All About Spike

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Love Lies Bleeding
By L.A. Ward

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never mine. Wish they were but they belong to Joss. Don't bother to sue. Have no money.
SPOILERS: Anything up to Buffy: "Triangle" and Angel: "Redefinition" It doesn't fit anything after that.
RATING: PG-15 (violence mostly)
SUMMARY: Sometimes love is a promise. Sometimes it's a curse. Pray that it's never both.
CHARACTERS: Spike, Dawn, Buffy, Dru (mostly)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Angel and Dru's past as described is pieced together from Angel and Buffy episodes. It doesn't reflect well on Angel...but Joss Whedon and Co. made it up.



...She suffered, as Immortals sometimes do;
But pangs more lasting far, 'that' Lover knew
Who first, weighed down by scorn, in some lone bower
Did press this semblance of unpitied smart
Into the service of his constant heart...

William Wordsworth
"Love Lies Bleeding"



PART I

The vamp holding Dawn growled, "I told you, Ernie, go find your own dinner."

"I tried," Ernie whined. "But no one's around. This graveyard is dead."

"Then maybe you should think about hunting somewhere other than a graveyard."

Ernie demanded petulantly, "Why? You found something. You're just too selfish to share."

With a look of exasperation the first vamp let go of Dawn and shoved Ernie into the side of a crypt causing a long, jagged crack to appear in the wall. Dawn didn't wait to see who won the fight. She ran.

She almost made it out of the cemetery before tripping. Grabbing at something half hidden in the darkness, she tried to break her fall, but even as Dawn made contact with something hard and bumpy, her handhold broke free sending her tumbling into the grass.

Damp and cold as early evening mist rose around her, Dawn glanced up to see an angel standing over her. At least it looked like an angel, but it was only a statue. And a damaged one at that. Opening her hand, Dawn saw a piece of the angel's wing laying in her palm. It had broken in her fall.

Then she heard something. Looking anxiously over her shoulder, she saw the vampires gaining on her. Guess they didn't have much to fight about after she ran away. In a panic Dawn prayed that Buffy would show up and save her...which showed how scared she was because Dawn never, ever prayed for Buffy to show up.

Instinct told her to hide quick, and hide NOW. Dawn listened. Climbing to her feet, she ran again, making a hard ninety degree turn before ducking behind a large granite tombstone. Crouched in the shadows, making herself the smallest ball of humanity that she possibly could, Dawn covered her head with her hands and closed her eyes.

"Hey, Ernie, where'd she go?" the first vamp called into the darkness.

Ernie answered, "That way... I think."

"If you find her, I'll share."

"If I find her, she's mine. You don't share. I don't share."

Dawn waited. How long before they found her? Minutes? Seconds?

"Hey, Ernie!" The vamp's voice was startlingly loud in the stillness of the night. The guy was definitely not subtle. "Where'd YOU go? Damnit, I found her first!"

He sounded close. Too close. Dawn started to wonder if it hurt to be bled dry. It couldn't be pleasant, someone sucking on your throat so hard that they actually removed most of your blood. It had to hurt. . .and leave a hickey.

Wait a minute. Why hadn't he found her by now? He had been awfully close. Then she noticed it was quiet. Really quiet. Scary quiet.

Dawn lifted her head, but ducked again when she heard footsteps. They were kind of muffled because of the grass--okay, so maybe she didn't exactly hear footsteps, but Dawn thought she heard someone moving. Let it be Buffy, she silently pleaded. Oh please, please, please let it be Buffy.

Then she became aware of someone standing over her. Dawn opened first one eye then the other. She saw black boots. Well, okay, Buffy owned black boots... although these were kind of bulky masculine looking boots. Then again, maybe Buffy was making some kind of "I'm the Slayer, and I'm here to kick butt," fashion statement. But as Dawn's gaze rose there was no doubting that it was a decidedly masculine figure standing in front of her. Nix, the "Buffy making a butchy fashion statement" theory.

Craning her neck to look upward, Dawn gazed into a pair of dark, difficult to read eyes beneath equally dark brows. All she could do was breathe the name, "Spike..."

He crossed his arms. "Are you goin' t' sit there shiverin'?"

"I'm not shivering, I..." Dawn noticed that she was rubbing her arms. "Okay, I'm shivering."

"Lucky you're not dead," he snapped. "What in the bloody he--" Spike stopped, abruptly cutting off the word 'hell' in mid breath. Dawn wondered why adults did that. It wasn't like she didn't know what he was about to say, and as words went 'hell' wasn't all that bad. He could have been saying the 'f' word.

Spike started again, "What are you doin' in the bloody cemetery after soddin' 10pm?"

"Actually, it's not all that bloody around here."

"No thanks t' you. A few more minutes and lovely bits of red stuff--which would have come from you-- would be splattered all over the place. Now, get up."

Dawn stood and dusted off her jeans.

"Where's the Slayer?" he asked gruffly.

She shrugged. "Buffy's not around."

Spike's dark brows drew down sharply over his eyes creasing his forehead in a pronounced way that made him look worried or angry or just plain evil, Dawn wasn't sure which.

"What the bloody hell do you mean the Slayer's not around? Does she allow her defenseless li'l sister to wander around vampire infested graveyards after dark? Of all the bloody stupid--" He started to pace and mutter, as if there was more energy in his body than he could possibly contain. "And who would she blame when someone dragged your bloodless corpse home? Me! That's who she'd blame."

"Why would she blame you?"

"How the am I supposed t' know? But, mark my words, somehow, some way I'd be blamed."

"I know what you're talking about," Dawn sympathized. "Like when Buffy lost her lip gloss, did she ever think 'hey, I must have left that over at the Willow's or at the Magic Shop?' No. Somehow it was my fault. Like I would even want her lipstick..." Dawn's voice trailed off as she noticed Spike glaring at her.

He harumphed. "As I was saying, if your pre-pubescent body was bled dry, the Slayer would want my hide, and I have enough problems what with the Slayer mad enough t' stake me on sight--"

"Why would Buffy want to stake you? What did you do?"

"Why is it always 'what did Spike do?' Why couldn't it be someone else? Why not Mr. Oh-So-Perfect Riley Finn?" Spike stomped around the graveyard. "You want t'know what I did? I'll tell you what I did. Nothin', that's what. Not a single, bloody thing. I was doin' 'er a favor. I was helping 'er. I was..." He stopped dead still, picked his hands up and gazed at Dawn in a bewildered, puppy-like manner. When Dawn didn't say anything, Spike glared menacingly. When she still didn't say anything, he shrugged and started pacing again. "Alright, so maybe I did something that made her a bit angry--not that she SHOULD be angry--just that she might have misinterpreted my motives."

"Like what?"

"Like nothin' that's what. Like none of your business that's what." He cut off his explanations and straightened his long leather coat. "Alright, then. Pick up the pace. We've got t'take you home."

Dawn blinked. "You're walking me home?"

"Can't leave you 'ere with the vampires. They aren't all nice ones like me." He grinned. He was kind of scary when he grinned.

"ARE you a nice vampire?" she asked.

"God, no. Perish the thought. I'm not the least bit nice. But unlike the two vamps 'ere, I'm not plannin' t' eat you for dinner. I was about t' go to the Bronze for beer and chicken wings. Now, come on. You're slowin' me down."

"Um...sure." Dawn fell in step beside him. "Wait!" She ran back to her hiding place behind the gravestone and picked up the broken piece of the statue. Walking over to the broken angel, she tried to fit the piece of wing back into place.

"Don't worry about it," Spike said quietly as he emerged from the darkness. "It's a lost cause."

"If I could turn it just a little bit in this direction--"

He reached up and took the shattered piece of angel's wing in his hand. "It's been my experience that once something is broken, it stays broken." After pocketing the fragment, Spike gestured toward the pathway. "Let's go."

"Broken things CAN be fixed, you know," Dawn protested. "You're probably only saying that because you pre-date Superglue."

Spike laughed. "Right. I've got problems 'cause I'm older than superglue. Sure."

They walked in silence. Dawn wasn't sure why Spike was quiet. He seemed to be the talkative type, but she was quiet because she was still sort weirded out by how good his laughter had sounded. It was warm and...Well, wasn't it kind of unexpected that a vampire would laugh? Somehow she'd always thought that vampires were either plain evil or all brooding and gloomy like Angel...But Spike? Spike was different.

Dawn knew a little about him. She'd never spoken with him, but she'd heard things. Things like how he'd once unleashed a monster called 'The Judge' who would destroy anything that had the tiniest hint of humanity. And how he'd once found the Gem of Amarra that gave him eternal life and let him go outside in daylight...only Buffy had taken it from him.

Oh, and Spike had once helped save the world.

Her mother had told her that one. Mom said Spike had shown up on their doorstep, and she had invited him in for hot chocolate. Imagine that. Mom could be so incredibly brave sometimes. Anyway, once Spike came inside--and had his hot chocolate--he had offered to help Buffy save the world.

Now, when most people talked about "saving the world" it was all hype, like someone bragging, "I'm the Slayer. I'm the chosen one, and I'm going to save the world." But that time Spike and Buffy had saved the world. Of course Buffy claimed that SHE was the one who did the saving ... but then Buffy would say that wouldn't she?

Anyway, saving the world wasn't the cool part. It was the important part, but it wasn't the cool part. The cool part was that Spike had done it all for the woman he loved, Dora or Dulcinea or something like that. Wasn't that sweet? Imagine a guy actually saving the world for YOU. How cool would that be? You'd have to love him forever after that wouldn't you?

Dawn frowned and wondered what had ever happened to Dulcinea. She thought about asking Spike, but his brow was furrowed again, making him look grouchy. His shoulders were hunched and his hands were stuffed into the pockets of his long leather coat, and his face was almost completely lost in the shadows except for the brief moments when they passed beneath streetlights.

As Dawn studied Spike she tried to see the guy who could "save the world" or even the "interfering, evil vampire" that Buffy and Riley claimed he was. Gazing at Spike, Dawn wasn't sure she saw him as either of those guys. Actually, he looked a lot like Sting had looked in that "Behind the Music" special on VH1--Sting when he sang for The Police, not Sting in the Jaguar commercial. Sure Spike's scowl was dark and kind of menacing. But there also seemed to be a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as if he knew a joke that very few people did and wouldn't it be great if you shared it too?

Spike didn't look evil...not at the moment anyway.

Of course Buffy said not to be fooled. Spike WAS evil, and he'd only helped save the world because he was trying to delay his trip to H--E--double hockey sticks. And the only reason he wasn't eating people for dinner was because Riley's bosses at the Initiative had put a chip in Spike's brain making it impossible for him to hurt people. Now Spike could only hurt demons...like Buffy hurt demons.

Dawn stopped walking and looked at Spike in surprise. "You staked those vamps didn't you?"

He glanced at her and the overhead lights brought one half of his face into stark relief while the other half remained in darkness. "What vamps? The gits in the graveyard?"

"The vamps trying to kill me. Those vamps. You staked them."

Spike shrugged and just kept walking.

Dawn had to say it. "You saved my life."

Spike didn't say anything, so Dawn ran after him, grabbing his arm and turning him around. "You saved my life," she said breathlessly. "You rescued me."

"Did not."

"Did too."

He frowned. "Look, they were makin' a bloody awful racket in the middle of the graveyard during the best part of E.R. Then they broke the wall of my crypt which, by the way, scattered candles all over the floor settin' my bed sheets on fire. Vampires don't like fire you know. And those sheets were damn expensive. Do you know how difficult it is t' ste--" He stopped. "Just stop sayin' I saved you. It'll ruin my reputation."

Spike began restlessly moving again, leaving the small circle of light and blending seamlessly with the night. Then suddenly he came back to the light. He asked excitedly, "The Slayer would like it if I saved you, wouldn't she? I mean, you can't hold a petty grudge against a fella who saved your sister's life." He smiled again, and this time Dawn wasn't surprised by it. Actually, his smile looked pretty good, even better when he began to grin. "Yeah. Tell the Slayer I saved you."

"But you did," Dawn said quietly though she had the funny feeling she was talking to herself. Spike was once again lost somewhere the shadows. Then she saw a flash of platinum blonde hair in the moonlight. "Hey!" Dawn called. "Wait up for me. There are vampires out here." Minutes later they stood in her front yard. Spike leaned against the big oak tree and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. When he lit one, Dawn scolded, "Those things will kill you."

He looked up and there was amusement in his eyes.

"Oh, right," she belatedly realized. "You're already dead." Only Spike didn't seem dead...or undead as the vampire case may be. He seemed to overflow with life. Dawn glanced at the door then back at him. "You want to come inside?"

He dropped his cigarette and crushed it beneath the heel of his boot. "Didn't you learn your lesson about invitin' vampires into the house, niblet?"

"Don't bring up that Harmony thing. That was an accident. I just forgot for a moment--but only for a moment--that a vampire can't enter your house unless invited. I'm no dummy. I know the rules. But the rules don't apply to you--"

"Why thank you."

"You've already been invited to the house."

Something flickered in his dark gaze. "Know that do you?"

"Well, yeah. Mom told me."

