It was time to move on. To leave. To leave Sunnydale...the past...and a promise made to a lady long dead. He knew that as surely as he knew that the sun rose every morning without ever laying eyes on it.
It was time.
He'd woken up, some weeks ago, in the middle of the afternoon, body aching from the previous night's patrol--sixteen vamps and a Drokken--and he hadn't missed her.
He hadn't missed her.
He hadn't dreamt of her eyes, her lips. Nor the way she fought. He hadn't woken up hard from remembering the one real, sweet, kiss she'd given him just weeks before she died.
He had to accept it. She was no longer haunting him. She was naught but a memory. Beloved, yes. Always that. But still a memory.
For two straight years, not a day had gone by without some amount of tears being shed for Buffy Anne Summers. The pain of her death had been as fresh as that first post apocalyptic morning. So intense sometimes that he couldn't feed or walk or even tolerate visits from her friends. *His* friends. Only Dawn had gotten through. And they'd cried together for months. Taking time out between training sessions or classes at school or Scooby Gang hang-out time to just curl up in a corner and remember her sister....to sob and laugh and sob some more.
But, somewhere, somehow, in these most recent months, he'd begun walking around dry-eyed.
And it was a sign.
It was how he knew he had to get out.
He was restless, edgy...feet constantly drumming against the side of his tomb as he juggled a hard pack of Marbs and willed himself not to smoke the last three all at once. Dawn had told him once..."Fine! You can't kill *yourself* doing that! But what about ME?"
And he'd cut down to half a pack a day...none around *her*.
A huge step down from a two pack habit.
His whole un-life had become a series of huge steps down. He was domesticated. An official good guy. A friend. Very nearly a *person*. And a better man.
It was a terrifying thought on multiple levels.
And he needed to run. To bolt. To flee.
Before someone else moved into the place that Buffy had used to occupy in his lunatic heart.
"N-no!" She shook her head, violently, backing away from Giles and the outstretched hand that was offering comfort. "No!! It can't be!"
"I'm afraid it's true," he murmured, shaking his head and adjusting the frames of his glasses, regretfully. "He's preparing to leave Sunnydale. He feels his time here is finished."
"It's NOT!" She heard her voice rise two octaves, to a veritable screech. Her 'banshee voice', Mom had called it. "He CAN'T leave! He's not allowed to leave!"
Panic suffused her system. Worse than the time she'd had to make the free throw that would tie Sunnydale with Kennedy and she'd ended up shattering the backboard instead. Worse than the time she'd cut herself to find out if the Key had blood. And almost worst than losing her mom and Buffy.
She bit down on her lip, continuing to shake her head. "No. No. No. No. I can't lose him, too, Giles. I can't," she gasped, pacing around the training gym.
"Then tell him that. Because I think you're the only one who can make him stay. The only one he'd stay *for*."
"Y-you really think so?"
"I know so."
The door moved with a soft scrape against the marble floor Xander had helped him install last year. He knew it was probably Rupert coming for another round of "You musn't stop fighting the good fight *now*! Not after all this time!"
"Whatever it is you've got to say, it won't work," he directed, without looking up from the tattered bus schedule he'd filched off a mugger. "I've heard it all and I don't care. I won't stay!"
A gasp. A whimper. :"N-not e-ven f-for m-me?"
A Dawn wrapped in nothing but a flowery pink sheet and her long, dark, auburn hair.
"Holy shit!" He sprang up from the tomb so quickly than he almost hit the floor in his haste to scramble back from the long, sparsely freckled, limbs, the barely hidden--and barely developed--curves. "Wh-what...what the bloody hell do you think you're DOING?" he cried, looking at the floor. The ceiling. The spider doing acrobatics on the doorframe. Anywhere but at the nubile, nearly-naked sixteen-year-old in front of him.
Her lower lip trembled. Wet anguish welled in her huge dark eyes and she only clutched the sheet tighter, shaking her head. "Spike..." she implored, breathlessly. "Spike, please!"
