DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The trial has been completed, leaving Buffy only able to return via the aid of Frank and the harness, and Spike walking back to a certain flaming death…

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Chapter 50: One Fond Kiss and Then We Sever

“I don’t like it,” Riley grumbled, one by one pulling blades of grass from the bank of the stream, then tearing them into minute scraps which fluttered to the surface of the water before beginning again. “We don’t have time for this.”

“No, it’s Buffy and Spike who don’t have the time,” Xander replied. “This is kinda it for them.” He stood away from the water’s edge, eyes warily darting back to it every once in a while on the off-chance that another nasty was going to leap from its depths and attack. Not that he really thought anything would, but when one was transporting a stolen mythical creature away from its homeland in order to bind it to a broken doorway, one had to be prepared for just about anything.

“There’s only a few more hours until dawn,” Riley continued, ignoring his companion’s argument. “If we don’t get back inside before the sun hits Spike, all of this trial business would’ve been for nothing.” The sudden image of the bleached vamp bursting into flame made him pause for a second, a momentary gush of bittersweet revenge saturating his mouth, but he quickly shook the image away when he saw Buffy’s tear-streaked face as she watched the fire from the side. This is not about striking back, he reminded himself silently. This is about completing the mission.

“This is going to be hard enough for Buffy as it is,” Xander continued. “The least we can do is give them some privacy for a little while.” He had known it was going to come to this; Spike had been very vocal about what he thought was going to happen when they’d been killing time before doing the spell. But it didn’t mean he was looking forward to giving his best friend the poem the vampire had written when they got back to the castle. He’d tried telling Spike that getting it after the fact would most likely hurt her even more, but the blond had been adamant. Funny how he’d changed his tune about the worth of his words when all of a sudden, they were the only tangible gift he had left to give her. So, Xander had given his word to play messenger boy. And really, really hoped he didn’t have to be the one to watch Buffy cry when she read it. He had a feeling it was going to rip her to finer shreds more than saying good-bye the first time.

There was no doubt in Riley’s mind what she had wanted the privacy for, even when she’d been requesting the favor in the first place. One last moment alone, she’d said, one last…clothing would be optional, of course. So he’d protested loudly, too loudly, getting sad headshakes from both Xander and that damn guardian, like they understood something that he didn’t, a petulant child who was refusing to accept the punishment that had been meted him. But this was more than just about them, he’d wanted to rage. This is about…

And the thoughts had failed him, the veracity of why exactly he was opposing the suggestion a not-too-gentle reminder of what he had lost over the past few days. The last thing he needed at the moment was to add his self-respect to that list. Although, in light of some of his behaviors around Spike since his arrival in Scotland, maybe it was too late for that particular item.

“I still don’t like it,” he muttered, and threw the handful of foliage in his grip to the water, ignoring Xander’s hand as it came down on his shoulder.

“Nobody expects you to, man,” he said quietly.

*************

She didn’t know whether to scream about his insensitivity to her feelings, or cry about their impending separation, or laugh at the irony of the whole situation. He was leaving her, just like all the rest of them had, and so yeah, he’d made the choice because he couldn’t bear not helping her, but then hadn’t Angel left because of the whole “I’m doing this for your own good” thing, too? Everybody was always trying to tell her what she needed, what would make her happy, taking away her choices until she was forced to just live with those they inflicted upon her. No wonder her relationships never worked out right. Buffy never really got a say in the matter.

This time it was supposed to be different. This was Spike, and they fit, yin and yang, and there’d never been any doubt as to his trust in her, his deference and respect for her abilities, his pride in watching her excel. He’d been able to keep up, without making her feel little about it, surprising her at every turn, and yet not, because it was Spike, and she knew him better than any of her previous boyfriends---maybe not the specifics, but him, the essence of him---and it wasn’t supposed to end this way. The only bright side to this whole debacle---if any of it could even have a bright side---was at least he wasn’t going without saying good-bye first. That would be a first for her.

And she wasn’t going to cry, damn it.

