“When did you know you loved him?” Dawn asked.
No need to ask who she meant. They were leaning against each other’s shoulders on the couch, heads together, and a showing of The Princess Bride just finished. Dawn watched the movie even more times with Spike than with Buffy.
“You were the first to realize he loved me,” Buffy said, evading an answer and staring at the scrolling credits. “You’re the smart one.”
“That’s right. About time you admit it.” She shifted and sat up on the couch. “I’m hungry – peckish, I mean. There’re some prawn crisps. You want some?”
“Blergh,” was Buffy’s adamant reply.
Later, after they said good night and went to bed, she was left staring up at her ceiling, wishing that this was one of the nights she had patrol. Tomorrow was Guy Fawkes Night, though, and all the slayers would be out then, keeping the revelers safe. Sleep wouldn’t come, not after Dawn’s question.
Four days after he dusted. That’s when she’d realized that she loved Spike.
In a musty, unused room in Angel’s hotel.
Buffy was one of the few refugees who had sole possession of a room at the Hyperion. It was one of the safe things to ponder: Why did Angel have a hotel? How did he own the mansion in Sunnydale, for that matter? Where did all the money come from?
There were other ponderables, too. Why was Cordelia in a coma? Angel wouldn’t even have the equivalent of a high school diploma, so how did he end up being CEO of a law firm? Didn’t law firms have partners instead of CEOs? And it was an evil law firm, according to Giles, who ranted a lot and often smelled of Scotch in the days after Sunnydale cratered.
That wasn’t something she could safely ponder. She couldn’t think about that final day. Or about him.
Buffy had been alone in her private hotel room when Angel knocked on her door. She knew it was him, because he was a vampire and she could sense him. After a moment, she sat up, but before she could say ‘come in,’ Angel opened the door and did just that.
His hotel, she supposed.
He’d asked if she was sleeping. She hadn’t been, and said so.
He joined her on the bed.
There was small talk, she remembered that, before he leaned in to kiss her.
Buffy put out her hand, stiff-arming him, keeping Angel away.
And too late.
Because it hurt him; she could see in Spike’s eyes that she hurt him deeply by kissing Angel, by smiling at Angel. She kissed Angel and gave Spike the death sentence, the one Angel avoided, the amulet that could only be worn by someone souled but stronger than human. Angel hadn’t known that Spike had a soul when he came to Sunnydale. He gave her the amulet and a half-hearted offer to wear it, and then left. She would have worn the amulet, or maybe Faith, if Spike hadn’t stepped up and made her admit that yes, he was her champion, he had been for years without ado or acknowledgement.
But she kissed Angel and he saw, and she laid in Spike’s arms once again without kisses or caresses or anything concrete passing between them. Then his soul blazed with light at the mouth of Hell, lit up everything, incinerated everything. She could fool herself that it was just sunlight, and of course vampires burned up in sunlight, but Buffy was the Slayer and she felt the righteousness blaze forth as soulfire, the very essence of him, and the essence of him was love.
He could love, of course he could, and he’d done everything for her and gone to ridiculous, heroic lengths to try to be worthy, but she felt unworthy, worthless and still she told him what he always wanted to hear, what she always intended to tell him, but he looked at her with such sad eyes and didn’t believe her words and neither did she –
But it was true, after all.
She knew she was in love with Spike, who was dust, sitting on a musty hotel bed, holding Angel at arms-length, four days after he died.
Angel got a little frown on his face. She didn’t know what he was thinking, because he didn’t have a readable, expressive face like Spike’s. Angel was a closed book, full of unknown motives and untold secrets.
He apologized with odd words – “There’s no reason you would think we could…” – before he left with a small gesture of farewell.
And she’d fallen back onto the bed in despair, wondering how she, a Slayer who’d died twice, ever thought that waiting was an option. She’d waited too long, and never acting didn’t stop the pain at all.
She was desperately, wholly in love with Spike.
And he was gone.
“Do you – Never mind.”
“Do I what?” Buffy asked, looking up from the weekly report from Slayer outposts. The updates were written by Watchers, remnants of the old Council, and therefore dry as dust. Well, regular dust. Vampire dust was kind of greasy.
Dawn had already brushed her teeth and changed into pajamas – pyjamas, in the UK. “I just… I worry, okay?” she said defensively, as though Buffy had faulted her.
The Slayer put down her report and focused on her sister. “Worry about what?”
“Spike.” Dawn whispered the name. “What if he went to hell, Buffy? Like Angel?”
Buffy left the chair and went to the teenager, settling next to her on the small sofa. She lifted her chin, tucked a strand of brown hair behind Dawn’s ear, and gave her a tender smile. “He’s in heaven.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure of it.” Buffy gave a decisive nod. “He’s nothing like Angel.” And why hadn’t she realized that in time? “Him, I basically shoved into a portal to a hell dimension to stop a ritual.” The two sisters shared a moment of eye contact, both of them thinking of Willow’s reasoning for finding a resurrection spell.
