All About Spike - Print Version
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Future Imperfect
By cousinjean

Summary: In the year 2336, Buffy wakes to find she is humanity's only hope for the future, and Spike is the only link to her past. Contains spoilers for Season 5. Set during and 335 years following "The Gift."

Pairing: Who do you think?

Notes: Partial dialogue taken directly from the Season 5 episode "The Gift," written by Joss Whedon. Some story elements (and at least one of the featured weapons) are direct rip-offs of the BBC miniseries "Ultraviolet." Hey, if I was full of original ideas I’d write nothing but original fiction, 'kay? Standard disclaimers apply.

Over-all, rated R for sex and violence (you know, the good stuff). This part's only PG.

Big love and thanks to adjrun and Ehann for their righteous (yes, I'm in 1989) beta-reading skills and excellent advice. Special props to eep, who inspired this whole thing when she asked over at MBTV, "Will the CoW still deem [Spike] as ‘evil’ in, say, 2374?"




Part One: A Desperate Action

Spike runs. Up the tower, as fast as he can. As he reaches the top, the girl screams out to him, and the old man--demon, whatever the hell he is--turns to greet him.

"Doesn’t a fellow stay dead when you kill him?" he asks the creature.

"Look who’s talking."

"Come on, Doc," Spike says, readying himself for a fight, "let’s you and me have a go."

"I do have a prior appointment," Doc says, indicating Dawn, tied to the end of the platform behind him.

"This won’t take long," Spike promises. He’s cocky. The old guy doesn’t look like much of a challenge. Hell, if Harris could best him…

"No," Doc says, "I don’t imagine it will."

Spike lunges, but before he can make contact the old man is behind him, plunging a knife into his lower back. Spike screams. Bloody hell, that hurt. He manages to get himself between Doc and the girl, and re-evaluates the situation. He’s never seen anything that could move that fast.

"You don't come near the girl, Doc," Spike warns.

The old man sniffs the air. "I don't smell a soul anywhere on you... why do you even care?"

"I made a promise to a lady."

"Oh." Doc nods in understanding, but then his reptilian tongue lashes out at Spike‘s head.

Spike dodges it, but it’s just a feint. Before he knows what’s happening, Doc has a hold of him from behind, pushing him to the edge of the platform. The little old man guise is obviously a ruse, designed to give his enemies false confidence. The creature is impossibly strong. Spike struggles to free himself, to keep away from the edge, to send the old bastard over the side in his place, but it’s no use.

"I’ll send the lady your regrets," Doc says.

Spike has just enough time to see the look of sheer terror and defeat on Dawn’s face. "No," he pleads.

His plea is met with a shove. As he falls, he hears the little girl’s anguished scream mingle with his own.

***

The vampire awoke with a start. "Bloody hell," he muttered as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

"You okay back there?" the pilot asked.

"Fine," Spike said. "Just dozed off, had a dream."

"Not a good one, by the sound of things."

"It never is."

The pilot made a sympathetic noise. "Anyway," he said, "I was just about to wake you. We’re almost there."

Spike grunted in reply. He gazed out the transport pod’s window as the Council headquarters came into view. At least, he guessed that’s what it was, since that’s where he was headed, but all these buildings looked alike to him. Architecture these days was all about efficiency and functionality. Aesthetic considerations were a luxury belonging to another time, another world.

He could see that other world, hanging low on the horizon. It looked healthy again, blue and green and lush, just like in pictures he’d seen long ago, taken during humanity’s first explorations of this barren rock they now called home. It looked ripe for the taking, which was exactly what the Council intended to do.

How the hell he figured into their plan, he had no idea. He supposed that’s what he’d been summoned here to find out. He was too recognizable for a spy mission, so that was out. The Slayer was safely tucked away on Mars, undergoing intense combat training, so he wouldn’t have been called here for her benefit.

He’d know soon enough, he supposed.

He felt a familiar series of bumps as the transport docked at the airlock. The hatch opened. "Thanks, mate," Spike told the pilot as he climbed out. After passing through a series of pressurized chambers, he was met by two security officers, armed to the teeth with anti-vamp weaponry. No doubt he’d set off their alarms when he’d entered. Spike sighed as he showed them his ID and his standing invitation.

The senior guard inspected them, then ordered the underling to stand down as he handed them back. "Sorry, sir," he said. "Just following standard precautions."

Spike tried to rub the weariness out of his eyes. "Weren’t you told to expect me?"

"Yes sir, but you never can be too careful."

He nodded, then noticed the underling staring at his coat. "Something wrong, junior?"

"No, sir," he said. "I mean, yes, sir. Your coat."

"What about it?"

"It’s leather. Leather was outlawed in 2198, sir."

Spike blinked at the boy. "Well, yeah, but that’s because we only managed to make it off of the planet with about 50 heads of cattle. I’ve had the coat for just a bit longer than that." He smiled, a humorless grin that matched his mood. "But you’re welcome to do your duty and try and take it from me."

"N-no, sir," the officer said. "Please, carry on."

Spike pocketed his papers, and did just that. He couldn’t help feeling a twinge of disappointment. Nobody here would fight with him, except for the Slayer, and she’d been gone for over three months. Maybe he’d stop by the cadet lounge later, see if anybody else would give him grief about his coat. Most of the folks around here were used to it, but there were bound to be some new recruits who wouldn’t know any better.

The prospect of a good, old-fashioned bar brawl lifted his spirits a bit. He found himself smiling as he moved through the antiseptic white corridors towards the briefing room. His smile faded as he approached the room’s entrance and prepared to undergo another identification process. The doors around here opened automatically for anybody with a body temperature, but for him it required a voice code and a retina scan to gain admittance. It always reminded him of bad science fiction movies he used to watch, back when there’d still been such a thing.

He stopped at a panel outside the door, but as he opened his mouth to recite his code, the door slid open, and a dark haired boy in his mid-twenties stepped outside.

"Oh, hey, Spike," he said.

"Harris."

"Mom was just sending me down to check on you."

"Well, I’m here," Spike said as they both stepped inside the room. He looked around at the assembled officials. "Now, does somebody want to tell me why I’m here?"

"Of course, William," a matronly woman in glasses replied from the head of the conference table. "We’ll begin just as soon as you have a seat."

The Watchers, ever the sticklers for formalities, all waited as he took a seat at the opposite end of the table, and Nick Harris sat catty-cornered from him. As he sat, he scanned the table until his eyes fell on Anne. She smiled and offered him a little wave, and he responded with a wink and a grin. Once again he was struck by how much the girl resembled Joyce Summers. It amazed him that the woman’s genes could still have such a strong influence after so many generations.

"As you all know," Chairwoman Harris began, "the Council of Watchers is working with the military in an effort to reclaim our home planet from the vampire infestation."

A few eyes shifted to glance at Spike on those last two words. He pretended not to notice.

"It seems that our scientists have made an astounding technological breakthrough that will bring us one step closer to that goal. Time travel, of course, was first proven possible over twenty years ago, but there were still several variables to be worked out, and stabilizing the process to control where, or should I say, when you would end up proved difficult, at best." She paused for effect.

"Look," Spike interjected, "I don't mean to be rude, but I'm very old, and very tired. Will you be getting to the point any time soon?"

"Patience, William," she said. "I'm getting there." She smiled. "Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that our people have perfected the process so that they are able to pinpoint a precise moment in time in which they are able to either extract or introduce an object."

"An object," Nick said. "You mean, like a person?"

"Great!" Spike said. "So, we send somebody back to stake that Lilah bitch before she ever gets a chance to push the button, and this whole sodding mess will never have happened. Good plan."

"I’m afraid it’s not that simple," the chairwoman said. "To do that would change the entire course of history."

"Yeah," Spike said. "That’s kind of the point. It’s not like it’s been a history any of us feel too bloody attached to."

"Perhaps not overall, no, but if we were to pursue that course of action, where would we draw the line? Why target Lilah Morgan? Why not go back even further and target, say, Adolf Hitler?

"Because Hitler’s not responsible for the mess we’re in now, that’s why."

"Yes, well. Even so, William, we in this room are rather attached to our existences. I’m fairly certain that if you polled the other colonials, they would feel the same way. And you yourself wouldn‘t want to do anything to endanger the very existence of your Anne here, would you?"

Spike looked at the young woman, who appeared less than pleased at being used to manipulate him. Good for her. Still, he sighed. "You’ve got a point. So then, what is the plan, and what’s it got to do with me?"

Mrs. Harris smiled. "I’m glad you asked. As you know, the colonial military is fairly new, and though it is not without its heroes, there are none living who are capable of inspiring the confidence in the troops that is necessary for a successful strike against the Earth’s inhabitants. Ideally, the Slayer would lead the charge, but although Jessica has proven a skillful fighter, she is hardly capable of commanding an entire army. Besides, supernatural gifts aside, our soldiers are hardly likely to have much confidence in a fourteen year old girl."

Spike furrowed his brow as he listened. He wasn’t sure he liked where this was going.

"What our army needs is not simply a Slayer, but the Slayer. The greatest who ever lived. And we now have the ability to retrieve her." Mrs. Harris pressed a control on the consol in front of her, and the lights dimmed. She pressed another control, and a holographic projection appeared in the center of the table.

If Spike’s heart still worked, it would have skipped a beat. The holographic model in front of him was crude, but even so, he had no trouble recognizing what it represented. As he watched, a dimensional portal opened up beneath the tower’s platform. His memory worked to fill in the absent details, so that in his mind’s eye he was looking at a perfect re-enactment, as vivid and real as it had appeared in his dreams night after night for the last three centuries. He clenched his jaw as the chairwoman continued.

"Our scientists are confident that they can retrieve Buffy Summers from the midst of the portal that killed her, before irreparable damage is done to her body. They will then replace her with a lifeless clone. The body will fall out of the portal, just as in her Watcher’s account of the event, thus preventing any disruptions of history. The real Miss Summers, however, will be brought here, very much alive, to finish out her mission by leading the assault against Earth." The chairwoman turned off the hologram and turned the lights back up. "Any questions?"

The room went silent as all eyes turned to Spike.

"No," he said.

"All right, then," Mrs. Harris said. "I suggest we--"

"I mean, no," Spike said. "You’re not doing this."

The woman’s smile faded into a look of confusion. "But, William, I’d have thought you’d be pleased."

"Pleased? You thought I’d be pleased that you want to pull her out of the bloody frying pan and into the fire? To fight a war that’s not even hers? She already finished out her bleeding mission, and she got to die for something that actually meant something to her."

"William--"

"No!" He jumped up, knocking his chair over behind him. "You won’t do this. It’s not fair to her. Let her rest in peace."

Mrs. Harris leaned back in her chair. With a sigh, she took off her glasses, and set them on the table. She looked up at him, her face full of sympathy, yet set with determination. "I’m sorry, William, but I am not asking you. I’m telling you."

Spike stared at her for a moment, then he hung his head in resignation, and ran a frustrated hand through his dark curls.

"Whether to bring her back is not the issue," the chairwoman said. "The decision is already made, and orders have been handed down. It will happen tomorrow, with or without your cooperation." She paused to let this sink in, then continued. "The reason we asked you here is that, because you have a history with the girl and we believe your presence will be beneficial in easing her transition to our time, we feel that you are the best candidate to assume the role of her Watcher."

Spike’s head snapped up. "You… you want me to be Buffy’s Watcher?"

"That’s correct."

Spike laughed. He couldn’t help it. This was too much. It was all too absurd. He had to get out of there. He turned around and headed for the door, but it failed to open for him. He kicked it. "Somebody open this bloody door!" he shouted. Nick jumped up and opened it for him, and he stormed out into the corridor. He heard the doors swish shut behind him, and he began to pace. He wanted a cigarette. Something else that no longer existed, at least not off world. He wondered if the vampires back on Earth had managed to regrow tobacco after the radiation clouds had abated, or if that was another thing they’d ruined forever. At any rate, he couldn’t have a cigarette, no matter how badly he craved one, and right now he craved one more than blood.

He heard the doors swish open behind him, and he stopped pacing.

"Uncle Spike," said Anne.

"I’m not your bleeding uncle, Sunshine, and I think you’re a little old to keep calling me that."

She came to stand in front of him. "Spike," she said, "you can’t say no to this."

"I bloody well can too." He pointed at the roomful of Watchers. "They’re going to bring Buffy back, like some kind of tool, because that’s all the Slayers ever are to these people. And they want me to be her Watcher?" Again, he laughed.

"Why is that so funny? You’ve acted as a Watcher before."

"It’s funny, because when Buffy wakes up she's going to be one seriously brassed off Slayer. She’s going to look for someone to blame, and then more likely than not she’s going to proceed to kick my ass. She’s liable to drive a stake through my heart as soon as she sees me." He considered this a moment. "Come to think of it, that’s not funny. It’s not funny at all."

Anne shook her head. "I don’t understand. I thought you and Buffy were allies."

"Allies, yeah, but we were never exactly friends. She barely tolerated me even at the best of times. I mean, the night she…" His voice trailed off, and he swallowed. You'd think it would have stopped hurting after all this time. "That night was the closest we ever came to making peace. I don’t know. Maybe if she hadn’t died…"

"Maybe she would have loved you the way you loved her?"

Spike winced. That bit of his life story had been passed down through the generations like some kind of bleeding fairy story. The Slayer and the Lovesick Vampire. He found it bloody irritating. The look he gave Anne said so.

"Oh, come on. Even if it wasn’t common knowledge, it’s so obvious whenever you talk about her. Even now. And even when you’re not talking about her, it’s pretty clear you’re thinking about her. You were in love with her. I think, probably, you still are."

Spike sighed. "Yeah, well. It hardly matters, either way. She didn’t love me, and she was never going to love me. I was about to say, maybe we could have been friends."

"Well, now’s your chance to find out. Look, Unc--" She stopped herself as he shot her a look, then continued. "Spike, she’s going to be here tomorrow, no matter what. She’s going to be alive, and alone, and I don’t care how brave a Slayer she was, she’s going to be scared. You’re the closest thing she’ll have to a friend here, and she’s going to need you. And she’s not going to stake you. From the stories I've heard, she passed up her opportunity to do that too many times for it to even be an option for her any more."

When Spike didn’t say anything, she continued. "We need her, Spike. We need her bravery, and we need her abilities, and we need her legend. And in exchange, she gets a second shot at life. It’s not the life she knew, but it’s got to be better than dying, doesn’t it?"

Spike shrugged. "Take it from me, Sunshine, there are worse things than dying."

"She’s coming, Spike. Try to think of this as a second chance. For her, and for you." With that, she gave him a gentle squeeze on the arm, and then left him alone.

He thought about what she said, and he knew that she was right. They did need Buffy. Desperately. Maybe it wouldn’t do them any good, but… if one person could make all the difference in this fight, that person would be Buffy Summers. Maybe he could finally get a chance to make it up to her for the way he bollixed things up so badly that night, failing to keep Doc away from Dawn like he’d promised. And maybe… maybe he could finally stop seeing her lifeless body every time he closed his eyes.

His mind made up, he turned back to the briefing room, where Anne and Nick held the doors open for him. He strode back inside, picked up his chair, and sat down.

"I accept," he said.

***

Spike stood outside the doors to the temporal physics lab, trying to get up the courage to go in. It was almost time. In a few minutes, he would come face to face with the long dead love of his life. He hadn’t seen her for over three hundred years. What the hell would he say to her? Where would he even begin? What if she wasn’t exactly like he remembered? Or what if… what if whatever they brought back in that contraption wasn’t his Buffy at all? Spike closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. His lungs didn’t need it, but his nerves sure did. He opened his eyes, and stepped up to the security panel.

"Voice authorization code?" a friendly sounding digitized voice asked.

"Sunnydale," Spike said.

"Please hold for retinal scan," the voice instructed. Spike stood facing the panel as a light flashed directly into his left eye. "Thank you, William," the voice said. "Please proceed."

The doors swished open, and Spike entered the lab. Anne, Nick and Mrs. Harris were all inside, waiting for him. Anne’s eyes went wide at the sight of him.

"Spike! Your hair!"

Spike raised a self-conscious hand to his newly bleached locks. "Uh, yeah," he said. "Just want to be sure she’ll recognize me. What d’you think?"

She eyed him critically for a moment, then nodded her approval. "It suits you."

"It should," he said. "I kept it this way for the better part of a century."

"Are you nervous?" Anne asked.

"A bit. You?"

"Me? Nervous? Hey, I’m about to meet my great, great, great… suffice it to say, my really great aunt, who also happens to be this legendary superhero that you used to tell me bedtime stories about when I was a little girl. Why should I be nervous?"

"Hey, at least you’re not purported to be the spitting image of one of her best friends," Nick said. "Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t be here. If I look as much like my really great grandfather as you say I do, I might just confuse things for her."

"I hate to say it, Nicholas" Mrs. Harris said, "but I think you may be right. Perhaps it would be better if both of you give the Slayer time to settle in before she meets you. I know how much you both wanted to witness this event, but you’ll both get your chance to meet her."

"Damn," Nick said. "I was afraid you’d say that."

"She’s right," Anne said. "Come on, Nick. Let’s go down to the cadet’s lounge. I’m buying."

"Yeah, okay," the boy grumped as she led him out of the lab.

Once they left,the chairwoman turned to Spike and smiled. "How are you, William?"

"Absolutely terrified," he said. "If anything goes wrong…"

"It won’t," Mrs. Harris said. "The procedure has been thoroughly tested. They wouldn’t be doing this yet if they weren’t certain they could pull it off."

A technician signaled to them from behind the controls on the opposite side of the chamber.

"They’re ready to begin," the chairwoman said.

Spike nodded, and stepped up to the rail to get a better view. When he did, he drew in a sharp breath. Below, inside a small chamber, lay Buffy’s lifeless body, looking exactly as it had when he’d first seen it lying on a pile of rubble. Peaceful, serene, beautiful--and absolutely horrifying. He couldn’t take his eyes off of it. "Is that…?"

"The clone," she said. "A perfect physical reproduction, minus brain function. It’s not entirely ethical, I concede, but desperate times…"

"If you don’t mind my asking," Spike said, "what the hell did you use to clone her?"

"In the twentieth century it became standard procedure to catalogue tissue samples from each of the Slayers. I’m not certain what the reasoning behind it was, but the catalogue survived the relocation."

"Lucky for us," Spike muttered.

"Yes, quite." The chairwoman either missed his sarcasm or chose to ignore it.

The technician signaled for them to put on their safety goggles. Mrs. Harris handed Spike a pair as she settled her own in place. As he put them on, a blinding white light flooded the room, and then after a moment it abated. Spike took off the goggles, and looked in the chamber. It looked much like before, only now the figure inside was covered in cuts and bruises, and it began to cough.

"Buffy!" Spike jumped over the rail to the chamber below. "Open this thing up!" One of the lab techs came over to help him inside. Once he was in, he dropped to his knees beside her. His hand trembled as he reached out to stroke her hair. He had to touch her, to verify that she was real. "Pet? Can you hear me?"

"Spike?"

Emotion flooded through the vampire as she spoke his name. He fought to keep his composure, but he couldn't keep his voice from breaking.

"Yeah, baby. It’s me. You’re gonna be okay."

She reached up and grabbed his coat collar, then opened her eyes. "Where’s Dawn?"

Shit. How the hell was he supposed to answer that?

"It’s okay, love," he said. "You saved her. You saved us all."

Buffy seemed to be satisfied with this, for now. She nodded, and then she passed out.

***

She was even more beautiful than he remembered.

He’d half expected the opposite to be true. He was sure he’d built her up so much in his memory over the ages that she couldn’t possibly have been as beautiful as the face he pictured whenever he called up her memory. But here she was, flesh and blood, right in front of him. Her beauty awed him still, just as it had the first time he’d ever laid eyes on her. What’s more, he knew that once she woke up, once her features became animated by her passion and wit, she would become even prettier.

She’d been out cold for a full day, but the doctors insisted there was nothing seriously wrong with her. Her injuries hadn’t been that extensive to begin with, and her Slayer healing factor had already undone most of the damage. She was just exhausted. Spike knew she hadn’t slept in days. He remembered thinking that she already looked worn out when she’d come to him to ask for his help in getting Dawn out of town. He couldn’t remember ever seeing her sleep between then and the final showdown with Glory. Unless he counted the hours she’d spent in a catatonic stupor.

"Spike?"

The sound of her voice snapped him out of his reverie. He sat up and scooted his chair closer to her bed. "Hey," he said. "How do you feel?"

"Like I threw down with a hellgod and then jumped off of a really tall tower," she said. "You?"

"Just… really happy to see you, pet."

She sat up, and Spike reached over to adjust her pillows. "Where is everybody? I mean, no offense, but I’m kind of surprised they let you be the one to keep vigil."

Spike simply stared at her. He had no idea where to even begin.

Buffy looked down and fidgeted with her sheet, then offered him a half smile. "Not that I mind," she said.

That was encouraging. Spike scooted his chair closer. "Buffy, listen to me. There are some things you--"

"What the hell are you wearing?"

"What?"

She looked him up and down. "You’ve had exactly one outfit the entire time I’ve known you, not counting that time you fell into the GAP a couple of months ago. So what’s with the Jetsons getup?"

Spike looked down at the black fatigue pants and light gray fitted shirt that had become his standard attire. He supposed the shirt’s material was a bit shiny, but it hardly counted as Jetsons-wear. "These are just my clothes," he said.

"Since when?"

"That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Slayer, if you’ll shut up for two seconds and listen."

"Jeez. Defensive much?"

"No."

"Fine," Buffy said. "Shutting up now. Spike talk. Buffy listen."

Again Spike stared at her, this time out of a sense of déjà vu.

"Your two seconds are up," she said.

He felt the corners of his mouth quirk upward. "Same old Buffy," he said.

Buffy eyed him suspiciously. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Like what, pet?"

"Like a puppy who just found his long lost favorite toy." She looked around the room for the first time. "And why doesn’t this look like any hospital I’ve ever seen before? And why are you the one keeping bedside watch instead of, well, just about any of the others? Where are the others? What the hell is going on, Spike?"

