situation. "But, I thought you should know."
"We had to tell her that you were ensouled, and working with Buffy." He continued, "She was suspicious, but she's agreed not to kill you on patrols, which is fortunate."
The look on Spike's face had him wondering if it really was such a turn of fortune to be guaranteed a longer life.
Looking down the bridge of his nose, he steeled himself. This would be the hardest part of all, and he honestly had no idea how Spike would respond. So far, all his responses had been stoic and calm, much to Giles' surprise – quite frankly, it was a toss-up.
"In order to keep her from getting suspicious and to keep you alive…you're going to have to patrol with her. She thinks you work with us, it would only be natural. Spike, can you handle that? You'll have to act as if you never knew her…never loved her…I imagine it would be as if when you first met. Though, perhaps less violent."
Spike balked on the inside. No, he couldn't fucking handle that. He could hardly handle seeing her from across a crowded bar, just knowing that she wouldn't be coming home to him at the end of her night. He'd spent four months now not handling it. Drinking, and killing things, and really, really not handling it.
But working alongside her. Partners again. They'd made a brilliant team, working in tandem like a singular unit. Even if she wouldn't remember how they'd use to be, they could be that way again. That would be worth dying a little on the inside every day. It could be.
"I'll do it. Hurt like bloody hell, but I'll do it." Spike nodded once at Giles, a terse jerk of his head before he lifted the bottle back to his mouth, taking a hearty swallow. "S'that all, mate? 'Cus I'm a little tired over her. Day hours and all."
Unable to articulate a very intelligent response, Giles just nodded, standing and brushing his trousers off. Well, he hadn't known what to expect, and it was still surprising that Spike had agreed. He only hoped that he wouldn't get too hurt in the process. Unrequited love was torture enough on the soul…but love gone known and then forgotten. He imagined it was a crushing thing, and had to respect the vampire for carrying on as he had.
"Thank you. I'll call you with more details, tonight, I suspect." Pleasantries were wasted on Spike, though, who had already gone back to his bottle, sure to pass out face down in his crypt as soon as he could stagger his way over there. So, Giles ceded, heading towards the door left ajar.
But a halted voice from behind stopped him, and he half turned in the doorway to see what Spike had left to say.
"She still living in that dingy motel room? All on her own?"
"Uh, yes, but I don't-"
"Get her to come and stay with you. Buffy, the witches…don't care. She deserves better than that rat trap. Worked for it, even if she doesn't remember."
"Of course. I'll arrange it." Giles nodded, surprised at the request, and more moved than he would have liked to let on.
And Spike seemed to breathe the smallest sigh of relief, giving Giles a brief nod of recognition and thanks, before he left the crypt.
He didn't deserve half of what these people were doing for him, and it never stopped surprising him when they'd help him. At least it was for Faith. She needed the help, more often than not, and she was too bloody stubborn to ask for it.
But he knew her, knew every inch of her, body and soul, like he knew his own name. And he would help her. He'd stick to the shadows, and work strings behind curtains and follow her anonymously 'till the day he turned to ash, and he would never complain. Not even once.
Because it was for her.