He circled Dawn. "No, I mean that I'm still 'invited' into the house. I thought the Slayer had forgotten."

Dawn blinked. "Oh, you mean that spell that Willow did to keep Harmony and Dracula from coming back. Buffy didn't forget about you. It's just there's nothing she can do about you."

Spike looked funny, like he wanted to know something but wouldn't let himself ask.

"You want to know why Buffy can't do anything," Dawn realized. "It's because Buffy wasn't the one who invited you in. Mom did, and SHE said she didn't see a reason to disinvite you. You couldn't hurt us even if you wanted to, and she didn't think you did...want to that is."

Spike looked a little disappointed, perhaps even sad. Dawn wondered why, then decided it must be tough going from powerful and intimidating to being told you're harmless. Somehow Dawn didn't think Spike liked being called harmless.

Then she noticed something else. Blue. His eyes weren't dark at all but a clear, fathomless blue. Sky blue. . .only not the sky of the day but of the night, a rich shade of indigo only seen when the moon was full and shining brightly across a field of snow or a stretch of sand.

Deciding to cheer Spike up, Dawn offered, "Why don't you come inside and have cocoa or something?"

"Dawn, get inside the house!" Buffy yelled from the doorway.

"Slayer. . ." Spike said under his breath. Dawn glanced at him. She'd heard what he said, but she couldn't figure out the way he said it. Was he glad to see Buffy or mad about it?

"Inside, Dawn, now." Buffy yelled again.

Dawn protested, "But--"

"No buts. In."

Dawn shifted on the balls of her feet. Buffy sounded really mad which meant she probably should go inside, but curiosity was killing her. Buffy stormed into the yard. Why WAS Buffy so angry? Dawn wondered. It wasn't like Spike could hurt her.

Buffy shot Dawn a look that DID look evil, so instead of protesting Dawn slunk into the house. She also went straight to the window and raised it an inch so that she could hear what Spike and Buffy were saying.

There was a sound followed by a grunt that made Dawn think Buffy had slammed Spike into the oak tree. But that couldn't be right because Spike laughed.

"What are you doing with Dawn?" Buffy demanded.

"Who said I was doin' anythin' with 'er?" he asked.

"The two of you were standing in the yard and she was inviting you in for hot chocolate! What did you do to her?"

"What? Do you think I hypnotized 'er or somethin'? That's Drac's game. I never--well okay, maybe I did try once, but that was fifty years ago and..." Pushing Buffy away he turned around and straightened his coat. "And did you ever think that perhaps your sister was bein' hospitable? Not everyone is a bottomless well of homicidal rage like you--"

"And you," Buffy snapped.

"Well, yeah. Still, nothing t' be so worked up about. The little one is now home, safe and sound and ready for you tuck 'er into bed with her stuffed animals and 'N Sync posters."

"How do you know she has stuffed animals and 'N Sync posters? Have you been sneaking into the house again?"

Spike shook his head but it didn't look like a denial. It looked like disbelief. "You're losin' it Slayer. Goin' round the bend. She's FOURTEEN YEARS OLD. It's not like it takes a bloody genius--"

"That's good. Because one isn't available."

He jerked back, retreating several feet away from her, balanced in the almost dancing pose of a boxer. "That's it. I'm leavin'."

"Don't let me stop you."

But before he could leave the yard, Buffy grabbed him and swung him around. Dawn thought Buffy may have even thrown a punch that Spike deftly dodged. He laughed as he danced out of her reach.

"What did you mean by Dawn's 'home now?'" Buffy demanded.

"It's ten thirty, Slayer, do you know where your sister is?"

Dawn ducked below the window as Buffy glanced toward the house.

Spike amended, "I meant do you know where your sister WAS?"

There was a pause. Buffy was probably glaring at him.

Spike said softly, "She was in the graveyard."

"Snitch," Dawn muttered.

"I don't believe you," Buffy snapped. "Dawn knows better than that."

"Knowin' and doin' aren't always the same thing, Slayer."

"And I'm supposed to believe you found her and walked her home to protect her?"

He laughed again. "Hardly. I was just out lookin' for demons in the mood for a brawl, and she sorta tagged along. Thought I'd drop by and ditch her."

"Liar," Dawn said under her breath, then felt a soft touch on her shoulder. She looked up to see her mother looking at her disapprovingly.

"It's not nice to eavesdrop," her mother scolded.

"I--Well, I had to listen. Buffy is beating up Spike when she shouldn't be. He really did just walk me home to protect me." She gazed at her mother. "He saved my life."

Her mother blinked. "What do you mean? How did he save your life?"

The front door slammed. Buffy stormed into the living room. "Where's my stake? I'm going to do it this time. I'm going to take Spike out."

"Now, Buffy," their mother said soothingly.

"I'm so sick of seeing him, of listening to him, of his hearing his oh so annoying 'I'm so insightful' comments. He gets off on it, you know. He laughs at me, at knowing the stuff going on behind my back. If I wanted to know what was going on behind my back I'd look. I'd. . . I'd. . . I'm gonna kill him. Get it over once and for all."

"Now, Buffy, you can't kill him."

"Why not? He's a vampire. I'm a vampire slayer."

"You can't slay him because your sister says he saved her life..."

***

Outside in a hazy cloud of smoke Spike watched Buffy's mom close the living room draperies. He'd heard every word they had said. The old myth about vampires having heightened senses was quite true. He saw things. He heard things. He even felt things that no one knew about.

Spike dropped another cigarette to the ground and crushed it out.

Nice woman, Buffy's mom. He was dashed glad he hadn't eaten her when she'd first invited him into the house. Not that it had been wise of her to let him into the house. He'd thought about killing her. But then she'd offered hot chocolate, and it threw him. It really threw him. First of all who in her right mind would offer a vampire hot chocolate? Second of all...well who could kill someone kind enough to offer hot chocolate?

'Kind' was rare in the world. It always had been. Oh, people spoke about being kind and generous, but actual evidence of it was pretty thin on the ground. People put pretty faces on many things. They coated venom with sugar and good manners, but scratch the surface and most of the time you found that 'polite' was just the pretty white icing on a cake made of caa-caa.

He'd learned that in quite brutal fashion more than a hundred and twenty years ago. When he had confessed to Cecily Addams that he loved her only to have his admiration thrown in his face with the words, "You are beneath me." It had been a blow to his pride, his heart, and his manhood. . .Of course it had also sent him into the night and into Drusilla's arms, so perhaps it was a forgivable insult.

That long ago night when he had stood alone and in pain, Dru had stepped out of the shadows. She had given him a look...such a look. It was impossible to describe, but it had been a balm to his soul... and he'd even HAD a soul then. He'd had one and had willingly surrendered it to her.

Funny, but despite general expectations, that night it had been the human who had been cruel and the vampire who had offered sympathy and understanding. Buffy had described it as "trading up the food chain." What a cold and dispassionate description for someone's death and rebirth.

Spike had never told anyone what it was like to die. What it was to look into the eyes and face of death and welcome it gladly, as he had welcomed Dru. It hadn't been painless. Surrender never is. It would have been a shame if it had been. Such moments in one's life should not be easy or pass unnoticed-- especially if it was one's death. It should be felt and understood that here one thing ends and another begins.

Spike remembered the moment of dying quite clearly, of Drusilla's arms wrapped around him as he fell to the ground, of the warmth of his own blood streaming from the wounds in his throat until his heart slowed and ceased to beat. He remembered growing cold, and the world going black.

But that was not all he remembered. He remembered other things. Worse things. The things of nightmares.

No one had warned him about that.

People knew the part about vampires being the "undead." He had even made a mockery of it to Buffy's sister only minutes ago. But it wasn't something easy to joke about...not for a vampire. Humans looked at vamps and saw life AFTER death. What they didn't see was what had preceded it-- death itself.

He had died in a dark alley while wrapped in Dru's arms. She had stayed with him, cooing softly in her nonsensical often childlike voice, holding him, comforting him, staying with him ... at least until dawn when Dru had by necessity left him behind.

The police had found him hours later. Thank god, it had been before the rats. He had been aware of every moment as the bobbies dragged him into a covered carriage, as they had covered his face with linen. He could hear the moment when his mother had identified his body.

Very distinctly he remembered the sensation of being laid out for display. Left lying in the front parlor for all the world to see in the hours before his funeral. He had heard Mrs. Daylripple comment to his mother how very nice it was to see that his cravat was properly tied and that his shirt points had been crisply starched. One could always tell a gentleman by his grooming. A properly tied cravat was the measure of a man. . .and wasn't it a shame that poor William had always been so remiss with his cravats and collars? The old bitty had even gone on to talk about the importance of properly polished shoes.

Why had his mother not shown the least bit of outrage? Her son lay dead, and she had listened and agreed with her next door neighbor's assessment of the deplorable condition of his shoes.

Bloody hell, the state of his shoes was at least partially due to Mrs. Daylripple herself. Her dog had taken a piss on them daily. He'd leave the house, and Mrs. Daylripple would stand on her front steps saying, "Oh, William, there you are. My butler seems to have disappeared somewhere this morning--you never can find good help these days. Would you be a dear and take Sebastian for a his morning walk?"

William would look down to see the dog growling with teeth bared. It was incredibly generous to call it a dog. It actually looked like a glorified rat with too much hair and too many teeth. But William had never told Mrs. Daylripple no, though day after day he had vowed to do so.

The truth was Mrs. Daylripple didn't have a butler. Ever since Mr. Daylripple had died she had lived on a meager inheritance. Her staff had been let go years ago, and as she had stood on her front steps looking as fragile as small brown finch, William had been unable or unwilling to say no. Besides, she also had a touch of the gout. So despite daily affirmations that today was the day he would ignore her and go about his business, William had always taken Sebastian to the park where the dog lifted his leg and took a morning piss on William's shoes.

After Mrs. Daylripple had run out of comments about his less than satisfactory sartorial style, Claire Haversham and her husband Gunther had come to stand by his casket. Gunther had maintained the physique of a modern American football player beneath his Victorian garb and was known for his disreputable temper. Actually, Gunther's temper had been more than reputation. Claire Haversham had sported dark bruises on her cheek and on her arms just above her gloves more times than William had cared to count. He'd never doubted that Gunther had been the one to place those bruises there.

Once when leaving Hookham's bookstore, William had seen Claire in intimate conversation with a man who had not been Gunther, but having known Gunther's monstrous temper William had overlooked the incident. William hadn't told a soul, not even when he saw Clair and her friend taking an early morning walk in Hyde Park or when he had crossed paths with them in Covent Garden.

The last time Claire had seen William as well. She had begged with tears in her eyes, "Please, William, don't tell Gunther. You don't know what he will do. You don't know how truly terrible he can be."

William had offered his handkerchief and sworn on his grave that as long as he breathed he would never, ever tell.

Having gained his oath, Claire had smiled and laid her hand against his cheek. "Thank you, William. Thank you dearly. You've saved my life."

Such a pretty sentiment. . .too bad she hadn't remembered it at his funeral. Standing at his side looking at his lifeless corpse Claire had murmured the uninspired platitude, "Doesn't William look lifelike?"

"More than he ever did in life." Gunther had chuckled.

"Gunther, please, you shouldn't say such things."

"Whyever not?"

"Because someone might hear you which would be dreadfully embarrassing."

"You feather headed bint. No one would care. It's only William after all." Then Gunther had scolded, "Don't demure like that, Claire. Watching you play your hypocritical little games is vexing and sets my teeth on edge. You know the truth as well as I, and don't pretend you feel any differently. All of society is gleeful at the prospect of never again hearing the fop's bloody awful poetry."

Claire had smothered a laugh. "True."

"There. A moment of honesty. I didn't know you had it in your wretched little self."

"Do stop, Gunther. William may have been a twit, but he had his uses."

"Ah, did you manipulate him into keeping one of your many little secrets? Was it your French cher ami or your Italian Don Juan? Don't say it was the bloody Irish fellow."

"Hush! Someone might hear."

"So? Everyone in society knows what a little whore you are. The only fool deluded enough to believe you possess even a shred of virtue is the one lying in this casket."

William had stopped listening to their bickering at that point. He wasn't sure when they had drifted away, but he had been aware that Cecily was the very last to arrive.

Cecily Addams had stood over him while pleasantly conversing with Rosalyn Paddington-Smythe. They could have been discussing the weather for all the sympathy they had shown over his bloody demise.

"Can you believe that he did this for me?" Cecily said in a nauseatingly happy voice.

"For you?" Rosalyn had asked. "William was murdered."

"Oh piffle. That's what they want you to think, but I know better. Last night he confessed he loved me, and when I said I'd have none of him, he turned ever so pale. I do believe I shattered his heart."

Rosalyn had snorted. "Little surprise there. All of society has known for ages that William was blind sick in love with you. Still there's no reason to think his death was anything but what it appeared to be--"

"He did himself in, I tell you," Cecily had snapped. "He was mad with love for me, and when he knew he could never have me, he slit his own throat. It's quite romantic actually."

"More romantic than him mooning over you day and night?"

"Gads yes. That was mortifying. As if I would ever look twice in his direction. I'm glad he's dead and will never bother me again."

