Chapter 28 - Epilogue

Two years later

The most recent apocalypse had been averted. The small gang of stalwarts had slumped, exhausted, in the room they'd used for planning as dawn approached. Buffy threw off the last tendrils of sleep and sat among her sleeping friends.

She considered the past two years. Well, just over two years. This was the third apocalypse they'd averted in that time, and that didn't count all the evil they had thwarted before it became such a serious threat.

She smiled at the picture before her. Emily and Alasdair slept entwined around one another. Despite the fact that both were fully dressed, it seemed somehow improper that she should witness their closeness. In another corner, Josh and Sarah lay together. Although not so intimately arrayed, their closeness was unmistakable.

She felt a small pang when she remembered that Giles was not here for this apocalypse. He'd been injured earlier in the year, and had been unable to leave London. Throughout the time since her return, Giles had spent his time divided between following Emily's band of heroes around the world, and spending the necessary time in London ensuring that the Council of Watchers lived up to its mission. As a result, the band had been all but homeless, living in a succession of rented accommodation and hotel, fortunately all paid for by the Council.

Grianne was closest to Buffy. The woman had sworn that this was to be her last apocalypse, and had offered to train someone to take over her role as magic co-ordinator for the group. She'd approached Buffy for the task, recognising that, as Emily and Alasdair grew more assured in their role, Buffy's position in the group seemed less significant. Buffy had declined, pointing out that she'd just get the pronunciation all wrong and summon demons to kill them all when what she intended to do was provide a bit of light.

Buffy thought about this latest trial. She had felt somewhat superfluous. The other vampires were growing in strength and confidence, and when you added that to Alasdair's experience and their own natural intelligence and flair, they simply didn't need her any more. She had stayed on to the end of this threat simply out of habit.

She noticed that it was still daylight. She might have to wait a little longer. Of course, Emily had offered to share her resistance to sunshine with Buffy, but the offer had been refused. As a vampire, Buffy had never shared sunlight with Spike, and without him, there just didn't seem to be any point. And, of course, it gave her a nice, simple, get-out clause. One she intended to use soon.

She'd been planning her next move for some time, but now the time for planning was over. Careful not to waken the others, she got up and gathered her meagre belongings together. At least this time the action hadn't been too far from home. Home .. She hadn't been back since just after Spike.. Even now, she couldn't form the words without the tears starting, so she thought in part-sentences and ideas.

She glanced out of the window, careful to keep away from the lethal rays that penetrated. Loch Ness glistened in the late afternoon sun of a beautiful Spring day. One thing she was proud of was the fact that she'd at last started driving this past year. Her small car was sitting outside, in the shade of the building, and she thought it would be safe for her to leave in a few minutes. It would take her a few hours to get home, but then, well, timing was up to her.

She slipped into the kitchen of the rented cottage, and carefully opened the back door. She regarded the level of shade between the door and her car, and decided it was sufficient, providing she was quick. She swung her bag over her shoulder, and made a dash for it.

Once in the car, she spent some time getting comfortable. The foil on the windows seemed intact, so she didn't have to do any repairing.

As she pulled away from the cottage, she drove past the scene of last night's battle. Several, huge, long-necked creatures lay dead and broken. She wondered if they were the origin of the legend of Nessie, or if they were the result of some sort of a sick joke. Their resemblance could hardly be coincidental.

When she'd been told that a new Hellmouth was threatening to open under Loch Ness she'd smiled. The ancient legends of the Monster of the Loch were well-known. The demon who'd attempted to open a portal under the water had used these creatures to try to beat off the opposition. And, it had been hard. They were huge, and, unlike most of the tourist images of the monster, they had sharp teeth, claws, and a tongue which darted fifty yards at a time out of its mouth with deadly accuracy to grab anything it considered worth eating. And it seemed to think that anything that moved came into that category.

She winced as she moved in her seat, the injury she had taken around her waist when that vicious tongue had claimed her earlier opening again with the movement. She checked the bandage and decided it was sufficient for the moment, and carried on her way.