They were still on the grass by the stream where they’d caught the fuilafior, left alone as Frank returned to the water, and Xander and Riley walked on ahead over the knoll until they were out of sight and earshot. Buffy lay back amidst the soft green, staring up at the stars that twinkled in the sky, while Spike was stretched out on his side next to her, head propped up in his uninjured hand as he gazed down at her.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he murmured. “Don’t ruin what we’ve got left by broodin’ on it. I’ll start thinkin’ I didn’t teach you anything.” His attempt to lighten the mood fell with a dull weight, and inwardly, he winced when she closed her eyes against him, shutting him out as she continued to drift among the remonstrations dancing around her skull.

“I don’t know how you can be so cavalier about all this,” she said bitterly. “Oh, wait. Yes, I can. You’re not the one who’s getting left behind to be alone. Again. I guess I never knew it was easier to deal when you’re the leaver, and not the leave-ee. File that one away for future reference.”

“None of it’s easy, pet.” His voice was gruff, awash with frustration and pain, and he lifted his hand to cup her chin, pulling her head toward him. When her lids fluttered open, revealing the hardened shine of grey-green staring back at him, the ache that had settled in his chest began to swell throughout his torso, the desire to just say sod it all and stay in the Otherworld for good suddenly too appealing to ignore. “Easy would be makin’ a runner for that cave and holin’ ourselves up there and saying bugger off to Harris and Wonderbread when they come to drag us back.”

The fantasy he offered brought a wistful curve to her mouth. “We could make them go back on their own,” she suggested. “Although that would mean the spell never gets completed, so Xander would still be all god-like. I’m not sure the world is ready for that.”

Spike grinned, remembering Harris’ earlier ramblings. “Somehow, I don’t think the boy would have a problem dealin’.”

“Or Anya, for that matter,” she added.

Both of them drifted in the sea of their daydream---or nightdream, as the case may be---and while the delicacies of remaining in the Otherworld promised a fleeting sweet satisfaction, the underlying acidity of truth corroded its edges, reminding them of duties, and serious lackage of all-night butcher shops, and…damn it, duties…

“Would whining about life being rotten and unfair be considered childish right about now?” Buffy asked, the tiniest of catches in her voice as her gaze scanned his face. “Or is that just me allowing my inner Dawn to come out?”

“I think a smidge of whinging wouldn’t be entirely uncalled for.” His thumb traced the bottom curve of her lip. “Though I can think of better things you can do with this gorgeous mouth of yours.”

The smell of his dried blood pricked her nostrils, disturbing the dust of her settled fears, and she reached up to drag his hand away from her face, holding it before her as she outlined the lean lines against the velvet sky. It was already healing and hadn’t required the bandage that she’d forced both Xander and Riley to wear, but it still looked nasty, a vicious slash disturbing the ordered lines of his palm. Probably will leave a scar, she thought, before catching herself, the afterthought---Of course not, won’t be around long enough to scar---filling her mouth with salty bitterness.

Slowly, she pulled his hand down to her face, her warm breath blanketing his flesh, before allowing her lips to linger along the length of the injury, the tip of her tongue darting out to capture the roughened texture of his skin at its edges.

It wasn’t meant to be erotic. So, all right, one of the purposes to having some alone time had been to feel him inside her one last time, but not at that exact moment. Not when she had so much she wanted to say to him. Sex with Spike had been the farthest thing from her mind when she’d caressed his hand. But the taste of him, the scents of blood, and smoke, and musk that was uniquely his, all swirled to a crescendo within her breast that compelled her to roll onto her good side and press her body against his. Solid, touchable, concrete. Still here. And if she had to sink into his skin in order to take the memory of his every muscle back to Sunnydale with her, then that’s what she would do. Because she couldn’t forget. Wouldn’t. Impossible to unlearn everything he had taught her, everything he had shown, everything he had promised. And she wasn’t about to waste another moment of the few they had left together by dwelling on the hole that was starting to bore into her heart.