"But you like the idea that he committed suicide over you?"

"Oh my yes." Cecily had cooed triumphantly, "Ariel Castleton never had anyone commit suicide over her..."

The rest of his funeral had passed in a nightmarish haze only to be followed by something worse...his burial.

William had heard the clatter of dirt on his casket, but had been unable to move or scream. In those moments of terror, thoughts had begun to race through his head. What if he wasn't dead? What if he was only paralyzed and by burying him, locking him beneath six feet of earth, they were killing him? Slowly. He would die in the dark, alone, screaming...No one would hear. No one would know or care. Or worse, what if he WAS dead, but would remain forever alert as he was now--thoughtful but trapped in stifling darkness? He would go insane, trapped in this box, in this dead body...a body that might decay while he still lived. Oh God...oh God.

For hours William had been plagued by the unthinkable, by night terrors that could not be banished because there was no candle to light. There was nothing, just black, still darkness that closed in on him, blinding him, suffocating him as it whispered of horrors that could not be put into words.

Spike remembered saying to Buffy not too many weeks ago that death was on her heels and that one day it would catch her, that part of her even wanted it to catch her. It would stop the fear and uncertainty, and, though she was incapable of admitting it to herself, deep down some part of her was just a little in love with it. He'd said, "Part of you is desperate to know. What's it like? Where does it lead you?"

Those were dangerous questions. Questions he should have warned Buffy not to ask because those questions had lead William to hellish hours locked inside a casket with no way out. Even when the spell that had kept his body motionless had released it's hold, William had been unable to free himself. He had pushed against the lid of his coffin screaming, screaming at the top of his lungs until there was no air left, just the still, stifling darkness. He had torn at the satin lining of his coffin until his fingers bled, and he had died a thousand deaths with no one there to know.

When at last he had fallen into a state of exhaustion and despair, William had heard a faint noise. Someone was digging him out. An eternity later the lid of his coffin had been lifted, and he had gazed into Dru's insanely beautiful face. His angel. His own dark, demented angel. She had said in her sing song voice, "Anarchy is upon us. Let's have some fun."

Dru had offered her hand and pulled William free of his grave. It was only then that he had noticed the large, dark man standing next Dru. The man had held a spade and had clearly been the one to do the digging. A small strikingly beautiful blonde stood behind Dru, stroking Dru's dark hair.

"Darling girl," the blonde had cooed. "You should have told us about your pet sooner. It couldn't have been pleasant to have been locked in there for so many hours, and if you cannot take care of your pet you are not allowed to have one."

Dru's eyes had widened. "Care? Oh, I do care, Grandmummy. I do."

The blonde had smiled benevolently. "Well, I suppose we can overlook this one incident. Just be sure to clean up behind him and keep him fed."

Dru had turned, laid her hand on the pale blonde's cheek. "So weeping, a mystic shape did move and drew me backward by the hair..." she had chanted.

The blonde had looked nervous and pulled away.

"Dru," the dark man had growled, his slight Scottish burr shading the timber of his voice until it seemed to merge with the sounds of the night. "We have your playmate. It's time to go."

"Go?" Dru had asked blankly. Then her eyes had lit with madly beautiful fire. She had approached William excitedly. "Guess now who holds thee?"

William had gazed uncertainly from creature to creature. From the demented Dru, to the smiling blonde demon named Darla, to the dark man Spike would later learn was called Angelus...one day to be known as Angel.

"Guess!" Dru had insisted as she had grabbed his lapels, pulling William further into the night. "Guess who holds thee. Not death. Do not say death."

Frowning a little, William had searched for the name. "Dru?"

She had laughed and the sound was like quicksilver. Beautiful, elusive, and deadly. "Noooooo. Not death. Not Dru. Love." Her laughter had died, and her eyes had become dark and distracted as if she gazed into distant worlds.

Then she had looked directly at him. "Love will always have you," she professed. "It will call to you and crush you and make you scream. You will nurture it and it will call you ashes. You will protect it and it will not see. Show it truth, and it will damn your eyes." Dru begun to sway. "Stand you there between dark and bright. What will you choose?"

"What?" William was lost.

Dru's gaze had narrowed. "Which will you choose?"

"I..." He had glanced at the other two, Angelus and Darla. Angelus had turned his back and walked away. Darla had given him a smile and a shrug that seemed to say she had no clue about the things Dru spoke of. Then she joined Angelus in the mist. William had been left alone.

Dru had offered her hand. "Which will you choose?"

Again William looked into her eyes--dark and soft, lost and childlike, shrewd and lethal. Dru alone had gazed at him in empathy. She had said he had strength and that his greatest wealth lay in his heart. Dru had wept over his dead body, though she had the least reason to weep. And she had come in his darkest hour to set him free.

"I choose you," he had answered, only half surprised by his words.

Dru had laughed, but it was a pleasant, inviting sound. Again she took his hand. "No. I chose you. Extra special." Tucking his hand into the crook of her arm, Dru had pulled him deep into the night.

They had followed in Angelus and Darla's wake, walking from Tottenham Court Road to Leicester Square. William had been enthralled by the city he had previously thought he knew.

It was said that when you became a vampire you lost your soul and became possessed by a demon. Maybe that was true, but it hadn't felt that way. It had felt like being set free. Night was no longer just darkness but a myriad of tints and shades, beautiful in their complexity. And sound became more clear in the crisp, cold air. Everything was more vivid and more vital...more wild.

There had been a scream in the distance. Dru had tugged his hand, pulling him down a labyrinth of back alleys until they came across a dreadful sight, a man savagely beating a woman as another man stood and watched. When the man who stood doing nothing saw the strangers now watching instinct must have warned him to run. Unfortunately for the bloke, he'd run into the beautiful Darla's deadly arms.

"Oh, what a pretty boy you are," Darla had cooed before transforming her lovely face into that of a vampire. The man had begun screaming even before she sank her teeth into his throat.

Angelus had pushed past William, shoving him into the wall before grabbing the woman who had been so savagely beaten. If for a moment William had believed that Angelus was rescuing the woman, he could be forgiven. Initially it had looked that way, but looks could be deceiving.

Angelus had fallen ravenously on the woman. With gruesome, animalistic sounds he had ripped the bodice of the woman's expensive dress and buried his face in her bosom. Blood soaked her lace chemise and pooled between her breasts. Then William noticed something he had not seen before. The woman was Claire Haversham.

William frowned. If that was Claire then...

William turned and saw that the remaining man, the man who had so savagely beaten Claire was Gunther. Gunther stood frozen in terror watching his wife's brutal murder and he did not do a thing. He didn't move or make a sound of protest, he just backed into the shadows as if hoping the demons would forget that he existed.

William would not forget.

Dru tugged at William's sleeve. "Oh, do join the party. It's your birthday. This party is meant for you!"

At the sound of Dru's voice, Gunther looked up and saw them for the very first time. He had backed further into the shadows crying, "You! I know you. You're...you're dead!"

It was at that moment William's transformation into Spike had become complete. Whereas before anger and rage had been something shunted to the side, now it coursed through him like a river of fire, bursting through dams that had long held unruly emotions in check. A blazing torrent of feeling flowed through him crashing and smashing and destroying all that stood in its path. All rules by which William had lead his life fell away, and Spike strode forward as power surged through him.

"Do I look lifelike now, you bullying git?" Icy disdain chipped away at William's upper class accent, clipping his words sharply as Spike sent Gunther flying into the alley wall. Bricks were crushed to a fine orange and red powder and Gunther fell to the floor, his neck twisted at painfully awkward angle because his spine had been broken.

William (Or had it been Spike?) looked at Gunther's broken body with an impossible mixture of horror and satisfaction. For once in his life William had stood up to a bully. For the first time since his death, Spike had killed; and as Gunther's lifeless form slumped gracelessly onto the ground, Spike found his sense of satisfaction outweighed any nagging regret. He'd given the brutal bloke his just due, and it had felt good. No, it had felt better than good. It had felt great.

Of course, giving Gunther what he deserved resulted in Gunther's death. It was murder. There was no going back after that. Spike could never be William again, and all those silly thoughts of what was bright and gleaming and beautiful in the light of day was exchanged for the wildness and the darker, more complex beauty of the night. William was dead, and Spike was just learning to live.

Dru had clapped her hands. "Oh, what a clever, clever boy you are," she had gleefully praised.

Delicately wiping her lips free of the blood of Claire's cher ami, Darla examined Gunther's body and pronounced in a disturbingly calm and practical voice, "It's a start."

Darla had then tapped William on the shoulder and said in a lecturing tone, "But you'll starve if you only break them to bits. Drink first. Kill later."

To this day, Spike wasn't sure whether he had truly meant to kill Gunther Haversham. Perhaps he had only wished to vent years of frustration. Maybe he had decided the brutal, bullying Gunther deserved a taste of his own medicine only he had underestimated his sudden preternatural strength . . .Or maybe he had simply been turned into a vampire, and that's what vampires did. Kill. Without remorse and without pity. They were creatures of rage and destruction. They relished anarchy and thrived in chaos. It was their nature, and so perhaps it was inevitable that Spike embrace the wildness coursing through him just as he had embraced the insane beauty of the night.

Angel had dropped Claire's lifeless husk on the ground next to Gunther, and without a backward glance he'd called over his shoulder, "It's time to go."

Not knowing what else to do, Spike had followed.

That had been the beginning. And that had been the general way of things. They had hunted the streets of London like a lions hunted the Serengeti, culling the weak from the heard and stalking the most desired prey.

That had been Spike's first triumph. Stalking.

It had been Gunther's final words that had given Spike the idea. "You're dead!" Gunther had cried in horror, and late one night, just as dawn had tinted the sky with the shades of pink and lilac that Cecily had favored in her dress, Spike had remembered Cecily's glee in thinking that "William the Bloody" had committed suicide over her.

Spike sought out Cecily for the first time at the theater. Hamlet had been playing. It had set the perfect mood. After an evening of death and hauntings, a glimpse of the "dead" William in the crowd had been enough to cause Cecily to go quite pale. She had disturbed several of her companions asking if they had seen William as well. Spike had made quite sure they hadn't.

Later he had followed her to the opera. Cecily had swooned. At the Paddington-Smythe Soiree, she had flown into a fit of hysterics. Spike lost count of the nights he had stood near her in the dark--just close enough to be seen but not to be touched. She would never be allowed to touch, to reassure herself that her eyes did not deceive her. Let her worry. Let her stew. Let her doubt her sanity. She would be allowed no way to prove that "William the Bloody" was real.

Spike became increasingly bold, allowing Cecily glimpses of him in half light. Or speaking to her when she was alone on some dark terrace. He hid himself in the shadows but he stood near, very near, and in time he drew close enough for her to touch if she dared. She never did.

Spike had even invited Dru to the hauntings. Dru had found the mind games to be ever so fun. She liked the scent of fear in the air. She thought it was intoxicating. Dru had even thought of a few of her own troubling tricks to play. Dru was such a wonderfully wicked girl.

One frigid winter night she had bumped into Cecily outside the theater and slipped a bloodied handkerchief into Cecily's muff. Cecily had discovered it while in a circle of her close friends, friends who had been horrified by the morbid souvenir in Cecily's possession, for it had been quickly noted that the handkerchief bore William the Bloody's initials. That became the moment when Society began to whisper that Cecily was obsessed with William.

Cecily swore he followed her in crowds and spoke to her when she was alone. He was dead as they all well knew for they had seen him buried, and yet Cecily would swear she saw him at the opera, or walking along the street as she left a ball. Society would make sympathetic noises as she raved, then behind her back they would whisper that Cecily was grief stricken over William's demise. She was obsessed with the poor fellow. The more Cecily protested that this was not the case, the more certain Society became that it was.

Spike loved it.

He enjoyed watching her become increasingly agitated. He laughed as she developed a habit of glancing anxiously over her shoulder to look for him, always searching for his face. Society tutt tutted over her actions and noted that Cecily had begun falling apart not long after William's death. Of course, William and Cecily had always been devoted to one another...

Yes, it was revisionist history, but much of history is revised. Given the turn of events, Society reassessed Cecily and William's association and concluded that Cecily had always been obsessed with him. Spike had laughed long and hard about that. It was impossible to describe the satisfaction he had felt as the story transmuted and changed from day to day until it was said that Cecily was the deluded creature with an unattainable love.

Then came the night that Spike had shown himself to her, not in shadows, not in a brief glimpse, but in her house. . .in her bedroom. Cecily's shrieks of horror and distress had been earsplitting. He'd loved it. He'd even added to the effect by showing her his vampire face... but he hadn't killed her. No, that had never been the plan.

Spike's scheme had reached its intended climax when a shaking Cecily--still claiming that William was alive and a vampire to boot--had been dragged to the madhouse. She had been quite sane of course, but who would believe her. Vampires? Piffle.

She hadn't stayed in Bedlam long, but it had been long enough. In their day and age and social circle, to be tainted by even a hint of scandal meant banishmment from the golden circle. Cecily had become a pariah to the very social set she had wanted so badly to impress. She lived her life--her very LONG life--on the fringe of polite world where she stood not only unadmired, but unwanted.