She drove slowly. Once she was away from the area close to Inverness, she hardly met another car, and she enjoyed the journey. She was doing her best to store memories of this part of the world which she and Spike had adopted as their own. It had been so long since she had just looked around.

It was fully dark when she arrived at the croft. She knew others had been keeping it habitable for her whenever they were in the area, but she hadn't been back. She opened the door, relieved to find it just as she remembered. She wandered into their bedroom. Spike's things were still in the drawers and wardrobe, a constant reminder which she had decided she should avoid. Until now.

As she looked through his drawers, she came across a ring. It had the form of a skull on it, and, she remembered, he had worn it constantly until she had given him another ring. Then, this one had been abandoned to the drawer. She slipped the ring onto her finger and closed the drawer.

She went to her pack, and pulled out a bag of blood. It was the last she had, but that really didn't matter. She wasn't planning on needing any more. In truth, she didn't really need this one, but it was all part of the plan. She poured the blood into a mug and warmed it. When the signal that the microwave had finished sounded, she picked up the mug, holding it between her hands as if to warm them.

She took the mug, and headed for the door. Often, she and Spike would do this. They'd take some blood, and drink it on the beach. Then, they'd go for a walk, dipping their feet in the icy water, and holding hands like teenagers. Sometimes, they'd find a secluded spot and make love, but, she thought sadly, that wasn't on the menu for tonight. Often, they'd be so wrapped up in one another, that they'd hardly notice how close the sunrise was, and they'd have to run for shelter. That was one problem she wouldn't have tonight. She wouldn't need shelter.

Emily was the first to notice that Buffy had gone. She assumed at first that she had simply gone into another room, but there was a niggling doubt at the back of her mind which made her go and check. When she saw that Buffy's car was gone, she raised the alarm.

Alasdair was the only other person who understood the significance of what was happening. They had both noticed the differences in the past year. Buffy had been leaving more and more of the decision making and planning to them, and been more inclined to simply follow their lead. During this latest situation, she had done everything they had asked of her, and more, but she had kept to the background as much as possible. They both knew of her promise to Margot, that she would stay until she was no longer needed, although they didn't know of the time scale Buffy herself had put on that.

Emily kicked herself for not realising sooner. While, technically, Buffy wasn't needed so much as a Slayer, her importance as a friend would always mean she was necessary to their lives. Despite this, she knew that Buffy's grief over the loss of Spike was as real as the day she lost him. They all missed him, but Buffy had always seemed like she was missing a part of herself. Oh, she had played the part, smiled in all the right places, said what needed to be said, but she never put all of herself into what she did, unless it was the Slaying, and then, Emily had always worried that Buffy would do something deliberately reckless on purpose.

As they all gathered their belongings together, she, Alasdair and Grianne debated where she might have gone. It was apparent to them all now what she planned, they just didn't know the where or the how.

Alasdair thought she'd be heading back to Sunnydale. That had, after all, been her home, where she'd first met Spike. Grianne considered London, the closest to a base Buffy had had since Spike was gone. Emily, on the other hand, argued that she had gone home. The others, remembering that Buffy hadn't been there in almost two years argued that she wouldn't have gone there, but Emily pressed her point, and, in the end, the others agreed to go with her instinct.

Leaving Josh and Sarah to do the clearing up, the other three got into Alasdair's car and headed for Loch Maree.

When they arrived, they were relieved to find Buffy's car outside, and rushed through the door. There was no sign of her, but neither was there a pile of dust, so they heaved a collective sigh of relief. They went back outside, and considered where she might have gone. Despite their immunity to sunlight, the two vampires could feel the imminence of the dawn, and they knew, instinctively, that they had to find her before then. Therefore, they split up, Alasdair and Grianne heading along the lochside in one direction, and Emily the other.

Buffy sat on the edge of the rock, looking out into the loch. This had been a favourite spot, one where she and Spike had spent a lot of time together. She could almost feel him close as she sat here, but the lack of contact was a constant reminder that he was not. Tears ran unchecked down her cheeks as she waited for the sun to rise. She wasn't afraid. She just hoped, that, whatever happened when her body turned to dust, she'd see him again.