He dragged a hand through his hair, picking a safe spot in the middle of her worry-lined forehead to glower at. "For Christ's sake, you look like a soddin' virgin about to be sacrificed."
"Well...I am..." she said defensively. And then thought better of it, adding quickly, "And this isn't a sacrifice! It isn't!" But the tears trembled on the edges of her long, dark lashes, belying that assurance.
"Riiiiight..." he drawled, caustically, nodding. "And you just showed up wearin' that get-up 'cause you thought I was having a toga party?"
She winced and roses bloomed in her cheeks. Anger, not shame. "Were you even going to tell me you were leaving?" she countered. "Or were you just going to sneak out of town like a thief? Maybe...just...*maybe*...write me a note? 'Dear Dawnie...gotta go. Love ya. Bye'? God, Spike! Don't you think I deserve better?"
"Don't *you* think you deserve better?" he growled, harshly. "What's this, huh?" he demanded, waving a hand in the direction of her Jennifer Lopez-inspired fashion choice. "Showing up here like bleedin' Joan of Arc, ready to martyr yourself to make me stay? Do you really think that'll do it, Luv? Did you really think that's what I'd WANT?"
"Oh." Her lips tightened. And she nodded, slowly. "Right. Y-you wouldn't want me. I-I'm not pretty. I know that. And I'm not my sister. And I'm clumsy and just a kid and totally useless." She sniffled, her face going as clear and pale as a looking glass. "I'm ugly and I'm a lousy Key and an even lousier Slayerette."
"You are not!" he cut off, sharply, stalking over to her, grabbing her shoulders and roughly shaking the sense into her. "You're radiant," he assured, hoarsely, letting his eyes just barely skim over her slender body, for confirmation, before they came back to her face. "You're perfect. You're brilliant. You're great at basketball and you wield a mean crossbow. You don't have to be Buffy...you're you and that's more than good enough. You're amazing," he admitted, helplessly, knowing it was true.
She tilted her face up...guileless eyes shining, pink lips parted as if awaiting a kiss. "If I'm so amazing...then why won't you stay with me?"
That was when he knew he'd been had. He was caught. Trapped. And it was too late to drop his hands from her warm bare skin. To push her away. To say something cold and callous and wipe away the intimacy.
It was there.
As tenuous and fragile and easily torn as the sheet.
He closed his eyes, swallowing hard. Tried to pray even though he'd forgotten how a century ago. "I...I can't. I can't stay, Baby. I just can't."
"But *why*?" The tears were spilling over now. Down her cheeks, trailing down her throat and disappearing beneath folds of cotton into...into places he didn't even want to contemplate.
He swallowed again, feeling the muscles working like rusted robot parts. "Because it's time for me to get on. To go. I've got itchy feet, Li'l Bit. Wanderlust."
All of a sudden, her glossy mouth was too close. The heat from the brights of her eyes was incendiary. "Wander with *me*," she pleaded. "I need you. I can't lose you, too." He shook his head, frantically, stumbled...and she moved with him. Backing him up against the edge of the tomb. "*Please*."
There was no escape. "Y-you don't know what you're asking me," he reasoned, trying, in vain, to ignore the soft, *underage*, female, *Buffy's sister* form that was now much, much too close to his.
"No." One hand reached out to grasp the front of his t-shirt. "I know what I'm *telling* you." And the other dropped the sheet. "*Stay*."
He couldn't look down. He couldn't. But he felt her and that was a thousand times worse...pressed up against him...every curve he'd wanted to deny. Every muscle she'd developed in sports and training. Firm and lean and throbbing. Pleading. He groaned, turning his face into her hair. Into the blessed curtain of silk that would offer brief respite from her beauty. "Oh God. Baby, I was supposed to protect you...not this...never this..."
Dawn's trembling hand found his cheek, cradled the side of his face, and the first touch of her fingertips was like holy water. Sharp, stinging, pain. Smoke and a million points of fire on his skin. He flinched, hissing against the damnation. "I'm going to hurt you."
