“No! No! No!” he roared as he ran. Moving with a preternatural speed beyond that which even a master vampire of his age would normally be capable, he covered the space separating them in less than a heartbeat. But it was not enough. He caught her to him and watched in horror as the crimson stain spread, her white cotton blouse rapidly darkening as her life’s blood poured out of her.
His mind struggled to make sense of what had just occurred.
For the last few weeks he had met up with the slayer on a regular basis. They patrolled together at night, took in the sights together on the days she was free from her responsibilities to the Council, and once a week, as he had promised himself he would, he took her out for lunch and assured himself that she ate at least one decent meal a week. Their friendship had bloomed rapidly, not only reaching its previous level, but far surpassing it. With none of the strains that their previous life had placed on their relationship they were able to relax and enjoy each other’s company in a way they had never been able to before.
He found himself looking forward to their time together, he enjoyed showing her the remnants of London past; the London he had known as a boy and then later as a young man. They explored London present together, discovering its secrets and its wonders. They would laugh together, spontaneous and trouble free, they had certainly come a long way from their Sunnydale days.
This day they had packed a picnic lunch and headed for Regent’s Park—a nice walk along the canal in the bright sunshine of a beautiful late-summer’s day. They had stopped at the Camden Lock and watched the narrowboats; Buffy had been fascinated by them and when she found out that you could ride on them she vowed to bring Dawn so they could have a trip on one of the exquisite boats. Spike had watched her face light up with joy, her hands clapping together like a little girl. He didn’t think he had ever seen her more relaxed or more beautiful.
After a simple picnic in the shade overlooking the canal so that Buffy could watch the boats make their tranquil, unhurried journey along the waterway, they had headed through the park toward their destination, London Zoo.
That is where things got a little fuzzy, he’d heard the child’s scream, seen the men in their balaclava’s pointing guns at the security guards as they got out of the security van near the automatic teller. He’d heard Buffy’s intake of breath as one of the armed men swung towards the terrified child and his mother. After that, all he could remember is Buffy leaving his side, the sound of guns firing, a child’s terrified sobbing and the mothers screams. He remembered the scent of blood—Buffy’s blood! Then he was running, catching her up in his arms as he listened to her laboured breathing, her heart struggling in her chest as her life pumped rapidly from her body.
He was vaguely aware of the security guards shouting for the men to put their hands on their heads; of the sobbing mother and child clinging to each other in terror and relief. He heard, but didn’t register, the murmurs of onlookers, a whistle blowing and horns honking. He felt water on his face and somewhere in the recesses of his brain he wondered if it had started to rain.
The shrill scream of the ambulance sirens broke through the veil of confusion and disbelief, bringing his mind plummeting back to the woman in his arms, her blood covering his arms and chest as he rocked her gently while mumbling soft words of encouragement.
The ambulance officers gently removed her from his protective embrace, rapidly moving around her, attaching leads and cords, placing a drip in her arm and covering her mouth with a mask. She was breathing, he could hear that, but her breath grew shallower and more erratic with each passing moment, her heart struggled to pump as the blood emptied from her veins. She was rapidly loaded onto a gurney and was being wheeled into the ambulance.
“Are you hurt?”
He looked around, to see the younger ambulance officer looking at him as if waiting for a response.
Spike looked blankly at the young man. “Pardon?’ he mumbled.
“I asked you if you are hurt, Sir? We need to get going, have to get the young lady to hospital. Are you injured in any way?”
“No, no I’m not…’s all her blood. Some bastard shot her..” He watched as the ambulance officers finished loading Buffy and made to close the doors. “Hang on a bloody minute, I’m coming with you. I’m not leavin’ her, understand!” He climbed aboard as the older of the two men nodded his assent.
Taking a seat as the ambulance roared out onto the busy street, sirens blaring and lights flashing, he watched as the younger officer checked Buffy over once more, emptying her pockets he removed her mobile phone and quickly turned it off.
“Oi, what you doin’, mate? I coulda used that to phone her sis an’ her friends. Now I’m gonna have to try an’ find the numbers!” Spike snapped at the man and snatched the phone out of his hands.
