Journeys by Mary

~*~

WE are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

~*~

Part One – Promise to a Lady

WHY did I love her?

Because it was her; because it was me.

– Montaigne

~*~

See notes, etc. preceding chapter one. There is also a nice, long author's note at the end of this chapter.

Chapter Thirteen

Perhaps he just shouldn't patrol with Spike, Giles thought. Being subjected on a regular basis to the wild and reckless behavior the vampire seemed to so frequently display, could not possibly be doing anything to benefit his long term physical, mental or emotional well being.

Tonight had been no exception. First, there'd been that leap into the center of a group of five angry vampires. And then, on their way back to the Magic Box, there had been that somewhat bizarre attack by the apparently drug crazed human. He'd had a dangerously broken bottle in his hand, and the exceedingly poor luck to try out his mugging skills on a chipped, but always game for a fight anyway, vampire.

Giles sighed.

Spike was proving remarkably successful at keeping the demon population of Sunnydale in check. Over the long, sad months of summer and into autumn, the vampire had taken on a good chunk of the physical role of the Slayer. He was a fierce fighter, and he worked out tirelessly to be just that much faster, that much stronger. Though he'd never again witnessed an explosion of deadly power that could quite match what they'd seen Spike unleash against the dragons a couple of months ago, Giles was quite pleased with his increasingly effective style. He was also impressed by the blond's determination to become even more adept in the use of different fighting techniques, and the use of a growing variety of weaponry.

One could quite easily call the vampire's determination an obsession.

Certainly he took training a lot more seriously than Buffy had been inclined to. And even though his knowledge of the subject seemed to be already quite vast, Spike studied demonology as well, something Buffy had always tried to avoid at all costs. Giles smiled a little at his musings, even as he sighed. It hurt. It would always hurt. It had been nearly five months now, and sometimes, not often, but every once in a while, he could think of his beloved girl without pain, but instead with fond remembrance. In memory, her stubbornness, her unique fire, even her faults and quirks, all seemed equally endearing.

As it often does, time was beginning to heal him, and most of the others as well.

The other day, Dawn had told a funny story about a disastrous hair color experiment Buffy had tried when they still lived in L.A. It didn't matter that the memories were implanted. They were real to Dawn, and so seemed just as real to the others. They had all laughed. Dawn's mimicry of Buffy's horrified expression had really been quite accurate and humorous. He'd chuckled himself.

When Xander began a story from his own memories, Spike had slipped almost unnoticed out the back, and Giles had realized that he often slipped away when Buffy's name came up. He tried to remember if he'd ever really heard Spike speak of Buffy, other than the time he'd told him about the dreams and visions he'd been having. He couldn't remember for sure, but if he had, it had been a very rare occurrence. For some reason, after just a minute or two, Giles had followed him. Spike had been standing in the alley, leaning back against the wall, the ever-present cigarette in his hand.

"Everything alright, Spike?" he asked.

Spike's expression was remote, and he didn't respond immediately. Instead he took a long pull on his cigarette.

"Thought I sensed a group hug coming on," he said coolly. "Decided I'd best duck out before the bit sucked me into it."

"It's good to hear her talking about Buffy and remembering happier times, don't you think?"

Spike pressed the back of his head against the aged bricks behind him, and his eyes closed briefly, before opening to meet his. Giles watched the muscles move in his throat.

"She needs to laugh," The blond said at last. "Deserves it." He took another drag of his cigarette. "I heard something about a nest of vamps down near the docks. Thought I'd go check it out. Tell Dawn I'll stop by the house later, will you?"

Giles hadn't pressed him. "I'll do that. Goodnight, Spike."

But he'd already gone, leaving a flash of black leather, and the arching glow of a discarded cigarette in his wake.

Even in the dim light of the alley, Giles' eyes picked up the gleam of something wet running down the wall from a spot of slightly askew bricks.

He hadn't asked Spike about his bloodied hands.

He hadn't needed to.