Buffy sighed. “What Spike did… What he did was like what I did. He gave his life to close a portal, made the choice to do it. You know where I went after that.”
Dawn’s nod was solemn, but her expression was already brighter. She gave Buffy a tentative smile. “You really think so?”
“I do.” She pulled the teen into a hug, careful of her strength. “I really do.” Because Spike had to be in heaven. If she allowed herself to believe anything different, it would be too much. She’d end up in a catatonic state the way she had after Glory took Dawn.
Buffy let go and gave her sister another smile. “Go on. Get some sleep. I’ll probably fall asleep here, trying to finish this week’s adjective-free list of demons slain by grim slayers.”
“Thanks, Buffy. That actually does make sense.”
She watched Dawn go up the narrow staircase, then moved back to her chair, sighing. She hadn’t been as sure as she let on. In fact, Buffy consulted an expert.
Not far from their house stood a small, lovely church. Once the idea occurred to her, Buffy stalked the building in the evenings until she saw services end and the reverend standing alone. She took her chance and cornered him. Using her best post-resurrection fake smile, she pretended to be an aspiring fiction writer and asked him the theoretical theological question: could a vampire with over a century of blood on his hands go to heaven if he gave his life to save the world? She never mentioned the soul. She’d seen that, and it was obvious where William’s soul belonged.
The vicar assured her that God’s mercy was boundless enough for this, but that the vampire would have to truly repent of evil and ask for forgiveness. Buffy countered this ecclesiastical technicality by posing another question: what if the vampire was too humble to ask, assuming he could never be forgiven? The poor man blinked at the young American with delusions of plausible character development and gave her a bland smile. God, he said, knows what’s in our hearts.
That was enough for Buffy. She knew Spike’s heart was full of love. She left the church with a sense of peace that lasted until she started to think about how she returned after 147 days and hope flickered briefly. She no longer had any hope that she could spend her life with Spike, but knowing that she might one day see him again…
It was enough, more than she deserved, really.
“He was so…” Buffy cast about for a better word, but had to end with the first one that came to mind, “pretty.”
Dawn snorted, her breath puffing out and making a little fog in the air. “He’d give you Death Look #2 for saying that.” They were walking back from their local. Now that they could talk about Spike, they always did.
“Yeah,” the Slayer said fondly, trying to picture that look. He had at least four different ‘you’ve gone too far, missy’ expressions, not that they ever worked on her. Mostly, they just made him look hotter. “Death Look #2 was the sexy one. He was always so sexy, you know?”
Buffy thought about teasing her little sister for the crush she had on him back when Glory first showed up, but instead just bumped her with her arm. “That’s your opinion.”
“Honestly, Joan,” Dawn said, stressing the name, “you probably thought Randy was sexy.”
She giggled, then covered her mouth. Oh, it felt so good to laugh! “Th-that hat!” she managed, and the giggles turned into a deep belly chuckle. “Not even Spike could make that hat sexy.”
Dawn was laughing, too, and took Buffy’s elbow to hold her upright. “And that terrible suit was sooo tight! If he took a deep breath, the shoulder seams would blow out. How did he even get into it? Did he coat himself with axle grease, then just kind of shimmy?”
The Slayer got the mental image of Spike wiggling into tweed, but real memories crowded out the humorous ones: Spike writhing on a bed, her oily handprints all over him; Spike’s hips raising toward her elusive mouth, his fists clenched against the desire to tear through the silk scarves that bound his wrists; Spike shifting restlessly on the bed, trying to persuade her to stay using only desperate eyes because she forbade him to talk.
Supporting her sister by the arm, Dawn didn’t realize that her laughter had turned to tears for a few steps. “Buffy?”
“Sorry,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’m fine.”
“No, you aren’t. What is it?”
“He forgot everything, too, and ‘Randy’ just assumed he was on our side.” She lifted a shoulder. "Even after he knew he was a vampire, he wanted to be on our side. And I never let him. I hurt him so much. I wounded him.” The Slayer wiped her eyes. “I was the monster, even if I was the one with the soul.”
Dawn was silent for a long moment, and when she spoke, it wasn’t at all what Buffy expected. “I asked Tara once if I had a soul.” When her sister stopped walking, Dawn let go of her arm and took another few steps on the sidewalk. She could make out their house now, so she looked at it instead of Buffy. Dawn lifted a shoulder. “She could see auras, and I… I was made, you know, not born.”
“I have one,” she rushed out the reassurance. “But I worried, you know? Glory said I was evil, then she said I was just neutral, and I heard so much from you, from Xander and Giles about evil, soulless beings.” She took a breath. “I worried that if I didn’t have one, you wouldn’t want to protect me. And I guess Giles didn’t, did he?”
