They were going to lose, this time. They were going to lose, and Buffy knew it.
Willow's spell had worked, had made all of the potentials into Slayers with a capital S, but it had only prolonged the inevitable. She'd done the best she could, made the hard decision. It was what they all expected of her, and it wasn't like anyone else was going to do it, not when it came right down to it. And even though they'd gone into battle with the odds stacked against them plenty of times before, this time the bad guys outnumbered the good guys to a staggering extent. The Shadow Men hadn't been kidding; the vision they'd given her had come alive -so to speak - before her eyes. It wasn't that she hadn't believed them, but every other time she'd been the underdog, she'd still managed to find that little bit extra, that special something, that pulled them through. Maybe the power they'd offered her had been that something extra. Maybe she'd made a huge mistake.
She was fighting with a big old hole in her gut now, and while she'd picked herself up off the ground and rallied the troops, it was only a matter of time before more of them started to fall. In her peripheral vision, she saw Amanda's body sprawled motionless in the dirt. Of all the potentials, she was the one Buffy had allowed herself to feel the most affection for. Now she barely had time to register her death, other than to note that they were now fighting with one less Slayer.
But when she glanced over at Spike, saw him still standing, still fighting, Buffy felt a flood of feeling rush over her, and she quickly looked away. She couldn't afford to go there right now, or she really would be done for. She hadn't told anyone, not even him, but this felt like The Big One. If they could just get through this, she had the strongest feeling that there was something new waiting on the other side of it. Something for her and Spike, even. They had begun to build something; it was still newborn and fragile, but it held promise. If they just took care of it, they could have something special. She knew she wasn't exactly the nurturing type, but she wanted to try. She really wanted to try. She'd tried to tell him that the other night, but it had come out all wrong. And now she might not get the chance to say it again.
She focused all her energy on the scythe and took off the heads of three more Turok Han, while dozens more climbed up to join the fight.
Buffy looked back over her shoulder and saw Spike stumble backward, his hand clutching at the amulet as if in pain. She threw the scythe to another slayer and ran to him.
As Spike fell to his knees in agony, a golden light filled the amulet, and then burst forth like a thousand rays of sunshine. Turok Han began exploding all around her, and her mouth and eyes were filled with their dust. As Buffy dropped down and crawled towards Spike, the ground began to shake and the ceiling opened up, letting in the daylight.
"Let's go! Everybody move!" Faith shepherded the rest of the Slayers up and out of the basement. "Buffy, come on!"
As the last of the Turok Han dusted, the light faded from the amulet, and Spike sagged with exhaustion. Buffy had to half-drag, half-carry him from the Hellmouth, pulling his coat over his head to protect him from the bright sunshine. By the time they reached the bus, he was a bit singed around the edges, but didn't appear to have any major damage, at least physically.
The bus doors had barely closed behind them before Giles took off. He was driving as fast as he could, but the ground continued to give way behind them and they were barely keeping ahead of it. Finally, at the outskirts of town, he was able to slow and finally stop the bus. The damage seemed contained within the city limits.
"Here Buffy." Dawn handed her one end of a blanket. "We can put this over the windows so Spike doesn't get deep fried."
"Thanks." Buffy smiled gratefully at her sister. "I think he's only lightly toasted at the moment." They stretched out the blanket and tucked it into the bus windows. Dawn gave Buffy a quick hug before going to check on some of the injured.
"Spike? Are you alright?" Buffy touched his shoulder and he sat up slowly, rubbing the back of his neck. She saw that the area beneath the chain of the amulet was faintly red, like a burn.
"Guess so. Feel...strange." He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the blanket covered window.
Buffy reached over the back of the seat and touched Willow's hand. "Hey, Will? What do you think happened with this amulet? And why is it making Spike feel all wonky?"
Willow leaned forward and carefully wrapped her fingers around the amulet. "I'm not sure, but it was packing some powerful mojo. I can still feel the echoes." She let it go. "As for Spike, he's probably got a bit of a magic hangover. I...remember how those feel. It'll wear off in time." She frowned, the tips of her ears turning pink.
"Maybe I should take it off him." Buffy managed to slip the chain from around Spike's neck without waking him, and offered it to Willow. "Do you want to hang on to it?"
