Dawn watched, eyes wide with horror, as her mother morphed into an image of unspeakable evil. “Mommy, no!” she cried, as she dropped to the ground.
“Dawn!” Buffy stood at the other end of the chasm, unable to stop the creature as it scooped her sister into its arms. She almost lost her footing, as Spike held her back.
“Magic. I can use magic,” an exhausted Willow muttered as she slowly raised her arm, blue sparks crackling from her fingers.
“Don’t listen Willow.” Buffy’ focus was torn between all the people she loved. Giles cradled Anya’s lifeless body, as Xander stood impotent, tears streaming down his cheeks. Dawn screamed as the force of the First Evil, finally able to manipulate matter at the zenith of its power, lifted her high into the air. Willow’s arm dropped to her side, as the glowing silver image of her lover hovered over the open Hellmouth. “Willow,” Buffy cried, “It isn’t Tara. It’s the First. Don’t listen. We need you.” Her voice cracked. “Dawn needs you.”
“You can’t use magic, not for this,” Tara stated calmly amidst the carnage. “Only one thing can defeat the First. A pure and selfless act of love.”
“Tara,” Willow cried. “It is you. I know it’s you.”
Buffy looked down into the mouth of hell. “If it’s true, it’s up to me.” She struggled to pull herself from Spike’s arms. “Let me do this. I have to do this.”
Spike spun her around, looking into her eyes. “No. Not this time. Always remember, I love you, Slayer.” Pressing a gentle kiss onto her lips, he pushed Buffy to safety, and leapt. In the aura of pure evil his body dissipated, his dust swirling up before it rained down into the pit.
With a scream, the First Evil exploded in a blaze of light. Dawn fell gently to the ground, as the Hellmouth closed over the valiant vampire, and Tara faded from sight, a sad smile on her lips.
A calm descended over what was once again the High School basement. It was as though nothing had ever happened, an illusion gainsayed by the bodies of the never to be Slayers scattered over the floor, and the grieving few friends left behind.
Buffy stared at the ground where Spike had disappeared. Dawn clung to her, wordless with shock. Willow looked up to try and catch a glimpse of Tara, lost now forever. Giles and Xander both stared down into the blood covered face of the woman they loved.
Victory was not sweet.
There was no one unscathed left to nurture the ragged band left in the Summer’s living room, so by default, the lot fell to Giles. Willow, Buffy and Xander sat huddled together on the couch, under the blue blanket that had been lying there. As he handed them each their mug of tea, they took it from him without response. Dawn sat on the floor at their feet, shaking her head as he tried to hand her a mug.
His heart broke at the sight of them. His heart broke...
Eyes filling with tears, he dropped into the chair and buried his head in his hands.
Dawn broke the silence. “It’s over now, right? The First Evil is dead.”
“Evil never dies.” Buffy sighed as she stared into the warm liquid. “It’s part of us.”
Giles looked at her. “The First Evil is defeated. It can’t harm the world for a long time. The Hellmouth is closed.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “But no. Evil never dies.”
“What time is it?” Dawn asked. “Is it morning or night?”
Xander looked at his wrist. “My watch is broken.”
“Time we all got some sleep.” Giles pushed himself from the chair, trying not to let his grief show on his face. Startled, he realized how spacious the house now seemed. Only yesterday it had been crowded with people. There were still sleeping bags tossed against the floorboards.
“You’re right.” Willow threw aside her blanket and rose to her feet. She pulled at Xander’s hand. He was still staring at his watch. “Hey. You can sleep with me, buddy. It’ll be kindergarten all over again.” Without a word, Xander nodded, gratitude in his eyes. She led him up the stairs, his hand gripping hers tightly.
“I’m heading up too.” Dawn pulled herself up with the couch. “Ow.” She pulled back her sleeve to reveal a blackening bruise where the First Evil had gripped her. “I’m gonna be black and blue. I...” She stopped at Buffy’s pained expression. Her faint suffering was nothing compared to what her sister faced. What all the others had faced. “Like I said, going to bed.” She laid her hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “Want to come with?”
Buffy kept her eyes on her mug. “I’d rather be alone tonight,” she replied softly.
“Whatever you want. Night Giles.” She started towards the stairs, then stopped and looked back at her sister. “I know it doesn’t help, Buffy, but he saved the world.”
“Does it help?” Giles asked, as Dawn disappeared.
“No. It doesn’t.”
Giles stood up, sat beside Buffy on the couch, and pulled her head onto his shoulder. “I thought not.” She let the tears come, then.
“You can cry, Will. It’s okay.” Xander wrapped her in his arms, her flannelette against the material of his sweatpants and t-shirt, as they cuddled together in her small bed.
“So can you.” Willow looked at the window, light streaming in through the curtains. “I know we need to sleep, but I can’t.”
“It’s too much. Everything. Too much.” He sighed deeply. “Every time I close my eyes, I see them. Poor Anya, covered in blood. She tried so hard, Will.” The tears were in his voice. “We could have been married a year, not apart and angry. A whole year, Will, and I threw it away. I’m such an idiot.”
“You did what you thought was right.” She stroked his temple with her fingers, hoping it was soothing. “A whole year, and all I prayed for was to see Tara, just one last time. Even for a moment.” She pulled up the edge of the sheet, wiping her eyes with it. “It wasn’t enough. How could I have thought it would be enough? I miss her more now than ever.”
“Two women.” He held her tighter. “In my life I’ve been with two women, and they both die the same day. What’re the odds of that?” There was a bitter edge to his voice. “I loved Anya. And Faith, she was my first. That means something, right? Your first? How could everything just be gone, just like that? So many people, just gone.”
“My grandmother used to tell me about the Holocaust. How she got out of Europe, right before the war, shipped to her uncle in America. But the rest of her family, just gone. All together. That’s evil. You read about it, hear about it, and it doesn’t sink in. But when you see it...”
“Faith was a Slayer. Like a Superhero. Like Buffy. How could Andrew just kill her like that? Where’d he get so good with a knife?” He choked back a sob. “The look on her face. Like it could never happen to her. Like this little weasel could never touch her. But he just slid the knife in, and she fell...”
“And the look on his face when the First gave him to his last vampire. Betrayed. Like it couldn’t happen to him.” She rolled a bit, laying her arm across his chest. “We all know we’ll die. Why does it always look like they’re so surprised? Tara looked so surprised...” Her eyes refilled with tears, soaking into his t-shirt top.
“Anya didn’t. Anya looked...ready. Did I do that to her?”
Willow pulled away from him, trying to find a spot on the narrow bed. “We should try to sleep.”
