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Escaping Dreams of Yesterday

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Running, running
far away.
Escaping dreams
of yesterday.
Faster, faster
there I go.
Forgetting things
you'll never know.
Dying, dying
deep inside.
Find a place
for me to hide.
Catching, catching
up with me.
No more running
from reality.
Stopping, stopping
let me cry.
Finding a way
to say goodbye.


- Living Again by Tina Harding

 

 

*

 

There were times where Buffy had loved her life, times where she was grateful for her first resurrection (but never her second, no).

There were times where she’d surrounded herself with friends, bubbling to the brim with light and sunshine and Chosen-y goodness.

 

Then, there’s now.

 

Now, post-Sunnydale.

Now, nearing the bottom half of another bottle and emptying another carton.

Now, locked in a room she hates, surrounded by people she doesn’t trust and her bastard of a Watcher at her door again.

 

She hasn’t loved her life in a long time.

 

“Buffy, you and Faith need to lead a team of slayers to Los Angeles. Angel declared war on the Circle of the Black Thorn.”

 

Buffy takes another swig from her bottle, glaring at the thing separating her from Giles.

 

“Why should I care?”

 

(She doesn’t care about much anymore)

 

She can practically feel Giles’s frustration through her locked bedroom door.

 

(She definitely doesn’t care about being little Miss Helpful Buffy anymore)

 

She doesn’t care enough to unlock it – Giles knew that when she wasn’t training or patrolling, she was to be left alone to drink and smoke herself to sleep.

 

He knew why too, he just refused to acknowledge it.

 

“The Circle of the Black Thorne is powerful, Buffy! Wolfram and Heart could very well trigger the Apocalypse because of Angel’s stupidity!”

 

She sighs, taking another gulp before setting the half-empty bottle on her nightstand.

Buffy barely feels the burn as it slides down her throat, and she’s still far too sober for sleep.

 

Or at least peaceful sleep that isn’t magically induced.

 

Buffy snorts, peace.

Like she’s going to get that while she’s living.

 

She’d been hoping to avoid another night like last night, to avoid the nights that seemed to sprinkle their way in every time she let her sober guard down.

She’d been hoping for a night that didn’t end with the scars on her hand catching fire and her screaming the name of her dead (permanent kind) lover.  (“I got the spark, and all it does is burn.”)

 

A night that didn’t force her to relieve her greatest nightmare and biggest regret and proudest moment wrapped in one (“I can feel it, Buffy, my soul. ’S really there.”)

A night that didn’t have the First’s teasing caress with the face of her love, baiting and bantering as if he’d never burned, as if he’d never left. (“Why the futility pet? Why bother? ‘M sure between the two of us we can figure out a permanent end to your life.”)

 

(He’d told her Drusilla dumped him because she tasted ashes and sunshine and Buffy, and Buffy can now understand why the mad vampiress had hated her so fiercely, can sympathize with her.)

 

And if she has to choose between relying on alcohol and relying on magic, she’s going to damage her internal organs every time.

 

(She trusts magic just as much as she trusts Giles and Angelus, that is, not at all. She’s already ripped her own heart out – literally and figuratively – so it’s not like organ failure hurts that much.)

 

Buffy’s discovered that a good fight and drink wore her out to the point where she didn’t dream at all, except her tolerance seemed to grow every night until it took an entire bottle to knock her out and several patrols.

 

Her slayer constitution is a bitch sometimes, especially after the whole power boost of immortality.

 

(Which, for the record, sucks balls)

 

Maybe she’s just indulging in self-pity.

But she thinks after however many times she’s saved the world, Giles can suck up and deal with her pity party.

 

“Buffy, Faith alone cannot stop something of this magnitude. We need our best out there, Willow and I will be providing magical defense and Xander will guard.”

 

Part of her hears the plea in Giles’s demands, the same part of her that forced her to keep living and slaying.

 

(The girl part of her that liked pink and fashion and cute shoes. The girl part of her that had loved Giles like a father, had trusted him with her life and her soul. The girl part of her that had been injected with drugs and lied to and abandoned and conspired against – for her “own good”. The girl part of her that was too hurt to care anymore)

 

She gives a sad smile, not that he can see it.

“Your best huh? Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t go behind your back and try to kill them.”

 

Buffy hears Giles’s sharp intake of breath, his irritated mutter of ‘oh for god sakes’ beneath his breath.

 

“Buffy, please open the door, we’ve already discussed what happened with Sp-“

 

Don’t.”

 

Soft, but firm. A shiver runs down her spine, heart beating uselessly in her chest.

 

Giles remains silent, hearing the warning in her voice.

 

“Don’t say his name, not to me. Not ever.”

 

There’s a tense pause, and for a moment she closes her eyes and breathes, in and out, letting the panic eb out of her, like Willow had shown her.

 

“I-I’ll let you in after I get dressed. Just…”

 

She looks at where the silver lighter is perched on her nightstand, next to the cigarettes and whisky.

The last thing she has of him.

 

A monument,

A memory,

A punishment.

 

God, he wouldn’t even recognize her now.

 

“Just give me a minute.” She repeats, softer this time.

 

 

She pulls on the outfit she’d worn the last few weeks – red top, black leather pants, leather jacket, and basic heeled boots.

 

It reminds her of Sunnydale, and all the ghosts that came with it.

It reminds her of him.

 

(“Nice work luv.” An appraising gleam, eyes raking over her. “Who are you?” a smirk, “You’ll find out on Saturday.” A slight hair flip, “What happens on Saturday?” a roll of his tongue behind his teeth, “I kill you.”)

 

Buffy thinks of Bronzing, longing for the simplicity of her dead town as she runs a brush through her flat, lifeless hair.

 

(Cocky stride, even as she denied it, the magnetic attraction they had, “What should I call you then? Pet?” closer, furiously close but not close enough, irritatingly far but not far enough, “Sweetheart?... Goldilocks?” a caress, loving, something she hated herself for allowing, “I always loved this hair, bouncing around you…”)

 

It doesn’t take her long to give up on bouncy-ness, deciding it wasn’t worth the effort.

 

(Not much felt worth the effort these days, least of all her vanity)

 

Her bouncy, golden tresses were a thing of the past, just like her ability to love and desire to exist.

 

She lights a cigarette (with a normal, non-metal, lighter) as she unlocks her door, letting Giles walk into her cloud of smoke without request.

 

He huffs, wiping his glasses furiously with a handkerchief.

 

Back to tweed suits, huh? Once a fashion disaster, always a fashion disaster.’

 

His irritation makes her feel a bit better, petty things to repay him for his various betrayals over the years.

 

She was still smarming about his conspiracy with Wood and had to actively remind herself that she cared for Giles each time she saw him. The righteous fury that boiled beneath her skin was hard to control, but she’s had a lot of practicing acting around her ‘family’ over the years.

 

Huh, ‘smarming’.

 

Makes her think of-

 

Her arms cross over her chest easily, defenses rising up the longer he’s silent. His judgement, his condemnation, were not things she tolerated, not after him.

 

“My ex fucked up again. What do you want me to do about it?”

 

Giles’s eyes dart around the room, soaking up the broken bottles and cigarette cartons littering the floor.

He sniffs her breath too, so she blows more smoke at him, satisfaction flooding her insides as he coughs.

 

“Have you been drinking?!”

 

Buffy is taken aback for a moment, because it was kind of a known thing that she drank too much.

Enough for kidney failure and other organ failure, not that it lasted more than a damn day.

 

She could’ve sworn Giles had helped Dawn, Willow, and Xander plan the last over-skype intervention…

 

(Because of course they were too busy to deal with her in person, why hang with a broken Chosen One when there were hundred of others with less hang-ups? Hell, he would have a field day, be it in killing or fucking. Hopefully this other slayer (or slayers) would treat him better than she had, not wait until too late to love him. Not that these imaginary lovers could love him, since he was ash in the Sunnydale wind.)

 

She mentally shrugs, not like she cares.

 

“Duh.”

 

Giles glares at her, berating Watcher-y speech on his tongue, as she cuts him off, annoyed.

 

“Shut up Giles. I haven’t cared what you thought of me for a long time. Now, what will get you out of my room and away from me?”

 

Preferably away from Cleveland and back in England, where she couldn’t see the face that had sent the Slayer of Slayers to his death.

 

(Sent her to her death, several times)

 

She couldn’t rip his head off if he was across the world, and with the amount of energy it took to not kill him, she was seriously considering Watchercide.

 

“We need you to stop the Apocalypse again, Buffy. Angel’s team is dead, and he’s refusing all forms of contact.”

 

He throws a folder on her bedside table, full of pictures of people she doesn’t know but had seen during various visits to L.A. over the years

 

There’s a red ‘X’ painted over each face, with the exception of Lorne and Angel.

Lorne’s listed as missing, and Angel as unliving.

 

(She doesn’t notice the picture hidden beneath the pile, pulled from her sight by Giles as her eyes left him. Another betrayal unregistered; one she doesn’t learn of until much later)

 

She pauses as she comes across a familiar face.

 

“Wesley’s dead?”

 

It was weird, seeing Wesley laid out in a photo and declared dead.

She’d absolutely loathed him as her watcher, but he’d grown into a good man, according to Willow.

Buffy can’t remember the last time she’d talked to him, what she’d said.

That hadn’t mattered to her, before, that they’d never really talked after his disastrous time playing watcher and the Council firing him, but she feels like it should have.

She hadn’t thought about him since before Sunnydale imploded, and now she wonders if she could’ve changed anything.

 

So many regrets…

 

“Yes. He died assisting Angel.”

 

She sets the picture down gently.

 

Just another person lost in their war.

 

(Just another Ms. Calendar, or Kendra, or Angel, or Tara, or Anya, or …)

 

Buffy sighs, taking a slow drag.

 

(She can pretend he’s here when she chases whiskey with nicotine and violence.)

 

“When do we leave?”

 

Giles’s eyes widen, surprised by her easy acceptance.

 

“Now, actually.”

 

Her eyes widen too.

 

 

“Oh.”

 

(No prep makes a girl dead, but she couldn’t die anymore so who gives a fuck)

 

*

 

Damn you Angel,’ she curses, narrowly dodging another surge of flames from a fucking dragon of all things, ‘Damn you to hell and stay there this fucking time.’

 

The anger’s had time to build, like a forest fire in California.

She’d gone over the notes Giles had on Angel a couple times on the helicopter ride, all the things he’d never bothered mentioning and the things he’d hidden from her.

 

(Although she’s sure her friends were happy to help with that)

 

It’s burning now, raging in ways she’s never let it before.

 

There were so many things she held against her ex-lover, things she didn’t like to think of, and they all seemed to rush her at once.

 

The way he stalked her at Dawn’s age, waxing of love with no intentions of returning hers.

The way he murdered Ms. Calendar, murdered those girls that looked like her, and made her feel like it was her fault.

The way he constantly violated her privacy, with or without a soul, and acted as if it was his right.

The way he went behind her back, treating her as a child rather than a partner, trying to do her job for her rather than with her.

The way he lied to her, used her love as an anchor when he wasn’t hers.

The way he never said what he meant or what he thought.

The way he left without asking, decided what she needed without her permission or request.