Giles pulled his mind back to the present, rubbing the back of his neck. Grief still plagued all of them, and he no longer tried to deny, in any way, that Spike's grief was as genuine as his own. He'd seen too much over the slow summer months. Too much pain, too much sorrow. Indeed, he had no doubt whatsoever that that vampire had loved his slayer with great depth and passion. A love, that, had she lived, may have transformed the soulless being into something new. Even with her gone, his love for the dead girl was acting on the vampire in ways Giles had been taught were simply not possible.

Not for the first time, Giles wondered if the research performed and provided by the Council of Watchers on vampiric predestination might be flawed or perhaps incomplete. On the other hand, perhaps Spike was just a completely unique representative of his kind, an aberration of a sort. Giles had always rather disliked that particular word – aberration. It too often seemed to be a polite substitute for 'freak'.

He also mused occasionally on just what it might have been about Buffy that had caused not just one, but two, such notorious vampires to fall so deeply in love with her.  For them to love someone who should be their most mortal enemy, and to love her to the point of being willing to die for her, seemed so very, very strange, so unlikely... Giles sighed. In light of everything he had ever been taught, had ever learned or believed, it made no sense.

He should know by now, Giles thought, that life was always full of interesting little turns in the road. Certainly a lot of those turns could be, should be, in how one viewed things, how one thought, in what one believed. If one's opinions never changed at all from the first opinion one formed, what would be the purpose of living and observing life? It would imply one was incapable of learning, and Giles hoped that that could never be said of him, that he would remain a willing student throughout his life.

Though he may be fighting like a slayer, Spike never in any way attempted to take over Buffy's leadership role within the Scoobies. Giles was aware that any step the vampire might take in that direction would not be met with acceptance by Willow or Xander, so he thought it something of a blessing that Spike showed no interest in directing the others. When asked, he would patrol with one or more of them, or even, reluctantly, with the bot, but Giles knew the vampire would have preferred to work alone.

As he always did when continuing his unsuccessful search for Doc. He never spoke of it, but Giles knew Spike was deeply angered by his inability to locate the little demon, and frustrated that that piece of unfinished business remained just that – unfinished.

As far as working with the others, though, Spike bowed to Giles leadership, and even went along with Willow's growing role as demon hunting coordinator. Except when he, er, didn't, Giles thought. Which was, in Willow's words, whenever he damn well felt like ignoring them and going off in his own direction. Willow was becoming increasingly frustrated by him, and was voicing that frustration more and more frequently, and with greater vigor.

He really needed to make a more concerted effort to spend time with Willow, Giles prodded himself. Now that Dawn was back in school, and things felt, to his mind, a bit more 'settled', he wanted to start working in depth with Buffy's friend on her magical studies. They'd spoken of getting together several times over the summer, but something always seemed to come up to prevent it.

He was growing rather concerned for her. She'd seemed very short tempered recently, and he wondered if she was handling Buffy's loss as well as she'd claimed to be earlier in the summer. When he'd tried to ask, though, she'd insisted she was fine. No problem. Period. End of discussion.

But she'd been rather snippy with Dawn a good many times, and she'd made several very snide comments about Spike's continuing presence in the workout room at the Magic Box. When he had tried to calmly explain that he felt Spike had changed, at least to some extent, and that they really did need his contributions, Willow had muttered something quite unpleasant. He must say, he'd been a tad put off by her attitude, which seemed quite unWillowlike.

And that changed attitude, that hardness, only served to increase his concern. Willow had gone through periods of moodiness in the past, he reminded himself. Perhaps his – wariness – for lack of a better word, was unfounded.

If he was aware of Willow's complaints, Spike didn't comment on them. The vampire remained unnaturally quiet around the others, rarely speaking at all. While they all seemed able to work well enough together for the most part, Spike continued to hold himself aloof.

He could only really be said to have a relationship of any kind with Dawn.

And, surprisingly, with himself.

Giles unlocked the door to the Magic Box, and, ever the gentleman, held it open for Spike to enter before him.