Slowly, she felt the sun rise behind her. She kept facing the water, unwilling to take her eyes off it as it glittered brighter and brighter. She was soon aware of the warmth of the sun at her back, and turned to check on the sun's progress. There was no way she couldn't be burning now, and yet, she wasn't. She turned her mind back to the dozens of times Emily had offered her the gift of her blood and with it resistance to sunlight, and the equal number of times she had refused the offer. Now it looked as though, when Emily had eventually stopped asking, it was because she had taken matters into her own hands. Emily must have added some of her own blood to the animal that Buffy drank routinely. She wondered how she had done it, sure that she would have noticed it, even in a mixture.

So, that particular avenue was closed. It didn't really matter. There were some trees a few hundred yards back from the coastline. There were bound to be twigs and such, and there was sure to be one she could use as a stake.

She got up to go and look when she heard a voice from behind her.

"Buffy," the voice said, softly.

"Margot?" Buffy replied, spinning around. She had avoided all contact with the Phoenix since her return, leaving that to the others. She couldn't help but blame the strange, multicoloured bird for Spike's demise, even though she knew he was acting under conditions over which he had no control.

"I thought you'd prefer to talk to me in this form. At least in this form I was once able to do you a kindness."

Buffy nodded. "If you're here to stop me .."

"I just want to talk. If you still want to find a stake afterwards, I'll even help."

Another nod.

"This is my last day in this world too," she said, softly. "My job here is done, and I'll be assigned a new task. It's always hard to leave, but this time, it's harder than ever. The trial given to you and Spike was harder than I can ever remember. It was done because it was believed you had the strength to withstand it, as, indeed, you have proved. But, it was still cruel, and I'm sorry that I was the cause of such pain to you, albeit unwillingly."

Buffy couldn't speak. She could hate the Phoenix, but she couldn't bring herself to hate Margot. She knew it was illogical, but that's how it was. To hear Margot telling her she was sorry was almost unbearable.

"Buffy, the trial wasn't over the day you saw Spike turn to dust."

"What? What do you mean?"

"Just what I said. The last part started then, and it ended when the sun rose a few moments ago. It's over now, and I'm happy to say, that yet again, you passed."

"Great, I passed. Now I'll just go and find that stake."

"Not yet. There is more. What you remember of the last few seconds of the first trial weren't exactly what happened."

Buffy looked at the older woman, desperately trying to understand this riddle. If it hadn't happened the way she remembered it, then what had happened?

"It didn't happen this way either, but let me tell you what Spike saw that day," Margot continued.

Now Buffy was really confused. She concentrated on Margot's words, desperate to try to make sense of them.

"Everything was as you remember it up until the moment Spike tried to save you. Then, from Spike's point of view, something happened to distract Angelus for a split second. You moved towards the knife, effectively pushing it part of the way into your chest. That allowed Spike to get away from the stake Angelus had pushed into his chest. As soon as Angelus realised what had happened, he pushed the knife the rest of the way into your heart as he had promised he would. You died in Spike's arms that day."

"Wait, what do you mean? I don't understand."

"I know it's difficult. The second part of the trial required that both of you give up your own wishes for a period of time for the greater good. You were both, in the otherwise identical realities in which you were placed, given the job of helping the New, and those she chose, to become independent. You both promised to fulfil that role. As of the battle yesterday, you had both achieved your task."

"You .. you mean, that in another world somewhere, Spike's still alive?"

"I do."

"But, he's made a life for himself, made another childe, and .."

"No, child, he's as alone as you have been. He has no more looked for a replacement for you that you have looked to replace him. As we speak, Jared is talking to him, telling him what I'm telling you now."

"But, can I go to him?"

"You can. We've arranged for the two realities to overlap for a few hours. Do you remember the cave where you used to swim?"

Buffy nodded. It was visible from where she had sat to await the sunrise, and was only a few moments away.

Margot looked at her one last time. "Go, then," she encouraged softly, but Buffy didn't hear. She was already scrambling down the steep incline to the beach below.

