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Five Birthdays That Never Happened In Sunnydale

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Jan 19, 2000

The wine splashes into the glass, red with a hint of amber. Joyce swirls it, watching the tremors echoing in the liquid. Sediment settles at the bottom, but it doesn't diminish her urge to swallow. A voice floats above a guitar, warm and fuzzy; she empties her glass but can't escape the tug of memory.

From her cross-legged perch on the dining-room table, Buffy nods to the record player. "I miss him too, Mom."

Joyce closes her eyes; she can't watch Buffy and Willow sharpen stakes any longer. She distracts herself with thoughts of dinner: something special to mark tonight's occasion. At least, she'll do the best she can, given the world outside that door. Revello Drive is a haven of sorts, but she senses fate slithering outside, ready to strike. Joyce blinks, rising from the couch with only one quick glance at the board-covered windows behind her.

Willow leans in, whispers something in Buffy's ear. Her wrist on Buffy's shoulder is fragile. Appearances are deceptive, though. Willow's power grows by the day, force of spirit to Buffy's whipcord strength. Buffy replies in a low tone, her mouth at Willow's ear. There's a certain intimacy in desperation, in the sense of them against the world.

Joyce only wishes she could believe that it's enough against Wilkins and his hordes. No mother wants to see her daughter like this: reduced, refined, making a last stand. These children should never have been thrown into this war. "Giles," she breathes, curse and requiem.

***

The doorknob rattles and Joyce jumps. Buffy reaches the door in a few fluid strides, looks through cracks in the boards covering the three in-door windows. With an inhaled breath, she opens the deadbolts. "Anya?"

Her eyes squirrelly and bright, Anya steps across the threshold without needing an invitation. "Xander was right. The 'big odometer roll-over' happened, and the world ended. I always knew that Nostradamus lunatic was a crank."

Buffy squares her shoulders. "We weren't expecting-"

"Sunnydale looks worse than LA, of course," Anya continues blithely.

"We hadn't noticed," Willow mutters, looking at the stake in her hand as if answers are to be found in the heft of the wood.

"You were in LA?" Buffy asks hopefully.

Joyce bites her lip before she says something she's sure to regret. He's gone, and that's all that matters. Buffy may still not have a normal life, college and all the rest, but at least she's not being dragged further into darkness.

"Angel sent something nice for your birthday," Anya says, handing a small wrapped package to Buffy. "He's holding up okay. Some kind of trouble with an invincible vampire foe, but he says not to worry."

Buffy turns the package over gingerly and slides a finger under the tape. Paper off, the glossy black box says "Agent Provocateur" in scrolling pink script.

Joyce recognizes the packaging and shakes her head, heading for the kitchen. The girls' voices blend together in her wake.

"Uh... Anya? Why did Angel decide you were the..." "...need help. I find that red lingerie is..." "...a nice thought, even though I have nobody to..."

Questions are inevitable, but Joyce still winces when she hears Anya ask, "Where's Xander?"

A muffled word from Buffy, and Anya raises her voice in a skittering panic. "I wanted him to come with me. He should have come with me--"

Not much to say after that. Joyce moves to the refrigerator, keeping her hands moving so they don't shake.

Anya appears in the door from the dining room, moving briskly with a fierce expression that is at odds with the tears streaking her cheeks.

***

Joyce shakes her head, trying to understand. "Vengeance?" She speaks softly, not wanting the girls to hear. They sit at the dining room table, cleaning weapons like warriors. She doesn't want this strange talk to intrude.

Anya nods, speaking a tad too loudly. "Justice. Setting the world to rights."

"This isn't the world I wanted for Buffy, but there's no one to blame. I mean, other than the Mayor for becoming a snake, but we're fighting his forces every day."

"But that's not who you blame," Anya says eagerly. "Don't you wish...?"

"What's the use in wishing?" Joyce sighs. "It isn't going to bring Giles back if I curse his name for ever involving my daughter in this crusade."

"And he failed?" Anya asks, leaning forward with a grin that makes Joyce uneasy. "He didn't stop the Ascension, didn't take care of your daughter, of you?"

The old guilt rises like bile in Joyce's throat. "Maybe if I hadn't been there, he wouldn't have been trying to protect me. Maybe something would have been different. I wish...I wish Giles and I had never gotten involved. I wish Giles' heart had been broken by some gypsy girl." Joyce laughs. "I sound like a bad opera, don't I?"

"Not really, no," Anya says. "Done."

Joyce looks through the door to the dining room, gazing at her brave daughter. Then she closes her eyes and feels her world fall away.

 


April 18, 2000

Jesse, Willow, Xander. Larry, then Nancy. Ethan and Giles.

