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Title:  Fragments

Author:  PricelessSpike

Era/season/setting: Post all seasons, including comics.

Rating: PG

Warnings: Character death

Authors Note: This is not a happy story, it deals with issues with aging and does not have a happy ending. Thank you to my wonderful beta Stoney.

Some monsters appear so unexpectedly, that you don’t even notice their presence until it’s too late. At first she forgot simple words, furiously describing everyday objects as if they were playing a game, “Oh you know, that thing, that thing that you open the door with…,” getting more and more frustrated with herself for not remembering something so simple.

He would shrug and suggest, “Key?” and she would laugh with relief, shake her head and say she was getting so old.

She forgot where she put things, and where things belonged. Objects would appear in surprising places: stakes in the bathroom, the sugar bowl on the bedroom floor, boxes of cat food on the bookshelves. They still laughed about it, but he began to worry. So did she, but he hadn’t known how much, until one evening she came to him in tears, “Spike, I can’t remember my sister’s name.”

He knew she was getting older of course, time passed, it was the natural order of things. But fifty-five wasn’t old. She was still sharp-witted, always ready with a joke to accompany a staking. Even in her confusion, she was still the most brilliant and exciting woman he’d ever known, that hadn’t changed.

He used to watch her, marvelling at her grace and power, waitingfor that slow turn of her head, when she would catch his eye and smile at him knowingly, full of promises. Times she’d throw him a weapon during battle or cradle him in her arms when the fight was over, those times were unforgettable.

Now he watched her fumbling over names and forgetting birthdays. He saw the fear in her eyes and tried to laugh it off. He’d hand her a weapon and watch her stare at it anxiously, not remembering what to do with it. She would forget what happened yesterday, but complain bitterly about some petty offence Dawn had committed forty years ago, as if it had just happened that morning.

They went to a Council doctor, who recommended a specialist. The specialist ran a battery of tests and very patiently talked them through what was happening. She said, kindly, that Buffy was very young to have this sort of dementia, and it was likely caused by repeated trauma to the head.

“But she’s a bloody slayer!” Spike had shouted, rising from his chair.

The specialist shrugged sympathetically. “No slayer has lived this long. We have no way of knowing the effects of repeated trauma on a slayer’s brain.” She suggested they devise a care plan. There were medications Buffy could take and therapies that would help with her memory. It was early days and they should not lose hope.

That night in bed, they curled themselves around each other and Spike begged forgiveness for every blow he’d ever inflicted and they both wept, knowing what they were going to lose.

“It’s not dementia,” Buffy said later, in those early hours when neither had been able to sleep. “It’s demon-tia. Get it? It’s a demon in my head, and we’ll fight it as long as we can, like we always do.”

“You barmy bint,” Spike said, pulling her close. He was warmed by her touch and moved by her attempt at humour. “Things can’t be so bad, if you can still pun, my sweet.” He kissed her and stroked her body, still lovely and powerful and open to his touch, and afterwards he whispered, “I love you so very much, my beautiful brave slayer.”

“I know you do, and I love you,” she’d said simply, wrapping herself around him. “I might forget that though, later, and you’ll have to be the brave one and remember for the both of us.”

She developed a mantra, “My memory isn’t as good as it used to be.” She’d repeat it to friends she no longer recognised and during conversations she couldn’t follow.

On bad days, she would scream at Spike to get away from her, that he was, “A dirty soulless thing,” and she’d threaten to slay him. She would call out for Angel, and get angry and tearful when he didn’t appear. Eventually they had to stop sharing a bed. Spike imagined her terrified, waking up in the night, next to a corpse she couldn’t remember loving.

On good days she would be fully present and they would talk and laugh like old times. She could remember some things with such clarity, while others escaped her completely. She remembered the shock of seeing Spike in bright sunshine, wearing that mythical gem, and she would joyfully describe every detail of the fight they’d had, but she had no memory of a trip to Alaska they’d taken the previous year. “I’m a slayer, of course I remember the fights. Holidays,” she’d shrug, “not so much.”