Spike sighed. "You’re not going to like what I have to tell you."

"Why not? Is it Dawn? Oh, God, she was cut. That old guy cut her."

"Dawn was fine, love."

Buffy gaped at him. "’Was?’ She ‘was’ fine? Oh, God." She started to get out of bed, but Spike held her down.

"Hold on, Buffy," he said gently. "It’s nothing like that. Just listen."

"Spike, take your hands off of me right now before you lose them."

"No. You’re going to sit there, and you’re going to listen to everything I have to tell you."

"And I’m going to do this why, exactly?"

"Because I’m your bloody Watcher, that’s why!"

Buffy blinked at him for a moment, and then to his surprise she burst out laughing. Spike let go of her, and sighed. Had she always been this bloody bullheaded?

"Okay," Buffy said. "I get it. Very funny. It’s in incredibly poor taste, but I can laugh. So. Joke’s over. Go get my sister."

Spike closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose, a gesture which, as he did it, he realized was very reminiscent of her original Watcher. So much for trying to break it to her gently.

"Buffy, the year is 2336. Originally, you died when you jumped into that portal. The Council of Watchers, of which I’ve become a member since the last time we met, figured out a way to snatch you out of the portal before it killed you and bring you here to our time, so that you can help us take back the planet, which is currently populated by vampires who are not going to let it go without a fight."

Buffy’s smile never wavered. "You done?"

"For now. Oh, and, we’re in the infirmary at Council headquarters, which is stationed on the moon."

"The moon," Buffy said. "Wow. That’s… creative. You come up with that all by yourself, or did Dawn help?"

Spike sighed, and sat on the foot of the bed. "Pet," he said gently, "Dawn passed away about 250 years ago."

Buffy’s smile faded. "Okay. You know what? This isn’t funny anymore."

"It’s not meant to be."

Buffy got up. "If you won’t go get them, I’ll go find them." She looked around the room until she found her clothes, and pulled her pants on underneath her hospital gown. "Giles’ll be here somewhere. No way he’d leave you here alone with me."

"Buffy, be reasonable," Spike said. Ignoring him, she started for the door. He stood up to try and stop her as she passed him, but she shoved him back down on the bed. "Buffy!"

He followed her out the door, and out of the infirmary.

"Okay," Buffy said. "So this obviously isn’t Sunnydale General. Where the hell did they take me, Spike?"

"I already told you, love."

"Giles!" Buffy called. "Where’s the waiting room? There’s got to be a waiting room."

"Buffy, let’s go back to your room and talk about--"

She spun around and came back to stand in front of him. "Spike," she said, "you help me find Giles right now or so help me I will kick your ass up one side of this freaky hospital and down the other."

"Maybe later, pet. First, I want you to do something for me."

Buffy sighed. "What?"

"Look behind you."

Slowly, Buffy turned around, and for the first time looked out the windows that made up one wall of the corridor. "Oh, God." She walked up to one, and put her hands against the glass. Outside was a small city, made up of indistinct gray structures, all alike. Transport pods and larger carriers flew back and forth in the traffic zones above. Beyond the city was a vast, gray landscape that stretched to the horizon, where it met up with black sky filled with unfamiliar constellations. Above the horizon, brilliantly blue and beautiful, hung the planet Earth.

"I guess that explains your shiny outfit," Buffy said after a long silence.

Spike went to stand beside her. "Yeah. And hey, we finally got flying cars."

"About time," she said. She looked at Spike, who stood next to her in the sunlight. "Umm… why aren’t you bursting into flame?"

He tapped the glass. "Special polymer. Filters out the hostile bits while letting light through."

"Neat."

"Yeah. They kind of had me in mind when they built the place. I thought it was right considerate of them."

"So, you’re really a Watcher?"

"I’m really your Watcher, love."

"And I died."

"Originally."

"But you have a time machine, and you used it to save me, so I can fight the vampires that took over the world."

"In a nutshell."

"Damn. Suddenly a hellgod trying to destroy the universe sounds like a piece of cake."

"I guess this is a lot to take in all at once."

Buffy turned around and slumped against the window. She looked stricken. "So. That means all of my friends and family, all the people that I ever cared about… they’re all gone."

"Yeah, pet. I’m afraid so." Spike struggled for something to say to make it better, and realized that nothing possibly could. "For what it’s worth, I’m still here."

Buffy looked up at him. "You always are, aren’t you?" She managed a smile. "That’s actually worth quite a lot right now."

"Come on," Spike said. "Let’s get you back to bed."

She nodded, and stood to go with him. "Maybe if I go back to sleep I’ll wake up and this will all be a freaky dream I can tell you guys about at the next Scooby assembly?"

"Sure, pet," Spike said. "Why not?"

*




Summary/Notes/Disclaimer/Shoutouts: See Part One.

Rating: Over-all, rated R for sex and violence (you know, the good stuff). This part's only PG.




Part Two: Briefing

Buffy looked around at the conference room. It didn’t look so special. It was big, and white, and cold, but the chairs just looked like chairs, and the table just looked like a table. It all looked so typical. This didn’t look like the future. She looked down at her outfit. It didn’t really look very futuristic, either. She’d been issued a set of military fatigues, and told that it was standard Slayer wear. She’d have to do something about that. She wondered if they had good shopping on the moon.

She missed the magic shop. She missed her home. Hell, she even missed Spike’s crypt. She focused on the places that had comprised her home. She tried not to think about the people. It was easier that way. Spike had offered to tell her what happened to everybody, but she just wasn’t ready for a history lesson yet. Just the idea that they had all mourned for her, and then had all gone on with their lives, lives that had ended centuries ago… it was all a little too much. She had to get used to the here and now before she could even begin to deal with the then and there.

She looked across the table at Spike, and he offered her a reassuring smile. She made a point to return it, then continued her perusal of the room. She didn’t know which was more bizarre, that she was on the moon in the year 2336 or that Spike was her new Watcher. How the hell was that even possible?

"I don’t get it," she said.

"Don’t get which part, pet?"

"I don’t get how you can be a Watcher. I mean, when Angel was dying, the Council wouldn’t lift a finger to help him, because he was a vampire. And he had a soul."

"Yeah, but Angel spent a hundred years hiding from the world and not lifting any of his own fingers to help anybody before he met you. He was still pretty new to the hero business when that happened. The Council didn’t know what to make of him."

"But you were somehow easier to figure out, oh soulless wonder?" She wrinkled her nose. "Or is that it? Did you go and get a soul?"

"I’ve always had a soul, pet. It’s just not human."

"And suddenly that doesn’t matter to the Council?"

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Nothing sudden about it, Slayer. It took over a hundred and fifty years of being a good dog, helping out the Slayers and minding all of my bloody p’s and q’s. The Council refused to even recognize me as an ally before that. It took another thirty years after that for my kids to take control and make me a member."

"Your kids?"

Spike waved a dismissive hand. "I just call ‘em that. Your friends’ descendents, actually. And Dawn’s. Been watching ‘em for generations."

Buffy tried to imagine this. She’d awakened to find her friends were long dead, but Spike had actually watched them all grow old and die, just as he’d been watching their descendents grow and live and die for centuries now. She softened her attitude.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why what?"

"Why have you stuck around all this time? Why did you keep helping?"

Spike looked at her, then he looked at the table, and shrugged. "I promised you I would, didn’t I?"

"You said you’d protect Dawn."

"Till the end of the world. I figured that applied to her kids, and to their kids, and so on."

"But, technically, the world did end. I’d say you had a pretty good out."

"Maybe. It didn’t end so much as take a hiatus. ‘Sides, the Summers line didn’t end. Even if they aren’t called Summers anymore. I’m in this as much for Anne now as I am for you and Nibblet."

"Anne?"

"Yeah. She’s the last of Dawn’s descendents, at least until she starts having kids. You’ll get to meet her here in a minute, she’ll be here for your briefing."

"Wow." Buffy sat back in her chair and let this sink in. She smiled. "I bet Dawn made a good mom."

"She made a great mum," Spike said.

The doors swished open then, and a blonde woman entered who looked to be about Buffy’s age--not counting the three hundred years or so since her last birthday. She looked eerily familiar.

"There’s our girl now," Spike said. "Anne Richards, meet your aunt Buffy."

The girl stopped in her tracks, and stared at Buffy. "Oh, wow," she said.

"You’re not a-kidding," Buffy said. She stood up, and went to shake hands with her "niece." "I can actually see the family resemblance."

"Really?" The girl blushed. "I’m sorry. I just, I mean… you’re Buffy Summers."

"Yeah," Buffy said, "that’s my name, all right."

"I’m sorry," she said again. "I don’t mean to make you feel weird."

"I don’t really think you can add a whole lot to the weirdness factor at this point," Buffy said.

Just then, the doors opened again, and a familiar face walked in. Buffy’s eyes went wide, and her heart skipped a beat. "Xander!" She ran over and threw her arms around the boy. "They got you, too!"

"Uh, yeah," Nick said, "Spike told me I look just like him. I guess it’s really true."

Buffy let go of him and took a step back, embarrassed. "Sorry," she said. "It’s just… what was I saying just now about the weirdness factor?"

"Hey, don’t worry about it. It’s not like getting hugged by pretty girls is something I’m wont to complain about." He held out his hand. "Nick Harris. Pleased to meet you."

"I’m--"

"Buffy Summers. Yeah, I know."

"Seems like everybody does," Buffy said.

"That’s because your name is legendary," said a woman as she entered the room. She spoke with an English accent, and looked to be in her fifties. A pair of glasses perched on her nose, and her attire appeared somewhat formal compared to the casual dress of the others in the room. Finally, thought Buffy, a Watcher who actually looks like a Watcher.

"This is my mom," Nick said. "She’s head of the Council."

"Oh," Buffy said. "So you’re the one who decided to play God with my life? Glad to meet you."

Mrs. Harris removed her glasses and regarded Buffy. "The decision to bring you here was not mine alone to make, Miss Summers."

"Of course not," Buffy said. "I’m sure good ol’ Spike here had something to do with it."

"Actually, William was quite vocal in his protestations against the plan."

Buffy looked at Spike, who appeared to be fascinated with a spot on the table. "Really?"

"He thought it would be unfair to bring you here to fight our battle."

"Oh. Well, here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: Spike was right. It’s not fair."

"Yes, I suppose he was. But has anything about being the Slayer ever been fair? Besides, the alternative is that you would be more than 300 years in the grave."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I kind of figured that when I jumped. It’s not like I did it on a whim."

"I don’t understand," Anne said. "Buffy, did you want to die?"

Buffy looked at her. "No, I didn’t want to die. But I did want the fighting to be over. You’ve kind of taken that option away from me."

"We haven’t," Mrs. Harris said. "No one is going to force you to fight our battle. You are free to refuse. Provisions will still be made for you to stay and live out your life here on the colony."

"Really?" Buffy asked. The Council might have made some changes since she’d last dealt with them, but she still didn’t trust them. "What’s the catch?"

"Only that you allow us to explain our situation to you before you make your decision."

"Sure," Buffy said. "I can do that."

"All right, then," Mrs. Harris said, and smiled. "Take your seat and we’ll begin."

Buffy leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. "I‘m good standing."

The chairwoman paused, and then gave a conciliatory nod. "Very well," she said as she took her place at the head of the table. "How much has William explained to you?"

"Just that vampires took over the world and now you want to get it back. So, how did that happen, exactly?"

"Good question. It seems that after your demise, a new Slayer failed to receive the calling, and with your contemporary still undergoing incarceration--"

"Does this have to all be in Watcher-speak?" Buffy asked.

"Faith was still in prison," Spike clarified.

"Gotcha."

"At any rate," the chairwoman continued, "despite the best efforts of William and your friends, the vampire population of Sunnydale began to increase exponentially."

"Yeah," Spike said. "It wasn’t just locals siring new ones. Vampires started coming from all over once word got out that the hellmouth no longer had a Slayer."

"The law firm known as Wolfram and Hart opened up a branch in Sunnydale soon thereafter," Mrs. Harris said. "It was headed up by a vampire named Lilah Morgan."

"Why does that name sound so familiar?" Buffy asked Spike.

"She was one of those lawyers what gave Angel such a hard time in Los Angeles. Before she came to Sunnydale she got Drusilla to turn her."

"Damn," Buffy said. "Guess I should have encouraged you to stake her for me."

Spike looked puzzled for a moment, and then the memory seemed to dawn on him. Buffy suspected he’d have blushed if he was able.

Mrs. Harris cleared her throat, and continued. "Under Ms. Morgan’s council, the vampires began to organize. Within twenty years, they developed a nationwide network, which included some of the most brilliant scientific minds in America. Within fifty years, the network had expanded globally."

"Around that time," Nick said, "they started to go public. They began demanding equal rights, even rallied some humans to their cause. The Vampire Rights movement caused a lot of trouble."

"Vampire rights?" Buffy couldn’t believe this. "What kind of rights did they expect to receive? They’re killers."

"Yes," Anne said, "but they claimed to be looking for a way to peacefully co-exist without presenting a threat to humans. They said they were working on developing synthetic human plasma--’synth’ for short--that would be capable of sustaining them in lieu of blood. They offered to share their findings with us, and the US government was all for it, for medical purposes. They’d been working on perfecting synthetic blood for years, for use in transfusions and in surgery. They’d have a never-ending supply, independent of blood donations, plus it would eliminate the chance of any diseases making it through the screening process."

"The vampires claimed to be on the verge of having the formula all worked out," Nick said. "They offered to work with humanity to perfect it, in exchange for clemency, and they got it. Lilah Morgan was made official liaison between the vamp leaders and Congress. At her insistence, a cease and desist order was issued against the Slayer. She wasn’t allowed to touch vampires. She left the country to slay them elsewhere, but it wasn’t long until other governments followed suit. The Slayer was turned into an outlaw."

"During this time," the chairwoman said, "NASA finally succeeded in sending several manned missions to Mars, and had combined with other space-faring nations to begin colonizing the moon. The Council, ever vigilant against the forces of darkness, did not buy into the vampire race’s overtures of peace, and began relocating the archives to the lunar colony. Fortunately, William was able to provide intelligence on the vampires’ ultimate plan in time for us to gain the British military’s cooperation in building an arc of sorts, thus transporting the entire Council, an army platoon, and the means by which to live to the lunar colony before the plan was enacted."

"Yeah," Spike said, "but just barely."

"So, what was the plan?" Buffy asked.

"Long story short," Spike said, "the vamps eventually perfected their phony blood. It was deemed a medical breakthrough, and vampires became regarded as bloody heroes. They laid low for another hundred years or so, pretending to live in peace with humanity, and humanity ate it up. Generations passed, and eventually the human race had completely let its guard down. They even elected that Lilah bitch to be their bloody Vice President."

"Surprise, surprise," Nick said, "soon after, the President died under ‘mysterious’ circumstances. Lilah Morgan was promoted to president. The media loved her. She was double-billed as both the first vampire and first female president of the United States."

"And then she pushed the bloody button," Spike said.

Buffy gaped at him. "The button? As in, the ‘let’s wipe ourselves off the face of the planet’ button?"

"That’s the one. See, the vamps had their never-ending supply of blood, so they didn’t need humanity anymore. They’re impervious to radiation, and the resulting nuclear winter blocked the sun out for over a century. They turned the planet into a bloody vampire paradise."

"Oh, my God," Buffy said.

"Yes," Mrs. Harris said. "But the radiation has since abated, and the planet has become healthy again, ready to support human life. We’ve been working for the past several years on developing a plan to take back the planet. We will be ready to move on it in a month. You were brought here to lead the assault. Any questions?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "For starters, why me? What do you think I’m going to be able to do for you? You all act like I’m the Second Coming or something. What makes me so much more special than all the other Slayers?"

"The sheer magnitude of the enemies you defeated, for one thing. The Master, Dracula, Glorificus… you prevented an apocalypse no fewer than six times."

"Right," Buffy said. "Prevented. It sounds to me like you already had one. I don’t have any experience in post-apocalyptic planet recovery, or whatever you’re calling this."

"You’ll improvise," Spike said. "You’ll figure it out as you go. That’s what you’re good at. It’s part of what makes you so special." Buffy gave him a questioning look, and he glanced down at the table. "As Slayers go, I mean."

"It’s what we were good at," Buffy said. "I didn’t do any of those things by myself. My friends and I, we were a team. I’m no good without them."

"Rot," Spike said. "Yeah, they were helpful, but you know as well as I do there were times they just got in your way."

"That’s not true."

"No? Just think about all the times I used them against you. They could be as much a liability as an asset."

"But… okay, so there were times when I could have done my job more easily if I didn’t have to worry about protecting them, but there were also plenty of times when there was no way I could have won without their help."

"Look, I’m not saying they didn’t have their uses. They were brave kids, and they had a lot of skills. Especially the Wiccans. But you were the one who held ‘em all together, love. You were the one who inspired us all to fight the good fight."

"And that is all we are asking of you now," the chairwoman said. "We need you to inspire us, Buffy. Provide our troops with the will to win."

"Oh," Buffy said. "Is that all? And here I thought you might want me to do something really hard, like stake their leader or something." She shook her head. "I have to get out of here," she said. "Meeting adjourned." She started for the door.

"William?" the chairwoman said. "Do something."

"What? Didn’t I mention? Buffy doesn’t work for the Council." Buffy had her back to him, but she could hear the familiar smirk in his voice. "The Council works for Buffy." He got up and followed her into the corridor.

"Good show, pet," he said. "That was telling ‘em."

Buffy spun around to face him, but he held up a hand before she could say anything.

"I mean it," he said. "I think you really made an impression."

"A bad one, I hope. I was trying to lower their expectations."

"I’m pretty sure you didn’t manage that."

Buffy sighed. "What do they expect me to do, Spike?"

"Your job, pet. That’s all."

She shook her head. "Yeah, well, they’re in for a disappointment if they think I’m going to be able to win their war. I mean, sure, I’m good at the action stuff, but I’m not exactly Big Idea Girl. That’s what the gang was good for."

"Nonsense," Spike said. "You had plenty of good ideas. I mean, whose idea was it to use a bazooka on the Judge?"

"Xander’s."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Really? Huh. Who’d have thought he’d come up with something that clever?"

"Spike…"

"All right, so the whelp got lucky. But what about… what about that time you, Xander and Willow all combined with Giles to take out that Adam bloke? That was a great idea."

"It was Willow’s idea."

"Oh." Spike chewed his bottom lip as he searched his memory. His face lit up. "Hey, what about that time you teamed up with me to defeat Angelus?"

Buffy squinted at him. "That was totally your idea," she said.

"Yeah, but you were smart enough to trust me."

She rolled her eyes. "That’s a judgment call," she said, "and the jury’s still out over here."

"Yeah, well, the point is, you have good judgment. And just because you delegate the brainstorming doesn’t mean you’re not a good planner. You may not think of yourself as big thinker, but you’re a fast one, that‘s for sure. It wasn’t the Scoobies who put me in a wheelchair, and it wasn’t any of them who sent Angel to hell. They weren‘t the ones knocked Glory on her ass, either." He shook his head, and his voice turned bitter. "There‘s a plan that would‘ve worked, if…"

His voice trailed off, and a dark, far away look flashed across his face. He opened his mouth to say something else, but seemed to think better of it. He put his hands in his pockets, and sighed.

"Anyway, listen to me, pet. After the first time you and I fought, I began to study you. I even had my minions record videotapes of your fights so I could study your technique, pick out your weaknesses." He looked nostalgic, which bothered Buffy, considering he was talking about a time when he’d been trying to figure out a way to kill her. He shook his head. "I’ll be damned if I could find any," he said, and smiled. "You were… incredible. And you’ve only gotten better since. And do you know why?" He walked up to her, and tapped a finger against her temple. "Because you use your head. You’re a very clever girl, Buffy. Don’t ever let anybody tell you different."

Buffy blinked in surprise. She didn’t know if she’d ever get used to getting compliments from Spike. She shook her head. "Maybe, but… I don’t know how to do it without them, Spike. They’re all gone. Everything is gone. I don’t have anything anymore."

"You’ve still got me."

Buffy looked at him, and had a moment of déjà vu.

I hate you.

And I’m all you’ve got.

"You’ll always have me," he said. "And you have the Council at your service, not to mention an entire army at your command."

"I don’t know how to command an army."

"Well," Spike pursed his lips as he seemed to consider this, then shrugged. "You’ve got a month to learn."

Buffy studied his eyes. They conveyed total sincerity. His confidence in her was touching, as well as infectious. Maybe she really could pull this off. On impulse, she leaned up and kissed his cheek.

He cocked his head to one side and smiled, a bit shyly. "What was that for?"

"Thanks," she said. "I’ve been meaning to do that for days now. Well, I guess centuries, from your perspective. Ever since that talk we had on the stairs. All things considered, I guess I should have taken a sec to go ahead and do it then, huh?"

"Maybe," he said. With a tentative hand, he brushed a stray hair out of her face. "Can’t say it would have made losing you any easier."

Buffy stared into his eyes for a long moment, trying to think of something to say, but nothing came. She began to grow increasingly aware of his closeness, and she swallowed. Hard. Mercifully, he broke off the gaze, and started down the corridor.

"Come on," he said. "Let’s go down to the lounge. I’ll buy you some lunch."

This made Buffy snicker.

"What?"

"’I’ll buy you lunch?’ There’s a phrase I never thought would make it into the Spike vocabulary. Especially the ‘I’ll buy’ part."

"Yeah, well, things change, Slayer."

"So I’ve noticed," she said as she fell into step beside him.

***

Spike found them a table towards the back--not too private, but not exactly in the midst of the action, either. Not that there was much action. The place looked like part commissary, part bar. Its patrons looked to be mostly uniformed military types. In her fatigues, Buffy blended right in.

As they sat down, a waiter met them with a menu for her and a mug of something thick and red for Spike. "I’ll just have the special. Oh, and, do you have iced tea?" The waiter nodded. "I‘ll have that then." He left to fetch her order. "I guess they know your type," she said, grimacing at Spike’s lunch.

