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Previous Chapter: Chapter 4
Next Chapter: Chapter 6

1630 Revello Drive. It had been a while since Spike had been there last. Just the once since he’d been disinvited, when he’d wanted to leave flowers for Joyce. And now, here he was again, following Buffy across the lawn to help with preparations for the upcoming mission to rescue Dawn.

Everything had gone all pear-shaped. Of course it bloody well had. Sod’s law was a right nasty bastard, swooping in to muck things up whenever it could. It would have worked, too, Buffy’s plan to just get the bloody hell out of Sunnydale and keep on driving. Turned out Glory had a time limit. But that sodding group of knights hadn’t been content to let things lie. They’d been so set on keeping the Key from Glory that they’d ended up all but gift wrapping the girl for the hellgod. It was almost funny, really. The sort of thing Spike would have got a good laugh over if he hadn’t been caught up in it all.

He shook his head to clear it as he and Buffy reached the front door. She unlocked it and swept on through, leaving him to face something he’d been trying not to think on since he’d realized where they were going. He couldn’t follow her inside. He flashed back to the last time he’d tried, confused at first, then heartbroken when he’d realized the timing didn’t add up.

He’d had it coming after that daft stunt with the chains and all. He could blame it on Dru and the buzz from the dead woman he’d fed on, the combination of it all making him snap for a bit. It was true enough, but he’d always been one to own up to his mistakes. He’d buggered things up enough to earn the disinvite. He just wished it had happened because of that, and not because she’d found out he was in love with her.

His love had hurt her. It had made her afraid. It had destroyed her trust in him so badly that only the torture he’d endured had started to bring it back. His love had done that, and he hated himself for it.

“The weapons are in the chest by the TV,” Buffy said, breaking into his thoughts. “I’ll grab the stuff upstairs.”

He blinked. Did she expect him to…? “Uh, Buffy….” She turned towards him, a confused expression on her face as he lifted his hand to wave at her. A lot had happened in her life since the disinvite. It wasn’t out of the question that she’d forgot all about it. He could demand to be let in, to point out that there wasn’t much he could do from outside, but he wasn’t going to do that to her. “If you wanna just hand them over the threshold, I’ll—”

“Come in, Spike.”

No hesitation. No indication that she had any qualms about letting him back in. In fact, she sounded… welcoming. Warm. Like she actively wanted him in her home. He took a slow step over the threshold, a smile crossing his face as he was able to walk inside.

“Hmm. Presto. No barrier.”

They looked at each other for a moment, and he realized exactly what had happened. She hadn’t forgot about the disinvite, or that he was a vampire like Xander had back at the abandoned petrol station. She’d invited him back into her life, into some little nook of her heart even if she didn’t love him. With all else going on, it just hadn’t occurred to her that she needed to verbally invite him back into the house as well.

Spike broke eye contact and headed into the living room. Time was ticking, and they had to save the little bit. He wasn’t going to let her die. Not if there was anything he could do about it.

“Um, won’t bother with the small stuff. Couple of good axes should hold off Glory’s mates while you take on the lady herself.”

He opened up the chest and started taking things out, trying to ignore the tension between them. He felt like he was walking on a tightrope, like any wrong move would destroy the spiderwebs holding him together and send him plummeting. They were getting ready to go up against a god. Any or all of them could end up very dead. Except for someone who’s immortal, the thought whispered through his mind. If they had the Dutchman on their side….

“We’re not all going to make it,” Buffy suddenly said, mirroring his thoughts.

“Yeah.” He selected a few of the weapons and walked back towards her. Maybe it would only be him dying tonight, if he could somehow keep everyone else safe during the fight. “Hey, always knew I’d go down fighting.” Better that way than wasting away as someone’s lunch for seven years.

“I’m counting on you… to protect her.”

“Till the end of the world,” he said quietly, meaning every word of it. “Even if that happens to be tonight.”

If it happened that night…. If they failed…. If it came to that, would having the Dutchman on their side have made a difference?

“I’ll be a minute,” Buffy said after a moment.

“Yeah.” As she turned to go up the stairs, thoughts and feelings crowded through him, and he had the sudden certainty that one or the other of them wasn’t going to make it through the night. Let it be me. It should be me. “I know you’ll never love me,” he blurted out, making her pause and look back at him.

She wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Neither one of them could change what they were. Sometimes it didn’t seem to matter to her. She’d expect him to behave like a human and hold him to a standard higher than the one she held her mates to. It was frustrating at times and hardly fair, but when she did that…. It made him feel….

“I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man. And that’s….” His throat closed up, unable to force out anymore words as Buffy stood there and silently gazed at him. No flippant remarks. No mocking. Just letting him speak and giving his words and feelings the right to exist. “Go get your stuff. I’ll be here.”

