Title: Tainted

Author: AJ Hofacre

Summary: Season 5 -- after The Gift. It's Buffy's funeral. Spike's pissed off and depressed. What else is there to say?

Rating: PG-13 for language only

Disclaimer: This is not mine. This is just how I envisioned the very dreary meeting between the A-team and the Sunnydale Co. to be under such sad circumstances.

==========================

Tainted

In every generation, there is a Chosen One -- the Slayer. One girl in all the world with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires and stop their evil numbers from swelling.

That's the way it went. I mean, everybody said it different, but the gist of it was the same. The strength and powers of the vampire, poured into the essence of a demon and bound to a human soul in the body of a woman. She was the one we feared. The only one.

I never feared her. I sought her out. Several times, in fact, several different ones. The first, in China -- she took her job too seriously. That's what killed her. Okay, so I'm what killed her, but it's the bloody principle of the matter. She was such a workaholic that it wasn't a surprise to me when I got that free shot.

The second, in New York -- god, I miss New York -- Nikki, I believe her name was. She was definitely more relaxed than the first was. Maybe it was cos of the 70s. Everybody was more laid back then. I suspect America always was more relaxed than the other countries, even during the 1800s. Maybe it was all the pissy beer.

Anyway, Nik was an easy kill for me, but more of a challenge than my first. She wasn't as serious, and I could tell she liked to have fun. Shit, I could smell her the whole time we were dancing, and it just made me go harder. I mean -- well, you know what I mean.

I could tell Nikki was sick of it. She was tired, and when I found her, she only fought me to make it her last good fight. In other words, it was a relief to her when I snapped her neck. I felt like I'd done the chit a favor. Guess that's why I wear the duster. Reminds me of her.

I encountered countless other Slayers between China and Nikki, but those two were the only ones I'd managed to make a name for myself with. The history books only recorded them; I killed two other Slayers in my lifetime, but I was with Angelus at the time, and he took the credit for them, the poncey bugger. Jealousy, thy name is Peaches.

Buffy was something else entirely. I guess I kept seeking her out. The first time was because I was with Dru. I wanted to save my baby, and killing Peaches was the way to do it, cept I didn't get to kill him. But killing him would've left Buff in a good state of shock, and I could've got a coupla good shots in before ripping out her throat. Problem was, the first time I saw her, I knew I couldn't kill her. She had the same problem, I know, and the closest she came was that once with the bloody church organ.

Yeah, we could never kill each other, and eventually I figured out why I couldn't -- according to Dru, I was too obsessed with her, and according to that dream I had, I was in love with her. And it wasn't very often that a vampire dreamed, so when I did, I took it as serious as though Hell was on earth.

I'm William the Bloody, Spike, the Slayer of Two (known) Slayers. And I'm in love with the latest one. Buffy Summers.

She never admitted it out loud, but there was something there between us. Powerful attraction and arousal, passion that burned and bit, scalding heat, intense need... Buff and I were two of a kind, cut from the same swatch and all that. That was prolly why Red's spell worked so well with us last year. Real feelings hiding down there, only brought to the forefront in a mimicry of a relationship because of a simple Will Be Done. At the end of that day, we discovered that Will's wording was only that we should get married; it had never entailed us to loving each other. Although, maybe it was a given; married couples are usually in love, right? I certainly loved her then; and she definitely loved me, now matter how many times she tried to deny it.

We would've been perfect together, if I hadn't happened to be totally, completely evil, or if she hadn't been such a goody-two-shoes bint.

God, she was right. I was a monster.

The woman was lying in a coffin, in a funeral home, dead, and I was thinking these stupid, petty things, and calling her stupid names. What the hell was wrong with me?

It was so hard to believe. She was gone for only three days already, and now she was laying there in a dark, quiet place, being prepared for a mass of people to view -- her dad was nowhere in sight, the stodgy bastard -- and I was never gonna see her again. I'd had to beg Red to make the funeral at night, against Xander's fervent protests -- but Will agreed. Another factor to that was Peaches. Angel was coming, wasn't he? Then she had to make the funeral at night, just to suit the both of us.

I think she felt kinda bad for me. I was practically on my hands and knees, asking her to let me come. Besides, I couldn't leave Dawn alone. She needed me, and I'd promised Buff that I'd look after her. Sides, something was telling me that being with Dawn would get me through this.

Another dead give-away that she was feeling for me was because she'd actually given me a hug when she'd agreed.