“Yeah,” Xander replied. “Sleep.”
Dawn put her mother’s picture back on the nightstand, hugging her teddy bear close as she shut her eyes and tried to relax. The house was so quiet.
Buffy smiled up at Giles. “It’s been a long time since anyone tucked me in.”
He sat on the edge of her bed, brushing a loose strand off her forehead with his fingertips. “Try to sleep.”
“This is cosy. If I close my eyes, I can almost pretend that I’m a little girl again, that mommy and daddy are asleep in the next room and everything is okay with the world.” She opened her eyes and stared up at the last Watcher. “But I’m not a little girl.”
“No, you’re not.” He lay his hand on her shoulder. “But all is going to be right with the world again. You’ll see.”
Buffy reached her arm under the covers, touching the space beside her in the bed. “I don’t think so, Giles.” Fresh tears filled her eyes. “God, he can’t be gone. He just can’t.”
“Shh. I know.”
“I loved him. I screwed around and wasted so much time, and then it was so short. We had so little time.”
“I know.” Giles thought before he spoke again. “I know what you told me, about your relationship. Before. It couldn’t have worked, you know, even if you wanted it to then. And when he came back, I doubt things could have happened any sooner. Not with the First in control.” He saw her hand snake out from under the covers, reaching for his. He took it and patted it gently. “You loved him the very best you could. He knew that. And he loved you. You took the time you had, and you made the best you could of it. That’s all he wanted.” He was finding it difficult to keep control. “Made the best...”
“I know about Anya. About you.” Buffy tried to reach out to him through her pain. “I know you loved her, and she loved you.”
“How...?” He was startled.
“I saw you look at each other. Well, actually Spike did. He could tell. Said he had a long experience with unrequited love...” Memories caused her to stumble over her words.
“Did anyone else know?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t tell Xander. Please,” Giles asked, voice full of sadness.
Buffy nodded. “I won’t. I think I’d like to try to sleep now. Will you be okay on the couch?”
“Of course.” He bent over and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. “We did win. I know it doesn’t seen like it, but we did.” He rose and looked back at her, “Sleep well, Buffy,” closed her door behind him and was gone.
Buffy rolled on her side, smoothing her hand across the mattress beside her. “If we won, why do I feel like I lost everything?”
Three friends walked through the forest together, rays of bright sun peeking through the verdant summer leaves. “Giles is leaving again, isn’t he?” Willow asked.
“Next week. He says he can’t stay, without work. I think he has a lead back in England. God, I’ll miss him.” Buffy pushed a branch aside as they moved towards the clearing. “You’re going back to school?”
“One semester, then I’m done. I’ve got that offer from the computer company, but I’m still debating.” She put her hand on Xander’s arm. “You okay? You’re quiet.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He stopped as they stepped from the trees to the grassy patch. “I’m thinking about the last time we were here.”
“When did you take the stone away?” Buffy asked.
“Last summer. I was afraid someone might find it after all. Ask too many questions.”
Buffy sat on the grass where her own grave had been. “I’m glad. That it’s gone.”
Xander sat beside her. “How’s the job search going? You going to go back to the High School after all?”
“I need something full-time. And I don’t know that they’ll even want me, with Wood gone.” She grimaced at the thought. “It’s so strange. With the vampires gone.”
“And the Hellmouth,” Willow added. “Guess Sunnydale’s not the hot vamp vacation spot it used to be.”
“I don’t even know if I’m the Slayer anymore. I mean, I feel the same, but can you be a Slayer if there’s nothing to slay?” She wrapped her arms around her legs. “You know why we’re talking, don’t you? Because we don’t want to think about this.”
“We need to do this. You know we do.” Willow knelt beside her friends, taking a hand of each. “We need to say goodbye.” She squeezed Xander’s fingers. “We decided.”
“You first,” Xander said.
Willow nodded, pulling a small tissue wrapped package out of her purse. “This is a crystal Tara gave me, when we first started dating. I always kept it, even when I was trying to let go of the magic. Cause it was about her, you know? Our magic.” She dug a little hole in the ground with her hands, and dropped the crystal inside. “You were my love, Tara. My life. My heart. I miss you more than I can say. You taught me who I was. Gave me confidence, strength. Made me a better person. I’ll miss you all the days of my life.” She covered the hole with the dirt. “Goodbye, my love.”
Xander pulled a velvet-covered box from his pocket. “Her engagement ring.”
“Xander, are you sure?” Buffy asked with concern.
“She gave it back to me when we broke up. But it’s still hers.” He pulled the ring from the box and placed it in the indentation he had made. “I love you, Anya. I know I screwed up, and you didn’t believe me. Maybe didn’t care. But I really loved you. I want you to know that. I miss you.” He covered the ring with the earth. “Goodbye, my love.”
Buffy undid the clasp from the chain around her neck, and pulled off the skull-headed ring. “I’ve been wearing this since...since we lost him.” She held it in her hand and showed the others. “He gave me this during that spell. The one where we were engaged.”
“I’m so sorry about that,” Willow said, flustered.
Buffy patted her friend’s hand. “Don’t be. It was the only time we were really happy. Only thinking of each other, not like the last months. When Evil was everywhere. And the more I think about it, the less I think it was all the spell. There was always something between us, even when I wouldn’t admit it.”
She brushed a tear from her eye. Thrusting her hand into the grass, she pulled out a divot and set the ring inside the hole. “You were my soul mate. Even when you didn’t have a soul. I never thought I would love anyone again, but I loved you more than anything. I wish I could have made you believe that. Maybe I did, for a moment. I’m so sorry for how I treated you. And no matter what I did, how much I hurt you, you kept loving me. Sometimes we hurt each other. For that I forgive you. I’d give anything to have you back in my arms. I’m proud of you, Spike. You saved the world.” She patted the grass back down over the ring. “Goodbye, my love.”
The friends clung to each other for a while, until the sun started to wane. They rose from the clearing and headed back into the woods.
Buffy watched him close his suitcase. “This is it.”
“Yes,” Giles replied as he carried it to the door. “I suppose it is.”
She threw herself into his arms. “I miss you already.”
“I feel like I’m abandoning you again. But without the Council to deal with immigration...”
“I know you can’t stay.” Her tears soaked the lapels of his jacket. “This is hard.”
“I know.” He cupped the back of her head with his palm, savoring her closeness. “I worry about you. How you’ll get by.”
“Willow helps. She still has that trust fund from her grandmother that kicked in when she turned twenty-one. I hate taking her money. But I have a few interviews.” She pulled back from his arms and took the handkerchief he offered, wiping her eyes. “We’ll be fine. And I actually got a cheque from dad last week. So I guess miracles do happen.”