Over the past few months, the two Englishmen had developed an increasingly comfortable familiarity with one another. It was an odd relationship. There were elements of friendship and camaraderie, mingling with a mentor/student relationship. Though the relationship was very young, and, at times, still rather tentative, they seemed to recognize a need and fill a void in one another's lives.

Giles sometimes felt that working with Spike, trying to understand the vampire, had given his life something of a purpose since Buffy's loss. Certainly it had occupied his mind in a good many ways, and Giles felt that that, in turn, had helped him to climb out of the depression he had been slipping deeply into in the first weeks after her – death.

Sometimes he could think the word now, even though speaking it still seemed beyond him.

Giles found the entire situation with Spike – the vampire himself, his actions, his own long building intrigue with the blond – really quite surprising. He may have initiated the relationship, at least in part, because he needed Spike's strength and desired his knowledge of vampiric habits and general demonology, but those were not the only reasons it continued.

It had begun, he supposed, when the vampire was living with him right after the Initiative chip had been implanted in his unwilling brain. He remembered being quite shocked at the time to discover that, aside from Spike's appalling musical taste, and his distressing, but oddly contagious, fascination with that strange soap opera, Passions, the two of them shared many others. Spike didn't often let a lot of details about his human life slip, but it was obvious he was very well educated. He possessed a keen intelligence, and was blessedly well read. After a good many years of having Xander as his primary source of male companionship, that had certainly been a welcome breath of fresh air.

There was something about him. Giles had never quite been able to put his finger on it, but he had long noted it. He'd tried to talk to Spike about it a few times shortly after the chip had so drastically altered his, er, life. But Spike had had no interest in discussing his future, or much of anything, really, at that time. Giles had shelved the idea, thinking to approach Spike again after he'd had a few months to adjust to his new – circumstances.

But then something else had happened. Something unexpected. And after that, Giles had honestly felt it was best to keep Spike away from the others. More specifically, he had felt it was best to keep him as far away from Buffy as possible.

Spells can be funny things. Results were sometimes not what the caster intended, which had quite frequently been the case with Willow. When she had cast her 'my will be done' spell, affecting most of them, the effects on Buffy and Spike had been by far the most interesting. Certainly, at the time, he had found them the most distressing. Willow's wish had been for them to get married, not to fall in love. Why, then, hadn't they treated it like a forced, arranged marriage, or a business maneuver? Those were types of marriage too. But they hadn't. They'd been all over each other with obvious passion. Even back then he'd wondered how much of that may have been brought about by the spell, and how much may have been simmering under the surface, spell or no spell. He was still quite grateful he hadn't been forced to watch them. Listening to them had been more than enough, thank you very much. They'd been teasing each other, laughing, bickering over wedding details like many engaged couples. Under it all, there had been a tenderness that even he could feel. To his further surprise, Spike had gone over all protective, both of Buffy, and, even more to his consternation, of himself – Buffy's surrogate father. When they'd discovered the existence of the spell, even though the two felt they weren't being affected by it, Spike had seemed anxious to use his knowledge to help Giles. The spell certainly hadn't been cast to change their personalities. So where had that – that tenderness and concern from Spike – come from?

Giles had often wondered what it was in the make up of the two of them that had caused the spell to affect them that way. And he worried about it enough that he felt it was in Buffy's best interests, indeed, in all their best interests, to keep Spike as far outside their little circle as possible. Bringing him in, accepting him as part of the group, even when Giles began to realize how advantageous it would be to have Spike's knowledge and strength on their side – well, there were dangers in that course of action. Dangers that had been demonstrated in Buffy's relationship with Angel. And even though the circumstances were different, Giles had felt that there were enough similarities that doing everything possible to avoid any – situations – was best for everyone involved.

Now, though, with Buffy no longer with them, Giles felt more comfortable having Spike around. And the whole issue of the words Buffy had spoken to Spike in his dream – the same words Tara, in what they had at the time, interpreted to be the de facto voice of the first slayer, had spoken to Buffy in a dream after the defeat of Adam – unveiled a wealth of possibilities about Spike, his purpose, and what might lie in his future.