Spike had taken great satisfaction in that...on William's behalf, of course. It had to be on William's behalf, because Spike no longer cared. He had Dru.

Angelus, however, had not been happy with Spike's antics. He had been angered that William had shown himself to people who had known him in his human state. If anyone discovered that Cecily spoke the truth, they would become the hunted instead of the hunters. That was intolerable, so Angelus had dragged the four of them from London to Yorkshire.

However, despite Angelus' rage and contempt, Spike had never regretted a thing. William "the bloody" may never have found vindication in life, but Spike had gained revenge after death. It would do.

Noticing car headlights passing down the street, Spike stepped behind the large oak tree in Buffy's yard and remembered Dawn asking if he was a "nice vampire." For once in his undead life, Spike had answered a question with the unvarnished truth. No, he was not nice. . .or kind. All kindness in him had died more than a century ago, killed not by a demon but by an unkind world.

After another car passed, Spike gazed up at the warm colored lights in Buffy's house. They stood in stark contrast to the inky blackness of the night that surrounded him. In some way the kindnesses that had been extended to him beyond that door and in those lights was a balm to the soul that William had lost so long ago. Somehow knowing he had a standing invitation put some part of his inner rage to rest. Of course Spike knew the invitation was an illusion. He was not truly welcome or wanted--not today or in that Victorian parlor where he had professed love only to find rejection and humiliation. Still he clung to the invitation. Illusion that it was, it was better than nothing.

Spike pulled out his cigarettes and found the pack empty. Crushing the wrapper in his hand, he began the long, lonely walk to the Bronze. If he couldn't have cigarettes he could at least have beer. He never saw the slender, swaying feminine form just beyond the border between dark and light.

Dru stood beyond the reach of the steetlamps chanting in her soft childlike voice, "Oh dear, you look so strange. Thought I warned you. Love is a devil who will not let you rest. . .though you pace upon mountains and hide your face in stars."

She pulled her cloak more tightly around herself. "There's a chill in the air and the trees begin to cry. Birnam comes to Dunsinane, and I come for you. I chose you, Spike. Extra special."

PART III

Someone was in his crypt. He had fallen asleep in his chair but he'd definitely heard someone sneak into his lair. For one slightly mad moment Spike thought it was Buffy. Then sanity returned. The door was still on its hinges, and Buffy wasn't slamming him into a wall while threatening him with a stake. No. Couldn't be Buffy.

Harm maybe?

Bollocks. If he'd had any idea how annoying Harmony could be, he never would have become involved with her...not that Harm didn't have her uses. She was a terribly lovely, nubile, blonde thing. If she sat on his lap and caressed his neck and face and... other parts that could use caressing, he wouldn't turn her away.

With a slight smile curving his lips upward Spike opened his eyes...and saw Dawn sitting on the floor munching Cheetos and watching his television.

"This show is crap," Dawn said as she licked orange stuff off her fingers.

Banishing all erotic thoughts from his head, Spike glared at her. "Never been warned that sneaking into a vampire's lair, much less watching his tele and eating his snacks, is dangerous? And that show isn't crap. It's Passions."

"It's crap."

Yeah, Spike had to admit it was crap. Unredeemable, unwatchable crap...which was why he loved it. Whoever wrote the drivel was a worse writer than he had ever been. And considering how exquisitely awful "William the Bloody's" writing had been, that said a lot...which was why Spike found perverse pleasure in watching it.

Dawn tilted her head slightly. "Can I ask you a question?"

"Can I stop you?"

"Probably not, since you can't hurt people."

Spike sighed and noticed that muted sunlight streamed through the etched glass transome over the door to his crypt. It wasn't dark yet so he wasn't going anywhere. Crossing his arms he said, "Shoot."

"Why exactly do you have a television but not electric lights? I mean, if you have the electricity...?"

"Vampires don't like a lot of light. There's the 'bursting into flames' issue."

Dawn shook her head. "I don't understand that either. If you don't like fire--"

"I like fire fine. I simply prefer not to BE on fire."

"Whatever. I still don't understand why you've got like a hundred candles in here. If that isn't a fire hazard then what is?"

He couldn't deny the logic of her statement, but he had an explanation. "Fire is danger. It's exciting. Electric lights? Bah. No romance in them."

Dawn still frowned.

"What now?" he growled.

"How did you ever get anyone to run electricity to a crypt?"

"Bloody hell, did you come here just to annoy me?" Then Spike frowned. "Why ARE you here?"

She stood, wiping her hands on her jeans, leaving a orange tinted trail on her pants. "I didn't finish what I came to do last night."

"Which was what? Become someone's dinner?"

"No, to test if I'm a Slayer."

That got Spike's attention. He almost laughed... except he could tell that the child was quite serious.

Spike shook his head. "Pet, it doesn't work like that. It's the Chosen One, not the Chosen Siblings. One Slayer. Last I looked, the one holding the job isn't dead."

"But there are two. Buffy AND Faith."

"Far as I know, Faith's not dead either. Just locked up in the state penitentiary. And even if Faith finally has shuffled off this mortal coil, you wouldn't be the Slayer. Never heard of Slayers coming in matched sets, and I've made it my business to know about Slayers."

Dawn looked at him searchingly. "Have you known many Slayers? Besides Buffy and Faith that is."

"Known a couple." No need to tell the child that he'd killed them. Spike asked, "Whatever gave you this cock-eyed idea anyway?"

"It's not a cock eyed idea!" Dawn protested. "And maybe I am a Slayer. It's the only thing that makes sense."

Spike shook his head. "Then nothing makes sense. You aren't a Slayer."

"How do you know?"

"Because I do."

"But--"

"No, buts. I'm old and grouchy and you just broke into my crypt. Stop asking stupid questions."

She glared at him. "If I'm not a Slayer then why are Mr. Giles and Buffy so worried about the Council finding out about me?"

Spike leaned forward. "What do you mean? Those priggish Watchers already know about you now."

"Not everything. Buffy and Mr. Giles are hiding something. Something about me."

"Like what?"

"They're hiding it from me too. But I heard them talking about it with Mom. They said there was something about me that they had to keep from the council. It has to be that I'm a Slayer. What else could it be?"

That was a question, Spike thought. He looked intently at the child. She looked like an ordinary young girl to him...but then that's the way most Slayers started. Only Dawn couldn't BE a Slayer.

He'd been telling her the truth--which was really very good of him because he was quite talented at lying--when he said that Slayer status didn't run in families. Far as he could tell, the powers that be must have decided if a family had to sacrifice one daughter to protect the world, then it wasn't fair to ask them to sacrifice two.

Dawn didn't look convinced.

"Alright then." Spike sighed as he stood. "I think I can solve this question once and for all."

Dawn stepped back. "You aren't going to hit me like you did Tara are you?"

He frowned. "No, I'm not going to hit you. Besides when I hit the little witch I was just trying to prove she wasn't a demon. If I hit her and it hurt me, she had to be human. A human witch but a human just the same. And no, I don't need to hit you to prove you're a Slayer. It doesn't work that way. What I was going to suggest is that you hit me." His gaze lifted sharply. "That's why you were in the graveyard last night, wasn't it? You were looking for some vamps to dust. Didn't work out so well, did it? So now you're lookin' for a vamp with training wheels."

She fidgeted. "Well, yeah. Sort of. You won't kill me if I mess up."

"So hit me."

Dawn balled up her fist and just stood there...and stood there, and stood there. "Close your eyes," she told him. "I can't hit you when you're looking at me."

"Bloody hell."

"Just do it, okay. Please?"

Bollocks. He always had been an easy touch where birds were concerned, even if it was only a fledgling like this one. He closed his eyes, and Dawn socked him in the jaw. He opened one eye. "That it?"

Dawn blinked. "Didn't that hurt?"

Spike shook his head. "Want to try again?"

She hit him in the stomach.

It still didn't hurt. He studied her. "Have we learned our lesson now?"

She looked downcast. "I'm not a Slayer?"

"Not even a little bit."

"Well maybe if I hit--"

Spike interrupted her. "The rest of my anatomy is strictly off limits. Vampires don't hurt easily, but we aren't impervious to pain...and some parts are more easily injured than others."

Seeing the frown marring her pretty little features, Spike felt an odd sensation move through him. Compassion? "Look, little snack, slaying isn't that good a deal. Short shelf life. You don't really want to be a Slayer."

"Then what am I?" she asked.

"A fourteen year old girl as far as I know."

Dawn shook her head and looked confused. "Then what are Buffy and Mr. Giles hiding about me?"

"That, Niblet, I do not know." He glanced toward the window. It was now dark outside. "Bloody hell."

"You don't have much of a vocabulary do you?"

He rolled his eyes. "Beg your pardon, Miss. My gaze drifted toward yonder the window and I find myself somewhat vexed by the discovery that twilight is upon us thereby necessitating I escort you to your humble abode."

Dawn's eyes widened at his plumy accent. "Do that again."

Falling into the now familiar Cockney cant he had adopted since his death, Spike quipped, "Don't need t'. Don't want t'either."

There was a knock on the door.

Dawn instantly looked more alert. "Buffy?" she asked.

"Phfaw! Unlikely," Spike scoffed. "The door's still on its hinges. Slayer doesn't knock. She barges in. It's probably only Harm."

"Harmony!" Dawn squeaked. "She chained me to a wall once."

"Don't worry about Harm. I can keep 'er in line." Spike walked to the door, opened it, and didn't move. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe. He didn't need to breathe--he was a vampire after all--but he couldn't have breathed even if he wanted to.

Dru stood there with her long dark hair and an anachronistic wool cloak draped over modern clothing. It had been so long since he had last seen her. Years. It was like a ghost, a memory, a dream had suddenly walked back into his life. It felt unreal, and she looked. . .she looked. . .

"Pet!" Spike cried, pain arcing through him as he reached out to touch her. "What has happened to you?"

Drusilla wavered on her feet and fell into his arms. Spike scooped her up in a strangely graceful move as her long cloak enveloped them both and swept dust off the floor. He carried her across the room and gently laid her down as Dru turned her blinking gaze toward Dawn.

"What is that?" Dru pointed to Dawn.

"Nothing. A girl," Spike told her. "No one."

Dru's bewildered eyes looked at him, cutting him to the quick. "Are you sure?" Again she looked at Dawn and hissed like a cat. "Away with you, you unnatural thing."

"Hey!" Dawn protested. "Who's the vampire here?"

Hesitantly, Spike touched Dru's face... her poor ruined face. "Love, what happened to you?"

Dru grabbed his hand between both of hers. "I hurt, Spike. I hurt all over, and you didn't even do it to me."

"Dearest, who did do this? Tell me and I will kill them where they stand," Spike ardently vowed as he threaded his fingers through her singed hair. "Love, who did this?"

Her dark eyes grew large and looked guileless. "Not Angel. It wasn't Angel."

Dawn snapped. "Of course it wasn't Angel. Angel's good--"

"Dawn!" Spike bit out.

"What?"

"Shut up." He turned back to Dru, holding her hand in one of his while the other remained buried in her hair. "Dru, dearest?"

She closed her eyes. "Wasn't Angelus either. This was someone different. Someone new."

Spike did his best to concentrate on Dru's words, to divine their meaning. Under the best of circumstances it was difficult to follow the weird streams and eddies of the logic behind her riddles, but he couldn't think straight. He was painfully distracted by the burns on her once ethereal face. If Dru was human he would have taken her to the hospital, but she wasn't human. All he could do was wait and hope that her burns weren't enough to finish her--that and kill the bugger who had done this to her.

"I thought Daddy had come home." Dru looked as confused as a small child who had awakened from a nightmare but didn't know what was real and what was dream. "Such a pretty home, dark and dank and filled with death. Soldiers littered the floor with blood and goo. Such a pretty scene."

"Yes, dearest, I understand." Spike still gripped her hand.

"He sat there waiting for us."

"Who's 'us,' Pet?"

"Grandmummy. My daughter."

Dawn shook her head. "She's nuts!"

Spike ignored the child, and concentrated on his injured love. "Darla is dead, Pet. She has been for quite some time."

Dru smiled. "I know she is. I killed her."

"No, Pet. That's not how it happened."

"I did kill her, Spike. I did. I held her and drained her and brought her back. It was glorious. Grandmummy came home, and we had such fun. We feasted on lawyers and champagne. They tasted fishy and salty, like caviar."

"Darla?" He couldn't help but be shocked. Dru sometimes became confused about time, but something about her insistence caught him. After all Angel had been killed once, sent all the way to hell, and HE had come back. Could something similar have happened to Darla as well? "Are you sure, Pet?"

"Oh yes. Very sure. You can see 'er too if you want."

Never sure if Dru was gazing into this world or into another, Spike glanced around the room. "Is she here?"

Dru's eyes grew huge. "Nooooo. She is in the city of angels...in the city OF Angel."

Spike nodded. That would make sense. Darla had always been obsessed with Angel. She had created her own dark prince and had raged against the night and the gypsies who had cursed him with a soul, changing Angelus into the enormous poof Angel. If by some evil twist of fate Darla lived, she would be on Angel's trail.