Giles smiled down at her. “I know. I’m looking at one.”
“I wish you could have come with us, when we said our goodbyes to them. I thought of you.”
Giles tenderly touched her cheek. “It was his place, not mine. Don’t worry. I’ve said my goodbyes.”
The two missing girls burst out of the kitchen. “Hey, Giles,” Dawn said brightly, “We made you some cookies for the road.” She handed him a paper bag.
“Don’t worry,” Willow added, noting his concerned expression. “I baked them. Dawn handed me the ingredients.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you so much, Giles. For everything.”
A car horn sounded outside, and Dawn looked through the window. “I think that’s your cab.”
“Say goodbye to Xander for me,” he said as he picked up his bags.
“He really wanted to get the time off work. But he couldn’t. You know.” Tears filled Willow’s eyes. “Goodbye, Dumbledore.”
“Bye, Hermione.” As Buffy opened the door for him, he stepped outside. “I do so love you all.”
The three waved in silence as he climbed into the taxi. As he drove away, they joined hands and went back inside.
“So, what do we do now?” Dawn asked.
Buffy shrugged. “Live?”
Buffy dragged herself through the front door of her house. “Hi, Dawn, I’m home!” she called, as she pulled off her jacket and hung it on the hook in the entranceway. “Back from the evil nest of vampires, I mean telemarketers.” She looked in the mirror as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, “Which makes me a me slayer, I guess,” she said softly. The man’s image appeared beside her. “Oh, hey.”
“Hey.” Xander wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Bad day?”
“Usual bad. Not big bad.” She smiled as she looked at them, side by side in the mirror. “Cute couple.”
“The cutest.” He spun her around and planted a kiss on her forehead. “I made dinner.”
“Oh, well then.” She pulled his head down. “That deserves more than a foreheady kiss.” She hugged him, leaning her head against his chest. “Dawn let you in?”
“Dawn’s at Kitt’s.” Xander took her hand and led her to the sofa. As she leaned her head against the end cushions, he pulled off her shoes and started to massage her feet. “Will let me in.”
“Good for Willow.” She felt herself drifting off. “You better stop that, or I’ll be asleep before I get to eat.”
“Nap won’t hurt you.” He continued to knead the ball of her left foot. “You had trouble sleeping again last night, didn’t you? Bad dreams?”
“I slept okay. Just a hard day at work.” She pulled her foot out of his hand and swung her legs off the side of the couch. “Really, you should be massaging my ear.”
“Sounds interesting.” Pulling her back down, her head in his lap this time, he played with her lobes, as she started to giggle.
“Oops.” Willow blushed as she stepped into the room. “Bad timing?”
“Nope.” Buffy sat up. “Just a little ear massage. Want one?”
“I’ll pass.” She slumped down into the armchair. “You guys still coming to my grad? The college wants numbers.”
“Sure, Willow,” Buffy replied, “if you’re still coming to our wedding.”
“Won’t you choke to death?” Kitt surveyed her friend with concern.
“Nope. Just takes skill.” Dawn’s back lay against the floor of her friend’s bedroom, her legs up on the side of the bed. She dropped another piece of popcorn in her mouth. “Anti gravity eating. I’m thinking of being an astronaut.”
“Right,” Kitt laughed. “Because of your great marks in science.”
“No, because of my...” Her thought was interrupted by a coughing fit. As she tried to catch her breath, she realized no air was entering her lungs and she panicked. Kitt, realizing her friend wasn’t joking, pulled her up off the ground and wrapped her arms around Dawn’s chest, the way the demonstrator had shown in class. With an upward thrust, the popcorn dislodged and flew from Dawn’s mouth.
“You okay?” Kitt asked, trembling.
“Fine,” Dawn coughed, her voice raspy. “But I think I’m gonna be a supermodel.” She slumped back onto Kitt’s bed. “I need a drink of water.”
“Coke do?” Kitt asked, holding up the bottle.
“Do good.” Dawn took the cola and sipped at the brown fluid. “That’s better.”
“So,” Kitt said, back to the matter at hand, “Do you have to wear some frilly, fluffy purple thing? Or orange. My cousin had orange.”
“Eww. No orange.” She took another long swig of the coke. “Blue. Buffy likes blue. And no frillies.”
“Lucky you.” Kitt stood in front of the mirror and held up her hairbrush, mimicking a bouquet. “When I get married, I’m wearing black.”
“Right. When you get married, hell’s freezing over. Hey!” She swerved her head to avoid the flying hairbrush. “I just hope my sister knows what she’s doing. I love Xander, but Buffy Harris? How lame is that?”
“He didn’t leave on my account, did he?” Willow asked, picking the glasses off the table.
“No, and you don’t have to clean up. Sit and talk with me a bit.” Buffy curled her legs up under her and sighed. “He has an early day tomorrow.”
“I know.” Willow sat beside her friend. “He never stays over, though, does he?” Her eyes opened wide. “I’m sorry. Thinking out loud. So none of my business.”
“That’s okay, Will.” Buffy rested her head on her friend’s shoulder, as Willow cuddled a little closer. “He doesn’t stay here, I don’t stay there. We decided.” She bit her lip. “Don’t laugh. We decided to wait until the wedding night.” She paused, waiting for the expected uncontrolled guffaw that never came.
“That’s so sweet!” Willow exclaimed. “I mean, it’s romantic. And hardly dated at all.”
“Look, I’m not Joanie and he’s not Chachi. We’ve just both gotten into some bad situations in the past by jumping into, well, sex, before we were ready. We want to build a good foundation.” Buffy crinkled her nose. “Oh, that sounds so 700 Clubby.”
“No, I understand. It makes sense. Really.” Willow slumped into the corner of the couch. “But isn’t it hard? Don’t you just want to jump his bones?”
“Well, sure. Yeah. When we’re married. There’ll be lots of,” her voice grew quiet, “bones jumping.”
Cordelia gave in with a huff and picked up the phone on the fourth ring. “Hello?” she asked abruptly. “Oh, hi? Angel? Yeah, he’s around.”
Angel sat up in the bed and reached for the phone, but was shooed away. “Give me a minute,” Cordy hissed at him, her hand over the mouthpiece. “Can I help you, Willow?” she asked. “Really?” Her eyes grew wide. “I don’t believe it. Really?”
“What’s she saying?”
“Shhh. No, not you. Who? That was just, um, the plumber. We do so have pipes in the lobby. Well, I’m sure Angel will appreciate the head’s up. When? Oh. Wow. I’ll tell him. Right. Thanks, Willow.” She dropped the phone into the cradle on the nightstand. “Wow.”