And if it came right down to it, he would probably have to admit he rather liked the vampire, even enjoyed his company. Foolishly, Giles glanced around the room, which was, of course, empty except for the two of them, as though someone might have read his thoughts and be about to demand an explanation.

"So I thought I'd start training her," Spike was saying as they began cleaning and placing their weaponry in its' proper places. "Bit's gonna stay here, be livin' on the Hellmouth, it's best she know how to take care of herself. Least a little. I don't want her thinkin' she can start patrollin' with us, but basic self defense, some practice stakin' and such – it'd be good for her."

Hank Summers had yet to be heard from. Or, for that matter, any of the girls' other relatives.

Wankers, Giles thought, and had to smile at the word that come to mind.

"I agree," he said. "I trust you'll take it slow. She's just a child," Giles went on, trying to ignore the fact that Dawn was the same age that Buffy had been when she was called. It seemed impossible.

"'Course I will," Spike assured him. His tone suggested that anything else was out of the question.

"She's very fond of you," Giles began. "I wanted to talk to you about that."

"Yeah?" Spike finished polishing the blade of his favorite axe and placed it almost reverently in its place on the wall.

Giles chose his words carefully. "I had hoped I could use Dawn's affection for you to try to persuade you to act with a little more – care, shall we say? A little more caution?"

Spike went still, and then he straightened up slowly, his eyes narrowing. "In what way, Watcher, am I not acting with care?" the vampire asked tightly.

Giles' brows went up. Spike sounded insulted, and his voice had taken on that very distinct upper class inflection that Giles had noticed several times before. He frowned, perplexed.

"Tonight, for instance," he began again, and Spike looked puzzled. "Jumping directly into the midst of all those vamps. It was careless. You very effectively surrounded yourself."

Spike's face smoothed out. "Caution in battle can be deadly," Spike was calm now, his indignant tone totally gone. "Hesitation can kill."

"I think we can be fairly certain that will never be a problem for you," Giles said with some humor. What had Spike thought he was talking about? Then he replayed the conversation in his mind, and almost – well, almost chuckled. Spike had thought he was going to make some sort of accusation of improper behavior with Dawn! For some reason, it struck him as amusing.

And that struck him as very odd. Trusting a vampire – any vampire – should be almost impossible for him to do. He asked himself the same question he'd asked so often these past months – why did it not seem impossible in this case?

Why did he trust Spike?

Giles frowned. Good… Evil...

Spike fit in there somewhere, but Giles was no longer quite sure where. Sometimes, he actually wanted to mutter 'Oh, damn and blast!' and tug on his hair in frustration as the all questions he had concerning Spike swirled endlessly in his brain. He smiled inwardly in amusement. His hair was not thinning, he assured himself. Not at all. Still, tugging on it was probably not advisable.

Besides, hair tugging was a trifle beneath his dignity.

"I understand that hesitation can be dangerous in battle, though I would argue that caution can save lives. I see them as very different things. I'm only asking that you try to exercise a bit more care, to act with a little less recklessness. I mentioned Dawn. That girl loves you, Spike. And I have no wish to be the one to have to tell her that you've been killed during patrol. How do you think she would take that?"

Spike began to pace. He lit a cigarette – what else was new? – and frowned as he moved about the room.

Spike may not have a death wish, exactly, Giles thought. But the reckless disregard for his own safety that he continued to display suggested to Giles that while Spike may have no intention of deliberately seeking death, he really wouldn't mind if it were to find him. His whole attitude while fighting screamed that he didn't much care if he lived or died. Once before Giles had tried to use the vampire's protectiveness toward Dawn to get him to change a behavior. Since he saw no real evidence that Spike was sleeping more, he didn't think it had been particularly effective. But it was the only lure he felt he had. Perhaps this time it would prove more successful.

"I gave my word, Watcher, to protect her." Spike said at last. "I won't break it, and I intend to do everything necessary to keep it."

"I don't think you have any intention of breaking your word. I hope I didn't imply that. But you do take chances that you needn't take. You had no business jumping in front of me tonight when that drugged up young ruffian attacked us. What were you thinking? You can't fight with humans. And contrary to what you might believe, I do have some ability to protect myself." The words were serious, but Giles attempted to keep his tone light. He didn't wish to say anything more that Spike would take the wrong way.