"You're brooding again," Tara says. She scoots onto the burnished wood surface of the old library table, settling in cross-legged next to the pile of weapons. Her hair falls in her face; she pushes it back with a decisive hand.

Oz sets down the finished stake, starts sharpening another. "Names keep running through my head." He inhales, breathing in the scent of raw wood, of Tara's shampoo. Heightened senses are a mixed blessing at best, in a world where cleanliness is a luxury, but Tara always smells good to him.

"This head?" Tara asks, lightly resting her hand on his blue spikes. "You thinking about people we've lost? Oz, honey... I know. I know." She bites her lip in that guileless way she has about her. "But you shouldn't think about that today. This is a day for positive energy."

He leans into her hand, exhaling. "At least the cavalry is here now. Solve all our problems, I'm sure." His smile is grim, sardonic; his lips feel pulled tight. He has no faith in the institutions that have left Sunnydale to rot.

Tara's eyes flash. "That Commander Finn who came when you were on patrol said mandatory evacuation. He said that if we don't leave, he's not responsible for what happens."

"Government monster-hunters," Oz muses. "Guess they're okay with a little collateral damage."

"You think those guys are going to see any difference between you and the rest of their targets?" Tara wraps her arms around him, squeezing. "You know we can't leave. Not tonight."

A passing shadow and a creaking floor alert them, too late, to the presence of someone in the stacks. A mocking, unfamiliar voice rings out. "You're not going anywhere, little girl. Look who's here to wish his best mate a happy birthday."

***

Can be risky working here in the library as night approaches, but their hideout doesn't have any kind of cage that will hold Oz when the sun goes down. Still, should be too early for vampires to be roving in search of prey. Sun's still hugging the edge of the horizon; Oz feels the wolf now, close but not yet here, prickling under his skin.

Yet in defiance of reason and waning sunlight alike, two undead monsters leer at them from the balcony.

"Xander," Tara breathes, scrambling off the table and reaching behind her, not taking her eyes off their once-friend.

The other vampire, who's got Oz's last hairstyle and a contrived-sounding British accent, cups the back of Xander's neck with a pale hand. "Couldn't stay away, could he? Wanted to see his pet wolf."

"Funny, can't say that we wanted to see him," Oz mutters.

Glancing at Tara, Xander sneers. "What does she have that Spike and I can't give you?" He runs a hand down his leather-clad thigh and then back up, slow, tantalizing.

Oz's eyes follow Xander's hand. He swallows. Hard and furious and needy, yeah, but he wants no part of this.

Tara looks from Oz to Xander and flinches, holding the cross steadier than her voice. "Get out."

Spike's eyes roam over Tara's curves. "She's a feisty one. Let's keep her."

"Not a chance," Oz snarls. "She's far too good for you." His hand clenches around the half-finished stake up his sleeve. He measures the distance between himself and what remains of his friend.

***

Shouts and foot-falls echo in the hallway, boots stomping amid the scent of men.

"We're reading hostiles, Commander. But..."

"Acceptable losses. Take'm out, team."

The port-hole windows in the swinging doors shatter, machine-gun fire spraying glass into the room. Oz grabs Tara and ducks under the table. The wood surface above them ripples and tears. It smells like gunpower and varnish, like it's never been alive.

Time is diluted by this commotion. Leather and inhuman lack of scent are gone, as the vampires move faster than Oz thought possible, exiting through the back. Numbly, Oz registers troops running through the room after them. Noise and fury collide, subside.

Oz feels warmth, wet on his hands, copper on his tongue. Tara is limp in his arms. She says, "Don't let them...," and her voice cuts off as if stifled.

The light goes out in her eyes; the sun sets.

 


September 29, 2000

Giles' stock of alcohol matches his record collection in antiquity. Riley is starting to wonder if it is a good idea to turn Spike loose on either. But the tinkle of glass and the strum of guitars fills the empty spaces between them, lets them pretend this untenable situation isn't happening.

"Bleh," Riley makes a face after swallowing his third shot. "Tequila is not
my friend."

Spike eases to his feet, his lean form disappearing around the cabinets as he slouches into the kitchen. "Could be, we had any lemons." He makes for Giles' fridge, rummaging in it. "Worth celebrating, now that we beat my 11 pounds out of that disapparating bugger."

"I shouldn't be surprised that Dracula is real," muses Riley. That's it. Talk about something, anything else than the unhappy truth of it all. "There should be lemons in the drawer."

Spike mumbles something into the refrigerator. He forgets sometimes that Riley can't hear like Spike can: the vampire thing. Riley, though, Riley never forgets. Just doesn't seem to matter anymore.