Willow's face brightened. "Sure! I'd love to do the research thing, when we have some time." She turned it over in her hands. "This must have some really interesting history behind it. Angel didn't know anything about it?"
Buffy shook her head. "Nope."
"Well, as soon as we get somewhere with an internet connection, I'll check it out."
"That may have to wait for a bit." Giles maneuvered through the obstacle course of Slayer feet and finally reached them. "We need to get Robin to a hospital right away. Possibly Rona, as well." He peered at Buffy's bloodstained shirt. "Is that your blood?"
"Oh. Yeah." Buffy lifted her shirt, and saw that the wound in her abdomen hadn't closed yet, but was no longer bleeding. "I'll be fine. You know me and hospitals. Just say no."
Giles nodded and gave her a tired smile. "How is he?" he asked, nodding towards Spike.
She knew he was mostly asking for her sake, but she appreciated the gesture. "I'm sure he'll be fine, but that amulet thingy really did a number on him."
"And on the Turok Han, I'm told. You'll have to tell me all about it, once we get everyone taken care of. I believe the nearest hospital is about seven miles away. I suggest we find some accommodations nearby for everyone else, at least for the night. Then we can decide what to do next."
"Sounds good." As Giles turned to leave, Buffy placed her hand on his arm. "Thank you for handling this, Giles. I'm not feeling all that planny right now."
Giles eyes flitted over to Spike, then back to her. "Understandable." He patted her hand before making his way back to the front of the bus and taking the driver's seat. As the bus began to move again, Buffy watched the dust rise from the place that, despite everything, had been her home. Sunnydale grew smaller and smaller in the distance, and then the road curved, and it was gone.
The bus rolled into the hospital parking lot, and Buffy got up and put her arm around Faith's shoulders as they waited for the gurney to arrive and take Robin.
"How's Liz doin'?" Faith asked.
"He's had a magical overdose, Willow says." She looked back at him, slumped against the bus window. "I hope he'll be okay."
Faith shrugged. "Saving the world takes a lot out of a guy, I guess."
Buffy couldn't hide her smile. "Yeah, I guess he did, didn't he?"
"He's a regular hero type," Faith said. Robin groaned, his face contorting in a grimace of pain. "Shit, he's bleeding again." She put her hands over his wound, and her eyes flashed angrily. "Why'd he have to go and get himself skewered? This caring about other people thing really has its downside, you know?"
"I know. But you have to take a risk once in awhile, or you're never going to have anything worthwhile."
The emergency room staff entered the bus and began to load Robin onto a stretcher.
"That sounds like good advice, B." Faith looked pointedly from Buffy to Spike. "Make sure you take it, alright?"
Buffy smiled as Faith headed down the bus stairs. "I will if you will."
The injured, along with Faith, Giles, and Dawn, were left at the hospital. Xander drove the bus to a motel less than a mile away, where they were given strange looks, but asked few questions by the man behind the desk.
"Money talks, even when you're covered in blood and vampire dust," Xander said, stuffing a wad of bills back into his jacket pocket. They'd all cleared out their accounts before the Sunnydale banks had closed up shop, though Buffy was sure it was mostly Xander and Anya's money. "You want I should room with dazed and confused over there?" he asked.
Buffy glanced over at Spike, who had propped himself up in the shade of the building. A cigarette hung out of his mouth, but the ash was an inch long. "Um, no. Actually, I..."
Xander's lips curved up briefly, a brave attempt at a smile. "You're with Slim. I got it."
In all the confusion, in her concern for Spike, Buffy realized she had said nothing to him about Anya. Damn it. How Andrew had escaped and she hadn't Buffy didn't know. "Xander, I'm so sorry about Anya. If I can..."
He held up his hand. "Not now, okay? I've had to listen to Andrew wax poetic about her the entire way here. Not that I don't appreciate it. I just can't wrap my feeble brain around it right now. I think I just need to be by myself."
Buffy gave him a brief hug and took one of the keys from his hand. "Why don't you make Andrew hand out the rest of these so you can get some rest?" He nodded and turned away. "Oh, and Xan?"
"You did good. In the fight. I knew I could count on you."