“Wow?” Angel was impatient. “Wow what? What’s going on? Not another apocalypse? And why wouldn’t you give me the phone?” he sulked.
“Because you suck at passing on gossip.” She squealed as he hit her with his pillow. “Okay. I’ll tell you. But I don’t think you’ll be happy about it.” She took his hands in hers and looked him in the eye. “Buffy is marrying Xander.”
“What? How?” He seemed confused. “What? You must have heard wrong.” He shook his head in disbelief. “That’s impossible. She can’t possibly love him.”
“Wait a minute.” She knelt on the bed on her hands and knees, looking at him nose to nose. “I was in love with Xander, once. Are you saying Buffy is, what, better than me?”
He kissed the tip of her nose. “You’re cute when you’re angry.”
“Then I’m going to be gorgeous in a minute.” She glared at him. “Which I already am. Are you saying Buffy has better taste than me?”
He licked her cheek. “I’d say you taste better.”
“Don’t change the subject. What’s wrong with Xander?” She thought about her words, then dropped back on her heels. “I can’t believe I said that.” She looked at him with large, brown eyes. “Are you upset?”
“Sure, I’m upset. She’s making a mistake.”
“It’s upsetting you.” Cordelia crossed her arms across her chest. “I knew it. You still have feelings for her.”
“Of course I do. Feelings. Concerned feelings.” He cupped her cheek in his hand, gently turning her head to look into his eyes. “But I love you, Cordy. You’re the woman I found the cure to my curse for. You’re the one I’m with; the one I want to be with.”
She melted into his kiss. “I love you too.” As he pulled away and reached for his pants she asked, “So where are you going?”
“To see Buffy.”
Dawn handed the paper bag to Xander. “Special luncheon delivery.” She looked around the almost finished construction site. “You guys are doing a great job. This town needed a Wal-Mart.”
Xander picked through the bag eagerly. “Tuna sandwiches…check. Carrot sticks, hmm. And,” he pulled out a saran wrapped treat, “brownies!”
“Low fat brownies. Buffy said something about you not struggling with your cummerbund, whatever that means.”
“Tell your sister, ha, ha, very funny.” He unwrapped a sandwich and bit in. “This is good. She’s much improving.” He held out the plastic baggie. “Want a carrot stick? And are you skipping?”
“Nope, and nope.” She sat on a concrete block. “Teacher conference. And how do you stand these hard hats? Major uncomfortable.”
“Major keep your head unsquashed.” He looked into his bag. “Hey, there’s a note. ‘Xander, wish I could share lunch with you. Watch out for falling beams. Love you, Buffy.’ Aw...”
“Spare me the mush,” Dawn ewwed, but she was smiling. “You really love my sister, don’t you?”
Xander sat on the ground beside her. “Big time. Always have. Just didn’t think I ever had a chance. And look at this.” He held up the bag. “She’s making me lunch. And marrying me, even better.” His tone grew more serious. “I know we’ve both been through a lot, but believe me, Dawn, I want to make her happy. I really love her.”
“Call me sis.”
Distracted on the way home, Dawn didn’t see the car careening towards her as she turned onto the street. As it bore down, she flipped out of the way, without even thinking. Standing on the sidewalk she dusted herself off, assuring herself that no one had seen her. She continued on her way.
Buffy opened the door to the insistent knocking. She stood for a moment in shock. “Angel? What are you...?” She noticed the young woman with her arm locked firmly in his. “Hi, Cordy.” Her expression grew serious. “What is this? Is there another apocalypse? Didn’t I get the memo?”
“Hi Buffy. Is Xander here?” Cordelia asked.
“No. Why?” She opened the door wider. “Come in, guys.” She led them into the living room gesturing for them to sit on the couch. “You couldn’t have gotten the invitations. I only sent them this afternoon.”
“Willow called.” Angel stared at the woman he once cared about above all else. “You can’t be serious. You don’t love him.”
“This is your business, how?” Buffy’s tone was confrontational, her hands resting firmly on her hips. “I’ve talked to you what, once, twice in two years, and you show up on my doorstep and tell me what to do?”
“I’m going to get a drink of water. The kitchen’s in the same place, right?” When Buffy didn’t respond, Cordy kissed Angel very deliberately on the cheek, “See you in a minute, honey,” and eased out of the room.
“What was that all about?” Buffy asked. “And what’s she doing here, anyway?”
“We’re in love. With each other.” Angel kept the same, even tone. “So why are you screwing up your life with Xander?”
Buffy turned a deep shade of red, as she tried to keep her anger in check, with little result. “You...You’re...And you talk to me about screwing up my life. And what about that little curse problem?”
“No problem. Not anymore. No happiness clause. Now back to you and Xander...”
“I really don’t want to talk about this with you. Please leave.” When she saw that he had no intention of moving, her eyes filled with tears. “Please, please leave.”
Angel was up like a shot, holding her in his arms. “What is it, Buffy? What’s going on?”
“I love him. He’s my best friend.” She was holding tight to the lapels of his leather jacket. “He loves me. He’s so...he’s so...”
Buffy looked up at him. “What do you know?” She sniffed back the tears. “What do you know about Spike?”
“Spike? I know he died. Willow told me when she called about Faith. I heard a rumor, but I didn’t believe it. You would never...”
“I loved him.” She turned away and took a few steps. “I loved him more than anyone I’ve ever loved before.”
Angel spun her around. “That’s crazy. That little creep?”
“That little creep saved the world. He got a soul for me.” Her voice rose higher. “He never left me!”
“So you were grateful to him. Buffy, that’s not love.”
Her eyes flared. “You don’t know anything. Anything about it!” Her breath came in deep pants. “I would give anything, anything to have him back. I. Loved. Him.”
Cordelia wandered into the room holding a glass of water. “Is this a bad time?”
“It’s a great time,” Buffy hissed. “Take your boyfriend and leave.”
Angel took Cordy’s hand, as they started out of the living room. He paused and turned around. “Buffy, you know I never wanted to hurt you. And I certainly don’t understand this thing with Spike. But if you really want him back, I think I know a way.”
“Then what did he say?” Willow sat at the end of Buffy’s bed, enthralled by the story.
“He said that Darla was human. That she struggled with the soul thing, and had a hard time, but Spike’s already dealt with that.” Buffy clutched her stuffed pig tighter. “It could work, Will. If it worked for Darla, it could work.”
“What are you waiting for?” Willow lay her hand on Buffy’s blanket covered knee. “Go to LA.”