We were at the cemetery -- just viewing her plot, really, paying respects to Joyce while we were there -- and trying to keep most of the girls from going hysterical. Will had told the L.A. group to meet us here... at my cemetery... before we all headed to the funeral home, then back here for the burial.

Hmm. And they'd finally arrived -- the whole Los Angeles crew. Angel; Buffy's former Watcher, Wesley; some guy named Gunn; and Cordelia, the former cheerleader. Kinda reminded me of Dawn at the moment.

Dawn. My sweet, darling Dawn, standing as close to me as she possibly could, had taken one look at the Scooby Deux, and tried to huddle closer. Red noticed, and glanced sympathetically at her. She and I exchanged a Look.

Maybe I should go distract them. Knowing Angel, he'll take one look at you, and then Dawn'll be down two people who love her, she whispered. I peered down at her, tilting my head. That witch could pick apart anything, and I hadn't realized how obvious it was that I cared so much for the Nibblet.

Nodding, I pressed a hand gently against her shoulder. Keep Harris away from me, too. Prolly try to take her away from me. And chip or no chip, if he tries it, I might just rip his arm off.

Will nodded, then turned and headed for the L.A. troupe, steering them away from my direction. She got it.

Even though they weren't heading for me anymore, I kept watch over them, just to make sure Angel wouldn't come over and question why I was so defensive about Dawn.

Hey, guys... we're glad that you came, Willow said, looking first at Angel, then at Cordelia, taking the girl's hands. Angel nodded solemnly in that big brooding way he had, then looked down at his shoes, raising a hand to pinch at the bridge of his nose. Cordelia looked awful -- eyes all red and puffy, dark circles, looked as if she hadn't slept well in weeks. When Will took her hands, Cordelia fell into her arms and burst into tears.

Oh, god... Oh, god, Willow, I never meant to be so horrible to her, honestly, I didn't! I feel so awful, I was such a bitch! I can't even tell her how sorry I am to her face now! What was wrong with me?

Will held the cheerleader close, gently stroking her back. It's okay, Cordy. I think she knew you were sorry. Now... please stop crying, because if you don't stop, then I'll start.

Too late. Even from this far away, I could see the glistening in her eyes, and before long, tear tracks started marking her little face. I looked down at Dawn, noticing that she was watching the proceedings curiously. Her gaze flitted to Angel for a moment before she scowled and shifted, burying her face deeper into my coat. I reached a hand up and gently stroked her head.

You okay, luv? Peaches making you nervous or anything?

Dawn looked up and smiled warmly at me. This girl must have the biggest heart of all mankind if she was letting a soulless demon into it. Then again, that soulless demon loves her and her sister both, so there was probably a reason for it. No, Spike. Thanks, but I'm okay. Go back to eavesdropping, I know you want to.

I smiled and hugged her closer. You know me too well, Bitty.

She shrugged. I love you, she said simply.

I was not gonna choke up, I was not gonna choke up... How long I'd waited to hear those words from her older sister. The elation I felt from Dawn saying it would've probably been magnified times twenty had the words been coming from Buffy. She loved me, Dawn said. Someone loved me. My affections toward at least one of the Summers women weren't just one-sided anymore.

I leaned in and placed a kiss on her forehead. I love you, too, Dawn.

She sighed in satisfaction and snuggled back into my arms.

I know what you're thinking. No, Dawn didn't mean she loved me like that, like how I loved -- still love -- her sister. She knew Buffy was the reason I had come into her life in the first place. Maybe at first, getting friendly with her had been a way to get in good with the Slayer, but before long, genuine affection took hold. Dawn reminded me of my own little sister, the one I'd lost so long ago, nearly forty years after I'd been sired. When Buffy placed Dawn's care in my hands, I'd sworn myself to protect her, the way I never could have protected my Katherine. Dawn was never gonna leave my sight, and she was going to live until she was an old, old woman.

Besides, I had a feeling that if I had even attempted to encourage that old crush she'd had on me (not that I would have in any way, shape, or form) that Buffy, or God, depending on who got the first say, would've sent a lightning bolt down and lit my ass on fire.

I sighed and began walking, gently nudging Dawn along with me. You hungry, baby? Want anything? I'll make a run for you if you --

Dawn tugged on my arm and leaned into my side. Appreciate it, Spike. But I'm fine, really. I just... can we maybe go for a walk... maybe find Tara, or just go to the crypt or something?