The way he hated her without a soul, when his grandchilde loved her more without one than Angel loved her with one

 

 

Maybe she’s being a bit too harsh, too bitter and cynical from the nonstop drug called reality constantly being shoved down her throat.

 

(Reality from each death, reality from each mistake she let herself make or each detail she didn’t notice quick enough)

 

Nobody forced her to come.

 

(Giles acts like he can force her to do anything, like she still grants him that trust, but he can’t)

 

But she didn’t have anything better to do.

 

(Buffy actually didn’t have anything to do, ever, except for drink whisky and burn holes in her lungs that always healed just so she could-)

 

She stops that train of thought immediately.

 

“Fan out!”

 

She commands, watching silently as her squad complies without hesitation.

 

The girls march in formation, still proud and arrogant with that cocky air of teenage confidence Giles hasn’t yet squashed.

They still think this is a game, most of them hadn’t had the chance to lose someone to violence, to fail.

They haven’t seen real pain, haven’t see much of anything.

The girls giggle together, axes and stakes and swords in hand, and Buffy realizes that they’re just girls fighting a war they shouldn’t have to.

Girls who should be gossiping and partying and schooling, not slaying and dying and hurting.

 

They shouldn’t be here; she shouldn’t be here.

 

But they are, and she is

 

She wonders, grimly, how many will survive.

Will they still giggle then? Laugh as if the world is anything beyond misery, smile as though life is anything but pain and betrayal?

 

Will they retain that innocence, that glow, that she’d shed so long ago for her duty? Will they get to be happy when she only gets misery?

 

She hates Angel for this, for being here, and she hates the girls a bit too.

 

She can see the portal, an exact reverse of the portal she’d died in for her sister – black and red in place of white and blue – but she can draw parallels.

 

God, dragons and demons and vampires and grotesque forms of dead humans (‘Zombies,’ part of her brain fills in, ‘Decapitation and fire’).

 

“Formation!” her sister slayer calls, throwing a giant beast of a demon over her shoulder and stabbing the one behind it.

 

“Maintain it or we all die!”

 

Her and Faith plus roughly thirty ‘slayers’ against the entirety of some dimension’s forces, probably a hell dimension by the looks of it.

 

Buffy doesn’t know if it’s enough, and from the looks Faith is sending her, she’s not the only one with doubts.

 

She doesn’t have anymore big speeches in her, doesn’t have the leader part of her or the fire in her. She’s just drained, burned, and sick of her damn ‘gift’ being rejected.

 

Faith was good at leading, once she’d developed the confidence for it.

 

Buffy didn’t care enough to lead anymore.

 

(She felt too much like half a whole, ¼ Buffy Summers, ¼ Slayer, and ½ dead)

 

 (‘Apathy,’ her mind whispers, ‘self-loathing,’ her heart hisses)

 

She’d asked Faith if she was nervous before, on the way here, and Faith had waved her off with a secretive grin.

 

“I’m five-by-five, B. Lay off the liquor and we might win this one without your liver failing again.”

 

Cocky bravado and a touch of concern, that was Faith.

 

(Faith knew she couldn’t die; she was the one who kept bringing her back to base when Buffy would run off and commit the immortal version of suicide. Faith was the one who held her on the one day she had fallen apart, sobbing Spike’s name into her sister slayer’s chest. Faith was the one she trusted, ironically, above everyone else wasting air on this planet.)

 

Buffy doesn’t really get the big battle anticipation anymore, or the fear of who would make it out.

She didn’t see a point when she knew she’d either live (like normal) or find a way to die (finally).

 

Faith doesn’t seem to have the recklessness Buffy does, for whatever reason the spell didn’t change her at all.

Buffy was the only one changed that way.

 

“Shit. Half my squad is missing, B. Why aren’t we advancing? What the fuck are we waiting for?”

 

“Willow. Giles. Magic. A sign.”

 

Faith barks out a harsh laugh, driving her fist through another demon.

 

“Shit burns - Greenie’s blood is acidic. Is there an unholy water? Cause this sure as fuck feels like it.”

 

Buffy shakes her head, eyeing the injuries Faith’s racking up.

 

“I don’t think so. Pretty sure it wouldn’t hurt you anyways.”

 

Faith sends her a playful glare, taking down a few more demons and moving towards her squad.

 

Buffy breathes.

 “You’ve got this,” she murmurs to herself, cutting a path through the seemingly endless swarm of demons, “Not like you can die anyhow.”

 

 

Her and Faith stay within shouting distance, and by the time she thinks to look up from her kills the girls are all out of sight.

 

“My squad is gone, F. All of ‘em.”

 

This wasn’t the plan, there wasn’t supposed to be this many.

 

People weren’t supposed to die, unless they were her.

 

She was allowed to die; she was all for the trying to die thing.

Buffy has tried, been trying.

 Oh boy has she been trying.

 

(The image of her organs decorating a demon’s cave comes to mind, or the sensation of her head leaving her body, or the dizziness that came with being drained, or digging her way out of a coffin again after a failed turning, or the feeling of her still-beating heart in her palm as her friends screamed)

 

She’s already had to kill two men she loved, already had to condemn herself to the grave several times over.

 

Death was an old friend; she didn’t care about herself.

 

Couldn’t she die? Those girls had lives to live, loves to have…

What did she have, besides friends who lied to her at every opportunity, the ashes of her love and heart in the Sunnydale crater, and a brooding asshole as her ex.

 

“Everyone’s gone…”

 

It hits her at once, how alone she is.

 

“B?”

 

Faith’s dark eyes pull her back.

 

“We can’t wait on some magic spell that may or may not work. We need certainty, we need something.”

 

God, she hates Angel so much sometimes, this was all his fucking fault.

 

Angel. Angelus. Bloody Poofter.

 

Last one makes her want to laugh and cry at the same time.

 

(She does neither, because this is not the time nor the place for another Buffy breakdown)

 

“B we’re flying in blind. We go in swinging without a proper plan we might not live to swing again.”

 

Buffy sets the scythe down next to her, setting her hands up for a proper throw, like when she was in cheerleading.

 

“Get higher, vantage girl. We’ll see if any of the girls are left and figure out what the hell to do from there.”

 

Faith jumps as she lifts, landing on the roof above them in a crouch.

 

“Anything?”

 

“No B. I’ll scope it out, keep moving.”

 

She keeps chopping at demons, avoiding the blood of the Green ones.

Reinforcements aren’t slowing, and she’s pretty sure she’d die here if she could.

 

It makes her wonder again why Angel couldn’t have asked for help, given them time to prepare for this shitstorm.

 

What had he been thinking?

 

This, all this, was his damn fault.

 

Her stupid, hulking, overbearing, forehead-having ex who seemed incapable of basic courtesy calls but expected her to tell him everything about her life.

 

Not a ‘Hey Buffy, I joined a demonic law firm and put my soul on the line for a mystical son I had with the not-so-dusty Darla, how’s life?’

 

Not a ‘Hey Buffy, I think I accidently ended the world because I’m a moron who thinks I know best. Wanna clean up my mess?’

 

And definitely not a ‘Hey Buffy, all my friends are kinda dead and I might need some help before the world ends. Maybe bring some enforcements?

 

But no, that was too difficult for him.

 

As the anger surges forward, similar to what she imagines a vampiric demon feels like, she straps the scythe to her back.

 

It was too easy.

 

When she let her darker parts out, the scythe felt too easy.

Too disconnected and cold.

 

She likes her kills up close and personal, likes feeling her opponent break apart under her.

She likes watching the red color her fists, it was a part of herself she’d accepted after Sunnydale went kaboom-y.

 

She only had so much of herself left, she couldn’t afford the denial earlier years had afforded her.

Denial was pointless, not like violence made her hate herself any more than she already did.

 

Only so many broken pieces of her left, after everything.

 

After he-

 

The demon-thing screams, a massacred pile of battery-acid-black blood beneath her anger.

She feels it burn her fists, a pleasant surge of pain mixing with the adrenaline…

 

(“I have to do this. Just let me go.” A frown, “I can’t. I love you.”)

 

But Buffy can also see the demon’s brain matter splattered with the blood and she thinks she might have been a bit too rough with him.

 

Sure, he was evil, but it’s not like he was Angel.

 

Whose skull she was very much ready to crush, if she didn’t dust him on sight.

 

“Faith do you see anything?!” she can see Faith’s outline perched higher than her, eyes narrowing in on the giant red sky beam, which, cliché much? Evil needs a serious redesign.

 

 

“Rona’s down,” Faith says, voice hard. “I can’t see the others.”

 

Buffy doesn’t feel anything, but she hasn’t for a while so it’s nothing new.

 

“What about Willow?”

 

“Don’t see her.”

 

“Xander? Giles?”

 

“Nada. B, far as I see no one is left but us.”

 

Buffy frowns, ducking another shitty attack and letting herself fall into a rhythm.

 

“We need to advance, gain some ground. Maybe there’s an off switch for this thing, whatever it is.”

 

Faith snorts, landing next to her with an elegant flip, and it’s only then Buffy truly looks at her sister slayer.

 

Worn down, dark circles under her eyes a stark contrast to her too pale skin. When had Faith lost weight? When had she lost the fire flickering in her eyes?

 

“Faith-”

 

“I’ll clear you a path,” Faith says, cutting off whatever Buffy had planned on saying. “Shut this down.”

 

Buffy looks in Faith’s eyes and sees her own, sees death, sees hopelessness.

 

(She sees late night patrols ending in dancing, sees blood and dirt stains mixed in with laughter and adrenaline, “Want, take, have, B. You’ll die if you keep this whole repression game up.” Her sister, the only person in the world that truly understood her)

 

In that moment she feels complete solidarity, sees her in Faith and Faith in her.

 

(She hates it)

 

“Be careful,” Buffy whispers, and she can almost feel something other than the cold.

 

Loss,’ she thinks, or at least a bastardized (broken) echo of it.

 

Faith’s grin is dangerous, lips stained red with her own blood rather than lipstick.

 

Buffy doesn’t respond, but she doesn’t need to.

 

Even on opposite sides of the line they’d understood each other without words-

 

(two sides of the spectrum, light and dark and dark and light)

 

It’s Faith’s one good day, and Buffy can’t stop it.

 

(“And now you see, that's the secret. Not the punch you didn't throw or the kicks you didn't land. She really wanted it. Every Slayer has a death wish. Even you…”)

 

Faith clears a path, throwing her all into what they both know is her last battle.

It resembles the dance he had always blathered on about.

Dance with death, dance with pain.

 

(a wild, devil-may-care grin: “All we’ve ever done is dance.”)

She tries to watch from the corner of her eye as she keeps moving, but the demons surge forth and she loses sight of Faith red lipped grin and dark black hair.

 

(She doesn’t hear so much as feel Faith’s last breath, feels it rattle her bones and echo in the useless chambers of her heart, feels it torn from her chest and bruised in her lungs. She knows without looking her sister slayer is dead)

 

She doesn’t grieve, focused on demons and death and the world, but she wishes she could, wishes she wasn’t so hardened by betrayals and lies and secrets.

 

She wishes she could cry more than a tear at a time.

 

(But she can’t, not now, maybe not ever)

 

And the world and Powers-That-Be seemed to have taken that as a challenge with the body piles of familiar faces leading towards the circle of black and red, hidden amongst the sea of demons.