"I don't care," she said, softly, defiantly.
"Oh, but you will. And I won't be able to live with myself. Not this time."
"You *have* to live with yourself. For me. You're not allowed to die. Or to go away. You can't. You promised Buffy you wouldn't leave. You promised you'd stay with me!" she reminded, voice rising.
He pulled back, glaring down into her hopeful eyes. "Fuck promises!"
"Fuck ME," she cried, passionately.
"You watch your language, Young Lady," he warned, knowing, instinctively, how ludicrous it was to discourage a naked girl bent on seduction from cursing. A little bit like closing the barn door after the horse had run off to the pasture to mount the mare and make with the nasty.
"I'm not a little girl anymore, Spike. I never really *was*. I'm the Key. And I'm beginning to think I *am* fit for a lock. And that lock is *you*."
He sighed, wincing against the earnest passion. The conviction that was almost...almost easy to believe. "I'm a rusted lock, Li'l Bit," he reminded, gently. "Rusted and used and not fit for anyone. Especially not you."
"Bullshit! If not you then *who*, Spike? Do you see guys lining up to love a green ball of energy with skin? They may admire my jumpshot, but they can't *know* me! Those kind of people are never going to be a part of my life! I can't *trust* anyone else. I can't! And I can't love anyone else either...!"
The flurry of words stopped, abruptly. And her eyes widened as she touched her mouth...traced the edges. She was just as shocked as he was by the inadvertent confession.
"Oh, Dawn..." He said it. Said her name. Not 'Baby' or 'Li'l Bit' or any other cute pet moniker he'd given her over the years. "Dawn...Dawn...Dawn..." It seemed to be all he could work past his lips.
"I-I'm not taking it back." A swift, decisive, jerk of her head. "I-it's staying right there. I-I love you. And I won't let you go. Wander with *me*," she said again.
Against his will, his hands came up to cup her face...and he splayed his fingers across the smooth lines, the high cheekbones. His thumbs brushed the edges of her full lips, tracing the same path she'd traced just moments before. "You're sixteen..!" he gasped out, stricken by the sudden awareness of things below the waist...of things below the waist that didn't *care* that this was little Dawn...a wisp of a girl who he couldn't dare destroy. They only cared that she was entirely too close and entirely too nude. "You're only sixteen...!"
"Then wait for me...wait for me to get older if that's what you want. Just don't leave me," she implored. "Haven't I lost enough all ready? Mom, Buffy...and Dad might as well be dead for all he cares...I can't keep losing people."
"I'm not 'people'," he reminded, stroking her brow.
"No, you're *Spike*...and that's *more* than good enough!" she whispered against his mouth. Warm and loving and genuine.
Their foreheads were touching. They were as close as two bodies could be without being inside each other. And, suddenly, the crypt felt like the inside of a volcano. Jagged rocks and flames and boiling lava.
He watched the natives carry the virgin up to the edge of the crater and throw her in. And, as she descended, the look on her face wasn't one of terror...it was one of pure joy. Pure ecstasy.
He groaned, lost and depraved and helpless...and he kissed her back. Her beloved lips...her cheeks, her chin, the tip of her nose. He wandered from her eyebrows to her jaw...then down the column of her throat. And he stopped at her pulse, feeling it beat wildly beneath his tongue.
She was alive...so alive.
And so young. So unbelievably young. And vibrant.
And in love with him.
He shuddered, burying his face in her hair...this time knowing that it's soft, silken texture wouldn't hide the truth.
It was time to move on. To let go. To leave behind the past and a promise made to a lady long dead. He knew that as surely as he knew that the sun rose every morning without ever laying eyes on it.
It was time.
"All right," he relented as the tears ran down his cheeks and bathed them both in sin and devotion. "All right, I'll stay, Li'l Bit. I'll stay."
*And I'll wait.*
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