I saw her eyes dart between me and Angel's entourage, and I smiled gently. I knew they were making you nervous. It's okay to tell me, luv.

Dawn shook her head. It's not all of them -- it's just Angel and Wesley. You know I never liked Angel, and Wesley was just a dork. I'm okay with Cordy, I guess, and I don't really know Gunn. But Cordy looks like she's two steps away from being surgically attached to Angel's hip, and if she heads over this way, he's gonna follow her. And I don't want him coming anywhere near you, he'll just be a jerk.

I passed a hand gently over her head. Nice of you to be concerned for me, pet, but I can handle the poof. And if he does head over this way, he can't touch me. Red'll be two steps behind him, and so will Glinda. And I've got you right here, so I'm virtually untouchable. She still looked eager to get away, and I sighed. Look, Bit... maybe, just this once, we should be nice to Peaches... er, Angel. Buffy did love him. In fact, she's prolly screaming curse words at me right now for letting you be so hateful to him. A second ago, I was expecting her to walk over and give me a good old smack, right in the nose.

She gave me a weak smile, then snorted softly as a giggle escaped her throat. Just for old times sake, right?

I smiled. Exactly, baby. I shook my head and sighed. She loved him, you know she did. You know how much. No matter how we feel about him, or what we think about him, he loved Buffy, too, just like us. He's gotta be feeling pretty shitty right about now. As long as he doesn't come swinging a battle axe at my head, I'll at least try to be civil to him. Better pray to guardian Buffy, though, just in case.

The smile got a little bigger. You really think she's being our guardian now?

I shrugged. She asked me to take care of you. In the last couple of days, I think I did some pretty spectacular stuff, trying to keep you safe. And it almost felt like I was out there with her, like we were fighting back to back again. I don't think I would've been able to do half the job I did if she weren't lending one of her little hands. So, yeah. I think she's been sneaking visits back and forth between us and your mum.


Hah. Who would've thought that I'd be the mature one in a situation?

Damn. The chit was ready for a toothpaste commercial. She threw her arms around my neck, nearly squeezing my life out. I love you, Spike, she whispered again.

I smiled back. I know. My eyes raised, and I spotted Tara moving across past the stones. The crowd wasn't gonna be too big for the funeral; twenty people at most, in fact. Wills wanted it to be as private as possible, so the only people who'd be there were some of the employees and associates that Buffy knew... had known from Joyce's art gallery, the Scoobs, the L.A. crew, the Nibblet, and me. Anybody else getting the feeling that I was Odd Man Out?

You're not wrong.

I felt like such a ponce. For the wake, which was in about an hour, Will and Dawn had conned me into wearing a white shirt with a tie, black pants that weren't my jeans, and leaving my hair curly and wild (since according to Dawn, Buffy had taken a liking to it; sweet kid, isn't she? She prolly only said it to get me to do it.) In exchange, I got to keep my duster on. Not that I minded the way I looked too much. It was for Buffy... Everything was for Buffy.

A hundred years from now, I'm still gonna be Buffy-whipped, just you watch.

Anyway, Tara was heading over, and I could see Anyanka following her at full-speed. The witch-girl looked at me sympathetically, then saddened further when she glanced down at Dawn. The Nibblet pulled away from me for a second to hug Tara before attaching herself to my arm. Hey, Tara, she greeted quietly, smiling softly.

Tara smiled. Hi, Dawnie. How're you holding up?

Dawn sighed, looking up. Well... I haven't broken down in almost an hour. I must be doing pretty good, considering the circumstances.

The witch nodded, then glanced at me, laying a hand on my arm. What about you, Spike? Are you okay?

Is it stupid that I was surprised at the amount of sympathy I was getting from the Scooby females? Especially considering that Buffy hadn't even seen me fit to step on. Maybe it was because they'd seen me cry when she... Ahem. Yeah. Then again, maybe it was because they had begun to see how I was with Dawn.

I shrugged, wanting to look away, or focus on my shoes, or something, but I maintained direct eye contact with her. As well as can be expected. You?

She nodded slowly. I'm all right. I just need to be there for Willow. Anya, she said, just as the ex-demon came up beside her, is having a harder time of it. Xander's been in shock. He'll respond to comfort, but he won't let himself cry.

Anya looked at me helplessly. Poor bird looked like she was gonna burst out crying. I've tried so hard to get him to grieve. This is only the second death I've seen, and Mrs. Summers was hard enough. Xander felt like he'd lost his own mother, and he was starting to come around, but now that Buffy's gone, he's completely closed up. What am I supposed to do when he doesn't grieve? How am I supposed to help him move past?