“It’s not that simple. This is some ritual, with vampire sacrifices and human blood. It’s one thing to slay them, but this...Besides, vamps aren’t exactly in supply anymore, though there are more in LA than Sunnydale. And that’s not even the main thing.” Buffy covered Willow’s hand with hers. “I remember how it was. When I...” She whispered the words. “Came back.” She squeezed her friends fingers, a reassurance that there was no recrimination in the words. “Spike could be at peace. He could be happy.”
“Buffy,” Willow sighed, “I sincerely doubt Spike could ever be truly happy someplace where you weren’t.”
“Maybe.” Her eyes were hopeful. “D’you think?” Willow nodded. “But there’s something else. There’s...” Her eyes dropped to her left hand.
“Xander.” The enormity of the situation hit Willow. “Oh, Buffy. What about Xander?”
Buffy buried her head in her bent knees, hands wrapped around the back of her neck. “I love him, Will. How could I hurt him like that?”
Willow held her hands out in front of her. She looked to the left hand. “Xander’s feelings.” Then the right. “Having Spike back.”
Buffy placed her fingers on Willow’s right palm and gently pressed the hand onto the comforter.
“Yeah,” said Willow. “That’s what I thought.”
Buffy knocked on the door to Xander’s apartment. “It’s open,” he cried, as she entered. “Just give me a minute,” he said, searching under the couch for his other shoe. “Eureka!” He dug it out and turned to face his fiancée. His eyes widened at the sight of her travel bag. “Buffy.” He rose to his feet and stepped towards her. “Does this mean what I hope it means? You’re staying over tonight?”
“Because I was all with the waiting, but I’m all with the not waiting, if you catch my drift.” He saw her wringing the strap of the carryon in her fingers. “You’re nervous. I get that too.” He rubbed his hands on the sides of his slacks. “See? Sweaty palms.” Xander wrapped his arms around her. “Oh, baby, I love you so much,” but she stiffened. She was crying. “What is it?”
“It’s not...” She tried to look at him, the way he deserved. “It’s not what you think. I’m going to the airport.”
“What happened? Is it your dad?” He swallowed. “Or Giles? Did something happen to Giles? Cause I can be packed in two minutes.”
“It’s nothing like that. I have to see Angel.”
“What?” There was anger in his voice. “What do you mean?”
“No. You still don’t understand.” She sat down the bag and tugged at her ring finger.
“Don’t.” He was panicked now, as he saw what she was doing. “Please, no. Buffy, what...?”
She took the ring and handed it to him. “I can’t. It’s wrong.” She tried to say more, but choked on the tears.
“I don’t understand. What’s going on? We were happy. Weren’t we happy?” As his world fell out from under him, he saw Buffy pick up the bag.
“You’re my best friend,” she said. “I love you.”
And suddenly he was alone in his apartment, staring at the little diamond ring lying in the palm of his hand.
Willow saw her friend trembling as she climbed into the cab. “How is he?”
Buffy shook her head. “Don’t ask.”
The basement of the Hyperion Hotel was lit with burning urns. Four vampires stood chained to the walls as Willow and Buffy were led downstairs by Cordelia and Angel. The floor was painted with blood. Wesley stood to the side, pouring over the Scroll of Abejian. “Welcome to the chamber of horrors, girls,” he smiled.
“This isn’t half creepy,” Willow said, but she patted Buffy’s arm with reassurance. “I’m sure Wes knows what he’s doing. Don’t you?” she added.
“Wes has spent years looking over these scroll, Angel said. “He assumed they referred to me. Shashu.”
“Gesundheit.” Gunn helped Connor with the last struggling vampire, as they chained him against the fourth wall. “It’s one thing dusting these mothers, but catching them, now that’s a demon of a different shade.”
“I don’t have to stand here and be insulted.” Lorne was obviously not offended, but he enjoyed pretending. He patted Angel on the back. “If this ritual involves cuisinarting vampires, I think it just might be prudent for you to leave, Sweet Cheeks.” He grimaced. “Not really something I want to see either. I’ll be upstairs.” He stopped in front of Buffy. “I’m really looking forward to meeting your sweetheart, Sweetheart.”
Cordy took Angel’s hand. “Let’s go.”
“Good luck,” Angel said to Buffy.
“Thank you,” she replied, standing on tiptoes to kiss his cheek, “for everything.”
Willow whispered into Buffy’s ear, keeping her eyes on Connor. “Angel’s son. Weird.”
Buffy nodded, then knelt down to examine the blood on the floor. “You said you needed the blood of the living. Where did you get this, Wes?”
“Blood bank. Angel has...connections.”
She touched her fingers to the red sticky blood, then rubbed her forefinger with her thumb. “How do we know it’s fresh? How do we know it comes from someone who’s alive?” She stepped over to Gunn. “Do you have a knife?”
“Sure,” he replied, pulling a long blade from the side of his boot. “Why?”
Buffy ran the blade against her forearm, cutting deep enough for her blood to drip to the floor, mixing with that on the ground. “The blood of the living.”
Willow took the knife from her and repeated the procedure on her own arm. “Just to be sure.” She looked into Buffy’s eyes and smiled. “For Spike.”
“Well, let’s begin then.” Wesley held the scroll in front of him. Before he could intone the invocation, Buffy interrupted.
“Why are you doing this, Wes? I know you and Angel had some sort of falling out, and I don’t know why you’d want to help Spike.”
Pain flashed over the ex-watcher’s face. “Let’s just say I know a bit about wanting to seek redemption. Now, shall we begin?” He took a deep breath. “We have gathered the blood of the living....”
As he intoned the words of the ritual, Willow became concerned. The words didn’t suit Spike. “Very gates of hell shall open.” “The world shall know the beast.” “Five are without soul, yet they live.” She looked over at Buffy, but her friend was staring intently at the centre of the room. Waiting.
As Wesley drew near the end of the ritual, the vampires strained against their bonds, growling. He ignored them. “And the five shall be sacrifice, and the one who is dead shall live. Even as life and death are two things but one...In darkness is the light, in light the darkness. Arise, arise, arise.”
The vampire against the north wall crumbled, his dust rising into the air...and dropping back to the ground. The other four stared at him in shock, then pulled even more furiously, trying to escape. Nothing else happened.
“What happened?” Buffy asked. “Is it supposed to be like this?”
“Buffy,” Willow said softly. “It didn’t work.”
“I’m so sorry,” Wesley said, shocked. “I studied this ritual very closely. It should have worked.”
“It didn’t work.” Buffy grabbed the stake that protruded from Gunn’s waistband. “It didn’t work.” She stabbed the next vampire in the circle through the chest. “It didn’t work!” Her voice raised as she staked each of the remaining vampires. “It didn’t work!”
