Sacred Flame

Author: Nocte

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. They are the property of ME and Joss Whedon. I use

them only for the purpose of entertainment.

Summary:Future Fic. William the Bloody returns to Sunnydale after an extended absence to find something crucial. He finds things very different. The Hellmouth is more

deadly than ever and the denizens of Sunnydale do not welcome new arrivals. Set after the events

of S6 up to Normal Again but further into the future.

Rating: R

Authors Notes: I wrote this fiction after Normal Again (S6) aired for the first time. As such, it doesn't reference anything 'cannon' after that point. I have had a few requests from people that I repost it here since it has been out of circulation for a while. The advantage to you is that it is finished. No additions to wait for. :) I did at one time begin a sequel but upon reflection I have decided this story is best as a stand alone. Enjoy and please comment. Any encouragement and I might begin something new to assuage my heartache over the total loss of the Buffyverse by the end of May.

Part One: Prologue

It was the dead of night. The kind of night unlit by moonlight, dark and silent. The only

illumination came from the dim stars winking overhead and the distant lights of a solitary car.

On the outskirts of a small town, the car rolled to a slow stop. The deep rumble of the outmoded

gasoline engine choked and stopped. The headlights remained lit, shining on a warped sign swaying

in the wind. The driver's side door opened and a figure emerged. The driver swung the dented door

shut behind him with a sharp clank and strode in scuffed brown boots towards the sign. The feet

stopped as the driver regarded the sign silently. A pale hand reached out to brush desert dust

from the front to reveal three words painted atop a cheerful sunset and palm trees. The colors

were faded to a near uniform beige but the words were still legible. "Welcome to Sunnydale."

The driver squatted in the sandy dirt, brown leather coat trailing on the ground, and ran his

fingers over the outline of the sunset. How many times had he stood here? Did this make three?

Four? He couldn't remember. One thing he did know was that he had not passed this way for a long

time. A long time even for one of his lifespan. Once he had sworn he would never return but

current circumstances dictated otherwise. The driver stood and gave the sign a savage kick. The

brittle wood splintered further and it hung at a drunken angle. Yet still the damned thing stood.

He looked down the road to where he knew his destination lay.

Returning to the car, the driver revved the engine back to life and roared back onto the cracked

asphalt that served as the road into town. The sign continued to sway in the night wind as the

red light of the car taillights faded into the distance and only the starlight remained.

The car rolled slowly through the streets of Sunnydale a short while later. The driver gazed out

at familiar landmarks, a storefront featuring a once bright blue box painted with yellow stars, a

warehouse half collapsed and showing signs of fire damage, a once popular club now unlit and

deserted. It was all so very different now. No lights shone from within the windows. Trash

littered the neglected streets. The burnt out wreckage of vehicles blocked his car's progress and

the driver was forced to stop in front of an abandoned coffee shop and get out and walk.

He strode the darkened sidewalk; avoiding overturned shopping carts and piles of refuse. His

sharp ears could pick up the tiniest sound but the only hints of life were the muffled squeaks of

rats in the sewers beneath his feet. Looking up he saw the bulbs from all the streetlights were

shattered, explaining the shards of glass crunching under his boots.

This town had finally succumbed to the seething evil of the Hellmouth. People had moved away to

towns were death was not a daily event. To places where the night held nothing more fearsome than

muggers and gangs. The only things that lived here in Sunnydale anymore were the creatures of

hell. Permanent residents who fed on the malevolence that poured forth from the gateway to a

thousand demonic dimensions and the odd inhuman tourists who came from around the world to visit

the demonic equivalent of the Grand Canyon. If the visitor had been human, he would have been

quite vulnerable to any one of these creatures as he explored. But vulnerable was not something

he had been for a long while.

The first time had been hundreds of years ago as he bleed to death in an alley not much better

lit than these ruined streets. The last...three quarters of a century before when little men in

white had chained his demon with electricity and a tiny sliver of plastic. It had not lasted

long. He could still remember the searing pain when a well-paid shaman had ripped the chip from

his skull with the sheer force of his magically enhanced will. He had not really expected to

survive the procedure and was mildly surprised that it had left him without permanent damage.

Since then, he had been more or less invincible. He kept to the night and picked his battles more

wisely. There was no real limit to how long he might survive. Each year that passed made him more

powerful. Other demons gave him a wide berth or extreme courtesy if they wished to stay alive.

His reputation as one demon not to be crossed was well deserved and he provided the occasional

reminder to keep the more stupid fiends in line. As he stood in the middle of the once thriving

town looking up at the stars above, he let down the barriers within and allowed the familiar pain

to course through him like scalding blood. All the creatures of the night knew his name. From

Europe to Asia, and even here in America although he had been gone a long time. He was William

the Bloody...the elder vampire...scion of the House of Aurelius...and he had come home.

******************************

Part Two: Prodigal

Across the street from where the man in the thigh length brown leather coat stood, a figure

watched from a rooftop. A well-oiled crossbow rested comfortably in the crook of the watcher's

arm, a bolt loaded and ready to fire. The observer crouched motionless as the figure below looked

upward. It would not be useful to be seen at this point. None of the locals would be so foolish

as to walk these streets at night. They all knew that a painful death hid somewhere in the cement

canyons that comprised downtown Sunnydale. The wise ones kept to the underground city that had

sprung up around the Hellmouth and spread outwards like a cancer into the extensive sewer

network. So why was this creature striding these streets like there was nothing to fear?

The answer was obvious. A newcomer. One of the many demons who came to see the wonder of the

underworld that was the Hellmouth. The watcher generally liked to wait and see what these

tourists did before dispatching them. Sometimes there was valuable information to be had from

them before they died a bloody death. As the visitor moved away down the street, the watcher

followed on soundless feet. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop with the ease born of decades of

experience, the watcher kept pace with the quarry without trouble. He was headed for the

graveyard beyond Crawford Street or what used to be Crawford Street. The watcher would have to go

to ground level to pursue him there. With an easy jump thirty feet to the concrete sidewalk, the

watcher continued the shadowed chase.

Spike crossed the wasteland that had once been a well-cared for cemetery. Half the grave markers

were broken or kicked over. No flowers or wreaths decorated the stones. The dead of Sunnydale

were abandoned, forgotten by the living. It was depressing even for a graveyard. His destination

in sight, Spike slowed. The pain grew sharper inside his still chest. Why had he agreed to this?

This brand of self-flagellation was not really his thing anymore. He had left it behind, along

with a battered television and the dream of loving a living woman, some seventy five years

before.

Squaring his shoulders, Spike lowered his dark head and pressed on. The sooner he was done, the

sooner he could return to his simpler existence. He raised a fist and smashed it through the

rotted wooden of the decrepit chapel door.

Behind a nearby statue, the watcher saw the visitor invade the chapel. It would be risky to

follow. The chapel was small and there would be no way to hide inside. Waiting outside seemed the

prudent thing to do in this situation. The watcher was not foolish. One did not survive countless

years in a town given over to the forces of darkness without caution. It had been long ago that

these lessons had been drilled into the watcher's head by a caring teacher and many more years

before the watcher tragically learned their value.

Spike moved without hesitation towards the altar at the head of the chapel. Climbing the steps,

he ripped aside the moldering purple cloth covering the gray marble table and overturned the

stone with one twist of his hand. The marble broke as it hit the floor and several small pieces

skittered down the steps. Spike knelt and brushed aside years of accumulated filth to locate the

object of his quest. A small metal grate was set into the granite floor. Spike dug his fingers

into the holes in the wrought iron and gave it a sharp tug. The old metal gave way and the grate

separated from the floor. Tossing it aside, Spike reached inside, his arm disappearing to the

shoulder. A few seconds of rooting in the hole produced the desired result and Spike pulled his

arm out of the hole holding a small book.

Leaning back on his heels, Spike examined the book. It was old...older than him and he handled it

with care. He read the name embossed on the binding and grunted in satisfaction. Standing, he

tugged a silk bag out of the inside pocket of his jacket and slipped the slim volume inside. He

tugged the ties closed and tucked the bag back inside the pocket. Spike patted his breast to make

sure it was safely lodged and turned to depart the chapel.

It was time to leave, leave this town and all its crushing memories. Spike shoved the broken door

aside and emerged into the cold night air. A ten minute walk and he would be gone from this

accursed place. He felt the need to hurry and increased his pace. From his left he heard a faint

sound and whipped his head around to scan the forest of statues and grave markers. Seeing nothing

he decided it was a wayward bird, probably unaware it had blundered into the earthly equivalent

of hell. He resumed his pace only to hear another sound, a familiar buzzing sound. Where had he

heard that before?

As a bolt buried itself in his chest just to the right of his unbeating heart, he remembered. A

crossbow. That was the sound it made when it was fired. He sank to his knees as a wave of

weakness washed over him. The bolt was tainted with something. He felt his muscles start to lock.

A paralytic. As his eyes sagged shut and he fell forward Spike thought to himself that he had

been correct...he never should have come back here...

As the demon crumpled in a heap in the dead grass, the watcher came out of concealment and slowly

approached. Not knowing what this creature was, caution was prudent. The tranquilizer was not

always effective. When the supine form failed to move for several minutes, the watcher decided it

was time to see what it had acquired from the chapel. Not that a fight would be unwelcome, the

watcher enjoyed battles, but if there was something fragile on the demon's person it would be

better to recover it without violence. More of that hard earned prudence.

Finally standing above the unconscious figure of the demon, the watcher prodded him with a grubby

sneaker-clad toe. No reaction. He was lying face down in the dirt but the watcher could see the

line of his jaw beneath tousled dark hair. Human looking. A vampire? Rare for this area. Vampires

preferred a ready supply of human blood and Sunnydale lacked that for the most part. Definitely a

newcomer. A small black silk bag poked out from beneath the vampire's leather coat and the

watcher used a foot to draw the bag nearer so it could be picked up.

The bag contained a book. Odd. Vampires weren't known for their love of literature. Certainly

there were some but it had been an eternity since the watcher had met one. Forget that. Such

thoughts only led to unhappiness. The watcher put the book; bag and all, in a knapsack and bent

down to pick up the vampire. Slinging the limp body over one shoulder with careless ease, the

watcher carried him away. More information was needed. Time to take the prey home and lock it up.

She had many interesting toys at home to get the demon to talk...

******************************

Part Three: Pain

The watcher carried the lean body of her captive up a winding stone staircase without effort. She

climbed upwards towards the doorway of the crumbling gothic manor she called home now. Using her

unencumbered hand, she turned the large iron handle on the door and pushed it open. The interior

of the building was dark. It wasn't a good idea to attract attention in this town with too much

light. Over time the watcher had learned to move comfortably in the dark, knowing where every

sharp corner and piece of furniture stood.

Moving through the gloom to another door, she descended into the room she used as a dungeon for

her captives. Once this windowless chamber had probably held nothing more important than wine and

supplies but it served her well as a place to question demons. She threw her burden on the tight

packed dirt floor, lit one smoky torch and went to get some chains to bind him. Vampires were

generally smarter than most of the demons she dealt with. They had that human brain to work with.

This made them deadly and difficult to keep imprisoned. The best thing to do with vampires was

kill them immediately but there was this strange little book...she needed to know more.

Finding a sturdy set of manacles, the captor knelt and secured them around the vampire's pale

wrists and boot covered ankles. She tightened the bolts until she couldn't see any light between

the metal and the flesh. It would hurt him but that was really the point. Hauling the limp body

over to the wall, she threaded the thick chains through a ring set into the stone wall. She gave

the ring a sharp tug to make sure it was secure and stepped back to take her first look at the

creature.

The guttering orange light from the torch danced across his lean face, which was half hidden by a

tousled mop of black hair. Leaning in, the captor could see that the black was a dye. Golden

brown roots winked from the crown of his skull. Reaching out, she grasped his face in one hand

and forced it up into the light so she could get a better look. Razor like cheekbones, an angular

jaw, charcoal lashes sweeping down across pale skin. The color of his eyes remained hidden but

somehow she knew they were blue. Not the warm blue of a summer sky but the color of an iceberg

floating through frozen seas.

