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Looking at this gaudy bauble, I can imagine all sorts of outcomes when all’s said and done. Like, we save the world, right? That’s a given. And there’s smoke and fire and bits of debris falling all around, and me and my girl, we walk out into the sunlight –

That’s a possible outcome. The sunlight bit. I mean, who knows what this thing does, right? It could do anything. Make me shoot laser beams out of my eye sockets or something. Or pull great whopping loads of very important knowledge from out my arse.

Move planets with my fingertips. Realign the spheres with a single breath.

Could give me breath.

I mean, this trinket might be capable of completely altering the molecular structure of…lots of stuff. Anything. Me. Maybe.

Yeah.

So…anyway, we walk out, right? Crawl out, stumble out. Or…or maybe, maybe I’m carrying her out. Because she nearly dies what with the saving the world and all –

(look, there’s no way I’m being carried out by her this time, that’s all there is to that)

-- right. There we are, and there’s the world still with us, and birds chattering, and sun shining, and everyone’s smiling, glad to see us come out of it all right, and they’re clapping me on the shoulder, saying well done, good form. Maybe someone says thanks. Doesn’t matter if they do or don’t though, ‘cause I got my girl and the soddin’ sun on my face. So up yours, apocalypse.

Well, it’s a possibility anyway. A fantasy about a possibility. Because, not completely stupid here. I know the most likely outcome.

Been courting the mistress of death forever. ‘Bout time she said yes.

***

Hark. She comes.

He was on his feet and moving towards her before she was halfway down the stairs. Should have been a swell of music. Wagner and the Valkyrie. Because, hey, destiny and death calling.

Ah, but that’s not ‘til tomorrow, noon-ish.

Christ, she’s beautiful. Got that look about her, that presence of mind particular to her and her alone. He’d seen it before. More than resolve, more than determination – I may die, but there’s no way in hell I’m gonna lose. It was the thing about her he loved most, and suddenly it was too much.

What to do with himself in these intervening hours? What would she do? What could they say to each other? He broke eye-contact first, glanced down at his feet, aware of their “aw shucks” shuffling on the cold concrete.

She and Dawn had roller-skated round this floor once upon a time on a rare rainy Saturday in winter. She’d told him that story last year, in a post post-coital moment, a moment of easy intimacy as rare as rain. The story had made him laugh. The image of Bossy Buffy forcing a gawky 10 year old Dawn to pretend to be a world-class figure skater (whose name escaped him even now), so that athletically superior Buffy could skate literal rings around the child and thus snatch the pretend gold medal from the pretend champion. Dawn had thrown a huge tantrum apparently, and called their mother at work, which led to much yelling about maturity and responsibility. A funny story turned suddenly maudlin with the memory of a mother who would never yell at either of them again, and all knotted up with her efforts to escape responsibility there, with him. He’d tried to hold her, comfort her, and of course, that was the end of that moment.

Now, here they were, ages away from that time, with so many stories left untold. No time left to tell them. Moments upon moments rolling across the cold cement beneath his feet. A misstep and he’d slip, fall on his butt. Fail. Fail again. He wanted to say, “Won’t be you this time, Slayer. Not you or anyone that you love. I promise.” But he wasn’t sure he could keep that promise. Wasn’t sure it was up to him. All fate and destiny, wasn’t it? And a plan that relied on people who didn’t have the steel or the stones or the singular bloody-mindedness of this girl standing before him. He thought he’d have a good deal to say if a moment like this ever came, but realized that for the first time in his existence, he actually had no desire to say any of it.

Her mouth pursed, prepared to interrupt anything he had to say anyway. She was going to speak - something Significant, but ultimately Not Important. He didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t need a pep talk, didn’t need promises or praise. Just let it go, Buffy. Whatever it is you think needs saying, doesn’t.

“I want to spend the night with you. If that’s okay?”

He sighed in relief. Oh. That all? “What? Faith hogging the blankets again?”

She shrugged, not quite looking him in the eye. “I don’t think she’s planning on sleeping either.”

Either? “Likely none of us will get much of that tonight,” he acknowledged.