Spike's gaze sharpened and he allowed himself to see the pattern in Drusilla's words. Angel.

"Angel did this to you." It wasn't a question.

Dru shook her head. "Not Angel. Not Angelus. Someone different. Someone gray."

"Gray?"

"Not dark. Not bright. Not anything but bitter and cold. . .like fog in London or mist rolling in off the North Sea. A shadow."

"Angel's shadow," Spike growled.

"Not An--"

"Not Angel. I heard you, Dru." Heard and begun piecing it together. "He's still got his soul, right? So he isn't Angelus. But if he decided to dirty that soul he wouldn't exactly be Angel either, would he?"

Dru laid her hand on Spike's cheek as she nodded. "He sat in shadows and gave such a look. I thought Daddy had come home. Then he dropped his cigarette. Fire, Spike! Fire! Everywhere. It hurts! It burns!"

Spike cradled her against his chest, rocking Dru like a father would a child. "It's alright, Dearest. The fire is gone." He caressed her cheek, and slowly she calmed, coming as close to sanity as she ever would. "The danger is over, Love," he reassured. "You're safe. You're with Spike now."

Dru smiled. "You only hurt me when I ask you to."

"That's right, Love."

"I didn't want Daddy to hurt me again..." Dru drifted off to sleep. At least Spike hoped it was sleep. There was little way for him to know. She had no pulse or breath, but then vampires never did. On the other hand she was not dust so that had to mean something.

Dawn crossed her arms. "I don't believe it."

Spike was actually surprised the child was still there. "You heard Dru as well as I did."

Dawn shook her head. "I heard her say a lot of stuff that didn't make sense, and I heard you blame Angel. Well, Angel wouldn't do that. He wouldn't set anyone on fire. Angel is GOOD."

"Except when he's is tryin' to destroy the world."

She glared at Spike. "That was Angelus not Angel! And it was only because of that stupid curse the gypsies put on him."

Spike stood and approached Dawn in a menacing way that had sent people screaming for over a century. "Listen, brat," he growled. "I don't want to go over Angel's history in gory detail. Let's just say there's a lot o' stuff about the poof that you don't know and leave it at that."

"If Angel hurt her, it's because she's evil!" Dawn said defiantly.

Spike paused, standing half shrouded in shadow. "She IS evil, Niblet. I thought you knew that. Just as I am evil--"

"You aren't evil anymore."

"I see you have a lot to learn about me, and Angel, and what constitutes evil. But I don't have time to teach you. It's time for you to go home."

Spike made it to the door before he glanced back to where Dru lay. He felt more than saw her move. But it reminded him that Dru could wake at any moment and, for a myriad of reasons, he could not leave her alone. Spike looked down at Dawn. "I can't go with you. I'll stand here at the door and keep watch until you make it out of the graveyard. If trouble pops up, I'll take care of it. But it's early yet. Most vamps aren't early risers."

When Dawn stepped over the threshold, Spike said, "Wait!" He went to a chest in the corner then returned and handed Dawn a stake. "For luck," he told her then handed her a bottle of water.

"What's this?" Dawn asked.

"Holy water. It's come in handy a time or two in the past."

"Uh. . .thanks. . .I guess."

"Go home," he instructed abruptly.

"Okay."

"Straight home."

"Okay! I heard you the first time."

Spike stood in the doorway watching the girl walk out of the graveyard into the relative safety of the street with its glowing lights. He didn't go inside when she left his sight. With his preternatural hearing Spike listened for Dawn's footsteps long after she had left. He wanted no doubt that Dawn had safely found her way home. When sufficient time had passed he returned to his crypt.

He stood over Dru, watching her rest. How many decades had he done that? Stroked her long dark hair and held her slender body curled against his own as he breathed in her scent of vanilla, sandlewood and antique rose. Dru hadn't been warm, but she'd been a comfort, a constant, a presence he had not known he could live without.

Sometimes it felt as if Dru was as much a part of him as his hand or arm. When she had left him, it was as if she had cut out some vital organ, leaving a gaping wound. His heart had almost bled dry.

It had been years since Spike had watched Dru sleep. Years since she had left him standing on a street in Brazil. Dru's sudden reappearance after all this time frightened him. . .and he was not a creature that was easily frightened. It was just that as Dru lay there so mangled and ill used, Spike remembered the oath she had once made him swear.

They had slept in a room overlooking the river Arno as it snaked through Florence, Italy, though when Dru had begged for his promise, shutters had blocked the view. Sunlight had bled through the slats permitting tiny rays of heat and danger to creep across the floor as they lay entangled in one another's bare limbs.

"You'll kill me one day won't you?" Dru had asked.

"What?!" He'd been shocked. "Course I won't kill you."

"But you have to. There is no one else."

"Love, I promise you. I will never, ever kill you."

She had pouted. "So you don't love me? Not even a little bit?"

Spike had frowned. "Bloody hell, what do you mean?"

"If you don't kill me, who will? An angry mob? Some strange Slayer?" Dru had shaken her head. "Angelus killed me the first time. I didn't like it. Not at all. Don't want 'im killin' me again. He didn't love me."

Spike had stroked her hair. "You're immortal, Dru. You never have to die again."

She had looked at him with terrifyingly insightful eyes. "All things die, Spike. Even the things we wish wouldn't." Dru had sighed and risen from the tangled sheets. "If you won't kill me, I'll ask Darla."

"No," Catching her hand, Spike had pulled Dru away from the burning rays of light and into the safety of his arms. With his fingers lightly tracing the smooth, alabaster skin of her shoulder he had sworn, "When the time comes no one will touch you but me."

Dru had smiled. "You're the only one who loves me."

"You know it, baby."

"And you promise to kill me?"

"If that's the only thing that will make you happy."

Laying her palm flat against his naked chest, Dru had cooed, "I knew I was right to choose you." Then she placed her ear where her hand had been. "Such a strong heart you have, Spike. Sometimes I think I can still hear it beating. Thump. Thump. Thump. Steady and constant and sure. A strong heart. A good heart." Dru had lifted her head and smiled. "That's why I had to kill it."

That night had been over a hundred years before this one, but the promise hurt Spike as much today as it had then...so he concentrated on watching Dru breathe. It was habit overcoming lack of need. It meant Dru wasn't dead, and if Spike had any choice in the matter she would stay that way.

After the incident in Prague where he had saved Dru, he had nursed her back to health. He would do so again. That is what he had always done. That was why Angelus had allowed him to live. Angelus had told him that late one night on the isle of Capri in. . .oh. . .sometime in the late 1890s.

The night had been a clear deep blue with a fat round moon shining almost as brightly as the sun. The Mediterranean had glittered beneath the white cliffs where he and Angelus had sat watching a naked and laughing Drusilla play in the surf below.

"That was a stupid thing you did in Naples," Angelus had complained. "How many times have I told you to keep to the shadows? Do not attract attention to yourself."

"I like attention," Spike had told him.

"Don't I know it. Tell me, Spike, why do I let you live?"

"Because you like easy kills and don't want to challenge someone who might have a shot at beating you." Spike had then shot his grandsire his most obnoxious grin.

"I could take you. Make no mistake about that." Angelus had said it without inflection before gazing down to where Dru stood shimmering in the moonlight. "I let you live because of her. Someone has to look out for the mad creature, and I don't have the time or the inclination." He had looked at Spike. "But you do. That's why I allowed you to be made. That's why I allow you to live."

And that's all Angelus had ever said on the subject. Not long after that Angelus had been cursed by the gypsies and given a soul. He had become Angel and disappeared from their lives. Spike hadn't missed him. At least he not until Dru had extracted her deadly promise.

Spike wasn't sure how, but he had always known the promise had something to do with Angel. Dru had gone into some odd trance then looked at Spike demanding that he be the one to kill her. It had frightened him then. It frightened him now. . .because Dru knew things. She could see the future. It was part of what had driven her mad. But Spike was determined that this was one promise he would never have to keep.

Besides, Dru hadn't killed him, had she? Well, yes, technically she had. She had killed William the Bloody on a night long ago, but he hadn't been thinking about that. Spike was thinking about being left alone on a deserted street in Brazil.

He had offered his heart to Dru for the millionth time. "Just tell me what you want," he had begged.

"I want the Slayer dead, Spike."

But he couldn't do it. No matter how many times he had tried, he simply couldn't do it. Not her. Not this Slayer. Not then. Not now. Not ever. When Drusilla had confronted him with that fact, Spike had protested and rationalized, but Dru had seen straight through him. She always did...and then she had said he was ashes to her.

Drusilla, the cornerstone of his existence, had walked away leaving him alone in the dark.

Months later Spike had cried on Willow's shoulder. "She wouldn't even kill me!"

Willow had looked shocked by his words, but Spike had meant them. "She just left me," he had confessed. "She didn't even care enough to cut off my head or light me on fire. Was that so much to ask? Some little sign that she cared?"

Spike had sat with his head in his hands. "It was that truce with Buffy that did it. Dru said I'd gone soft; wasn't demon enough for the likes of her. I said it didn't mean anything. I was thinkin' o' 'er the whole time."

Actually what he had said to Dru had been, "Yes, I made a deal with the Slayer. But you were shaggin' Angel AND bringing about the Apochalypse to end life as we know it. So? Every couple's got their ups and downs, Love."

But Dru had ignored his pleas and left him for a Chaos Demon who was all brawn, slime and antlers. After that his life's path had become a circuitous one that lead him back to Sunnydale and to an infatuation with the Slayer that he could not seem to kick--though God knows he had tried.

Now Dru was back. She was tired and injured and there had been a hint of hopelessness in her voice. . .and Spike couldn't help feeling that she'd come home to demand that he fulfill his horrific promise.

Well, it wouldn't work. He'd do whatever he had to do to save her.

PART IV

Buffy held a crossbow aimed at Spike's heart. "Give it up, Spike. I mean it."

Spike squinted and stared at the Slayer through one eye since his hand covered the other. He was also nearly doubled over in pain. "You always mean it, yet here I am."

"Not for long. Not if you don't turn over your victim."

"Victim?" he asked in outrage. "I don't have a 'victim.'"

"Then who is Harmony dragging by the heels?"

Spike glanced down at the teenager on the ground. "Frat boy," he explained. "Had a few too many."

Buffy tilted her head slightly to one side. "And you were planning to do what? Find him a taxi and send him home?"

"Well I wasn't plannin' to eat him if that's what you're accusin'. I can't. You know that."

"Oh yeah, the chip in your head."

"That's right."

"The one that causes you blinding pain when you try to hurt someone."

"Yeah."

"So what's wrong with your eye, Spike?"

Pushing down a wave of nausea caused by blinding pain, Spike insisted. "I'm fine."

"Uh-huh. Just out for a midnight stroll with Harmony. I know you can't hurt people, Spike." Buffy nodded in Harmony's direction. "But she can. That's why she's here."

Harmony tapped Spike on the shoulder.

"What?" he demanded angrily.

"Spikey, maybe we should just drop this guy. Buffy's looking really mad and the trigger on those crossbow thingies can be really slippy."

"Harmony?"

"Yes, Blondie Bear?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "I'm going to be sick." She gazed up at Spike. "Blondie Bear?!"

He shot Buffy a chagrinned look. "Disgustin' isn't it?"

Harmony glanced between the two of them, and then began to pout. "Blondie Bear, this guy's getting heavy. Can't we just let him go?"

Spike laughed and wrapped his arm 'affectionately' around Harmony's shoulder. "Go? Now why would we have to let the bloke go when we're only helping 'im out. Just seein' that 'e makes it home safely. Friends don't let friends drive drunk and all that."

Harmony frowned. "I thought we were going to eat him."

Spike stepped back. "Harm! I'm shocked. Truly, deeply shocked."

Buffy huffed, "Do you think I'm buying this act?"

He arched a brow. "Don't know. Are you?"

"No." Buffy took a step closer. "Spike, you're looking kind of green. Are you sure that chip isn't electrocuting you?"

Spike frowned ferociously. "For the last time, I'm fine. I'm not plannin' on killin' the bugger. If I was, I'd be rolling around on the ground screamin'." Actually, killing HAD been the original plan. But every time Spike had allowed himself to think about it, he had found himself on the floor writhing in pain. It had only become manageable pain when he'd decided that somehow, some way he would prevent Dru from bleeding the victim dry.

Buffy seemed to understand the way his mind worked, or at least the way the chip worked. "You plan on bleeding him, but not killing him," she intuited.

Spike sighed. "Yeah." He tentatively opened his eye and found that he could see. In fact his headache had all but disappeared. "See. It's all harmless really. No need to pull out the stake and crossbow."

Buffy circled him. "This wouldn't have anything to do with your houseguest would it?"

"Houseguest?"

"Dawn told me."

"Bloody hell," he cursed. "Isn't that a fine kettle of fish. Well you can just forget whatever li'l sis told you." He started to walk away.

"Spike, you can't keep her," Buffy told him.

He faced the Slayer with bubbling outrage. "Keep her? What do you think Dru is? A bleedin' poodle?"

Buffy lowered her crossbow and with a warning glance in Harmony's direction she crossed the grass to where Spike stood. "If Drusilla was a poodle I'd let you keep her."