He watched as she walked up the stairs, then closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. He was teetering on the edge of the abyss. If he pulled back, there was the chance, no matter how slim, that they would all make it. They had a plan. A right good one, too. But it don’t change the fact that we’re facing a bloody god.

He put the weapons he’d gathered down and reached into his pocket for the slip of paper with the phone number for the Dutchman’s hotel room. He’d promised to protect Dawn to the end of the world, whether that be tonight or a million years in the future. If he did this, he’d only be keeping her safe for this one event.

Unless….

There was a moment of utter clarity, and Spike knew exactly what he had to do.

 

 

Somehow, they’d made it. Buffy honestly hadn’t expected it. She’d thought they’d lose someone. She’d thought…. Well, she’d thought maybe it was finally her time. She’d survived longer than most slayers. That was why she’d asked for Spike’s promise. If something had happened to her, he was the best one to protect her sister. He’d let himself get tortured — without any hope of rescue — for Dawn. Yeah, a lot of that had been for Buffy herself, but she knew he’d done it for Dawn, too.

But it hadn’t come to that. They’d all survived, in part because of Spike’s strange immortal friend with the retractable tentacles. The one he hadn’t bothered to tell any of them about for some reason. Maybe he hadn’t been sure the man would help or something. Maybe—

“Never fear, the Xan-man is here to save the day!” Xander announced, cutting into her thoughts as he burst in through the door of the Magic Box, a stack of pizza boxes in his arms.

Buffy smiled at his antics, the irritation that had been building suddenly just gone. She didn’t know why Spike had kept things quiet about his friend until the last minute, but he had been there through it all, at her back at times when even her friends had had their doubts. That was why they were having the victory celebration now, over twelve hours after the fact. Spike was able to get into the Magic Box just fine during the day, but they’d waited until night so he’d be safer and more comfortable. Also, because it had been just before sunrise when they’d finally rescued Dawn, and they’d all been super exhausted.

She glanced around the store, watching everyone as Giles and Xander worked together to put the pizzas down on the research table. There was Dawn, safe and happy as she opened up one of the boxes and pulled out a slice. Willow and Tara were sitting near each other, laughing as the redhead tried to feed the other woman. She was back to normal now, her brain all unsucked. Her hand was still broken, though, and Willow didn’t seem to want to let go of the other one. It was sweet.

So were Xander and Anya. The ex-vengeance demon slipped an arm around him before grabbing a slice of pizza for herself. Buffy was still a little weirded out by Anya’s former job, but she had to admit that the two of them made a good couple. Yeah, she’d been a demon, but she really did love him. She was acclimating to being a human again. And to being one of the good guys. Just like….

Buffy’s attention wandered from her friends, drawn to Spike. He always seemed to be hanging around, trying to be part of things. Now that he was, though, he was off by himself, arms wrapped around his middle as he stared down at the floor. They hadn’t exactly been all welcoming towards him, especially after she’d found out he thought he… after she found out he had… feelings for her. Did he think it still applied and he was just too tired to push where he didn’t feel wanted? Or maybe….

I know you’ll never love me. How hard had it been to admit that? Especially to himself. She had the feeling that he’d done it at some point before the creepy Buffybot. That meant that everything he’d done for them… for her… had been with that thought hovering over him. The idea that she’d never love him.

She lightly bit her bottom lip, remembering how he’d looked in her house. The wonder and gratitude when she’s invited him back in. The sincerity and conviction as he’d promised to protect Dawn. The raw vulnerability as he’d gazed up at her and tried to tell her how he felt.

I know you’ll never love me.

I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man.

She knew what he was. She never forgot that he was a vampire. But most of the time… most of the time, she didn’t really treat him like one. Well, she kind of did, with the occasional taunting and the nose punching and everything, but after the parent-teacher night, she’d never really thought of him the same way as most vampires. He had depth. Personality. Witty banter. Good personal grooming habits. He’d been just as much a person in her mind as a vampire.

He shifted, the shop’s lights reflecting off of something around his neck that drew Buffy’s notice. She’d been too focused on Dawn last night to really pay attention, but she vaguely remembered the immortal tentacle dude giving Spike a necklace before the fight. It was beautiful, a web of silver with a scattering of blue gemstones. Kind of a weird thing to put on before a battle, though, especially for a guy. Maybe it had magical properties or something?

Buffy pushed that thought away and walked towards him, offering a small smile. “Hey. Not feeling much like partying?”

He stared into her eyes, the look in his driving away her smile. He looked… lost. “Need to talk to you about something,” he said quietly, his voice a little rough. He reached up towards the necklace, but stopped before he touched it, shuddering slightly. Then he jerked his head towards the basement. “Down there. Alone.”

She frowned and followed him down into the basement, feeling uneasy. What the hell was going on? Had he gotten hurt or something during the fight? They all had some bumps and bruises, but he’d seemed okay. A little distant, though, now that she thought about it.

