Buffy lay in the middle of her lovers' tangled limbs, trying but failing to sleep. Her body was flush with the satisfaction of the repeated orgasms they had brought her to, and she had been exhausted even before they had tumbled into bed. Fighting their way through an entire clan of demons to retrieve the gauntlet had been hard work, for all that it had also got them all worked up.
In the morning they'd take the mystical artefact to Willow and she could try to figure out what to do with it, but for now it was locked in Buffy's weapons chest; even then, a faint glow escaped through the cracks. Maybe that was that was keeping her awake. On the other hand, maybe it was Faith's arm pressed against her side; Buffy wiggled her way out from underneath her, causing Faith to slip onto her front and start snoring gently.
Great. Now there was no chance of getting to sleep. Buffy rolled onto her back, squeezing herself into the now much smaller gap between Faith and Spike, and stared up at strange shadows cast across the ceiling by the green glow from the gauntlet. For a moment, she thought she could see swirling patterns in it, but she blinked and they went away; it was just a sign of how dog-tired she was. Her eyelids felt heavy; she blinked again and this time they stayed shut. Faith's snoring became a steady rhythm in the background and eventually, somehow, she fell asleep.
* * *
Buffy heard footsteps coming down the hallway and quickly slammed her locker shut, hoping that the greenish glow from the gauntlet hadn't been spotted by whoever was coming. The bright sunlight streaming in ought to help, she hoped. It had gotten light awfully quickly, actually, hadn't it? Suddenly she couldn't quite remember what she had been doing up until this moment; it felt as though she had spent the whole morning up until now on autopilot.
The footsteps she had heard turned out to belong to Faith which is a relief on the not-having-to-come-up-with-an-explanation front. "Hey, B, wanna cut class?"
"Well, I was going to take the gauntlet to Giles at recess--"
"After an hour of Math. Who needs geometry anyway?"
"Come on," Faith said, taking Buffy's hand in hers and dragging her out. Something about the gesture felt easy, right. Not what she would have expected; Faith was still new in town, wasn't she? Maybe it was a Slayer thing. But it hadn't been quite the same with Kendra, had it?
Faith kicked open the janitor's closet and they stepped through into a vampire nest: a dozen or more figures slumped around the room. Some sleeping vampires; some, she realised with a churn in her stomach, their drained victims.
This time she spoke her uneasiness out loud. "This was right here in the school all along?" she said to Faith. "That seems unlikely."
"The darkness is everywhere," Faith said. "Even inside you."
"Especially inside you," said a voice from the shadows. From the way the vampires started to stir, this was clearly their leader. His voice seemed familiar somehow. As he emerged into the dim light coming in through the drawn curtains, she saw why: it was Spike.
"No wait," Buffy said. "This doesn't make sense. You two didn't meet until much later. Oh, I get it! This is all some sort of weird--"
* * *
Buffy jerked awake as the tyres screeched and they came to a stop. "I was having the weirdest dream. I was back in high school--"
"Probably because that's where we're going, love," Spike said. He peered gingerly out of the small section of the windshield that wasn't blacked out. "In fact, here we are, home sweet cratered home."
"Why are we back here again?" Faith asked.
"Blah blah prophecy blah blah mystical energy blah," Buffy said. "Y'know, the usual."
"Let's go, then," Faith said.
"I'll stay in here a little longer," Spike said. "Got my pallor to work on, you know?"
Faith and Buffy climbed out of opposite sides of the car and climbed up to sit next to each other on the hood. They heard a muffled "Hey!" from inside as Spike protested against the damage they might or might not be doing. They watched as the desert sun went down, giant orange-red against the distant horizon. The giant circular canyon in front of them was a rich umber in its dying rays, all trace of it once having been a town completely gone. A few high clouds scudding across the sky glowed pink.
"Pretty sunset," Faith said.
"Yeah, it's pretty pretty," Buffy said. "I didn't think you were that big on noticing pretty things."
"Noticed you, didn't I?" Faith said, stroking a finger down Buffy's cheek.
"Eventually," Buffy said.
"First time we met, all the way back here," Faith said. "It was you who eventually noticed me."
They leaned in towards each other and kissed as the sun sank lower.
They were still kissing, oblivious to the cooling of the air as the sun finally disappeared, when they heard the driver's door swing open and Spike emerged. "Are we doing this or not then?"
"Depends what you mean by 'this'," Faith said mischievously, pulling him in.
"We are supposed to be there at midnight," Buffy said. "And it is a long walk all the way to the middle."
"You're no fun," Faith said.
"I'm lots of fun. I'm just also responsible. Most of the time."