Connor looked uncomfortable. Wesley was horrified. Buffy fell to the basement floor, blood staining her jeans. “It didn’t work.” Willow ran to her and threw her arms around her. “What have I done?” she whimpered. “Poor Xander.”
Willow pulled her closer. “Poor Buffy.”
“Rupert Giles Paranormal Investigations. Rupert Giles speaking.” He hoped against hope that it wasn’t another bill collector. His small London office had seen few clients since opening, and he was on the verge of giving up and seeking gainful employment, perhaps as a public school librarian. For once, he wasn’t disappointed. “Really? How very interesting. Yes, indeed, hauntings are a bit of a specialty of mine. Let me check my calendar.” He ruffled through the blank notebook on his desk. “Actually, I’ve had a cancellation. I could come out to the house this evening. I would need a retainer though.” He paused to take a breath. “Yes, that would be adequate. Your messenger could drop it off this afternoon. Certainly. I look forward to doing business with you. Goodbye.” Hanging up the phone, he pumped the air with his fist. “Yes!”
“I hear Xander has a girlfriend.” Buffy sipped at her morning cup of coffee, trying to get up the energy and inclination to leave for work. Willow’s entrance had been a welcome distraction.
“I know.” Willow sat beside her on the couch, nibbling at a piece of toast. “I saw her. They were at the mall together.”
Buffy tried to act nonchalant. “What’s she like?”
“Nice. Pretty.” She held her hand under the toast to try and catch the crumbs, then, not knowing what to do with them, walked over to the wastebasket and dropped them in, brushing her palms together. “She’s funny, too. They met at the comic store. She works there.”
“Were they happy?”
“Very.” Willow wasn’t sure she was giving the required responses. “She isn’t as pretty as you.”
“Thanks.” Buffy smiled a half smile. “I want him to be happy. He deserves it. After what I put him through...”
“Have you seen him? Since my grad? You barely talked.”
“We didn’t talk. We nodded. And avoided.” Buffy sat down the coffee cup and rested her head in her hand, leaning against the couch armrest. “I miss him. I miss my friend. But I don’t blame him if he never talks to me again.”
“He loves you. Maybe not in a guy/girl way anymore, but that’s good, isn’t it?” Willow sat back down on the couch. “You were his friend. You’ll get that back.”
“I wish I were as sure as you are.” Buffy glanced down at her watch. “Oh, oh. Gotta run. Time and the telephone wait for no girl.” She stood up and reached for her jacket when a loud crash from the direction of the kitchen, followed by a cry of pain, caught her attention. She ran into the other room. “Dawn?”
Her sister was holding her hand, blood dripping from a nasty deep gash. “I’m sorry, Buffy. I didn’t mean to.” She looked down at the broken mug on the floor. “I know it was his favorite. I knocked it off the counter. Tried to pick it up.”
“It’s only a mug.” She examined the wound. “This is deep. You may need stitches. I’ll take the morning off and get you to a doctor.”
Dawn shook her head. “You go to work. It isn’t as bad as it looks. I’ll clean it up, and if it doesn’t stop bleeding, I’ll get Willow to take me. Okay?” She stood up, forcing herself not to feel woozy. “I’m going up to the bathroom, then I’ll rest a bit. Don’t worry. I’m okay.”
Dawn left the kitchen, and Buffy took the whisk broom and pan from under the sink. She started to brush the remnants of Spike’s mug into the pan, then stopped as she started to cry.
Giles had a song in his heart as he opened the door to the empty house with the key from the estate agent. He would have felt better if the song hadn’t been ‘Under Pressure’. He turned on his flashlight and his spectralmeter, examining in the gauge for any signs of a paranormal reading. ‘Early days. Not to worry,’ he thought, as the needle pointed within normal range. As quietly as he could, he looked around the main floor of the house. It had been investigated before, but no one had determined the source of the strange lights and sounds. He knew the agents were eager to sell, or even rent, but that wouldn’t happen until the occurrences were explained. He swept the living room with his torch, but there was nothing. The meter continued to register nothing. He turned towards the staircase, putting his foot on the first step, when a loud thump startled him. It was right above the room he was in, from the sound of it. Gingerly, he started up the stairs.
The upper level was just as dark as the lower had been, and smelled even mustier. He carefully pushed open the door to the first bedroom, holding his flashlight as much as a club as illumination. The beam fell on a figure cowering in the corner. Was this his ghost? He stepped closer.
“Oh, my God.”
“TGIFF!” Buffy exclaimed as she dropped her purse on the floor of the living room.
“FF?” Dawn asked, looking up from her magazine.
“Finally Friday. What a week.” Buffy flopped onto the couch beside her sister, resting her feet on the coffee table. “I need distraction. Willow and I are going to the Bronze tonight. Want to come?”
“Wish I could, but I’m babysitting Herbie Fuentes tonight. The little brat. I should ask for hazard pay.” She tossed her copy of YM on the table. “And next week I’m watching the Thompson twins while their usual nanny goes on vacation. Not a lot of money, but it helps.”
“Help it does,” Buffy replied, patting her sister’s hand. She noticed the bandage wrapped around the injury. “How’s that doing? I still think you should have seen a doctor.”
It’s fine. Didn’t bleed all that long. No sense spending money on a doctor I don’t need.” She pulled the hand away, but Buffy grabbed her and pulled it back.
“Economy doesn’t count when it’s my little sister’s health.” She started to unwrap the bandage. “Let me look at it.”
“No,” Dawn said, but it was too late. Her palm was exposed.
“But...” Buffy looked closely at her sister’s hand, turning it and examining it all over. “There’s nothing wrong. Not even a mark. But I saw you cut it.”
“I told you it wasn’t that bad.” Dawn folded her arms and scrunched further down into the sofa. “So, Bronze, eh?”
Without warning, Buffy struck out at her sister, using Slayer speed. Dawn easily blocked the blow with her arm. “Hey!”
Buffy was at a loss. “What’s going on? What aren’t you telling me?”
Dawn stood up. “I have to go get ready. And I told you, it’s nothing.”
Buffy watched her sister head toward the stairs. “Right. Nothing.”
Willow and Buffy laughed as they entered the Bronze. “He called you a what?” Willow asked. “Just for phoning. That’s rude.”
“I heard what you said to that guy who called about the long distance plan. Pot calling kettle here, I think.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “I have got to get a better job. Though, upside, no grease.”
“And no penis head monsters,” Willow added. “Unless there’s something you haven’t shared.” Her smile faded. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.”