She ran as if every evil in the world was after her, but she paused as she entered the cave. She walked inside slowly, remembering the time they had spent there together. She had been tempted to visit it the night before, but had refrained, the memories of that particular place somehow too fresh and tinged with joy for her to deal with alone.

As she approached the pool where they swam, she saw him. The other side of the pool looked different. A moment's thought showed that it was, in fact, a mirror image of her side of the pool. He was approaching from the outside as she was. They both stood, immobile for a few seconds, almost unwilling to believe their eyes. Then, as one, they started to remove their clothes, dropping them randomly at the side of the pool as they did so. When both were naked, they dived into the water, two dives, like mirror images of one another.

They met in the centre of the pond. Their mouths collided in a kiss that said everything they couldn't say with words. They sank beneath the water, completely immersed, not just in the water, but in one another.

It was much later when they both returned to the cottage. They had had to share one lot of clothing because when they emerged from the pool, only Buffy's clothes remained. Fortunately, among those clothes was a large, long, leather coat, which, although a neat fit on Spike, did at least fit.

They were surprised to see Alasdair's car parked outside, and even more surprised to find Emily, Grianne and Alasdair sitting around their table, each with a glass of whisky in their hands, and an almost empty bottle in the centre of the table.

The three rather inebriated companions looked toward the doorway with expressions on their faces which would have made most onlookers smile. They were a mixture of shock, awe, and comical disbelief.

When they had persuaded the others that they were real, their story was shared. Both Spike and Buffy had almost identical memories of the past few years, something that made the story easier to believe. When it was over, Emily gave a shuddering sigh of relief.

"At least I don't have to tell Giles now."

To the two heads turned in her direction, she smiled.

"We drew straws for who was going to tell him you'd waited for sunrise, and I lost. That's why the whisky seemed like such a good idea."

"But, Emily, the sunrise didn't affect me," Buffy said. "You must have given me some of your blood at some time."

"Buffy, I wanted to give you some blood, of course I did. But I'd never sneak it into your meals. I respected your wishes."

A glance at Alasdair confirmed he had done likewise.

"Then what?" both Buffy and Spike asked. He had had a similar experience and had jumped to the same conclusion.

"I think Margot might have done something," Buffy said. "But, what I want to know, is was it a one off thing, or are we actually immune to sunlight?"

"Don't know, Pet," he answered, kissing her softly on the cheek. "But, we'll find out later, shall we? Don't have any urge to be anywhere but here right now."

Buffy smiled her agreement at these words, and the others looked at one another before standing to take their leave.

"Can you drive?" Buffy asked. "I mean, all that whisky.."

"You should know by now the effect of vampire constitution on alcohol. It takes a lot to have any effect, and it doesn't last. I'll be fine by the time we've had a short walk along the beach," Alasdair reassured her.

With those words, Alasdair and Emily helped Grianne to the car. As a human, the alcohol was making her very sleepy, and they deposited her in the back of the car before taking one another's hand and beginning their walk.

Inside the croft, another two vampires had moved from the living room to the bedroom. Clothes were swiftly doffed, and the bed occupied. It seemed like it would be a long time before they would be ready to test out their sun-resistance, but it really didn't matter. They had forever.

Ok, am I forgiven? At least I didn't keep you waiting, so Tuowei, I hope you haven't drawn blood to your tongue yet!

Thanks to everyone who's reviewed. I really do appreciate all comments, but special thanks must go to the aforementioned Tuowei. She's reviewed almost every chapter, and she's been on board since 'Gifts' first emerged on BS Central. Another reviewer of note is t_geyer, who always makes comments who made me think, and sometimes caused tweaks in the story.

I appreciate all positive comments, (naturally enough), but I also appreciate constructive criticism. So, if you haven't been in touch yet, please introduce yourself. Either review, or contact me direct – cryptic6464@yahoo.co.uk .

I'm going to concentrate on the Magpie series for a bit, but I have got another couple of ideas. One of those may not go up at ff.net, as I don't want to contribute to the current silliness known as 'ship wars'. Although the idea came from a B/X fan, it would probably be seen as inflammatory, even though it's not intended that way. If I go ahead, it'll go on my own site – .