"It's over, B. That's the last of them." The hand Faith wipes across her face leaves a pale streak in a grey mask. Faith's hair is grey too. And her clothes.
Sackcloth and ashes?
Well, maybe not sackcloth, whatever that is, Buffy thinks, (and it's not like she looks any better herself), but ashes? Yeah, totally.
"Looks like most of us made it," Faith says, scanning the battlefield, which is thankfully short on carnage due to the rising wind, which is carrying the losers' remains away with it, like a drift of dirty grey smoke. "Be dawn soon."
Faith opens her fingers and lets the stake she's holding clatter to the ground. "Be weird not to go hunting come sun-down, huh? Not because we don't wanna, I mean, but because we don't need to."
"Yeah," Buffy agrees. "Weird." She's scanning the battlefield herself while they talk, gaze drifting over the groups of exhausted Slayers, embracing each other, helping the wounded, or mourning their dead. She's not certain what else she's hoping to see. Nothing at all, maybe?
In the end, Faith sees him the same time she does. "Shit."
Shit, Buffy agrees, but doesn't say aloud. She glances sidelong at Faith, seeing the realisation on Faith's face, only one still standing, the way Faith's mouth softens and then hardens again as she swallows tears she'll never shed.
Buffy doesn't have time to process her own thoughts, because there's a stake in Faith's hand again suddenly (which where the hell she was keeping it, given how skin-tight her clothes are, Buffy has no clue). "Guess I spoke too soon. It's not quite over yet after all." Faith squares her shoulders and heads off in the direction of their mutual gaze.
Buffy hadn't intended to (she doesn't think) , but she finds herself stepping into Faith's path.
"It's okay. I'll deal with it."
Faith stops, nose inches from Buffy's. They meet each other's eyes, green and brown mirrors. Buffy isn't certain what she'd been expecting to see in those mirrors. Not pity, that's for sure.
But there it is.
"You sure about this, B?" Faith says, voice un-Faith-like and gentle. "I got no history with this guy. Not like with..." She clears her throat, continues, "Let me do it. I'll make it quick, I promise. And I won't lose no sleep over it afterwards."
Faith means well but Buffy bristles at the words. He's mine. How dare you?
With an effort, she controls herself. "Uh-uh. He's my problem. Always has been."
Faith rolls her eyes. "Yeah, I get that. In fact, that's the whole fucking point."
Meanwhile, her eyes say, let me spare you this pain, okay? The pain Faith is feeling herself but will never express, and that right now Buffy won't allow herself to think about.
"It's all right," Buffy says, though she knows it's not. "It's okay, Faith." You don't have to protect me.
Faith isn't beholden to her any more, Buffy thinks. Hasn't been for years. In fact, if anything, it's the other way around these days.
"But thanks for the offer," she says. Then, she throws her arms around Faith's neck, hugging her fiercely close. "Thanks for everything, Faith. You're a good friend. I love you."
Faith endures the hug for a whole five seconds before pushing Buffy away. "Fuck it, B. No need to get grabby. I'd do the same for anyone."
That isn't true and Buffy knows it. "Sure you would," Buffy says. "See you later."
As she turns to walk away, Faith stops her with a hand on her arm. "Hate to go all Mama Slayer on you, Buffy, but remember what we swore last night - all of us?"
Buffy looks back over her shoulder. "I remember."
"That no vampire would leave this battlefield alive," Faith recites, as if Buffy hasn't spoken. "They were there when we swore it- Spike and Angel. They knew what it meant. Looks like only one of them's followed through on it."
"I remember," Buffy says, again.
This time, when she walks away, she hears Faith shouting orders. "Okay, you guys, let's get the wounded to hospital, and the fuck out of this shit-hole."
I should be there, Buffy thinks. I should be helping.
But it's not every day you succeed in wiping out the very reason for your existence, so first things first.
Though it hardly matters any more, given he's the last of them.
He's sitting on the bloody corpse of a Fyarl demon - one of Drusilla's bodyguards (or maybe her pets, Buffy isn't certain). Like all the other survivors, he's caked in vampire dust. Even his lips look grey.
But there are pale tracks down either cheek, and when he looks up at her, his eyes glisten.
"Wouldn't think it'd be so bloody hard to get yourself killed in battle, would you?" he says, bitterly. "But the death part of death or glory's still proving bloody elusive. Sorry about that, Slayer."
"It's not your fault," she hears herself say, which is so dumb it makes her ears burn with embarrassment. But he just looks at her.
"Yeah it is. Yet another bloody thing Angel's better at."
"Shut up, Spike," she almost says, except that if they're gonna do this thing, he doesn't have many words left, and she figures he's entitled to all of them. Also, the way his voice cracks when he says Angel's name tears at her atrophied heartstrings.
"But we did it," he says. "We killed the fucking lot of them. No more vampires, Slayer. There goes your raison d'etre. Whatever will you do with yourself now?"
She doesn't answer. Just stands over him while he feels in his duster pockets and fishes out his cigarettes and lighter. Watches as he lights up, draws the smoke in deep and exhales through his nostrils. Wonders if it's Angel he was crying for or Drusilla. Or maybe both of them?
He smokes in silence, and for a moment, she almost thinks he's run out of things to say already, but then he laughs suddenly, takes a last long drag on his smoke and grinds the butt out underneath his boot heel, before rising to his feet and spreading his arms out wide.
"Right, then. Condemned man's had his last cigarette. Do it fast, okay, Slayer? That's all I ask."