She shook her head to clear the rebellious thought. It was laced with pain and pain was to be

avoided. One last detail caught her attention...a semi circular scar looped through one eyebrow

dividing the brow into three distinct parts...a blade had done that...wielded by a small Asian

girl...the captor shook her head again...No! That was not a real memory.

Seeing that the broken tip of the crossbow bolt still protruded from his bloodstained chest, the

captor grasped it in one small hand and gave it a quick pull. It came free in her hand followed

by a fresh torrent of blood and an agonized yell from the vampire. She stepped back as the

creature fought his way towards consciousness. She went to a wooden table on the other side of

the room and perused a collection of knives and other weapons. Which one would prove most

effective? It was time to get information...

In the drug and pain induced haze that held him, Spike struggled to come back to the world. He

didn't want to stay here in his dreams. This was were the memories lived...the cruel memories of

why he had left this damned place to begin with.

* "I'm sorry you had to see that...I keep telling you to stay away." Buffy said softly to

Spike as he paced the floor of his crypt.

"Yeah, well since when do I do what you bloody well ask? Didn't think I'd be walking in on you

an' your new bloke..." Spike lit a cigarette and took a long drag, trying to fog the memory of

Buffy kissing the newest member of the Nancy tribe in town.

"You knew I was seeing him...Simon has been around for months. Ever since the Council sent him to

consult on the Braga demon, he's been helping us." Buffy tried to explain.

"I know all about it Buffy, a human man who can accept you for who you are, who can help you

fight the forces of darkness and take you for nice sunny picnics besides...I know all about

it...doesn't make it any easier on me." Spike snarled, hurling the half-smoked cigarette to the

stone floor.

"Then why do this to yourself? You wanted me to live and that's what I'm doing. Living," Buffy

whispered.

"Forgive me for hopin' I'd be a bloody part of that luv but it don't look like that's gonna

happen. You told your friends, they were all appropriately horrified and shut me out...even

Niblet and now y'got this shiny new fellow an' they all love 'im," Spike retorted in return.

"Then why do you stay?" Buffy shouted, her reserve slipping.

A sharp pain knifed through Spike's gut at the question. He stopped pacing and just looked at the

golden girl he loved so much, letting all the pain he felt shine out of his eyes.

Buffy just ducked her head so she wouldn't have to see and continued. "Why don't you go? It would

be easier...for you...and me. You could go anywhere...anywhere I'm not."

Spike stood still for second before responding in a husky voice. "Best idea you've ever had, pet.

Just remember...you told me to go. I wouldn't do it otherwise. Live your life...be happy with

that younger copy of Giles...I'd rather that than the hollow shell you've been."

Buffy nodded her head and turned to go without response. Spike watched her go, watched the light

fall on her golden head as she mounted the steps to the open doorway. The sunlight formed a halo

around her head and he suddenly knew the madness of his love for her. Darkness in love with

Light. He had been a fool to believe it could happen. The door shut behind her and Spike was left

alone in his grave. It was time to go...*

"Who are you?" a low voice asked.

Spike raised his head, knowing he was very much in the now. The throbbing pain in his chest told

him that. The cursed bolt was gone but the wound had not had time to heal. He would need blood to

do that. He tried to open his eyes but his eyelids felt like they weighed a few tons. All he

could manage was a glimpse of the shadowy figure standing in front of a torch. He couldn't make

out any features but he could see that whoever it was, it was small and human. If he could get

free, he could make short work of his captor.

"What is this book you have?" the voice pressed on.

Spike tried to offer his best sneer but it fell short. The drugs in his system had left him

without much muscle control. He squinted out at his surroundings through bleary eyes. It was

dark, dank, and filthy. Just the kind of place one would want to interrogate someone and the kind

of place Spike had studiously avoided for the past fifty years.

"Why are you here?" came another quiet question.

That voice...it was female, Spike realized. A bloody girl had captured him. If this got out his

reputation would be severely damaged. He would have to kill a lot of demons to regain the level

of respect he required. He managed a mocking laugh at his captor. She wouldn't get anything from

him, the silly bint.

The girl stepped forward and with blinding speed buried a small knife in the palm of Spike's

hand, pinning it to the stone wall. He felt tendons separate and at least one bone crack. He

screamed in pain and surprise, swiping out with his uninjured hand but she was too fast. She

ducked his clumsy blow and stepped back to her former position, just out of reach.

"Bloody bitch! What I ever do to you?" Spike hissed, trying to pull his hand loose.

"Answer my questions and I'll take it out," she whispered.

"Sod off. I've been tortured by people who know what they're doin' an' I didn't crack then. You

don't have a prayer." The pain restored Spike's wits and he felt adrenaline course through him,

clearing his vision and sharpening his other senses.

"I have more knives, vampire. It would be easier just to tell me what I need to know," came the

reasonable voice again.

His captor turned her back on him and walked to a table across the room. She picked up a wickedly

curved knife, much larger than the last, and held it up for him to see.

"We are just getting started, vampire...are you sure you want to do it this way?" she asked him

with a trace of regret in her voice.

"Bring it on. I usually don't go after humans much any more but in your case I'll make an

exception," Spike hissed.

The girl started forward with her cruel looking blade and for the first time she passed to the

right of the torch, giving Spike an unobstructed view of her face. The burning in his chest and

hand immediately took second place to the crushing pain in his heart. It couldn't be...she was

gone...she had been gone for sixty-five years.

The girl stopped at the look on the vampire's face. Was he breaking? Were those tears coursing

down his hollow cheeks? Maybe more torture was unnecessary.

She stood in front of him...looking so much the same and yet very different. The same dark gold

hair, the same clear hazel eyes, dusty jeans and a gray sweatshirt, functional sneakers.... but

that look in her eyes...that was not the same...what did he see there?

Spike tried a few times and finally forced out a question from his constricted throat. It was

barely audible, the harsh rasp...but she heard him.

"Buffy? Is that you?"

******************************

Part Four: Forget

Spike watched for a response from the girl holding the knife but she did not speak. She just

looked puzzled. Even that expression was familiar though. Every expression that had ever crossed

her face was branded in his mind, he remembered it all. One of the curses of vampiric immortality

was that nothing ever faded away with age, every memory remained bright and clear as if it had

happened yesterday.

"Buffy?" he repeated urgently.

She raised the knife again. "Heard of me, have you? I thought everyone had forgotten the Slayer

of Sunnydale. The new one in Buenos Aires gets all the glory. The way I like it. By the time

demons find out about me...its too late."

She advanced on him with the knife.

"Buffy...what are you playing at? It's me, y'can't tell me a few ounces of black dye make me that

different, you know me. Put that bloody knife down." Spike demanded.

The girl shook her head. "No I don't think I will and I prefer if my demons just call me Slayer

by the way. It maintains that important professional distance."

Before he could respond, she slashed the blade across his abdomen shredding his shirt and baring

the blood-soaked skin beneath.

"Bloody hell! Stop! Buffy...it's Spike!" he cried, recoiling from her knife.

"Finally we're getting somewhere. You have a name, vampire. Spike? Is that it?" The Slayer said

approvingly.

The pain Spike had felt when he first saw her face sank into a kind of dread. Spike looked at her

in disbelief. She didn't know him. Even after seventy-five years, she should remember him. He

hadn't exactly been the bloody paperboy. What was wrong with her? He had to figure it out quickly

before she got tired of carving him up and just killed him. He could see that his death would

mean nothing to her. He was just another monster.

"Yeah...Spike...William th' Bloody...ring any bells?" he said slowly.

She just looked blank. "Every demon believes it is world famous, sorry to disappoint you but I

guess you aren't as important as you think," she replied, turning the blade in her hands so the

blood dripped in the dirt at her feet.

"Buffy!" Spike shouted. "You know me!"

The name rang in her ears and the smoky little room faded away as time rushed backward.

*"You left him? What is wrong with you? Did the whole Bison Lodge Day of Disaster not make an

impression on you? Why would you let him go Buffy? He loved you!" Xander shouted at his friend.

Buffy retreated a little and sat down on the sofa in the apartment she shared with Dawn.

"Yes, the wedding that wasn't made an impression but this isn't the same thing, Xander. Simon..."

Buffy said tentatively.

"Simon what? Treated you too well? Accepted your crazy life? What Buffy? What was wrong with this

one?" Xander interrupted.

"I didn't love him." Buffy lost her temper and shouted back.

Xander stared at her with his mouth open for a second before shaking his head in disgust. "This

is about him isn't it?" he asked in a deceptively calm voice.

Buffy pulled a lighter from her pocket and turned it in her hands. "About who?" she replied.

"Mickey Mouse...Spike! That's who! You are still hung up on that dime store Prince of Darkness

and can't commit to a normal relationship." Xander accused, pointing his finger at the silver

lighter in her hands.

"Maybe I made a mistake Xander...sending him away. I have this sick feeling in my stomach all the

time now...like what you said about Anya that time..." Buffy tried to get Xander to listen to

her.

"No...do not compare me and my stupid mistake to this. I screwed up and I lost my best friend and

the girl I loved. I'm never going to see her again and that's a bad thing but you sending Spike

away was what you had to do. He was no good for you Buffy...evil...bad...remember?" Xander

pleaded with Buffy who still wouldn't take her eyes off the lighter.

Xander sighed and sat down next to Buffy. He took the lighter from her limp hands and threw it

across the room where it landed on a chair. " Buffy...this is no good. You have to stop with

this. Willow and Tara aren't the only ones allowed to be happy. You can be too."

"Maybe I could track him down. He's only been gone a year...a guy like him leaves a trail

wherever he goes..." Buffy whispered.

"Oh and the duties of the Slayer are out the window? Who's supposed to save the world while

you're out looking for the bleached wonder? Buffy, I'm right about this, you have to forget

Spike...your life is here in Sunnydale." Xander argued persuasively.

"Forget Spike, here in Sunnydale. Forget Spike, here in Sunnydale. Forget Spike."

The words echoed in her mind. She looked up at Xander and smiled weakly...

"If that's what I have to do...I will." she said.*

Buffy blinked. Did she just zone out or something? She focused on the vampire again.

"I don't know you, I don't want to know you. I just want to know what the deal is with the book.

Planning to raise some hell beastie or something? What's your evil, Spite...or was it Spike?"

Buffy replied to Spike's impassioned plea.

Spike slumped in his chains, feeling defeat wash over him. He wasn't reaching her. Was this a

spell? Was that why she was still alive? Still young? The price was her memory?

"What about all the others. They all gone from your mind too? The witches? Red an' her blond

girlfriend?" Spike growled as he tried not to notice her knife drifting closer to his flesh.

*"Th' witches? Red an' her blonde girlfriend?

"Tara! Oh God Buffy, quick do something! Tara! Hang on baby, we're coming!" Willow

screamed.*

Buffy slammed the lid shut on that memory, her heart racing as she remembered that horrible day.

How had the damned vampire known about Willow and Tara? She jabbed the knife into his abdomen

again and twisted. He howled in pain and bucked against his restraints.

"No more..." she hissed. "No more about them. I don't know how you know but that's not what I

need from you. The book...what is it for?"

He didn't answer. He just looked down at the blade sticking out of his stomach. He could take a

lot of damage but this was bad. The mention of her friends had pushed Buffy too far. There was

far more than simple amnesia going on here. He saw the room fade in and out, the outlines of his

tormenter wavering, the pain was getting to him.

Buffy sighed. He was getting stubborn. Time for a break. She walked back to her worktable and

picked up a small vial of milky liquid. Taking the lid off, she sniffed the contents. She bought

this off a local demon that liked to stay in good with the good guys as well as the bad. It was a

powerful tranquilizer and might make the vampire more willing to talk when he came to. She

carefully dipped a small wooden dart in the liquid and stopped it back up.

Walking back to the bleeding demon, she nonchalantly jabbed him in the neck with the dart. He

barely twitched. His eyes closed and his head lolled forward. Buffy pulled both her knives out of

his flesh and cleaned the gore off of them with a soft rag. Good weapons care was very

important...who had taught her that?

She looked at her captive carefully...he was completely unconscious. She felt safe in leaving him

for a short while. The night was only half over and she still had half the town to patrol. He

would be secure enough here until she got back. Extinguishing the torch, Buffy grabbed her

knapsack and headed upstairs. She made sure the lock on the door was tight and ventured back into

the night.