I looked away. I don't know, pet. I really just don't... oh, bugger.

All three female heads around me looked up in the direction I was staring in. It just bloody figured. It had been a bad, bad idea to have the funeral at night. Word had leaked out among a few of the vampires, and the ones here now were very obviously coming to see if the rumors were true. Had the Slayer really bitten the dust?

I gritted my teeth and pushed Dawn into Tara's arms. Stay here, Bit, I growled as I moved forward. Nobody was going to ruin this day. Buffy was going to have the peace and quiet that she deserved, even if I died my final death to bring it about for her. No vampire, not even that innocent looking little chit in the back wearing that nauseating *NSync T-shirt, was going to destruct my Buffy's final day.

As I limped toward them (though they didn't realize I was limping -- three days, and my broken leg was four-fifths of the way healed), I nudged Giles, who had his back turned to them, with my elbow. He turned around in surprise, then narrowed his eyes slowly as his focus rested over the party-crashers. I searched the place over for Harris -- hey, when it came to slaying, I was willing to fight with him, as long as he didn't stake me -- and found him at a long way's away, staring blankly at nothing. I whistled loudly, and his head shot up, staring at me in confusion. Slowly, deliberately, I led my gaze toward the intruders, then glanced back at him. I saw his jaw clench, and he stalked forward.

One chipped-up, heartbroken, gimpy vampire, one former Watcher/Ripper, and one glorified bricklayer didn't exactly look like the most threatening sight on earth, but that was how it looked to anyone who didn't know any better. For one thing, I knew the three of us had boatloads of unleashed anger. Harris had gotten pretty damn good at fighting hand-to-hand, and could actually hold his own, and so could Rupes. And as for me...

I was ready to kill.

The smartass leading the little parade came to a stop right in front of me, gazing over the scene with a smug look on his face.

Well, well... Looks like all rumors hold a grain of truth, guys. The Slayer... is dead. His face shifted and he smirked at me. And guess who's next?

I stepped forward, my nose nearly pressing against his. Smiling slightly, I asked, Do you know who you're dealing with here?

He grunted and glared at me. You're the traitor. Oooh... what're you gonna do? Sic all of the Slayer's little pussy friends on us?

I turned my head slowly and glanced at Giles, whose gaze hardened, then at Xander, who looked about ready to tear these fuckers from head to toe with his bare hands. I looked back at Smartass, then grinned, before shifting my own face. You shouldn't have called them that.

Smartass huffed, eyeing the people behind me hungrily. Why? What are they gonna do? Scream me to death?

I scowled and adopted my predatorial hunt, circling him slowly. It had been a long time since I'd met such a complete and utter waste of space. All of you... you're new to this whole thing, aren't you? Heard that the one protecting this place is gone, so you might as well see if it's true. Got told by some know-it-all about the Traitor and his alliance with the Slayer without even hearing the whole story?

He snarled, his eyes following my path. You kill your own kind, what else is there to know?

My hand snapped out and I grabbed Smartass by the throat, lifting him off the ground. Nothing that you're gonna hear about. I twisted, and he screamed in pain. I tilted my head in Xander's direction, not looking at him. Harris? Do the honors, mate.

Harris stomped forward, angrily unsheathing a wooden stake. For a second, I thought he was coming for me, until I heard the cut-off shriek, followed by the puff of a body exploding into dust.

Chaos erupted.

The vamps that had trailed Smartass here began shouting and attacking. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of them go for Angel and the crew, and surprisingly, Cordelia knocked the first one in the face, punching him twice more before staking him -- huh. She'd gotten a lot more physical since the last time I saw her.

I mentally winced. Oh, damn. That had been the last time I'd seen Angel, too. Shit was gonna hit the fan as soon as he got close to me.

I stuck my arm out and clotheslined one ignorant chit wearing too much rouge and eyeshadow that tried to get the drop on me (you see? This is what I get for watching wrestling on cable.) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple head for Giles and Harris, and another one, dressed in an traumatically familiar-looking Hawaiian shirt launched himself at me as I slammed my fist into Clownface, jumping on my back and wrapping his arm around my throat. I kicked out and caught Clownface between the legs as she tried to get up, then hurled my upper body forward, tossing Hawaii off.