Buffy made up the distance and took Dawn into her arms, her eyes open and staring against the soft wool of her sister’s coat. “Oh, sweetie. I never knew. I’m so sorry.” Another victim of her blind prejudice, another tender heart hurt because of her reliance on Council doctrine, on Angel’s excuses for his behavior instead of what she’d witnessed for herself. “I love you,” and for just a moment, she hugged too hard, “no matter what. Forever. I’ll always protect you. You’re my sister.” My daughter.
Dawn sniffled, pulling away. “Ow,” she complained, no real heat behind it. “It’s okay. Come on. We’re almost to the house. Let’s get home.”
They went their separate ways at the door, Dawn going upstairs to get ready for bed, Buffy to the couch to see what was on the tube – the telly, she supposed. On nights like this, when she wasn’t scheduled for patrol, it took a while to wind down enough to sleep.
“Buffy?” Dawn called from the doorway. She was still wearing her clothes, but she’d washed her face free of makeup. Right now, with her eyes wide and scared, she looked fourteen again. “Can I tell you something?”
Clicking mute on the remote control, Buffy scooted toward the arm of the sofa, making room. “You can tell me anything.”
Dawn settled on the cushion, staring at the television. “I… I think it was my fault,” she admitted in a soft voice. She shot a look toward her sister, just for a second.
She’s terrified, Buffy realized. “What’s your fault?” she asked, even as she put a soothing hand on Dawn’s back.
Even now, Dawn still could fling herself into the melodrama. “I didn’t know!” she wailed. “All I knew was that you’d been crying, like, all the time! I thought you broke up because of Anya at first, so I went to the crypt.” She met Buffy’s eyes fleetingly, then looked down, biting her lip.
“To see Spike?”
Dawn nodded, her hair falling over her face. “He was just sitting there, drinking, not about to do anything to make things right. I told him how unhappy you were.”
Buffy couldn’t help but flinch as she realized. “The day after we found the cameras?” That day?
Her sister nodded, miserable and apprehensive. “Yeah. I swear I never thought anything bad would happen. I just wanted…” Dawn trailed off, unwilling to say how she just wanted her sister and her vampire to be together, so all of them could be a happy family. It sounded so stupid now.
“Listen,” Buffy said in her best stern mother tone, “nothing is your fault, okay? What happened, it’s on us. Me and Spike.”
“But if I hadn’t –”
“Honey, I promise you, nothing is your fault. You went to see Spike because I was hurting. I was, you know. I did miss him. I was just in such a bad place, the only thing I could think of was to end things. If I’d been better, stronger…” Buffy sighed. “Do you think I don’t do the same thing, Dawnie? Think over what happened and play what-if?
“But sometimes I think…” She pulled the unresisting body against her own, tucking Dawn’s head against her shoulder so her sister couldn’t see her face draw into a rictus of pain. Buffy stroked the shiny chestnut strands. “I think something was steering Spike to get his soul back. Because I really don’t think anyone else could have worn that amulet, not for it to work like it did for him. He was a champion,” and her voice was edged with bitterness, “and it was what he needed.”
“You mean,” Dawn pulled away and Buffy hastily rearranged her expression into something comforting, “like a weapon? Like you got the Scythe?”
“The amulet was his weapon?”
“No. His soul.”
The Slayer blinked. “Uh… maybe?” Something in Dawn’s words sounded like a deeper truth, and for a moment, she absolutely hated the Powers That Be. Maybe all she was to them was a springboard to propel Spike to redemption, the same way they’d dangled her in front of Angel. The bastards never sent her a single Slayer dream at the end, certainly not one to warn her that amulet was going to kill the unkillable William the Bloody. She was the champion, and any sacrifice should have been hers.
“So,” Dawn’s voice was small, “you don’t blame me?”
“No,” and now Buffy’s voice was sure and strong. “And don’t you blame yourself, either. You were just trying to do right by two people you loved.”
She nodded vigorously, utterly sincere. “I just wanted you to talk.”
That’s what Spike had said, too, when he first came in. Buffy drew in a tiny breath. “I don’t do enough of that. That’s one of my what-ifs. But I’m trying to be better with the talky.”
“You are better,” Dawn said hastily. “And with listening, too.”
Buffy smoothed the long locks over Dawn’s shoulder. “Remember when Willow trapped us underground, and I told you I wanted to show you the world? It means everything to me that we’re getting to do that, sweetie. I know you’ll be going off to college soon, so I’m going to enjoy every minute we have together.”
“You should go back to school, too.”
She started, almost immediately shaking her head. “Me?”
“The Council needs me.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be your job.” Before Buffy could protest, Dawn covered her hands with her own and gave her a beseeching look. “You aren’t happy. You think I don’t notice? I always know. I mean, it’s not as bad as the Doublemeat Palace, but… You’re not happy, Buffy.”
“That’s not because of the job.”
Their eyes met for a long moment after the quiet statement, and Dawn simply gathered her into a hug.