******************************

Part Five: Elsewhere

Spike was dreaming again. His four wounds glowed a dull red in his subconscious. It seemed easier

just to sink back into dreams than concentrate on the fiery pain.

*"Thanks mate. Here's your payment," Spike said to the tattooed shaman, handing him a crumpled

wad of bills streaked with blood.

"You should be careful...it has only been a few days since the chip came out. We can't be sure

you are healed," the shaman warned, fidgeting with a carved wooden talisman around his neck

. Spike just laughed. "I'm already dead mate. Inside an' out. I don't much care what happens

now."

"Where will you go?" the shaman asked, not really caring since he had money in hand.

Spike shrugged. "I'm a mite peckish, think I'll go grab a bite of somethin'." He laughed again, a

bitter undertone in his voice.

A few hours later, Spike was prowling the back alleys of a poorer section of L.A. looking for a

mark. He spotted a youngish woman teetering along on stiletto heels. A hooker...Spike smiled to

himself...it'd be like riding a bike. He started after her, following behind for a few blocks.

Finally the woman noticed the blonde man in black trailing her at a leisurely pace.

She quickened her walk but Spike just matched her stride. Growing panicky, she started to run and

ducked into an alley hoping to lose him. Spike shook his head, stupid bint...alleys were never a

good bet on a dark night. He followed her in and saw her huddled behind a filthy dumpster. He

could hear her heart beating too fast in her chest from ten yards out.

"Come on pretty...I know you're there. Time to play..." he called to her.

A muffled sobbing was his only response.

He walked to her hiding place and drew her out by one trembling hand. She kept her head down not

wanting to look into the face of her death.

"Come now pet, in your line of work, you must know this moment waits for you every night. Every

time you go home in one piece you've cheated the grim reaper. Promise it won't hurt...much,"

Spike cajoled the terrified girl.

He forced her chin up so he could see her face. Big, tear filled brown eyes...long brown hair

like a waterfall down her back...she was younger than he thought. The cheap makeup had fooled

him. Just a girl...fifteen maybe. Like someone he knew...the traitorous though floated through

his head. Spike snarled. Not time to be thinking of a girl he'd sworn to protect. They'd cast him

out...big sis would take care of her now.

He lunged at the girl's neck and she let out a high pitched scream. Spike stumbled backwards.

"Bloody soddin' hell! Damn her...heartless bitch!" he howled.

The girl fell backwards into a pile of cardboard boxes, breath coming in terrified gasps. The

man's face had twisted...she saw a flash of white fang as he screamed. As she watched...it

changed again...to a more familiar human shape. He looked down at her and suddenly her terror

eased. He had a single tear running down one concave cheek.

"Go on.." he said softly. "Time to run away little girl. You cheated him one more time..."

She scrambled to her feet and backed away. When she had enough space between her and her

attacker, she spun around and ran for her life, leaving Spike in the alley to contemplate the

meaning of this little episode. He stood silently for a few minutes listening to the click of the

girl's heels fade into the distance. Sighing, he pulled a few green bills out of a back

pocket...most of it had gone to the shaman but he had enough left for a stop at the

butchers...Walking slowly, Spike left the alley and started back towards the better part of

town.*

Exhaling sharply, Spike threw his head up and looked around. It was dark. He couldn't hear

anything...no breathing...she was gone. He moved his hand, realizing she had taken the blade out.

Damn her, now he couldn't pick the lock with it. He pulled against the chains but was rewarded

only with a fresh seepage of blood from the large wound in his side. The girl had a way with a

knife. He wondered when she'd grown so good at torture. He wondered a lot of things...Buffy,

still young, alone, and apparently having no recall of him. She might be more than slightly mad.

He squinted through the gloom, trying to see if she had left the book in the room with him. No

sign of it. What would he do if she had left it? Assuming he could get free, would he have just

left her here and gotten the book out of Sunnydale? His mind instantly rejected that thought.

Never again. He couldn't walk away again. Leaving Buffy the first time had led to his own brand

of madness...the madness that came from not being able to forget.

* Spike strode through the rain soaked night, his senses attuned to the slightest sound...The

demon he was tracking had gone to ground here in the cemetery called Les Innocents outside Paris

and he meant to find it. A handsome reward awaited the one who brought its head back to a certain

warlock in the city.

Hearing a scrabbling sound in the murky dark ahead, Spike drew out a long knife. The bloke was

going to be a few feet shorter soon enough. He felt the thrill of the hunt run through him.

Giving up hunting humans had been a surprisingly easy choice for him over the years. He just

couldn't get past the memory of once caring for one or two of them. Pigs blood was a vile

substitute but it lacked the emotional baggage of the real thing. He had turned to hunting the

demon equivalent of big game to satisfy his craving for violence, it kept his hollow existence

slightly interesting and it paid well.

He heard the sound again and ran towards the source. In a small clearing ahead two figures

clashed in the pouring rain. Spike slowed and stopped. The sounds of battle alternated with

bursts of thunder. He stepped back a few feet and slipped behind an obelisk to watch.

In a flash of lightning he saw her clearly. A girl...dark hair and slender. She was young, maybe

sixteen. Dressed in what passed for fashion amongst the young people of Paris these days. She

spun and kicked, ducked and rolled in a dance that Spike knew all too well. A pain squeezed his

chest. This was a Slayer...fighting a vampire. The vampire snarled as he tried to outmaneuver his

unlikely foe but without luck. She kept him at arms length, always just out of reach of her

tender throat. The creature was becoming increasingly maddened.

Spike couldn't tear his eyes away. He knew what this girl's presence here meant. A Slayer is

called when the old one dies. He struggled for breath he didn't need. Buffy was dead. Spike

fought back the scream in his throat. Dead...ten years...that was all she had gotten. He knew

that most Slayers didn't even get that but it didn't make it easier. Ten years...since he left.

Had she married? Had a happy life with that cursed Watcher? Now there was another. He looked at

the current Slayer with something akin to hatred.

A puff of ash floated to the muddy grass as the Slayer finally got her stake in. She stood

breathing heavily in the center of the clearing looking down at the small pile of dust. She

uttered some flippancy in French to her opponent's remains.

Spike stepped forward and responded...also in French. "They aren't all that easy, pretty."

The Slayer brought her stake back up and slipped into battle ready position.

Spike laughed. "At ease, Slayer. I just wanted to congratulate you." He nodded to the pile of

dust. "Not his day..."

"Yours either, demon," she retorted, lifting her chin defiantly, the rain pelting down plastering

her dark hair close to her skull.

"Oh...you are right there. Just got some bad news...from you actually. I was just wondering...why

did you let it go on so long?" Spike asked softly, circling the girl slowly. His feet made no

noise as he moved.

She turned with him, never taking her eyes from the blond vampire. "So long? He was a difficult

fight..." she said puzzled at the monster that wanted to chat first.

"No, pretty. You could have killed him a dozen times before you did. What were you hoping for?

Wanted to see what death felt like? You're all the same that way." he replied in a growl.

Suddenly he leapt at her, knocking her to the slippery ground. She rolled away and sprang to her

feet, stake raised.

"I'll be happy to show you Slayer...lets dance." Spike hissed, the change slipping over his

features.

She rushed him and stabbed forward with the stake.

He dodged lazily and laughed. "You let it show in your eyes...what you plan to do...very bad

form, pretty. Get you killed someday."

He reached out with such speed that she never saw it and grabbed her by the throat. Yanking back,

Spike clutched the girl to his chest. She struggled, staring at his sharp fangs.

"No..." she whispered.

Spike lowered his head as he replied. "You want to know death? I'm here."

His teeth pierced the artery in her neck and the first human blood he had tasted in over a decade

flowed into his mouth. Metallic, hot, and charged with the awesome power of a Slayer. He gulped

it down, felt it spread like molten life through him. It had been so long.

Spike drank for what seemed an eternity. He heard her heartbeat slow, the rhythmic thuds fewer

and further between. Spike lifted his head. He looked down at the girl, Her eyelids fluttered and

opened.

"Not what you thought, eh? Do you want to die?" he asked.

She shook her head slightly.

"Good. Then don't. Not for a long time. Even a Slayer deserves life."

Spike lowered her to the grass, pressing a thumb down hard on the lacerated artery. He

listened...hearing a voice. It called a name...

"Noelle?" came the distant cry.

"Looking for you?" he asked the pale Slayer.

She nodded, unable to take her eyes off this strange creature that was letting her live.

"Good, take care pet." Spike said in English and left the girl lying on the ground to await her

Watcher.*

***********************************

Part Six: Late

The bolt caught the vampire in the shoulder, spinning him around and slamming him to the tiled

floor. He lay face up just looking at Buffy in shock. Buffy wondered why he lived...she had

really planned to kill him just then. Not that she missed her target, that hadn't happened in

years. She couldn't afford to miss...people got hurt when she...Buffy fought back the image...

*"Do something Buffy!" someone screamed.

Buffy raised her crossbow and fired as she ran, a misstep... a wet patch of grass...the bolt went

wide...

"No!!!" the voice came again. "Tara!"*

No. Buffy had meant to miss this demon. At the last second, something inside her twitched, the

weapon tilted the tiniest fraction of an inch so the bolt lodged in the shoulder and not the

heart. Why did she do that? The vampire moaned from the floor. Buffy snapped out of her reverie

and walked over to where he lay.

"Back downstairs for you, demon," she said dispassionately.

He just groaned again.

Buffy bent and pulled him up. He slung a leather-clad arm over her shoulder much to her surprise.

She wasn't helping him home from the bar; she was taking him downstairs to peel strips from his

back until he spilled about his damned book. Why did he act like he trusted her?

She glanced up into his pain-wracked face in wonder. The scar drew her attention again. A

battle...over a hundred years ago...how did she know that? Buffy straightened, taking his weight

onto her thin shoulders and guided him past the broken door and down the steep wooden steps into

her dungeon.

Back in the tiny room below, Buffy leaned him more or less gently against the stone wall and

knelt next to him. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. The residual drugs in his system

and his newest wound had left him barely conscious. She slowly drew the bolt from his shoulder,

eliciting only a grunt from the demon. A thin trickle of blood wended its way down his destroyed

shirt front and onto his lean abdomen. She had done some real damage here and still he acted like

she was anything but his enemy. She brushed the black hair back from his face, thinking it was

wrong somehow...the color. What had he said about dye?

"You know me," he whispered.

She jerked her head up and scrambled back a bit. He was awake.

"Buffy. You know me. Otherwise I'd be dead by now. Let me tell you..." Spike coughed, bright

spots of carmine dotting his lips as he spoke. "Let me tell you why I'm here. The book, it can

change this place...change your miserable excuse for a life."

Buffy shook her head. "I may look young but I'm not and I didn't live so long listening to lies

from self-serving creatures like you. You'll tell me about the book all right but you'll be

screaming the truth from your chains...that way I'll know its true"

She stood and went to fetch stronger chains from the back of the room. Bringing them, she began

fastening them on Spike's wrists. He didn't resist, he just kept talking.

"When did it happen luv? When did the bad guys start winning more than they lost? Why did you

stay when everyone else left?" he said softly but persistently.

Bu

ffy resolutely went about her task. One wrist done...one to go. "Let me help you. You aren't

alone...you know me," he pleaded.

Buffy's hands trembled. She looked up into pale blue eyes and shook her head. He must be lying.

She was alone...she had been alone for a long time...He had to be trying to pull something. Then

why did some part of her yearn to trust him, to listen? To not be alone in this corner of hell

anymore. Her hands stilled. Almost of their own accord, they loosened the second shackle, slipped

it from the vampire's wrist. Then she unlocked the first and took it off as well.

Still staring at him she said "If you're lying...I will kill you...a stake would be quickest but

I know other ways that take much longer."

Spike nodded slowly, not wanting to disturb this crucial moment. He climbed to his feet, keeping

his gaze trained on her doubtful face. Maybe he was getting through. He looked down on the girl

he thought he had lost long ago...even in worn clothing with her hair scraped back from her too

thin face, she was the most incredible thing to him. To a man who had not seen or touched or

spoken to anything he loved since he left this place at her request, she was everything. He

slowly raised one hand and reached out to cup her cheek. She quivered but didn't stop him. He

traced the outline of her jaw with his thumb. So warm...still like a flame to his cold touch.