The kisses were almost chaste, gossamer trails across his lips, over the harsh angles of his cheekbones, along his brow. He merely laid there, eyes closed, absorbing her heartbeat until his own flesh strummed in unison and it was impossible not to reach out and touch her, his fingers floating on the contours of her waist before settling on her hip. He was wary of her injuries, knowing she would ignore them for want of attention elsewhere, but unwilling to be the reason for any more pain for the young woman. Not that this wasn’t killing him in degrees anyway. But there was no regret for his actions. To be honest, he’d not given the risks to himself any consideration in light of what he felt he had to do for the Slayer, and that certainly didn’t change now. She was going to be all right. She would live. And that was all that mattered to Spike.

“Buffy…luv…” he murmured, pulling just far enough away to gaze at her through hooded eyes.

“No,” she protested just as quietly, lids flying open to search the shadows of his face. “Don’t make me stop. Please.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it…just…” He lowered his head to rest it on his arm, reaching up to push back that stray lock of hair that always seemed to be falling against her cheek. God, she was so beautiful. “Don’t…hate me for havin’ done this, all right? Brassed off, sure, I expect that. Don’t think you’ve gone a day since meetin’ me when you weren’t pissed off about something. And it’s not that I think I’m goin’ to be in any position to be holdin’ onto anything, but…somehow, thinking…after everything…you went back to the William the Bloody loathing…” He swallowed, the words suddenly choking him, and was grateful he didn’t actually need to breathe because at the moment, he didn’t think he’d be able to manage it. “I don’t have any right to be askin’ for anything, I know---.”

“I love you, Spike. Nothing’s going to change that.”

“Even if I said I’d do it all again in a second? I would, you know. S’long as I knew you’d be safe on the other side, flyin’ home to see your mum and Bit. They need you, need your strength.” He smiled. “Not to mention, someone’s got to keep an eye on Harris and the witches. Those bunch get into more trouble than they know how to deal with. And don’t even get me started on Rupert.”

“But I need you there as well, you idiot.” She seemed suddenly transfixed by the almost invisible scar on his chin, the jagged white line that spoke of more violent moments, and wondered why she hadn’t yet asked him how he’d gotten it. Not that she really knew any of the stories behind his scars, at least not the ones that had come from someone’s hand other than her own, and now she wasn’t even going to have the opportunity to ask. “I need you,” she repeated, and blinked too rapidly to fight back the burning behind her eyeballs.

“You don’t,” Spike whispered, and though his smile lessened, the silver etched around the sapphire in his eyes seemed to throb from some inner indebtedness, catching the tiny hairs on her arms and gently tugging as if to remind her that he was still there. “You’re strong, and wondrous, and you managed just fine on your own before these old bones of mine ever came into the picture. You’ll manage just fine again once they’re gone.” His finger caressed her cheek. “But I do thank you for sayin’ so.”

“You expect me to just manage? You show me what’s possible, make me feel alive, only to take it all away, and you think I can go back to how things were?” Sparks flew in the hazel depths, her breathing starting to quicken. “What happened to watching my back? Or being there just to hold me? How could you open that door inside me and then say, ‘Sorry, pet, gotta dash?’” Faster, and without thinking, the words came tumbling out. “Don’t you dare think for a second that I don’t need you, Spike. That’s a copout and you know it. And I don’t care if you need to think that in order to make this more dealable for you. Right now, I’m feeling just a little bit selfish, and I’m not going to let you set one foot back into that tunnel until you understand what you’ve really done.”

“And what’s that, luv?”

Her next kiss was far from controlled, and where before she had been searching for the anchor to hold the memories of his features in her mind, now she sought to show him, to demonstrate with the unspoken words they both knew so well just how much she loved him, needing that last reminder to hold on to, like a child clinging to its security blanket.

His mouth opened, sucking her in with a heady languor, deliberately slowing her down to a literal crawl. He wanted her to enjoy this, to make it last; hell, truth of it was, he didn’t want it to bloody end. And kissing him like that would set about the explosions and fireworks a far sight sooner than he needed at this point.