There were other times, when she’d thank him for visiting and apologise for not remembering his name. He learnt quickly to hide his hurt when she called him Angel or Giles. The worst times were when she’d take his hand and with trembling voice, ask uncertainly, “Is my mom dead?” and he wanted to rage against the gods for inflicting such cruelty on her.

But instead, he’d tenderly stroke her face and say, “Yes pet, but it was a long time ago,” and she would nod and turn away, trying to hide her tears.

The demon took bite after bite, until Buffy put Spike in mind of Dru’s dolls, silently staring at him, glassy eyed and uncomprehending. Nurses would come to help bathe and feed her. She would lay on her day bed by the necro-tempered window and he would hold her hand, read to her or talk about the life they had shared. He did what he thought he should, what the books told him to do, but sometimes his courage would fail and, weeping, he’d pull her tight against him and beg her to return.

She eventually forgot how to swallow and the doctors confirmed this was end stage. It had taken eight short years for this demon to devour the slayer completely.

Then the house seemed to fill with people. Friends and family, some not seen for years, would appear in the kitchen, helping themselves to coffee and sandwiches. Slayers would drop by unannounced, stay a day or a week, helping where they could. Sam Finn, Robin Wood, Kennedy, Clem, Rona, Eldre Koh, Andrew … so many old faces.

“You must come and stay with us,” Xander offered, “after…,” he faltered, unable to say the words.

“Oh yes,” Dawn jumped in quickly, taking Spike’s hand in hers. “And there’s always a job at the Council. That’d give you something to focus on.”

While some thought of the future, others raged at the present. “I thought B would outlive us all,” Faith said, watching Spike spoon watery soup into Buffy’s slackened mouth. “Those damn scientists have to find a cure for this fucking horrible disease,” she hissed with disgust. “Can’t you, like, tube feed her or something?”

“Worse outcomes with tube feeding,” Spike said without turning, his back stiffening at the perceived criticism. “Pneumonia and that.” Faith reddened and with mumbled apology, left the couple to their tender ritual.

Others were lost. “I don’t know what to do Spike,” Willow sobbed, clinging to him. “How can I help her? If I can’t use my magic, what use am I?”

Some simply didn’t have any words at all. “It’s Irish,” Angel said defensively, handing Spike a bottle. He opened the whiskey, found some glasses and the two men sat and drank in gloomy silence.

Nowadays, Spike kept his thoughts for Buffy alone. “This house is full of sodding people,” he complained, with mock anger. “They’re all here for you, Buffy. Paying their respects, as we used to say. As they should.” He lay his head on her breast and wrapped his arm around her frail body. Her breathing was laboured, every breath a struggle. “Have I ever said thank you?” he asked. “For loving me, for making me a better man? I’d have been dust long ago, if not for you. Thank you for letting me love you.” He tenderly scattered barely-there kisses across her temple, eyelids, her mouth. “I won’t fail you slayer, I won’t let you down,” he promised, repeating the words over with each kiss. “Don’t fret, beautiful girl. Your mum’ll be waiting. I promise, it’ll all be alright.”

Each night he would repeat these words, pretending he was reassuring them both, but knowing she couldn’t possibly understand. When she finally slipped away, he wasn’t even there, Willow was with her. She swore she hadn’t used magic and Spike chose to believe her. “I held her hand and I was talking about old times,” she said, stoical now, wanting to comfort him. “She stopped breathing and I knew. I called the nurse and she confirmed it.”

In the end it had been such an ordinary death, for such an extra-ordinary woman. He consoled himself with the thought that he’d seen her death once and once had been enough. Much later, years later, he came to realise he’d been mourning her every day for eight years and now he could allow himself to feel relief that she was finally free. She had died twice as a slayer and was twice resurrected, so perhaps with this so-called natural death, his amazing girl had achieved the simplicity she had so often craved in life, and he told himself he should be glad of that.

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