Turning back to Clownface, I stepped down hard on her throat, and twisted my foot sideways, snapping her neck. She screamed in agony and, taking the stake hidden in my duster poket, I ended her miserable existence with a little wood to the heart. Hawaii nearly had a fit -- huh, must've been dating the chit -- and recovered quickly enough to leap at me again, taking me down. Bloody hell, you bugger! I yelled as the white shirt I'd worn was immediately smeared by grass. That was my only white shirt!

I don't think that's gonna matter in a little bit, Hawaii snarled, rolling into a crouch and facing me with his jaws snapping. I smirked -- the classic sign of the struggle for dominance. This little wanker wanted a rumble.

He wasn't worthy of one.

I snap-kicked him in the face, then whipped around and slammed my boot-heel to his temple. He cried out, and I gave another quick kick, this time to the tosser's crotch. He screeched in pain, and I shoved him over, wielding the stake in my right hand. It's a good thing, being ambidextrous. I kneeled on the ground and snarled. No one's gonna ruin her last day. Least of all a fledgling git like you.

My arm cascaded down in a powerful arc, and he went up with a screech and a puff of dust.

And then, I heard Dawn's scream.

she shrieked, backing behind a headstone with Will and Tara as three vamps closed in on them. One of them got the bright idea to go after the screaming little girl, and I took off across the graves, leaping over a headstone to cut the ponce off. I reached the fashion victim just as he darted round the headstone and made Dawn scream again.

Grabbing his hair, I slammed his face into the headstone and pinned him there, half sitting on top of him, half checking on Nibblet. You okay, baby? I asked, lowering my face to meet with her wide eyes.

She started to nod, then shook her head, pointing at the struggling vampire under me. Not until you stake him! she yelped.

I gave her a quick nod. For you, then, luv. I got off the vamp, and jerked him up to face me. A headbutt first, then a knee to the crotch. That's for trying to ruin Buffy's day, I began, before shoving the pointy end of my stake through his heart. And that's for messing with what's mine, I finished. The ponce looked down at the wood and let said, Oh, fuck, just as he combusted.

I looked around just as the witches drew together a combined fireball and incinerated their attackers. The stake I held dropped to the ground, and I sighed, noticing that all of the intruders seemed to have been dispatched. Catching Angel's eye, I let out a small curse, then yelped in surprise, when Dawn flung herself at me, burying her face in my grass-stained shirt.

Oh, god, Spike, thank you, thank you so much, she wailed. They could've ruined everything!

I held her tight and kissed her forehead, then sighed. Not while we're at it, Bitty. I met Angelus's eyes over her shoulder, not flinching once from the furious gaze he sent me. Buffy's gonna have her peace. For once.

+++++++++++

Dawn was glued to my side for the whole wake, right between me and Tara. When we'd gone up to view the bo -- to say good-bye, the three of us had all gone up together. I guess it was a sort of bonding thing -- the three non-Scooby alliance, or something.

They didn't dress her right. She has to spend her eternity in that. Why didn't anyone pick anything more regal for her? Dawn asked, through sniffles.

I put my arm around her and stroked her hair, kissing the top of her head. She'll have more than her fair share of regal wear, baby. Where she's gone, she's gonna be treated like a queen.

Tara wrapped her arm around Dawn's waist and hugged her gently. Spike's right, Dawnie. Buffy's going to have everything she's ever dreamed of up there.

Dawn's sniffling became more pronounced. She's gonna see Mom, right? Mom'll be up there with her?

I sure as hell knew about her mum. Joyce was an angel, on earth and in Heaven -- no question in my mind that she'd be there. Yeah, baby. She'd up there with her. She's gonna be taken care of real good. I promise.

The sniffling turned into crying. I'm the only one left, she whimpered, burying her face in her hands. I'm the last Summers girl. I miss her so much, I miss them both, so much! Why did they have to leave me? It wasn't enough that I lost Mom, but now I've lost Buffy, too? Why doesn't anyone want me to be happy?

I exchanged a glance with Glinda and swallowed hard. I nodded to her. Tara cleared her throat and took the Bit into her arms. It's not like that, sweetie. None of this had anything to do with you. They didn't leave because of you, they didn't leave because they wanted to leave you and no one wants you to be unhappy. It's just the way the world works sometimes. I know it's unfair. But you still have us, and we'll help you through.

While she talked, I gazed over Buffy's face. Not a mark on her. She was as beautiful as the first moment I saw her. Lips curled into a slight smile -- a smile of happiness and peace. She was done. She was finished with this world. And she'd been blessed into another.