 

Vi, dead, throat torn out.

Amanda, dead, stake ironically thrust in her heart.

Rona, dead as Faith had said, a bloodied heap of broken boned.

 

Is it sick that this is the most she’s felt since Sunnydale? Since her life and duty and calling and feelings became some hollowed version? Watered down and meaningless?

 

(Who is she, after all, but a Vampire Slayer? Not the Vampire Slayer, not the Chosen One, and she isn’t Buffy Summers anymore either, that girl is with her broken tombstone in the ruins of Sunnydale)

 

But she keeps moving forward, shoving anything that isn’t rage to the back of her mind.

 

“Buffy! Buffy hel-”

 

Part of her breaks as Xander calls for her, as his screams haunt her ears.

She flinches as the screams stop, as the chink of armor and the murmurs of Hell’s army are all that fill the streets.

 

How many has she failed now?

 

The crunch of bone as the dragon chews is her answer, her damnation.

 

Tears spring to her eyes, and she lets a few flow.

 

Xander deserves that much.

 

And she’s starting to think Faith was right, bowing out in the beginning, because she may be immortal, but she isn’t inexhaustible. She can already feel the numerous reckless bruises and cuts and burns setting in, sapping precious energy from her overused muscles.

 

There’re too many demons, too many vampires, and too little fighters.

 

She can’t see anyone, doesn’t know if there is anyone left.

 

She supposes it doesn’t matter.

 

Her task remains the same.

 

“I’ve never ridden a dragon before,” she muses as the beast swoops down it sets fire to the surrounding buildings and the few humans who’d stayed.

 

Buffy’s eyes narrow as it swoops again, counting,

 

One,

 

Smell of charred flesh

 

Two,’

 

Loud roar of fire

 

Three.’

 

She times it perfectly, hands tightening around the neck’s scales as she slides onto the dragon’s back.

Buffy hisses as her pants tear slightly, burns exposed to the ice-cold rain.

 

The scales aggravate her pre-existing injuries, digging sharply into her skin. She clings to the purple dragon anyways, even as it snaps and roars in anger, sensing her on it.

 

Worst comes to worst incineration is something new to try.

 

Oddly enough that perks her up.

 

Death is her comfort.

 

It’s hard to think of this dumpster fire of ruin as L.A., her home before Sunnydale.

It looked like some post-apocalyptic zombie movie with all the fire and blood and brimstone. Rodeo Drive burned like the rest of the city, piles of corpses darkened and crisp like overcooked chicken nuggets (“…Happy meals on legs…”).

 

God, it looks worse from above, somehow.

 

Worse to see the sheer magnitude of death and destruction, the endless field of pain and suffering and all the lives lost.

 

She couldn’t tell friend from foe, not that many friends were left to see.

 

She feels that all-too-familiar coil of hopelessness tighten around her too-heavy heart, each beat like a stab to her chest.

 

She feels the wind whip her long, mangled hair around, hair she’d refused to cut because he’d loved it, before.

 

She feels the threads of destiny tying her hands, like before, guiding her to her fate.

 

(It reminds her of the Anointed One, of being led into hell by an innocent face and desire to do her duty. It reminds her of Dawn, of giving her life to save her sister’s and the world.)

 

Death is your gift,’ the First Slayer had hissed, which Buffy had taken as a threat.

 

But it was a warning.

 

A warning from the original, the one who’d learned it from demonic essence.

 

Death was her gift.

 

Her only gift.

 

(What else did she have left to offer the world but her death? Buffy hopes this one will stick.)

 

She feels a sense of dread, heavy in her stomach, and wonders what she has left to lose.

 

(And then she sees the bright flash of light, red hair turning black as her best friend is stabbed, and Giles goes down holding Willow’s corpse not two minutes later)

 

Boyfriend?

(if she ever had the right to call him that)

Ashes.

Friends?

(if they could even be called that anymore)

Dead.

Life?

(if whatever this is could be called that)

Pain.

 

As she sees Angel in gameface, she decides it’s time.

 

The dragon roars as her scythe slices through its thick armor like cheese, flames circling round her as its heartbeat slows.

 

She doesn’t feel the burn, she just feels cold.

 

Buffy flips off the falling corpse, landing on her feet without issue.

 

The dragon’s head thuds behind her, green goo separating it from the rest of the corpse.

 

“Thanks for dropping in,” Angel greets, voice muffled slightly by the fangs. “We could use the help.”

 

She jumps into the fray, letting her anger simmer on the backburner for now.

 

“We?” she asks, beheading the demon in front of her.

 

There should be no ‘we’.

 

Giles said Wesley and all of Angel’s other allies were dead.

 

As far as she knows, everyone is dead.

 

Everyone is dead…

 

She puts that on the backburner too, mindful of the fact she’s eventually going to have to think about it.

But ‘eventually isn’t now’ is practically her life’s motto, and who is she to break tradition?

 

(Except for that whole thing with telling the Watcher’s Council to go fuck themselves, and the sleepage rather than stakage with Aurelian vampires, and having a life outside of slaying, and… she’s shutting up now)

 

Angel grimaces, slipping back into his human guise as Buffy pauses, eyes narrowing at his silence.

 

He raises a hand, as if in warning, but the demon that had been not-so-stealthily creeping behind her is dead with a simple flick of her wrist.

 

She pulls the scythe from the wall, looking at Angel over her shoulder as she asks:

 

“Who’s left?”

 

He hesitates, again, and it makes Buffy wonder, makes her question.

 

(Makes her tense, makes her suspicious)

 

“Angel,” she presses, teeth clenching tightly together, “Who. Is. Left?”

 

“Illyria, me…”

 

His eyes, a soulful brown she remembers being enamored with, meet hers.

 

She doesn’t feel anything close to love as the next word leaves his lips.

 

“Spike.”

 

The soft, pleasant tingle she’s always associated with Spike trickles down her spine, and any denial she’d been about to utter die on her tongue.

 

(“I love you,” from him, “No you don’t,” from her. “I love you,” from her, “No you don’t but thanks for saying it,” from him)

 

Her hands itch, and she’s practically shaking with the need for a cigarette.

 

Goddamn Faith, stealing all my-

 

Backburner, backburner!

 

Buffy freezes, looking over her shoulder as he comes into sight.

 

“Hello luv.”

 

Her eyes rake over him, drinking in his image.

 

Blue eyes, wide and sparkling, with the soul carefully concealed behind his irises.

Infuriating grin, cocky and self-assured with just a hint of vulnerability.

His face is dripping blood, long slashes carved and ripped like he’s been fighting for days rather than hours.

 

Her eyes travel down, taking in the black on black on black arrangement he wore, virtually identical to what he’d died in. (‘Fitting,’ she thinks.)

Her scars tingle, searing and white-hot pain, as she looks at Spike’s fisted palm.

She wonders if he has a scar too.

 

“Oh.”

 

She just breathes, short, shallow breaths as she tries to numb herself, to stop her reaction.

Stop the feeling of betrayal, familiar and painful and cutting.

 

Inside, Buffy curls in on herself, lets herself feel a fraction of the pain she feels.

 

Not the time,’ she thinks, almost desperately, ‘Notthetime, notthetime, notthetime.

 

Buffy’s vision blurs slightly and she tightens her hands around her scythe.

 

“I guess you weren’t going to tell me. I wasn’t supposed to know, was I? Is that why Andrew insisted on getting Dana?”

 

“Buffy-”

 

“Don’t!”

 

She breaks eye contact, bowing her head.

 

“Just…don’t.”

 

There are so many things she wants to say to him.

 

Things like ‘I love you’ and ‘I missed you

 

There are so many things she wants to scream at him.

Things like ‘How could you lie to me?’ and the ever pathetic, ‘Do you still love me?’

 

But she’s learned a thing or two over the years about ignorance and about wishes.

She doesn’t want to know the answers, doesn’t want to deal, so instead she says:

 

“We need to close the sky beam. It’s causing too much damage, and we can’t hold L.A. if it grows anymore.”

 

Blue eyes trace her movements, lasered in on her back, and she can feel the hurt in them more than she can see it.

 

Buffy’s heart cries, and she thinks it’s a good think she’s cold enough to ignore it.

 

“’S all well and good to say pet, but how the bloody hell are we supposed to shut it down? Magic?”

 

She stiffens, and Spike, damn him to hell too, notices.

 

Magic makes her think of Willow, which makes her think of Giles, and Xander, and Faith…

 

A rush of wind and he’s holding her chin, hand making her look at him like he always had, other hand on her waist like it had never left.

 

(But it had, he had)

 

“Buffy, luv… Where are the others? Is Red here? Watcher? Whelp?”

 

Spike’s eyes search hers, blue holding green the way they had before Sunnydale, back when he’d been the only one she could trust and the only one she could lean on.

 

(And the only one who had never lied to her or left her or betrayed her…)

 

 But things change, and Spike must see the grief-fueled resentment burning in her irises because he lets go of her, face stone cold.

 

Cold, like when she’d kissed Angel and came to him after.

Cold, like when she’d dumped him.

Cold, like when she’d harmed Drusilla, back when things had been simple.

 

And she has to suppress a flinch as the images dance behind her eyes, on constant replay…

 

(screams and the crunch of bone, hordes of demons separating and overwhelming, torn out throats and broken bones, burning flames and refuted declarations…)

 

 

“Dead,” she says in a tone that’s as empty as she is. “Everyone’s dead. I’m all that’s left.”

 

Angel and Spike both eye her with concern now, exchanging a look that just pisses her off.

 

Guess the ‘for my own good’ club has a new member,’ she thinks, angry and resentful and hurt in ways she’s going to not think about. ‘As President, Angel’s probably teaching him loads of neat stalking tricks and how to interfere in my life from a distance.’

 

Life, right.

 

She snorts.

 

“Buffy-”

 

“Slayer-”

 

Shit. She must have said some of that out loud.

 

She ignores them both, eyeing the gaping beam still releasing demons like a fucked up all-you-can-lose lottery machine.

 

Huh. That kinda sounds like her life.

 

“If you need to talk…” Spike starts, eyes soft like he’s never left her, soft like he’d never lied to her.

 

The pain curls in her gut like curdled milk, and she’s always one to react with a fist rather than a tear…

 

(Because Spike doesn’t leave the woman he loves, so at some point between the soul and his resurrection he’d stopped loving her, and she doesn’t know how to handle that)

 

And there’s the feelings she didn’t want to think about

 

“Don’t pretend, Spike. Don’t lie, not to me. You didn’t want to see me? I can accept that. It may hurt, but I can accept it. I can’t deal with playing pretend or fake concern, not anymore. Not ever.”

 

“I care-”

 

She laughs, cutting him off.

 

“No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.”

 

“What I need,” she hisses, green eyes narrowed in a way that made both vampires pause, “Is to close this fucking portal so the world doesn’t end. Sound good enough to you two?”

 

Because she’d not ready to deal with the betrayal in what today means (Her boyfriend, if she ever had the right to call him that)

Because she’s not ready to deal with the grief in what today means (Her friends, if they could even be called that anymore)

Because she’s not ready to deal with the anything with what today means (Her life, if whatever this is could be called that)

 

Spike is silent, and Angel is too.