This time his smile was sad, but genuine. "Hey, I have faced the ire of Dawn Summers. And been soundly defeated, I might add. A bunch of pre-historic vampires are nothing compared to that."
Buffy smiled back. "Don't I know it. Now go get some sleep."
Spike stared out into the parking lot, which held nothing more interesting than their dusty school bus and a beat up Ford pick-up with Nevada plates, as far as she could tell. She gently removed the cigarette from his mouth and his eyes widened in surprise. "I think you forgot to smoke this," she said, grinding it out with the toe of boot. She looked at the key - number 8. "Come on, our room's down here."
"Our room?" Spike lagged several steps behind, but she decided not to take that, or his comment, personally.
"You got a problem with that?" she teased, turning the key in the lock. The door swung open, revealing one queen sized bed.
His breath tickling her neck when he spoke was a surprise; he was right there at her shoulder. "No problem," he said softly.
Buffy stood in front of the motel room door for a moment before unlocking it. Against her better judgment she'd left Spike there alone, going first to check on everyone at the hospital, then to the Wal-Mart down the road for clean clothes and a few toiletries. The attached McDonald's was the final stop. Vi had gone with her, and was now handing out toothbrushes and hamburgers to everyone else.
Buffy had hurried her along, eager to get back here. Now, though, she felt an odd nervousness. This was just Spike, she told herself. She'd slept in the same bed with him for the last few nights. This was no different. Except everything felt different all of a sudden. Full of possibility. Including the possibility that it could all go terribly, horribly wrong. Oh for God's sake Buffy, just go in. She took a deep breath, and turned the key in the lock.
"Quarter pounder with cheese, or A negative, what'll it be?" she called out, closing the door behind her. The only light came from the TV, and her eyes took a moment to adjust to the semi-darkness. Then she realized that Spike was in bed, asleep. It seemed he'd taken a shower; his clothes were piled near the bathroom door, and his hair was damp. She smiled when she saw the curls falling onto his forehead. He hated his curly hair, while she secretly loved it. She'd have to tell him that. Because she was the new and improved, relationship-savvy, emotionally available Buffy. She rolled her eyes at herself. Yeah, right.
The motel didn't have much in the way of amenities, but it did have a tiny refrigerator, so Buffy placed the blood she'd borrowed from the hospital inside. Giles had promised that someone would donate enough to make up for what she'd taken. Then she sat down in the one chair in the room and devoured both of the burgers she'd brought.
She took her time in the shower, using up most of the tiny motel soap that Spike had left there. The warm water pounded down on her, washing away layers of grime and blood. Her abdomen was still tender, and the soap stung a bit. After drying off carefully, she put on the knit pants and tank top she'd bought to sleep in.
The sheets that covered the bed were cheap and scratchy, but as she slipped into the bed beside Spike, it felt like five hundred thread count Egyptian cotton at The Ritz. She hadn't realized just how tired she really was. He lay on his side with his back to her, and when she pulled back the covers, she saw he wasn't wearing anything. Of course not; his clothes were filthy. She hesitated only a moment before spooning herself against him, wrapping one arm around him. His hand sought hers out, even in sleep, and brought them up to rest against his chest. The skin there was still warm from where the amulet had burned him. Buffy sighed, breathing in the familiar and comforting scents of soap and Spike and the faint smell of tobacco before drifting off to sleep.
It was the sound of his voice that woke her. Spike was a talker, even in his sleep, so that in itself wasn't unusual. Usually she couldn't even make out what he was saying - other than her name, on occasion. This time, the anger and fear she heard in his voice startled her.
"Spike?" She knelt beside him and shook his shoulder gently. "Spike, wake up."
"No! Wasn't the plan!"
His game face came forward, and he pushed her away violently, knocking her clear across the bed. "No!"
He growled, his eyes were wild and unseeing; Buffy could tell that he was still asleep. When he started to get up out of bed, she pushed him onto his back, pinning him down. He struggled for a moment before finally looking up at her with recognition. "Buffy?"
She sagged against him in relief, closing her eyes and rested her forehead against his for a moment.
"What'd I do? Did I hurt you?"
She raised her head. "No, you just had a bad dream, that's all. What was it about?"