“Well, in our case, I kind of hope not.” The smile that touched her lips was a smile she’d never bestowed upon him before – simple, wide open, divine – like driving through the desert under a night sky scatter-shot with stars enough to make even a vampire blink in awe. He did blink. And made the famous gulping noise heard round the world. She could not possibly be saying what he thought she was saying. No fucking way.

She went to the cot and busied herself with the blankets, fluffed the sad pillow that was mostly bereft of fluff. “I told them I was gonna stay down here with you tonight, so…I mean, no one will bother us or anything, but we should probably try to be quiet.”

“What?” He shook his head, just a little. “I mean, uh…what?”

“We’ll have to be quiet. Which, I know, not your best thing, but I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. We should at least try to be considerate, you know, especially tonight—”

Then she was sitting on the bed, looking everywhere but at him. Half finished sentences and unfinished thoughts continued to fall from her lips. Lots of nouns turned into verbs. She could have been speaking Farsi for all he understood of it. His hands flew to his chest of their own accord, fists crossed over his naked heart. No words. There were no words for this feeling.

“—‘fraid I’d be roped into playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I so do not want to spend my last night on earth as a geek— what’s the matter?“

“You want sex?” There. He’d said it out loud, and oh god, what big eyes she turned on him, what big eyes all the better to see him with. The heat of her blush was like a blast from a furnace.

“Well, yes. I – I thought—“ voice tiny, tremulous. “Don’t you want to?”

“What’s this all about, Buffy? Why are you doing this?”

“Doing…? I don’t – I don’t think I get the question.”

“You know I’ve got no pride when it comes to you. I’ve as much as said it. Do anything you ask and then some, but I thought—I thought you’d— thought maybe, just maybe I’d earned a little fair regard. Some small crumb of respect.”

“Respect? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Right, don’t deserve it, know that well enough. But – I can’t – we can’t start all that up again. Not now. You can’t come to me, tonight of all nights, and expect me to take the edge off for you.”

What? That’s not what I—God, I can’t believe you’d even think—“

“Think what? This something different, then? Warrior bonding ritual? Some kind of ‘Johnny we hardly knew ye, farewell to arms, one kiss before I die’ fuck?”

She shot from the bed, pushing him out of her way, pushing hard, but blindly, and was nearly at the top of the stairs before regret came crashing down on him. Fuck. How stupid was he? What difference did it make why? If she needed it, how could he not give it? “Buffy, stop. Please.” He watched her fist uncurl from the railing, but the trembling in her body didn’t subside, and her eyes stayed fixed on the door. “Look, I’m sorry. Last thing I wanted to do tonight is fight with you.”

“Last thing I wanted to do that’s for sure. But apparently you don’t want to have sex with me, so—“

“I want…whatever you want.”

Her face whipped around and she stared at him, eyes brimming, mouth tight with anger. “Jesus. You weren’t lying when you made that ‘willing slave’ declaration, were you? Don’t do me any favors.”

“Don’t need to do me any, either!”

“Fine. I won’t.”

“Fine.”

“Am I dismissed now?”

“Yeah. Leave.”

“I will.”

“Go on then.” She didn’t move. But her chin wobbled a bit. God damn it! “I don’t want you to go! Of course I don’t, as you bloody well know. Of course, I want you. I want you every bleedin’ day! All right? No help for it. But I don’t get to have you. Perfect penance for all my sins. So how you could – want. That. From me. After everything. It’s insane.”

“Spike…I thought we’d moved past all that.”

“Have you? Because if all’s forgiven, you have to bloody well tell me. Out loud. Don’t assume I’m privy to those conversations you have with me inside the safety of your own head.” She looked away, and he could see he’d struck a bit of truth with that one. It gave him no satisfaction. “Look. You need a good seeing to? I’d be an idiot to say no. Especially as I’m probably going to—“

Suddenly she was right up in his face. “Shut up. Don’t finish that sentence. Just…don’t. That’s not what this is about. And God you are an idiot!” She spun away from him then back so fast it made him dizzy. “I want to sleep with you, okay, and then sleep with you.” Vicious finger quotes hung around the word sleep. “You know, like people do?” The quotes around ‘people’ actually made him flinch. “I want to fall asleep all curled up in the wet spot with you, because we’re both too tired from fucking to care. I want to give you something, but I want to get something too. What’s wrong with that? It’s life affirming. Isn’t that what they say? Sex is about life, and that it goes on, and that we’re still a part of it, connected intimately to it, even after we’re dead? And … sex feels good.” Her little chin came up, like she was saying something no one had dared to say before. “We don’t have to be sad, or worried, or brave, or anything but right here, right now. If you want deeper meaning, I haven’t got it. You want assurances that it won’t be like before, well, Jesus Christ, Spike, how could it possibly be like before? This is completely new unexplored territory for us. Just because we happen to have…previous tracking experience doesn’t make it any less an adventure.”