"What we need is beer. Nice, solid, American macro-brewed beer." Riley waves the bottle for emphasis. "Traditional."

"That what they taught you in jackboot-school?" Spike asks mildly. "How to assemble an M-16, hold your breath underwater, and drink like a ponce?" He emerges from the kitchen with a lemon and a small, sharp knife.

Riley glances at Spike, then lowers his eyes, tumult flowing through his veins. "It's his birthday, you know." At Spike's cocked eyebrow he continues, forcing each word out. "Xander's. He would be 20. Is 20." He passes Spike the bottle, hand brushing hand. Touch is better than talking about this.

***

Riley doesn't like going upstairs. But when Spike considers, nods, and tilts his head in that way he has, Riley takes a slice of lemon and follows him up the winding steps to the loft. Before he reaches the top step, he can see them. Xander and Giles are laid out on the bed, tucked into Giles' red sheets.

Spike lights candles. Riley focuses on their flicker and avoids looking at the two urns on the bureau. He watches the slack, unmoving faces and the chests slowly rising and falling. Why does magic holds these two in its grip when the others slipped away the very night of the fight at the base?

"So we drink to the Slayer's boy and to the watcher, both," Spike says, taking a swig and passing the bottle of tequila back to Riley. "And to those as didn't make it this far."

Riley bites the slice of lemon and gulps; the alcohol has long since ceased burning. "To Willow. To Buffy." Fortified with good old liquid courage, he looks at the urns holding the remains of the girls he failed.

Spike sees Riley's gaze or hears the tremor in his voice, because he puts a firm hand in the small of Riley's back and propels him towards the stairs.

***

They sit on Giles' couch. Or rather, Spike sits, sprawl-legged and boneless, head tipped back. Riley lies with his head on Spike's thigh and the room spinning around him. He clutches the bottle and raises it weakly.

Spike smiles, a slow, lazy look. "To us."

"Can't believe I'm drinking with you," mutters Riley, but he drinks and passes Spike the bottle. "Aren't you supposed to be one of the bad guys?"

"Gone AWOL, haven't you?" Spike asks, no malice in his voice. "I'm all you've got. And I haven't killed anybody lately, have I?"

Riley wonders, worries. Spike helps him, cares for him when Riley is lost. It's entirely unclear how long this will last; does guilt bind the vampire here? Is he waiting for Giles and Xander to follow Willow and Buffy into death? What is his endgame? And why is Riley's uneasiness gradually replaced by a feeling even more disturbing?

Spike leans forward, catching Riley's eyes with his own. Liquid, blue, deadly. Sincere? Who knows. Who cares.

"I don't trust you," Riley breathes. He sits up in a dizzy rush, and before he regains his equilibrium he leans in and kisses Spike. Riley's aim is off, what with the drink and the unsteadiness; he catches Spike's lower lip between his own. Spike tastes sharp and bright, like lemons and regret.

 


Aug 22, 2001

The basement door creaks open at Spike's touch, the noise drowning the wheezing and whining of the old pipes. He wonders if these girls playing at home-owners know that pipes don't hold forever.

Diffuse light from upstairs illuminates a tiny shiny-haired form huddled on the stairs. Fragile, she looks; broken.

Spike descends a couple of steps and says, "All alone down here? Party's upstairs, Bit." His tone is not as cheery as his words; can't seem to manage that.

Dawn leans against the wall, legs curled up and clasped in her arms. "I don't have a birthday, not really," she says, her words muffled by her knees.

He reaches out a hand to the light-switch, but then pulls it away. She's sitting in the dark because she wants to, seems like. Not his say to change it.

"But here am I, getting older, and she doesn't get any more birthdays. It says so on her--her tombstone." Her voice stumbles over that last word.

Spike settles next to her on the steps, resting elbows on knees. "Slayer wanted it this way," he says softly, uncertain of the right approach.

"But I didn't." Her words hang in the air between them. "Of course, I'm not real; no big surprise I didn't get my way."

"Slayer believed in you," Spike says, sliding an arm around Dawn's shoulder. "She went down fighting so you could have this birthday." He swallows, ducking his head.

Flinging her arms around him, Dawn buries her tear-stained face in his coat. "Spike, I miss her so much." One of her hands slides down his back and around his side, landing higher on his thigh than it ought. Isn't right. She doesn't know what she's doing.

"Likewise, Bit." Spike pulls away, rising and offering his hand. "So you're going to go up there with the witches and let them celebrate your fifteenth. 'Swhat the Slayer would want."

Mercurial, Dawn lashes out. "Is that all she was to you, a killing machine? She had--has a name, you know."