He looked at her in confusion. "Don't remember."
She brushed the hair back from his forehead; though the ridges melted away, it was still creased with worry. "Willow said that the effects of the amulet should wear off soon."
"Hope so." He closed his eyes and seemed to relax a little. "Everything feels...off."
She was still sitting astride him, and all that separated them was the sheet and the thin fabric of her pants. She shifted her weight a bit, and felt him harden beneath her.
"Maybe you should move," he said softly, opening his eyes.
"What if I don't want to? Is that okay?" She lowered her head and brushed her lips across his.
"Maybe we've waited long enough."
Spike blinked up slowly at her, and then reached under the hem of her loose fitting top, his fingertips ghosting over her belly. Her wound had healed over, but was still tender below the surface. "Don't want to hurt you," he said.
"I know. And I don't want to hurt you, either."
There was more behind their words than just concern over battle wounds. There was always more. Everything that had happened between them both good and bad was still there, just under the surface. Ready to rise up and show itself if you dug too deep. That should have scared her - it had up till now. But now the only thing she was scared of was losing him. That had almost happened today. That could happen any day.
She rolled off him and onto her side, pulling him close so that they were face to face. "Do you know what I just realized?"
"That I'm really happy to be alive. And to be here, in this ugly bed, in this ugly motel room. With you."
She wasn't sure when it had become so important to her that he was okay, that he was close to her. That he was happy. Her feelings for him were complicated, and nothing she could put a name to before. Now it seemed simple, though. This, she thought, is what love is. And she was ready for it.
His fingers caressed her jaw before sliding up into her hair and pulling her in for a kiss.
She broke away just long enough to pull her top over her head, an invitation for his deft fingers to slide off her bottoms. With gentle hands he pulled her on top of him, and they both groaned at the full body contact. Skin on skin. Finally.
She hadn't kissed him, hadn't touched him like this in over a year. Or ever, really. Not in this way. Her hands wandered over his body while her lips seemed unable to leave his, unable to stop kissing that soft, lush mouth.
She wasn't sure how he'd be after his initial reluctance, but his fingers sought out just the right places, stroked and prodded until she was moaning and babbling his name. The feel of him was so familiar but at the same time brand new, and her skin prickled wherever it touched his. She couldn't wait any longer. She wanted to. She wanted to make it last all night, but she couldn't help it. He gazed at her with such solemn eyes as she sank down on him that she had to bite her lip to keep from crying.
Buffy wasn't used to saying the words; even now, she had to whisper them in his ear. She was afraid it wasn't good enough, that she hadn't done it right. But when she met his eyes again, the look he gave her just did her in. He held her close as she shattered around him, held her face in his hands and kissed her as he followed her over the edge.
"I love you, too, Buffy," he whispered back. "I love you, too."
Sleepy and sated, Buffy fitted herself to his side and pulled the covers up around them. Just a nap was what she planned. But the day, the week, the year she'd had had exhausted her, and she slept deeply, waking up in the same position several hours later. With one exception - there was a cold, empty space next to her where Spike had been. She sat up quickly and was relieved to see him standing across the room with his back to her. It was almost as if he was looking out the window, though the drapes were, of course, closed. He was wearing the jeans she'd bought for him, and nothing else. She took a moment to admire the view; the broad shoulders tapering to the narrow waist, the muscles of his back which flexed as he moved. He was smoking a cigarette, and every time he brought it to his mouth, his arm passed through a narrow beam of sunlight that was streaming in from a gap in the threadbare draperies. She saw a faint curl of smoke rise up off his skin, then disappear.
"Playing with fire a little literally over there, aren't you?" she asked. She meant it to be teasing, but it came out more seriously than she intended.
He glanced at her over his shoulder. "Might say the same for you, pet."
His face was so devoid of emotion that she barely recognized it. She shivered and drew the blankets up to her chin. "What do you mean Spike? What's wrong?"
Slowly he turned and stepped toward her, stopping just before he reached the end of the bed. So many emotions crossed his face so quickly that she was unable to identify a single one before the cool mask descended again. He took another drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke out of the side of his mouth. "It's gone, Buffy," he said.
"What's gone? What are you talking about?"
"My soul. It's gone."