Tender hands slid around her waist, up the inside of her shirt to stroke the length of her spine in feather brushes. He marveled again at how tiny she was, but when she moved, Spike felt the play of muscles beneath her skin, the promise of power as she pressed her breasts against his bare chest, and remembered the exquisite agony of other muscles squeezing around him. He would take these sensations---Buffy’s strength, her leonine grace combined with the conviction of a woman who knew what she wanted---and play them over and over in his head like a favorite song until his last second in this dimension…and he would be grateful for each and every single one of them.

She couldn’t seem to get enough of him. Her hands were in his hair, tangling with the curls at the base of his neck, trying with every sweep of her tongue to drive him harder, mewling in the back of her throat when he refused to comply. She needed him, and she needed him now, and it felt like Spike was doing everything in his power to keep that from happening, those hands running up and down her back both urging her on while holding her back.

“Please…” she murmured into his mouth, her breath a furnace as the vise around her chest tightened, expelling what little air she had in rapidfire bursts. “Don’t want to wait…”

Spike chuckled. “What happened to the old sayin’, ‘Good things come to those who wait?’”

“I like the one Mom uses. ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’” Buffy laughed against his cheek. “Except I could never figure out nine what. Could be kittens. Could be snowballs. You don’t happen to know what that one means, do you?”

“Sorry, pet.” Actually he did, but the last thing he wanted to get into right now was a discussion on the intellectual dissection of a saying that was older than he was. Somehow, he thought that might be a mood breaker.

Her fingers trailed across the bridge of his nose. “Make love to me, Spike,” she said softly, and this time couldn’t stop the tears from spilling from the corner of her eyes, catching in her hair in tiny droplets that clung to their spherical holds for seconds before collapsing into damp. “Make it so that I won’t ever forget.”

Time was not on their side. The dawn was encroaching on hundreds of spidery legs, and the internal clock Spike had relied upon over the last century was screaming at him to find shelter from the sun before it got too late. Already too late, he wanted to snipe back at it, but instead lifted himself to a sitting position to gaze down at the golden beauty in the grass. Carefully, his fingers glided to her waist, undoing the fastenings of her trousers before easing them down her slim legs, heedful of the arrow wound in her calf. This would be no wild ride, no death-defying feat of acrobatics that would’ve amazed even the most hardened circus performer. This would be soft, and gentle, and all for her. Well, and maybe a little for him.

“I love you, Buffy,” he said, lowering his mouth to the satin of her exposed stomach, nudging the hem of her shirt up, out of the way, as he tasted and licked the salty ambrosia for one last time.

“I love you, too, Spike,” she murmured in response. Her hands fell beneath his shoulders, tugging him up so that their eyes were level, his hips pressed into hers. In spite of being far from happy at the moment, she forced herself to smile, and tugged at a stray curl at the nape of his neck. “Now shut up and show me.”

*************

She didn’t want to open her eyes. Once that happened, it would all become too real again, and right now, that was the last thing Buffy wanted. Keep ‘em closed and keep the world at bay, and she could pretend that they were just lying in one of the cemeteries in Sunnydale, or better yet, in her back yard, and any moment now he was going to roll her over onto her back and start again, that mouth sliding down the column of her throat to lap at the hollow at the base like some sought-after oasis, those hands pinching and tweaking and gliding and making her forget where her body ended and his began, his mussed hair tickling her thighs as he nuzzled at the juncture between her legs.

She sighed, and felt the breath bounce back from the curve of his neck where she rested to warm her cheeks. Yep. She could just about stay like this forever.

“Buffy…” His arms tightened around her bare back, his voice almost lost in the tangle of her hair. “Luv…we have to go.”

It worked better than a bucket of cold water. Immediately stiffening, the Slayer’s eyes flew open, her body arching away before she fought to recover control, throwing her leg over his hips to straddle him. “No,” she said petulantly, her lower lip jutting in what she hoped was an irresistible pout. “One more.” She squirmed against his returning arousal as if to accentuate her point.

For a moment, he considered it, heavy eyes staring up at her while he savored the slickness that was now running up and down the length of his erection, but the fingers of the approaching sun were starting to point in his direction and if he was going to go out in a blaze of fire, he wanted at least something good to come of it.