With the other hand...the one Buffy wasn't paying attention to, Spike grabbed her by the hair and

slammed her head backwards into the hard surface of the wall. The crack of her skull meeting

stone was the last sound Buffy heard before the world went black.

Spike looked down at the crumpled figure at his feet. "Sorry pet. We don't have time for slow and

easy."

He picked up the chains she had decided not to use on him and briskly snapped them around her

wrists, making sure they were tight enough to hold her. Tearing a strip from what was left of his

shirt, he held it to the wound on the back of her head. He hadn't wanted to be so rough but

Slayers were tough and he knew he would only get one chance to subdue her. Leaving for a moment,

he crossed to the worktable and selected a small dart from the horrific collection of weapons. He

was mightily glad she hadn't gotten to part two of 'carve up the vampire'. Dipping the dart in

his stolen bottle of tranquilizer, Spike knelt and stuck Buffy in the neck with it.

The drugs would keep her calm when she woke up, hopefully enough that she would listen to him. He

sat down next to her limp form to wait. It wasn't going to be pretty but it had to be done...

*"When did it happen luv? When did the bad guys start winning more than they lost?"

Buffy knew the answer to that one.

She walked through the cemetery in the company of two of her dearest friends. A new demon in

town was attacking women and leaving them badly mauled, sometimes killing them. Buffy didn't know

why or really care. It was her job to dispatch it and with that thought in mind, she was out here

in the middle of the night with her volunteer bait.

"So, what's Dawnie's new guy like? Willow asked, munching on an apple.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "A god come down to earth to live among us mortals...if you ask Dawn.

You'd think a girl headed for law school would be more sensible about men. She's really fallen

for him."

Tara laughed. "Our little Dawn. Hard to believe it was only five years ago when she had that

disastrous date with that vampire kid on Halloween. Now she's thinking wedding bells with Mr.

Preppy Law School guy."

Buffy winced at the word wedding. "Excuse me but I'm still in denial about that part. She's just

a baby...no weddings. Not to mention, my dead end job is still paying off her student loans, I

can't even fathom the cost of flowers and frilly dresses."

Willow patted Buffy on the back comfortingly. "Maybe his rich family will spring for it."

"Here's to that." Buffy replied, brightening at the thought.

The three strolled through the dark night, a ritual they were all perfectly comfortable with.

Willow would bring snacks, they would catch up on their lives. Comment on the latest news from

Giles and worry about Xander who was still having a hard time with Anya's sudden and final

departure from his life. What they didn't talk about was Buffy. Buffy's life or lack thereof. She

had made it abundantly clear that there was nothing to discuss. She patrolled, kept Sunnydale

mostly demon free, worked constantly to put Dawn through school, paid the rent, purchased the

occasional overpriced pair of shoes...and that was it. No men and no apparent desire for any.

Willow now agreed with Tara's opinion that they had made a mistake to encourage her to go for

Simon instead of Spike but it was too late. Spike had left and he had not returned. On the

surface Buffy dealt with her heartache better than Xander did but Willow knew...it still hurt.

The lighter Buffy constantly played with spoke to that.

A soft rustle in a stand of trees to their left broke the girls from their cheerful conversation.

Buffy looked alert and waved her friends to go ahead of her to draw the demon out. She busied

herself with loading a bolt into her crossbow. This demon was about to make his last assault on

the women of her town.

Willow and Tara continued on as if they had heard nothing, but they were primed to dive out of

the way when the demon appeared. Soon enough, a surprisingly small demon, maybe five foot if

that, burst from the tree line and headed straight for the two. Willow ran one way and Tara the

other. It was a well-practiced maneuver designed to confuse an attacker. It would gain Buffy a

few extra seconds to line up a shot and take the opponent down.

This time it failed. The demon was blindingly fast. He pursued Tara without a moment's hesitation

and bore her to the ground. Tara screamed loudly, too surprised to bring her magic to bear on the

demon.

"Tara! Oh God Buffy, quick do something! Tara! Hang on baby, we're coming!" Willow screamed.

Willow turned back towards her beloved, panic in her green eyes. Was that a knife he held?

Buffy raised her crossbow and fired as she ran, a misstep... a wet patch of grass...the bolt went

wide...

"Tara, keep your head down, I'm almost there!" Buffy called as she ran.

Her breath was coming faster but everything else seemed to slow down. She heard the splash of her

footfalls in the wet grass bringing her ever closer to the demon where he crouched over his

pinned victim. She heard Tara call to Willow, beg her not to use magic, that Buffy would stop it.

Heard Willow's frantic gasp as the demon yanked Tara's head back by her long blonde hair. Saw the

gleam of the small blade in the scaled creature's hand.

And then time stopped...just as the blade tore across her friend's exposed throat. Just as the

blood sprayed out into Willow's outstretched hands.

"No!!! Tara!" Willow sobbed as Tara's life poured into her hands.

Then in a rush, time raced forward. Buffy ran full tilt into the demon's side, knocking him off

the bleeding witch and onto the ground. Buffy pounded her fists into the struggling demon's face

over and over. His features disappeared into a mass of gore in a matter of seconds. Buffy could

hear Willow's sobs slow and stop as she beat the demon methodically. She heard the sound of

chanting and suddenly she was hurled backward by an unseen force into the grass. She landed flat

on her back, the breath knocked from her body.

Buffy raised herself up on her elbows, stunned by her fall. Someone was screaming. Willow? No,

Willow was chanting. The red haired witch stood over Tara's unmoving body. Her hands were

outstretched, eyes filled with black fog, sparks shooting from extended fingers. It was the demon

who was screaming. Buffy focused on the creature and blanched in horror.

It was being torn apart...alive...by Willow's spell. It's skin stretched and split, dark blood

running from the seams. A high pitched squeal sounded from it's open mouth as it exploded into a

thousand small, dripping pieces. Buffy crawled forward to get to Tara. Her eyes were open but the

warmth and love that she had greeted life with was gone. T

ara was gone. Buffy looked up at Willow.

"Will...oh God...Will. I'm sorry. I was..." Buffy choked out.

"Late." Willow returned Buffy's agonized gaze, eyes still empty and black. "You were too late."

*

******************************

Part Seven: Why

Spike lit another torch as the first burned out. Even though it was never completely dark to his

eyes, he wanted light to study his captive by. She still slept...occasionally twisting and crying

out in response to some hidden pain in her mind. When she seemed especially upset, Spike would

pour more water into his makeshift rag and smooth the damp cloth across her feverish skin. There

was no doubt she was reliving some terrible thing in her head where Spike couldn't help her.

He felt a rush of anger. Did the people who sent him here know? Did they know that she was still

alive, fighting an impossible battle alone? A battle that had turned her into this embittered

shell of herself. He turned his newly recovered book in his hands and studied the title

again...if they did...Spike would take his revenge...after they got what they needed from this

thin volume...they would all die.

*Spike leaned against the railing in the neon strobed darkness and watched the writhing mass

of humanity far below. The club was packed, money pouring into Spike's accounts as he cheerfully

watched. An old warehouse, some black paint, a complicated lighting and sound system, the odd

piece of uncomfortable furniture, and booze, lots and lots of booze. A bloody gold mine this

place was and he owned a part of it. No matter how much time passed, young humans always craved a

dark place to congregate, to drink and be merry.

Spike's off handed investment in an acquaintance's line of clubs a few years before had made the

vampire fairly rich. Rich enough that he rarely bothered with his bounty hunting business any

more. Only when the need to kill and rend overwhelmed him did he accept a job. The rest of the

time he spent trying to think of new ways to waste his wealth. Cars, expensive clothes, first

edition books, he had a dozen meaningless hobbies he indulged. Funny how none of them could keep

his attention for very long. Not for the first time he contemplated the irony of having eternal

life and no way to fill it up.

The first hundred years, it hadn't been that way. His existence was all blood and battle,

carefree and full of endless amusement. He knew when and why that had changed but knowing didn't

make it easier to bear. She had changed him and he couldn't go back. Why did he go on then? He

didn't know, except for pure bloody-mindedness and a refusal to let go of anything willingly, he

would have walked into the sunlight decades ago. A bitter smile curved his thin lips as he saw a

man on the dance floor chase after a young woman who had spurned him. Some things never changed

and Spike didn't fancy himself much different than that stupid bloke below.

Love made fools of all men.

"Excuse me," came a precise English voice behind Spike. "Might I have a word?"

Spike turned and cocked one brow at the intruder. "Who might you be, English? Don't get your type

in here much."

The well-dressed Englishman just stood there waiting. He didn't come any closer to the vampire

than necessary and Spike realized this one knew him for what he was. Was that a small cross

poking out from behind the Italian silk tie? Yes it was.

Spike smiled broadly and beckoned the young man forward to join him at the railing. Reluctantly,

the man complied and stepped forward. Spike noted the bulge in the tailored lines of his dark

wool suit. A stake too. Spike was flattered. Thought he was dangerous did he?

"So.." Spike asked, "How's th' little bint in South America doing? Recovered from her little

ordeal? I confess I got a little carried away with that one but she was just so bloody cocky. I

like that in my lunch."

Spike laughed mockingly at the shocked expression on his companion's face.

"I didn't come to discuss your odd habit of stalking Slayers and leaving them to die..." the

Watcher began.

"Live...Leaving them to live...big difference, pup." Spike corrected, motioning a scantily clad

waitress over to their secluded spot.

"Be a luv and get us a bottle from my private stock, hmm?" he instructed her.

She gave him a hungry look and nodded before rushing away.

"It's been a bit of a chase tracking you down...Mr...Spike. The clothes, the hair...you've

changed your look." the Watcher continued.

Spike shrugged indifferently and threw himself down in a brushed steel chair a few feet away. He

motioned to a second chair and the Council representative sat down also.

"Well, I change everything every couple of decades...just t' cut down on the boredom. Eternity is

a bloody long time after all," the vampire explained, smoothing the lines of his brown leather

blazer.

"I've tracked you halfway across Australia in the past few months, why did you stop here in

Sydney?" the Watcher asked, accepting a small glass of golden liquid from the newly returned

waitress.

"Business. Looking in on an investment I made a few years back," Spike replied. "Let's skip the

bloody small talk, what does the bleedin' Watcher's Council want with William the Bloody. Come t'

hit me up with a bill for th' medical expenses on yer little Slayer?"

"No. I've been sent to ask for your help," said the young man with an unhappy look.

Spike choked on his expensive whiskey. "Help! That's a good one. 'Cause th' Council is always

askin' vampires t' lend a hand in their noble struggle against th' forces of evil. Newsflash,

mate...I am th' forces of evil."

"We have reason to believe that isn't entirely true, Spike. Aside from the disturbing little

obsession with Slayers, one doesn't hear too much about your exploits anymore. Except with

demons, apparently you kill plenty of those."

Spike just fixed a cold blue stare on the human promising pain and death to the unbeliever.

The Watcher pushed his chair back a few feet and his hand crept to the concealed cross at his

neck. This vampire was not the tamed creature he had been told to expect. He drew a sheaf of

yellowed papers from his case and handed them to Spike.

Spike looked askance at the Watcher. "Paper? Not very modern old boy. The Council is in need of

some updating..."

"They are quite old. If you would take a look you might see why I brought them," the Watcher

urged.

Spike leafed through the stack for a moment before shooting a sharp look at the nervous man

across from him.

"Giles? His what? His journal papers. Why show me these? I bloody lived it, mate." Spike threw

them back in the Watcher's face.

Getting to his knees to gather up the precious records, the Watcher explained. "Mr. Giles

recorded your obsession with a Slayer about seventy five years ago, one Buffy Summers. Before he

returned to England to work for the Council once more in 2002, he documented your very odd

behavior...odd for a vampire anyways."

Spike snorted. "Giles didn't know the half of it. It didn't get interesting until after he left."

The Watcher returned to his chair, papers tucked safely away again. "In any case, these documents

came to light when Mr. Giles' estate turned them over to the Council last year. After reading

them, the current Council leadership sent me to find you."

