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The Gift of Death, Part 15
When he turned back to her, she was watching him carefully, hungrily, feasting her eyes on him so the sight would last her a lifetime. “This is the lesson I’m supposed to teach you, Buffy… you are an extraordinary woman. You need an extraordinary man. Or, um, elf. Whatever,” he amended clumsily. “You need someone who won’t put himself and his fears and issues ahead of yours, someone who can deal with you as an equal, can handle your uniqueness and isn’t threatened by it. That wasn’t me, Buffy, and it wasn’t Riley. Wasn’t Spike either, but he’ll explain when he comes back.”
“Oh, there’s more fun to come?” she said dully. “Yay.”
Angel tilted her face up to his, then slid his arms around her. Her own arms easily remembered how to embrace him, and when he lowered his mouth to hers, the familiarity of the position thrilled her almost as much as the sensation of the kiss itself—for so long, everything had been so new, so unknown. He still tasted like death, she thought, death and desire and oblivion. Kissing him still made her want to die, but when he pulled away she was able to smile, even if it were a rather wobbly smile.
“I will love you forever,” Angel promised fervently. “My soul and demon both. That’s why Angelus hates you so much—because he loves you so much. They’re not so different, love and hate, you know.” He stepped back, still holding onto her hand.
“I know,” she agreed, tasting the tears that coursed down her cheeks and into her mouth, clinging to his hand until he stepped back one final time and they parted. He walked backwards through the mass of ghosts, never taking his eyes from her, until the ranks closed once more and he was hidden from view.
Wrapping her arms around her, she bowed her head and wept for what felt like a century or two before another pair of arms came around her. They too were cool, and smelt of blood and leather, but also of cigarette smoke. “Spike?”
“Yeah, pet,” he said, rubbing his hand in soothing circles over her back. “That must have been hard for you.”
“You have no idea,” she replied, scrubbing the wetness from her face.
“Don’t I?” he asked, a sardonic twist to his mouth. “Watching the love of my unlife leave me without a backwards glance, never to be seen again… no, got no clue what that’s like.”
Buffy stared at him and then glanced away, ashamed. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
Spike shrugged. “You’ve always underestimated me, Slayer. Why should now be any different? People are creatures of habit, we are.” He eyed her sharply. “Unless we make a concerted effort to change ourselves.”
Buffy sighed. “And what knowledge are you here to convey, sensei?”
He removed a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of his duster and tapped one out. “Mostly, I’m here to absolve your guilt, lay your wonder to rest.” He stuck the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and lit it.
“Guilt? Wonder?” she echoed. “What in the frilly heck are you babbling about?”
He quirked his scarred brow. “You know, even after all these years, Red still talks like that, too.”
“Is Willow happy?” Buffy asked, anxiously for some word of her friends. “Are they all happy?”
“She hooked up with Dog Boy, got herself some kids, owns the Magic Shop with Glinda. Her joy blinds us all. Revolting, really.” He said it with only a trace amount of derision, and sucked on his cigarette. “But that’s not what I’m here to discuss with you.”
Buffy folded her arms over her chest. “Well, get to it. I haven’t got all year, you know. Got a war to fight. And I wouldn’t mind a bath some time in the near future, either.”
Spike only smirked at her. “Let’s tackle the ‘wonder’ aspect first, shall we, pet?” He began a languid pace around the small circle of space left to them by the surrounding ghosts. “You’ve been wondering all these years if you should have given me a chance, if you should have at least let me try to prove to you that I loved you, and could be decent.” He tilted his head at her in that canine way he had. “And now that you know I really did love you, and really could be decent, you’ve got the guilt.”
“Get outta my head,” Buffy grumbled, trying to turn away from him, but he stopped her with a hand on her arm. It was the hand holding the cigarette, and its smoke wafted up into her face, but she ignored it.
“No, pet, you don’t understand. This isn’t me trying to invade your privacy,” he protested. “This is me trying to explain that, once again, it wasn’t something that was wrong you with. It was me. Though, not really my fault.”
“Again with the cryptic!” she exclaimed in frustration, throwing up her hands. “Just spit it out!”
Spike heaved a sigh of long suffering. “It’s like this, cutie. Yes, I loved you—still do, if I’m honest—and yes, I’ve been a white hat ever since.” He dropped his cigarette butt to the floor, toeing it out with his heavy black boot. “But I had a fundamental flaw, one you couldn’t overlook. I was a soulless monster, and though some have been able to overlook that, you didn’t. You’re the Slayer, pet. You couldn’t. It was amazing enough that you bent the rules enough to hook up with the Poof, but he at least had a soul, and a century of redemption under his belt.”
“What did I have?” he continued, hooking his thumbs into his belt loops and cocking a hip to the side. “Dick-all, that’s what I had. Well, a chip, and my love for you, but that was it. It was never gonna happen. Took a while for me to accept it, but you were dead and all, so it’s not like I had a choice.”
She was just staring at him, so he relented. “Ok, words of two syllables or less. You wondered if you were wrong about refusing my love, back before you died. Yes, you were. But, you shouldn’t be guilty about that, because while you were wrong about the facts, you weren’t wrong about the morality of it.”
Spike grinned then. “Oops, ‘morality’ has three syllables. Sorry.” Buffy jabbed him in the shoulder, frowning, and he rubbed it while continuing. “My point is, you couldn’t have done anything differently, Slayer. Nor should you have. You have to trust yourself more, and know that your intuition won’t steer you wrong.”
“Easy to say,” she replied hotly. “I was following my intuition with Legolas, in spite of my suspicions that it would end badly, and look where it got me!”