Dawn was right.

They gave her the wrong dress.

+++++++++++

It had been hard enough watching my baby cry at the wake. But this was the actual burial part. Dawn was gonna see her older sister lowered into the ground.

I couldn't do this. I knew I couldn't. I didn't know how I'd managed to deal so far without breaking into tears every five bleeding seconds, like the Nibblet. I wasn't gonna last when they finally put her down there. I was gonna start howling, and I knew I would probably do something stupid, but for sure, at least I wasn't numb like Harris was. I think he was refusing to believe that she was... gone.

Giles stood next to me as I coddled and hugged Dawn tightly. I knew he was staring at me, and even though I wouldn't look back at him, I saw the (disturbing) look of concern in his eyes for me and my Bit; and I knew he could see the little twitch in my jaw that was becoming more and more prominent by my desperation not to flat out cry. I just kept staring straight ahead at the opened coffin, trying to keep my eyes wide, and trying to hide Dawn's view. Harris was on my other side, and I could see his throat quivering every time he swallowed. It was starting to sink in.

Angelus, Wesley and Gunn were on Giles' other side. Wesley, solemn -- I knew the git had been a smart-nosed prance when he'd first come to be Buffy's Watcher, but I also sensed that he'd had the utmost respect for her after that. Angel had his own twitchy jaw -- cept his was because of me. The bastard was probably gonna try to rip me to shreds for touching Buffy's little sister. The other chap, Gunn -- he hadn't known Buffy. But I assumed that Peaches had told him all he'd needed to know about her. That was enough to gain his silent respect.

The girls were huddled together, each one on a different level of tears. Will was wailing loud, hysterically almost. Tara was doing her best to comfort the girl, but her own tears were standing in the way, trickling down her face in tiny, steady streams. Anya, who was standing next to Xander, glanced at a sobbing Cordelia, then quickly wiped at her own eyes before reaching her hand down and clutching Xander's. Harris gave the tiny little hand a gentle squeeze, but didn't look at his girl.

Behind us, I could hear the faint murmurings and occasional sniffles of Joyce's friends. Each one only had good things to say about Buffy -- which was good, since I would have ripped to shreds the supreme nonce who didn't, chip be damned. I'm not saying that Buffy was perfect -- she'd made her own little mistakes, but the perspective that you had to focus on was what she'd done when she'd realized those mistakes.

I wasn't paying attention to the pastor -- cause hey, why should I, really? I didn't pay attention to him at Joyce's funeral, and nobody cared. Although, to be honest, nobody had known I was there. But after a while, his prayers began to wind down, and then it was time -- really time. I leaned over and picked out two roses from the flower arrangement sitting next to her coffin -- both red -- and handed one to Dawn. A red rose meant love, and I'm pretty sure everybody else picked up on that. Especially Peaches.

Not that it mattered any what that pillock thought.

Taking Dawn's arm, I slowly led her up to the casket -- she was the closest relative, so she was first. She held on to my hand tightly, gingerly stepping over the planks they'd placed to hold the coffin up. Whimpering, she leaned over the edge and kissed Buffy's cold cheek. I love you, Buffy, she whispered, before placing the rose in her folded hands.

I let her stand there for as long as she needed to, before gently tugging on her arm. Come on, luv, I whispered, stroking her hair gently. She pushed away from the casket and huddled against me, burying her teary face in my shirt. I led her back to the group, then looked between Giles and Harris before nodding slowly. Take em up, I murmured.

Giles turned toward Angel and nodded. The great poof silently made his way over to Cordelia, gently taking her arm. Wesley and Gunn looked at each other silently as Tara and Will stumbled up toward the coffin, placing in their own flowers. I nearly lost it when Wills began screaming. The chit was in a complete world of pain, all of her own. And unconsciously, she was dragging me in with her.

Each of the guests followed after the girls. Wesley and Gunn went, and then it was the four of us -- me, Harris, Giles, and Angel. The four men that had quite possibly loved Buffy the most. I traded Dawn off to Tara, leaving her with a kiss on her forehead. Giles glanced at me and I exchanged a glance with him. He pursed his lips together slightly, then nodded. Camaraderie, almost. It was as simple as that.