Spike narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Why you?" He looked the young man over, twenty-five or so,

brown hair, tall, no glasses but no one wore them any more since the surgery had been perfected.

"Grandson?" he asked.

"Great...actually. Great grandson and the first to pursue the family calling of Watcher in this

century," the younger Giles answered.

"Spike shook his head. "So they send a piece of my past to beg me for help. What could the

Council possibly want with me?"

Giles the younger leaned forward, his face growing grave. "You know what's happening...around the

world. The demons are growing more numerous...humans are encountering them everywhere. If this

isn't stopped, eventually humans will be the minority. We haven't the ability to fight them all

off."

"And there is only one Slayer. I know all of this. The world is getting worse, an' I get to sit

back and watch. So what?" Spike growled.

Giles looked down at the comment about the Slayer but kept talking, " We know why it's happening.

Someone is letting demons through the Hellmouth... In Sunnydale."

Spike felt a pang at the name. "Again...so what?"

"There is a way to close it, the Hellmouth, close it for good."

"Kinda like closin' th' door after th' horse, mate. What's th' point even if you can do it?"

Spike asked with supreme indifference in his voice. He poured himself another splash of whiskey;

suddenly self-medicating seemed appropriate.

"If we can stop any new demons from entering this dimension, we could fight the ones that are

here already. It's the constant influx that is turning the tide against us." the Watcher argued,

trying to get his last hope to listen to him.

Spike tossed back his drink and shrugged. "Why are you telling me? Just close it then if you know

how."

"The ritual we need to seal the Hellmouth is out of our reach. We have just discovered, from some

of my great grandfather's work in fact, that it may be possible if we get the Adoperis

manuscript..." Giles said excitedly.

"Adoperis...Latin for closure. What's an Adoperis?" Spike tried not to look intrigued.

"A book, long lost to the world but Giles...the elder Giles uncovered a reference to it before

his death, sadly no one knew the significance of his discovery until now. The problem is the book

is in Sunnydale."

"So? Go get it. I still ain't heard where I come in." Spike felt a twinge of unease, where was

this conversation headed?

The young watcher cocked his head curiously. "How long has it been since you spent in any time in

that part of the world?"

Spike hurled his glass past the Watcher's head barely missing his ear. It shattered against the

iron railing. "Seventy-five bloody years, mate...an' not near long enough. If you don't mind,

this little 'pry into the sad little vampire's psyche' bit is over. Whatever your problem is,

find some other sot t' solve it. No way in hell or earth I'm goin' back t' that damned place."

"That's the thing though," Giles said, showing admirable courage in the face of Spike's growing

rage. "It is hell...on earth and damned to boot. No human has set foot in that town and lived in

over fifty years. The demons own it entirely. I f we could go in and get the book we would but

we've lost four good men trying. We need that book and you...are known and feared throughout the

demonic world. You might have a chance."

Spike shoved himself to his feet and paced back and forth, shooting angry looks at the Watcher

from beneath his black hair.

"Why...would...I ...bother?" he demanded of the human. "Why would you even think I would do it?"

"Because you loved her." Giles said softly. "Truly loved her...and the sister, and this was her

town, her duty. For her sake..."

"For her sake?! For her bloody sake I left. Swore I'd never return to mess up her sunny little

life. An' I didn't, just like she asked. I can't..." Spike hissed, hands clenching and

unclenching.

A vision came to him as he wrestled with the demands of an underused conscience. Little children,

blond and brown hair flowing behind them, fields of gold and ceruleans skies. Buffy's children,

Dawn's...they deserved a world where they were not the hunted. He saw a host of demons slinking

through the tall grass, slavering mouths, and razor teeth. Hunting, waiting to rend and kill. To

destroy the legacy of the women he loved.

"Where is it?" he whispered, head bowed.

"Pardon?" the younger Giles asked, leaning forward to catch the vampire's words.

Spike turned his head sideways to gaze at the man who had torn apart his comfortable half-life.

"Where...is...this bloody book?"*

Buffy moaned in her sleep and Spike stroked her cheek to calm her. She would be waking soon,

leaving the hell of her past behind to greet the hell of her present. Spike's gaze floated over

her slender form, the slightest hint of golden skin visible where her sweatshirt drifted up from

her jeans. Had that Watcher known? He had looked away when Spike said there was only one Slayer

in the world. Spike laid a hand on her bare skin, absorbing her warmth into him. He had to find a

way to reach her because he wasn't leaving this place without her.

******************************

Part Eight: Last

Buffy knew she had been drugged. The very liquid she had used to keep the vampire docile was now

in her bloodstream. She wrestled to open her eyes and fight but the drug was too strong. Its

insidious power drew her down, making her relive the awful events of seventy years before. Every

sound, every color just as vivid now in her mind as it had been then in reality. Try as she might

Buffy couldn't stop the flood.

*A wooded grove, rising above the level ground of the graveyard. This was where Willow had

chosen to bury Tara. Amongst the quiet pleasures of nature that she had always loved. The sun was

shining over the blanket of pine needles on the ground. A warm breeze rippled the black cloth

covering the casket and the sound of birds intermingled with Dawn's loud sniffles as she fought

to keep her composure during the brief service. A venerable older witch of Tara's acquaintance

had come to deliver parting words over Tara's grave.

Willow stood apart from her friends, one hand resting on the velvet cloth that covered her

beloved's remains. Her eyes were downcast and she appeared calm but the occasional spark of blue

light that crackled from her hands belied that impression. Buffy knew if Willow looked up, her

eyes would be nothing but fathomless black pools. Xander edged closer to Willow as the elderly

Wicca finished her eulogy and left to give the mourners privacy.

"Will...the service is over...do you want to stay a while before they...do the interment?" he

ventured, reaching out one tentative hand.

Willow turned her head to look at her oldest friend. He flinched a little at the shadowed gaze.

She pushed his hand away without speaking and turned her head back to the casket.

Xander glanced back at Buffy where she stood with brokenhearted Dawn and solemn Giles. His eyes

pleaded with her for backup and Buffy stepped forward reluctantly. She knew the very sight of her

made the sparks shoot faster from Willow's fingertips and Buffy could barely look at her friend,

the guilt she felt over Tara's death was so great.

Giles helped the still sobbing Dawn down the hill and back to the waiting car while Buffy came to

help comfort Willow.

"Willow...I know it feels unbearable now...but soon...it will be better. I'm so sorry." Buffy

laid an arm over Willow's trembling shoulders and tried to draw her close.

Willow flicked a finger and Buffy flew backwards to slam into a tree.

"Willow! It's not Buffy's fault!" Xander yelled as he rushed to help a dazed Buffy to her feet.

"That demon killed Tara, Buffy did her..."

"Her best? No...I've seen her best; Tara...did not get her best." Willow interrupted, finally

walking away from the casket and towards Xander and Buffy where they knelt at the base of a tree.

"Willow, I know the pain you're feeling...I've lost people before. The pain...it's awful but

someday you'll be able to forget..." Buffy began in an aching voice.

Willow made a small gesture and Buffy felt her throat constrict, she could no longer speak.

Willow gave her a cruel little smile.

"Funny idea...forget...you think I will forget? Forget Tara or forget that she's dead because of

you?" Willow snarled, the black of her eyes whirling faster in her rage. "Did you ever really

love someone Buffy? Were you capable of that in your self absorbed little world? Why don't you

forget? Why don't you forget him? Forget his very existence, live eternally alone with no memory

of what it felt like to be part of something greater than yourself."

A ripple of energy surrounded the three friends as Willow uttered those words. Buffy's eyes

clouded and cleared as she knelt looking up at Willow.

"Willow..." she whispered.

Xander bolted to his feet and confronted Willow. "What the hell do you think you're doing? What

would Tara have said? Using magic to hurt your friends...we love you Willow, we want to help." he

said angrily.

"I don't know what she'd say Xander, she's dead. And what am I left with? The Slayer who was

having an off night and the loser who threw the love of his life away. You had a chance for

something wonderful and you were too scared to take it. Instead you let her walk out of your

life. If I had that kind of chance again with Tara..." Willow's voice trembled and tears flowed

from her eyes.

She turned and started down the hill, her final words floating through the air behind her. "Why

do either of you bother? What do you have to live for?"

Xander's face froze at Willow's parting statement. He started as Buffy came up behind him and

leaned her head on his shoulder.

"Don't take it too seriously, Xander. She's in pain. She just needs time." Buffy comforted him.

"Yeah...time." Xander replied a bleak look on his tired face.

The two friends watched Willow walk past the car and keep going into the graveyard beyond. She

never looked back.*

Buffy awoke, a painful lump in her throat. Willow...how she had failed her. Her dream had been so

vivid yet there were always parts of the funeral that she couldn't recall, Willow had said

something, after she threw Buffy into the tree. Why couldn't she remember? Why couldn't she

forget?. She reached up to rub her head and realized she was chained. Her eyes flew open and she

saw him. He was crouching in front of her, ice blue eyes trained on hers. He looked sad. Why sad,

shouldn't he be happy, capturing a Slayer. It wasn't a common occurrence for a vampire.

"Bad dream?" he asked.

Buffy glared at him. "I knew you were lying. I'm a fool."

"Always were pet. Let me go, didn't you? Then again, I was a fool too, to leave." Spike replied.

Buffy waited...he didn't move. She pulled on the chains she knew were secure; he just raised his

scarred brow in slight amusement. She kicked out with one foot and nearly caught him on the chin.

He rocked back on his heels and let the blow breeze past.

"Nice try pet," he said softly.

"What do you want?" Buffy shouted.

"Answers...an' I'm not sure you have them," Spike replied calmly.

"I'm not telling you anything," she retorted, sinking down and leaning into the stone wall.

Spike just laughed and held up the knife she had used on his stomach. "Got a whole table full of

toys that say different, luv...where should I start?

"Go ahead." Buffy shrugged. She was completely indifferent. Maybe this vampire could do what no

other demon in nearly a century had managed...end it.

Spike saw that she truly didn't care and threw the knife down. He stood and looked down at the

stubborn set of her jaw, she was just as hard headed as ever. He needed a different approach.

Spike thought. There was more than one kind of pain...

"Tell me what happened to all of them. Dawn lived...happy...kids...what about th' rest? I know

about Giles, probably have more recent news on him than you do but the Scoobies...how'd it go for

them?"

Buffy turned her head to the wall to shut him out. Spike watched her begin to saw her wrists

against the metal of her shackles. It was working, she felt something.

"Tell me...about the carpenter." He gave Buffy a rueful grin at the shocked look on her face.

"Remember him do you, I'm th' only one who slipped through th' cracks in your bloody mind? Tell

me about Xander...did his demon girl ever come back? What happened to him?"

Buffy shook her head, eyes clamped shut again. How did he know all this? She didn't understand.

*"Xander, wait for me. You can't get ahead of me like that." Buffy hissed to her friend.

Xander had insisted on coming with her to look for Willow. Neither of them had seen her since the

funeral, she didn't go to work, her family was mystified, and Buffy had decided a month was long

enough and it was time to find her. Some rumors from the Wicca community had placed her in this

abandoned part of town. Supposedly, she was delving deeper into the black arts, lost in the power

she had fought so long to resist. Without Tara, the dam had burst and Willow was deeper than

ever.

"I'm fine Buffy. Keeping an eye out and everything," Xander replied to Buffy's demand. He knew

why she was worried, since Tara, Buffy had refused any help on patrol and had kept Xander at arm

length on all matters of the supernatural. He wouldn't even be here tonight if he hadn't over

heard Buffy on the phone with one of her contact. She had a possible location on Willow.

The two walked slowly up the steps into the burnt out wreck of the high school, Buffy hovering

protectively near her friend.

"Buffy, let a guy walk here. I'm okay," Xander said as he tripped over her small foot.

Buffy gave him an anxious glace. He wasn't okay. He was anything but. Willow's cruel words had

scarred him, broken some barrier inside. All his pain and loss over Anya was there for anybody to

see now and Buffy could feel his despair. She wished desperately that he had stayed home tonight.

"Why would she come here? This place is nothing but a shell," Xander wondered aloud.