“Ah, Buffy, can you blame him?” Spike asked with a sigh, and extracted another cigarette. “He’s an elf, for chrissake. What you’re doing is acting like a suicidal nutter on a quest for the perfect shotgun to end it all. That sound like an emotionally healthy person to start a relationship with?” He lit it and took a deep drag. “I was with Drusilla for a century, luv. I know from barmy, and even I would think twice at hooking up with you.” He leered at her before continuing salaciously, “No matter how tasty you happen to look.”
Buffy was unimpressed. “Your standards have definitely slipped, then,” she informed him haughtily, “because I am dirty, grubby, sweaty, grimy, dusty, and other sorts of adjectives that all add up to the grand ‘ew’.” She relented then. “But I get your point. This whole thing has been about looking outside the box, right?”
“The box being your obsession with yourself, yeah,” he agreed. “Try to see things from other people’s perspective, and try to remember that not everything revolves around you. Yeah, you’re the Slayer, so a goodly amount of it does revolve around you, but you have to find the ability to discern which does, and which doesn’t.”
“’Discern’?” she questioned teasingly. “I thought you said two syllables or less. That’s at least a fifty-cent word, maybe even a full dollar.”
“’Discern’ is a two syllable word, you stupid bint,” Spike growled around his smoke.
“Oh, yeah!” she giggled, laying on thickly the blonde bimbo act before sobering. “You haven’t called me a bint in a long time, Spike,” she told him nostalgically.
“Yeah, good times.” He took a last drag and let that butt join its twin on the floor. “Gotta get moving, pet. Places to go, orcs to kill, yeah?” She nodded. “How’s the Niblet doing?”
“She’s doing pretty well,” Buffy told him. “I think she’s in love, even considering getting married.”
Spike frowned fiercely. “Well, you tell him that if he acts anything like the last husband she had, I’ll find a way to get to wherever the bloody hell you are and kill him myself. No more chip, mind… nothing keeping me from the business.”
“Yes, Spike,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I will tell Boromir: blood and mayhem to follow if he so much as hogs the covers.”
“’S’right,” he said with a righteous nod. “I look after my girl.”
Suddenly overwhelmed with affection for him, she threw her arms around him for a big hug. “Thanks, Spike,” she said, and kissed him lightly on the lips. But before she could pull away, he cupped the back of her head in his hand and plundered her mouth with his tongue, positively ravishing her.
When at last they separated, he was grinning wolfishly at her. “Just a little taste of what you were missing, luv,” he told her before turning in a swirl of leather and striding away. He did not look back.
“Wow,” she said thoughtfully, fingertips tracing her swollen lips. “Wow.”
“What is wow, Dagnir?” asked a voice close to her ear, and she blinked, then blinked again, for she was no longer in that weird place in the tunnel, surrounded by ghosts. Now she was outside, and it must have been nighttime, for it was still dark and torch-lit all around them, and she was in Haldir’s arms. No, she corrected, in Haldir’s lap, for the elf was seated on the ground, his back against a rather ugly and ominous-looking tree, and he was staring down curiously at her.
They were, however, still surrounded by ghosts.
“She is awake?” asked Aragorn, falling with a thud to his knees beside them and yanking her into his arms for a ferocious hug. “Do not do that again!” he barked at her. “Die if you must, I am used to that, but do not fall asleep and refuse to wake up!”
“I won’t,” she whispered, hugging him back. “I promise.”
“Like you promised me that the tunnel would not be ‘so bad’?” demanded Gimli from behind Aragorn. He was wringing his hands again. “It was horrible! More so when you fell insensible to the ground, and none could wake you!”
Buffy shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I didn’t know that was gonna happen.” She was still a little dazed from her experience with her lovers. Speaking of which, Legolas was nowhere to be seen.
“We thought you would never wake again!” the dwarf shouted at her. “We were not prepared for this! Everything, we tried… shaking you, dousing you—“ Buffy noticed then that she was damp—“and Elrohir even tried some elven magic.” He quieted and finished sadly, “You promised.”
“Yes, yes, I lied, I’m a terrible person. Can we move on now?” Buffy asked irritably. “It’s not something I could control. It was the Valar again.”
Every single person in the company stared at her, except for Haldir, who was used to Buffy receiving messages from the gods. “And what did they want?” he asked.
“Oh, the usual,” she replied breezily, and disentangled herself from Aragorn to stand. “To confuse me, mess with my head, make me cry, and stir up my loathing for them all over again.” Buffy glared up at the dark bowl of the sky above them. “Lot of wankers,” she called them, inspired by Spike’s Britishness. Gotta hand it to the English, she thought. They’re great with an insult. “So, where are we?” She eyed a large round shape not far from where they had set up camp for the night.
“At the Stone of Erech,” Aragorn replied. “We awaited your return to us before proceeding.”
“Decent of you,” she commented dryly. She looked up at it. “It’s a big rock. I can’t wait to tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.”
Aragorn only shook his head at her and accepted the silver horn Elrohir held out to him, then blew strongly upon it. The ghosts that had trailed them for hours drew closer, and Aragorn demanded, “Oathbreakers, why have you come?”
A misty voice replied, “To fulfill our oath and have peace.”
Aragorn replied, “Your promise shall be fulfilled when the last servant of Sauron is gone from the land of Gondor, for I am Elessar, heir of Isildur, and make you this vow.” At that, Halbarad unwrapped Arwen’s banner, and though it was so dark they could not see what was on the fabric, still they could see the silhouette of it against the night sky.
“Well, then,” Buffy said after a long moment of silence. “Been a long day. I’m pooped. Who’s for a little shuteye?