"If it makes your delicate sensibilities feel any better, Slayer, it’s not blood. It’s synth."

"The synthetic blood they told me about in the meeting?"

He nodded. "Been living on the stuff for over a hundred years now." He took a drink, and shrugged. "It’s got a bit of an aftertaste, but it’s not too bad once you get used to it."

"I’ll take your word for it," Buffy said.

The waiter brought her an egg salad sandwich and a glass of tea. She lifted the bread on the sandwich and frowned at its contents.

"I know it’s not exactly the Bronze," Spike said. "Not much of a menu."

"No, this is fine. It’s just, I guess I’m not as hungry as I thought I was."

"Eat it anyway," he told her. "If I recall, you didn’t eat much during those last few days, and I know you’ve hardly eaten since you got here. You need to keep up your strength."

Buffy crossed her arms and regarded him warily. "Something tells me you’re going to be an even bigger pain in the ass as my Watcher than you were as my enemy."

"Shut up and eat," he told her.

"Fine." She picked up half of the sandwich and shoved it into her mouth, then gulped her tea to wash it down. She set the glass back down and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Satisfied?"

Spike smirked at her. "That was very ladylike," he said. "Finish your sandwich. Then I’ll be satisfied."

Buffy sighed, and proceeded to nibble on the second half as Anne and Nick approached. She watched them make their way over. She couldn’t get over how much Nick reminded her of Xander. Suddenly she missed her friend terribly.

"Okay if we join you guys?" he asked.

Spike shrugged.

"Sure," Buffy said.

Anne pulled up a chair next to Buffy. "I just wanted to tell you, you were amazing during your briefing."

"See pet?" Spike said. "What’d I tell you?"

"Thanks," Buffy said. "But I thought I came across as less amazing and as more scared out of my mind."

"Of course you’re scared," Nick said. "Who wouldn’t be in your situation? But the way you took charge, asked questions, and demanded answers? We’ve never seen a Slayer do that before."

"My guess would be that that’s because they’re all scared little girls," Buffy said.

"Your guess would be correct," Anne told her.

"I’ve been there," Buffy said. "The Council can be pretty intimidating, especially when you’re new to the whole big Chosen One deal."

"But I guess it’s safe to say you’ve gotten over it," Nick said. "Being intimidated, I mean. Not being chosen. From what we’ve read, you pretty much spanked the Council and put it to bed without its supper until they agreed to your terms."

Buffy shrugged. "Really, I just… wait, from what you’ve read? Did you read Giles’s journals?"

"Actually, he’s referring to Quentin Travers’s accounts of your last evaluation," Anne said.

"But Giles’s journals are here, right?" Buffy looked at Spike. "Is there any way I could read them?"

"There’s a chance they didn’t make it off of the planet," Spike said, "but if they did, pet, are you sure you want to read them?"

"You know how anal he was about keeping records," she said. "He’ll have everything written down. Spells, tactics… it could be all of the big ideas I need are in there."

"All right, then," Spike said. He drained his mug, then tapped Nick on the shoulder. "You know the library better than I do. Come help me see if they’re in the inventory."

"Sure," Nick said. "We can check on the console at the bar."

"Wow," Anne said after the men left the table. "I’ve never seen Spike so--"

"Pleasant and easy to get along with?" Buffy interjected. "It’s sure an interesting change of pace."

"Actually, I was going to say ‘happy,’" Anne said.

"Oh."

"You know, he was so afraid that you’d hate him."

Buffy furrowed her brow. "I pretty much got over my whole ‘I hate Spike’ phase after he took several rounds of hellgod torture for my little sister. I thought he knew that."

"He thought you’d blame him for bringing you here," Anne clarified. "He knew you’d be unhappy."

"Oh." Buffy said. "He was right, I did. At first. But now I know it wasn’t his fault."

"I suppose it’s selfish," Anne said, "but I’m glad you’re here. For his sake, if for nothing else. I mean, it’s not like he was chronically depressed or anything, but I’ve known him my whole life, and even at the best of times, there was always something in his eyes. He always seemed just a little sad. My mom and my grandfather both said he was the same way when they were growing up. My mom thought it was because he always outlives everybody, and I’m sure that’s part of it. But I have a feeling it goes all the way back to when you died."

Buffy sipped her tea. She didn’t quite know what to say.

"I’m sorry," Anne said. "I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It’s just, I haven’t seen that look in his eyes since you got here."

A feeling of warmth flooded through Buffy, and she smiled. Then she frowned. Should hearing this make her feel this good? After all, this was Spike they were talking about. She realized this was the same feeling she’d gotten when she’d seen the look on his face after re-inviting him into her house. She had to admit, having the power to affect Spike so much felt good. Admitting that, on the other hand, felt terrifying. She wasn’t ready to even think about what it meant.

"It’s funny," Anne said. "Spike is over four hundred and fifty years old. He never has trouble keeping up with the times. He can adapt to any new situation. But those years he spent in Sunnydale? That was his time." She smiled. "He never gets tired of telling stories about that era. Especially not if you’re in them."

"You really care a lot about Spike, don’t you?" Buffy said.

"You sound like that surprises you."

"Well… that’s because it does. I mean, he really could be a pain in the ass. And that wasn’t even when he was plotting our deaths. Most people I knew didn’t even like him. The only one who even came close to caring about him the way you do was my sister. And my mom… she was pretty fond of him, but then she also thought that Dracula seemed like a nice guy. She wasn’t always the best judge of character."

"He mentioned that you barely tolerated him back then."

"That’s putting it mildly," Buffy said. "But I have to admit, he was starting to grow on me."

Anne sipped her drink, then set it down. She took a deep breath, then said, "He loves you, you know."

Buffy was about to take a bite of her sandwich, but she paused in mid-bite. "What?"

"Oh!" Anne looked panicked. "Oh, God. I thought you knew--"

"I did," Buffy said, putting her sandwich back down. "I mean, I do. Know. I mean, I do know that he did love me, but… still?"

"Isn’t it obvious?"

"Some people said it was obvious back then, but I didn’t see it until I was knocked over the head with it." She wrinkled her brow. "And that statement comes really close to being literal." She shook her head. "I guess, I can be a little dense in these areas. But, I mean, it’s been over three hundred years. You’d think he would’ve gotten over it by now."

"Call me a romantic," Anne said, "but I think that’s what makes it so incredible."

All Buffy could do was nod dazedly as this new information soaked in.

"Anyway," Anne said, "You could really break his heart. Please don’t."

Again, Buffy found herself speechless. She’d never given much thought to being the one to break Spike’s heart. She’d always been too concerned with making sure it would never happen the other way around. Thankfully, before the silence had a chance to turn awkward, the guys returned to the table.

"Giles’s diaries did make the relocation," Spike said. "We’re heading down to the library to get them. You coming?"

"Actually," Buffy said, "I was just about to see if my new niece here wanted to take me shopping."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Shopping? Love, this is the moon, not the bleeding Sunnydale Promenade. I think you’re going to find the selection here lacking."

"Maybe," Buffy said, "but there’s got to be someplace around here I can pick up some decent clothes. No offense, but these army grays you guys gave me really don’t do much for me."

Spike gave her an appraising look. "You certainly do a lot for them."

Buffy felt herself blush. Okay, so maybe his feelings were a little obvious. Still, she didn’t want to go there. Not now. She knew he was flirting, but flirting back was not an option.

She turned to Anne. "So, how about it? Can you show me where to get some clothes that are a little less butch?"

"Sure," Anne said. "I know a couple of places."

"Here," Spike said, "you’ll need this." He handed her something that looked like one of those laser pointers.

"What’s this?"

"It’s linked to my expense account. Just think of it as a credit card. Anne will show you how to use it."

"You have an expense account? Which you use to actually pay for things? Wait. How big is it?"

Spike couldn't have looked more frightened if she'd held a stake to his chest. "It’s big enough," he said. "Just… don’t abuse it."

"Wouldn’t dream of it," Buffy said.

"And don’t stay out too late. Your training starts tomorrow, you’ve got a big day ahead of you."

"Yes, Giles," Buffy said.

Spike smirked at her. "If you don’t mind, I’m going to take that as a compliment."

"Of course I don’t mind," she said. "That’s how I meant it."

Spike had that look on his face again, like she’d just given him something incredibly valuable and he was trying not to show how much he thought it was worth. Buffy felt herself getting all warm and fuzzy again as a result. It was strange to be around him and not feel any anger. It was nice. A little too nice.

She knocked back the rest of her tea, and looked at Anne. "Let’s go."

***

Buffy made it back to the apartment they’d given her with one shopping bag. Not because she’d taken care to be gentle with Spike’s expense account, but because he had been right about the selection. Still, she’d managed to find a few things that suited her style a little better. Maybe they would help her feel a bit more like herself, help her create some semblance of normalcy.

Who was she kidding? A few tank tops and some tight pants weren’t going to bring her anywhere closer to normal. Not even Slayer normal. Hell, not even Sunnydale normal. No more than they would ease the homesickness she felt.

Inside, she noticed a stack of books on the kitchen table. She set her bag on the table and laid Spike’s credit thingamabob beside it, then picked up the note lying on top of the books.

Don’t stay up all night reading these. You really do have a big day tomorrow. I’ll be by to get you at eight o’clock sharp.

Sleep well.

Spike


Buffy laid the note on the table, then carried the journals into her bedroom. She stacked them on her nightstand, and went to get ready for bed. After she changed, she sat on the bed, and considered the stack of books. She picked one up, but then put it back, unopened. It felt weird to even think about reading Giles’s diaries. They’d always been off limits. She felt like she was violating his privacy, even though they were now a matter of public record, at least as far as the Council could be considered public. It occurred to her that one of those journals would hold his account of her death.

"So not ready for that," she muttered.

Buffy climbed under the covers, and turned out the light.

She didn’t sleep a wink.

*




Summary/Notes/Disclaimer/Shoutouts: See Part One.

Rating: R for sex and violence (you know, the good stuff).




Part Three: History Lessons

Buffy stood across from Spike at a table loaded down with high tech weaponry, trying to pay attention as he explained each one. Her favorite so far was a high-powered rifle that shot tiny stakes. Actually, Spike had explained, they were bullets made up of a wooden core coated in a special polymer that protected the wood from burning up when the gun was fired. The shell dissolved upon impact, exposing the target to the wood inside. It was a pretty cool idea. Still, as far as she was concerned, there was just no substitute for good ol’ Mr. Pointy.

She failed to stifle a yawn as Spike went over the controls for some kind of vampire detector.

"Am I boring you, Slayer?"

"No. Not at all. This is all very fascinating."

"You always were a lousy liar."

"Spike, I can honestly say that you are the least boring Watcher I’ve ever had."

He made a derisive noise. "Like that’s saying a lot." He eyed her suspiciously. "I thought I told you not to stay up all night reading those journals."

"I didn’t," she said. "Actually, I couldn’t bring myself to read them yet. I just couldn’t sleep, is all."

Spike set the device he was holding on the table. "Maybe it’s a bad idea for you to read those. I can go through ‘em for you, see if there’s anything useful."

"No," she said. "I want to read them. I think I kinda need to."

He gave her a long, hard look, and then nodded. "All right, pet. Now, pay attention."

"I am! I mean it. Look, I’m all ears. Totally into paying attention mode." She picked some kind of big ray gun up from the table. "What does this do?" she asked, pointing it in Spike’s direction as she looked it over.

"Hey, careful with that," he said, grabbing the weapon out of her hands and checking the settings.

"Jeez," Buffy grumped. "When did you turn into such a grownup?"

Spike didn’t look up from the weapon’s controls as he said, softly, "Right after you kissed me."

Buffy glanced around the room, anywhere but at him. He sure knew how to leave her nonplussed. "Um…"

"Here," he said, tossing the weapon back to her.

"What is this thing, anyway?"

He gave her a devilish grin. "Fun," he said. "Well, as long as you’re not on the receiving end. So don‘t ever point it at me."

"And again I ask, what does it do?"

He came around to stand beside her. "Here, turn off the safety." He flipped a switch on the side. "Now set it like so, and..." he pointed at the practice target. "Give it a go."

She aimed, and pulled the trigger. A laser blast shot out of the gun and burned a hole through the center of the target. "Whoa!" Buffy said. "It's like Star Wars!" She looked over the rest of the weapons on the table. "Hey, is there a light saber? Because if there is, that might have to be my new favorite weapon."

"Wait a few more years," Spike said. "I'm sure they'll come up with one. But here, that's not the best part. Push that button."

She did, and a beam of light brightened up half the room. "Wow," she said noncommittally. "A flashlight. That's handy. And it's a really bright flashlight, too."

"Yeah," Spike said, a bit impatiently, "and it also does this." He stuck his hand in the beam, and it started to sizzle. "Bloody hell," he muttered as he jerked his hand away and cradled it in his other hand.

Buffy turned off the light and set the gun down. "And you did that why, exactly?"

"Thought a visual demonstration was called for," he said through gritted teeth. He looked a little sheepish. "Seemed a good idea at the time."

"Here, let me see." She grabbed his hand, and he sucked air in between his teeth. "Sorry," she said, taking pains to be more gentle as she examined the burn.

"'S all right," Spike said. "See? It's already starting to heal."

Buffy traced a finger over the burn, already fading from a blistered red to a smoother dark pink. She noticed faint scarring across his palm and fingers, straight lines, as if he’d grasped a large knife. No, not a knife. A sword. She grabbed his other hand and examined the palm. It bore identical scars.

"I’ve been meaning to tell you," she said, "that was a pretty cool thing you did."

"What, sticking my hand in the ruddy sunlight? Seems pretty moronic in retrospect."

"No," Buffy said, tracing his scars. "With the sword."

"Oh. That." He shrugged. "Better my hands than your head, right?" When she didn’t let go of his hands, he continued. "Um, pet? Not that I mind, but… do you want to stand here holding hands all day, or should we get back to training?"

Buffy dropped his hands like they'd burned her, and looked around, anywhere but at him. She retrieved the gun, and pretended to examine it intently. "So, it's like a really powerful sunlamp, huh?"

"Uh… yeah. It's a new toy. The vamps'll never see it coming. You ought to be able to take out a whole mess of the buggers with a push of that button."

"Kind of a high tech answer to Willow's ball of sunshine spell," Buffy said.

"Yeah, I suppose. Except, you know, this works, and nobody goes blind."

"She never perfected that, huh?"

"Not for lack of trying."

Buffy felt a sudden pang of loss, and she swallowed. Focus on the gun, she told herself. "You're right," she said, "this one is fun." She considered it a minute. "How did they test this, anyway?"

"How do you think?"

Buffy looked back at his burned hand, and tried to imagine how that must've gone.

Spike waved his good hand dismissively. "What's a little burnt flesh if it's for a good cause? 'Sides, it only took once for them to know they got it right."

"Still. It seems they could have found another way to test it without using you as some kind of lab rat."

"I volunteered," he said. "And I don't seem to recall you having a problem when I was the Initiative's guinea pig."

"We kept you away from them, didn't we?" She reset the gun to blaster mode and fired four more shots, cutting the target in half. "Besides, that was before."

"Before what?"

She set the gun down. "You know," she said, and looked at him. "Before you became part of the family."

She held his gaze for a moment, and then he looked away. His lips betrayed a half smile, but he seemed to be struggling to keep it from spreading into a full-on grin. He swallowed. "That’s, um…"

"You really were," Buffy said softly. "One of us, I mean. I just hope the others got that, after…"

Spike nodded. "They did." He scratched the back of his neck. "In fact, I think they got it before I did."

"Good," Buffy said, and smiled. She hugged herself as a moment of silence passed between them.

"Anyway," Spike finally said, "I, um, I think that's enough target practice for now. You should get some rest, and I'll go tend my hand. We can meet back here at fifteen hundred."

"Speaking of the Initiative," Buffy said. "You're starting to sound like them."

"Am not."

"Are too."

"Hey! There's no need to insult me, love. That's just how we tell time around here."

"Okay!" Buffy holding her hands up in surrender. "You don't have to get so defensive."

"I'm not defensive."

"Are too."

"Am no--" Spike stopped, and bit his lip. He smirked at her. "You this much a pain in the ass for all your Watchers?"

"Just the ones who take the bait," she said, and walked out of the room. At the door, she paused, and turned around. "Fifteen hundred. That's--"

He rolled his eyes. "It's bloody three o'clock, Slayer!"

"You know, you could have just said that in the first place." With that, she let the doors close.

She smiled as she walked through the corridors towards her apartment. She'd never admitted to herself before how much she enjoyed her verbal sparring sessions with Spike. This new grown-up future Spike wasn't as quick to rise to the bait as he used to be, but she seemed to still know where all of his buttons were. At least that much hadn't changed.

By the time she reached her apartment, she realized just how grateful she was that Spike was here. If not for him, she really would have nothing left. Hello to the irony. He was the only link she had to her home, to her life. Well, not the only link. As she passed through her bedroom on the way to the shower, she saw the journals sitting on her nightstand. She freshened up, and then came back into the bedroom. After staring at them so long she began to feel weird about it, she snatched one up, and carried it with her as she headed down to the cadet lounge for lunch.

***

Buffy staggered into the training room around three-thirty to find Spike waiting for her.

"Cap’n Buffy, reporting for duty," she said.

"You’re late."

"Got held up. Won’t happen again." She held up two fingers. "Slayer’s honor."

"Yeah, whatever," Spike said. "Here, let’s get back to target practice." He picked up an assault rifle from the table and brought it over to her. As she reached out to take it, he jerked it back, and looked her up and down. "Are you drunk?"

"No."

"Slayer, you smell like a bleeding distillery."

"I might have had a little scotch with my lunch."

"Why? You've never been much of a drinker. Obviously."

Buffy shrugged. "It was what Giles liked to drink."

"Yeah, he also drank a lot of tea. You couldn’t have settled for a nice cuppa?"

"The scotch made it easier to read. Hey, did you know Quentin Travers came to my funeral?"

Spike sighed. "Yeah, I did, love. I was there."

"I know. It said that, too. And Angel, and Riley, and Wesley and Cordelia, and Oz. And of course the gang. But not my dad. They couldn’t get a hold of him in time."

"Buffy…"

"Do you know what it said on my headstone?" she asked.

Spike closed his eyes. "’She saved the world a lot.’"

"That’s a hell of an epitaph, isn’t it?"

"I knew it was a bad idea for you to read those journals."

"No. No it wasn’t. I needed to know. It’s good that I know how I was supposed to die." She nodded for emphasis. "But that doesn’t matter, because I’m here now. So let’s get with the trainin’. Target practice, right?" She reached for the gun.

Spike held it away from her. "Why don’t we wait until you’re a bit more clearheaded?"

"I’m fine," she said. "Give me the gun."

"I don’t bloody think so. In your condition you’re liable to make one of those special bullets ricochet right into my heart. I really don’t fancy being turned into a pile of dust just because you can’t hold your liquor."

Buffy punched him then, square in the nose. She didn’t really know why. Before she had time to think of a reason, her own head snapped back as he landed a left cross to her jaw. She reeled back, her eyes wide with shock. She rubbed her jaw. "You hit me!"

He threw down the rifle. "Bloody hell, Slayer! You hit me f--"

She hit him again, knocking him to the floor. She stood over him. "How come you can hit me? You got rid of the chip, didn’t you?"

"No," he said, "just had it modified." He kicked a leg out and swept her feet out from under her. He jumped to his feet and stood over her. "It lets me defend myself. I can fight humans now, as long as I’m not the aggressor." He offered a hand to help her up.

She took it, and kicked him in the stomach. As he doubled over, she flipped him over her. He landed on his feet as she jumped to hers. They began to circle each other.

"What’s this, then, love?" Spike asked, injecting some swagger into both his walk and his talk. "Trying to see if I’ve still got it?"

"No," she said, and spun around, landing a kick to his head. "Just making sure I haven’t lost it."

Spike recovered and feinted with his left. When she fell for it, he spun her around and slammed her face first into a wall, pinning her arms behind her back. "You’re drunk," he said. "It’s making you sloppy."

"I’m starting to sober up," she said, and slammed her head backwards into his face. As he backed up to grab his nose, she spun around. Bracing herself against the wall, she kicked him with both feet, sending him flying across the room. He crashed into the weapons table, scattering the guns. She ran towards him, leaping into the air and rolling into a flying somersault. Spike jumped up and grabbed her ankle in mid-air. He slammed her down onto the table. She grunted as the wind got knocked out of her. He climbed back up on the table, straddling her and pinning her arms above her head.

"I gotta tell you, pet, this is the most fun I’ve had in a very long time."

"Glad to hear it," she said, and brought her knee to his groin. She wrested a hand free and punched him, then shoved him off of her. He fell on the floor, and she rolled off of the table and on top of him, reversing their positions. They stayed like that for a moment, both of them panting.

Spike started to laugh.

"What?" she asked.

"You know why we never could beat each other, love?" he asked.

"What are you talking about? I beat you all the time."

"I’m talking about a fair fight. Hand to hand. Like this."

Buffy gave him a skeptical look. "I’m the one on top, aren’t I? Looks to me like I’m winning."

"Is that right?" He knocked her hands out from under her, and she fell against him. He held her hands behind her back and rolled her over, pinning them there. "Now who’s on top?"

"Cheater."

He grinned. "That’s what I’m talking about. It’s why we can’t beat each other. We’re neither one of us afraid to fight dirty."

"I fight to win," she said.

"I know. So do I." He rolled over again, keeping his arms around her and pulling her with him, placing her back on top. "And I’d say we’ve both still got it." His smirk faded as he looked at her, his eyes taking in every inch of her face. Slowly, he released her, but she made no move to get up. She felt warm. She wasn’t sure if it was the scotch, or the exertion, or… or the lying on top of Spike. She wasn’t sure she cared. Whatever it was, she felt good.

Her hair fell and brushed against his cheek. He pushed it back, tucking it behind her ear. "God, Buffy," he sighed. "I missed you so much."

Buffy studied his face. It looked a little tender in the spots where she’d hit him, and she’d split his bottom lip. She thought about the last time she’d been close to him like this, how he’d been beaten almost beyond recognition by Glory. He still bore a scar from the torture near his right eye. It was barely visible, but once she noticed it she had no trouble making it out. She traced a finger along it, and then she kissed it.