"I'm not responsible," Spike said. "I just want this over with."
They scrambled down the steep walls of the crater, looking out for each other, then walked under the stars towards the centre. They talked little, conserving their energy.
"We're sure the Hellmouth is closed, right?" Faith said as they got closer to where the school had once been.
"Giles is completely sure," Buffy said.
"Don't know why you're worrying about his opinion when you've got someone who lived through it right here."
"You didn't live through it, honey," Buffy said.
"All right, someone who died in it, came back as a ghost, and then got his body back," Spike elaborated. "And in better shape than ever, I might add. I was still here when it happened. And it definitely closed."
"Forget I said anything," Buffy said.
"But if it's closed how come there's still mystical energy or whatever?"
"Who knows?" Buffy said. "Ley lines? Are ley lines a thing?"
They reached what seemed to be the centre, directly over the former location of the Hellmouth, and looked around them.
"I'm not seeing anything mystical," Faith said. "Just lots of dirt."
Buffy checked the time on the display of her phone. "It's not quite midnight yet. But, I agree, none of this is feeling very mystical."
Spike yawned. "This better not all have been for nothing," he said. "I can think of much more fun things the three of us could have done on a road trip than stand around in the empty middle of a non-Hellmouth."
Buffy checked her phone again: still a couple of minutes to go. But whatever clock the mystical forces worked off didn't seem to be entirely synchronised: suddenly there was a bright green glow filling the air around them. Buffy shielded her eyes with her hand and peered into it, seeing a metal glove floating in mid-air.
"Hey!" Buffy said. "That thing was in my dream."
"The sleeper must not wake," Spike intoned.
"What?" Buffy said.
"Death is your gift," Faith said.
"Ohh," Buffy realised. "I'm still--"
* * *
Buffy's head bounced off the window of the Greyhound bus, waking her up. She couldn't believe she was on her way to Cleveland, on several levels. On her way to see Faith and Spike and their little squad of newbie Slayers. On her way to the Hellmouth that they guarded.
Things had not gone well the last time she had seen Faith and Spike; they had come to LA and they had ended up arguing about everything and nothing. They hadn't spoken for some time when Faith had called out of the blue, asking her to come but unwilling to say more on the phone. Buffy very much wanted everything to just be back to normal. Or at least, their particular brand of not-normal. It had taken a long time, but she had finally accepted that she didn't get to have a normal life, and that that wasn't necessarily the end of the world. Although she had had to live through the end of the world a few times before the point really hammered home.
Faith still didn't emerge from the shadows as Buffy reached her. "Long time, no see," she said as she straightened up from her position slouched against a pillar.
Buffy decided to be bold. She pulled Faith towards her and kissed her. Faith returned the kiss, but she felt cold to Buffy, as though she was sick. "Faith, are you OK?" she asked.
"Never better, B," Faith said, but it sounded insincere even by her standards. "Come on," she said.
Faith kept herself to herself as they made their way back on the Rapid to the large town house Faith, Spike and the others shared. When they got inside, Buffy's first thought was that the living roomwas in a squalid state. Heck, even Faith's motel room when she'd first arrived in Sunnydale had been better than this. The mirror on the wall was broken, the curtains drawn. Stacks of pizza boxes littered the floor and every flat surface. The TV had been left on, whatever channel it was switched over to Teleshopping by now.
"What's going on, Faith?" Buffy said. "You still wouldn't tell me on the way over here why I'm here. But this place ... Where's Spike? Where are the girls? I thought--"
"Spike's in the basement."
"Spike's locked up in the basement."
Buffy did her best comedy double take, but Faith remained serious. "What happened?" she asked.
"His soul," Faith said. "He lost his soul. Some megamaxidemon or other hired a warlock to do a spell and poof! Spike's back in full on 'William the Bloody' mode. We nearly lost two of the girls bringing him in."
"Could you have staked him?"
Faith looked at her. "Do you think I should have?"
Buffy looked away. "So? You have him locked up. What do you need me for?"
"We have no clue what we're doing. The girls are out looking for clues, trying to see if there's, I don't know, a soul jar or something. Is that what you even call it? Like I say, it's the clueless leading the clueless out here. But you--"
"Exactly," Faith said. "You've been here before."
"And here was me half-hoping this was a booty call."
"Sorry." Faith gave her a wan smile. "Come on, this way." She led Buffy down a set of wooden steps into a room that was larger than Buffy had been expecting. A naked bulb provided the only light, and about three-quarters of the room was separated off from the entrance by thick iron bars. Behind them stood Spike, stripped down to a tight black T-shirt and jeans.