However, he was unprepared for Spike's reaction.

"She loved you. She'da wanted me to protect you." Spike's voice was raw, and his hands moved emphatically. "'m not gonna fail her again." 

"Fail?" Giles asked, puzzled. Then understanding dawned, and with it a kind of sympathetic horror. He removed his glasses, cleaning them carefully as he spoke. "Spike you must let this go. We all feel a certain amount of responsibility for what happened to Buffy. It's natural. We were all there, and it's inevitable that we'll all feel there may have been more we could have done to change the outcome of that night." He replaced his glasses, and kept his tone firm and soothing. "I should have spoken to you about this earlier, when I spoke with the others."

"The soddin' Scoobies weren't up there, were they?" Spike demanded furiously, and Giles blinked, taking a step back. The rage in the vampire's voice was terrible to hear, and even though he knew it was self-directed, it unnerved him a bit. "I was. I know what happened.

"I didn't stop that sonofabitch from cutting my girl, did I?"

"But Spike –"

"Didn't stop the portal from opening, did I?"

"You were –"

"Didn't s-stop –" his voice broke, and he paused before finishing quietly, "Didn't stop anything, did I?"

Giles stared. He could hear it in the vampire's voice. He'd seen it in his face, in his actions, all summer, and he had failed to recognize it. To recognize the depth of the feeling. Had he been completely blind? he wondered now. This wasn't a simple/complicated case of, 'If only I..." – the kind of guilt that they were all suffering from to some extent. This was a deep seeded certainty that his actions alone, and those actions he hadn't been able to successfully carry out, were directly and solely responsible for Buffy's death.

For the death of the young woman the vampire had loved.                    

"I cannot allow you to blame yourself for Buffy's death," Giles said, forcing out the 'D' word. "I wasn't up on the tower with you, but I was there. I saw what happened. Moreover, I knew Buffy – knew her as well as anyone. She wouldn't have wanted you to blame yourself.  Spike, you almost died for Dawn, for Buffy. You would have died for them. You put your life on the line, and you think you failed them? Failed Buffy? You're wrong. So completely wrong."

The look of shock on Spike's face in reaction to his words made Giles frown in puzzlement. The vampire dropped his burning cigarette to the floor and pushed his hands into his hair, squeezing his head between his palms. His vivid blue eyes were burning with anguish, screaming unvoiced questions at the Watcher, and he took a couple of heaving breaths before he was able to speak.

"I'm gonna go clean up," the blond said abruptly. He wiped his face clean of any emotion, and whirled away, disappearing in the direction of the bathroom.

Giles walked over to step out the glowing embers of the cigarette, and let him go.

~*~

When Spike returned, Giles didn't introduce the subject again directly.

For the most part, English reserve was alive and well in Sunnydale.

"How about a game of chess?" Giles asked instead, his eyes going with some longing to the chessboard. He had to acknowledge that the vampire was a reckless but innovative opponent. Not that Spike could beat him. Well, not often, anyway.

He could often get Spike to talk over chess, and Giles could plainly see that Spike needed to talk. But the vampire declined, glancing at the clock. He didn't say anything, but Giles knew he was planning to head over to Revello Drive. It was nearly midnight, and that, it seemed, was the regularly scheduled time for Spike to begin his vigil on the roof of the Summers' home, just outside Dawn's window.

"You do remember that Dawn is staying with friends tonight, right?" he said with a weak attempt at subtlety, and Spike's expression told him that the vampire had temporarily forgotten.

Even so, Spike tried to bluster his way out of getting caught in guardian mode, trying to pretend the girl's whereabouts had nothing to do with his stated need to leave. "So?"

Giles shook his head. There was no reason to press the issue. If Spike wanted to pretend that every move the girl made was not of utmost importance to him, Giles could let him attempt to foster the untruth. He didn't need to point out that in the event of an emergency, they all knew perfectly well where Spike could be found during the approximate hours of midnight to four a.m.