“Sorry, the signal interferes with our equipment, you can’t have a mobile on in here. Or in the hospital, for that matter. I am sure the staff at the hospital will be happy to lend you a phone book so you can look up the numbers you need. In the meantime, are you able to give me some details?”
The trip to the hospital was spent with the young officer keeping an eye on Buffy and maintaining her in a stable condition while also getting her name and other details from the anxious vampire. When they arrived at the hospital Buffy was whisked inside and Spike was left to fend for himself, making his way to the nurses’ station, he was told to wait and he would be contacted as soon as they had any progress to report. He asked for, and was given a phone book, but quickly gave up when he realised he had no idea where to start.
Informing the nurse on duty that he would be just outside the doors, he took Buffy’s phone out of his pocket and stared at it. He turned it on, yep, as he had suspected it wanted a password. Bugger! Okay, think... Buffy’s birthday? He tried that, punching it in forwards and backwards. No good. Dawn’s birthday—when he got to punching that in backwards it worked.
Searching through the numbers, he found the home number and Dawn’s mobile number, he would only call them as a last resort... didn’t want to tell the Bit over the phone that her sis was in hospital. Continuing on, he found Giles’ number. He phoned and left a shocked head of the New Watchers’ Council in the wake of his call. He simply didn’t have the time to be explaining how he was there or why he was with Buffy... he needed to get back inside to his slayer.
Yes, his slayer. From the moment he’d seen the blood stain spreading rapidly across her crisp white blouse he’d known, he could not lose her, not again. Every feeling he had ever had for her came rushing back to hit him full force. He loved her, and he knew without a doubt that he always had. Buffy was right, the bloody Powers had done something to him—something to make his feelings for her, not only go away, but they’d altered them so that initially all he had felt for her was contempt and hatred. Even when he’d overcome that, his true feelings for her had still been masked. Why? To what end?
Now, however, for whatever reason, the wall that had been built, locking his love for the slayer away, had come crumbling down and his love poured out, filling his heart and his soul. He could not, no, would not lose her again. Heading back inside, he checked again at the nurses’ station only to be told once again to sit and wait. Waiting was something he was not good at, by the time the watcher arrived with Dawn in tow Spike was frantic with worry. What the bleedin’ hell was taking so damned long?
Dawn stopped dead in her tracks, she stared at the vampire in disbelief. Although Giles had told her that Spike had phoned to tell him Buffy was in the hospital, it had not registered. Nothing, beyond Buffy and hospital, had registered.
Spike got to his feet and went to move toward her, only to hesitate as he recognised the glare on the teenager’s face. He watched as a myriad of emotions played across her face, settling finally on wonder. He opened his arms and went to move towards her but before he could take a step his arms were filled with quietly sobbing, shaking teenager.
“Hush, Nibblet,” he soothed, stroking her long auburn hair gently as he murmured soft words. “She’ll be okay, love. She’ll be okay.”
“What happened, Spike?” she hiccupped, trying to dry the tears that continued, despite her efforts, to fall in great fat drops.
“Big sis was being a hero, love. Savin’ a little boy from a nutter with a gun. Not really sure what happened after that, pet, just... somehow, she was shot. Was all so bleedin’ quick. Not a thing I could do about it, not a damned thing.” This last was muttered softly, his voice thick with self recrimination.
The big double door swung open. “Mr Prescott?” a voice called out.
Spike practically jumped out of Dawn’s arms as he swung around singing out, “Here, mate! You got some news for us? How is she? She gonna be okay?” The words poured out in a rush, desperate for the answers he’d been anticipating for hours.
“Yes, I do, can we take a seat?’ the doctor asked quietly.
“No! I don’t want to take a bloody seat, that’s all I’ve been doing for hours. I want to know how Buffy is? Now!” He practically growled, and Dawn was surprised not to see gold flecking his angry blue eyes.
“Miss Summers is out of surgery and is in recovery. The operation was long and difficult, there was a lot of internal damage which had to be repaired. We managed to save her spleen but we are not sure, as of yet, how much function it will retain. She is currently stable, but she has not yet regained consciousness. The next twenty-four hours are critical. As I said, there was a lot of damage, it’s a miracle that she survived at all.”
“Can we see her?” Dawn piped up with a small, scared voice. She felt the vampire wrap his arms around her again in silent support.