"Buffy…"

"Shh." She put her finger on his lips to shush him. Gingerly, she touched the fresh cut on his bottom lip. It was nothing compared with the way they had been bruised and swollen before; yet they had felt so soft against her own lips as she’d kissed him. She wondered how they would feel now. She moved to find out, but he put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her up to look at him.

"Pet, you’re still drunk."

"No I’m not," she said. "I know what I’m doing."

"You sure about that?" His voice sounded rough, almost hoarse. "’Cause, if you start this, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop it."

As if to emphasize this, his arousal became apparent. Out of nowhere, images of Riley flashed before her eyes. They were followed by pictures of Angel, and then of Cordelia and Wesley, Faith, Tara, Anya, Xander and Willow… Giles. And Dawn. They were gone. They were all lost to her. Forever.

Buffy closed her eyes, and buried her face against Spike’s neck. The harder she tried to fight it, the harder she cried. Her entire body shook with each sob, and she clung to Spike, the only piece of home she had left.

He wrapped her in his arms, and held her tight as she cried. He didn’t tell her to stop. He didn’t lie to her and tell her she was going to be okay. He just let her cry. "I’m sorry," he said once she stopped shaking and her sobs faded to the occasional whimper. "I didn’t want this for you."

She rose up to look at him. He looked as helpless as she felt, and he smiled weakly. "Still," he said, brushing her hair out of her face, "I can’t say I’m not glad to see you."

She slid to the floor beside him, and rested her head on his chest. "I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here," she told him. "I would have--"

"You would have coped," he said. "It never ceases to amaze me, humanity’s capacity for coping with the bullshit that’s constantly dealt them. And your capacity has always been greater than most."

"I don’t know about that," Buffy said. "Sometimes, I feel like I’m breaking, and I just want it to be over."

"But you always put yourself back together. You pick up the pieces, and you go on. And you always leave me just a little bit in awe of you."

Again, she raised her head to look at him. "I’m just really glad you’re here," she said. She sniffed, and noticed for the first time the mess she’d made of his shirt. "God," she said, sitting up and wiping her eyes. "I must really look like a mess."

"Yeah," Spike said. "A beautiful mess."

In spite of herself, Buffy smiled.

Spike got to his feet, and then helped her up. "Come on," he said, "let’s go get you clean and sober."

***

Buffy could smell coffee brewing as she stepped out of the shower. She wiped the steam off the mirror, and studied her reflection. She wondered what it must be like to wake up and find that you don’t even have your own reflection anymore. To have lost your life, your soul, everything that mattered… and then to not even find comforting familiarity in something as commonplace as a mirror. Did it feel anything like waking up to learn that your entire planet had been murdered? Your people exiled, your home scorched to nothing, your friends and family, everything that you’d given your life for, all gone--and you yourself should have been dead for centuries? For a moment she considered asking Spike. Did he feel this much loss when he was turned? Did he feel this lonely? Did he feel anything at all?

She shook off that train of thought. It was too depressing. No sense in bringing him down, too. Besides, she did still have her reflection. And she had Spike. And, she realized, he had her. Neither of them were alone.

She started to dress, but stopped to examined her bruises. Fresh ones from her bout with Spike mingled with the faded ones from her fight with Glory. Hard to believe it had only been four days ago. Four days, and three hundred and thirty-five years. Thinking about it hurt her head. Or maybe she was just hung over.

She pulled on her fatigues and a tank top, and ran a comb through her hair, then headed out to the kitchen. She smiled at Spike as she sat at the table, to let him know she was okay.

"So, what’s the what with the chip?" she asked. "Not that I’m complaining. Being able to defend yourself? That would have come in real handy when we were being attacked by those knights."

"Yeah, and it would have given you an excuse to stake me." He handed her a cup of coffee.

"Why would I need an excuse to stake you when you gave me so many actual reasons?"

Spike sat down across from her. "You're still all talk, Slayer. If you had so many bloody good reasons to stake me, why didn't you?"

Buffy focused on her coffee. "There's the million dollar question." She looked up at him. "Can I use a life line? Anyway, I asked you first."

"Fine," he said. "After I joined the Council, they offered to have the chip removed. They figured by then that I’d learned to behave myself enough that I didn’t need a muzzle."

"So, what happened?"

"I said no."

Buffy stared at him. "But, you were obsessed with getting that thing out of your head."

"That was before I got used to it." He shrugged. "Anyway, it was nice that they trusted me, but I didn’t trust myself. I had too much at stake, and I could lose it all with one moment of stupidity. I, um… I kind of learned that lesson when you changed the locks on me."

She winced at this. She’d only been trying to get her point across, and looking back, she wouldn’t have done it any different; but she’d had no idea that it would hurt him so much, or make such a lasting impression. She’d never realized just how much her invitation meant to him.

"So anyway," Spike said, "they took it out, tinkered with it for a bit, then shoved it back in my brain."

"Do you still need it? I mean, after all this time…"

"I’m still a vampire, pet. I still crave blood, and I still crave violence. Sure, I’ve learned some self-control, but I don’t know how long I’d be able to keep it up if I knew the chip wasn’t there to stop me."

"You actually want to be stopped. That’s… it’s actually pretty amazing."

"I guess. What I really want is not to have to be stopped. Some days I think I’m there, but others, I’m not so sure. Anyway, I can get it removed any time I like. I guess, on principle, it’s sorta like those tokens that AA members used to carry around. It helps me remember what I am, where I started from."

Buffy sipped her coffee, and they both fell silent. She thought about everything he’d just said, and about the last week of her life. How he’d been there, protecting her sister, helping her friends, and fighting alongside her, showing his willingness to die for her. He’d proven his devotion, in spite of believing she would never love him. And in return she’d sentenced him to three hundred years of heartbreak. He’d already come so far by the time they fought Glory, and he’d come so much further since. It was time for him to start getting something back for all of his efforts.

Spike stood up and grabbed his coat. "I’d best get going, love. Let you get your rest." He started for the door, pulling his coat on as he went.

Buffy got up to follow him. "Spike, wait." He turned around to look at her as he finished shrugging into his coat. She walked up to him, and ran a hand along the collar. "I can’t believe you still wear this thing."

He looked down at it. "I promised Nibblet I’d keep it. She said, ‘don’t ever lose the coat, Spike. I don’t care how you came by it, I hope you’ll always wear it. The coat is you.’"

Buffy smiled. "She was right."

"Something you wanted, love?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "You." She looked up at him, and he cocked his head to one side. He looked puzzled. Probably thought he’d misheard her. "I want you to stay," she said. "Here. Tonight. With me."

"Are you sure you’re--"

She put a finger on his lips to shush him. "I’m sober," she said. "Spike, do you remember what you said to me on the stairs? At my house, after I invited you back in, before we went to fight Glory. Do you remember?"

"Of course I remember."

"You’re not a monster, Spike. You’re not now, and you weren’t then." She shook her head. "I wouldn’t have let you back in my house if you were."

"But, Buffy, I--"

"You were wrong," she said. She took his face in her hands and pulled him down to her, and kissed him softly. "That wasn’t all you were wrong about." She kissed him again, and he kissed her back, softly at first, a series of soft, sweet kisses, growing in hunger and urgency as she pushed his coat off of him and he pulled her into his arms. She slid her hands up his chest and around his neck, pulling him closer as their kisses finally melted into one long, deep, breathtaking kiss. Eventually she was forced to break it off and catch her breath. As they both stood panting, he rested his forehead against hers.

"You don’t have to do this," he said.

"I know. I want to."

"But, if this is out of some sense of gratitude or -- I mean, it’s a really grand gesture, pet, but I don’t need --"

"Shh." Buffy brought finger to his lips, and kissed his forehead. "I want this, Spike." She looked him in the eye. "I want you."

"I love you," he whispered.

"Stay with me," she said.

"Love, an entire army of pissed off hellgods couldn’t make me leave here now."

Buffy giggled as he gathered her up in his arms. She grazed her lips across his cheekbone and along the soft underside of his jaw as he carried her into the bedroom.

They took their time undressing each other, taking every opportunity to become acquainted with the curves and contours of each other’s bodies, exploring first with their hands, and then tasting with their mouths. Spike felt cool and dry to the touch, nothing like the cold clamminess associated with death. He felt very much alive as his every muscle responded to her touch, and as he moved inside her, she felt more alive than she’d felt in ages.

At last, their passion sated and their bodies spent, she collapsed against him. When they found the energy to move again, he shifted out from under her, and she curled up next to him, her head on his shoulder and an arm across his chest. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders, and stroked her arm with his free hand.

"Tell me about them," she said.

"You sure?"

She thought about it, and said, "I’m as ready as I’ll ever be."

"All right. Who should I start with?"

"I don’t know. Maybe you should do it alphabetically."

"Starting with Angel, eh?"

Buffy kissed his shoulder. "You don’t have to talk about him, if you don’t want to."

"I don’t mind. Believe it or not, we made up at your funeral."

"I don’t believe it."

"It’s true. I mean, the poof and I were never going to be best mates, but we settled our differences."

"Why do I get the feeling that means you two beat each other bloody?"

Spike laughed. "Well, yeah. A bit. Then we went and found some vamps to kill who weren’t in love with you, then we went out and got pissed. By the time the sun came up we’d reached an understanding."

"I’m glad," Buffy said. "So what happened to him?"

"He went back to L.A., and ran his detective agency, and kept fighting the good fight. Did you know about the Prophecy of Aberjian?"

She nodded.

"Yeah, well, about twenty years after that, he got his Shanshu."

"Angel turned human?"

"Yeah. With all of the trimmings. Including susceptibility to disease."

"He got sick?"

Spike hesitated. "You sure you want to hear this, love?"

"No," she said, "but keep going."

He stroked her hair as he continued, as if that might keep it from hurting as much. "Pancreatic cancer. They’d come up with cures for most cancers by then, but the type he came down with was incurable." He laughed, but it held no mirth. "Those sodding Powers That Be have one sick sense of humor, don’t they? They go and make him a real boy, then they kill his wife--"

"Angel got married?"

"Uh, yeah. Cordelia. I was saving her for when I got to ‘C.’"

Buffy sat up and looked at Spike. "Angel married Cordelia? Cordelia Chase?"

"That’s the one."

She shook her head. "That’s… wow. I never saw that coming."

"It really wasn’t that surprising," Spike said. "They’d gotten to be best friends, and after he turned human, well, they got to be a lot more than that."

"How did she die?"

"The visions. They eventually got to be too much for her. Her body just gave out. It pretty well destroyed Angel. By the time he got sick, there wasn’t a whole lot of fight left in him."

Buffy twisted the sheet in her hands. "Didn’t anybody have any happy endings?"

Spike reached up and ran a knuckle down her arm. "You mean besides us?"

She smiled, and lay back down beside him. "Maybe you better move on to somebody else."

"Right. Well, next is Anya. She married Xander. More on that later. After her would be Giles."

"What about Dawn?"

"Saving the best for last, pet."

Buffy smiled at that, and snuggled closer to him. "Tell me about Giles."

"Sure. Um..." He seemed to be searching his memory, or maybe just trying to decide where to start. "Well, he moved back to England after Xander and Anya got married. He left them in charge of the magic shop. I think he felt pretty bloody useless without a Slayer to watch over. He eventually got to be chairman of the Council. He got Faith released and reinstated, at Angel’s urging. He died at the age of ninety-two, in his bed, surrounded by the Scooby Gang, with Velvet Underground playing on the turntable. I think it was exactly how he wanted to go."

"I wish I could have been there," Buffy said.

"So did he, love." He kissed her forehead. "Okay, let’s see. Who’s next?"

"Riley."

"Oh. Right. Well, as you know, he showed up for your funeral. But he disappeared again after that, and never got back in touch. I’m sorry, pet, I don’t know what became of him."

"That’s okay. I didn’t really expect you to."

"Next would be Tara and Willow. The Dynamic Duo. I tell you, pet, once Red got her magic worked out, she was a force to be reckoned with. And when she and Snow White joined forces?" He shuddered. "Who needs a Slayer when you’ve got a couple of powerful and pissed off witches around to take up the slack?"

"So Tara was okay?"

"Oh, yeah. She was her old self again after that night. She and Will ended up being together for about forty years, give or take. Willow was the first to go, and after that, Tara just didn’t have much will to go on."

"What did they do in the mean time?"

"Willow became a professor at the university. She taught computer science. Tara also became a teacher. She held classes for fledgling Wiccans in the back of the magic shop."

"Anya didn’t mind?"

"Hell, no. It was good for business. And that brings us to Xander. Like I said, he and Anya got married. They actually got engaged before we went to fight Glory. They got hitched about six months after that, and had their first born about a year after that. It was a little girl. Three guesses what they named her."

Buffy raised her head. "Really?"

Spike nodded.

"Aww. I bet she was a cute little Buffy."

"She was certainly a little spitfire. Anyway, Anya took to motherhood like she took to retail, and Xander loved being a dad. They had a half a dozen whelps by the time they were finished. Still, they both found time to join the Council, after Giles took charge. It became the family business. There’s been at least one Harris in the Council ever since."

"Yay for Xander," Buffy said. "I don‘t suppose you and he ever learned to get along."

"Well, you know, once he got to be a certain age it was just no fun picking on him any more. He couldn’t keep up, it was just too easy."

"You’re terrible."

"Hey, I had to have somebody to irritate after you were gone, didn’t I? Anyway, it’s not like it sounds. Truth is, he and I eventually got to be chums."

Buffy smiled. "I would’ve liked to see that." She yawned.

"You ready to call it a night?"

"No," she said. "Tell me about Dawn first."

"All right." He smiled. He practically beamed as he spoke of her. "She was a real brave little girl. When she came down from that tower, she took charge. She told us all what you said, about not being afraid to live, and how you wanted us to take care of each other. She made me get up and go hide from the sun. She kept a real close eye on me after that, made sure I didn’t try and commit stake-icide or forget that I don’t tan. She enlisted the rest of the Scoobies to help her. It went on like that for a few days; then I remembered that I was the one what promised to watch over her, not the other way around. So I snapped out of it."

"Eventually they did get hold of your dad. He moved back home to Los Angeles, and made her go live with him. I drove up every weekend to check on her, at first. Eventually, when it looked like the gang could handle the slaying without me, I moved up there. Your dad kept taking off on business trips, I didn’t like her being alone so much. I began doing some work for Angel while I was there. Actually, I think that was the beginning of my legitimization."

"Wow," Buffy said. "Your first job."

"Yeah. Turned out not to be the nightmare I thought it would be. Anyway, we were in L.A. until Dawn graduated, then it was back to Sunnydale. She went to the university there on a full scholarship. She was such a bright little thing."

"What did she study?"

"Ancient religion and archaeology."

"Naturally."

"Yeah. She was on a bit of a quest to learn about those monks that put her here."

"Did she?"

"She thought she was on to them a few times, but she could never be sure she had the right order."

Buffy thought of her sister on a lifelong quest to learn where she came from and never finding any answers. She buried her face against his shoulder, and sighed.

"Hey, it’s not like that was her life’s work. It was more of a hobby, really. She was curious, but she didn’t let it consume her. She actually led a pretty normal life, all things considered."

Buffy sat up, and wiped away a stray tear. "Really?"

"Oh, yeah. Got married, had kids, the whole works. She lived to be a hundred and three. She died in her own bed, surrounded by family."

Another tear slipped down Buffy’s cheek. She brushed it away, then turned around to face Spike, so she could see his face as he talked about Dawn. She tucked her knees up under her chin and then said, "What were they like? Her family, I mean. Tell me about them. When did she get married?"

"Right out of college," Spike said. "His name was Kevin Barnes. He was an okay bloke. I figured he’d be good for her when he didn’t let me scare him off like the others."

"Spike, you didn’t."

"What? I just put a little fear of the Big Bad into ‘em, let ‘em know what to expect from me if they hurt her. Kevin rose to the challenge. I was impressed. The boy had stones. Still, that didn’t keep me from having Angel check him out." Spike shrugged. "He came up clean."

Buffy just shook her head. "So, what did this Kevin do?"

"Same thing as Dawn. They met in some kind of archaeology seminar. They were pretty much inseparable after that. They got hitched the summer after they both graduated." He smiled wistfully. "I walked her down the aisle. Needless to say, it wasn’t a church wedding."

Buffy pictured Spike in a tux, giving her little sister away to her new husband. The image made her smile.

"They waited a few years to start having kids. Their eldest… well, actually, Kevin Jr. would have been the eldest. He died before he was a year old. Crib death."

"Oh God," Buffy said.

"Yeah." Spike swallowed. "I guess I couldn’t protect them from everything."

"It’s hardest when there are no monsters to blame," Buffy whispered.

Spike nodded. "Dawn took it real hard," he said. "They both did. It took a couple of years before they were ready to try again. But they did, and that’s when they had Joyce. Joyce Elizabeth, actually. They picked Elizabeth after they found out that Buffy was derived from it."

Buffy smiled. "I had two namesakes? Go me."

Spike laughed. "Anyway, Joyce was the first of the Summers clan to join the Council. Dawn was right proud of her. She was her pride and joy. She looked a lot like you, actually."

"Really?"

He nodded. "Losing Kevin Jr., that was the last of the tragedies for Little Bit. Having Joyce seemed to fill up all the holes that had been left by you and your mum, and the baby. She led a happy, full life. Even though she never stopped missing her big sis."

Buffy picked up his hand and held it. "You really loved her, didn’t you."

Spike stared off to the side, at nothing in particular. Finally, he nodded. "She was my best friend. Never had another like her. She was the only one who really knew how much it killed me not having you around." He looked back at Buffy. "'Sides, she was a part of you. Of course I loved her." He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, then tugged her back down beside him.

"Thank you," she said as he spooned up against her.

"For the history lesson?"

"For being there for her, and watching over her. And me."

He kissed her shoulder. "It’s all I know how to do anymore, pet."

Buffy closed her eyes, and basked in the nearness of him. His bicep as her pillow, the length of his body pressed against hers, his hand resting on her stomach, just underneath her breast… it felt so right. Just as right as it had felt to kiss him when she’d gone to see him in his crypt, after Glory’d had her way with him.

"I love you, Spike," she whispered.

He didn’t say anything. She thought maybe he hadn’t heard her. She rolled over on her back to look at him, to see if he’d fallen asleep, but he stared at her in disbelief.

"What…" He closed his eyes, and shook his head. "What did you say?"

"I said I love you."

He half laughed, then pressed his lips together. "I’m sorry." His voice was breaking up. "I never thought… I mean…" He cocked his head to one side in that funny way of his that Buffy realized she’d always found adorable. "Since when?"

"Since Glory tortured you, and I saw what you were willing to go through for me and Dawn. Maybe… maybe even before that. I was just so scared, and then there wasn’t time--"

Spike kissed her, long and deep and true. He seemed to pour himself into it, and she responded in kind, holding nothing back.

After a small eternity, they broke it off. Once Buffy caught her breath, she said, "I thought it was about time I finally said it."

He smiled. "It was worth the wait, love."

A tear slipped down his cheek. Buffy reached up to wipe it away. "I love you," she said again.

"I love you, too," he said, and dove back in for another kiss.

They didn’t talk any more that night.

*




Summary/Notes/Disclaimer: See Part One.

Shoutouts: My beta list has grown! In addition to adjrun and Ehann, much thanks also to georgevna and the folks on the Redemptionista Writers list for your many useful suggestions. But especially to g for never holding back with the valid criticism. It's all for the good.

Rating: R




Part Four: The Late, Great Buffy Summers

The Watchers each took turns frowning and checking the time. Except for the occasional irritated sigh, the only sound was that of Nick Harris drumming his fingers on the table. It ceased when Anne reached across and made him stop.

"How much longer are we going to wait?" Nick asked.

His mother removed her glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose. "We'll give them five more minutes," she said. "If they don't show, we'll begin without them."

"This is ridiculous," said a Watcher by the name of Phillips. "We all know very well why they're late. This is their third time to be severely tardy in as many weeks. This behavior is as inappropriate as their relationship. How much longer are we going to allow this to go unchecked?"

"Surely you're not suggesting they shouldn't be allowed to see each other," Anne said.

"We have rules that strictly prohibit romantic involvement between Slayers and their Watchers," Phillips said.

"Yeah," Nick said, "but that's because most Slayers don't live long enough to become legal. Buffy's a grown woman. She doesn't need our rules to protect her."

"And besides," Anne said, "this is Spike and Buffy we're talking about. I mean, come on. We all grew up hearing the stories. They've been on hold for more than three hundred years. You don't expect them not to pick up where they left off just because of some archaic rules that shouldn't even apply to them."

"This institution has lasted for millennia because of adherence to those archaic rules, Miss Richards," Phillips said. "You would do well to remember that."

The chairwoman sighed. "I'm afraid I must agree," she said. She held up a hand to fend off protests from the younger Watchers. "Not about the nature of their relationship," she said. "We all knew this was a possibility when we agreed to assign Miss Summers to William. That was the time to voice any objections about the assignment." She gave Phillips a pointed look, and sighed. "Besides, God knows they've certainly earned whatever happiness they are able to give each other. I have no intention of standing between them. But they've each allowed their relationship to affect performance of their duties, which in turn affects each of us. This must stop." She nodded to emphasize her resolve. "I will speak with them after the meeting. In the mean time, we've waited long enough. Let's begin."

***

"I think I like my training sessions with you best," Buffy said.

She felt Spike smile against her breast. "What do you mean, 'think?' Have I got competition? Major Ellison, maybe? I know how you are about those military types."

"Please," Buffy said. "I'm over that. Besides, he's way old."

Spike raised his head and quirked an eyebrow at her.

"You know what I mean," Buffy said. "Anyway, the Major's idea of a reward for a job well done is to bark, 'Good work, Slayer!' I don't even think he's bothered to learn my name. I like your reward system much better."