 

“Could Slayer blood close it?” She asks, because Slayer blood was a big reversal ingredient for loads of spells, and maybe that would work here.

 

Angel opens his mouth, ready to answer, before Spike snaps:

“You’re bloody well not jumping into another fucking portal Slayer, I swear to God-

 

Always one to react before she thinks, to strike before someone else does, she lets her fist knock Spike back, lets her anger and hurt and pain take over for one hit.

 

It’s not the hardest she’s hit him, not by a long shot, but maybe it is the most impactful.

 

“You don’t get a say,” she practically whispers, holding her fist to her heart. “You lost your say.”

 

Hurt blossoms in his eyes, and this time she can see it.

A sickening sort of satisfaction fills her, like she’s transferred some of her pain into him.

 

(But with the satisfaction is shame, because that’s who she’d been before and that’s who she wasn’t supposed to be anymore)

 

“Buffy…”

 

He trails off, jaw clenched, and she understands the significance of her name.

 

Not ‘luv’ drawled with whiskey on his tongue.

Not ‘kitten’ kissed into her flesh like a burn.

Not ‘Slayer’ curling round her like cigarette smoke.

Not even pet.

 

Buffy.

Just Buffy.

 

“We don’t have time for this!” Angel interjects, and as much as Buffy hates to give him any credit at the moment, he’s right.

 

Spike breaks eye contact first this time, looking to the ground.

 

“What are our options?” she asks, leaning against the wall to take some weight off her injured ankle.

 

“Not much. Illyria’s over there-” Angel nods towards the distance, where a blue glow is surrounded by demons. “- and even she’s having trouble with this as an Old One.”

 

Buffy doesn’t have the energy to ask what an “Old One” is.

 

Buffy raises a brow.

 

“What about my blood? You never answered.”

 

Spike glares at her, a I-could-rip-your-head-off-one-handed-and-drink-from-your-brainstem mad.

She’s both pleased and ashamed to see the bruising on his cheek, the only mark she has on him now.

 

Angel looks at her, pain clear in his eyes, and she feels a small spark of pity.

 

It doesn’t out-weigh her anger, not by a longshot.

 

“Yes. It could.”

 

She pulls her blood-coated jacket off, letting it fall in the alleyway’s dirty puddles.

 

There’s five hundred dollars down the drain.’

 

Good thing she wasn’t going to live long enough to care about it.

 

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

 

She grabs her scythe and moves, throwing herself back into the battle with a fervor she hasn’t felt since the First, since she lost her ability to die and with it her ability to live.

 

It’s easier to fight knowing that there was an end.

She was seventy percent sure this hell portal would kill her, like the other one had.

There was nothing left here for her, and she was ready to rest.

 

The battery-acid-black-blood almost burns against her bare skin, and she smiles.

 

Spike and Angel both roar, fist and fangs and sod all else as they watch her back.

 

Together, they make their way to the beam’s center, ever-ironically leaving Angel Investigations via rooftop.

 

She can see Illyria, still fighting, in the distance, and she wonders if Illyria is tired of fighting. If she can die, or if she wishes she could.

 

Maybe she’s just projecting.

 

Who cares anymore.

 

“Angelus and William,” the portal greets, voice dark and empty and haunting. “Slayer,” it adds, surprise clear in the tone.

 

“Creepy Voice,” she deadpans, “Can I call you Creep for short?”

 

Creep lets out a weird rumble, almost like a laugh.

 

“You weren’t supposed to be here, Chosen One. L.A. is not yours.”

 

“Possessive much?” she glares at the skybeam. “The world is mine to protect, which make L.A. mine by default.”

 

“Slayer isn’t good at doing what she’s ‘sposed to, Wizard of Oz.” Spike drawls, affectionate and loving, like before. He gives her a side glance she avoids. “She gives out the orders, doesn’t bloody well take ‘em.”

 

“You both amuse me, perhaps I will let you both live after I win.”

 

Buffy, Angel, and Spike all roll their eyes.

 

“You’re not winning anything, not well I’m alive.”

 

Buffy sends Angel a look, pointing to the gameface.

 

“Unalive.” he amends.

 

“Futile. Why continue to fight? This battle was won years ago, Angelus, before the First rose.”

 

“My resurrection…” she murmurs, because of course her unwanted state of living had broken the world.

 

“Yes,” Creepy drones, “Your life fuels mine. Your life birthed mine, I must thank you Slayer.”

 

“I don’t want your gratitude!” Buffy hisses, images of heaven and hell warring in her head.

 

Two more years of hell because her friends wouldn’t let her die.

Two more years of hell only for the world to end.

Two more years of hell only for an eternity of it.

 

“I was happy! I was complete! I didn’t ask for this! I just wanted to die!”

 

She rips Angel’s hand off her shoulder as soon as it makes contact, shoving him into the concrete ground.

 

Don’t touch me.

 

The wind seems to seize, fires pausing as cold caresses her limbs.

 

“Such rage and power in one so small,” Creepy says, voice sending shivers down Buffy’s spine.

 

“You will make a fitting Queen, I think.”

 

“Like hell she will!”

 

Spike and Angel both throw themselves at the portal, bouncing off comically as they’re rebuffed.

 

“Slayer blood is an aphrodisiac, Creep, but it’s also a key ingredient in many things. I’m friends with a Wicca, a powerful Wicca, one that your armies killed today.”

Creep hums.

 

“I am the King of Hell, am I expected to feel mercy?”

 

Her hand tightens on her scythe, eyes flashing gold.

 

“Death is my gift, and if you don’t feel mercy now I’ll make you beg for it.”

 

The portal flashes, darkening to a blood red, and she understands.

 

Spike’s eyes meet hers, recognition dawning along with other things she doesn’t want to think about.

 

She tears away from his gaze, looking to Angel instead.

 

“So do I just jump in or cut myself and jump in?”

 

“Either should work but Buffy, we should try something else. This could kill you, permanently this time.”

 

Angel’s eyes plead with her, but she isn’t a little girl anymore.

His puppy dog eyes don’t affect her anymore.

They haven’t affected her for a long time.

 

“Here’s hoping,” she mutters, uncaring of vampiric hearing.

 

“Luv, Buffy, please-

 

Spike reaches for her again, and she’s so tempted to just give in, forget and move on.

He would stay, out of obligation.

 

He wouldn’t stray and he would look to her with pity every day, further proof of the Buffy Summer’s love curse.

Spike was loyal to those he loved, even if it was only in a past tense.

It would be a miserable existence for both of them: her, having him but not. Him, chained by old promises and burnt out affections.

She could though, could leave L.A. behind and act like nothing had changed…

 

(“No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it. Now go.”)

 

…But she can’t.

 

She can’t let herself feel that vulnerability again, afraid it will break her further.

She can’t let herself feel that passion again, afraid it will consume her.

She can’t let herself trust again.

And most importantly, she can’t force Spike to love her like that and chain him down when all he wants is to be free of her, of her love.

 

Buffy is done with being lied to and let down, done with grieving and being pitied.

 

(She’s also done hurting people who don’t deserve it, done weighing down those she cares for and suffocating them)

 

She leaps forward, portal humming to life against her bare palm.

 

(Her death will give Spike life)

 

Flames caress her hands, searing like the flames that had consumed Spike and scarred her hand.

 

It reminds her of her dreams, towers of flames burning her, consuming her like they’d done to Spike, and it also reminds her of those nights like last night.

 

Nights where she woke up with her hand on fire, screaming her not-so-dead ex-lover’s name.

 

She shivers again, pressing more of herself against it.

 

 (It isn’t cold, the fire isn’t freezing her, it burns. Like a spark)

 

“This is futile, Slayer…”

Creep’s voice whispers in her ear, and she understands perfectly what she must do.

She raises the scythe to her arm, cutting a line up it and watching the blood drip towards the portal.

 

“Buffy-!”

 

She meets Angel’s eyes as he dusts, sees him realize it as the demon’s sword comes through his front.

 

Spike whirls towards Angel, duster flapping behind him.

 

Horror fills his eyes as the dust spreads.

 

No…”

 

He tears into Angel’s killer, teeth ripping into his neck even as the blood burns.

 

“Spike!” she tries to leap away from the portal, to get his attention as the second demon sneaks behind him, but the vortex holds her tight.

 

Watch your lover perish, my Queen. Watch the futility in fighting me.”

 

“Spike, look out!”

 

He’s always been fast, but this stake is faster.

 

She can see it in his eyes, like she had in Sunnydale.

 

The love.

The trust.

The regret.

 

It burns.

 

Spike dusts for the second time as the vortex pulls harder, legs and arms trapped in crimson flames.

 

Spike’s face flashes in front of her, leering and cocky.

 

“Guess I win, luv,” he drawls, in the familiar way she’s ached to hear for so long from him, but he’s dead again and all she has is the First. “L.A. is ‘bout to understand real hell.”

 

The tears fall slow at first, blurring her vision as she loses sense of everything around her.

 

Spike and Angel, dusted.

Giles and Willow, beaten to death.

Xander, eaten.

Faith, overrun.

 

And her…

 

Darkness takes over her senses, and this time she welcomes it.

Chapter Text

Let me set aside this bitterness,

born I guess from an idiot’s lament looming as ever,

fog obscuring the oceanfront view

I guess dissolves when we no longer watch it.

The waves sweep away the coast

I guess eating away well intentioned sand bags.

-Reverie in Reverse by Phillip Scott

 

As he watches Charlie Boy fall, Spike wonders where this began.

This being the bloody joke his unlife had become.

 

I mean, just earlier he’d been threatening Peaches’ life if any harm befell his new coats, because he wasn’t losing another sodding coat for fights that weren’t his to bloody begin with.

 

Threatening, rather than ending.

 

Christ.

 

When had this softness started? When had he lost his edge?

Did it start when he came back to life in Captain Forehead’s building? Fresh from his dust-filled end and eager for redemption? (And eager to piss off said forehead-having git, even if it meant Shanshu-ing)

Did it start when he got the spark, the soul, because he’d hurt the girl? When the demon and the man agreed that he needed to put himself in check? (Why does a man do anything, but for a girl?)

Was it earlier, when he’d fallen in love with his mortal enemy? When he’d decided that he desired the ultimate killer of his kind? (Not that he’d had much of a choice, mind you. Buffy had a wiles about her that was like a gravitational field, impossible to resist)

Was it when he'd been crippled by humans, forced to rely on the Slayer for protection and the butcher for blood? ('Like a serial killer in prison' she'd called him, but at least serial killers could still kill in fucking prison)

Or maybe it began before it should have, back when he’d been a stupid ponce looking for something ‘effulgent’ in an alleyway.

 

(“You walk in worlds others can’t begin to imagine…I see what you want. Something glowing and glistening…Something effulgent.”)

 

Spike can’t pinpoint it, can’t trace it back on a linear line, but he also can’t regret it.

How could he, when his softness had meant meeting Buffy Summers, meant loving Buffy Summers, even if she didn’t love him in return?

How could he, when it meant holding his entire reason for existing in his arms? In having her for a night, with him, even if all they did was sleep?

("Were you there with me?" a shy glance, "I was.")

 

When it meant hearing the words roll off her tongue, three words he'd have killed for (pre-soul) or at least thought about killing for really really hard (post-soul)?