Buffy looked over at the couple sitting at the nearby table. He had his arm around her, and she was smiling up at him with adoration. They shared a brief kiss, then continued talking. “Nope,” Buffy said, sucking in a deep breath, “I think it’s time.” She walked over to the couple, Willow at her heels. “Hi, Xander.”
“Buffy.” When he realized his girlfriend was watching him with her eyebrows raised, he said, “Buffy, this is Laverne. Oh, and hi, Will. You two have met.”
“Hello again Willow. And so this is Buffy.” The young woman smiled. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Please don’t hold that against me.” Buffy regarded the other woman, a pretty, African American girl with a genuine smile and warm eyes. It was like at first sight.
“He’s said good things. And the break-up? Hey, I have to thank you for that.” She kissed her boyfriend on the cheek. “Your loss is my gain.”
“I’m glad.” She glanced at Xander, who seemed totally absorbed in Laverne. “Let me buy you both a drink.”
“No, hey, Buffster, my round.” He smiled at her, and Buffy knew things would be okay. “We were just discussing why Marvel’s movies are suddenly better than DC’s. Any thoughts?”
Buffy was watching ‘An Affair to Remember’, missing her mother, when the knock sounded on the door. She clicked off the TV, and headed out to answer it. ‘Wonder who that is?” she thought to herself. ‘Probably one of Dawn’s buddies. Since she has buddies.’ She pulled open the door and stood in a momentary state of shock. Suddenly, she propelled herself into the arms of the man on the steps. “Giles! Oh, what a wonderful surprise.” She looked up into his face. “How did you know I wanted to talk to you?” When she saw his serious expression, she pulled back. “Why are you here? Is everything okay?”
He lay his hand on her shoulder. “I hope so. Buffy, there’s someone in the cab I need you to see. Now, try to stay calm.”
“What the hell?” But she followed him out to the driveway. There was a young man in the taxi, staring straight ahead. His hair was curly and brown, his face impossible. It couldn’t be. “Spike?” she breathed. “How?”
“I found him in London. He has no memory, of anything much. Doesn’t know who he is. But it certainly looks and sounds like Spike. Though, he’s human.” Buffy gasped, wordless, as Giles pulled the cab door open, taking the man’s hand. “Spike,” he said gently, “Time to get out now. We’re here.”
Buffy’s tear-filled eyes never left the face of the young man as he exited the cab and stood before her. She wanted to throw herself into his arms, but he seemed fragile, too much like the Spike she’d found in the High School basement almost two years before. “Spike?” She asked. “William?”
He stared down intently at her, like he was searching for something in her face. A key fit in a lock, turned. “B...Buffy?” He opened his arms and drew her in.
“It’s coming back. Bits and pieces.” He lay in her bed. She sat on the side, looking down at him, afraid he’d melt away. Afraid she was the one in bed, dreaming.
“What do you remember?” she asked.
“You. I remember you.” He reached up and traced the curve of her cheeks, her chin. Touched her gently. She covered his hand with hers. “I saw your face, every day, in my mind. I didn’t know who it was, but I knew I loved you.”
“I love you. Missed you, so much.” She started to stand up. “Get some rest. We’ll talk later.”
“Buffy, can you stay with me? Just ‘til I get to sleep?”
“Sure.” She lay down beside him, draping her arm across his chest. “Your heart’s beating.”
“Is that unusual?” he asked, confused.
“Get some sleep.”
Giles had dozed off, sitting at the end of the couch. Buffy entered the living room as sat on the chair facing him. She watched him sleep, until he opened his eyes and looked at her. “Sorry. Jet lag.” He pulled his glasses from his jacket pocket, wiping them with a handkerchief, then putting them on. “How is he?”
“He’s asleep.” Buffy leaned forward. “How did you do it? How did you find him?”
“I wish I could take credit. Accident, really.” He pulled out a card and handed it to her. ‘Rupert Giles, Paranormal Investigations.’
She suppressed a chuckle. “You’re a Ghostbuster?”
“Investigator. In any case, I was called to a lovely old house. The owners were unable to sell, or even rent, because the building was believed to be haunted. I found Spike inside.”
“Just like that?” she asked, incredulous.
“Not just like that. He was frightened, non-verbal. His hair and beard were atrocious. I took him to a barber to be cleaned up. Actually, I’m surprised I was able to find him. He seems to have avoided discovery for some time.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m at a loss. None of this makes sense.”
“Maybe not. Maybe. I’ve got an idea, but I’ll wait for Spike. He’s started to remember things.” A thought occurred to her. “How were you able to get him back here? Security’s so tight now.”
“Seems the nice man at the airport thought a menu from Bombay Fish and Chips was an American passport. Funny thing, that.” Giles smiled. “Just a little glamour.”
“Ooh,” said Buffy. “Makin’ with the magic man.” She let out a deep sigh. “I’m just so glad you found him.” She reached out and took Giles’ hands in hers. “I’m so grateful.”
“As I said, it was a happy accident.” He twisted his hands and gave hers a squeeze. “So, you said you had something you wanted to discuss with me?”
“I did?” Her eyes moved towards the staircase. “Did you hear something?”
“No. Buffy, do try to focus. You said when I came to the door that you were glad to see me because you wanted to talk to me.”
“Sorry.” She pointed upwards. “I’m a bit distracted.”
“And I understand. Whatever it is, we can discuss it later. So, is Dawn at a friend’s this evening?”
“Dawn!” She smacked her forehead. “I wanted to talk about Dawn.” She chewed at her lower lip, trying to decide how to phrase what she wanted to say. “I think that Dawn, I mean, I think it’s possible, I mean, do you think it’s possible?”
Giles shrugged a bit. “Do I think what’s possible?”
“That Dawn’s a Slayer.” She looked at him intently, as though it should all make sense now.
“That Dawn’s a what?” Giles furrowed his brow. “Why ever would you ask that, Buffy? You know the coven has ascertained that you are the last Slayer. There are no other potentials present. The First destroyed them all.”
“I know what the coven said. Believe me, I can’t get away from it. I’m the last. Thought about it a lot. But I have my reasons. For asking.” She bit at the end of her fingernail. “You know this wouldn’t be what I wanted. All I want is for Dawn to have a normal life. But there are things. We train, and I think she’s faking. Pretending to be more clumsy than she really is.”
“Buffy, that’s hardly ...”
She shook her head. “There’s more. She heals, really fast. Her reflexes, when she doesn’t think about it, are as fast as mine. I thought, ‘maybe it’s a key thing’, but you know that when Glory died, all Dawn was left as was a teenage girl. Tara and Will checked it out. And this isn’t about locks, it’s about Slayer stuff. So I got thinking...”