"I wrote a poem about your neck," he said to Buffy as she stepped into the room, his tone at once earnest and mocking. "Would you like to hear it?"
"No," Buffy said vehemently.
"I rhymed 'alabaster' with 'sticking plaster'," Spike said, looking straight at her. "And 'carotid' with 'spotted'."
"I said, 'no'."
"All right, all right," Spike said, putting his hands up in a mock surrender gesture and walking back to the bench at the back of his cell. "No harm, no foul."
"I should've staked you while I had the chance," Buffy said.
"Well, you certainly did have plenty of chances!" Spike laughed. He started counting off on his fingers. "Me chained up in your bathtub. When that lovely Riley fellow wanted to, you could have let him. Pretty much any time I had that chip in my head and couldn't fight back. All those times we shagged." He made a show of running out of fingers to count on as he thought through the latter category in his head. "So why didn't you ever take them, I wonder?"
"Like I say, I should have."
"But you didn't." In two long strides, Spike was back up against the bars of the cell, stretching his hand out through them. He reached out to stroke Buffy's arm; she flinched away but Spike grabbed it too quickly. "And I know why. You know why. You always wanted the darkness. No chip, no soul, nothing to hold me back."
"I did not--"
"You don't have to lie any more, Buffy," Spike said. Spike opened the door of the cell -- that wasn't right, he was locked in there, wasn't he? -- and stepped out. He pulled Buffy close to him. "I've killed two Slayers," he said. "I've fucked two Slayers. I couldn't honestly tell you which was better."
"Faith!" she yelled.
Faith came over, but instead of drawing her stake or pulling Buffy away, she came up behind Buffy and circled her arms around her waist. She kissed her neck, her lips cold like before in the bus station. Buffy turned ...
And in that second, everything came together in her mind. The coldness of Faith's lips. Faith's staying in the shadows at the bus station, and under cover on the way back here. The broken mirror in the living room. And all of it confirmed by the sight of Faith's crumpled forehead, the feeling of sharp fangs brushing against her neck ... She used to be so much better at this. Had the darkness infected her already, that she couldn't see what was right in front of her face? All of this had been an elaborate piece of theatre for her benefit, to bring her to this point.
It wouldn't be so bad, would it? she thought, as her two vampire lovers embraced her. To finally give in to the dark. She had spent so long resisting it. Faith had already. If Spike ... Maybe Spike had never left the dark, not really. Now the night could be theirs, to rule forever together.
"Let me, pet," Spike said, pushing Faith's face away. Faith snarled back at him, but Buffy ignored it, the whole world telescoped down to the points of Spike's fangs as they bit into her. "Now we can be together forever, all three of us."
Glimmering over Spike's shoulder, competing for Buffy's awareness, was some sort of glowing glove.
"All you darkest dreams come true," Faith whispered.
That was right, wasn't it? This was all just another--
* * *
Buffy woke up to find Spike's arms wrapped around her.
"Are you all right, love?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she said, sitting up. "Just-- Just a weird dream, is all."
They had fallen asleep outside on the lawn.
"Hey! You're not burning up. We're out in the sunshine and you're not burning up."
"That dream must have really done a number on you," Spike said. "I turned human years ago."
"How else do you think he could have given us these two beautiful moppets?" Faith said as she emerged onto the lawn, tousling the hair of the children before giving them a pat on the head to encourage them to run off into the deeper recesses of the garden. "I never expected I'd enjoy being a mom so much," she said.
"I didn't enjoy the pregnancy part," Spike said. "If we have more you can take it in turns."
"You loved it really," Faith teased. "All those excuses to wait on us hand and foot, give us footrubs--"
"I can think of other ways to serve you two's needs," Spike said with a grin.
"Later," Buffy said. "When the kids are in bed," she whispered, seeing them running back towards the house.
"Mom, Mom, Dad, look! Look what we found!" Little Anya was carrying something heavy with both hands. It seemed to be glowing slightly. As she got closer, Buffy realised what it was: a metal glove.
"I'm still dreaming," Buffy said. "This is some sort of ... I don't know what this is." Was this a dream of hers? Or someone else's?
"This is the life you think you sacrificed," Spike said. "But it's not a life you were ever going to have. You were made for the darkness."
And then he said no more, collapsing to the floor with a stake in his chest, steadfastly not evaporating into a cloud of dust. Faith was bent over him, stake in hand, smiling at Buffy. They were back in the high school hallway. Maybe they had been there all along.
"What?" Faith said. "It's not like he was real! Like you said, just another dream world vision quest whatever." She dropped her stake to put a hand on Buffy's waist. "Say, don't you find a good slaying gets you going?"