"This Slayer thing is really goin' to your head. You don't tell me what to do."

"Then consider it a 'friendly' warning. I let you live--"

"Because you can't beat me and you know it," Spike snapped.

Buffy began again, "I let you live because you aren't hurting people in Sunnydale." She glanced over her shoulder. "And I let Harmony live because she's too stupid to cause much trouble. But Drusilla? She's a homicidal maniac."

"She's misunderstood," he defended.

"She's insane, Spike."

"Yeah well, everyone's got flaws. Look at your Captain Cardboard."

Buffy's gaze narrowed. "Don't bring Riley into this."

"Why not? That's what this is about isn't it? I take away your boy toy, and now you're threatenin' to stake my Dru."

Buffy flushed. "You didn't take Riley. You didn't do anything with him."

"No, I didn't, did I? Wouldn't know that from the way you've been actin' though." Having gained the upper hand Spike began to circle the Slayer. "I didn't send him on those midnight jaunts to the trulls. That was him and him alone. He was the one what betrayed you, so why am I the one payin' the price? Killin' the messenger is what you're doin'."

"I haven't killed the messenger YET," Buffy warned. "Besides it was you, not Riley, who got off on hurting me."

Spike frowned in confusion. "Is that what you think? No, don't answer. I can see that's what you think. The fact is, no. I didn't show you what the pathetic sod was doin' just to hurt you. Not to hurt you at all, actually. Maybe to hurt 'im a little, but not you."

"Right," she scoffed. "Tell that to someone who's buying."

"It's the bleedin' truth, Slayer. I found out about 'im leavin' your bed and shackin' up the rest of the night--several nights actually-- with some vampire trull and for some reason I thought you might like to know about it. I didn't take the farm boy from you. This was him screwin' up a good thing."

Buffy shook her head. "It isn't Riley's fault."

"Phfaw! Course it is."

"No," she insisted. "It's mine. I pushed him away. I didn't give enough. I...I..."

"Had a real mind screw played on you. Who sold you this drivel about it bein' your fault?"

"No one!"

"Bet it was Soldier Boy. Must've been a good li'l speech to convince you that his infidelity is your fault."

"It wasn't like that!"

"Wasn't it? Let me guess, he was goin' to 'er because she was gave him somethin' you wouldn't or couldn't. If only you gave just a little bit more, paid just a bit more attention, not been stronger than him, or more interesting than him, or the Slayer, then he wouldn't have strayed."

Spike shook his head in disgust. He grabbed Buffy by the shoulders and for once she didn't shake him off. "Let's get one thing straight, Slayer. Soldier Boy's choices were HIS choices. His peccadilloes weren't your fault. They weren't my fault either. He's a big boy, and he made his own mistakes. He's responsible-- him and no one else."

Spike bent a little so that the two of them stood nose to nose. "Now, do we have that straightened out once and for all?"

Spike thought he saw a hint of tears in Buffy's eyes as she nodded.

"Right then." He straightened. "Time to go."

He was no more than three steps away when Buffy said, "You still can't keep her."

"Bloody hell! Are we back to Dru again? Thought we got that straight. I didn't take your boy and you can't take my girl."

Buffy climbed the small knoll where Spike stood. "Do you know why she's here?"

"She's here because Angel set 'er on fire."

Buffy blinked and staggered backwards. Spike caught Buffy before she tumbled down the hill.

Spike looked at her curiously. "Didn't know about that, did you?" He let Buffy go when she had regained her balance then shoved his hands into his pockets.

Buffy didn't back down. "Dru killed half a law firm in LA."

Spike shrugged. "So she's done 'er good deed for the decade."

"This is serious, Spike. She has to be put down."

Fury lit within him. "She's not a soddin' dog! She's hurt and scared, and she's come here for my protection. And Slayer or no Slayer, that's exactly what she's going to get."

"You can't fight me, Spike."

"The hell I can't. I don't care if it splits my noggin' in two. You harm one hair on my Dru's head, and I'll add one more Slayer to my list of kills."

Buffy caught her breath.

"Um. . .hey, guys!" Harmony called. "This guy's getting awfully heavy, and I think he's waking up. Ohmigod! I think he's going to puke!"

And he promptly did.

"Ew! Gross!" Harmony whined and dropped the kid. Obviously the frat boy had regained his senses enough to know that a graveyard in Sunnydale was a dangerous place to be. He scrambled to his feet and ran away without a backward glance.

Spike huffed and glared at Buffy. "See what you did. You ruined Dru's dinner."

"No, I didn't," Buffy corrected. "You decided a few minutes ago to let the guy go."

Spike crossed his arms. "And how do you pretend to know that?"

"Because your headache went away." She walked down the hill then glanced up at him. "I mean it, Spike. Get Dru out of town or I'll stake her."

"Spikey!" Harmony called. "The human ran away!"

"I noticed that, Harm."

"Are we going to have to catch another one?"

"Why do you ask that?"

"Because one's standing right here."

"Xander!" Buffy cried, but Xander didn't seem to hear her. He appeared to be busy glaring at Harmony.

"What?" Xander demanded, looking offended. "I'm just any old human now? Harmony, we went to high school together."

"Yeah, well, but I never liked you," Harmony said.

"Well, I never liked you either, but I know your name."

Harmony tossed her lustrous blonde hair over her shoulder. "Well of course you knew me. Everyone knew me. That doesn't mean I have to acknowledge you. You're beneath me."

"Harm!" Spike bit out harshly. "If you know what's good for you, you will shut the hell up."

"Why?"

Buffy raised her crossbow. "Because I might kill you for insulting my friend."

Harmony's jaw fell, and she turned pleading blue eyes toward Spike. "Blondie Bear, won't you help me?"

Xander mouthed, "Blondie Bear?"

Buffy nodded. "Sick isn't it."

Spike gazed dispassionately at his sometimes lover. "You've dug your own grave, Harm."

"Blondie Bear!" she cried. "You're being mean again."

Spike closed his eyes and worked very hard to control his frustration. "Harm, apologize to Xander and maybe the Slayer will let you live."

"Apologize?" Harm asked in disbelief. "To him?!"

"Harm." Spike's patience was running out. He started to wonder if he could borrow Buffy's crossbow.

"Alright, alright, Spikey." She turned to Xander. "I'm sorry for. . .well whatever it is you think I should be sorry for, though I'm not sure what that's supposed to be."

Xander frowned. "That's an apology?"

"Best one you're going to get, mate," Spike warned.

"Why?" Xander questioned. "Because she's a vampire?"

"No, because she's a conceited, air headed bint."

"Oh."

"Blondie Bear," Harmony called plaintively. "Mean again."

"Well at least you took the time and energy to notice," Spike muttered as he made his way down the hill to where the others stood.

Buffy asked Xander, "What are you doing here?"

Xander raked his hand through his hair. "Oh, I forgot. No one can find Dawn. I thought you should know."

"She ran away?" Buffy looked worried.

"Well, not so much," Xander clarified. "She's just missing at the moment. No reason to think she won't be back. She left a note. Something about fixing something she broke."

Spike looked back at the cemetery with its statues and headstones. "Bloody hell," he groaned and started to run.

Buffy was on Spike's heels when he made it to the clearing in front of his crypt. Xander had been left behind. There was no way he could possibly keep pace with the inhuman speed of vampire or Slayer. Buffy came to a halt beside Spike, and he knew without her saying a word that she was horrified by the sight that greeted them.

Dru stood with her arms wrapped around Dawn as Dawn struggled in vain to get away. Dru might be weak, but she was still a vampire.

Dru looked directly at Spike, "This unnatural thing lurked outside my door."

"Ugh!" Dawn grunted as she struggled. "Again, I'm human. You're a vampire. Who's the unnatural one here?"

"She sizzles in my arms, Spike. Like lightening in a storm." Dru looked at him in confusion. "It isn't right."

He approached Dru cautiously. "Then why not let her go, Pet?"

"But I wanted to know what lightening tastes like. You wouldn't deny me what I want would you? You swore you wouldn't. You swore on your grave."

"My grave's been lonely since you've been gone," He murmured in soft, loverlike tones. "Let her go and we'll go inside to be reacquainted."

"Lonely, huh?" Harmony scoffed. "What am I? Chopped liver?"

Spike turned on Harm ferociously. "Very possibly, if you don't shut your trap."

"Blondie Bear?"

"What?"

"I don't like the way you've been talking to me tonight. I don't like it one bit, and if you don't stop talking all mean and grumpy, I'm going to go home."

"And here I thought there might not be a God."

Harmony's lower lip jutted forward. "You aren't my boyfriend any more. Not even a little bit. And that means no sex. Not unless you ask very, very nicely."

He caught Harmony's arm. "Hey, Dru, I've got an idea. You give me Dawn there, and I'll let you eat Harm."

"Don't want Harm," Dru protested. "Vampires stick in my teeth." Dru cocked her head to the side. "Might kill her though. She hasn't been a good vampire. Not good at all."

Dru's dark gaze narrowed, and Harmony began to shake with real fear as she shrank behind Spike.

"Blondie Bear..." Harm cried piteously.

Drusilla's normally tranquil visage took on an angry cast. "He's MINE!" She bit out harshly. "I chose him. I made him. He belongs to me. I picked him out extra special, and you can't have him." Dru turned on Buffy. "Nor you either. I see you standing there in the light saying you don't but you do. Say it's not so, but you can't change what's true. All the little daggers that shoot from your eyes. They cut him and prick him, but he isn't yours to hurt. He's mine."

"Got to love a possessive woman," Xander said as he gasped for breath, having finally made it to the clearing after the dash across the graveyard. "What did I miss?"

"Dorcas is trying to kill me," Harmony announced.

"Oh really? Why's that?"

"Because I stole Blondie Bear from her."

Xander frowned. "Was that before or after she dumped him for a Chaos Demon in Brazil?"

Spike turned and glared at all of them.

Xander lifted his hands plaintively. "Hey, I'm just saying--"

Spike faced Dru. "How about Xander? He's not a vampire. You could eat him."

"Hey!" Xander protested. "If I'm dead who are you going to beat at pool? Without me you'd lose a hefty chunk of your cash flow."

"Right. Dru, ignore Xander."

But she didn't. Her eyes became hazy and deep as they often did when she looked into that other, distant world. "You have a good heart."

Xander smiled. "Yeah, I know. I was the heart of the super slayer last year."

"Slayer!" Dru hissed.

"But I can see where you might not like that," Xander rushed to say. "Forget I said it."

"I always do." Dru gazed dreamily at Xander. "Would you kill me?"

"Pet!" Spike cried. "You don't mean that."

"Well you won't do it!" she accused petulantly.

"But I will." Buffy raised her crossbow.

Spike stepped between the two women. "You would have to go through me first, Slayer."

"Don't think I wouldn't."

"Don't think you could."

"They're posturing again," Xander explained to Harmony, Dawn, and Dru. "They like to do this a couple times a week. Nothing ever comes of it though."

"Shut up, Xander," Buffy and Spike said in unison.

"Okay, but...um... before I do can I mention just one thing?"

Buffy sighed. "Just one."

"I think Dru's about to kill Dawn."

Spike spun around crying, "Dru, no!"

Dru gazed at him with tears in her hopeless eyes. "I have to or you won't keep your promise." A single tear coursed down her cheek. "I'm tired, Spike. And the voices don't stop any more. I drift for days and don't know where I am. There's no reason for this. None at all. Not now."

Spike searched in vain for something to say, some words to pierce her melancholy. He drew a blank but had to say something. "What's so different today than yesterday or the day that came before that? The burns will go away, Pet."

She shook her head. "Some scars heal, others don't."

"These scars will. They're almost healed now. You'll be good as new, Pet. Everything will be just like it was before."

"No, it won't," Dru insisted. "I told you. The shadow!"

"Angel?" Spike took a cautious step toward Dru. "You don't have to worry about Angel here." Then glancing at Buffy he amended, "But if you do, we don't have to stay here. I can take you to see the world again."

"Seen the world. Seen too much of it. Don't want it any more. There's no point in it."

"Because of what Angel did to you?" Spike asked in disbelief as three lifetimes of resentment of the older vampire bubbled to the surface. "If it's revenge you want, I'll be glad to exact it." And suddenly Spike became very aware of the crossbow trained at his back. Until now, Buffy's threats had been idle. Over the years, Buffy had more than ample opportunity to kill him, just as he'd had more than one shot at killing her. . .yet here they both stood. Unharmed. But if he threatened Angel? Yeah, Buffy would stake him over that.

Dru gave Spike a sad, sweet smile. "You can't get my revenge. Not after all these years."

All these years? Spike shook his head thinking he hadn't heard her correctly. "This isn't about what happened in LA?"

"Angel wasn't in the city of angels. I told you. There was only icy fog where he used to be. He did not care." Again her eyes filled with tears. "He saw all the pretty lawyers about to die and did not care!"

Buffy gasped. "No. That can't be true."

Dru turned her dreamily bewildered eyes toward the Slayer. It was probably the first time these two such starkly different creatures shared the same expression--shock, horror and confusion.

