That was okay. The rain suited his mood.
“I made a promise to a lady.”
Actually he had made two promises. One was that he would return and talk, let her know what was going on in the lives of those she had left behind. At least that one he could keep.
He wasn’t really thinking about where he was going. He didn’t need to. The path to his destination was well trodden, almost ingrained on his memory to the point where he could simply walk there on automatic pilot.
When he finally reached the place he stopped and scanned the graveyard for any activity. He saw none. The lateness of the hour, and the rain, had probably driven most people inside.
Good. He needed to be alone, and couldn’t have picked a better night if he had tried. In truth, though, he had known for most of the day that he would end up here. The loneliness, the need to talk had become overwhelming, and it had been too long since his last visit.
The gravestone was barely visible, a black shape against the dark night. Spike didn’t need to see the gravestone to know what it said, however. The simple epitaph was as ingrained on his memory as the path that led to it.
Satisfied that he was alone, Spike carefully laid the flowers at the base of the stone. It was, to be fair, a rather sorry bouquet, with the look of being the last one in the shop at the end of a hot day. Entirely appropriate since that was precisely what it was, but Spike had been unable to find many places still open for such things after dark. To compensate for the wilting carnations, he had bulked it out with a handful of other flowers stolen from Andrews Park on the way back. He knew none of these types were traditional grave flowers, but what mattered was that they were colourful. She liked colour. He suspected she would disapprove of the theft if she knew, but she was no longer in a position to disapprove of him, or indeed anyone.
“Alright,” he nodded by way of greeting. Formalities out of the way he sighed and sat down on the ground next to the grave, ignoring the wetness of the grass. It wasn’t as if the cold could affect him much. For a moment he frowned in thought. Knowing how to start was always the hardest part of these visits.
“Where do I start?” he pondered aloud. “What’s new since I last talked to you?
“Dawn’s alright. Not all singing and dancing alright, but she’s holding it together. Willow and Tara moved into your house. They’re taking care of Dawn. They’re being mum, big sis, friends, whatever Dawn needs them to be. Xander and Giles are being all father figurey. Trying to be, at least. They’re the ones who are being practical and doing the official stuff and whatever. And Anya mostly just says the first thing she thinks of at any given time, so no real change there.
“I’m just being me. I’m the one who doesn’t pretend for her. I think she needs that, and I think none of the rest of them can bring themselves to really tell her the truth. So I do. Willow and the gang get to look after her. I’m the one who protects her.”
He smiled a bitter smile.
“Imagine that. A hundred and twenty year old vampire babysitter. I suppose this is the Hellmouth. Stranger things have happened before, and will probably happen again.”
He paused for a moment, wondering what avenue of discussion to follow next.
“What else is new? We’ve got patrolling covered. Getting pretty good as well. Giles and Xander don’t like that I’m working with them. They don’t say anything but it’s obvious. They don’t have a lot of choice though. I mean, Willow’s getting to be a pretty powerful witch, but they still need a supernatural edge on the physical side. Like it or not, I’m all they’ve got.”
Spike deliberately didn’t mention the Buffy robot, which also formed the physical front line of their patrols. Considering the circumstances surrounding the robot’s construction he didn’t think she would particularly approve. And he didn’t like thinking about the robot at all if he could help it. It was too much like Buffy – the real Buffy. Until it opened its mouth, that was. Then it was just a hideous parody that embarrassed and disgusted anyone who had ever known the real thing.
“You know, Dawn asked me a couple of days ago if she could come on patrol with us. I told her she’d patrol over my dead body.” Spike paused and smiled slightly at the memory. “Then she pointed out that technically I was dead, so she would take that as a yes. Things got ugly for a while then. But don’t worry, I put a stop to that idea. Like I said, I’m protecting her.”
An image suddenly came to mind. A memory of a crane tower, of Dawn, of the look on her face. She had believed until the very last moment that he would save her. That look had hurt even more than the moment when Doc had slid the knife into his back.
“I don’t smell a soul anywhere on you. Why do you even care?”
“I made a promise to a lady.”