"He wasn't a vampire," Buffy said.
Faith leaned in insistently to kiss her, ignoring the corpse at their feet, but Buffy turned aside. "You're not real either," she said.
"I feel real to me," Faith countered. She took Buffy's hand and placed it on her chest. "Don't I feel real to you?" She pulled Buffy towards her to whisper in her ear, "Don't you want me? You can take me if you want me."
"Want, take, have?" Buffy said. "The real Faith knows better than that now." She looked into the vision's eyes. "She even knew better back then, deep down. I know that now. You're just a memory of how I used to feel about her."
Faith pulled her closer. "Maybe I should be the one taking what I want."
"Stop this," Buffy said, yanking herself away. "Whoever-- whatever you really are controlling all this, show yourself."
Faith began to laugh. The sound echoed down the hallway, until there was no hallway, only the echo, and it was the echo from the walls of a cave, and the Slayer standing before her was not the last to have been called before Willow's spell, but the very first.
"You were given a gift," the First Slayer said as she launched an attack.
Buffy blocked. "These days, the polite thing is to include a gift receipt. Because believe me, if I could have taken it back to the store, I would have."
They circled one another warily, staying close to the fire in the centre of the cave. Buffy tried to ignore that it was just a dream: she had the feeling this might turn out to be one of those "die in the Matrix, die in real life" deals.
"The gift was not for you," the First Slayer said. "It was for all the people of the Earth. You were given it to hold in trust."
There were murmuring noises coming from the walls. Buffy couldn't see anything beyond the other Slayer, illuminated by the flickering flames. Were there people in the shadowed recesses of the cave? Who were they?
"And again, been there, done that," Buffy said, thinking of Dawn, the sister she only had because the monks had needed to hide the key from Glory.
"The people yet to come," the First Slayer said, lashing out with a fist that Buffy blocked easily. She recoiled but said, "You have robbed them of their gift."
The murmuring sound was getting stronger, and the voices didn't seem human.
Suddenly, the First Slayer was bringing down the Scythe on Buffy. Buffy ducked and rolled out of the way. "Hey!" she said. "You didn't have that a second ago!" Then Buffy grinned as she realised two could play that game. She imagined the Scythe in her own hand and suddenly there it was. She jumped back up to her feet and saw that unfortunately this hadn't taken it away from the First Slayer as she had hoped it might.
Their blades met with a clash and they stared at each other through the crossed metal. The shafts of their Scythes pressed into each other, perfectly matched, each waiting for the other to slip up and make some sort of mistake.
Buffy was dimly aware of the shadows at the side of the cave deepening. The fire she could see reflected in the First Slayer's eyes didn't seem to be burning any less brightly, however.
There was a sudden sensation of cold down her back, and then it turned into fingers running down her spine. Fingers she knew all too well.
"Come out where I can see you," Buffy said.
Something with the body and face of Angel, but which wasn't Angel, stepped out from behind her and faced her.
"The prophecies are broken," the First Slayer and the First Evil said in unison.
"The Slayer and the vampire with a soul," the not-Angel said.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Been there, done that."
"They saw it coming," Angel said. "Parts of it. The Slayer and the vampire with a soul. This is ... thousands of years ago we're talking about. The great seers of ancient times. Not so long ago that Slayers and vampires weren't already legends to them. But they saw it coming."
"So, what, the gauntlet is linked to some dumb prophecy?"
"It's supposed to be a present!" Angel laughed. "It's the gem that's the important part; I don't know why some mediaeval type wanted to put it in a glove. The gem was a boon, for the star-crossed lovers. It would give them the chance to experience the life they could have had." He stepped closer to her. "The life we could have had."
"A boon, before the Slayer did what she knew had to be done," the First Slayer said.
"No," Buffy said. "It's not as simple as that. Never."
"The prophecies are broken," the First Slayer said again. "You have broken them."
"I'd say we're just fulfilling them differently, love," said a new voice. Buffy's heart sank at the prospect of yet another fake Spike to deal with.
"Two vampires with souls out there," Faith said, approaching from behind the First Slayer. "And a whole lot of vampire slayers."
"Wait, you two are real?" Buffy said, looking from one to the other.
"As real as anything in this poxy dreamworld," Spike said. "Why is your subconscious a cave, anyway? Doesn't that have some Freudian--"
"It's a Slayer thing!" Buffy said quickly. "Slayer thing, totally a Slayer thing. I was ... back in high school before this." She didn't need to tell them all the details, she decided. Though she was curious how the vision quest or whatever was going on had manifested for each of them. "Wait, what did you get?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Spike said. "There was a lot of poetry involved."