 

(wide, tear-filled greens:I love you,” she says, awe and pride flooding her voice. But she didn’t, she couldn’t, and they both knew it.)

 

Buffy had been scared, afraid of losing the one person who’d never turned his back on her, and she wanted to provide comfort in the way she thought he’d want – her love.

 

Dead men tell no tales, so her words would mean nothing but a bit of cold comfort to a dying vampire.

He snorts.

 

Cold comfort was their specialty.

 

He spits on the demon as it falls, blood mixing with saliva as he wishes for a fag. He hasn’t had a smoke in hours.

 

He’d mentioned nicking one from the convenience store earlier and the magnificent poof had sent him a look.

A look not much different from his resting ‘oh my poor tortured soul’ face, but a look.

Spike lived for annoying his grandsire, but even he knew there was a time and place. 

He just normally didn’t care.

 

(“Spike, I’m busy.” A glower, much less threatening with his little soul behind the wheel. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t care.”)

 

Normally he wasn’t so introspective, but he figures what better time to reflect than the Apocalypse?

 

Wasn’t like he was likely to survive.

As much as he likes telling Angel the Shanshu Prophecy refers to Spike (who actually fought for his fucking soul) he knows it probably doesn’t.

 

He fought for his soul for Buffy, not the world.

He did it because he’d hurt her, after promising himself and her to never hurt her.

Spike hated himself for what he’d done, and he’d needed a guarantee that he wouldn’t do it again.

 

And it had worked, Buffy had forgiven him, but he and Angel were most likely going to be eaten by a sodding dragon.

 

So, yeah, he’s reflective, and he regrets a fair bit.

 

He’s almost glad for the waves of demons, the mobs of acid and iron.

Too much thinking makes him adopt a defeatist attitude that Buffy would absolutely beat out of him with motivational speeches.

 

But deep down, under the mind-Buffy's speeches about power and soul-having, Spike knows this is pointless.

 

The whole ‘beat ‘em from the inside’ approach Angel had adopted, the assassination of the Circle members, even this whole war.

Lucifer’s entire damn army marches on L.A. and Angel had refused to ask the slayers (or Slayer) for help.

 

Not that Spike was eager to see his ex (especially after actively avoiding her, lying to her, and siding with Giles on not telling her), let alone have her newfound romance with the Immortal thrown in his bloody face, but some things were more important than love.

Which wasn’t something he’d say pre-soul, and even if he did, he’d be saying it to please her, not because he actually gave a buggering fuck about the rest of the world.

 

(“Ask me again why I could never love you.”)

 

Spike snorts, suppressing the flash of guilt.

This wasn’t about him, and it wasn’t about her.

 

Not the time for it, might never be a time for it.

Not with two souled up vampires and one newly minted hell goddess standing against the armies of Hell with a capital ‘H’.

 

“Sure would be nice to have a slayer or two right ‘bout now Peaches!” He shouts, fending off three green demons that make him think of Lorne.

 

He hoped Greenie got out alright, he deserves better than this shitstorm.

 

“They’re busy!” His grandsire shouts back, gameface muffling his words like they always did.

 

And Spike doesn’t buy that for a second.

 

Angel reminds him of Angelus in that moment, fangs and fists decorated in the blood of demons and his own blood.

Angel was just as prideful as Angelus, despite what he’d say on the matter.

 

It would hurt his ego too much to ask for help from anyone who didn’t trust him, and both Giles and Andrew had made it abundantly clear that Angel and Spike were on the ‘persona non grata’ list. Or ‘vampira non grata’ if Spike wanted to be technical.

 

“Hundreds of slayers, and all of them are too busy for a fuckin’ Apocalypse?!”

 

Or a post-apocalypse by the looks of jolly good Los Angeles, all fire and blood and brimstone.

 

Times like this he misses Sunnydale with its consistent Big Bad (as in one, not a demon army) and its white witches (or witch, since the other one died) and it’s Buffy.

 

If he dusts again today, his greatest regret will be not holding Buffy one more time, not making love to her one more time, not seeing her one more time. Even if she broke his nose.

 

Christ, he misses her breaking his nose.

 

(‘Not that you deserve it, git.’ His soul is quick to remind him, ‘Hurt the girl, you did. Hurt her by staying and she’ll hurt again if you came to her now, or ever. She deserves better.’)

 

He’d give almost anything to.

 

(but he’d made her proud, earned her trust, held her in his bloody arms two nights in a row. How could he top that? After he’d lied to her, not told her he’d returned. She would hate him for making choices for her and getting others to lie to her. Not to mention, she’d moved on to someone else. ‘I love you’s easily forgotten, like words of comfort to a dying soul)

 

Angel seems to follow his train of thought well enough, because he sends him that ‘Buffy-deserves-better-than-you’ look he’d perfected and trademarked since that fucking mess of a trip to Rome.

 

“She’s with the Immortal, Captain Peroxide. Even if she came, it wouldn’t be for you. She doesn’t even know you’re alive!”

 

Spike growls, taking one of the demon’s swords and beheading him. He beheads a couple more for fun.

 

“And whose fucking fault is that?! I wanted to tell her, but of course Captain Forehead wouldn’t approve anyone else getting his sodding cookies!”

 

(He's heard that godawful cookie story fifteen fucking times, ten of which happened on the flights to and from Rome)

 

Angel’s eyes flash, raring himself up for a fight.

 

Spike wants to fight, once to lose himself to senseless violence against whatever will take it.

 

“We don’t have time for this-”

 

Spike shoves through the demons to get to Angel, poking him with the sword point.

 

“Oh of course not! I forgot that unless you’re bemoaning losing your Juliet, we don’t talk about it! I don’t blood well care! We’re going to die, you giant wanker. We’re going to die, and I never got to tell her I was alive, all because I took the advice that made her hate you.”

 

Angel’s eyes fill with understanding and Spike hates it, hates the way he’s adjusted to this place and his grandsire, hates the way Angel treats him like a kindred spirit, all soul-cursed and love torn over the same woman.

Cause Angelus had changed, slightly, grown one emotionally intelligent brain cell in the last year, and it makes it harder to fight him.

Especially when he's not acting like a jealous toddler who had their favorite toy taken away.

 

“Spike-”

 

Spike’s lip curls as he throws the sword into another demon’s heart, cutting off any grand speech Angel could’ve been planning.

 

“We don’t have time for this,” He announces, purposefully echoing his grandsire’s early statement.

 

Angel rolls his eyes to the sky, as if asking ‘why me?’, but follows Spike’s lead without hesitation.

 

It reminds him of the old days, back when Darla and Dru would prance off to primp and do other girly things (or the fucking Immortalthe same git Buffy shacked up with) and Angelus would take Spike out to hunt.

 

Angelus liked the artistry of bloodshed, and Spike liked the violence.

 

(“Killing,” the ponce says, Irish lilt thick and annoying, “takes pure artistry, ‘else we’re no better than the animals.”  A roll of eyes, “Poofter.”)

 

And sometimes, Angelus would join Spike in a massive riot.

 

(“This wasn’t the plan Willy!” a laugh, “Sod the plan, Angelus! Let’s feast!”)

 

Fists and fangs and sod all else, backs against the wall as they fought dirtier than ever.

 

It made Spike feel closer to his grandsire, sharing kills earned by prowess rather than preparation.

 

With the corpses they left behind, both of them dripping in blood, and fangs out in the open, it felt like that.

 

He’s almost missed this.

 

Then a black and red beam shoots out of Angel’s old detective building and the fond reminiscence dies in his useless heart.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” he roars, ripping one arm off an opponent to beat the demon with.

 

“Can we have one Apocalypse without a bloody portal beam?!”

 

He looks for Illyria and finds her absent.

 

Angel must have been too, because their eyes meet.

 

“Where’s Blue scampered off to?”

 

Angel frowns, cursing to himself.

 

“The portal, she’s making for the portal!”

 

They break off from their attackers and try to get closer, but there’s too many.

 

Spike’s overwhelmed, overrun, and he’s running on fumes as it is.

 

A bunch of slayers would have been very useful right now.

A single fucking Slayer with a capital 'S' would be very useful right now.

 

Especially when the demons seem to grow a brain and separate him from Angel, forcing Angel back towards the alleyway and him towards the beam.

The blood burns his hands as he tears them apart, frantic and violent in a way he hasn’t been in a while.

He hadn’t been in a fight like this in a while, not after the sodding chip and definitely not after the soul.

 

Unless he counted those fucking/fighting sessions him and Buffy had, which he didn’t like to count.

 

('Lovemaking' he'd call them, 'Dirty, filthy sex' she'd scream)

 

Not when the memories burned with the bitter aftertaste of regret, courtesy of his Victorian soul.

 

The soul burns again as he kills the crowd and hears what he shouldn’t hear, something he’s been wanting to hear since he first came back to unlife.

 

Buffy’s voice.

 

He steps out into the corpse-filled street, hissing as the black blood burns him slightly.

 

She’s glorious, radiant, shining…

 

Effulgent,’ his traitorous mind whispers, and his cock jumps to attention too.

 

The very picture of ferocity riding a falling dragon of all things towards the ground.

 

He wonders if Peaches is pissed he didn’t get to kill it, or if he’s just happy to see her.

 

Better not be too happy, last thing they bloody needed was Angelus.

 

He can’t see Buffy’s face from where he is, but he can see Angel’s, and he looks guilty.

 

He takes a deep whiff, muscles relaxing as her vanilla tainted scent reaches his nose. It smells like him too, without the blood and grime. It’s whisky soaked vanilla, with the underlying current of nicotine.

Since when did Buffy drink and smoke?

 

“Illyria, me, and…”

 

Buffy’s skinnier than she was in Sunnydale, worn down and ragged. Her body is closed off, like it was when she’d first come about from her grave.

 

Spike wonders why, wonders why her shoulders are so tense.

 

“Spike.”

 

Angel’s eyes signal him, and he can tell the minute Buffy senses him.

It’s subtle at first, a full body shiver starting at her back and working its way up.

The slight sent of her arousal is pungent, damning, even as she freezes in place.

 

His fangs itch, ‘danger! Danger!’ his instincts scream, and he revels in the feeling, lets it settle over him like a comforting blanket.

Spike’s demon fears the slayer part of Buffy, but he fears the woman.

The slayer wasn’t the one who held his heart in her tiny hands, and the slayer wasn't the one who'd taken it through a shredder.

 

("I'm sorry William.")

 

As gorgeous green eyes meet his, he grins and says the first thing that comes to mind:

 

“Hello luv.”

 

She looks like hell, eyebags so much larger than they should be.

 

(Not that his beat down arse is looking especially sexy, not that she's any less gorgeous for it)

 

She’s thinner too, thinner than she’d been during the First’s hostile takeover, which was saying something.

 

 

The scar on his palm tingles, burning fiercer than it had before.

Of course, it had been feeling strange all day, but it was a mystical scar, so Spike had no clue what any of it meant.

 

A thousand things flicker through his Slayer’s eyes as she takes him in, jaw softening and pink lips forming an ‘o’ he’d had around his cock far too many times to not be affected.

 

“Oh.”