Buffy shrugged, her eyes roving the darkened hallway for any sign of Willow. "She's not thinking

straight anymore."

A movement caught her eye and she nudged Xander. He looked up and saw it too. Buffy waved him

behind her and adopted a fighting stance. Whatever was out there, it wasn't Willow. The guttural

growls and red eyes attested to that. Three hunched creatures moved out into the open hallway and

Buffy recognized them for what they were. Hellhounds. How had they gotten here? They weren't

exactly Sunnydale fare. Someone had to summon these things.

The hounds spread out, eyes never leaving their quarry. The leader bared his yellowed fangs and

snarled.

Buffy cursed softly and drew a knife from her boot. This was not a good thing. Was Willow trapped

here with these creatures?

"Xander...when I yell, I want you to run." she said under her breath.

Xander didn't reply, he just stepped up next to her and raised the baseball bat he had brought

with him. Buffy sighed. He had to be stubborn about this. She didn't have time to debate it so

she just moved over to give him elbowroom.

The hounds rushed and the hallway dissolved into flying fur and bared teeth. Buffy fought

blindly, slashing out with foot and knife. She felt one hound fall beneath her and she buried her

blade in its thick throat. It gave a wet gurgle as it choked on its own blood and Buffy turned to

the next hound. She couldn't see Xander but she heard the occasional thump as a bat hit

something, he was holding his own. She caught her second hound by the neck and locked her arms to

cut off its air supply. The beast struggled and clawed at her but she ignored the deep gouges it

was carving in her forearm. Eventually its struggles grew more jerky and finally stopped.

Buffy let the hound drop to the ground, arms burning from the strain of holding it. There were no

sounds of struggle. Xander must have bested his hound. Flipping stray strands of hair out of her

face, Buffy looked up to find him. He was lying a few feet away, the hound dead next to him.

"Xander...Xander, get up...we still have to find Willow." Buffy panted.

Xander just lay there. Buffy stumbled over to him. He looked up at her, still alert, blood

soaking through his plaid shirt.

"Always thought I'd die in high school. Though I'd cheated death when you killed the mayor..."

Xander said, still sardonic even now. "Turns out I just delayed it."

Buffy's breath came in hysterical gasps. "Xan..Xander, be still, I'll..."

"Nah...no point, Buff. It doesn't matter." Xander shook his head slightly, reaching up to grasp

Buffy's nerveless hand. "Went out fighting anyways. Doing good. Willow...Willow was right, I

shouldn't bother...I let Anya go and it's been all wrong ever since."

Buffy laid her head against his reddened shirt, sobs welling up in her throat.

"Buffy...don't...it doesn't hurt. I'm not like you...you have a calling, a reason to stay, to

fight this. Me...It's just a relief." Xander stroked her hair, his breathing slowing.

"No. Xander please." Buffy begged. She held him tight as his eyes glazed, held him long after the

blood stopped flowing. Two still figures surrounded by the dead creatures of hell. The only sound

that of Buffy's broken hearted sobs.

She looked up only once, and thinking back, maybe she imagined it...the glimpse of red hair, a

flash of green eyes. Willow hadn't seen, hadn't watched him die...and done nothing?*

Buffy answered the persistent question, eyes still firmly closed. "He's dead. Long dead."

******************************

Part Nine: Recall

They sat face to face in the dim little room beneath the manor. Spike had lit candles and set

them about the chamber when the final torch guttered and died. While Buffy slept, he had found

some blankets and laid them on the packed dirt floor beneath her to make her more comfortable.

His once valued leather blazer he rolled into a ball and positioned behind her head as a

makeshift pillow. Satistfied, he returned to his post a few feet in front of her and was there to

hear her muttered response to his question when she awoke.

"Dead, long dead," came the whispered reply.

"How did he die?" Spike asked.

Buffy gave him a tortured look. He just wouldn't give up. "Painfully and too soon."

"Good," Spike replied.

Buffy hissed in disgust at his callous answer.

"No, that's not what I meant. He didn't leave you...he stuck it out," Spike explained.

"A lot of good it did him, this place destroyed him, destroyed them all...eventually," Buffy

sighed, looking down at her manacles. Her wrists were raw from rubbing them against her chains

and Spike leaned forward to pour cool water over the abraded flesh.

"Dawn too? Those pictures upstairs say otherwise..." Spike prompted, a patient look on his face.

"No...not Dawn. She..." Buffy swiped angrily at a tear running down her dusty cheek. "Why do you

care? This is all ancient history."

Spike grabbed a handful of gold hair and guided her eyes up to his. "Because somewhere in all

that pain is the reason you don't remember me an' I need you to."

"I'd rather you used the knives," Buffy said, jerking away from his grip.

"I know pet. But this is worse," he said. "Dawn..."

Reluctantly, Buffy replied, "Dawn...I sent her away."

*Buffy pushed open the door to her apartment. It was empty. Dawn had gone back to school at

Stanford. There was no one to see her stained clothes, the blood stuck in her hair from where she

had laid her head on Xander's chest. She walked into the bathroom and stared at the spectre in

the mirror. Grey skin, stringy hair, a hollow look in her eyes. How had this happened? A month

ago she was happy, friends and family, now...now there was only Dawn.

The phone rang in the other room. Its shrill cry barely registered with a near catatonic Buffy.

The machine picked up.

"Buffy? It's me, pick up the phone. Did you find Willow? I hope you're okay..." Dawn's voice

sounded in the silent apartment.

Buffy picked up. "Dawn... she rasped.

"Buffy? What's wrong? What happened?" Dawn replied, a note of worry in her voice.

Buffy struggled to keep her voice even. "I...didn't find her."

"Buffy...something happened...is it bad?" Dawn persisted, knowing her sister too well.

"Xander...he got hurt." Buffy wished she didn't have to do this.

Dawn sounded panicked. "Oh God...not him too...Buffy hang on, I'll get a flight out tonight

and..."

"No...no you won't catch a flight." Buffy focused and her voice hardened.

"Why not? You need me," Dawn argued.

"You aren't coming back here, Dawn. Not now...and not ever." Buffy raised her voice to drown out

Dawn's protests. "Dawn...listen to me. Finish school, marry that nice guy...the one who adores

you, have a life...a happy life. You deserve it and Sunnydale...it will kill you just like it

kills everyone else. I don't ever want you to ever set foot here again, understand?"

There was a momentary silence on the other end of the line. "I'll still see you...right Buffy? I

mean you'll come to me..." Dawn was nearly crying now.

Buffy picked up a picture off the same table the phone rested on. Buffy and Dawn, heads together,

big smiles on tanned faces. Dawn's graduation from high school. Buffy had been so proud of her

baby sister. Graduating with honors and Stanford in her future. The wooden frame warped under the

pressure of Buffy's grip, the picture slipped from beneath the glass and floated to the floor.

"Yes, of course I will, Dawn. Can't get rid of me..." Buffy lied convincingly before laying the

phone back in its cradle.

She knew she would never go to her, never leave this place. Xander was right, she had a calling.

To hold back the evil...so Dawn could have that happy life...*

Buffy surged against her chains, the bolt in the wall creaked as the stone around it cracked.

Spike leapt back to avoid her murderous swing.

She wasn't going to do this, live out her most private pain for his voyeuristic pleasure. Either

he died or she did, either way it would be over.

"No more...I can't keep doing this, it hurts too much. Just kill me!" Buffy snarled as she yanked

as hard as she could on the bolt. It was loosening, she could feel it.

Spike dodged another desperate swipe. "No!" he shouted back as he delivered a stunning blow to

her jaw with doubled fist.

Buffy stumbled but recovered quickly. The drugs were wearing off; her reflexes were returning.

She threw out a length of chain, trying to tangle the vampire in it so she could draw him close

enough to attack. Spike just laughed and sidestepped the links.

"I've seen all your moves pet. Show me something new..." he mocked her efforts.

Buffy gave one final pull and the bolt flew loose from the wall and sailed across the room. One

wrist was still chained but she was free from the wall. The vampire looked surprised.

"How 'bout that one, vampire?" she gave him a grim little smile.

"Not bad Slayer...not bad at all..." Spike opened his arms and beckoned an invitation to battle.

Slowly swinging her chain, Buffy moved forward to accept.

The pair circled each other slowly in the confined place. Buffy trying to maneuver past the demon

to reach her table of weapons but he seemed to know what she was thinking and stayed stubbornly

between her and her goal. He was quick, she thought. He was unlike the vampires she remembered.

They were always hampered by their need for blood; it distracted them from the battle. This one

didn't show any signs of that craving. In fact, Buffy wondered when he had last fed. There was no

blood in the manor except hers and she had no bite marks. She ventured a kick to his shin but he

just skipped back, an intense little smile on his face.

Tiring of the games, Buffy rushed him and they began to fight in earnest. The vampire's smile

just grew wider. He was enjoying this. She got a shot in which landed squarely on his nose. His

head snapped back and a delighted laugh burst from him. He shook off the pain and gave her an

approving look. She didn't even see his fist as it hit her, so busy was she trying to figure out

why he would be happy that she nearly broke his nose.

His fist connected with her solar plexus and the air rushed out of her lungs. Gasping for air she

stumbled backwards and felt the wall at her back. The vampire just stood in the center of the

room and waited for her to recover. She shot him a disbelieving glance. This wasn't right. He

wasn't even in demon face. What was going on?

* "Who are you?" A young girl asked the figure standing in the shadows.

"You'll find out on Saturday..." a sardonic voice replied, platinum hair glinting in the orange

glow of the back alley's light.*

Buffy ran straight at her opponent and ducked around to finally reach the table. She snatched up

a knife and spun, holding it at the ready.

The vampire's smile faded and he grew serious. He slowly backed away from her, out of range of

his death. She was the one to laugh now. The upper hand at last. She stalked forward; eyes

focused on his bare chest. The injuries she had already dealt him were fading. The slash across

his lean stomach was just an angry red scratch. Time to give him a new one.

* A spectacled man, Giles? He was speaking, "Spike has fought two Slayers in the last century,

and... he's killed them both."*

Giles had told her about this one? Why was she only recalling it now? He killed Slayers, did he?

Buffy feinted right and slashed left. A thin red line appeared on the vampire's chest. Blood ran

down.

* "Spike had a little trip to the vet and now he doesn't chase the other puppies anymore..."

came the familiar voice.

He was huddled in a doorway, a smoking blanket over him. She was there...*

Buffy raised one hand to her head. These things in her mind...were they real? It was like the

holes in her memory were suddenly filling with him. This fighting...they had done this before.

*"You think we're dancing?"

"That's all we've ever done."

An alley...maybe the same alley. He had a pool cue. The hair...white not black.*

"You know me," the bleeding vampire said again.

Buffy finally believed him. He was telling the truth. She pressed on, knife weaving the air in

front of her. He wasn't trying to fight back anymore; he was just avoiding the blade,

waiting...waiting for what?

"We've done this before...fought like this?" she said wonderingly. "You tried to kill me."

"Yes...but that's not th' whole picture pet. Keep going," he prompted, narrowly avoiding another

vicious slash.

* "I love...." the vampire began, standing in an abandoned warehouse, uncharacteristically

dressed in shades of brown instead of black. Where was the duster?"

"Don't!" a horrified younger Buffy cried.*

Buffy stopped abruptly. "You loved me? How? You're a thing, vampires don't love."

"No one told me that, Buffy. I loved you then...an' I still do," he replied.

Buffy looked at him, really looked at him. This was...Spike. The name clicked with the face. He

was different. The hair a little longer, it looked odd so dark. No black pants...tan now, filthy

with the dust of this dungeon but still tan. Different but still so familiar. Her gaze roved over

his naked chest. She knew how it would feel to touch it. Silky skin over hard muscle...and

cold...so cold.

* "I'm counting on you...to protect her."

""Til th' end of the world...even if that happens to be tonight," replied the man at the base of

the steps.*

"Dawn...you knew Dawn. You protected her..." Buffy gasped at the pain in her chest. Where was

this all coming from?

"Yes, I protected Dawn...or I tried at any rate. A spell Buffy...or a curse. Someone made you

forget. But now its breaking down...you're remembering," he said persuasively.