“We can’t,” Spike said with more conviction than he felt, and dug his fingers into her hips, sliding her off as delicately as he could. Reaching for his jeans, he added, “The others are goin’ to be expectin’ us. You know that.” Oh yeah, the world was officially ending for William the Bloody. The voice of reason? Turning down another go with the Slayer? The poof would be laughing out his ass if he could see him now.

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” she groused.

“We’ve still got all the time it’s goin’ to take us to get back to the tunnel. Let’s just enjoy that.” Straws. That’s what he was grabbing. Silently, he prayed that she would help him in dealing with this by stopping with the arguing. If she asked one more time, Spike didn’t think he’d have it in him to say no again.

It wasn’t enough, and both of them knew it. Still, as Buffy slid her legs back into her trousers, she knew she was going to have to be satisfied with what she had been able to steal from fate. She was going to have to remember to thank Xander back at the castle for convincing Riley to let them have this little break.

Standing, she stretched in feline curves, working out the kinks in her back from having sex on the uneven earth. She frowned when Spike began walking away, heading in the opposite direction of the tunnel. “Where are you going?” she asked.

He stopped, nodding toward the dead kelpie pinned in the distance. “Don’t fancy leavin’ a weapon behind when we’re not sure what’s comin’ up,” he said. “And our former cook sure as hell doesn’t need it.”

She followed after him, catching up in seconds to grab at his hand. When he hesitated, glancing down at her in query, Buffy just smiled and continued walking, squeezing his fingers in hers. Just a moment. Another stolen one. She wasn’t going to let go again until circumstances forced her. And even then, she wasn’t sure how she was going to find the strength to do it.

“I don’t know what you’re so worried about,” she mused, striving for some semblance of normalcy. “Nothing big or bad jumped out at me when I came through.”

“That’s because you had the harness, pet,” Spike replied. “Frankie said it was what was protectin’ you. You had a free pass, even if you didn’t know it. We, on the other hand, had hell on the way in. Well, Harris pretty much had hell. He didn’t really let me and Finn have a say in the matter when he found out he was all unkillable.”

“One of those multi-purpose demon artifacts.” Desperate for anything to lighten the mood, she launched into a faux television announcer voice. “Need a break? Tired of being a blip on the Demon Radar? Get the Harness 2000, available only from FrankCo. Guard yourself from the evil baddies that come creeping to your bed. Say goodbye to those pesky magical spells wrecking your social life. No more---.”

His stopping took her by surprise and she turned to see him staring at her, head tilted. “What did you say?” he asked.

“Huh?” Her head scrambled. “I don’t know, was it important?” Buffy confessed. “I was just kind of rambling. I have a tendency to do that when I get stuck in a sitch that turns me into frustration girl. You know that. Stuff kind of just comes out of my mouth. Like the Energizer bunny. It just keeps going, and going, and---.”

“About sayin’ goodbye to magic.”

“Oh. Isn’t that what Frank said?” She matched his frown, confusion darkening her eyes. “That’s why he can take me through the sealed entrance, right? Because the magic just kind of falls apart around the harness.”

“As well as protects you from it,” Spike added slowly.

“Yeah…” It took only a moment of staring into those depths to understand where he was leading her, and Buffy’s eyes widened, her jaw dropping at the same time. Hope. That’s what he was suggesting. And it almost hurt to reach out and grab it. “You don’t think…?”

He shrugged. “Would it hurt to try?”

“But Will’s always going on about scales, and energy keeping in balance.” It was coming too fast now, the possibilities and potential problems a whirlwind that refused to settle inside her skull. “If whatever wants to burn you up can’t, won’t it try going for someone else? Like Xander? Or Riley?”

“Probably.” He visibly deflated before his gaze flickered past Buffy’s shoulder, his eyes narrowing as his brain continued to tick over. “But if it’s so hot and bothered for a dead body, I think we might be able to oblige it…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 51: Farewell Thou Stream