Spike nuzzled her neck as he spoke, trailing delicate kisses from her shoulder up to her ear between words. "And here... I thought... these rewards... were for me." He lifted his head to look at her.

"That's the beauty of it," she said, reaching up to smooth back his unruly hair. "It's a mutually beneficial system."

"Well, you know me," Spike said. "Ever the giver."

Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head.

He suddenly looked serious. "Hold still."

"Why? What is it?"

"Nothing," he said, "it's just hard to kiss a moving target."

Buffy smiled, and then parted her lips to receive his kiss. She savored the taste of him, running her hands over his smooth back and wrapping herself around him. She couldn't get enough of him. She'd never get enough of him. For not the first time since they'd become intimate, she cursed herself for keeping him at arm's length for so long. Even after they'd crossed the line from enemies to allies, then from allies to friends, she'd refused to allow them to cross the final line that would make them lovers. Stupid, scared little girl, she admonished her former self.

But once she finally gave in, she was left in awe of how completely and absolutely she had fallen in love with him. For all of his maturity and wisdom, this was still the same cocksure vampire she used to want to strangle with her bare hands. Now he was as necessary to her as oxygen. She could eat, drink and breathe nothing but Spike for the rest of her life and it would be all she ever needed or wanted. And what's more, she knew it was the same for him. She often wondered if this was their destiny. Had they been inevitably headed here ever since that first encounter behind the Bronze? Or had they stumbled here purely by chance? She didn't care. She was just grateful that they'd made it to this point, and regretted only that it had taken them so long.

Abruptly, Spike broke off the kiss. "What day is it?" he asked her.

"Um... Thursday?"

"Ah, bugger," he said, climbing off of her. He retrieved his pants from the nearby vaulting horse and dug his watch out of the pocket. "Shit!"

"What is it?" Buffy asked.

"We're late," he said. He picked up her pants from the training mat and tossed them to her. "Get dressed."

"Not again," she said.

"Meeting was supposed to start half an hour ago," he said, hopping into his pants. He looked around the room. "Do you see my shirt?"

Buffy stood and looked around as she fastened her own pants. "Over there, on the treadmill," she told him. "And will you grab my top from the trampoline?"

He tossed her tank top to her and then went to retrieve his own shirt. "You ready?" he asked as he tugged it on.

"I think so," she said. "Here, don't forget your coat." She picked it up and took it over to him. "How do I look?"

He smirked as he reached out to smooth her hair. "Right knackered," he said. "Me?"

She grinned. "The same." She forced herself to look serious. "We're in so much trouble."

"Yeah, well." He shrugged, and planted a quick kiss on her mouth. "Can't say it wasn't worth it."

"Nope, can't say that." She was back to grinning as they headed for the door. "Can't say that at all."

***

"Sorry we're late," Spike said as he followed Buffy into the briefing room. "We, uh ..." Damn. He'd never been any good with excuses.

"Something came up," Buffy said. "Something very urgent."

"Yes, I'm well aware of precisely what it was that came up, Miss Summers," the chairwoman said, with a disapproving look at Spike. "From now on you would both do well to make sure it only comes up on your own time."

"Yes ma'am," Spike said. "Won't happen again." He did his best to look shamefaced.

"See to it that it does not."

"Well, we're not the only ones who're late," Buffy said, and for the first time Spike noticed that they were the only people in the room. "It looks like we beat everyone else."

The chairwoman removed her glasses and sighed. "That is because the meeting adjourned ten minutes ago. Everyone has left. Apparently your struggle to explain your tardiness and your disheveled appearance has lost its amusement factor, and nobody felt like sticking around to watch."

Buffy cringed as the chairwoman spoke. "I'm sorry," she said. "Really. We just got a little too into ... training? And lost track of time. I swear it won't happen again."

"Buffy, please wait in the hall," the chairwoman said.

"Actually, wouldn't it be more efficient to just yell at us both at the same time?"

The chairwoman began to clean her glasses. "Miss Summers, I would speak to your Watcher." Her voice was steel. So was her gaze as she looked up at Buffy. "Alone."

She looked at Spike, and he gave her a little nod.

Buffy nodded. "Sure. I don't mind. Talk all you want." She looked back at Spike. "Guess I'll be in the hall."

After she left, the chairwoman turned to Spike. "Really, William, couldn't you at least pretend to care that your relationship violates several of the Council's rules?"

"What? Why? Because I'm a vampire?"

"No, because you're her Watcher."

"Oh." He tried not to smirk as he sat on the table. He looked up at her, his face all innocence. "There are rules against that?"

The chairwoman simply raised her eyebrows at him.

He rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. Don't you think it's a bit late to start playing by the rules? You had to see this coming when you put us together."

"We did. I dare say some of us even hoped for it, for your sake. But that doesn't mean you're not expected to conduct yourself with a certain amount of professionalism. For God's sake, William, you trained most of us, including me. I shouldn't have to be telling you this." She sighed. "And it's for that reason that there is no one on the Council for whom we are more willing to bend the rules."

"That's good," Spike said, "'cause Buffy didn't get to be all legendary by playing by the Council's rules. Hell, I wouldn't even be standing here if she was the by-the-book type. All bets are off with this Slayer. That's what makes her so bloody good at what she does."

The chairwoman nodded, then sat down with a sigh. "I fear for you, William."

"Now why's that, pet?"

The chairwoman simply smiled at his informality. "I fear for what will become of you if… if the worst happens, and she doesn't make it. How will you cope with losing her again?"

Not as well as last time, he thought. He shut his eyes and shook his head. "I'm not going to lose her again. Least, not any time soon."

"You can't know that. She is the Slayer, after all."

"No, Jessica is the Slayer." He stood up and paced the room. What he wouldn't give for a cigarette. "Buffy is someone you borrowed to do a job. She lives through this, and she's done. If she wants out, she's out. She's fulfilled her obligations, and she has more than done her bloody duty!"

"What if she doesn't want out?"

"Then I'll be there to watch her back until she does."

"William, you have an obligation to the Council--"

"No," he said, "my obligation is to Buffy."

The chairwoman looked at him. "I know you believe that you owe her for--"

"That has nothing to do with it," Spike said.

"Doesn't it?"

He sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "Buffy is my Slayer. My obligation, my duty as her Watcher is to do everything in my power to keep her alive while she does her job. Sod the rest of the Council." He put his hands in his pockets and looked at the floor. "Giles would expect nothing less from me."

The chairwoman nodded. "Glad to hear it."

Spike gave her an incredulous look as she rose from her chair.

"So then, I can expect you to do your duty for Buffy by getting her to the briefing sessions on time? Otherwise she could miss information that could make a difference between life and death."

Spike sighed. Why did he feel like he'd just been played? "Yeah, all right."

"Good. Then you should both also study this." She handed him a couple of vid goggles. Off his questioning look, she explained, "It's the plan of attack for when we move next week. It's what we covered in today's meeting."

"Yeah, um... I can see how that's important to know."

"Good," she said. "I'm also afraid that I am forced to place a formal reprimand on your file for your recent bouts of tardiness."

"Ooh," Spike said, with a roll of his eyes. "Not my file. Anything but that."

"Yes, well. For some of us, that actually matters."

"For some of you it should. Anything else?"

"No, we're done here."

She started to leave, and he started to follow, but she stopped and turned around. "Oh, and William?"

"Yeah?"

"Please, would you and Buffy at least attempt to be discreet?"

"We'll do our best," he said with a wink.

As she left the room, he hung back to make sure he didn't look as shaken up as he felt. Playing it cool with the chairwoman was one thing; but Buffy would sense his worry as soon as he stepped out the door.

How would he cope with losing her again? It would happen eventually. Even if she wasn't a Slayer, she still came with an expiration date, just like every other human he'd ever allowed himself to care about. He figured this was why immortality usually came with a general lack of giving a bloody damn.

He wasn't stupid; and he wasn't in denial. He knew this wasn't happily ever after. He didn't even believe there was such a thing; but they were happy for the moment, and that was what mattered.

The chairwoman looked back at him questioningly as she held the door open for him. He gave her a half smile, and followed her out of the room. As he did, he swore that he would do whatever it took to make his and Buffy's moment last as long as it could.

***

Buffy took off the funky computer glasses Spike had given her and tossed them on the coffee table. She leaned back on the sofa and massaged her forehead. He had insisted on canceling their plans for that evening so they could both catch up on the current plan of attack. Separately though, lest there be any distractions. She’d promised to read the whole thing, but after page upon page of exposition, battle plans and attack routes, she had to stop. Those glasses gave her a headache. Why couldn’t they just print out the mission specs and let her read a hard copy? Oh yeah, she remembered, no trees equals no paper.

She sighed. She hated living on the moon, and she wasn’t too keen on living in the future. She loved Spike, so she had that much going for her, at least. She couldn’t honestly say that these last few weeks with him were the happiest of her life, but at least he’d made them bearable. And at least she was alive. She'd begun to feel grateful to the Council for saving her life, even though it meant she had to face the pain of giving up her old one. She hated the thought of never having a chance to be with Spike. Bad enough knowing that he’d mourned her all those years; and that he'd believed she could never love him.

Ow. Too much thinking. Her head hurt. She lay down on the couch and said, "Lights off." The room went dark. Okay, so the future has its perks. She laid her forearm across her eyes, and tried to will her headache away.

"Buffy," said the voice of her Watcher, "this is no time for you to lie down."

"Just a few minutes, Giles," she said. "I’m just resting my eyes."

"Buffy, you must get up!"

She sat up. Her headache was gone. She blinked, and realized the front door to her apartment was open. She got up and walked out of her apartment, and into her high school. It looked deserted.

"You’re late, Summers," a voice behind her barked.

She turned around. "Principal Snyder," she said, "I was … Spike and I were … something came up."

He shook his head. "Not that kind of late." He turned to look in the science room.

Buffy walked to where he stood and looked into the room. In the center stood a simple headstone. It bore her name. Underneath was an inscription: "She saved the world a lot."

She shook her head. "No, they took care of that."

"For now," he said, and looked at her. "It’ll all be put right."

"Buffy!"

She turned to see Xander coming down the hall. When she looked back, Principal Snyder was gone. So was the headstone.

"Buffy, where the heck have you been?"

"The moon."

"Jeez, Buff. This is no time for cow rides. Come on, people are waiting."

"But what about the vampires?"

"What about them?"

"Are they gone?"

"What are you talking about? The vampires are everywhere. Like Britney Spears. No place is safe. Not even the moon. Now come on. You’re late."

"People keep telling me that."

They walked through the school, towards the library. As they passed by each door, Buffy peered inside. Instead of classrooms, each door opened in on a different scenario, some of them familiar: Spike striking a deal with her to defeat Angelus; Faith agreeing to work for the Mayor; Spike again, selling them all out to Adam; Xander delivering her to Dracula; Ben, trading Dawn’s life to save his own.

Xander held the library door open for Buffy. She passed through it and into the magic shop. Xander was already seated at the table in the back, along with the rest of the Scoobies.

"You see," Giles was explaining, "there are all kinds of reasons for betrayal. Power, survival, revenge … and it’s always possible that the traitor is not fully in control of his or her actions."

"Who’s a traitor?" Buffy asked.

Giles sighed. "Buffy, I already covered that. You’d know if you’d been on time. Now it is up to others to fix what should have been."

"What should have been?"

"Yes, we covered that too. Back to what I was saying about betrayal."

"Fine," Buffy said. "What about it?"

"It’s not safe where you are," Giles said. His face changed into that of a vampire, and he lunged at her.

She sat up, and sighed. She was in bed, in her lunar apartment.

"What’s the matter, pet?" Spike asked. She felt his strong hands wrap around her arms, and pull her back against his bare chest. "Bad dream?"

She nodded as she leaned gratefully against him. "Giles was explaining why people become traitors, and then he vamped out and tried to bite me."

He kissed her neck. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back on his shoulder to give him better access. "Gotta watch us traitors," he said between kisses. "Never know where we’ll turn up." He sunk his fangs into her neck and began to drink. Buffy gasped, and then she sat up.

"Lights on!"

She shut her eyes and groaned as the room flooded with light. "Lights down," she said, and the room dimmed. She rubbed her forehead. Her head was pounding. She got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen, where she took some painkillers and then sat down next to the comm system. "Call Spike," she said.

"Finish your reading already, pet?" he asked after a moment.

"I dozed off," she said.

"Well that’s productive."

"I need you to get everybody together in the briefing room."

"Love, I don’t think calling a meeting at this hour’s going to win you any brownie points. Or make up for missing today’s session."

"I had a dream, Spike. I … I think we’ve been infiltrated."

Silence.

"Spike?"

"How soon?"

"Thirty minutes? And only the people you trust."

"Right. See you in thirty."

Buffy leaned forward and propped her elbows on the counter. She massaged her temples as she replayed the dream in her mind, trying to concentrate on the details. She hoped she was getting the right message from it. It seemed to be trying to tell her something else, too, but that was a message she didn’t want to hear. Besides, she told herself, the dreams weren’t prophecies so much as warnings. If she knew what they warned of, she could prevent it from happening, right?

With a sigh, she got up and headed into the bathroom. As she freshened up, she debated how much of the dream she should share with Spike.

***

"You’re certain it was a Slayer dream?" the chairwoman asked.

Buffy nodded. "They’re never that real unless they’re trying to tell me something. Plus I did that thing where I wake up in bed but I’m really still dreaming." She shuddered. "I hate that part. I only do it with the Slayer dreams."

"But your dream suggests we’ve been infiltrated by vampire spies," Nick said. "That’s not possible. This whole complex is completely vampire-proof. Spike’s the only one who has security clearance."

"Exactly," Buffy said. "Spike’s the only one of us who needs security clearance. Anybody else can come and go as they please."

"So?"

"So what if our spy is human?"

"That’s preposterous," the chairwoman said. "What possible reason would a human being have to betray their entire species?"

"Plenty," Spike said. "Pardon me for saying so, but you’ve all lived very sheltered lives when it comes to seeing first hand how low humans can go. There are all kinds of reasons someone would sell us all out. Power, survival, revenge …"

Buffy stared at him, and tried not to have a wiggins. "That’s exactly what Giles said." Off his confused look, she added, "In the dream, I mean." She looked around at the others. "Also, they might not even be in control of their actions. They could be under mind control. Dracula could do that, and he‘s probably not the only one. We should tighten security. Give everyone the same restrictions Spike has."

"Yes, I suppose you’re right," the chairwoman said. "We’ll get right on it."

"It all sounds like a waste of time to me."

Buffy turned to look at Major Ellison. She didn't like him. He reminded her of a gym coach she had in junior high. A really mean gym coach. "Why is that?" she asked him.

"I think it’s pretty clear who our traitor is, is why." He looked around at the room. "I know nobody wants to even consider this, but come on." He turned his gaze on Spike. "He showed up in your vision three times. You said he even bit you."

Spike held his gaze, his expression unreadable.

Anne shook her head. "How dare you suggest--"

"It doesn't work like that," Buffy said, exerting a great effort to keep her voice calm. "The dreams are never that obvious."

"But you just said that he repeated exact words that your old Watcher said in your dream. Right before your old Watcher turned into a vampire. You telling me that's not obvious?"

"What about motive?" Nick asked. "Why the hell would Spike turn on us after all these years?"

The Major shrugged. "Maybe the vampire’s just taking care of his own. Or maybe he's just giving in to his true nature." He broke off his gaze and turned away from Spike. "You ask me, it was just a matter of time."

"You son of a--" Buffy rushed at him, but Spike jumped up to restrain her.

"Easy, pet. The Major's just doing his job."

She pulled away from him. "Insulting you is his job?"

"No, pointing out the unpleasant possibilities is his job." He looked around at the room. "The Major does have a point. There was a time I'd sell my own mum out if I thought it would save my own ass or get me something I wanted." His face went dark, and he laughed uncomfortably. "Come to think of it, I did just that. Anyway, I understand his suspicion, and I'll understand if anyone shares it."

He looked around the room, but nobody said anything. They were all too busy glaring at the Major.

He looked at Buffy. "What about you, pet? Honestly? For you it's only been a year since I sold you out to that Frankenwhatsis."

"Adam," she corrected, and looked him in the eye. "And for me it's only been a month since you stood your ground against Glory. I don't believe that Spike would betray us, and in no way do I believe that the Spike who's been watching over my family for the last three hundred years would." She turned to the Major. "Spike is not our traitor. Until we know who is, we'll increase security. Is that clear?"

"Crystal," the Major said.

"Mrs. Harris?" a voice called over the comm.

"Present," the chairwoman answered.

"We’re receiving a distress signal from an incoming transport en route from Mars. ETA is five minutes. Ma’am, it’s the Slayer. She appears to be alone and piloting the ship herself."

Buffy looked confused, but Spike pulled her with him and started for the door.

"Jessica," he said. Everyone got to their feet and hurried out the door.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"The transport bay. Something’s wrong. She wasn’t expected back until the end of the week. And why the hell isn’t her Watcher with her?"

"Maybe she just wanted to come back early and he wasn’t ready yet," Buffy offered.

Spike shook his head. "This one’s not independent like you, pet. At first she wouldn’t even go to the bathroom without her Watcher’s say so."

They reached the transport bay and waited. Soon, the doors opened, and Spike stepped through them and into the shuttle. "Jessie?"

A dark haired girl who looked to be about Dawn’s age stumbled into view. Spike caught her, and swung her up into his arms.

"Bring her to the infirmary," the chairwoman said as he carried her out of the transport.

As they re-entered the complex they were met by armed guards wielding vampire detectors. "The vamp alarms went off," they informed the chairwoman.

"It was just me," Spike said.

"Sorry, sir," the guard said as he aimed the device at each of the humans in the group, "this is standard procedure." His device made a high pitched beeping noise as he aimed it at Spike, holding a barely conscious Jessica. "Sir, I need you to put the girl down. Your reading is interfering with hers."

"Oh, be real," Spike said. "She’s in no condition to try and stand. And she’s the bleeding Slayer, for fuck sake."

"Let them pass," the Major ordered.

The guards stood down. Spike carried her past them, followed by the rest of the group, with Buffy at the back. A few yards beyond the guards, Jessica came to.

"Put me down."

"No, pet," Spike said, "let’s get you to the infirmary."

"I’m fine," she said. "I just want to go to my room." She began to struggle.

"Jess, you’re cold. Something’s wrong. We have to get you checked out."

Buffy narrowed her eyes. Something was definitely wrong. "Spike, put her down."

He stopped, and turned to face her. "But love, she’s not well."

"No," Buffy said gently. "She’s dead."

Spike furrowed his brow in puzzlement, but as he looked at Jessica, realization dawned across his face. He put her down.

"What… what’s wrong?" Jessica asked.

Buffy looked back at the guards, who were watching intently. "Check her," she told them.

As one of them approached with the vamp detector, Jessica started to back away. "Don’t point that thing at me!"

The others stood and watched in silence, until Nick spoke up. "Buffy, come on. You don’t really think…"

Buffy gave him a look that told him exactly what she thought. A high pitched beeping noise confirmed her suspicions.

Jessica shook her head as she backed away. "No," she said. "That thing’s defective."

"You think?" Buffy took her cross pendant from around her neck. "Think fast," she said as she tossed it. Jessica jumped back to avoid it. Everybody stared in shock at the cross on the floor. "Is that defective too?"

"Who are you?" Jessica asked.

"I’m the Slayer," Buffy said.

"But I’m the Slayer," Jessica said.

Buffy shrugged. "You were. You’re not now."

"What are you waiting for?" the Major asked, grabbing a weapon from one of the guards. "Kill the little bitch."

As he aimed the gun, Spike pushed it down. "No, you wanker. We’ll take her alive."

The Major trained his gun on Spike instead. "What’d I tell you? The vampire’s protecting his own kind."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Fine. You want to kill her? Kill her. Then have fun interrogating the big pile of dust."

"Spike’s right," Buffy said. "We need her alive. So. Are you going to come quietly, or--"

Before she could finish, Jessica vamped out and kicked Buffy in the chest, knocking her back a few steps. She took off running down the corridor.

"Bloody hell," Spike muttered, and chased after her.

Buffy recovered and turned to the others. "This place is supposed to be vampire proof, right? Get inside somewhere safe. We’ll contact you when we’ve got her."

She followed after Spike. When she caught up with him around a corner, he was on his ass, nursing a bloody nose.

"Bloody hell," he muttered again.

"Where’d she go?" she asked as she helped him up.

"Don’t know," he said. "Where could she have gone? She can’t get inside anywhere."

Buffy looked around. "Maybe we should…" She’d been about to say "split up," when she noticed a loose panel on the wall. She went over and pulled it away, revealing a crawlspace. "What’s this?"

Spike peered in, and shrugged. "Jeffries tube?"

They both looked up as they heard movement above them.

"Someone’s in the ceiling," Buffy sing-songed. Spike looked at her and raised an eyebrow. She gave him an innocent look. "What?"

He just shook his head. "If this goes to the life support vents she could go just about anywhere except for the living quarters."

"Okay," she said. "I’m going in. Help me up."

"What? Pet, you could get lost in there. Or worse. You don‘t even have a weapon."

"What good is a weapon if I can’t kill her? You’ve seen her fight, right? Can I take her?"

Spike smiled. "Love, I’m not sure there’s anybody you can’t take. Want me to wait here? I can’t follow you in, I won’t fit."

"Try to get everybody to their quarters," she said. "And find the others. I told them to get inside somewhere."

"Probably holed up in the training room," he said. "That’s the closest facility they could get to without passing us. What do you want to bet that’s where she’s headed?"

"Then get there, and get them out of there. I’ll try to flush her out. Be ready for us."

"Right," he said. "Just be careful. Here you go." He lifted her up by the waist, then placed both hands on her rear to push her up into the tube.

"Just had to cop a feel, didn't ya?" she asked.

"Well, you know," Spike said. "If you lose your way in there it could be my last chance."

Buffy shook her head and grinned as she crawled down the tube.

"I love you," he called after her. He sounded serious. "Don't get lost!"

