Buffy watches over Spike for hours in Giles' basement, even though she has been told that there will be no change, that there is no hope. She comes every day and watches him anyway.
There are translucent screens set up around the bed, but she pushes them aside and sits as close to her lover as she can. She holds his unresponsive hand and presses it to her lips, traces the contours of his face with the side of her thumb. Warm tears fall from her eyes against her will, vision blurring so that the fresh blood dripping into his arm through a tube appears only a smear of red.
Does he dream? Buffy wonders. She watchs his eyes flickering beneath their lids, his pale skin the colour of eggshells, and decides that he does.
Do his dreams involve blood and night, she wonders, the thrill of the hunt and the pleasure of the kill? She thinks it likely, for those are all the things that he will never know again. All the things he had hoped to regain, when he inhaled the ether and went under the surgeon's knife.
"When I wake up, we're going to have so much fun," he had said to her with such boyish anticipation that the memory still makes her smile. "We'll paint the town bleedin' red, love, a welcome home party for the big bad. Yeah, when I wake up..."
Many weeks after that talk, she killed the demon that performed the operation.
* * *
Maybe, Buffy speculates as she fingers his short white hair, he is dreaming about me.
Perhaps it is her own self that makes his unseeing eyes track from one side to another: an illusory Buffy that walks across a crowded room in a low-backed dress and throws him a sly glance from over her bare shoulder as she leaves. Perhaps, when his fingers tense and then relax, he is imagining running his hands through her golden hair, the prelude to a kiss. Perhaps he dreams of her as often as she dreams of him.
She will never know for certain. All she knows is that he dreams.
And if he dreams, Buffy reasons, then perhaps he can also hear. So she lies alongside her sleeping prince, his head cradled in the crook of her arm, and whispers love poems into his ear. She tells him the doings of her days and the secrets of her heart, hoping that he can hear her through the veils that have fallen between them. She says his name over and over again, until it is no longer a word and becomes simply a prayer.
Yeah, Spike, when you wake up...
* * *
Sometimes she will fall asleep beside him, her head pillowed against Spike's cold shoulder with her eyes closed in a pale imitation of her lover's coma. In these little deaths she can be with her lover once again, but the visions that come to her are far from benign.
"A vampire could stay like this forever," dream-Spike will whisper sensuously into her ear as the two of them stand before the shell of his corporeal body, every inch of her skin tingling and electric to his ghostly presence. "The body is strong, my love," he says with his lips to her hair, "and all it needs is regular feeding." Slowly his half-transparent hand reaches out and closes over the needle that runs into his physical arm, the blood trickling through the clear plastic tube seeming almost too red to be real. "Forever. Not dead, not alive, just... being." With a quick jerk, ghost-Spike will rip out the needle and watch his dead flesh crumble into dust with a smile on his face...
Sometimes she dreams that she stands over Spike's bed, holding a stake to his dead heart, although the trembling of her hand betrays the weakness of her resolve. He is awake and watching with amused blue eyes, revelling in her weakness with bitter glee. "A Slayer who cannot Slay," he mocks. "It's almost as ridiculous as a vampire who can't bite!" He convulses in a fit of laughter as she quails before the telling cruelty of his words, wishing he would unsay them but knowing that even if he did they would still be true. While she struggles to find some kind of answer, Spike will suddenly snatch the stake from her slack hand - "here, love, let me do the job for you" - and before Buffy can move he is gone, leaving her clawing at empty sheets and ashes.
* * *
But worst of all are the nights that Spike comes to her dreams in a fury - Spike as he used to be, dressed in black leather and moving with the grace of a predator.
"What bloody right do you have?" he will shout, his face contorted with anger and his body taut with barely contained rage. "Fuck you, Slayer. What gives you the right to decide that I should go on like this? Like a fucking vegetable..." With a growl, he will snatch up the nearest thing to hand and dash it to the ground, shouting at her, "This isn't life, you idiot child! This is - arrogance."
With a visible effort he calms himself and tries to reason with her. "You know what you should do, Buffy. You know this isn't what I would have wanted! So just - do it." And Spike will put the stake into her hand himself, closing her lax fingers around the warm wood.
"I can't!" she replies, tears running down her face, the stake loathsome to her touch.
"But you must," he whispers, his eyes shining with tears he would never admit to shedding, and she knows that this is the closest that Spike will come to pleading. "I don't want to go on like this, Buffy... What gives you the right to choose it for me?"
The dream always ends before she can reply, so she will wake with a cry rising from her throat and her soul screaming out the answer - I have the right! I have the right, because I love you.
"Because I love you," she sobs, holding his lifeless form in her arms. "Isn't that enough?"
She has no way of knowing what his reply would be. There is a tiny part of her that wonders and suspects nonetheless; but Buffy does not really wish to listen. She would prefer to watch, and wait, and hope.
* * *
The stories have it wrong: Sleeping Beauty never woke up with a kiss, and Snow White's prince never arrived. Those are the tales they have always told to children, but once upon a time the adults knew better - if only they still did.