"I know. I just--" Spike shakes his head. He cannot explain.

"Is the bot upstairs?" Dawn asks, wincing. "I don't think I can look at it right now."

Guilt washes over Spike. That damnable bot. "Red put it away; some sort of trouble with a wanker they knew from school following it home from patrol."

"Okay," Dawn says, drying her eyes on the heels of her hands. She looks at Spike in dismay. "I got your jacket all wet."

Spike slides the leather trench off his shoulders. "So you did. Good that it's your birthday present, then, yeah?"

Dawn pulls on the too-large coat. She leans in, her breath reflecting hot from Spike's cheek. "What if I want a different present?" She touches his face with a small warm hand, her thumb grazing his lower lip. "Spike, I--"

Overcome, Spike pulls away. "Buffy." He says her name like an invocation, holds it as a talisman against all that should not be.

"Dead, and she would want you to take care of me," Dawn says, trembling. "Stay here with me. I want--I need you."

Spike steps back, withdraws inside himself, holding his elbows. "Time for Big Bads to head back to their cozy little crypts, and for birthday girls to go celebrate."

Her gasping sob tears at him, but he can't stay and calm her. He wants what comfort she's offering more than he ought.

Ascending the stairs in quick strides, Spike flips on the light and stomps out of the basement, leaving the door ajar.

 


May 19, 2004

Jury's still out on whether this is heaven or hell, but Faith's thinking the envelope tips the scales toward heaven. It's anyone's guess how it got onto her pillow, but a girl's not going to complain when clearly somebody's remembering what day it is.

Time stretches out and then snaps, a rubber band at rest. She blinks and the world changes. There's only an ornate "W" on the "From" line of the gilt-edged certificate, and last she saw, Wood was living in Cleveland, getting over her and teaching the new slayers to be a little faster than she'd been in that last fight.

Still, no matter who it's from, a spa visit sounds relaxing as all hell.

Faith stuffs the gift certificate in her pocket, pulls on her shit-kicking boots without lacing them, and opens her apartment door.

"Going somewhere?" Lilah asks, leaning against the opposite wall in the hallway. She looks like she's spent a week at a spa herself, but then, she always does. Apart from the (well-hidden) scar on her neck and her annoying habit of being trouble's advance guard, she's irritatingly perfect.

Faith shoves down that urge to shut the door in Lilah's face. She doesn't even acknowledge the other desires singing through her. She sneers at the lawyer bitch. "So, this must be hell."

"More things in heaven and earth," Lilah says. "I'm your ride."

***

They cruise along the 101 without talking. The top's down, and Faith relishes the wind messing up Lilah's hair, blowing her scarf forward and back. Faith turns the radio up, and Lilah lets her. This makes Faith suspicious, but Lilah's not the type to satisfy her curiosity, so she doesn't ask. She sings along with the peppy alt-country because she knows Lilah hates it.

They pass a familiar sign, and Faith does a double take. "How is the spa in Sunnydale? I stood on the edge of that crater."

"Reality is overlaid with your perceptions," Lilah said in a long-suffering tone. "You were happy enough in this worthless little town that it's part of your ideal now."

Faith smiles but then sobers. "Won't be the same, though. I mean, without--"

"Oh, I think you'll find that some of your friends are here," Lilah says innocuously, but with a malicious smile playing at the edge of her lips.

***

Faith strides in past murmuring attendants carrying oils, brushes, and hot towels. She examines one face, then another, flinging open doors and interrupting more than one happy ending. Like she cares.

In a central room, all foot-square stone tiles and new-age music, she sees a naked man lying face-down on a massage table. His ass is both cute and disturbingly familiar. "Wesley?"

Wesley looks up with a warm smile. "Fantastic. You received my invitation, then?"

The other corner has a hot tub. Leaning forward out of the steam, Angel smiles. "Happy birthday, Faith."

Faith backs out of the room in horror, running into Lilah.

"Having a good birthday?" Lilah purrs, looking smug.

Faith slaps her. "Did you do this? Did you bring them?"

"They brought themselves," Lilah says, raising a hand to her reddened cheek. "I'm just the messenger." She turns on her heels and walks away, shouldering past an approaching girl.

"Buffy?" Faith's voice breaks. "You're dead too?"

"I--I'm not sure," Buffy says, embracing the shaking Faith. "Are you walking in my dreams? Am I dreaming yours?"

Faith glances back at the room from which she just emerged. "Dream or not, guess you get a chance to say goodbye to more than me. Got a couple of guys you might want to see."

She takes Buffy's arm, drawing her into the room where Wesley and Angel wait, closing the door.