The men left the store, and Spike paused, lighting another cigarette as Giles turned to lock the door.

"Goodnight," he offered, and Spike inclined his head.

"Oh, and Spike?" Giles spoke before Spike could start down the street.

"Yeah?"

"Your devotion to and caring for Dawn are things you should be proud of."

"What?" Spike looked astounded by the compliment. Astounded and slightly appalled.

Giles met Spike's eyes squarely and spoke with soft deliberation, letting all the shades of meaning in the quote sink in. "Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for."

"Hammarskjold," Spike spouted, sounding, for a moment, remarkably like a prized pupil.

"I think you've done that, with Dawn. And I wanted you to know that I recognize and appreciate it. And that Buffy would have, too."

Spike stared at Giles in silence for several long moments, his face a study in changing, and sometimes conflicting, emotions. Then his body relaxed and he took the easy way out, commenting on one part of the quote. "I don't pray, Watcher." He gestured vaguely to himself, "Demon."

Giles hesitated, then let things go by saying quietly, "I don't pray a lot myself. But most of us pray at one time or another, Spike. Even, I think, you."

Spike just stared at him for a moment without speaking before he turned away and melted into the night.

~*~

Show me. Show me how to go on without her.

Spike closed his eyes as he moved silently through the dark streets over the Hellmouth, remembering the desperation that had led him to cry out those words. Had that been a prayer? He didn't know.

Didn't think so.

No.

Demons don't pray.

Spike squared his shoulders, shrugging off the disturbing Watcher-induced introspection.

Time to find something to kill.

~*~

Giles watched him go. He'd told them all earlier this week that he was headed to England the day after tomorrow. He'd implied he was merely taking a little vacation, visiting family. And he would visit some family. But he planned to spend most of his time doing some research. The Council had been their usual less than helpful selves when he'd tied to elicit information from them over the phone, and his letters had gone unanswered. Giles felt this was important, important enough that he was going to England himself to try to find out more about it.

Spike… You think you know, what you are, what's to come… You haven't even begun.

They came in a slightly different order than they'd come when spoken to Buffy in her dream, but Giles felt they were close enough.

Yes, he thought those words might be very important, indeed.

~*~

He stopped about a dozen feet from her headstone. He always felt this compulsion, this need, to hang back for a moment before moving closer, almost as though he was awaiting permission. Or courage. He paused, head down, before approaching, then moved directly to the piece of granite her Watcher and friends had chosen, engraved with the words Dawn had carefully decided on, and hunkered down beside it.

He never talked to her the way he and Dawn sometimes did to Joyce, rarely even uttering a sound while here. But sometimes he touched the marker, let his rough fingers trace over the engraved letters of her name. Sometimes he would bring her something, a flower left out for him behind Emily's shop, a seashell, even something as simple as a stone or a leaf with an interesting shape or texture.

Emily had left him something beautiful and exotic tonight. It was a deep red, looking almost black in the moonlight, and its' color matched the blood drying on his hands from another fight, another brick wall. He didn't know what kind of flower it was, but he liked the shape and color of it, the faint but spicy scent. He brushed it under his nose before he laid it carefully on the grass at the base of the headstone next to the shriveled remains of the jonquil he'd brought the night before.

Spike dropped to his knees, then sat back on his heels, head bowed.

Time slipped by, ignored by the silent vampire.

He stretched out full length on Buffy's grave, staring up at the stars overhead for a brief flicker of time.  Other skies, other worlds. Did she still exist somewhere out there, in some other dimension, or on some other plane? If she did, he hoped she was – done. She'd struggled so much with her duty the last several months of her life. He hadn't been her confidant, but he'd seen the strain and pain in her eyes intensify almost daily.

Be happy, love. At peace.

He rolled onto his stomach, spreading his arms out on the ground – reaching, surrounding. His elbows bent, and he drew his hands in nearer to his head and turned his cheek to the ground.