"Love you too," she called back. "And I won't!" She crawled until she found an access hatch that looked like it led up into the ceiling. She crawled through it and into an air duct, where she started in the direction she’d heard Jessica going earlier. It was a tight fit, and for a moment she regretted her decision to enter the duct. She wouldn’t have room to maneuver if she was attacked; but Jessica had looked to be slightly bigger than Buffy, so the vents wouldn’t do her any favors, either.

Buffy crawled until she came to a three-way junction. This was bad. If she went the wrong way, she really could get lost. Even worse, it could give the vampire a way to get behind her, making her the prey. With a sigh, Buffy closed her eyes and tried to focus her Slayer sense, reaching out to feel the vibration that told her when something wasn‘t human. She‘d never been very good at that part, and had never bothered to work on it. The vampires in Sunnydale had always been easy enough to spot without her needing to use any kind of Spidey Sense. Finally, she felt something, a sensation tugging her to the left. It would either be Jessica or Spike. Either would do. She started in that direction.

"Jessica," she called out as the sensation got stronger, "there’s no place for you to hide here. You know that. We don’t want to hurt you, we just want to talk."

"Liar!" she heard the girl hiss. It reverberated through the air duct and seemed to come from everywhere. "You’re the Slayer. You don’t talk to us. You kill us. I know, I was one, remember?"

"What about Spike? I never killed him."

"Nobody kills Spike. He’s everybody’s hero. He fell in love with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and started killing his own kind. He even turned good."

Jeez, Buffy thought. If any more sarcasm dripped from this little girl's voice it might flood the vent and drown her.

"Yeah, but I mean before," she said. "Before he fell in love with me he gave me plenty of reasons to stake him. But I didn’t. And I’m not going to stake you. We won‘t hurt you at all if you cooperate."

Silence.

"Jessica?"

"You… you’re Buffy?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "You didn’t know?"

"Oh God."

Buffy saw the girl dart across the end of the duct, and followed after her. Another junction lay at the point where she’d seen Jessica, and Buffy turned in the direction she’d gone. She could see the girl up ahead, and then suddenly she dropped out of sight. Damn, Buffy thought. She crawled to where Jessica had disappeared, and found another hatch. She lowered herself through it, and found herself in another "Jeffries tube." At the end was a partially open panel.

Buffy crawled to it and peered out into the training room. Jessica and Spike were fighting, and so far they each seemed to be holding their own. Buffy jumped down from the tube and ran to the weapons table. She grabbed a blaster gun and turned on the sun setting. She took aim, but she couldn’t get a clear shot.

"Spike, duck!" she called, but before she could Jessica got behind him and got him in a choke hold. "Damn it!"

"Do it," he said.

"But--"

"Just bloody do it, Slayer!"

Buffy switched on the sunlight, and Spike and Jessica both screamed. She let go of him, and he dove out of the light. When she started to sizzle, Buffy switched off the light.

"You said you wouldn’t hurt me!" Jessica screamed.

"I said not if you cooperate," Buffy said. "Beating up my boyfriend? That’s not cooperation." She trained the gun on her. "Now are you going to behave, or do I need to do it again?"

The girl dropped to her knees and started to cry. Buffy couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. "It wasn’t supposed to go like this," she said.

Spike stood up. Buffy looked him over as he walked over to Jessica, and sighed with relief. His burns didn’t look too bad.

"Come on, Jessie," he said, taking her by the arm and pulling her to her feet. "Let’s go talk. You can tell us all about how it was supposed to be."

*




Summary/Notes/Disclaimer: See Part One.

Shoutouts: Thanks to all of my beta-readers on this one: The Redemptionista fic group, adjrun, and Ehann, and to AurelioZen for hounding me to keep working on this.

Rating: R




Part Five: The Last Night of the World

"Mars is crawling with my kind," said the girl, with a defiant tilt of her chin. "It’s like Planet Earth, in the old days."

"And what would you know about how Earth was then, Jess?" Spike asked.

"I know what you told me."

It didn’t take much persuading to get her to talk. Jessica knew what she was up against. Here, she wasn’t the spider -- she was the fly. She put up a brave front, but her constant fidgeting and her big, brown eyes betrayed her fear. She had exactly one chance for survival, and that was to tell them what she knew.

"When did the vampires arrive on Mars?" asked Major Ellison.

"I don’t know."

"Jessica," Buffy warned.

"I don’t! They didn’t give me their whole history. They just gave me a job to do."

"And what job is that?" the Major asked.

Jessica looked at her hands.

"Answer the question!" he shouted.

Jessica jumped, clearly startled. Buffy’s heart went out to her. She couldn’t help it. She kept having to remind herself that the girl sitting in the chairwoman’s seat was a vampire. No matter how young and innocent she looked, no matter how much she reminded Buffy of her sister, she was still the enemy. Before that, she was a Slayer. She knew the stakes, even if she was too young to fully understand them. Not that it mattered to the Powers That Be if their Chosen One was too damn young to take on the responsibility, or that Jessica clearly hadn’t been ready. It wasn’t fair.

It’s never fair, Buffy reminded herself.

"What was your job, Jessica?" she asked.

Jessica hugged herself, and shrugged. "Why should I tell you? How do I know that as soon as I tell you what you want to know you won’t dust me?"

Buffy sighed. She recalled a certain other vampire, sitting in chains in a bathtub and asking the same question. She’d thought he was the enemy, too. Of course, at the time, he was.

"I asked her that same question meself once," Spike said, as if he’d read Buffy’s mind. "And I’m still standing."

"I promise you, Jessica," Buffy said, "nothing will happen to you if you cooperate."

Jessica glared up at her. "What kind of Slayer lets a vampire live?"

"The best kind," Spike said. "Obviously."

Buffy hopped up on the conference table and sat facing Jessica. "Okay. Let’s start from the beginning. How did you … what happened? How did they get you?"

"They got Edith first," Jessica said.

"Who?"

"Her Watcher," Spike clarified.

"Oh."

"It took days for me to find her," Jessica continued, all matter-of-fact. "They tortured her. But she didn’t tell them anything. Then they captured me. I fought, I killed as many as I could, but …"

"You were outnumbered," Buffy said.

"Yeah. And the vamps were just better than me. Stronger. Anyway, they used me to get Edith to talk. She told them everything. All about how you guys were planning to invade Earth. Then they--"

Her voice hitched. She stared at her hands, folded in her lap. Buffy studied her. Did Jessica still feel something for her Watcher? For her former self?

"Then they made Edith watch while they turned me," Jessica said. She looked up at Buffy, her features transformed. She smiled, a toothy, demonic smile that held no trace of the humanity Buffy thought she’d seen. "Then they gave her to me. My first meal. Best I’ve had yet."

"You little …" The Major raised his hand to strike her, but Buffy grabbed his arm.

"I said nobody will hurt her if she cooperates," Buffy said.

The Major jerked his arm away. "You’re going to just sit there and let her talk like that?"

Buffy sat up straight and looked him in the eye. "Do you want to take over? ‘Cause I'm sure this'll go a whole lot faster if we wig every time she tries to bait us."

Ellison sighed, and glared at the young vampire. "Proceed," he said. "Find out why she was sent here."

Buffy folded her arms and looked at Jessica. "Well?"

"They wanted me to get the mission specs," Jessica said. "And some codes."

"Codes?"

"For the computers. The crackers couldn’t break in."

"Bloody hell," Spike whispered.

Buffy looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

"If they got into our computers, they’d control everything, including life support. Here and on Mars. All they’d have to do is enter a single command and suffocate what’s left of the entire bloody human race."

"Damn," Buffy said. "Can’t let that happen." She looked at Jessica. "Did they really think you’d be able to get in here and do all that without getting caught? Jeez." She shook her head. "Vampires sure haven’t gotten any smarter in the last few hundred years, have they?"

"It was a good plan," Jessica said. "It was a pretty safe bet that Spike would carry me in if I played sick. That would get me past the guards and the detectors. After that I’d just have to stay out of the infirmary and make sure there was always someone with me to get me through the doors. I could have done it if it wasn’t for you."

"They don’t know about me?"

Jessica shrugged. "Edith and I didn’t know about you, how could they?"

Buffy nodded, then looked at the Major. "What else do we need?"

He glared at Jessica. "That’s enough."

"Okay," Buffy said. "We’re done here." She got up and started for the door. Spike fell into step beside her. "I guess this means our big plans are gonna change," she said.

"Count on it," he said.

As they reached the door, she heard the Major issue an order: "All right. Dust her."

Buffy spun around in time to see a guard aiming a stake rifle at Jessica. The girl looked at Buffy, her eyes all hatred and accusation.

"No!" Buffy rushed towards Jessica, but she was too late. The guard fired, and Jessica crumbled into dust. Buffy jumped the guard anyway. She disarmed him and knocked him out of the way, then turned the gun on the Major, shoving the barrel against his throat. "I said nothing would happen to her."

"We were done with her," the Major replied.

Buffy threw down the gun and grabbed the Major by his collar, shoving him backwards onto the table. "I promised her that she would be safe!" she shouted. "How dare you?"

"How dare you make deals with the enemy?" he shouted back.

"Spike wouldn’t be here today if I never made deals with my enemies, deals that I honor. And neither would you! None of you would’ve even been born if it wasn’t for him! Should I have just staked him as soon as I thought I didn't need him anymore?"

"That was your job, Slayer. If you couldn't do it then, why should I expect you to do it now?"

Buffy jerked him up by his collar until she was right in his face. "My job is to protect humanity from the forces of evil. If making deals with vampires will help me do that, then I make deals with vampires. Is that understood?"

"What you better understand, Slayer, is that we’re at war. You can’t afford to make promises."

Buffy held him for a moment, eyes locked with his, fighting the urge to knock him into next week. Finally she asked, "Who’s leading this mission?"

The Major’s gaze faltered, and he grimaced. "You are."

Buffy nodded. "Then follow my orders. Don't question them." She dropped him back on the table and stormed towards the exit.

Waiting by the doors, Spike smirked, his eyes full of approval. "That’s showing him who’s boss," he muttered as she approached. "I’d lay odds he won’t be forgetting your name anymore."

"Summers!" Ellison barked.

"Those are good odds," she said as she turned around.

"We move out tomorrow." He didn’t look at her as he spoke, instead picking up the gun she’d thrown on the floor and inspecting it for damage. "Watch for the new mission specs to be uploaded to your vid goggles tonight." He laid the gun on the table and looked her in the eye. "Be ready, Slayer."

She tossed her hair over her shoulder. As she turned and walked out the door, she said, "I’m always ready."

***

"I’m not ready!"

"Yes you are," Spike told her. "You’re as ready for this as you’ll ever be."

"But there was supposed to be another week," Buffy said. "We had a whole ‘nother week to come up with some amazing, unbeatable plan. Now I don’t even have time to read the new mission specs."

"It’s a long trip to Earth. You can study them on the way." He tried to make his voice soothing as he ran his fingers through her hair. She was still reeling from the day’s events. Hell, they both were. Especially the interrogation. Buffy still fumed about it hours later as she stretched out on her sofa, leaning back against Spike.

"Bastard," she muttered. "He can just take away my week, and he can break my word? Who the hell does he think he is, anyway?"

"He thinks he's in a position to decide these things," Spike said, hugging her to him. "Or he did, till you set him straight."

"But didn't he learn anything from history? From you?" She laid her hands over his and intertwined their fingers, pulling his arms more tightly around her. "I mean, what if I'd never made a deal with you, or if I didn't keep my end of the bargain? You'd be an antique pile of dust, and the Council never would have made it off the planet in time."

"Maybe," he said, "but the Major had a point. I mean, don't get me wrong. The bloke's a complete tosser; but she was the enemy. We can't afford to take prisoners right now. 'Sides, dusting her, letting her live ..." his jaw tightened along with his voice. "Either way, the real Jess is just as dead. Thanks to me."

Buffy sat up straight and turned to face him. "What happened to Jessica is not your fault."

"Isn't it? It was my idea to send her to Mars. I sent her there to train, but I also sent her there to be safe." He concentrated on a spot on the coffee table. "Bloody lot of good it did her."

"But you couldn't have known what would happen to her there. You're not responsible for that, any more than you're responsible for what happened to me."

Spike looked at Buffy as though she'd just slapped him. Felt like she did. But when he saw the bewildered look on her face, he softened. She had no idea. How could she?

"But I am responsible for that, pet." He laughed, short and bitter. "If you think about it, this whole sodding mess is my fault."

"Come again?"

"You counted on me to protect Dawn, and I failed."

"You didn't fail. You kept your promise. You kept it better than I ever imagined."

"I mean that night. Up on the tower. I didn't keep her from getting cut."

"But you couldn't get to her. None of us could."

He shook his head. "You didn't see, 'cause you were otherwise occupied with Glory. But I got up that tower. Doc -- the old guy? I fought him. If you can call it that. I tried to keep him away from Dawn, but ..." He closed his eyes and squeezed them tight, trying to shut out the memory. He could still see her face so clearly, the terror in her eyes right before he was pushed off the platform. "The bugger was just too fast. I mean, he was just an old man, right? I was overconfident, and I underestimated him. He made short work of me. And then Dawn ..."

He realized he was breathing, short, shallow breaths, and he was trembling. This was the thing that terrified him most: having Buffy find out how much he'd failed her. This was his holy confession of his greatest sin, the only crime for which he felt pure, gut wrenching guilt; and Buffy was his confessor, his judge, the only one who could possibly absolve him. The one he couldn't bear to tell about his crime.

He swallowed, and opened his eyes. But he couldn’t look at her. He fixed his eyes on a coaster on the coffee table as he continued. "Well, he cut her. She bled, and the portal opened, and you had to jump. And the hellmouth was left without a Slayer, and the vampires got so organized that they were able to take over the world. And now Jessica's dead and we've got one night left before all bloody hell breaks loose. All because I wasn't strong enough or fast enough to keep from getting my ass kicked by a little old man."

For a moment, she said nothing. He closed his eyes. He could feel it all coming undone. He’d said too much, and she hated him again.

"Spike, look at me." When he didn't comply, she cupped his chin in her hand and turned him to face her. "Open your eyes and look at me."

He did. He forced himself to look her in the eye. He owed her that much, at least; but he was totally unprepared for what he saw there. They weren't full of disgust or accusation. Her eyes held nothing but love. His own eyes began to tear up.

Buffy took his face in both her hands and kissed his forehead. Then she pulled him down until his head lay on her breast, and held him as he cried. She gently rocked him back and forth, stroking his hair and wiping his tears as he released three centuries worth of pent up guilt, grief and shame.

"I know you tried," she said after he'd cried himself out. "You did everything you could do. It wasn't your fault, Spike. I chose to jump. I think ... I'm pretty sure, actually, that I was meant to jump off of that tower."

"What? Why?"

"Because it makes sense," she said. "A couple of weeks before, I went on a -- well, I guess you could call it a vision quest, out in the desert. I met my spirit guide. I know that sounds a little hokey, but--"

"No," Spike said, "I've read about the ritual. Never done it, of course, seeing as how all the deserts are back on Earth. So, it worked? What'd your guide say?"

"Well, for one thing, she told me I should forgive." She caressed the back of his neck. "I'm pretty sure she was talking about you."

Spike closed his arms around her. "I think I like this guide of yours. What else did she say?"

"That death was my gift."

"Okay, maybe I don't so much like this bird."

"I didn't care for that part, either. I thought she meant the death I bring to demons, that she was saying I'm a killer; but ... "

Spike looked up at her. "But?"

Buffy took a deep breath. "But she was talking about my death." She smiled at him, but her eyes were sad. "It was my gift to give. To the world, to Dawn ... to you. Spike, I was supposed to die that night. Nothing you could've done would've changed that."

Spike sat up and looked at her. "Well that's obviously bollocks," he said. "I mean, here you are, right? You didn't die."

"But I did, originally. I'm only here because the Council and their time machine changed history. I'm not supposed to be here."

"Rot," Spike said. "You're right where you're supposed to be. You're where you're needed. Maybe ... maybe that's what the Powers intended. Maybe you were supposed to jump in that portal so you could be brought here."

"Maybe," she said. "The point is, I was meant to jump." She reached over and wiped the remaining tears from his face. "So there's no sense beating yourself up about it. About me, or about Jessica. It's all just part of the Slayer package."

Spike suddenly felt utterly helpless. All of his promises, all of his vows to keep her safe ... they were all pointless. It was out of his hands. He reached out and tucked a fallen lock of hair behind her ear. She was so beautiful. Not just her face, but everything about her. Her courage, her strength, her sense of humor. She was so alive. She was his life. Even in death, she'd been his reason for being. The promise he'd made her had been his sole reason to go on. What would he do if ...

"I can't lose you again, Buffy." It came out as a whisper.

"Hey," she said, "I'm not that easy to kill, remember? You know what you told me, about the Slayers you killed, about why they lost?"

He looked down at the carpet as he nodded.

Buffy cupped his cheek and turned him to face her. When he did she graced him with an enthusiastic kiss. She broke it off and gave him a challenging look. "Do I look like somebody with a death wish to you?"

In spite of himself, he smiled. "You look ready to take over the world."

"That's the idea," she said, pushing him back on the sofa.

He tangled a hand in her hair at the base of her neck and pulled her to him, crushing his mouth against hers. He’d never needed her as badly as at that moment. To taste her, to smell her, to feel her weight on top of him, to be surrounded by her warmth.

He almost whimpered as she pulled away, but she sat up and pulled her top up over her head, then dropped it to the floor. Spike reached for her, but she stood and finished undressing. He took the opportunity to peel off his own shirt, and then she was on her knees before him, straddling his lap. He cupped one of her breasts in his hand and watched as his touch caused pleasure to dance across her face. After a small eternity he circled his arm around her waist and took her other breast in his mouth. A thrill shot through him as she gasped and held his head there. She said his name, repeated it over and over. Each time she said it her voice increased in need, until finally she pushed him back onto the couch.

She locked eyes with his as she leaned over him, and a thought occurred to him. A dreadful thought, one he couldn’t afford to be thinking, though he knew she was thinking the same thing.

This could be the last time.

Buffy dropped her gaze to his mouth, and kissed him. This time their kiss was fueled not just by love and need, but also by the knowledge that each kiss they shared could be their last. Spike wrapped his arms around her and held her to him, afraid to ever let her go. He was reluctant to release his hold as she started to sit up again.

He moved to sit up with her, but she shook her head, gently pushing his shoulders back to the couch. As she sat up she slowly smoothed her hands over his chest and stomach, caressing each line and contour as she worked her way down to his waistband. She unfastened his pants and tugged them down enough to free him. He watched, amused by the myriad of expressions that flitted across her face as she lowered herself onto him, until the feel of being wrapped up in her overwhelmed him. He gasped and closed his eyes as his hands reached out to clutch her to him. She began to rock, slowly at first, and he heard himself moan as he began to move with her in a perfect rhythm.

This was their dance now. God, how he loved it.

How he loved her.

***

A smile played across Spike’s lips as his eyes moved back and forth beneath their lids. Must be a good dream, Buffy thought, studying him as he slept. God, he was beautiful. How come it had taken her so long to notice? The sharp symmetry of his cheekbones and strong jaw line were softened by a perfectly shaped, almost feminine mouth -- though, she considered with a smirk, there was nothing feminine about the way he used it. Long, dark lashes curled against his pale cheek, and she knew the intensity of the blue eyes hidden beneath those lids -- eyes that had always seen right through her. For someone who supposedly didn’t possess a soul, he sure had a lot of insight into hers.

Closing her eyes, she remembered the first time he’d said he loved her. She hadn’t believed him. She’d honestly believed him incapable of any true, positive emotion. Of course, in her defense, he’d seen fit to chain her up in his basement for the occasion -- not exactly the ideal way to show a girl you love her. Even so, she felt ashamed as she thought of all of the sacrifices he’d made since -- for her, her family, her friends -- of all of the punishment he’d endured, all because he dared to love her.

How could she have ever thought him incapable of love?

The look of contentment he wore warmed her heart, and she wished for a way to make it last. She reached out and ran her fingers through his hair, a tumble of short, soft curls framing his face. His roots were starting to show. Anne had said that he bleached his hair again just before Buffy’s arrival, so he would look familiar to her. She smiled at the thoughtfulness behind the gesture, but she kind of wished he’d left it alone. She’d never seen his natural color before. She feared she may never get the chance.

It’ll all be put right.

Buffy didn’t tell Spike about that part of her dream. She wanted to. She knew she should, to prepare him for what would come; but he’d looked so lost at the mere thought of losing her again, she just couldn’t bring herself to mention it. She hated this. Dying didn’t scare her, not anymore; but not now, not when the two of them had finally gotten their act together. She didn’t want to leave him. Her first "death" had ravaged him, had caused him to endure three centuries’ worth of torture. She feared the next time would destroy him.

She would do what she could to make sure that didn’t happen. Placing a gentle kiss on his forehead, she got up and pulled on her clothes. Paper. She needed paper. She looked around the apartment, knowing she wouldn’t find any. Paper didn’t exist anymore. She sighed in frustration and put her hands on her hips. How the hell was she supposed to write a letter without any paper? Her eyes fell on the stack of Watcher’s diaries on the kitchen table. She picked up the last one, and flipped past the final entry. "Sorry, Giles," she whispered as she tore out a blank page. She sat down at the table, then sighed. No pen. Maybe she should just give up this notion and go tell Spike about her dream. She started to get up when she remembered seeing a ballpoint between the pages of one of the journals. She opened them up one by one, shaking each until finally her prize fell out onto the table. With a satisfied smile, she picked up the pen, and started to write.

The explosions started before she could finish.

***

Spike’s eyes flew open. What the hell was that?

"Buffy?" he called as he sprung to his feet.

"In here," she answered from the kitchen, and he sighed in relief. She came out, clutching a folded piece of paper. "What was that?"

"Dunno," he said. A second blast rocked the building, almost knocking them both off their feet. "But it can’t be good."

As he got dressed, a voice came over the comm system. It was Major Ellison. "All hands: We are under attack. Repeat: We are under attack!"

"Shit!" Spike said. "Not now."

Without a word, Buffy disappeared into her bedroom, and came back carrying a stake rifle and a blaster. "Which do you want?"