“Yes, you may, a nurse will be along shortly to show you to intensive care and will make arrangements for you to visit with her.
Giles had taken Dawn home to get some sleep, they would be back in the morning. They’d been sitting with Buffy for hours, taking it in turn to hold her hand and talk to her. Willing her to open her eyes—to come back to them. Exhaustion had begun to take its toll on the teenager, however, and both Giles and Spike had agreed that it would be better to take the girl home so that she could get some sleep in her own bed before returning in the morning. She had clung fast to Spike before leaving. “You’ll take care of her, right?” Her eyes brimmed with emotion as she turned their wide, trusting appeal on him.
“Course I will, pet! I’d protect her with my life, love. You know that.” He took her face gently in his hand. “Go on, love, get some sleep. Big sis will be alright. She just needs her rest, let that marvellous slayer healing do its work. You go on with the watcher, Bit. I’ll see you in the morning.”
The two Englishmen had shared a look over the teenager’s head. Spike nodded in agreement to the unspoken request, he would phone the watcher the moment there was any change in Buffy’s circumstances.
He sat by her bedside, her small hand held gently in his, his thumb caressing the soft skin on the back of her hand as he spoke to her.
“Right, pet, you got my attention now, so enough of this, ‘kay? ‘s time to wake up now, love. Buffy, love, please, come back to me, pet. I love you, kitten. I can’t lose you again. I just can’t. Damn it all, Buffy, you are stronger than this. You can’t let a little thing like this beat you. Not something like this, pet.” He lay his head on the covers next to her, just resting his eyes for a moment. Hours had passed with no sign of improvement from the wounded girl and the doctors were less and less hopeful that she would ever regain consciousness.
He’d never felt so helpless, well not since the day he’d watched as her body plummeted to the ground, ripped at by the mystical portal that had torn her life from her.
“Anything,” he spoke aloud. “I’ll do anything, whatever it takes, just don’t let her die!” He cried his passionate plea to the silent ether.
As his eyes drifted closed for a moment he felt his world shift, he no longer sat at his love’s bedside, no longer held her motionless hand in his. He opened his eyes to the blinding white brilliance of the strange endless room.
“Right, I’m back here, am I? What do you want? What will it take to save her?” His voice roared in the stillness and silence of the seemingly empty room.
There is nothing we require of you, the slayer lives or dies by her own choosing.
“Why the hell am I here then?” he demanded. He didn’t have time for this, he needed to get back to Buffy—she needed him.
“You have been rewarded with a gift beyond anything a creature of your kind has ever known. It was our desire that you receive this reward, others, however, questioned the wisdom of such a prize. It was believed that your affection for the slayer alone guided your actions, and that with the inevitable loss of this mortal being, you would in fact revert to the mayhem and carnage in which you delighted for more than a century. Our belief was otherwise.
“In order to assure those to whom we ourselves answer that your loyalties had indeed shifted towards the side of good, a test was required. You must know the complete loss of this love, in fact it was imperative that you believe the feelings you had harboured had been false from the outset. Only in this way could your actions be truly tested. You have proven to both ourselves and those to whom we bow that your intent is sincere. You are indeed a true warrior of the light.
“Your thoughts , your feelings are once again your own. No further restrictions or covenants shall be placed upon you. Go forth from here; your life is yours to live as so you choose. It is our hope and belief that you will continue your struggle against all that which seeks to devastate and destroy.
“Go now, child. Live your life.”
“Wait a bloody minute! You mean you did all this as a test? A soddin’ test? Couldn’t you have just bloody asked me?” He was fuming; what they had done, to him, to Buffy—for a test!
A ripple of laughter floated through the air before the blinding light was replaced with the softer filtered light of Buffy’s room. His head rested, still, on the covers close to her pillow. He closed his eyes once more, the words he had heard echoing in his mind. He was pulled from his reverie by a tentative touch. Buffy’s hand rested delicately on his head, her fingers gently stroking and teasing the errant curls which had broken free of their restraint.
“Buffy, love?” His joy was evident in his face, in his eyes and the wonder in his voice.
She smiled gently at him, his heart skipping a beat at the sight of his beloved; alive, awake, and smiling with love—love that was for him alone!