His right hand clutched at the turf, his fingers digging through the blanket of grass and into the dirt below. The hand closed around the grass and dirt. Held tight. Tighter.

Only inches from his face, his left hand clenched fiercely into a hard knuckled fist which caused the blood to flow anew from his injuries, then flexed. Did his blood find its way down to her? he wondered, watching it drip from his hand and seep into the ground beneath him.

Your blood, my blood, our blood. It flows in you. Makes you strong.

I'm not strong, love. I'm barely holding on.

Sometimes that is being strong. Just holding on. One day at a time. When that's too hard, you hold on one hour at a time. Or just minute by minute. But you do it, you hold on. And you're there for the people who need you. Like you are, for Dawn.

Spike closed his eyes, pretending he couldn't see her sitting next to him. Pretending he couldn't hear her voice, with its' now familiar whispering darkness, so clearly in his mind. Pretending he couldn't feel her fingers stroking over his bloodied knuckles.

It might sound clichéd, Will, but it's still true. You're strong, and I know I can count on you.

She'd dead. She's not here.

She'll never be here.

Never.

He was immortal. Eternity stretched out in front of him. But without her, all it offered was an endless, and  cripplingly lonely, emptiness.

Buffy. Buffy.

His left hand clenched more tightly.

Then flexed.

His eyes, dark blue and as empty as his future, opened again, and focused on his hand.

Clench.

Flex.

No other movement.

Clench.

Flex.

Clench.

Flex.

Hours later, when the first scents of sunrise reached him, he rolled slowly, stiffly, onto his back, and looked up into the lightening sky.

God, how he longed for it. To feel the first rays of the sun touch him, warm him, dust him.

There was no fear of the 'final death.' The fires of hell, the twin flames of guilt and grief, had been licking through his veins for months, devouring everything inside him, ravaging his mind. How could the actual reality of hell be worse? Hadn't Buffy's death, and his responsibility for it, already created, for him, hell right here on earth? The blessed nothingness he'd experienced for too few days right after the tower, was long gone, too easy a way out for a demon like him. By giving him Buffy's blood, Dawn had ensured his continued existence, but she'd stolen that welcome escape from him.

He knew Dawn thought he was doing better, coming to terms with Buffy's loss. He'd done everything he could over the last month or so to foster that belief in her. Didn't need his girl worryin' about him, did he? And he had to admit to himself that their still deepening friendship had helped him get through the summer. He hoped it had helped her too, maybe helped her start recovering from the horrors of the last year of her life. The Watcher seemed to think it had.

The time spent alone, though, when he wasn't with Dawn, or when he wasn't fighting or killing – well, that was a different matter. It was a part of him now. The undiminished despair, the still raw pain, the longing, and the never-ending mind-destroying guilt. It hadn't gone away, hadn't even eased as the months passed. For the most part, and on almost every occasion, he'd learned to control the desire to roar his rage at fate into the night. But beyond that, he didn't feel much different than he had the night he'd gone to the morgue and mourned over his dead Slayer's body.

Buffy's death had changed him in some fundamental way. Had it killed something in him, or caused something buried deep inside to come alive? He wasn't sure. He just knew it was – he was – different.

Fate. Control. The Powers That Be. Destiny. Strings being pulled, buttons being pushed. Punishment and penance. Guilt and pain, and ghosts whispering words in his mind that sent the Watcher into full-on research mode. And now the Watcher was repeating words Buffy had said to him in a dream or vision of some sort. What the hell had that been anyway, that night in her room, in her body? Other than bleedin' perfect, that is?

Spike groaned softly. Contemplating his sanity, or lack of it – well, he was workin' hard to stop doing that altogether. Too afraid of the conclusions he'd reach, Spike figured, snorting inwardly. But even without that in the mix, his mind raced endlessly. Like the pain, it never let up, and he was getting bloody sick of it. Always had to be churning away, tryin' to suss out some bigger than unlife issue. Soddin' life, the universe, and everything. Spike pushed his hands into his hair, and pressed them against his skull momentarily, wishing he could just squeeze some of the less desirable contemplations out.

God, he longed for simpler times.