"I wondered where those had gotten to," he said, taking the blaster from her and strapping the holster around his thigh.

"You know me," Buffy said. "I like to be prepared. You ready?"

"Yeah," he said, shrugging into his duster as she started towards the door. The paper she’d held earlier lay on the coffee table with his name scrawled across it. He glanced at her, but she had her back to him. No time to ask her about it, and definitely no time to read it. He picked up the note and put it in his pocket, then followed his Slayer into the fray.

*




Summary/Disclaimer: See Part One.

Notes: You might want to have a box of tissues standing by for this one. It gets sad -- but bear with me, folks. All's well that ends well.

Shoutouts: Thanks to all of my beta-readers on this one: The Redemptionista fic group, and Ehann, and especially adjrun, whose suggestions made this so much more satisfying, and to her and AurelioZen for acting as a sounding board when I decided to completely change the ending.

Rating: R for Really gorey violence




Part Six: Past Perfect

Spike followed Buffy out of the lift and through the chaos of people rushing to battle stations. Major Ellison stood in the middle of the corridor, barking orders at his troops as they ran past.

"What's happening?" Buffy asked him.

"Summers," he said. "Good. Follow me."

They followed him down the corridor to the hangar, where a small cadre of soldiers was loading into a shuttle. Ellison gestured them inside. It would be a tight fit. The shuttle was only designed to hold twenty-five people, and they had that beat by six. They pushed their way in and turned to face the Major as the doors closed behind him.

"We've been infiltrated," he told them as the shuttle disembarked.

"How?" Spike asked.

"They blasted their way in through the cadet lounge. Everyone in the lounge who wasn't killed in the explosions was sucked outside."

"Oh my God," Buffy said.

The Major started to speak, but then he let out a small sigh as he shook his head and looked at the floor.

"What is it?" Spike asked.

When he looked up, he wore a pained expression. "The Chairwoman and her son …"

"What about them?"

"The last time I spoke with her, they were both in the lounge ." He glanced from Spike to Buffy, then back at the floor. "Neither is answering hails."

"Bloody hell." Spike staggered backwards a step, knocking into a couple of soldiers. Buffy reached out to steady him. He looked at her, his eyes wide, disbelieving. "I've known them their whole lives, pet. Both of 'em. Watched them grow up." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "They can't be …"

"I know," she said gently, "but Spike, this isn't the time. You know that. We have to keep it together."

He swallowed and nodded. "I just hope Anne's safe. Fucking vampires." Buffy raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm aware of the irony, love."

She gave his arm a squeeze, then turned to Major Ellison. "Where are we going?"

"The control center, on the other side of the city. It controls power and life support for the whole colony. If the vampires have enough time to crack the codes, they can take out Mars from there, too. We have to defend it at all costs." He moved to the back of the shuttle, and motioned for a private to help him as he opened up a couple of storage lockers. "Suit up!" he ordered as he passed out environmental suits. "Who knows what we'll find when we get there. They might've already blasted their way in."

Buffy held out the silver suit and respirator mask and wrinkled her nose. "Looks bulky," she said. "What happens if I don't wear it and the controls get taken out?"

"Well, it's night," Spike said. "Means you'd freeze to death. 'Course, you'd probably suffocate first. Skin'd turn all purple from asphyxiation, your eyes would bulge out, probably burst some blood vessels ..."

"So you're saying it would be bad."

Spike gave her a look that said he meant business. "Just put it on, Slayer."

Buffy looked a little sheepish as she tugged on the suit. She eyed his clothes, and her forehead knitted with worry. "What about you?"

He gave her a small smile. "Still a vampire, love."

"Oh yeah." Buffy tested her maneuverability. "I can hardly move in this thing. How am I supposed to fight like this?"

"We thought you'd be fighting on Earth," the Major explained. "Otherwise you'd have been trained in the suit."

"Bloody well should've been trained in the suit anyway," Spike muttered. "Since when don't we prepare Slayers for the unexpected?"

"We thought it would be an unnecessary expenditure of time," Ellison said. "Of course, some of your time with her could've been devoted to hostile environment training instead of testing out the firmness of the training mats."

"Sod off, Ellison," Spike said, taking a step toward him. Buffy put a hand on his chest and held him back.

"I've been in hostile environments before," she said. "It's not a problem."

Spike frowned at her in confusion. "You have?"

"I've been inside the hellmouth, remember? I'd definitely call that hostile."

"Oh. Right."

"Anyway," she said, twisting back and forth and getting a feel for the suit, "I'll manage. This thing feels more flexible than it looks."

"Glad to hear it," Ellison said. He moved to the back of the shuttle. "Follow the Slayer's lead," he commanded his troops. "Spike and I will take up the rear."

Spike turned to look at the Major. "My place is with my Slayer."

"You're place is where you're needed most, Watcher!"

A low growl escaped Spike's throat as he glared at the Major. "I'm not one of your ruddy soldier boys, Ellison."

"Spike." Buffy put her hand on his shoulder and turned him to face her. "It's okay," she said.

Spike studied her face. Her mouth was set in determination; but something in her eyes bothered him. "Buffy --"

"I'll be okay," she said. She touched her fingers to his cheek. "It's not your job to protect me," she whispered. The shuttle slowed and began to descend, and her eyes flashed with panic. "I left you a letter --"

"Got it," he said, patting his pocket and managing a smile. "You can read it to me when this is all over."

"Sounds like a plan." Buffy smiled at him. Her smile captured everything Spike loved about her: her courage and strength, her sweetness and vulnerability, the hope she inspired in him and everybody else who followed her. Protocol and discretion be damned -- he didn't care who saw. He pulled her into a tight hug, and as she lifted her face to look at him, he kissed her. She pulled him even closer, and just for a moment, everything else melted away. They were all that existed, all that mattered. The jarring bumps that signalled they were docking reminded them of their mission. Spike sighed and planted one more quick kiss on her lips, then they slowly let go of each other. They assumed positions, Buffy raising her hood and fixing her mask in place, Spike challenging the Major's evil eye with a defiant smirk as he took his place beside him.

The shuttle doors slid open. Buffy stepped into the empty hangar. Soldiers poured out on either side of her and lined up in rank and file, seven to a row, awaiting her command. "Looks like we beat 'em here," she said. "Which way's the control center?"

"It's on the third level, ma'am," said the soldier on her right.

"Right. Okay," Buffy said, looking around. "We should have a group on every level. Spike, you take the ground. Major, you're on level two. I'll head for the control room. If everything's clear, head up there to back us up. And someone should stay here, in case they try to get in this way."

Ellison nodded and divided up the soldiers. "Hicks, Elwell, Marrero -- take the rest of your line and go with Summers. Second line is with me, third with Spike. The rest of you stay here and stand guard."

"Let's go," Buffy told her team, and led them into the lift.

As Spike watched her disappear behind the lift doors, he prayed to whatever might hear the prayers of the undead that it wouldn't be the last time he laid eyes on her.

"Gentlemen," he said, unholstering his gun and swinging the barrel up to rest on his shoulder, "this way."

He led his team past the lift and down a corridor. Spike moved stealthily, but then gave it up, rolling his eyes and shaking his head at the soldiers' elaborate maneuvers. Any vamp worth his salt would hear them coming a mile away. They made their way into a cavernous room full of machinery -- solar powered generators, mostly; enough to power the entire city. The room itself was badly lit, and offered plenty of places to hide. Back on Earth, this would have been just the sort of place where you'd be guaranteed to run into his kind. Here, it was more the sort of place you'd find some indestructible, slithery thing with a never-ending supply of sharp teeth and a tendency to lay eggs in your chest -- at least, according to movies he'd seen. Truth be told, if he had a choice, he'd rather they found the latter.

Bugger that. If he had a choice, he'd rather they found nothing at all. Then they could go back to the original plan, and he could have Buffy to himself for just a bit longer.

With a sigh, he aimed his gun at the room, and switched on the faux sunlight. The entire space before him lit up as bright as day. "Split up," he ordered the soldiers. "Search every shadow, nook and cranny. If you find anybody, flush 'em into the light."

As the troops obeyed, Spike leaned against a wall, and shoved his free hand in his pocket. His fingers brushed paper. Buffy's letter. He tried to ignore it. He'd meant it when he said she'd read it to him later; but curiosity got the better of him, and he pulled it out. Unfolding it one-handed proved to be a challenge, and he had to use his teeth, but he managed.

Dear William,

Funny. I don't think I've ever called you that before, except when I was trying to piss you off.


Spike smiled. He could only think of once that she'd called him by his proper name, and she'd been pretty pissed off herself at the time. He glanced up to see how the soldier boys were faring, then turned his attention back to the letter.

But Spike … it just doesn't seem formal enough. Because this is important. You have to see how important this is.

You know what else is funny? I just realized, I don't even know your last name. It never occurred to me to ask. God. There's so much I don't know about you. I wish there was time to find out. But I know the important things. I know you're a great Watcher, and that you do Giles proud. I know you're not a monster. That you're loyal, and faithful, and stubborn, and dangerous and funny and sexy and sweet and about a million other things that are wonderful and infuriating and downright confusing sometimes, but none of it is monstrous. I know that when I said you didn't know how to love, I couldn't have been more wrong. I know you love me, and that you went through hell after you lost me. And now that you've found me again, now that we've found each other, it's going to happen all over again.

I know this, Spike. It was part of my dream. Mr. Snyder told me that everything would be put right. I figure that means I'm not supposed to be here. I know I should have told you, but I couldn't. I just wanted us to be happy, for as long as we could.

I'm afraid it will destroy you. Please don't let it. I have to go into battle tomorrow believing that you'll be able to survive this, that you'll go on, that you'll find a reason to live without me. You have to find a reason to

It's starting. I'm out of time. Know this, Spike: I wouldn't have come as far as I did without you, now or then. I wish we could have more time together. I wish to God that you didn't have to go through this again. But it's okay, Spike. I'm okay. Whatever happens, I'll be okay. I want you to be okay, too.

I love you.
Buffy


Spike stared at the letter. The paper rattled, and he realized his hand was shaking. "Sorry, Slayer," he murmured, "but you're not going to die on my watch. Not this time."

"Sir?" A voice startled him out of his reverie.

Spike looked up at one of the soldiers. He had no idea what to call the boy. Even if he'd been told his name, they all looked alike in their space suits, anyway. "What is it?" he finally asked.

"We did a complete sweep, sir. There's nothing down here."

Spike holstered his gun. "Right, then," he said as he folded the letter and re-pocketed it. "Pick half to stay here, guard the generators. I'll take the rest." He turned to head back down the corridor towards the lift, but as he felt a prickling on the back of his neck he slowed to a stop. He might not practice evil anymore, but he was still born of it. Even if he was terribly out of practice, he could sense when it was near. He was even more out of practice at slipping into game face. The ease with which he did so just then unsettled him.

He turned just in time to see the butt of a gun flying towards his head. He ducked and kicked out, connecting with the soldier's gut and knocking him backwards. As he straightned he unholstered his sun gun. He turned it on, flooding the room with light.

The vampire in the soldier's suit just grinned at him. "Great thing about these environmental suits. They even protect us from the sun." He took a fighting stance.

Spike let his features return to human. "Well that is inconvenient," he said. "Then again, I've been wondering what the other setting would do to a vamp." He flipped a switch on the gun, and fired. Laser beams shot through the vampire, knocking him backwards as he screamed in agony. Spike stopped firing, and the vampire staggered forward.

"You think your little ray guns'll stop us?" the vampire asked.

"Guess not," Spike said, flipping the switch back to its original position. "But it sure as hell buggered up your suit." He turned on the light again, and the vampire's exposed skin began to sizzle. He barely had time to scream before he burst into flame.

The sound of weapons fire brought the other soldiers running. Spike turned the light on them. "Take off your masks," he ordered.

"Sir?" one of them asked. "The air --"

"The air's fine. Take off your sodding masks. All of you, now. That's an order."

They all complied. When nobody burst into flame, Spike turned off the light. "Is this everybody?"

"Everybody but Private Hensley," the soldier nearest him said.

"Stay here," Spike ordered. "Stay alert. And put your masks back on."

He followed the scent of blood down the last row of generators, stopping where the scent was strongest; but there was no body. Spike turned around to face the machinery, and noticed a single red ribbon streaming down its side. He wrenched open a panel and peered inside, then flinched and shoved the panel back in place. He'd been personal with humans too long to not be bothered by what he saw. He gave himself a moment for the shock to wear off, then took a deep breath and opened the panel back up. The unnatural angles of all of Hensley's parts crammed into such an impossibly small space made Spike cringe. Even so, he reached in to retrieve the soldier's tags, trying to avoid the private's accusing, dead eyes. As he did his gaze drifted up to the top of the compartment, and landed on a timer. A timer with very little time left.

"Oh, shit."

He ran back to the front. "Get out!" he shouted at the waiting troops. "There's a bomb!" All of the soldiers ran ahead of Spike and down the corridor. The first of them made it to the hangar just as the bomb exploded. Spike could feel the blast of heat coming, and practically threw the boys just ahead of him into the hangar. He dove after them, keeping just out of reach of the flames. They expected more explosions, but when after a few minutes none came, Spike ordered them back in. "Get the fires put out," Spike told them. "Do whatever it takes to salvage those generators." He turned to the team guarding the hangar. "You lot, come with me."

Spike bit back the stream of epithets that rested on the tip of his tongue as he led the new team up the stairs towards the third level. The vamp in the generator room had obviously arrived before they did, and it was a safe wager he hadn't come alone. Blowing up the generators was smart, but the control room was the real prize. Buffy would be needing all the backup she could get.

"Get to the control room!" Spike ordered the men behind him; then he flew up the stairs, three steps at a time.

***

Buffy followed her team into the lift and turned around. She had just enough time to look into Spike's eyes as the doors slid shut. She tried in that brief moment to drink in his intent, worried gaze. It could very well be the last time she'd see it.

"Jeez, Buff, defeatist much?" she muttered as the lift began its climb.

"Ma'am?" Hicks asked.

"Nothing," she said, and gave him a sheepish smile. "Talking to myself." She started to face front, but then she turned back and took a good look at the tall, blond private. He kind of looked like Riley. She wondered if he was a descendent. If so, he was probably too far removed to know about it.

"So, you're Buffy the Great," Marrero said.

She turned to raise an eyebrow at him. "How 'bout just Buffy?"

"But you're the legendary Slayer," he said. "I've heard stories about you all my life."

Wonderful. No pressure there. Buffy turned back to the doors and checked her weapon's readiness. "I don't know what you've heard," she said, "but I'm just one in a really long line of Slayers."

"Right. That's why the Council devoted so many resources to bringing you here."

Buffy didn't say anything. Instead she took a battle stance as the lift stopped, and waited for the doors to open. She knew the rifle she held had her old gear beat for efficiency, but she still would've felt better going into this with good old Mr. Pointy. The door opened, and she gestured for Hicks to exit beside her, both of their weapons at the ready. When she confirmed the coast was clear, she motioned for the others to follow. The corridor they were in led off in two directions.

"Which way to the control room?" she asked.

"Down there, then right," Hicks said, pointing to her left. "That's the shortest."

"Can you get there from the other direction?"

"Yeah, this hall goes all the way around."

Buffy nodded. "Okay. Hicks, Marrero, you're with me. Elwell, I want you to take the others around the long way and meet us there. If they've already gotten to the controls, we'll do what we can when we get there. You guys get to be the cavalry."

Elwell answered with a nod, then led the cavalry down the corridor. Buffy turned in the opposite direction, and Hicks and Marrero both fell into step behind her.

"You ask me," Marrero said as they went, "they coulda just used that time machine of theirs to fix it so that the vamps never took over in the first place."

"Nobody did ask you," Buffy said. "Nobody asked me, either. They just brought me here. I didn't exactly get a say."

"Look, no offense, Slayer. I just meant --"

"Shh!" Buffy stopped at the corner, and motioned for the two men to do the same. She slowed her breathing and focused her senses, just as she had earlier with Jessica. A familiar vibration pulled at her from the control room. "They're here," she said, and started down the hall without another word.

***

As Spike reached the second level, Major Ellison and his men burst into the stairwell. "There was an explosion," Ellison said.

"A bomb in the generator room," Spike said. "We got it contained. But they're here." He started up towards the third level, but the Major reached out and grabbed his arm.

"I just heard from headquarters. The system's been breached. Mars has lost main life support, and they're under attack."

With a furious growl, Spike tore his arm out of the Major's grip and fled up the stairs, followed by Ellison and his troops. This time Spike didn't bother to hold back the cursing. Their worst nightmares were coming true.

As he neared the third level, another explosion shook the stairs and knocked him off his feet. This time it came from above. "Buffy," Spike cried as he struggled to his feet. A few more steps, and he was there. He flew through the door and down the corridor, toward the heat of fire and the sounds of fighting. He made it a few feet before everything went dark, and the orange glow of the flames began to fade. He stopped to give his eyes a moment to adjust, but then the emergency backup lights came on. Still, he could feel the temperature dropping, and when he tried to draw air into his lungs, there was none to be had. They'd lost life support.

Even so, the fighting continued. Spike rounded a corner, only to be knocked to the ground by a flying body. He shoved the dead soldier off as Ellison and his men caught up with him. The other soldiers jumped into the fray, but Ellison paused to offer Spike a hand up. Spike took his hand and let the Major pull him to his feet. A flash of light blinded Spike before he could say thanks. When his eyes focused again, he could see that the left side of Ellison's head was missing. His corpse slumped to the ground, revealing a grinning vampire with a laser rifle trained on Spike. He looked down at the hand he still held, and saw that the arm it was attached to ended at the elbow, with bone protruding from the melted stump. Spike swung the arm up and knocked the gun out of the vampire's hands. Then he gripped it around the wrist like a spear and smashed the bone into the vampire's mask, shattering both. He dropped the arm and raised his sun gun. Within seconds the vampire burst into flames. Spike relished its screams as it dissolved into ash.

With vamps and soldiers wearing the same gear, from a distance it was impossible to tell which was which. Still, nothing could have kept him from being able to pick her out of a crowd. He could tell her by the way she moved, all elegance and lethal grace. Using her hands and feet as Giles had taught her, and using her stake rifle as Spike himself had taught her, she dusted vampire after vampire while around her soldiers fell. Spike's blaster would be useless here. He couldn't fire the laser without knowing who he was shooting, and the suits protected the vamps from the artificial sunlight. He discarded it next to the Major's remains. He'd fight this fight with fists and fangs, just as he'd always done.

Fists and fangs proved reliable as ever as he fought through the melee towards Buffy. The environmental suits didn't protect the vampires from getting their necks broken and having their heads ripped off. He made his way through three more vampires -- mere fledglings, compared to himself -- and was almost to Buffy's side. She clubbed a female vampire with the butt of her stake rifle. The vamp went limp, and Buffy turned her gun around to fire into her heart. She saw him then, and the split-second she took to acknowledge him was all it took. The vampire snapped out of her 'possum act and reached a gloveless hand up to tear a hole in Buffy's suit.

***

Everything went cold. She couldn't breathe. The edges of her vision swam as everything went into slow motion, and her head felt like it was being squeezed in a vice. Then the vampire on the ground before her exploded into dust, and air started to come to her again, and the cold started to fade. Buffy realized that Spike was on his knees in front of her, clutching the hole in her suit. He twisted the material, then looked up at her.

"Hold this," he said. "Tight." Buffy did as he said. He crawled over to a dead soldier and ripped the thin air hose off of his suit, then came back and tied it around the hole in her suit like a tourniquet. "There," he said, looking immensely relieved and pleased with himself. "Good as new." He took off his duster and placed it around her shoulders. "Put this on," he ordered. "See how easy they can tear through leather."

Buffy smiled in spite of herself. She should've known he'd have her back. She shrugged into his coat and looked up at him as he started to button it for her. She supposed it was a good thing she had to wear a mask to breathe, because there wasn't really time for her to kiss him like she wanted to. "I love you," she told him.

He looked up from the coat, and gave her a wink and a smirk. "I kn--"

His smirk faded into a look of disbelief as he looked down at his chest. "Bloody hell," he muttered.

Buffy followed his gaze, and saw a sharp, wooden point poking out from his heart. "Oh, God." Her voice was barely more than a squeak. She looked up and met his stunned gaze, and watched his beautiful blue eyes fade into nothing. She reached out and grasped for his hand, but caught only a handful of dust.

No.

The vampire who stood in his place clutched the offending stake. Buffy stared at the weapon. They'd brought stakes. Which meant they'd been prepared to deal with Spike; but they weren't prepared to deal with her.

"So much for the traitor," the vampire said. He took a step towards her, and raised his stake.

With a cry of savage fury, Buffy spun around and brought a boot to his head. As he turned with the force of the blow, she caught his arm and held it straight out behind him. She brought her elbow down onto his, cracking the bone. He lost his grip on the stake. She caught it with her free hand, then spun around and plunged it into his chest.

Buffy stood for a moment, catching her breath, staring dully at the dust that lay where her lover had been only a moment before. Hopelessness threatened to overtake her, just as it had when Glory had gotten away with Dawn. She fought the impulse to sit down, to take herself out of the fight and just let events unfold as they may. "This isn't right," she heard someone say, and somewhere in the back of her mind she registered that she had spoken. You don't have time to grieve, a more urgent voice screamed inside her head. She felt herself shutting down, the Slayer pushing her grief down as far as it would go and drawing power from her rage. She focused on the stake in her hand. The intimate, old fashioned weapon felt comforting in her grip. It felt good. It wasn't Mr. Pointy, but it would do.

The Slayer abandoned herself to the battle. A primal force of vengeance and fury, she wasn't sure whether she guided the stake, or it guided her. She didn't care. As she fought, she could hear a voice taunting her, egging her on. Nice work, Love, it said. Go on, Slayer. You know you want to. Give it to 'em good, pet. And then silence. Nothing but the sound of her own blood ringing in her ears, her heart pounding in her chest, her own rapid breath. Then, "Summers?" She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she spun around, her stake poised for the kill.