 

It’s soft and quiet, like a sigh, and Spike doesn’t know what to take from it. What does ‘oh’ even mean? Was it a disappointed 'h no you're back to life, I just came to give Angel his perfectly backed cookies!' 'oh'

or a

‘oh Spike I’m so glad you’re back from the dead! Let’s shag!’ ‘oh’?

 

‘Course Buffy would never say a word like ‘shag’ (she wrinkled her nose every time he’d called it that in the past, adorable and infuriating chit she was). She’d more likely call it ‘sex’ or ‘lovemaking’ if he was really lucky, which he often wasn’t (Just look up his sodding history)

 

But from the way her breathing shallows out, desperate and almost panicked, he’s thinking it’s more of the former than the latter.

And then the salty scent of tears hits the air and he’s more confused than ever.

 

“I guess you weren’t going to tell me. I wasn’t supposed to know, was I? Is that why Andrew insisted on getting Dana?”

 

Buffy’s voice is still that strange soft lilt, burdened but weak, the exact opposite of how she normally spoke.

She isn’t talking to Angel, the question isn’t for him (no her eyes are staring holes into Spike, piercing and pained, like he’d done something wrong, and if that doesn’t feel like a stake to the heart, he doesn’t know what does), but he tries to answer:

 

“Buffy-”

 

“Don’t!”

 

Anger flickers on her face, red hot and fiery, before it dissipates like a deflated balloon.

“Just...don’t.”

 

She turns from him, head to the ground, and Spike feels pained, feels his undead heart like a phantom pain. ("If my heart could beat it would break my chest...")

He knows better than touching her, but by God does he just want to take her into his arms and pretend they were still lovers, ignore the ugly things and just exist.

 

(But they can’t do that ever again, and Spike has known that since before he got the soul, but a bloke can dream.)

 

Spike used to know Buffy better than she knew herself (which isn’t saying much, the River Nile was her favorite vacation spot) but he doesn’t know a thing going through her head.

Is she thinking of the last time she’d seen him, in the cave, and she’d said she loved him?

Is she regretting it?

Did she miss him?

 

(Did she ever mean it?)

 

“We need to close the sky beam. It’s causing too much damage, and we can’t hold L.A. if it grows anymore.”

 

He nearly rolls his eyes at the subject change, eyes lasering in on her back.

Too bloody typical – hint of anything not slaying related and she verbally (or physically) runs away.

Well, if she isn’t affected by this than he isn’t either.

 

“’S all well and good to say pet, but how the bloody hell are we supposed to shut it down? Magic?”

 

Buffy turns to him and he can tell he put his foot in his mouth somewhere along the line by the way she stiffens right back up, like a Victorian lady being courted with a ramrod straight spine.

 

His hand aches again, and he decides the bleedin’ soul can fucking deal and touches her.

The soft flesh of her hip is scorching, burning, and his scarred hand holds her jaw delicately.

 

It’s hell.

It’s heaven.

 

(It’s everything)

 

“Buffy, luv… Where are the others? Is Red here? Watcher? Whelp?”

 

He briefly scans the torn-up street, eyes returning to Buffy when he doesn’t see any of the Scoobies.

 

Buffy leans into his touch initially, eyes fluttering slightly as if in ecstasy (just like she had when she came around him, high on his love and her pleasure) but then the image shatters.

He steps back as he sees the disgust in her eyes, sees the resentment, and it reminds Spike of their brief fling (her unpredictable and volatile, him unable to stop loving her).

 

(He’s so sick of being Love’s Bitch, because fuck him if he doesn’t love Buffy Summers more than ever)

 

“Dead,” Buffy says, faraway gleam in her eyes, like she’s seeing something else, “Everyone’s dead. I’m all that’s left.”

 

Spike looks over her to Angel, both of them uneasy and concerned.

Neither of them is very good at the comfort-a-grieving-loved-one thing, not when they’d caused so much grieving.

 

He can feel Buffy’s eyes burning holes into him, emphasis on the burning.

 

Guess the ‘for my own good’ club has a new member. As President, Angel’s probably teaching him loads of neat stalking tricks and how to interfere in my life from a distance. Life, right.”

 

Spike just gapes at her, at the resentment in her little mumble fest he picked up on.

And did she really just compare him to fuckin’ Angel?

 

“Buffy-”

 

“Slayer-”

 

Her eyes flash for a moment - like that mumble wasn’t supposed to be heard, like she’s forgotten that she’s with sodding vampires - and she looks away.

 

Spike waits for Angel to say something, talk about their grand love story or cookies or anything, but he's silent.

 

“If you need to talk…”

He tries, trailing off as her eyes do meet his.

 

There’s pain and anger and hatred, deep and dark in his (but not really his) Slayer’s face.

 

(He wonders if she's picturing the bathroom, "Ask me again why I could never love you...")

 

“Don’t pretend, Spike…”

(It’s the first time since he came back to life that he’s heard his name off her lips, and the feeling is bittersweet)

“Don’t lie, not to me…”

(‘Shit,’ he thinks, ‘She is mad I didn’t tell her I was alive.’)

“You didn’t want to see me? I can accept that…”

(Didn’t want to see her? In what fucking world? And the look on her face is anything but accepting)

“It may hurt, but I can accept it. I can’t deal with playing pretend or fake concern, not anymore. Not ever.”

 

Hurt? It hurt her?

 

(How did the bitch think it felt to him? Her false declarations of love, the weight of his soul, staying away from the only person in the world to ever care for him?)

 

Fake concern?

 

A thousand words dance around his head, but all his dumb gob can utter are:

“I care.”

 

She laughs, mocking and jagged, cruel and hurt, and it’s an ugly sound he’s never heard from her before.

Spike’s heard her laugh of delight, her laugh when pained, her laugh when she wants to cry, but never that laugh.

 

“No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.”

 

It feels like a slap, feels worse than a slap, having his own words thrown back at him like that.

 

(All he can see are the tears edging in her bright green eyes, all he can feel is the pain of fire dancing along his skin: “I love you.” Lots of things dance ‘round his head, wonder, awe, gratitude, disbelief, and guilt. The last two stuck. He didn’t deserve her, and she only thought she loved him because of her reliance on him. “No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it. Now go.” She left. Buffy doesn’t leave those she loves. It only proved his point.)

 

He almost misses her next words.

 

“…is to close this fucking portal so the world doesn’t end. Sound good enough to you two?”

 

Spike doesn’t say anything, lost in thoughts and recollection.

 

Buffy’s lips, tense against his own – “I won’t forget it.”

Buffy’s hair, soft against his hand – “…Goldilocks…”

Buffy’s pants, quiet against his neck – “…Do you want me?” “I’ll always want you.”

 

“Could Slayer blood close it?”

 

He snarls, those soft and loving memories turning into the image ingrained in his memories: her falling corpse, him helpless to catch it.

 

(Her soft wide sweater, dirtied by the ground. The cross 'round her neck, dangles to the side. Her gorgeous face, soft and peaceful like it never had been in life. The taste of his salty tears mixed with bloody as he sobs.)

 

“You’re bloody well not jumping into another fucking portal Slayer, I swear to God-”

 

The force of her fist on his face has him careening back, crashing to the ground hard.

His demon visage gives way to human form, and he looks up to her fiery eyes.

 

It’s not the hardest she’s hit him, but it might be the most impactful.

 

Her fists announced a message, and her lips carry it.

 

A whisper against the fiery chaos surrounding them:

 

“You don’t get a say, you lost your say.”

 

Buffy’s fist is curled against her heart, shame and anger and pain warring in her eyes.

 

“Buffy…”

 

He clenches his jaw, not sure what to say to the woman he loves, the woman who meanseverything to him.

Spike has been around for a long time, met lots of people, even loved one of them for a century.

 

But even Drusilla’s love was shaky, uncertain, torn apart by her tantrums and fits and visions and love for her Daddy (not to mention her unfaithfulness with a Chaos Demon).

 

The only thing he’s ever been certain of is Buffy, his love for her.

He’s always been Love’s Bitch, first for Dru and then for Buffy, but he isn’t sure if he wants that anymore.

 

He isn’t sure what he wants, what the soul wants.

 

He doesn’t know if he’s ready to revolve his world around Buffy again, to be Love’s Bitch again, so he says nothing.

 

“We don’t have for time for this!”

 

He meets Buffy’s eyes briefly, before looking back to the ground.

They’d both forgotten Peaches’ was there.

 

“What are our options?”

 

He leans against a wall opposite Buffy, listening to the demons clacking and grunting as the smell of bloody grew heady in the air.

 

“Not much. Illyria is over there-” Angel nods to where Illyria’s blue glow flickers, tossing around demons heads, Spike would guess. “-and even she’s having trouble with this as an Old One.”

 

Buffy doesn’t know what an Old One is, but Spike imagines she’s tired enough to not care.

 

“What about my blood? You never answered.”

 

Oh that bitch.

 

He glares at her, completely and utterly furious, and the cheeky bint smirks before turning to the stupid Poofter.

 

“Yes. It could.”

 

Buffy doesn’t hesitate. She shucks off her jacket with a small hiss, burns and cuts enflamed as they’re exposed to the icy rain.

 

The scent of Slayer blood has the dual effect of turning him on and filling him with dread.

 

“That’s all I needed to hear.”

 

Buffy grabs her scythe and moves, glorious and angelic and burning in his vision.

 

Even as him and Angel jump into the foray, he nearly dusts a couple times watching her dance from corpse to not-yet-corpse.

 

(All he can think about is taking her against the alley wall, hiding her from the world and under him as he worships ever inch of her golden skin)

 

For every demon he kills, four more take its place.

 

He isn’t aware of what he’s doing until he’s in front of the portal, encapsulated in it’s black and red shadow.

 

“Angelus and William,” the portal greets, voice dark and empty and haunting. “Slayer,” it adds, surprise clear in the tone.

 

“Creepy Voice,” Buffy deadpans, “Can I call you Creep for short?”

 

Spike snorts and Creep lets out a weird rumble, almost like a laugh.

 

“You weren’t supposed to be here, Chosen One. L.A. is not yours.”

 

“Possessive much? The world is mine to protect, which make L.A. mine by default.”

 

“Slayer isn’t good at doing what she’s ‘sposed to, Wizard of Oz.” Spike drawls, love stupidly infecting his voice. He gives her a side glance, unsurprised when she avoids it. “She gives out the orders, doesn’t bloody well take ‘em.”

 

“You both amuse me, perhaps I will let you both live after I win.”

 

Buffy, Angel, and Spike all roll their eyes.

 

“You’re not winning anything, not well I’m alive.” Angelus’s dramatic declaration nearly sends Spike into a laughing fit, and the desire doubles when he quietly corrects it to “unalive.” at Buffy's look.

 

“Futile. Why continue to fight? This battle was won years ago, Angelus, before the First rose.”

 

“My resurrection…” Buffy murmurs, and Spike feels a surge of hatred for Red again, for making Buffy go through losing heaven and having every subsequent Apocalypse feel like her fault.

Even with the soul he’s tempted to rip the witch’s head off.

 

(Which was saying something when the soul normally made him turn into a weepy ponce)

 

“Yes,” Creepy drones, “Your life fuels mine. Your life birthed mine, I must thank you Slayer.”