Fight. Bite. Feed.

Yeah, that'd been the ticket.

Spike rolled to his knees. He knew what Dawn thought, what he wanted her to think, but his girl was wrong. He still wanted the final death. Longed for it. Craved it more than he craved blood. He gazed at his Slayer's headstone. The desire to stay grabbed at him, twisted inside him, and he closed his eyes against the temptation. God, to let the sun send his remains into the earth that blanketed her body, to become a part of that earth!

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It was the closest to her he could ever be, his only chance to spend eternity anywhere near her.

Someday, he promised himself, when he was – finished… 

With an effort, Spike forced himself to rise and return to his crypt.

He had to.

For Dawn.

Because he loved her...

...and because he'd made a promise to a lady.

~*~

MEMORIES are all we really own.

 – Elias Lieberman

~*~

Author's Notes

This story will be continued in Part Two – Journeys: Awakenings. Chapters should begin appearing soon. Very soon. Really.

In response to requests, I've also put together an e-mail list to let readers know when new chapters have been sent to the sites that are kindly hosting the story. Please note that chapters may NOT appear at all listed sites on the day I send notification, because the site owners are busy people, and will be getting new chapters up as soon as they bloody well can. (**grin**) If you've ever sent me any feedback, I've already placed your name on the notification list. If you're not sure that includes you, or if you'd like to be added to the list, just let me know at MKStatz@aol.com. I'll add you forthwith.

I've decided to stop posting the chapters themselves to the Yahoo Groups. I hate how the formatting doesn't transfer, and having to take the time to 'fix' things a little before posting there, which can take longer than you might think. I will send notification to the groups though, and provide links.

In the author's notes preceding Chapter One, I stated that feedback would not make the chapters appear any faster, but that it would still be lovely to receive. I'd like to revise that. I honestly do think it inspires me. Otherwise, you're working your tail off, and have no knowledge if anyone is actually reading. In other words: As far as feedback goes, I flippin' love it. Please send.

'Journeys' continues to grow daily, and will be passing the 500 page mark in the next couple of days – and that's in a 8.5 font, too! (Oh. My. God. It's a monster.) The story covers about a year and a half, give or take an epilogue or two, in the lives of the gang. I had thought the story could not possibly become longer than 500 pages, but SURPISE! I was wrong. (I know, it shocked my kids, too, since they'd never experienced that before!) 'Journeys' began in my head as a sort of long piece of erotica, but then this whole plot idea clobbered me over the head, and forced me to work it into the sex scenes. The nerve! And before anyone says 'If you have 500 pages written, can we get chapter updates a little faster?' (**snerk** Hi, Brandi!), the answer is 'no'. And I have a good and valid reason. The pages written are not the first 500 pages! Part Two, Awakenings, has been bugger all for me to write, causing far more problems than any other part of the story. It continues to irk me in many ways, but I'm working on it. Slaving away. So, I hope you'll all be patient, and hang in there. I'll continue to post at a sedate pace, but once I've actually finished writing the story, I promise I will post remaining chapters much more quickly.

I'm also taking this opportunity to send heartfelt apologies to subscribers at The Crypt Door, my Yahoo Group, which I have woefully neglected in order to work on this story. I've read a grand total of two Buffy stories since August. Believe me, I am going into severe withdrawal. (I'm beginning to think of all the wonderful stories I'll get to read once 'Journeys' is finished as my reward.) I do promise I have not abandoned The Crypt Door, and, as soon as I'm reading again, I'll be back to recommending great stories.

And for those who have asked, and others who may be wondering, yes, 'Journeys' is a Buffy/Spike story. Start to finish. Buffy/Spike. The Spike-centric/redemption nature of the story means that Spike might have to deal with important relationships from his past, and that he will be forming important new relationships with People. Who. Are. Not. Buffy. But the story remains Buffy/Spike. Trust me. I know. I've read the ending.

Happy New Year, everyone. Celebrate safely, and please accept my wishes for a new year filled with good health and happiness.

Thanks for reading.

Mary December 29, 2002