"Whoa!" Hicks brought his own weapon up to block. "Stand down, Slayer!"

She lowered the stake and looked around. Dust and dead bodies littered the floor, as the few who came through unscathed helped the wounded to their feet. "Are we through here?"

"Yeah," Hicks said. "I'd say the mission's pretty much FUBAR*. They blew up the control room. Life support's gonna have to be repaired manually. The Major's dead, and so is half the unit."

Buffy nodded. "This is all wrong," she said. "It shouldn't be like this."

"Well, it is," Hicks said. "All we can do now is regroup, come up with another strategy."

"No," Buffy said. "No. I can fix this."

"Where's your Watcher?" Hicks asked.

Buffy looked back at the spot where she'd last seen him standing. His dust had been scattered, and mixed with all the rest. She shook her head, and swallowed. "He didn't make it."

"I'm sorry," Hicks said.

Buffy looked at him. "I can fix this," she said. "Can you pilot the shuttle?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I need to get back to headquarters."

He nodded. "We'll go back there just as soon as --"

"No. Now."

"What about the rest of --"

"It won't matter for them after I get back there," Buffy said.

"The hell it won't," Hicks said. "We're not leaving them here, not even temporarily."

Buffy looked down, and for the first time she realized she still had Spike's coat on. She put her stake in the pocket, then came to stand face to face with Hicks. "You saw what I can do," she said, careful to keep her voice low and even. "You know I can force you."

Hicks eyed her warily. "You wouldn't --"

"I just lost the only thing I had left that mattered to me. At this point, there is very little I wouldn't do. Get me to Council Headquarters. Now."

***

She repaired her suit in the shuttle. She could have just changed into an undamaged one, but she needed something to do. Something mundane to keep her from thinking too much -- to keep her from breaking down. When she finished she put the suit back on, then pulled his coat on over it, pulling it tight around her as she went to stand by Hicks.

"How much longer?" she asked him.

"About a minute."

She put her hands in her pockets, and her left hand brushed against paper. She pulled it out and looked at it. Her letter. Did Spike get a chance to read it before ... ?

"Better make it a fast minute," she said.

"Headquarters should be coming into view right ab-- Oh. Oh, no."

"It's okay," Buffy said, with more conviction than she felt.

Hicks looked at her. "I was starting to wonder if you'd lost your mind, Slayer. Now I know you have. Don't you see that?"

She saw it. The bridge that led from the hangar bay to the main building had been blown out completely, as had most of the main building's windows. Light still shone from some of them, which meant that the power hadn't gone out; but it was a safe bet that there was no life support. Bodies and body parts littered both the ground below and the sky above, as those that were blown free of the moon's gravity drifted into space. It seemed unlikely that there would be any human survivors, but flashes of light from inside the building signaled more explosions. Maybe there were still victims to be had; or maybe the vamps were just being thorough.

"Don't bother with the hangar," Buffy said. "Get me to the main building."

"Fuck you, Summers," Hicks said. "I'm going back for the others."

Buffy jerked his rifle out of his holster and aimed it at his head. "Drop me off first. Then you can go back."

Hicks clenched his jaw, but he complied. "I don't know what you think you're going to accomplish in there," he said.

Buffy lowered the weapon. "I'm going to put it all right."

Hicks maneuvered the shuttle as close as he could to the gaping hole on the top level. He and Buffy both secured their masks to their hoods, then he opened the doors for her. Buffy tossed him his weapon. "I'm sorry," she said. "Maybe ... maybe next time you'll get to grow up under better circumstances."

Before he could question her, she leapt the short distance to the building. She stood for a moment and looked around, realizing she had no idea where she needed to go. The briefing room lay straight ahead, at the end of the corridor. She should be able to call up building schematics from there. She walked up to the doors, but they didn't open. She was about to pry them apart when a friendly voice said, "Voice authorization code?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. They hadn't wasted any time implementing the security changes she'd suggested. A lot of good it had done them. She stepped up to the panel and said, "Dawn."

"Please hold for retinal scan." She stood and stared at the panel while a light shined into her eye. "Thank you, Miss Summers. Please proceed."

The door slid open, then shut behind her. She walked toward the Chairwoman's console, and sighed. She couldn't even run an i-Mac without Willow. How the hell was she supposed to work this computer? She pounded a fist on the table in frustration. When she did, a whimper came from beneath the table. Buffy reached underneath and clutched what felt like an arm, and hauled the arm's owner out and onto the table. She raised her stake.

"Oh God, please, no!" cried a woman from inside an environmental suit.

Buffy lowered her stake. "Anne?"

"Buffy? Oh, thank God!" She got up from the table and hugged Buffy. "I thought you were one of them."

"Likewise," Buffy said. "What are you doing in here?"

"The whole Council was supposed to meet in here. I guess I got here first. Nobody else ever showed up. I could hear ... oh, God, Buffy! I could hear screaming, and explosions ... I was so afraid to open the door!"

"It's okay," Buffy said. "If you did, you'd be dead."

"Oh, God." She reached out and clutched Buffy's arm. "What do we do now?" Then she looked down at the coat Buffy wore, and realized. "Spike?"

"He's gone," Buffy said.

"No. But he's -- no!"

"Anne," Buffy said, but the young woman didn't appear to hear her as she broke into tears. Buffy tried again, shaking her shoulders this time. "Anne, listen to me!"

"What?"

"It's okay," Buffy said. "I'm going to fix things, but I need you to help me. Can you do that?"

"I don't ... I think ... what do you need me to do?"

"The time machine that they used to bring me here. Do you know where it is?"

Anne nodded.

"Do you know how it works?"

"I dated the operator, he showed me once how to work the controls. But I ... oh. Oh, Buffy, no. You can't --"

The image of Spike crumbling into dust invaded her head. Buffy bit back a sob, but she couldn't keep her lip from trembling or tears from spilling. She shut her eyes against the memory, then opened them and looked at Anne.

"I have to."

"But you'll change everything! Don't you understand? All of the people here, we might not even exist!"

Buffy grabbed Anne by the wrist and pulled her out into the corridor -- what was left of it. "Look around, Anne. Pretty soon the only people existing here are going to be vampires. Is that the kind of existence you want?"

"No, but --"

"The Council brought me here to save the world. That's what I'm going to do. The only way that I can."

Anne looked around at the remains of the top level, and gasped. Buffy followed her gaze to a pile of bodies at one end of the hall. She recognized some of the Watchers lying in the heap. Some of their heads peered out from strange angles. Most of their throats had been torn out. The walls and floor around them were splattered with blood.

Buffy looked back at Anne. She looked like she might faint. Buffy took her niece by the shoulders and turned her until they were eye to eye. "Anne, I can end this."

Anne simply stared at her. Buffy feared she was going into shock. Then Anne licked her lips, and swallowed, and her expression steeled into one of resolve. "The time machine's this way."

Buffy's relief mixed with a tinge of pride. Anne was a Summers after all, and she'd been brought up by Spike. Buffy should've known she'd come through. As she followed Anne down the corridor and past the pile of dead Watchers, explosions shook the building. They reached the open lift doors, but there was no lift. "In case of emergency, use stairs," Buffy said.

"It's six floors down," Anne told her.

Buffy shrugged. "I'd call this an emergency. Let's go."

As they went the explosions felt closer and closer; but they made it safely down the six flights. "The time machine lab is down here," Anne said, starting down the corridor.

"Wait," Buffy said, grabbing her arm and holding her back. "There are vamps down here. I can sense them."

Anne nodded, but then looked back towards the lab. "The coast looks clear."

"All right. Let's go," Buffy said, holding her stake at the ready. "Stay close." They made it to the lab without any problem, though Buffy could feel vampires getting nearer. She gave her password to the authorization panel. Nothing happened.

Buffy stepped back, and motioned for Anne to give hers. Still nothing. "Guess we'll have to pry the doors open," Buffy said.

"If you could pry the doors open there wouldn't be much reason for secure access," Anne said.

"Well, we have to get in there somehow," Buffy said. Just then something black and cylindrical landed at their feet with a clatter, and they both looked down.

"Buffy ..." Anne began.

"Run!" Buffy grabbed her and half pushed, half threw her down the hall in front of her. They both hit the deck as the grenade went off. Fire passed over them, but their suits protected them. Without any oxygen the fire was out almost as quickly as it started. Buffy scanned the area, but couldn't see who threw the grenade. She looked back at the lab, which now had a big hole where the doors had been. "Well, that was considerate," she said as she got up and pulled Anne to her feet. "Hurry. We don't have much time."

Inside the lab, Anne led Buffy around to the controls. She pointed to a chamber in the middle of the room. "You need to be in there," she said.

"Okay," Buffy said. "Are you sure you can do this?"

Anne nodded. "I don't have to understand the physics or anything, I just have to know which buttons to push. You'll want to go back to the night President Morgan gave the order. I should be able to get you right inside the oval office --"

"No," Buffy said, looking over her shoulder at the controls. "Before then. Is it still set for the time that I died?"

Anne checked over the settings, and nodded.

"Get me back ten minutes before then, on the tower."

Anne looked at her, puzzled. "Why then?"

Buffy remembered Spike's tearful confession. Well, he cut her. She bled, and the portal opened, and you had to jump. And the hellmouth was left without a Slayer, and the vampires got so organized that they were able to take over the world. She looked up at Anne.

"Because that's when everything started to go wrong."

Anne seemed to consider this, then nodded in understanding. She altered the setting. "Buffy? Good luck."

Buffy hugged her grandniece. "Spike would be proud of you," she said. "I am." She let her go, and climbed inside the chamber. "Ready when you are," she called. She heard another clatter, and spun around. Another grenade lay on the floor just outside the chamber. "Now!" Buffy shouted, banging on the glass. "Now! It has to be--"

Everything went white.

***

"You don't come near the girl, Doc," Spike warned.

The old man sniffed the air. "I don't smell a soul anywhere on you ... why do you even care?"

"I made a promise to a lady."

"Oh." Doc nodded in understanding, but then his reptilian tongue lashed out at Spike's head.

Spike dodged it, but it was just a feint. Before he knew what was happening, Doc had a hold of him from behind, pushing him to the edge of the platform. The little old man guise was obviously a ruse, designed to give his enemies false confidence. The creature was impossibly strong. Spike struggled to free himself, to keep away from the edge, to send the old bastard over the side in his place, but it was no use.

"I'll send the lady your regrets," Doc said.

"Why send them? The lady's right here."

Spike and Doc both turned toward her voice, just in time for Buffy's fist to connect with Doc's face. The old demon let go of Spike as he struggled to keep his footing.

Spike had to fight for his own footing. He overcorrected and fell forward on his hands and knees, and gasped as fresh pain from his stab wound shot through him.

"Get Dawn!" Buffy shouted as she whaled on Doc.

Spike gritted his teeth as he climbed to his feet. His hand instinctively went underneath his coat to his wounded kidneys. When he pulled it out, it was slick with blood. "Brilliant." He wiped it on his jeans and hurried over to Dawn.

"Are you okay?" she asked him.

He nodded. "Hold tight, bit," he said as he worked on undoing her straps. "I'll have you down from here in a jiff."

"Um, Spike? Look." She was looking over the side, at the fight that still raged below. Between Glory and Buffy.

Spike looked from the fight below to the one above, and felt just as flummoxed as Dawn looked.

"Is that the BuffyBot?" Dawn asked.

"Don't think so," he said. "The 'bot got her block knocked off, literally. They can't have repaired her this quickly."

"So then, why are there two Buffies?"

Spike shrugged. "We'll sort it out after we get you safe." He went back to work on her ropes.

"But, she just appeared out of nowhere. And look at her clothes. She looks all futuristic, like she stepped right out of Farscape or something. Except for the coat."

"Eh?"

Dawn looked back and forth between Buffy and Spike. "Spike, she's wearing your coat. How can you both be wearing your coat?"

Spike looked at Buffy. She held her own against Doc but didn't look to be anywhere close to defeating the tough old bastard any time soon. The coat she wore did bear a certain resemblance to his own, though a hell of a lot more battered and worn. He shook his head. "I don't know, nibblet."

"Maybe she really is from the future?"

"That can't --" Spike stopped. Now was not the time to argue with the teenager. "Yeah, mebbe. Let's go with that."

He fumbled some more at her ropes, but he couldn't get the knots to budge. "Bugger!" He looked around for the knife that Doc had stabbed him with. It lay on the edge of the platform. Spike reached for it, but a reptilian tail swept out and knocked him off balance, sending him over the side.

"Spike!" Buffy and Dawn both cried.

He managed to grab hold of the platform. As he pulled himself up, he could see Doc reaching for the knife. Buffy was doing her damnedest to hold him back. Spike got back onto the platform and lunged for the knife, but before he could reach it Doc's tongue lashed out and retrieved it. He threw it at Dawn. Spike dove to intercept, but instead of catching it like he planned he just knocked it off course. It landed at Dawn's feet.

"Ow!" she cried.

"You all right?" Spike asked her.

"Yeah. It cut my foot, but I'll live."

Spike heard an awful, rasping sound coming from the old man. He seemed to be laughing. He lay at Buffy's feet while she punched him, again and again, but he kept laughing. Spike had enough. He picked up the knife. "Buffy!" he called, and tossed it to her. She plunged it into Doc's chest. He kept laughing.

"God!" Buffy said. "Would you just die already?" She raised the knife again, and this time brought it down into Doc's eye. He stopped laughing. His tail twitched a couple of times, and then went limp.

"Old geezer was tougher than he looked," Spike said as he walked over to Buffy. "For a minute there I thought he'd be the death of us all." He held out his hand to help her up, but she just stared at it. Then she looked up at him. Her eyes glistened with tears. "Pet? Come on, now. We did it. Nobody's gonna hurt kid sis, everything's gonna be all right."

Buffy nodded, and took his hand. He pulled her to her feet, but she didn't let go. "You're right. Everything's gonna be all right. For real this time." She met his eyes, and there was something in hers that Spike had never seen before.

"Hello?" Dawn said. "Everything'll be more all right after you untie me and we can go home."

Buffy looked at her sister like she'd just seen her for the first time. "Dawn!" She ran to her, and hugged her, and kissed her cheek. "Oh, God, Dawn. I missed you so much."

Dawn pulled back and looked at her. "Yeah, missed you too. Say, where'd ya get the coat?"

Buffy looked from Dawn to Spike. Spike just waited, watching her expectantly. "It's kind of a long story," she said.

"You're from the future," Dawn said.

Buffy grinned. "Apparently not that long."

"We figured it out," Dawn said. "'Cause your clothes are so shiny. How far in the future? How did you get here? How come you're not older?"

"We'll talk about it after we get you down from here," Buffy said as she tore at Dawn's bonds. For her they came apart with ease. "The important thing is that everybody's safe--" She stopped, and looked at Dawn's foot. "You're bleeding."

"Oh. Yeah," Spike said. "The knife nicked her foot. 'S nothing a band-aid won't fix."

"No, you don't understand," Buffy said. She looked over the end of the platform, and all the color drained from her face. Spike went to stand next to her, and looked down at something he could only describe as a tear in the fabric of the universe.

He swallowed. He knew what was happening, but still he had to ask. "What is that?"

"The Key," Buffy said. She shook her head. "No. I ... God. I tried. Spike, I swear I tried to stop it."

There was a panicked note in her voice and a hopeless expression on her face that Spike didn't like one bit. "Buffy? Don't go all catatonic on us again, love."

Buffy looked up at him as realization dawned. "I can still fix it." As she looked forward again her face relaxed into a look of peace. She started to step forward, off of the platform.

Spike grabbed her arm and jerked her back. "What the bloody hell d'you think you're doing?"

"Closing the portal," Buffy said. "It needs blood, you know that. Mine will work just as well as Dawn's."

"Buffy, no!" Dawn said.

Buffy looked at her, and reached out to stroke her hair. "Dawnie, it's okay. This is why I came here."

"But --"

"Trust me," Buffy said. "Everything will be okay." She looked at Spike. "Take her to the other Buffy. Don't let anybody come up here."

Spike shook his head. "If you think I'm gonna leave you here to take a header into that thing --"

"If I don't do this, she will," Buffy snapped. "And then she'll have to do this all over again. Like Groundhog Day, only scarier. This way, it ends." She looked at Dawn. "Go. Glory's dead by now, you're safe. Your sister's coming to get you, don't let her get up here. If she comes up here, she'll die."

Dawn opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, and swallowed as a tear slipped down her cheek. She started to go, but then Buffy caught her and pressed something into her hand.

"Give this to her. And don't read it!"

"Like I would."

Buffy just raised an eyebrow at her.

"All right, I won't read it. Jeez!" Dawn's breath caught, as she realized. "Oh my God, you really are Buffy." Dawn rushed forward and hugged her.

Buffy squeezed her back, and kissed her. "I love you," she said.

"I love you too," Dawn said; then she whispered, "Thank you." Then she let go, and turned to climb down the tower.

Buffy wiped her eyes. "Go with her," she told Spike. "The sun's coming up. I came here to keep you from getting dusted, not to cause it."

He shook his head. "Don't do this, love. Please." His voice broke on the last word, but he didn't care. "There has to be another way. We can just --"

Before he could finish, she took his face in her hands and pulled him down into a kiss. He pulled back in surprise, and looked at her. The look of love on her face ... he couldn't believe it. He never thought she'd look at him like that. Ever. He let out a disbelieving little laugh. She just smiled at him, though her lower lip trembled as she stroked the side of his face. She pulled him back down, and he closed his eyes and surrendered. She kissed him like a lover, like someone who knew him intimately. Someone who wanted him. Someone who loved him. He slid his arms around her as he returned it, determined to hold her there for as long as he could. It didn't matter where -- or when -- she came from. She was still Buffy.

When she broke it off, he rested his forehead against hers. He didn't let go.

"I loved you so much," Buffy whispered. Spike pulled back and stared at her in wonder. Tears streamed down her face. She reached up a hand and caressed his cheek. "Keep your promise, Spike. No matter what happens."

He nodded. "I aim to."

She pushed him away from her, and took a few steps back from the end of the platform.

"I love you," Spike told her.

Buffy smiled. "I know." She took a deep breath and said, "Buffy dies saving the world, take two." Then she ran forward, and dove off of the platform.

He tried to watch, to bear witness, but the morning's first light hit him, and he had to run for shade. When he got to the shadow of the tower's beams, his knees buckled, and he sagged to the floor. Then he cried. He shed tears for the sacrifice of a Buffy who would never exist, and for a love that he had never known. She was Buffy, and she'd loved him, even though it was impossible. He also shed tears of relief. Because his Buffy lived.

When he could stand again, he started making his way down the tower. It was a tricky business, trying to jump from shadow to shadow, watching every step on the way. He didn't know how the hell he was going to get back to his crypt.

"Spike?"

He looked up to see Buffy coming up the ramp towards him. His Buffy. Tired, battle worn and disheveled, but alive and relatively unhurt. She'd never looked more beautiful. She seemed to be studying him. She looked at him the way that ... it was the same way she'd looked at him when she'd pretended to be that sodding robot, after he'd said he'd rather die than see her in pain. Right before she'd kissed him. Right before she'd forgiven him.

"Pet?" He glanced down at her hand, which clutched a sheet of notebook paper. Some sort of letter. "You all right?"

She noticed him noticing the letter, and shoved it in her pocket. "Yeah. You?"

"I'll live." He gave her an ironic smile. "In a manner of speaking."

Buffy nodded. "Dawn told me what ... We should go. This shade won't last much longer."

"Right," Spike said. "Things all squared away with Glory then?"

"Yeah," she said. "We all made it through another apocalypse. Well, sort of." She frowned, and crossed her arms. "There's, um, there's a body. Giles is taking care of ... of her."

Spike nodded. "Could be worse, pet," Spike said. "Could be you."

"But it is me. Or, was. If she hadn't been there ... Spike, it was supposed to be me."

"Shh, love," Spike said, putting his hands on her shoulders. "That's why she came here." He reached up to brush her hair out of her face. She didn't flinch away from the intimate gesture. "She's what you'll never have to be."

Buffy looked up at him, and this time her eyes held something else. It looked a lot like what the other's eyes had held before she jumped. Slowly, boldly, he leaned towards her, and she didn't pull away. Instead her hand came up to caress the lapel of his coat. He wasn't even sure if she was aware of the movement. He closed his eyes and leaned in to close the gap.

"Here, I found this," Dawn said, coming up the ramp towards them, dragging a heavy tarp behind her. They both jumped apart, putting an arm's length between them as Dawn offered the tarp to Spike. "You can cover up with it till we get home."

"Home?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, "you can crash at our house for the day. Dawn said you got stabbed, I want to look at your wound."

Spike leered at her, already back to form. "You know, Slayer, you don't need a pretense if you want to play doctor."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "As if. And, shut up. I'm way too tired for banter, you have an unfair advantage."

Spike smiled at her. Not a smirk, just a smile. "Later, then."

Both girls helped him arrange the tarp, making sure he didn't have an inch of skin that would be exposed to the sun. As Buffy helped him pull the heavy material over his head, their eyes met, and he could feel the heat coming off her as she blushed.

"Thank you," she said. "For keeping your promise, and protecting her."

"I said till the end of the world, didn't I?" He looked around, and shrugged. "The world's still here."

Buffy smiled at him, and there was that look again. "Let's go, William," she said.

"Oh, it's William now, is it?"

She shrugged. "I just wanted to see how it sounded when I'm not all pissed off at you." She started to turn, then looked back at him. "What's your last name?" He raised an eyebrow at her, and opened his mouth to answer, but she waved a hand to cut him off. "Nevermind. There's still time to find out." Her eyes lingered on him a moment longer before she turned to leave; Spike could swear he saw that look again.

They started down the ramp, Buffy and Dawn walking ahead of him. Spike thought over what had happened -- what the other Buffy must have been through to make her come back here and give her life for them. He tried to imagine if his Buffy had been the one to take that dive and close the portal. Every way he could imagine it, that was a future he never wanted to know. He followed his girls down the ramp, both of them safe and sound, and smiled. He much preferred the future in front of him.

*

The End