Buffy shook her head. "No...you laid the spell, you're trying to make me trust you..."

*"I wasn't planning on hurting you...Much," a mocking voice and smirking face hovered near.

"You haven't even come close to hurting me," her younger self said in a voice dripping with scorn

and repressed feeling.

"Afraid to give me the chance?" Spike waggled a scarred eyebrow at her.

Crumbling plaster rained down on them, Buffy forced him up against a wall, attacked him with her

hands, her mouth...*

The knife slipped from her limp hand. Chills swept through her as she gaped at him.

He walked forward and pulled her unresisting into his arms. He looked down into her confused

face, silently pleading with her to remember.

"It's a lie..." she tried to deny what she recalled.

His head dipped down and he kissed her hard, forcing a response. She found herself opening her

mouth against his, moving her body closer. She had been here before. She felt a familiar

clenching in her stomach and lower.

"No..." he growled against her mouth, his hands shoving beneath her ragged shirt to make contact

with her skin.

They're so cold...she thought. Why did that feel right?

"Not a lie...keep going Buffy. Remember it all." He continued to kiss her, nothing gentle just

raw need and force. His hands pushed lower now...the waistband of her jeans impeding their

progress.

She thrust him away with all her strength, a trembling hand against her bruised lips. He stumbled

backwards; eyes still trained on her, an almost predatory look in them.

"Spike..."

*"I'm using you....I can't love you. I'm just ... being weak, and selfish...and it's killing

me. I'm sorry...William." Those were her words as she looked into his shattered eyes.

"Why don't you go? It would be easier...for you...and me. You could go anywhere...anywhere I'm

not." The last thing she ever said to him.*

Buffy crumpled to her knees in the dirt, tears falling freely from glazed eyes.

"Spike...William," she gasped.

Spike approached her again, kneeling in front of her...a hand reached out to touch her face.

She could hear the fragile hope in his voice. "Buffy?"

She reached up and laced her fingers with his. Her chest heaved convulsively as he drew her into

a crushing embrace. She sobbed into the hollow of his shoulder. Hot tears falling on cold bare

skin.

"Willow...what did you do?" she whispered.

******************************

Part Ten: Together

Buffy knelt in the circle of Spike's arms and cried. For once in his existence, Spike knew better

than to speak. He simply accepted it. One hand stroked her hair, pulling the plain elastic from

it so he could run his fingers through the short silky mass as his other hand rubbed her back

slowly. Her sobs shook them both. His unbeating heart constricted at the raw sound. What did she

say? Willow? The witch had laid this ill wish on her, to live beyond her time with no memory of

him? Her best friend?

It was not the time for questions. Buffy would tell him soon enough, now that she had mended the

fractures in her memory. At this moment she just needed to give away some of the emotion bottled

inside her. As Spike tried to soothe her, he contemplated one way she could do that.

He gently lifted her head from his shoulder and gazed into her stricken face. Tears glistened on

her cheeks and a desperate look still haunted her eyes. He pulled her arms from around his waist

and deliberately placed them on his still bloodstained chest.

Her eyes drifted downwards to the cut across one pectoral muscle. She smoothed calloused fingers

over the wound...She felt regret squeeze her throat.

"Sorry..." came her choked whisper.

He shook his head silently as he dropped his hands to her narrow waist. The heat of her skin

warmed them. He wondered if she would understand what he was trying to do.

Buffy looked up in confusion at his solemn face.

Finally he spoke, "Give it to me...all that pain...you know I can take it. You remember that well

enough..." he asked.

She frowned. "How?" He seemed less comforting somehow...more...what?

He suddenly surged forward. Hands skimmed up her back to grip the neckline of her worn shirt, his

chest pressed firmly against hers.

He replied huskily as he tore it from her body, "You know how...you know me."

She felt the cold air across her back as she blinked in shock at his sudden action.

He watched her carefully...the knife wasn't that far away, she could still slip away from him...a

slightly feral look dawned on her face. A strange glow in her hazel eyes. He blessed vampiric

memory for once. He knew that look.

Buffy felt a flush of heat cross her face. She watched Spike lean back and toss her ruined shirt

to one side, a challenging look on his face as he awaited her reaction. She knew he was looking

at her body, knew what it did to him to see it. She felt that power again, the power she held

over him even after an eternity. He was offering himself as a balm to her sore heart, the best

way he knew how.

Spike saw her slight smile. She could sense his arousal, she always could. What this woman did to

him...no one in two hundred years had matched it. To have this chance again...such blessings he

was unaccustomed to. As he watched, she rose gracefully to her feet, slipped slender feet out of

battered shoes, fingers moving nimbly over the brass buttons of her jeans. He took a deep, albeit

unnecessary, breath. She was still incredible; time had simply not touched her. The jeans fells

to the dirt and she kicked them aside. Despite a life lived skulking in darkness; she still

possessed a hint of gold to her skin. The gentle glow of the candlelight revealed curves his

hands had memorized many years before and ached to touch again. He tore his gaze from her body to

her face. She knew what she was doing to him...reveling in it.

Buffy looked down at Spike. The stunned expression on his face at he knelt at her feet was

priceless. He had once told her he was her willing slave. At the time she had found it disturbing

but he had taught her the possibilities of such an idea. She arched a brow, pointed staring at

his still clad lower body and he quickly stood to rectify that situation. He shrugged off the

pants without modesty; he had always been incredibly comfortable with himself. It was she who had

had a problem with it. Now she gloried in the sight of it. A gift...to have this back.

She crossed the short distance to a waiting Spike and tilted her head up to accept his hungry

kiss. Cool lips covered hers, his hands roamed across her back. She strove to blot out the

slightest distance between them by pressing her body to his; she felt his hardness insistent

against her hip. He did the same and Buffy suddenly couldn't tell where he began and she ended.

Her heart beat faster and her breath caught in her throat as his hand moved between them. Knowing

fingers tracing a familiar path. How did one live without this, how could she have forgotten?

Spike pushed them both backwards until Buffy could feel the rough wall behind her, some things

never changed...a bed was out of the question; their need was too immediate. His mouth was at her

throat now, tongue moving over her jugular, something he had always done...she could feel the

light scrape of blunt human teeth against her skin, he had never bitten down but the feel of the

blood coursing beneath her skin drove him wild, she remembered. She threw her head back to allow

him greater access and he growled in approval. She felt his body sink down momentarily as he bent

to hook a hand underneath each of her knees and bring them up around his narrow hips.

He was right there, that glorious, cold so close.

Placing her hands on his shoulders, she pushed herself upwards, arching her back to find the

right angle and sank back down. Her head fell forward limply at the sensation...it was unlike

anything else...that single moment with him when their bodies came together. Her heat, his chill,

the transfer of heat...and then it was like he was truly a part of her. No one else had ever made

her feel this way...was it a vampire thing? No...she had another experience to compare and it was

only him, he was like the other half of her, when they came together it was seamless. She

clenched around him, already more than halfway there even though they had just begun. His hips

bucked helplessly at the power of her contractions and something very much like a whimper tore

from his throat.

Buffy raked her hair from her face with one shaking hand and caught his gaze. Wide blue eyes

looked back, his sensual mouth open slightly. It was just the same...she felt like she could see

right through him at this moment. It had made her run nearly a century ago but now it was

everything. To see that kind of feeling in someone's eyes for her...and to feel it too. She took

a deep breath and let him see it too, what she felt. Saw it register in his eyes as he moved

inside her. His eyes flashed, he suddenly knew.

She loved him... Spike slammed her harder against the wall, moving quicker and quicker, she just

moaned in pleasure. She loved him...it was right there in her eyes. This was worth a hundred-year

wait...a thousand. She finally had let herself feel it. Spike nearly cried out for joy. They

moved together, hard and fast. Spike knew he didn't have to hold back, that was part of the

wonder of this, she could take the pain, the roughness, give it back to him tenfold. She was

completely open to him, heated and wet. He felt her nails carve a burning path down his back,

felt her teeth sink into his shoulder, bloodthirsty little thing. This was who she truly was,

however long it had taken to get here.

As urgency quickened his pace, blinding him to anything but the need to culminate this

experience, he could hear a faint whisper in his ear. Was she speaking?

"...you William. Love you, William," she was chanting in his ear as he drove her repeatedly into

the jagged wall.

Her words pushed him over the edge and he surged into her helplessly. He heard her cry out as she

joined him, the sensation incredible as her inner muscles gripped him almost painfully over and

over again. He gasped, leaning into her, hands clenched into the stone to keep them both from

falling.

"Buffy..." he sighed into her neck, unbidden tears streaming from half closed eyes.

They sank to the blankets at their feet as one. Spike twitched one rough green coverlet over them

and propped himself up with one arm to look down at her flushed face...

Buffy twined her legs around him tightly and laid her head back to look up at him. The grief was

still there, at the back of her mind, but somehow it was bearable...he had indeed taken some of

it into him.

"I love you Buffy," he said to her, voice slightly shaky.

She could see the half-formed terror on his face that she would push him away now as she had done

in the past. She just continued to look at him...let him see what had been in her eyes moments

before.

"I know...I love you too, William...Spike...both of you," she replied softly.

She drew him down to her and kissed him softly, tenderness evident in the gesture, something that

had been absent in the frenzied sex of minutes past. Soft lips pressed against hard. Gentle

fingers drifting over raised welts on his muscled back. What had she done to him, so rough... and

what was she about to do? She heard him gasp as she shifted slightly beneath him to better seat

him atop her. She looked straight up at him and wiggled slightly.

"What? You thought we were done?" she said in a tentatively teasing tone.

Spike neared shouted in jubilation at the hint of humor. This was the Buffy he had been trying to

find. He let a smirk curve his lips as he braced himself above her and let her feel the answer to

that question.

"Not by half pet...not by bloody half..."

******************************

Part Eleven: Answers

In the corner of the dungeon, there was a pile of blankets. Only one candle still burned...across

the room on the table of unneeded weapons. In the flicker of the solitary flame, Buffy studied

the sleeping form of the man beneath her. One arm was flung outwards; the other firmly wrapped

around her waist, as if she might drift away if he didn't anchor her even in his sleep. Buffy

didn't mind, with the weight now lifted from her shoulders, she felt like she might.

She traced the sharp line of his jaw slowly, careful not to tickle. He needed rest after his

ordeal...and what came afterwards. Buffy felt as if they existed inside a bubble just now, the

terrible world held at bay by a single candle and a safe cocoon of government issue blankets. If

she moved too quickly, spoke too loud, would it burst? Would this disappear? She wondered about

that little book Spike had come here to find. Wondered what it was that he would ever return

here. She knew he had not expected to find her, if he had known...well he would have come sooner.

She knew this, his love was constant, it was she who had wavered. She dismissed the question of

the book and returned to her task of memorizing every plane and dip of his face. Trying to carve

it so deeply into her mind that it could never be wiped away again.

Willow and her rage. Had the curse been deliberate or the byproduct of a mind drowning in magic?

Buffy didn't know. Nor did she know why it had been erased by contact with Spike. Willow had

probably counted on Buffy never seeing him again to disturb the spell. It was a fitting revenge

she had crafted, Buffy thought. Truly, she had condemned Buffy to hell on earth.

Spike stirred beneath her and Buffy pushed her dark thoughts aside. He opened his eyes, looked

straight up and smiled. That cocky grin, the one that always made her want to punch him, it still

did. His gaze lowered until it made contact with the woman draped across his chest. Blue met

hazel and the grin broadened. His arm tightened around her waist and he brought his other arm up

to pull her head down to his. Their lips met lightly, lingered, and broke apart. She gave him an

answering smile, a small one.

"Never thought I'd miss hair gel and peroxide." she murmured, reaching up to stroke his inky

locks.

He looked nonplussed. "Oh, th' hair. Someone told me I looked dated...Slayer I think."

She looked surprised. "A Slayer? Been steppin' out on me?"

He laughed ruefully. "In a way, but not th' way you're suggestin'. Brings me to a question I

have, pet. Ten years after I left...Paris...I met a Slayer there." His face grew grave. "Thought

it meant you were dead...care to explain that to me?"