 

“I don’t want your gratitude!” Buffy hisses, and Spike wants to hold her, to comfort her, to do something to lessen that pain in her, even if it means taking it himself, “I was happy! I was complete! I didn’t ask for this! I just wanted to die!”

 (And Spike can see that death wish in every mark on her skin, flaring up in her eyes)

 

Angel’s hand touches her shoulder before Spike can even think of going to her, and she throws him off before Spike can think of doing it himself.

He’s honestly a bit proud (actually a lot proud, fucking wanker)

 

Don’t touch me.

 

The icy rain slows, portal humming and the ever-present tingling in his scar stopping as the portal speaks: 

“Such rage and power in one so small. You will make a fitting Queen, I think.”

 

“Like hell she will!”

 

 Spike feels his demon surge forward in possessive anger, at the thought of someone else claiming his Slayer.

He bounces off the portal roughly, rolling a few feet away and groaning as his body protests the exertion of getting up.

 

Angel must've had the same idea since he's laying next to Spike.

 

Buffy's lips move, and Spike must be a bit concussed cause he can't make them out.

 

It’s clear that him and Angel aren’t meant to participate, they’re meant to be mere bystanders.

It was the Slayer this portal was after.

 

The world seems to hold its breathe as Buffy's face sets the way it had when she'd left him, the way it had when she'd bargained with him, the way it does when she's about to save the world.

 

“Slayer blood is an aphrodisiac, Creep, but it’s also a key ingredient in many things. I’m friends with a Wicca, a powerful Wicca, one that your armies killed today.”

 

“I am the King of Hell, am I expected to feel mercy?”

 

Buffy’s hand tightens on her scythe, eyes flashing gold.

 

“Death is my gift, and if you don’t feel mercy now, I’ll make you beg for it.”

 

Spike sees the portal flash, watches the colors dash across Buffy’s golden skin, sees the death in her eyes, and then everything blurs.

 

He sees her form, bright against the darkened skyline, falling falling falling.

He doesn’t see her land; he only sees the aftermath.

 

(“I save you. Not when it mattered, of course, but every night since. Every night I save you.”)

 

 “Luv, Buffy, please-

 

He can’t fail her again, can’t lose her again.

It almost killed him the first time, would have if not for Dawn.

 

Staying away from her was almost as hard, so was lying.

 

If she dies again, he’ll die with her. Spike reaches for her, practically begging her to just reconsider, and she’s tempted, he can see it…

 

 (“I love you.” “No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it. Now go.”)

 

…But she won’t.

 

She won’t let him love her, not when she doesn’t feel the same (“It’s killing me… Goodbye William.”)

She won’t abandon her duty, not even when it meant dying (“Every Slayer has a death wish. Even you.”)

She won’t let herself be happy, not with death on her heels and all her ties cut (“Dead. Everyone’s dead. I’m all that’s left.”)

And most importantly, Spike can’t force Buffy into anything, never could. She’s even more stubborn than him, and twice as determined.

 

He hates her for it.

(He loves her for it)

 

He wishes he could change her mind

(But he would never change her)

 

Buffy leaps forward without answering, because he knows her, knows the finality in her gaze even without her answer (He’d been on the other side of it twice, hadn’t he?).

 

(‘She only ever had life in death after experiencing Heaven,’ Spike thinks, ‘’S why she shagged me after all.’)

 

(Her song, one of the few he hasn’t heard, echoes his head: “I touch the fire and it freezes me…” )

 

He sees the flames wrap around her hands as she presses against it, and wonders if it burns or freezes.

 

(It’s like a siren song, beautiful, but dangerous : “ I look into and it’s black…” )

 

He looks at it, seeing the darkness surrounding her, and wonders when everything got so fucked up.

 

 (“ Why can’t I feel? My skin should crack and peel…” )

 

His hand burns as Buffy’s glows.

 

("I want the fire back.")

 

It reminds Spike of his nightmares, of his flesh burning off, inch by charred inch.

Nightmares where his soul is scorching, his hand is flaming, and his love looks at him with tears in her jade green eyes

Nightmares where he wakes with her name dancing round his head, enough to drive him barmy, enough to make him want to scream it down ever empty alleyway just to get it out of his head.

Nightmares not even the taste of whisky and familiar burn of nicotine can take from his head, not that he hasn't tried.

 

(“I love you.” She says, and he knows it’s a lie, a trick, because hadn’t she asked him why she could never love him? “No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it. Now go.”)

 

For a moment, he feels an echo of the flames that had killed him.

 

And it isn’t cold, it isn’t freezing.

 

It burns.

Like a spark.

 

Spike sees the flames begin to lick at his palm before another demon attacks him, swords swinging.

 

He turns his back on the Slayer and Angel, never realizing the finality of those flames.

 

A fresh wave of Slayer blood, strong enough to bring him to his knees, hits the air.

 

Four things happen in rapid succession, almost too fast for Spike to follow.

 

Angel shouts, loud and frantic, but Spike misses the words. 

 

Peaches, Grand Poofter, Captain Forehead, Angelus, his fucking Grandsire, has a sword come through his heart from the back, and he dusts almost instantly.

 

His demon takes over, tearing into the murderer of his Grandsire’s neck without hesitation, ignoring the blood burning his throat as it slides down, tasting of fear.

The demon’s head comes off and he tears into more.

 

Buffy shouts for him, but it doesn’t quite register.

It ebbs at the back of his mind, like a fire alarm distant enough to hear, but too far to be disturbed by.

 

It doesn’t click until too late.

 

“Spike, look out!”

 

He turns to her, sees her concern and sees her tears, and thinks, ‘I think she might love me.’

 

Then there’s a stake in his heart, and it’s like when Captain Cardboard had stuck one through.

 

It’s painful, jarring, it makes him want to scream.

There’s also a finality to it, a fear, but all he can worry about is Buffy, the love of his unlife, the girl who might actually love him (and how the bloody hell could she possibly actually love him?), hostage to the growing flames.

 

His biggest regret remains not holding her one last night.

(“All I did was hold you, and it was the best night of my life. So yeah, I’m scared.”)

 

You’re the one, Buffy. You’ll always be the one.

 

He dusts for the second time with his hand burning and Buffy’s tear-filled gaze haunting him.

 

The moment he'd realized he'd hurt Buffy again, even with the soul? That felt exactly like a stake to the heart.

Chapter Text

Under the wide and starry sky

Dig the grave and let me lie.

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me;

"Here he lies where he longed to be,

Home is the sailor,

home from sea,

And the hunter home from the hill."

-Requiem by Robert Stevenson

 

*

 

  (“Lesson the first: A slayer must always reach for her weapon. I’ve already got mine…”)

 

Shooting pain bleeds through her senses as she wakes.

She reaches for her scythe, fingers digging into the cool ground, but she doesn’t find it.

 

“Wha-”

She coughs, hacking violently as blood falls from her mouth like an overflowing fountain.

 

She spits it out on the ground, shaking as her eyes adjust to the darkness.

 

Buffy can’t see much of anything.

The air is ashy, dust filaments floating round her head enough to make her want to sneeze.

 

The ground is cool and dewy, like freshly rained grass, but it’s muddy too.

 

She can’t find her scythe and she doesn’t see the portal that had spit her out.

From what she can see, she’s in the middle of nowhere.

 

Ashes and red-green grass make up the environment.

 

She coughs again as she forces herself to her feet, swaying from pain and nausea and weakness.

 

“Buffy Summers.”

 

She falls, face cushioned by the dewy red grass and her own blood.

She doesn’t have the energy to look up.

 

“What d’ you wa’?”

 

Buffy spits again, helpless to the internal bleeding until her body dies again.

 

(But not permanently, never permanently, she just waits until her body became a corpse and then the corpse heals, fresh for more misery.)

 

“We want much, but that is not what you desire to know, is it?”

 

She tries to shake sensation into her limbs, to overcome the lack of blood flow and cool numbness from the ashy air, but she can only manage a sitting position.

 

“Who are you?”

 

Buffy can’t see the person, concealed as they are, but she gets the feeling that they’re smiling.

 

“We are all, we are infinite.”

 

“The First Evil?”

 

The voice laughs.

 

“No, we are the Powers That Be.”

 

She juts her chin out, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

“Then why are you hiding in the shadows?”

 

 “We are formless, Chosen One.”

 

“Get a form then. And try talking less like an insane-o.”

 

“This better, luv?”

 

Her breath catches as the shadows gather to form him, lithe and gorgeous and bright.

 

“Not him.”

 

The PTB rolls Spike’s eyes.

 

“You feel grief.” (it? They?) note, curious.

 

She glares.

 

“Change or I’m not talking.”

 

“Very well.”

 

A flash and then there’s someone else standing there, familiar, painful.

 

“Merrick?”

 

It looks like him, all tweed and bravado, much like Giles but different still.

 

“Hello, my dear girl. You’ve made me proud.”

 

Tears fill her eyes, fond reminiscence turning to regretful recollection.

 

“You’re dead. It was my fault. God, Merrick, I’m so sor-”

Her first Watcher puts his hand on her shoulder, gentle as all else as he kneels in front of her.

 

“I chose this, Buffy. You did your best, my dear. It was never your fault.”

 

His arms enclose her as she sobs, falling apart as she remembers Lothos ripping him apart, remembers her fear as she lit the gymnasium on fire, remembers her pain as her parents shoved her in a mental asylum just to be free of her.

 

(and it’s been so long since anyone’s held her like this, since anyone has felt safe enough to break down around. The last time she’d done this, it had been Spike holding her, Spike comforting her. But Spike was gone now…)

 

“You’ve suffered so much, Buffy, more than I ever wanted you to. You’ve saved the world more than anyone could’ve expected you to.”

 

He gently rubs circles on her back, mindful of the tears and scars scattering her skin.

 

“You’ve been in pain, you’ve loved, and you’ve lost, and you’re more than an old Watcher could ever hope for.”

 

She pushes him away, cradling her stomach slightly and spitting more blood to the ground.

 

“I-I’m not that good, Merrick. I’ve failed so many… I’ve hurt so many…”

Spike’s kind blue eyes come to mind, full of love and compassion even as her fists paint his skin red.

 

“I’ve made so many mistakes…”

 

Merrick’s fingers gently lift her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes.

 

There’s knowledge in them, like he already knows her sins, like he knows all of her impurity and pain.

 

There isn’t any judgement in them, and that’s almost enough to make her breakdown again.

 

“We’ve all made mistakes Buffy, myself included. That is why I’m here, why the Powers have allowed my visit here.”

 

She wipes the few stray tears from her eyes, looking around again.

 

“Where is here?”

 

“Hell. This is the world in twenty years, assuming you make it back to the world.”

 

Her vision clears and ashy clouds part, sunshine filtering through the darkened clouds.

 

“Oh my god.”

 

Corpses line the red grass, bleeding an endless trail of crimson life as far as she can see.

 

Body parts are divided at random, legs and arms and throats scattered across the dewy ground and traces of rubble in the distance.

 

“All these people…”

 

“Dead, Buffy. Dead. Angelus’s move against the Senior Partners did more than decimate the slayer’s forces and murder the Power’s champions, it ended the world. The world’s broken. Magic is broken. Dimensions are bleeding into each other, reality is shifting, and humans are not on the winning side this time.”