Giles was listening with rapt attention. He knew Buffy wouldn’t suspect such a thing lightly. Not where her sister was concerned. “You think it’s possible Dawn was activated without the coven knowing?”
“Because of her blood. My blood. The monks made the key out of me.”
Giles was understanding now. “So that when the coven sensed the Slayer in Sunnydale...”
“They only sensed me. Right. I was sort of cloaking her.” She frowned. “Is that even possible?”
“I’m certainly going to contact the ladies and find out. I think you may be on to something.” He stood up and headed towards the phone.
“Just one thing, Giles.”
He paused and looked at her. “What’s that, Buffy?”
He smiled at her. “I can guarantee it.”
“Would you be her Watcher? I mean, you’re the last one. Right?”
“I suppose I am.” He picked up the receiver. “Unless...”
His words were interrupted by a cry of pain, coming from the upstairs. Buffy ran towards the sound.
Spike sat beside Buffy on the couch, cradling his mug of tea in his hands, still visibly shaken. “It all came back. When I was sleeping. All of it. Dru, Angelus, the horrible things I did, what I did to you...All of it.” He brought the tea to his lips with a trembling hand. “A vampire. Is that possible?”
“It’s okay. It’s the past.” Buffy put her hand on his leg, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “We dealt with that a long time ago. What else do you remember? Where have you been?”
“Yes,” Giles asked, leaning forward in his chair, “Do you know how you came to be in London?”
“I remember...” Spike’s eyes took on a faraway look. “I remember falling into the Hellmouth. The things I saw...No wonder my mind blocked them out. I don’t remember it all. Hope I never do.”
Buffy’s eyes filled with tears. “You saved us. Saved the world. But that was here, and you were in England. How?”
“Why that house?” added Giles.
“My house. Or rather, my parent’s house. I was born there. It seemed familiar. Now I know why.” He warmed his hands with the mug. “I woke up there, one night. Long ago. Maybe a year. Lost track of time.”
“You were the ghost.” Giles gazed at him thoughtfully. “The reports started around the time we lost you. All that time, over a year, and you evaded capture.”
“Guess you don’t spend the better part of a century running and hiding without it getting in the grain.” Spike was calming as he spoke. “I’d sneak out at night, stealing food, clothes from the neighborhood. Just enough to get by. There’s a cubbyhole behind the armoire in the main bedroom. I’d stay there during the day.” For the first time, he smiled. “Luckily, they’d put in a little more modern plumbing than in my day. Wasn’t so bad. Didn’t really know anything different. Not many memories to speak of, until just now.” He put the mug on the coffee table and took Buffy’s hand, squeezing it. “Just you, love.”
“I’m still at a loss to understand how this happened,” Giles stated.
“I think I know.” Buffy lay her head on Spike’s shoulder. “You shanshued.”
“Shanshu. There’s a prophecy. The vampire with a soul would become human one day. Wes thought it meant Angel, but I guess it didn’t. It’s you.” She placed her hand on his chest. “Hence the heartbeat and body heat.”
“Ah.” Giles nodded. “And you couldn’t come back through the Hellmouth. So you reappeared where you were first born. A rebirth, as it were.”
“Not sure I understand any of it. Just glad to be home. I...” Spike was interrupted by voices at the front door.
“I can’t believe you thought Keanu was hot,” Willow was saying. “Now Carrie Ann, that’s hot.”
“Yeah, you would say that. And Lawrence isn’t bad, for an old guy. He...” Dawn and Willow stood in the living room, staring. “Spike?” Dawn asked. “That looks like Spike.” Her eyes flicked back and forth between Spike and Buffy. “Is that Spike?”
“Hey, Niblet,” he said.
The teenager threw herself at him. “It’s you!” She pulled back, shock on her face. “Your heart’s beating.”
“So I hear.”
Willow looked at Buffy. “So, the spell worked after all?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nope. Cause he was already back.” She rescued his hand from Dawn’s embrace and held it tight. “Back to stay.”
Dawn opened the fridge door and pulled a pudding cup out of the pack. When she turned around, Buffy and Giles were standing there. “Hi. Hungry? Can I grab you something?”
“You knew, didn’t you?” Buffy asked, arms folded over her chest. “You knew, and you didn’t tell me. You tried to hide it.”
“Knew? Oh yeah.” Dawn pulled open the drawer and pulled out a teaspoon. “I borrowed your blue sweater. Didn’t think you’d mind.”
Buffy kept her gaze even. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. How long have you known you’re a Slayer?”
Dawn flipped off the top of the pudding cup. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. There are no more Slayers, not after you. That’s what Giles said.”
“Evidently I was wrong.” Giles pulled his hands from his pockets. “I asked the coven to do a more specified locator spell. They missed you before, because of your proximity to Buffy. But it is true. You’ve been activated.”
“No.” Dawn’s voice was angry. “I don’t want it. I’ve seen what being a Slayer has done to you.” She threw the pudding container on the counter, making a brown splash across the surface. “You have a shitty life, Buffy, and I don’t want it. Don’t want to be stuck hunting demons and vampires. Which, you notice, don’t live here anymore.” She grasped her sister by the shoulders. “Don’t make me do this. Don’t make me be the Slayer.”
“It’s not up to me,” Buffy replied quietly. “It never was.” She pulled her sister into her arms. “Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”
“So, what now, pet?” Spike asked, sitting beside Buffy on the back porch, breathing in the warm night air.
“Now?” Buffy replied. “Not sure. Dawn’s moving to Los Angeles. Wesley will be her new Watcher. Says he needs to atone, and this will help. Long as he keeps her away from Angel’s son. Don’t need a repeat of that family tragedy.”
“Angel’s son? Am I still blanking?”
“No. I’ll explain later, much as I understand myself.” She looped her arm through his, leaning her head on his shoulder. “So, we can go with her, or go somewhere else. Willow’s moving to Texas to join that computer company. Angel’s arranging for you to get ID. We can sell the house. Market values are much improved here, sans Hellmouth.”
He tipped his head against hers. “Where do you want to go? I’m easy.”
Buffy smiled. “Ooh, what a setup.” She grew serious again. “I’d like to stay close to Dawn, until she’s a little older. Then, don’t know. I’m still the Slayer. I’d like to go someplace where I can make a difference.”
Spike pulled back. “I’m just a man now. I can’t help you anymore.”
“Sure you can.” She traced the side of his face with her fingertips. “Being with me. That’s all the help I need.” She put her arm around his waist. “We’ll be fine.”
“Buffy?” he asked.
“Wherever we go, can we make sure we have a back porch?”