Spike choked for a moment, unable to speak. The rain grew steadily harder to become a downpour, and cold water splashed off his coat, soaked his shirt, trickled down the back of his neck and coursed down his face, the latter intermingled with tears.
That memory plagued his dreams of late. It came to mind unbidden whenever he wasn’t deliberately concentrating on something else.
“I made a promise to a lady.”
So much for his promises. He had failed Dawn when she needed him most. Even if he spent the rest of his immortal existence protecting her, nothing he did now would ever make up for that failure, and its consequences.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into the darkness. “I let you down. I’m so sorry.”
It was a long time, hours even, before he resumed his monologue conversation.
“I won’t let anyone hurt Dawn again. Not ever. You don’t have to believe that if you don’t want to. You know now how much my promises are worth. The only one that ever mattered and I broke it.
“But I won’t do that again.”
He paused, gathering his thoughts together and then pushed the memory away. It would return, there was no doubt about that, but for a while he could try to forget.
Finally deciding he ought to try a lighter note, Spike cuffed the water from his face and simulated a deep, cleansing breath. The rain still poured, and was running down his face again in an instant, but it was enough to jolt him into a slightly better mood.
“What is it about you Summers’ women? Is it some weird family trait?” he asked rhetorically. “You know, by rights I should have killed the lot of you years ago. Open invite to your house for so long, it should have been easy. But I couldn’t. I mean, Slayer I couldn’t kill because I got my ass kicked every time I tried. But mum and little sis, it should have been easy. But I couldn’t. Even before the bloody chip.
“Isn’t that just the most insane, warped thing ever? A vampire actually caring about the mother and sister of his mortal enemy?”
Other memories came to mind, some of which he knew must have been created by the monks who made Dawn into a human, but they still felt real. He remembered Dawn at first as a small, frightened child. Later when the chip had been implanted she had become less cautious. She had spent time with him, come to know him with a lack of fear, a genuine interest, and an obvious adolescent crush that both flattered and bewildered him.
Joyce he remembered just as fondly. His first memory of her was being hit over the head by a furious mother in defence of her daughter, and he had a lot of respect for that. Even when she knew what he was, she had always been polite and friendly, and more than willing to chat with him. Spike smiled a little as he recalled sitting in the Summers’ kitchen drinking hot chocolate and letting Joyce offer advice and condolences on his recent split with Drusilla.
Buffy, of course, was a different matter entirely. After all the crap he had thrown at Angel for falling in love with the Slayer, Spike finally understood what his grandsire had seen in the girl. Hell, maybe that was his ‘family’ trait. A dangerous attraction that drew the males of his undead lineage to one Buffy Summers, and into a dance of death and love. A dance that had led him here.
It really was insane.
Spike began to ramble, talking about anything and everything that he considered even vaguely newsworthy. Mostly he talked about Dawn, but also about the gang, and any amusing anecdotes from their lives of late. He wasn’t sure how long he was talking, but he finally stopped himself when he realised with embarrassed surprise that he had been expounding at some length about the latest furniture additions to his crypt.
He glanced up and saw that in spite of the downpour and the black clouds that held Sunnydale in their rainy thrall, the eastern horizon was beginning to grow lighter.
“Sun’s coming up,” Spike commented. “I’ll have to go soon. Hell, I’ve run out of things to say anyway. And if you are even listening you probably got suicidally bored about two hours ago.”
He stood up, noticing for the first time that his jeans were soaked through and that there was a patch of mud and torn grass where his boots had been. If anyone came past today they might be able to tell that someone had been here at this particular grave. Spike didn’t care.
“I made a promise to a lady.”
Spike hesitated and closed his eyes, willing the image away again. It was harder to dispel this time. He had exhausted all other conversation topics to concentrate on.
“Remember, you’ve got my promise. For all it’s worth, you’ve got my promise.”
He sighed and shook water off his clothes.
“It’s been nice talking to you again. Till next time, eh?”
For a moment Spike smiled a bittersweet smile of memory. An image of her face. Then it was gone and he turned to leave.