 

She shifts back onto her knees.

 

“Merrick, how can magic be broken?”

 

His gaze turns distant.

 

“Your Willow was much more powerful than the Power’s anticipated, and she decimated the cosmic scale of balance. First with your resurrection, then with her attempt to end the world and gathering of black magic, and finally with her hijack of the slayer line.”

 

Buffy looks down in shame.

 

“This is all my fault, Merrick. All of this… God.”

 

The First’s rise, the fall of Los Angeles, the end of the fucking world…

 

“I should have stayed dead. Xander shouldn’t have brought me back.”

 

Merrick’s smile is gently and kind, like it had been when she’d tried staking her first vamp.

 

“This is not your fault, my dear. The blame lies with Rupert, he should have known the importance of magical ethics after his teenage antics.”

 

Merrick’s hand presses into her forehead gently, transferring images of Giles as Ripper wreaking havoc across Europe, of the consequences and dangers Giles had ignored as he pursued nothing more than his need for power.

 

“Why didn’t he tutor Willow?”

 

She didn’t understand how he couldn’t have seen the path Willow was going down, the path he himself had gone down.

How could he have been so blind.

 

You don’t see anything! You’re blind!’

 

Willow’s angry declaration that had been part of the ‘Will Be Done’ mess made a scary sort of sense now.

 

“He was afraid. He was unwilling to see or confront his own mistakes and shortcomings, so he buried his head in research and pretended the issue wasn’t there.”

 

That sounded a bit like all of them, especially after her resurrection.

 

“But Buffy, I’m not here to remind you of your mistakes, or Rupert’s. I’m here because the Powers are offering you a choice.”

 

She snorts.

 

“That’s a first.” She mumbles.

 

Merrick laughs a little too.

 

“I know they may have made your life difficult, but they are willing to see their mistakes among the failings of others. That is where your choice comes in.”

 

His eyes focus in on her, all traces of humor gone.

 

“Buffy, you have done more for this world than the Powers could have hoped when you were called. But mistakes were made, the balance was lost. The portal you through yourself into landed you in the future, but the Powers believe we can use it to send you into the past.”

 

“What’s the catch?”

 

Merrick smiles.

 

“Quick as ever, I see. The catch is we can only send you to the past for six days, that’s all the Powers are able to manage.”

 

 

She raises a brow.

 

“Why only six?”

 

“One for each soul willingly submitted in your name.”

 

“In my name?”

 

Merrick sighs.

 

“Faith gave up her life so you could reach the portal. Willow, Xander, and Giles each sacrificed themselves to slow the influx of demons and keep you safe. Angelus was dusted fighting a demon that was going to attack you, and Spike’s soul has belonged to you since he earned it. Thus, six souls freely given.”

 

She shakes her head, images of corpses dancing round and round and round.

 

She’d lived in Sunnydale for seven years.

She’d made mistakes in Sunnydale for seven years.

She needed one more day.

 

 

“My soul. What about my soul?”

 

Merrick’s brows furrow in confusion.

 

“What do you mean your soul?”

 

“If I give it up freely can the Powers manage one more day?”

 

Merrick frowns, that familiar, Council-taught ‘bad Slayer, bad’ look she’s seen on Giles’s face hundreds of times.

 

“Buffy…”

 

He trails off, looking to the sky as if for guidance.

 

“What?”

 

“Buffy, the ‘souls freely given’ were given in death. Their past selves shall retain their souls if you choose to venture to the past.”

 

“But I’m an immortal. Does that mean it can’t work?”

 

Merrick hesitates again.

 

“Tell me.” She commands, letting a healthy dose of General-Buffy bleed into her voice.

 

“It…could work, but you would lose your soul. Permanently.”

 

“And?”

 

Buffy forces herself to her feet, feeling the wounds she’d acquired in L.A. heal.

She’s still a bit shaky, but not enough to let it show.

 

“The world is literally over. I’ve given my life, my heart, my everything to this stupid world and it still ended. Maybe my soul will keep it saved.”

 

Merrick sighs.

 

“Buffy, you don’t understand. Your soul will be gone. It will never be able to return, cursed to some alternate dimension. It will change who you are, what you are… There’s never been a soulless Slayer, and the Powers have no way of knowing what might come from it.”

Buffy thinks of Spike, the bleached contradiction that had loved her and hated her.

She thinks of his humanity, his love and zest for life.

She thinks of his pain, his grief and his strength.

She thinks of his soul, his insanity and his suffering.

 

(“Buffy, shame on you. Why does a man do what he mustn’t? For her. To be hers.”)

 

Buffy thinks of Angel, the Jekyll-Hyde vampire she’d thought she’d loved.

She thinks of his humanity, how it disappeared whenever he was too happy.

She thinks of his pain, how he refused to share it and took solace in the dark.

She thinks of his soul, unwanted and pained.

 

Buffy doesn’t think souls mean as much as she was taught.

 

“I don’t care. You said it’s a choice. What’s my alternative to playing Marty McFly?”

 

 Merrick waves his hand and the ashy landscape changes, fires roaring around them and the smell of blood permeating the air.

 

It’s familiar, hauntingly so.

 

She sees a dragon and she sees a portal and she sees armies of demons lining the streets.

 

“The Powers will deliver you to the Battle of L.A. and will offer you the chance to save your friends lives.”

 

She sees Angel, unassuming and horrified as the portal sucks her in.

She sees Spike, angry and hurt as Angel dusts.

 

(They were hers)

 

“What about them? Spike? Angel?”

She was furious with Angel, but she didn’t want her ex-lover to die when she could prevent it.

 

“They will die, fate and the Circle of Black Thorns demands it.”

 

Buffy swipes a hand through the images, like a smoky illusion, and it dissipates.

 

The crimson grass and ashy air greet her.

 

“Then no deal. I want the past, and I want seven days. The Powers can suck it.”

 

Merrick sighs, a deep ‘oh-poor-me’ sigh Buffy was all-too familiar with.

It was one Giles had always released when she was stubborn on his attempts to control her, one that used to make her feel like a petulant child being scolded.

 

(But she is a grown ass women now, she’s died countless times and been betrayed and hurt and she’s strong, stronger than she’d ever thought she could be. She doesn’t care about much, and if the Powers wanted her cooperation she isn’t yielding.)

 

“They can do it. One day for each year you lived in Sunnydale.”

 

His eyes soften as he takes her in again, hand cupping her cheek in a rare affectionate gesture.

 

“I wish I could aid you, my dear. I wish we could’ve had more time…”

 

“There’s no way to save you, is there?”

 

She knows before she asks the answer, but she has to ask.

 

“Some things are meant to be, and some things that are tragic have a grander purpose. As hard as it is to see, you need Rupert, and he needs you.”

She laughs, bitterness cutting into it.

 

“I definitely needed his abandonment and judgement and betrayals. I don’t think I could live without that.”

 

She walks off slightly, turning her back to Merrick.

 

“But I did? So that can’t be right…Can it?”

 

Her finger taps her chin, as if she’s actually questioning it. She turns back towards Merrick, circling him, like a predator with a prey.

 

(“’S a good thing too. Become a vampire, you got nothing to fear. Nothing but one girl. That’s you, honey.”)

 

“Or Should I say, ‘I don’t think I could be miserable without that’? It’s more accurate, right? More convenient? Isn’t that how the Powers want me? Miserable? Pliable? Isn’t that why they take everything? My life, my hear, my trust, my faith, my hope, my will, my spirit…”

 

Merrick’s back is ramrod straight; eyes cool and a face of stone.

 

“Hell, they, or should I say you even took my ability to die or rest.”

 

“Buffy-”

 

“I’m changing things Merrick. I’m not going to let them push me around this time and dictate my life. Not again.”

“We don’t expect you to, Buffy, but some things are fated and can’t be prevented.”

 

She snorts.

 

“Fate is a load of shit. I write my own destiny.”

 

Merrick sighs again, waving his hands into the air like she’s seen Willow do in the past.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Images surround her, like pictures on a projection screen.

 

“Seven days for seven years. You get one day per year, a full twenty-four hours from the moment you arrive till you leave. You shall arrive here after each journey, until the seven days are up.”

 

Buffy rolls her shoulders, feeling her weary bones pop and crack as she tries to get the blood flow working .

 

(Resurrections are a pain in the ass)

 

“I’m ready.”

 

Merrick nods, stepping back to let her examine the projections of her first year.

 

She watches her first day, watches herself befriend Xander and Willow after saving their lives.

She could change that, could isolate herself to prevent the harm, but she knows that her younger self would befriend others and it would be a waste of her day. Not to mention it would change everything if it did work, making her future knowledge useless.

 

Buffy swipes the image aside. Not then.

Jesse’s vamped face greets her next, the shock on his bumpied features as Xander stakes his best friend.

She could save Jesse, possibly preventing Xander’s demon hatred, but she doesn’t think that will change enough. Xander was open to Angel, initially. Bitter, but accepting-ish. Angelus is what permanently tainted his opinion of demons.

 

She swipes the image aside.

 

Other incidents flash in her eyes: Amy’s mother and her cheer obsession, Xander’s bug fetish, the Nightmare incident, the Hyena incident…

 

(“Lessen the second: Ask the right questions. You want to know how I beat ‘em? The question isn’t ‘How’d I win?’ The question is ‘Why’d they lose?’”)

 

 

What am I missing? What fucked everything up?

 

Her death.

Her relationship with Angel.

Xander’s fixation on her.

 

She frowns, swiping aside a few more images as Angel comes into her sight.

 

Vamped out.

 

“There.”

 

She taps her finger against the projection, the first moment Angel’s seductions actually began to work.

 

Angelus was her biggest mistake, and Angel was one of her many regrets.

 

Merrick looks at her, concern dancing in his eyes despite his stiff upper lip.

 

British people, I swear.’

 

“Are you sure? Do you truly believe you can warn Angelus off your heart?”

 

Buffy rolls her neck hard, satisfied by each crack.

 

“Trust me,” she says, popping her knuckles one by one, “Angelus will be running for the hills once I’m done with him.”

 

Not to mention the Master, but that was only a vague idea forming in her head.

 

(She isn’t as vulnerable to the Master’s thrall as she had been, and other than parlor tricks, she was faster and stronger.)

 

Prevent her first death so the First never achieves any foothold.

Prevent Angel from seducing her so Jenny lives, and she doesn’t have to send Angel to hell.

 

She smiles.

 

(Worst comes to worst she was pretty sure her old body wouldn’t be immortal. She might actually be able to die.)

 

“Good luck, Buffy. Oh!”

 

She jumps into his arms, knowing this will probably be the last time she’ll see him.

 

“You were a great Watcher Merrick. I’ll miss you.”

 

Merrick smiles at her again.

 

“And I, you. You will be the greatest Slayer to ever live, Buffy. Now go save the world.”

 

The portal flares back to life behind her, black and red glow painting the ashy landscape a darker hue.

 

A bolt of lightning cracks across the sky, loud and painful.

 

“This might hurt, Buffy. I’m sorry.”

 

Merrick’s hand presses into her chest, against her heart, and she feels white hot pain spread through her limbs.

 

She hears screams, bloody and haunting, and only later does she realize it’s her.

 

Buffy fades into blackness once again, soulless and ready for change.