Dru's head tilted to the side as she talked quietly, intimately to Buffy. "It isn't Angel is it? Angel would not walk away. But he did. Why did he? He stood at the top of the stairs. Grandmummy said they would die, all the pretty men and women in suits full of wine and money. Angel would not walk away. He would never walk away, but HE did. Vile creature. HE said he did not care. Angel would have cared." Dru turned back to Spike asking in a lost voice. "He did not care! How can there be revenge on such a creature? How?"

Now Buffy sounded almost as lost Dru. "Angelus?"

"No!" Drusilla cried. "Not Angelus. I know Angelus well." Her hands slipped around Dawn, moving upward in a slow path until she covered the young girl's ears. "He came to me long ago."

Spike saw the tell tale signs, the swaying tempo of Dru's body, and the vague look in her eyes, that said that Dru was lost to them. She was somewhere in the far distant past or in the not too distant future. She chanted, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two days since my last confession. . ."

"More like two days and a century and a half," Buffy said under her breath. Spike didn't think the Slayer meant to be heard, but he heard her all the same.

Dru's voice became choked and tearful, and her words were full of fear. "I've been seeing again, Father. Didn't try to, I swear! But yesterday the men were going to work in the mine and I had a terrible fright, my stomach tied all in knots and I saw a horrible crash, men screaming in the dark. . .my mum said to keep my peace, it didn't mean nothing. . ."

"Love," Spike said soothingly as he stealthily drew near. "This was all very long ago, before even I was born. Don't go dredging up past uglies. Don't torture yourself so."

But Drusilla was lost somewhere in her dark, horrible past. Tears filled her eyes. "My mum says I'm cursed. My seeing things is an affront to God. That only He is supposed to see anything before it happens. But I don't mean to, Father, I swear. I try to be pure in His sight, and I do my penance. I don't want to be an evil thing."

"Talk about a family dysfunction junction," Xander whispered into the dark. "Makes my mom sound like mother of the year."

Dru didn't seem to hear. She heard another voice, a darker one. . .an evil one. "Please, do not call me a devil. I'm not a spawn of Satan! I'm not! I want to be good! I want to be pure!"

Xander frowned. "I'm confused, was it her mother or the priest calling her that?"

Spike gave the younger man a dark look before growling, "Neither."

"Help me!" Drusilla cried. "Oh please, help me! He comes for me. Oh God! Dear God. PLEASE!"

Xander shook his head. "I still don't get it. Who's she talking about? Who told her these things? Who scared the bejesus out of her?"

Spike's gaze as it settled on Xander was pitiless, and exasperated. "Who do you think? Angel."

Dru's insane reverie continued unabated. "It's dark? How did it become so dark? And there is blood, so much blood. Papa went first, then my mum. One by one he took them all. Mother. Father. Sisters three. He pushed me to the side. Watch he told me. Oh God, my family. They scream. They scream before they die. They scream as they do. They're scream now. When will they stop screaming? Stop screaming!" she commanded in rising hysteria. "I tell you to stop screaming!"

Pain welled inside Spike. Pain for his tortured, demented Dru. "Please, Pet, come to the present. The past will only hurt you." Or destroy you, he thought. Destroy all that was left of you when Angelus was done.

Dru shook her head in bewilderment. "Why didn't he kill me? He could have killed me." Dru's piercing gaze pinned Buffy. "He did not kill me. Why? Why make me watch then leave me in a pool of blood so dark. . .it was almost black. . .so I added my own. A kitchen knife across my throat. Whack. Whack. Kindest cut was my own."

Buffy shuddered as Dru looked into unseen faces and cried, "No, Sisters. I cannot be saved. I do not want to be. Can't you see? They all died. Died for no cause but me. Kill me and mayhap you'll be spared."

Dru sank onto the ground pulling Dawn down with her. Dawn's face twisted in terror as she began to struggle. She should struggle, Spike thought. Dru was out of control and unless this nightmare was brought to a swift end, Drusilla might kill Niblet in a fit of madness.

Dru began to rock, almost as if she meant to comfort not only herself but the horrified Dawn. "Sisters of Mercy, don't you see?" Dru wailed. "He had none. Not pity. Nor kindness neither. There is no grace or peace. Not heaven--just hell. Hell for the likes of me. Sisters, please!"

Silence overtook the graveyard. Spike, Xander, Buffy and Harmony did not move or make a sound They stood transfixed by the horror of Dru's agonized screams. "Black and white and red! Against the wall and on the floor. All around me, falling one by one 'till there are no more. . .and no me either."

"He comes again!" Dru sobbed. "He will not be denied. Sisters pay for mercy with life and blood. They lie like dust beneath his feet. Crunch beneath his toes making blood like wine."

Dru laughed hysterically, a sobbing laugh full of defiance and misery. "I would not see. I won. I was no longer there. I fly in stars and hide in clouds. I was not there when he brought grandmother to see. I was not there when his cravat fell to the floor, followed by shirt and trousers too. I was not there as he fell over me, taking soul and virtue. I was not there!"

Buffy looked sick.

Dru looked destroyed.

"Kill me! For pity's sake, kill me!" Dru screamed. "But he would not let me go. He would not let me die." Her face transformed to vampire and insistence entered her crying tone. "Hurt me then. Make me suffer for surviving when all I loved did not. Pain and punishment are all that make life worthwhile."

Dru didn't sound like herself, Spike thought. There was too much logic in what she said...though it was tortured logic at best.

"Angelus hurt me. Called me evil and vile." Dru smiled her sad, ghastly smile. "I lived to be punished and Angelus did it best."

Without conscious volition, Spike found his gaze drifting toward the Slayer. There was a green cast to Buffy's face as shock and disgust colored her eyes. Her expression was similar, but in some ways worse, than the one Spike had seen on her face when he had exposed Riley Finn's betrayal.

Spike realized that he was doing it again, showing Buffy things she would rather not see, things that perhaps she should never have known. He tore away a veil of trust and hope and showed her the ugly truths that lay beneath. He wished he could be someone else, someone who didn't find himself shoving truths in her face saying, "See! This is what happens around you when you do not look! These are the things you do not know." He could lie to within a inch of his unlife, so why did he keep bringing the truth to this one girl? Why could he not stop himself? Why did he do these things when it only brought pain to her eyes and disgust to her face when she looked at him? What was it he so badly wanted Buffy to see?

"If you could only see me," a voice spoke to Spike from the past. William's voice. . .his OWN voice so long denied.

Bollocks. What was he doin' moonin' over the Slayer when Dru was cryin' out in pain and the Slayer stood with a stake ready impale his heart? In the past the choice had been simple. Bloody hell, there had been no choice at all. Kill the Slayer, drag Dru into his arms and off they would go to make a merry hell elsewhere. . .but those days were dead or dying. Choices came harder now. At some point the lines between right and wrong, love and desire had blurred to the point that Spike no longer knew where one ended and the other began. He couldn't decide where in the spectrum he stood. . .except that he stood between these two women that he loved but who did not love him.

Dru was sobbing now. "Daddy went away. Angelus was gone." She looked up imploringly. "How could I live without Daddy to hurt me?"

Abruptly Dru's tears stopped and her face lit with madly fierce glee. She began to laugh, a loud, unfettered, wild laugh that sent chills down Spike's spine as Dawn looked up at him with abject terror in her young eyes. Spike frowned. Dawn should be terrified. Dru was beyond reason or sanity. She was disintegrating before their eyes.

"Angel!" Dru cackled. "Oh he suffers so. What wonderful vengeance. What beautiful pain. I am thorn in his side, memory he cannot forget. I'm am the face of horrors HE created. I am the evil he made but cannot bring himself to stop. Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it grand? Oh how he turns away. The shame of it tears him down. I am the blood of my mother, and father and sisters three crying for vengeance from beyond the grave. I am the specter bathed in the blood of the Sisters of Mercy who found none in him. What a perfect picture. What a fitting end."

Dru tilted her head to the side, Dawn's fagile skull still clasped in her unnaturally strong hands.

"Only it was not the end," Dru said in confusion. "He sat in the dark, in the city of angels, but Angel was not there, not Angelus neither. He was dark and cold and did not care. I look in his eyes. Nothing is there. Not pain or grief or guilt. Not punishment or admonition. Nothing. There's nothing left for me to do."

Her gaze drifted toward Spike. "Nothing but you."

Spike could hear Buffy's quickly indrawn breath.

Dru looked up at the stars. "Sisters of Mercy said God protects. God has mercy. He has pity on our souls." She frowned. "Pity on our souls but nothing else?"

With sudden, unprecedented clarity Dru looked directly at Spike, really looked at him. Maybe for the first time, maybe for the only time in all their years together Dru seemed to see him without a cobweb of dreams and nightmares. "We lost our souls for no crime," she cried to him. "We did no wrong--save to have hearts we could not defend. He broke me, and I stole you. Your heart gleamed in darkness. It was bright and true. I wanted it for my own. . .to replace all that I had lost."

Crystalline tears coursed down Dru's pale, gaunt cheeks. "You were gentle. Kind and good. You offered love even where it was not wanted...but I wanted. I wanted so badly...I needed too."

Dru's eyes drifted closed, shielding her torment from prying eyes though her tears still gave testament to more grief than any creature should bear.

Dru said with quiet, terrifying sanity. "I stole you with promises that were not true. I took you from light to this hell. I cursed you because you alone had heart enough to love me."

Spike ached to touch her, to comfort Dru. To brush away her tears and place a tender kiss on her brow. Dru's lashes lifted and by the look in her eyes, Spike was aware that Dru knew exactly what he was feeling. She knew every word he would say before he could even think to say it. She knew. His past. His present, and his future. . . She knew.

"I'm sorry," Dru cried. "If I knew mercy I would give it to you. If I could find saving grace, it would be yours. Even now, in darkness your heart has some light. I hear the echo of its beating. A hundred and score years gone and still it lives. It mocks me, making my curse complete. The only one to love me, I cursed to a death without love. . .or mercy. Alone and in the dark, forever shunned by the light you sought." With shoulders slumped, no longer defiant and proud . . .or even remotely mad, Dru looked to Buffy. "I fled thinking one more rich in hope could lead the way to grace. But there is no mercy. There is no reprieve. A curse once given cannot be wished away. God turns a blind eye when old, dark hearts shatter like glass."

Dru gazed sorrowfully at Spike, tears once again brimming in her eyes then spilling over. "God has pity on our souls," she told him. "But nothing else."

And he saw the moment. He knew the decision was made. Dru released her last lingering tie to sanity and gave way to the voices, the pain and the madness within as she brutally pushed against the fragile bones of Dawn's skull.

"No!" Spike could not allow this to happen. He could not allow this nightmare to be. He lunged forward and yelled in blistering pain as something pierced his back, tearing through his skin and muscle and bone.

Buffy had staked him!

"Slayer!" he roared, looking in disbelief at the viciously sharp wooden stake protruding from his chest just below his collar bone. She had missed his heart by inches.

"I SAID crossbows could be slippy," Harmony crowed.

Spike's gaze locked with Buffy's. He knew just where he stood--BETWEEN Buffy and Dru. He hadn't been the target. She had meant to kill Dru.

Fury lit inside him. It could not be contained. A word ripped through him, tearing at his vocal chords as it willed itself to life. "No!"

In pain and fury and encroaching despair, Spike pulled the stake THROUGH his shoulder, unaware that his agony transformed his face into that of a demon. "I warned you, Slayer. I will NEVER allow you to hurt my Dru."

But Buffy didn't waver. She didn't bend. "Then I'll kill you, Spike. I won't let her murder my sister."

Spike looked for any hesitation or doubt in Buffy's gaze. There was none. She spoke only the truth. Buffy would not, could not allow her sister to be killed, and part of Spike knew that he could not ask it of her. . .just as he could not allow her to hurt Dru.

This was hell then. Spike had spent a hundred years avoiding it, but here he stood, trapped between two women he loved.

Two more diametrically opposed creatures could not be imagined--ethereal Dru, full of dreams and nightmares, childlike after a hundred and sixty years of living, and the strong and vibrant Buffy, so burdened by responsibility that he feared she would grow old before her time...if she was allowed to grow old at all.

Spike hurt for them both. Grieved for them too, for all either would appreciate it. Both beauties were sirens luring him to his terrible fate. One love mired in madness and death no matter how he tried to save her . . .and another who would not accept his heart if he offered it up on a silver platter.

Neither woman was his, or would be his, or COULD be his.

Spike was alone, as he had been all along. As he would always be. He was cursed after all. . .and Spike realized now, some things would ALWAYS be beyond his reach. Some things were never meant to be, though his heart tried in vain to will itself back to life, to pursue lost dreams of love. Only there were things that could not be had for the asking.

And as he looked at Dru holding an innocent girl's life in her hands, Spike knew that some things could never be denied.

Dru nodded. The time had come. Spike couldn't explain it. How had a choice have been made when he was so unwilling to make it? If he had found it impossible to choose who to love. . .how could he have chosen who to kill?

Dru sighed. It was neither happy or sad, just deep and perhaps. . .well, Spike could be wrong but it was like a the last sigh of life he had heard on so many victims' lips. The last breath given when one knew there would be no more. It was surrender...or peace.