Harris moved forward and placed a kiss on Buffy's cheek, placing his flower in her hands, next to Dawn's. Giles stepped up and kissed her cheek as well. His rose rested on her chest. When Angelus went, he gave me the evil eye before leaning in to kiss her dead lips. It was all I could do to ignore the surge of anger in me. The bastard was gone for a full year, and thought he had the bloody right to give her that final kiss?

If anyone did, it should've been me. Not that she would have accepted it. Angelus' rose rested on her heart.

Lucky me. Last of the bunch. I'd been fiddling with the rose I'd held since I'd taken Dawn up to say good-bye, and now, as I silently glided toward the still body of who was once the most remarkable woman I had ever had the pleasure of knowing, I snapped off the long stem, leaving just a bit, and the half-blooming rosebud. I swallowed.

How could I say my final good-bye to this woman? I'd once fancied myself to be the reason of her death. But to be fair, I hadn't known that I would fall in love with her. I hadn't known that she would be the one thing to have such an impact on my life, that I would give up everything I was, for just one smile from her beautiful face.

No more smiles. No more laughs. No more insults. No more beatings.

No more Buffy.

I could feel my jaw clench, and I swallowed hard, but I couldn't hold it. As manly as I make myself out to be, I had just lost the object of my never-to-be-requited affection and adoration, and I would never see her again. The tears spilled out of my eyes and down my cheeks.

It was my fault.

I could have prevented this day from ever happening. If I hadn't been so distracted when I'd gone up to save Dawn, that bloody bastard never would've gotten the best of me, never would've stabbed me, never would've thrown me off the tower. Instead, I let my guard down; I broke my promise, a promise that I had made with every ounce of love in my being for the two women that I kept myself alive for; I caused Buffy's death.

I should've been in the bloody ground, not her.

My shoulder's heaved, and I let out a gasping sob. Oh, who the fuck cared anymore if everyone could see me? I didn't. Rupert and Harris knew I loved her, and if the ponce hadn't figured it out by now, then his hair gel had seeped into his brain and damaged it. I grasped at the edge of the coffin and bent my head down, shaking hard with each sob that wrenched out of my chest.

If there was a God up there, he had better take sodding well good care of her. Otherwise, I might come up there and do it for him.

I sensed the Watcher step up behind me and place a hand on my shoulder, and I shuddered again. Not from disgust; it was just that the action was so odd, so alien. He'd never done such a thing before, had never had any reason to. I was still an evil, soulless, unloving thing in his eyes. Why would he show me comfort, or compassion?

Because we were in this together. We had the long haul. We would keep on -- for Buffy.

Say good-bye to her, Spike, he said, his voice soft and quiet. I nodded and swallowed again. Lifting one of her limp, dead hands, I kissed the back gently -- I wasn't good enough to kiss her cheek or her lips. She wouldn't have wanted me to, anyway. She hated me. Placing it back down over Harris and Nibblet's flowers slowly, I took mine and twisted the shortened stem through Buffy's hair.

I rubbed at my eyes, wiping away the tears, and stared at her for a moment longer. Then I sighed. Sweet dreams, Elizabeth.

Odd how I knew her real name. I must've payed more attention to her college records than I'd thought. Even when the only thing I'd needed them for had been for her dorm room number.

I think Giles was just as suprised. He gave me a startled look as soon as I said it, and I glanced back at him. I was positive that I looked like I'd fallen in a garbage heap.

Or something to that effect.

The Watcher gently patted my back, and I turned, my head down. Oh, crap, I was gonna cry again. And for some reason, the Nibblet seemed to be a magnet to me when I was showing human emotions too often, because suddenly, she was at my side, her arms thrown around my waist, her head pressed into my chest and shoulder. I closed my eyes and hugged her back tightly, resting my head on top of hers.

My baby... my sweet, sweet Dawn. She was all I had left now. All I had left of Her.

Dawn was all I needed. My little Bitty would get me through -- and I'd get her through as well. She was my last piece of her sister -- my last little bit of Buffy. Dawn would not leave my sights until the day that I finally met the sun. I would protect her unlike how I failed to protect her That Night. I would save her, numerous times if I knew my Bit by now, unlike how I failed to save her sister.

I'd promised Buffy that I would protect Dawn until the end of the world. So my Bit was always gonna have her Big Bad.

And there was nothing anybody else could say about it, because I promised.

And I'm never one to break a promise to a lady.

The End.

I know I ended this kind of awkwardly, but I was getting kind of sick of the attitude' I was making Angel have toward Spike, and I don't think I could bring myself to give a confrontation. Sorry :)