He chuckled. “An experienced guide is very important.”

“Exactly. It’s kind of like we’re breaking new ground. With old shovels.”

“Familiar tools. Always the best.”

“Or maybe it’s like—“

“Quit while you’re ahead, Slayer.”

“OK.”

“I get it. Really.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. Come here.”

“OK.”

***

There is a still place at the heart of every act. A timeless point. Eternity in a moment. Quiet. Sublime.

“Sweaty,” she whispered, and licked the salty dew from around her lips. His tongue followed the trail left by hers, and slid into her mouth after it. She squirmed beneath him, pulled away from kisses to whisper, “Again, please.”

“Be a minute or two, my love, perforce I recover my manly vigor.”

“Perforce?”

“Yeah.” He rolled off, and she scooted her hot little bottom in close, forcing his naked back to the bare wall. He suppressed an unmanly squeak of shock. “Little word I picked up in the dark ages.”

“Quaint.”

“Isn’t it?” They’d been very good so far at being quiet. They were, however, unable to control the horrific, telltale rhythmic screeching of the bed’s rusty wheels across the concrete. “You think they heard?”

Her shoulders lifted in a tense shrug. “They’ll deal. We’re not hurting anybody.”

He brushed his fingers along her shoulder. “Not even each other.”

“Yay for us.”

“What’s the matter? Talk to me.”

She sighed, deep and threatening to go on forever. “I think I need a good cry.”

He could already hear it in her voice, smell the tears backed against the dam of her crumbling resolve. “Feel free.”

“I’m scared.”

“Me too. Woman’s tears. Oh, the horror.”

She slapped his arm lightly, but being the Slayer, there was quite a bit of sting. “It’s not funny. What’s wrong with me? I mean, shouldn’t I just be here now?”

“Buffy, if you feel like crying here and now, then go ahead. Get it out, get shed of it.”

“What if I- what if I can’t stop?”

“You’ll stop when you’re done. Only so many tears the human body can produce before it needs a glass of water.”

She sniffled loudly, and rubbed her nose against her arm. “How do you know, Mr. the Bloody?”

“I lost both my sisters within six months of each other. Then my father passed a year later. I remember thinking it was never going to stop. But it did. Like you, with your mum.”

That was the key that set her off. Choking sobs shook the bed nearly as much as their quiet sex had done minutes before. He lay with his arm across her, not saying much of anything, strangely calm in the face of this storm. After a few minutes, the sobs turned to hiccups, then great wet sniffles as she endeavored to suck the snot back into her sinus cavities. The sheets were in danger of more than a wet spot.

“Crap,” she muttered with a soggy giggle. “I need a Kleenex.”

I’ll fetch.” He climbed over her and pulled on his jeans. The amulet was in the pocket, a sudden heat against his flesh. He could ignore it for a while yet.

“Um, better make it a box.”

“Right.”

“No wait. Make that a roll of toilet paper. We’re out of Kleenex.”

He nodded.

“Um…Spike?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Maybe a glass of water? With ice in it? I think there’s still some in that big cooler on the back porch.”

“Shall I send down the slave girls to peel you some grapes while you’re waiting?”

“Very funny… wait. Do we have grapes? Cuz grapes would be nice.”

He laughed quietly to himself as he ascended the steps. Tomorrow she’d be the Slayer again. She’d be the general leading troops into battle with a pithy remark and an insouciant swing of her hips. And wouldn’t that be something to see? He’d die happy seeing that. But tomorrow was tomorrow. Right now, the most important thing in the world was fetching a glass of water and a fistful of toilet paper to his blithely demanding girl.

And, possibly, locating grapes.