The words echo down the years to her from the last time he asked her to kill him. It's only now that she realises she's had the stake in her hand, raised to strike, all this time.
She looks from his grey face to the point of the stake and back, then glances over her shoulder. Faith has gotten the survivors out already, and the battlefield is empty save for the two of them. Above their heads, the clouds have parted and moonset sheds a dim light on the scene. It glints on broken glass and casts the shadows of crumbling walls onto the bare ground. The windows of vacant buildings watch them, like a thousand empty black eyes.
Not for the first time, she thinks that the world's remaining vampires couldn't have chosen a more desolate place to make their last stand if they'd tried.
Fitting somehow. Drusilla probably thought so too.
"Dru was ready to go, I think," he says, suddenly, as if he's read her thoughts. His arms drop back to his sides. "In the end, she hardly put up a fight."
Buffy can imagine it. Drusilla in her long black dress and her mad crown of thorns, all torn and bloody, reaching out with imploring hands.
"Hold me one last time, my little Spike."
And he surely had.
Of course he had.
"This is Dru," he continues. "Her dust anyway. All over me, just like she wanted. Bet she's laughing now, wherever she is."
"And Angel?" Buffy hears herself say. "How did he...?" Words fail her suddenly. Good job there with the repressing.
"...die?" he finishes for her. One booted foot lashes out and kicks the dead Fyarl demon in the head. "This bastard ran him through from behind."
"Didn't live too long to enjoy its victory, huh?" she says, swallowing the lump of tears in her throat, and he shrugs.
"It lived long enough. Even Dru enjoyed that part. Never could stand anyone stabbing daddy in the back."
"I'm sorry," she says, while her heart seems to contract inside her chest and even taking a breath becomes difficult.
"Don't be," he says, and his voice has gone soft, as if he can smell her grief (and he probably can). "Think Angel was ready to go too." He raises his arms again and shuts his eyes. "And so am I. Do it now, Slayer."
She stares at him, at his closed eyelids, at the grey film of ash on his white hair. He's caused her so much pain, she thinks. Angel too, but Angel's taken himself out of the picture for good. Part of her wants to do it so badly - be rid of all the stupid melodrama that seems to come along with the two of them.
But there's another part standing off to the side yelling at her that she's gone crazy. Or else bought in to the melodrama herself without realising it, like she has a leading role in the stupidest play ever written.
Oh, for fuckssake...
The stake drops from her hand. "This is so dumb," she says. "You're my friend, Spike. I'm not gonna kill you. Of course I'm not."
His eyelids blink open. His hands drop to his sides again. "You what?" He looks, sounds, annoyed with her. "You gone doolally, Slayer?"
"Again," he adds, in a blatant attempt to needle her.
"No," she says. "More like I've just come to my senses."
He stares at her, as if he can't believe his ears. Then he says, echoing Faith, deliberately or otherwise, "You all swore an oath, remember? No more vampires, you swore. Angel and me...we might not have said the words, but we always understood that meant us too."
"Well, we were wrong," she says, "and it was a stupid oath, and it can go fuck itself."
"That's not what you said last night," he insists. "That's not what the others said - your Scooby friends -the other Slayers- Faith."
Faith. For a moment, she feels bad, like she's let Faith down. But then she tells herself not to be so dumb. If it were Angel standing here instead of Spike, Faith could never bring herself to kill him.
"Faith would totally do the same thing if she was me. And she's never even had sex with you."
"Has she?" she asks, uncertainly, after a moment when he doesn't say anything, just goes on staring at her like she has two heads.
"No, she bloody hasn't," he growls at last. "Look, Slayer - Buffy, I mean, I appreciate the sentiment, but that's all it is - sentiment. We'd decided, hadn't we? Can't be sure there'll be no more vampires ever 'long as there's one left, even if that one has a soul."
"I trust you," she says. "You won't sire anyone."
"You're being bloody stupid," he says. "And you can't know that."
She shrugs. "Either way, I'm not killing you. And if Angel was standing here with you, I wouldn't kill him either."
And neither would Faith. She's as certain of that now as if Faith were standing right there beside her, and telling her so.
It's his turn to shrug. "Not just your choice, though, is it?"
Abruptly, he sits down again on the Fyarl corpse and lights another cigarette. He gestures towards the east, where a white line on the horizon signals the approaching dawn.
"Sun'll be comin' up soon. Think I'll just wait here for it, if it's all the same to you, Slayer."
"Okay," she says, after a moment. She points to the black maw of a door way in a nearby ruined building. "I'll be waiting in there in case you change your mind." And before he can even think to try to fend her off, she grabs his face between the palms of her hands and kisses him, deep, deeper, thrusting her tongue down his throat as far as it will go.
His lips are cold and slimy with Drusilla's ash, and he tastes of cigarettes. It's vile, but she doesn't care. If one of the things she wants to do after they've killed all the vampires is him, then whose damn business is it but hers?
When she releases his mouth at last, he stares up at her, face gone all slack and wondering. He raises his hand to his lips, as if he can't believe what's just happened.
"So," she says, beginning to walk off, "you can do what you want. I'll be over there."
For a moment, there's silence, while in front of her the white line is getting brighter.
"Told you I was ready," he says, into the silence. She grimaces to herself, but keeps on walking.
Then, she hears him getting to his feet and the sound of footsteps following her. A moment later, cold fingers twine themselves with hers.
"On the other hand," he says, "there's no hurry."