"I mostly had some guy wanting to give me cheese," Faith chipped in. "And, y'know, vampire-y stuff. Lots of vampire-y stuff. Vampire-y stuff and cheese."
"Spike," Angel said, "do me a favour and kill these two, will you?"
"I'm done taking orders from you," Spike said. "Done taking orders from Angel too, for that matter. Several times over."
"The chain is broken," the First Slayer said again.
"You know, you're very repetitive," Buffy said. "I get it, you think everything's broken."
"The chain of Slayers," Angel said. "Ever since they first made her, right up until you, there was always one girl in all the world--"
"And now there are thousands," Faith said. "Out there in the real world, we call that winning."
"Thousands now, but no more will be called," the First Slayer said.
"And you can't get rid of me," Angel said. "I'll live on in the hearts of all you mortals for as long as any of you continue to exist. One day all you Slayers will be gone, and your species will be defenceless."
"You two must be ended," the First Slayer said. "Only then can the chain begin again."
"But you don't want that?" Buffy said to Angel. "I mean, you seem to be going along with her plan, her plan that's supposed to help us be defended against you. I'm not really seeing the logic here, Mr All-Powerful Evil From The Dawn of Time. I mean, unless the two of you have joined forces to... what, judge my lifestyle choices?"
Angel smiled -- no, Angelus smiled. He said in the soft tones of his original accent, "I could pretend it was all about the need to maintain the overall balance of the cosmos. But the truth is, I just really, really want to kill you until you're very dead. You really pissed me off."
Buffy watched Spike and Faith get into position, nodding minutely at them as she said, "There's one thing you guys just never learn. The thing that makes me different. I've got friends."
Spike attacked Angel and Faith the First Slayer at the same moment. Distracted, they both turned away from Buffy. First, she used the Scythe to knock the First Slayer off balance, then swung it into Angel's back. The First Evil discorporated, in the final moment seeming to be every demon she had ever faced simultaneously.
Faith was on her knees over the First Slayer, getting ready to beat her into submission, when she disappeared too.
"Nice work," Buffy said. "We're a good team."
"Don't get sappy on me now, B."
"So what happens next?" Spike said. "I mean, we don't appear to have woken up. Do we have to clap? Click our heels together three times?"
"Who says we have to wake up straight away?" Faith said.
They both looked at her.
"What? We could, y'know, turn it into a sex dream," Faith said. "That'd be pretty hot. I've never had sex in a dream before." She made a face at their sceptical looks. "Intentionally."
The cave surroundings started to fade, morphing into something not unlike a hotel room. Buffy looked at Faith, who was suddenly naked, and realised that she was too. She reached behind her and found, as she had hoped, Spike's cock already hard. She pulled him towards her and he took the hint, grabbing her hips and sliding himself back and forth over her folds.
"This was a good idea," Buffy said.
Faith kissed Buffy and then dropped to her knees, making long slow strokes with her tongue that started on Spike's shaft and ended on Buffy's clit. Buffy felt a sudden rush of arousal and then suddenly Spike was inside her and Faith had switched to flicking her tongue hard and fast over Buffy's clit. Buffy reached behind with one hand and down with the other, tangling her fingers into both her lovers' hair. Spike leaned in to kiss her neck and it was just like before, when he'd nearly turned her--
* * *
Suddenly Buffy was awake in the bed. Spike and Faith next to her were both moaning lightly in their sleep.
She lay back, staring at the ceiling again. Felt the bedsheets and her lovers to check that they were real, that she was back in the apartment. Satisfied that it was all over, she quickly returned to feeling annoyed at being sleepless, now with a side order of jealousy at the fun they were having in their continuing dreams.
But then Spike was brushing her hair away from her neck. "Are you OK, love?" he asked, leaning to kiss her in just the same way as he had in the dream.
"I'm fine," Buffy said. "Just please don't-- Don't do that, not right now."
Spike pulled back. "OK." He put a hand on her hip. "This is all right, though?"
"Very all right," Buffy said, putting her hand over his to guide it to her pussy, show him how wet she was. He quickly slid two fingers inside her, crooking them to find her G-spot. "Fuck, Spike!" With some difficulty, and great reluctance, she pulled his hand away. "We should wake Faith up," she said.
"I don't know, she looks like she's enjoying herself." Spike was right -- Faith was all but humping the mattress in her sleep.
"Yeah," Buffy said as she reached her hand out to stroke Faith's back, "but what if she's dreaming about making out with that cheese guy?"
"You're right," Spike said, manoeuvring round Buffy to start kissing his way up Faith's legs. "We really must wake her up ..."