A slight Mona Lisa like smile drifted across Dru's pale but beautiful face. Dru looked human again, and her scars were almost completely gone--not that Spike had ever really noticed them anyway. She was beautiful. As beautiful as she must have been as a young, innocent girl, before nightmares and demons had come to claim her.

"The end," Dru said in a soft voice and closed her eyes...and began tightening her fingers around Dawn's skull.

Dawn began to scream in terror and in pain. The child's cries pierced the night causing birds in the trees above them to flutter and take flight in a whoosh of air and chaos.

Buffy raised her crossbow, but hesitated. Spike still stood between her and her target, between her and her sister's life.

Dawn's screams rose in pitch becoming high and thin and heartbreaking. "Oh God!" she cried.

And Dru bent close to Dawn's ears whispering just loudly enough for only Dawn and Spike to hear. "God doesn't want you, unnatural thing." And Dru's hands tightened and began to twist Dawn's head. . .she was going to break the child's neck.

Dawn's wail split the air.

"Dru, no!" Spike dove forward, impaling Dru with the stake covered in his own blood.

For an instant--a fraction of a second-- Dru's gaze met Spike's, and she smiled... then disintegrated in his hands.

"Dru no!" he cried. "No!" Dust fell through his fingertips. "No, no, no. Please come back. You must come back. Dru!" He sounded like a wounded animal as he buried his face in his hands, hands covered in the dust of the woman who had seduced his heart and soul. The woman he had followed to the ends of the earth, to death and beyond. The woman he was not sure he could live without. "Dru. . ."

Buffy took a hesitant step forward, but Spike lifted his hand as if to ward her off. "Slayer," he growled. "Leave me be. Leave US be." He fell to his knees. His head was bowed as he moaned, "Just leave."

Dawn lay on the ground looking up at Spike with huge innocent eyes. He offered the child his hand, and drew her to her feet. When Dawn would have spoken, Spike shook his head. "Just go, Niblet."

Dawn didn't move for a long moment, she just dropped her hand on his shoulder. He could have wept over that small, simple gesture if he was not already silently weeping from heartrending grief. Spike gave Dawn a nod of acknowledgment so that she could throw herself into her older sister's arms, sobbing out her pain and fears as Spike could not allow himself to do.

Buffy held Dawn, her hand gently at the back of sister's head, the other around Dawn's trembling shoulders...but Buffy's gaze remained on Spike. He knew it. He felt it. And he returned the look--whatever it was. It could have been empathy. . .or loathing. Resentment, or the silent communication of two creatures who knew what it was like to kill what you loved best in all the world. Whatever it was, it was there and then it was over.

Picking up her crossbow-- and mercifully grabbing Harmony across the mouth--Buffy, her friend and her sister disappeared into the night leaving Spike alone--terribly alone--in his own unremitting darkness.

PART IV

The graveyard was quiet and the moon was full as Buffy moved through it. There wasn't much action tonight, which meant she should probably patrol somewhere else. . . but she didn't. He was here. Buffy looked up to the top of the crypt where Spike silently sat.

If Spike was someone else, Buffy might think she was worried about him. Worried that he was spending too much time brooding when it wasn't in his nature to brood. Worried that he might do something rash like try to stake himself again or perhaps simply sit on the roof of his crypt until the sun rose. But she wasn't worried, Buffy told herself. She was irritated. Irritated because she was here patrolling a graveyard that didn't really need patrolling because Spike had pretty much staked claim to it (no pun intended). Most vamps were wise enough not to cross him.

Buffy was irritated that she'd been by his crypt every night this week, and Spike hadn't looked at her even to insult her--not even to tell her that her hair looked stupid.

Okay! So she was worried. Sue her. She had gotten rather used to their verbal battles and when they weren't having them, things just seemed . . . seemed. . .not right. Her world was off kilter somehow.

"I'm sick of you ignoring me." Buffy was shocked to hear her own voice. Had she really meant to say that out loud?

"Not ignorin' you," Spike answered but it was a listless answer. "Just don't feel like playin' some bloody game with you is all."

"You're brooding."

His brows drew down sharply over his eyes. "Am not. Take that back. I do NOT brood."

"Could've fooled me."

"Look, Slayer," he growled. "Your eyesight must be goin' bad. You got the wrong vampire. This vamp doesn't brood."

"Then prove it."

He crossed his arms. "Don't need t'. I'm sulkin' not broodin'. Not the same thing at all."

Buffy found herself frowning as she climbed up to the roof of his crypt. "You're sure it's just sulking?" Damn, was that worry in her voice? Concern? If she was becoming concerned about Spike...well just stake her now.

Spike glared at her. "Are you here just to irritate me?"

Buffy had to smile. "Looks like."

"Well you're doin' a bloody good job of it."

Then they both fell into silence, looking up at the big, fat moon that hung low in the sky.

Buffy sighed. "I wish I could say I was sorry she was dead. I wish. . ."

"Yeah, yeah, Slayer. Don't feel like you have to make the right noises. You Slayer. Me vampire. Dru vampire. I know the drill. Let's not pretend it was anything different."

It was different though. Maybe she had never really wanted to acknowledge it, but in the weeks since Dru's death it had slowly come to Buffy that somehow this was different.

Night after night she went on patrol, staking vampires when they crossed her path. It's what Buffy did, and she did it remorselessly for the most part. They were creatures she didn't know and didn't care to know, but Spike, Dru and Angel were different.

How many vampires had she crossed? Hundreds. And how many did she know their human faces? Not many. Not many at all, but in the years Buffy had known Angel, Spike, and Dru, it was their human face that she knew best of all. Only rarely did they show the other. Perhaps there was some logical explanation she didn't know. They all belonged to the same blood line, they were "related" in a way. Maybe it was a peculiarity of their clan, something that set them apart from the others. . .or maybe Buffy was just grasping at straws because once she allowed herself to look beyond the demon curse to see the lost souls beneath, the world would become a darker place, a place where the lines between right and wrong, good and evil would become far less clear.

Unwillingly, Buffy allowed herself to look into Spike's face, to really look, to really SEE him. He was handsome. The aquiline lines and planes of his features could have been sculpted by an artist as an astonishing example of stark male beauty. There was an aura about him suggesting energy, passion, and an irrepressible nature...and there was more. There was longing in his eyes that for the first time she saw were not black but midnight blue. There was a hint of gentleness in the curve of his mouth, and searing grief in the way he bowed his proud head.

There was love in him. Whatever else there might be. Whatever rage and wildness and death--there was love. A wealth of it, an unending supply. How else could he have loved a wounded, hissing creature like Dru for not one lifetime but many? What kind of heart would it take to love so unselfishly for so very long? And how might that heart be breaking now?

"If it's any help, I think Dru wanted--"

Spike cut her off. "I know what Dru wanted, Slayer. I know why she sought me out. This was the ending she planned."

But it didn't help. Buffy knew that too. She also knew what it was like to kill what you loved. The grief could kill you if you let it, and Spike wasn't looking so good.

"I'm not gonna stake myself if that's what that look's for," he grumbled.

"Did I say you were going to stake yourself?"

"No, but you thought it. Don't deny it." He sighed then rolled his eyes. "I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but you're givin' me too much credit."

Buffy watched him. "This coming from the vamp that wondered why Dru didn't cut off his head and set him on fire instead of leaving him?"

"I can be dramatic sometimes."

"You loved her." Buffy couldn't quite believe she was insisting on this.

"More than life? Yeah. More than death?" He looked away from Buffy. "Apparently not."

"I don't understand."

Spike began to look restless, edgy--well, at least he was beginning to look like Spike again. The super still, brooding thing had creeped her out.

"Quick and simple?" he asked in an impatient voice. "I killed a creature I loved, and before you say a word about Angel trying to Hoover the world into the seventh ring of hell and you staking him, let me say this was different. I didn't love Dru for a year or two. I loved her for a hundred and twenty. That's twice many human lifetimes. That's five times longer than the average Slayer expiration date."

Then Spike looked at her, and Buffy almost gasped. In the deep, dark blue of his eyes she saw confusion and even despair. She never thought she would see Spike in real despair. Dramatic angst? Sure. But lost soul despair? Never.

But there he was with eyes so blue and so deep she lost her reflection in them as Spike said the most unexpected, nonsensical thing that Buffy could imagine. "You know, fleas helped create western civilization."

Glancing around as if some headstone in the graveyard could explain what he meant Buffy searched for answers. "What?"

"In the middle ages. The black death. The plague. It was caused by fleas on rats."

Buffy frowned. "Yeah, so?"

"So, all these peasants and serfs got killed off. Helped the labor market. Up until then you were born, you lived, you died all on a little piece of land owned by some toff in the castle. Nothin' you could do about it. But after the plague, if some Lord got the idea to jack up the rents the serf could tell him to sod off. He could pick up his things and move to the next town 'cause there was another toff needing someone to till his fields. It was a workers market, so to speak. Cities and towns got created because the little guy suddenly had a choice about what he wanted to do."

Buffy was completely confused. "And the point of this little history lesson would be?"

Spike pinned her with his darkly beautiful blue gaze. "The point being, even pestilence has a purpose." He turned again to face the night. "My purpose was to love Dru. To protect her. Even when I wasn't with her, I knew she was somewhere in the world, and if she needed me all she'd have to do is let me know. I wouldn't turn her away. I couldn't."

Spike sighed. "She came here because she'd lost her reason to go on. For a while, Dru lived to be punished for having lived. . .or at least for having survived her death. Then she lived because deep down she knew her existence was a burr under Angel's saddle. She was the monster that he'd created but couldn't bring himself to kill. She became his punishment. Only the poof doesn't seem to be interested in masochism any more. He's beyond that and is in some deep dark place where he just doesn't care. Not bothered much by guilt if you can set a girl on fire, now are you? And if Angel wasn't sufferin' Dru didn't have a reason to stick around. She no longer served a purpose."

Buffy cringed. Even if Dru had been evil, Buffy didn't like to hear about some of the horrible acts Angel was capable of committing. Buffy remembered a time of two...or three or four where she had mocked Spike's affection for Dru. But how judgmental could Buffy be about Spike loving a monster, when for so long she had loved the monster who had created Dru?

"The thing is, Dru was right. All things die," Spike mused. "They go out spectacularly with a bang, or they just quietly slip away when they stop serving any kind of purpose. Not to sound all hoity-toity philosophical or anything, but what purpose do I serve? Why am I here if there's no point in it?"

Spike glanced over his shoulder. "Feel like staking a vamp tonight?"

Buffy was shocked, surprised, and more reluctant than she would ever admit. "Can't do it if you want it. It's against Slayer policy."

"Coward." Again he bowed his head. "I killed her though. Without a thought. Just did it."

"To protect Dawn."

He lifted his head. "You think? Nah, that can't be it. You hero. Me villain. It's that simple."

Was it?

Spike shook his leonine head. "No, I killed what I loved. What I needed. The one thing that gave my existence meaning. Takes real evil to do that."

For once Spike didn't sound proud. He didn't sound eager to be bad, or scheming. . .Spike sounded lost.

"I am evil." He said it as if it was a sudden, shocking realization.

Buffy couldn't understand her urge to say no. No, he was more than that. That look in his eyes HAD to be more. . .Didn't it? She caught him looking at her.

As if Spike knew of her uncharacteristically charitable thoughts he repeated for her benefit, "Even pestilence has a purpose. Fleas can free the masses, and a vampire can do the odd good deed. . .but make no mistake I AM a scourge. If I can kill what I love, I can kill anything -- even the ghost of humanity still left inside me. And if that's dead then no one is safe . . .not even me." He looked at her, and Buffy wondered what REAL truth was hidden by his deep blue gaze. She was starting to think not even Spike knew for sure.

"I'm evil," he said quietly.

But was he? Was he really? Or was Spike, like her, groping blindly for answers, desperate to make sense of the world and his place in it?

Buffy was sad. Spike's resignation made her sad. Spike calling himself 'evil' was nothing more than what she'd said to his face a thousand times. That he was vile, evil, irredeemable. . .and yet. . .and yet. . .what had Dru said? That even in darkness his heart held some light? Could Buffy truly not allow herself to pity a creature who loved for lifetimes? Who could sacrifice his own reason to live...for love? For no reason but love.

Whatever else Spike may be, whatever fate Spike might meet, he loved; and it was a pity he had never been loved equally well in return. Buffy followed the line of Spike's vision and noticed a new headstone just below his crypt. Only two words were etched on the granite--perhaps because Spike couldn't afford for it to say anything more. Two words.

Drusilla. Beloved.

And Buffy felt a tear fall from her lashes for two cursed creatures the world didn't allow to be pitied. Two creatures who were cursed for no wrong they had committed in life, but who faced death and eternal damnation with fierce pride, defiance, laughter and love. It was almost heroic in a way.

Buffy gazed at the handsome lines of a beautiful male face, Spike's face, and wished she had known the gentle soul that Drusilla said she had met long ago. Buffy found herself wishing that she could have saved him.

And so the enemies who might have been friends sat under the silent gaze of Dawn's broken angel. . .

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