“I’m not running out on you,” Spike suddenly said. “Need you to know that.”

“What?” She blinked, confused. The uneasy feeling was getting worse.

“I know about Angel buggering off.” He gave a snort of disgust. “All that nonsense about it being for your own good. Not the sort of thing he gets to decide, now is it?” A pained expression crossed his face, and he swayed a little. Then he took a deep breath before starting to fidget and pace. “Know about your dad, too. Right bastard, blowing off his responsibilities. Was here for the mess with Cardboard. I’m not like any of them. I need you to know that. Need you to know that it’s not another man just walking out on you.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” She grabbed him by the front of his t-shirt and pulled him close. He was leaving? Spike couldn’t be leaving. She needed… Dawn needed him. “You can’t just, just go off somewhere! What about your promise? Until the end of the world. The world hasn’t ended.”

“This is all about my promise,” he said, hesitantly bringing up his hand to cover the one she had fisted in his shirt. The other lightly touched the necklace he was wearing. “The Dutchman can only come on land for two weeks every seven years, so there’s not a lot he can do directly after this, but he’s built up a lot of contacts. Whatever you and the little bit need, it’ll be yours. Money, tutors for Dawn to make up on the lost schooling, demons of a neutral bent to help out when you’re short on extra hands. Until the day you’ve both… both gone on, the Dutchman’s promised to do all he can to help the two of you and keep her safe.”

“What did you do?” She felt numb. Numb and a little sick. Spike pulled away from her, giving another pained look and twitching like there were ants crawling all over his skin. She advanced towards him, backing him up against one of the shelves. A surge of anger rose up, smashing its way through the numbness. “What. Did. You. Do?”

He had to have given the Dutchman something in return. Something he knew she wouldn’t like, so he was running away. Or… or maybe they’d be in danger if he stayed, after whatever it was he’d given or promised to the Dutchman. Her gaze locked on the necklace. It had something to do with things. Maybe it sucked out life force or something for the Dutchman, and Spike didn’t want them getting hurt by it.

She grabbed the chain and tugged, intending to rip it off of him. Instead, she pulled him forward, practically into her arms. His hands came up to cup her cheeks, and he rested his forehead against hers. She wanted to push him away. She wanted to pull him close. She did neither, just stood there, frozen in confusion. She could feel him trembling. Could hear the rapid little pants for breath that he didn’t need. It hit her, then. Whatever was going on, Spike was afraid. And in pain.

“What did you do?” She whispered it this time, almost hoping he wouldn’t answer.

“Every seven years, the Dutchman comes to shore for a willing bride.” He pulled away from her and touched the necklace. “That’s what this means. I put the bloody thing on of my own free will, and now I’m his bride.”

The numbness came back. Oh god. Oh god, did that mean…? Had he…? “You sold yourself as, as some kind of sex slave?” She shook her head in denial even as she said the words, starting to pace. “No, that’s not going to happen. That’s creepy and gross. And, and just… no.”

“Buffy—”

“No!” She made a cutting gesture with her hand. Images flashed through her mind. Spike naked and unable to get away as that man touched him. Maybe even used his tentacles to…. “No. We are so not doing this. I wouldn’t let something like that happen to anyone, especially not a friend.” She was only vaguely aware of the word she’d used, too upset to really think about it. “This is wrong. We’ll, we’ll find some other way to—”

Spike’s hands were suddenly on her shoulders, and his mouth covered hers, stopping the flow of words. His lips and tongue were cool and still familiar from the “my will be done” spell Willow had performed the year before. It was deep and passionate, and it somehow reminded her of when he’d taken her blood. The way she’d felt then…. But the kiss also held desperation and sadness. Those were the main emotions she saw in his eyes when he broke the kiss to gaze at her. Desperation, sadness, and… love.

“There’s nothing to be done, Buffy,” he said quietly. “I thank you for it. And for calling me friend. That… that means more than you can know.”

“You’ll… you’ll be back after the seven years?” Her voice sounded small. Like a kid not wanting to let go. It was just seven years. Seven years wasn’t really that long, right? She could handle seven years. Easy.

But Spike was shaking his head. “No telling what’s going to happen to me, being a vampire and all, but it’s, uh… it’s likely I won’t survive. Not as more than a husk, anyway. What the Dutchman takes from his brides…. Like as not, I’ll react the way the human ones do.” He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, his hands tightening on her shoulders as he shuddered. “Sorry, love, don’t have a lot of time. Over twelve hours away from the Dutchman, and things start to get a mite uncomfortable. Just… didn’t want you thinking I was like those other wankers, walking out on you. You don’t deserve that.”

And then, before she could react, he turned and strode towards the tunnel connecting the basement to Sunnydale’s underground travel route.

 


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Previous Chapter: Chapter 4
Next Chapter: Chapter 6

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