Buffy thought back. Ten years...2013."Faith," she said.

Spike looked confused.

"Faith, the other Slayer, she died that year...out of prison three days and a gang of demons

killed her in L.A. She was just trying to get back into it...the save the world business. The

Council told me she was dead...I envied her." Buffy looked distant as she related the tale.

Spike pulled her closer, trying to remind her he was there. She looked down at him sadly...the

bubble was breaking.

He changed the subject, although all of them were somewhat sad. "How is it...that you are still

young Buffy? I mean...you're just th' bloody same. I'd swear to it." Spike cupped her youthful

cheek in wonder.

Buffy shrugged. "Damned if I know. Cellular sunburn, my ass. Maybe it was the resurrection

ritual...or the curse Willow put on me regarding you...to live eternally with no memory of

love...I don't know. I just know I wake up every night just the same, fight the same battle, and

try as I might...I can't manage to get myself killed."

Spike raised his head up to stare at her closely. "Do you try? T'get killed, that is?"

She looked away; eyes suddenly bright with unshed tears. "Yes....sometimes, when it seems like

too much. Then I remember this is my duty, to try and hold back the demons, I have no right to

seek death."

Spike hissed in disbelief. "What makes you think you're th' only one who has to fight? T' do this

alone? Buffy, it's too much for any one person...even a Slayer!" He grabbed her chin and made her

look at him. "Buffy?"

Buffy pushed the blanket aside and stood up. "It doesn't matter if I wish for death or not. I'll

show you."

She walked naked to the table and fetched the candle. Bringing it back, she held it close to her,

close enough that Spike could see something he hadn't noticed before. He rose up on his elbows

and stared. A tracery of nearly invisible white lines crisscrossed her body. Across her abdomen,

her thighs, four parallel gashes marred one bicep, a jagged line on her collarbone. She was

covered in very pale, almost imperceptible scars.

"You couldn't see before...it's very faint...Every battle...recorded for me," she whispered,

dipping the candle so he could see her legs and their marks. "Once in a while...there's too many

monsters. They cut, I bleed, wounds that would kill even a Slayer. Sometimes I make it home,

sometimes they leave me for dead, but I always wake up like this, recovered...except for this

kind reminder...written in flesh."

Spike was stunned...he couldn't think of anything to say.

"So you see...a death wish is pretty useless...for someone who can't die," she returned the

candle to the table and sank down beside him. She tried not to show the fear that she felt...that

he would be repulsed by her now...the freakish thing she had become.

Spike sat up and reached to touch the extremely thin, silvery scar on her collarbone. It was

long...uneven. A claw most likely, swiped across her throat to sever an artery. She lived through

this? Over and over? He bent and pressed his mouth against it. As if he could take it back, that

she never had to feel that pain...

"See now luv...its a good thing," he said, still kissing the scar, running soft hands over others

on her arms, her stomach...

It was Buffy's turn to look confused.

He kissed her mouth once...lightly, and explained. "Because now you can be with me...forever."

Buffy felt a surge of hope at his words before reality came crashing down again. She pushed him

back a little. "Will you stay with me? Because this is what I do...I can't leave."

Spike frowned. "Why not. You like this place so much? Th' rats? Th' demons? Maybe this lovely

abode y' got here? This may sound funny comin' from a bloke who used to live in a grave but this

place is a dump."

"I know...but it's high up, away from the center of town and easy to defend. Those are the only

criteria I care about," Buffy replied.

Spike moved her over on the blanket and stood up. He hunted about the chamber, looking on the

table and beneath.

"What are you doing?" she inquired.

"Th' book, where is it?" Spike said, turning to look at her.

Buffy pointed at her knapsack in the corner and Spike crossed to it and pulled the small black

volume from the canvas sack. He tossed it to her gently and started searching for his pants.

"Your ticket out of here, Buffy. The Adoperis manuscript. Get dressed, we're getting th' hell out

of Dodge," he said, locating the missing clothing in a corner.

Buffy opened the book, determined it to be unreadable and set it down. "No ticket Spike. I can't

leave, not ever. If that isn't okay with you...then lea..."

Spike was in her face before she could finish the thought. "No! Don't say it. I will never listen

to you tell me to leave again. Just...don't!" he snarled, crushing his mouth to hers. This was no

gentle kiss, it was anger and fear and punishment all in one.

Buffy tumbled back on the blankets, pulling him down on top of her. She let him handle her

roughly, didn't fight as he fell between her legs. He shifted once and was inside her. She

accepted it, let him vent the frustration of decades spent alone in her body. She just held on,

rocked with him, pressed her lips to his cheek as he drove into her. Whispered "Sorry," over and

over into his ear. She should never have suggested, much less said what she had started to say.

Spike heard her words somewhere in his delirium, his tempo slowed, he looked down, saw the

apology in her eyes. She was so afraid. He should have realized that. He almost stopped but she

arched into him, telling him to continue...and he did. Not gently but not so frenzied either. She

matched her motions to his and it became a thing they did together instead of what he did to her.

The room receded and all he saw, all he felt... was her...all around him.

Buffy knew when he let go of the rage, felt him come back to her. She wrapped arms shaking with

relief around him and let herself give in to the sensations enveloping her. Rhythm, fiction,

heat, and cold. His mouth, his fingers, everything, given to her. It built and built until she

felt like she might scream and why not? She arched her back, let it happen and screamed into his

shoulder. Bit down on his flesh, dug nails in his back. He growled in her ear, he liked the

roughness, he always did. He was in the grip of it as well and he sank so deep it dragged another

scream from her hoarse throat.

The instant they both came back to earth, he rolled to his side bringing her with him and kissed

her once more, hard and quick. Looking directly into her passion glazed eyes, he said slowly and

very succinctly, "Don't ever tell me to leave again.

When Spike woke the second time, he was alone. He bolted upright and looked around for Buffy.

Noise upstairs caught his ear. He rose and dressed quickly. He had no shirt anymore so he just

shrugged his rumpled blazer on over bare skin and ascended quickly. What was she up to now?

"Buffy?" he called, shoving the damaged door aside.

She stood by the box that contained her clothes getting dressed. Pulling a black knit cap over

her hair, she gave him a quick smile and knelt to lace up battered boots.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"It's nighttime again. Time to go kill the nasties," Buffy replied.

She crossed to the card table and started to pile weapons into her knapsack.

Spike laughed shortly. "Why? I told you, we're leaving."

"And I told you I can't. My dut..."

"Screw your duty. It's pointless anyways. Buffy, we have to get out of here. The book..." Spike

shouted, his angry words echoing in the near empty room.

"Yes your little book. I don't know what it is but it doesn't matter..." Buffy interrupted him in

turn.

"It bloody well does! You think I'd come prancin' back into this town if it wasn't?

Buffy...it..." Spike stopped, tried to calm himself. She still drove him mad. Stubborn,

opinionated little... He walked over to her and sat her down on the solitary chair...knelt in

front of her and tried to explain.

He looked up into her stormy face, she turned it so she couldn't see him. Still so damned

stubborn. This was necessary but still an unhappy task.

"Buffy...it isn't working. Th' demons pet...there's just too many. For every one you kill, a

dozen leave Sunnydale and venture out into the world. People...well people just can't fight them.

They come out in th' daytime... steal children from their mothers. Homes are bloody fortresses

now...to keep out the demons. Not just vampires anymore...true creatures of hell. Devils and

hellhounds..."

Buffy flinched at the mention of hounds. Another bad memory? There was probably no limit to

those. He reached up to tilt her chin so he could see her face. Tears shone bright in her eyes.

"You can't stop them anymore Buffy...not alone," he said softly, knowing he was tearing away the

foundations of her existence, her reason for being.

"So...eighty years of fighting and what? It doesn't matter? The End of Days is coming anyways?"

Buffy replied bitterly. She dragged one arm across her face to dry angry tears.

Spike shook his head. "Still th' bloody hero. Buffy...it's not your fault...someone is doing

this. Letting them into the world. The book, it has a spell to stop it, seal the Hellmouth

forever. It would give people a fightin' chance to get back on top."

Buffy looked...guilty somehow. Why couldn't he convince her this was the right thing to do?

"It's over for you here...all your people...gone...but I'm here and the world is still here.

Don't you think its time to go?" Spike said persuasively.

Was she wavering?

"They're dead, Buffy. All of them...Xander...Dawn...Willow. But you're not. Don't you want to

live, truly live?"

She stood and walked away from him...over to one of the covered windows, leaned her head against

the rough black fabric. She said something, so softly even vampire ears couldn't hear.

"What? What did you say Buffy?" he asked, still kneeling in front of the chair, puzzled at her

behavior.

Buffy turned and faced him. A grim expression on her face, arms crossed defensively across her

chest.

"I said you're wrong. They're not all dead...one still lives," she replied quietly.

Spike was genuinely surprised. He was about to ask who when the outer door shattered into a

thousand splintered pieces. Black smoke billowed inwards as Spike dove across the floor to

Buffy's side. Whatever this was, he was going to be right beside her to fight it.

But Buffy just stood there... motionless... and watched, a look of ineffable sadness on her face

as a small figure flanked by six hulking demons stepped into the room. The bubble was broken...

Spike heard her answer through the sound of tiny shards of wood hitting the tile floor...

"Willow."

******************************

Part Twelve: Regrets

It didn't hurt anymore. That was what brought Buffy out of it, the absence of pain. She opened

her eyes to find herself laying face up in the middle of the main room of the manor. That would

make sense. That was where she had been standing when the largest demon came at her with that

very large axe. The instinct to fight, to defend had been delayed a crucial second by the wave of

sorrow she felt at the sight of Willow striding into the manor. The demon swung and Buffy saw a

splash of red. Blood. Hers. As she sank to her knees in the center of the room she heard Spike

shouting in defiance and rage. Begging her to fight back. He still didn't understand...it didn't

matter. The only thing her still fragile mind thought at the moment the axe bit into her abdomen

was that at least she was spared a good look at Willow who was still hidden by the smoke of the

explosion.

Now... the absence of pain woke her. It meant whatever wound the demon had dealt her was healed.

New arteries formed, new blood pumped through inhuman veins. The only mercy of this bizarre

immortality was the coma-like state she fell into while her body knit flesh and bone back

together. Buffy sat up, peered into the dim room. Sunlight intruded through the gaping hole in

the wall that had once been a door. Daylight. How much time had passed? Twelve hours, maybe more.

She staggered to her feet, looked down at the pool of sticky red at her feet. Her clothes were

ruined. She needed to change again. As she began the near automatic task of stripping out of the

shredded clothes and rinsing the gore from her body with bottled water, a thought gnawed at the

back of her brain. Something was missing, what was it?

It slammed into her suddenly. Spike! She cleared the last of the cobwebs from her brain and

looked around frantically.

"Spike?" she screamed, the name echoing off the stone walls.

She was alone. Dragging on a clean pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, she ran to the basement door.

"Spike?"

No answer, he was gone. Trembling in rage and fear, Buffy examined the floor for telltale signs

of dust. None, just a million splinters. She wrapped her arms about herself; mind racing as she

tried to think, knowing what had happened...Willow had him.

She had to go find him. Her mind instantly rejected that idea. To go there...she had stayed away

for seventy years, never wanting to face the wolves of memory that haunted that place. No, she

had to. She couldn't let this go on. Since Spike had told her what was happening to the world,

Buffy had known the truth. All the demons, the Hellmouth...this was all Buffy's fault too...and

now she had to fix it. Squaring her shoulders, Buffy went to collect her weapons.

"Wakey, wakey, Spike..." a soft voice whispered into Spike's ear.

He groaned in pain. Chains again. He could feel the bite of steel into his wrists. What was it

with this town? The battle at the manor had been over in seconds. Buffy, paralyzed with some

unknown emotion, had fallen beneath the blade of one demon's axe and the other demons all took on

Spike at once. He killed two with his bare hands but the remaining ones overwhelmed him, subdued

him. He remembered hearing a soft voice...calling him Spike, telling the demons to bring him

along.... and then....nothing.

A feathery touch across his cheek made him open an eye. He knew there was nothing out there he

wanted to see but he wasn't one to shy away from things. A flame, that was the first thing he

saw, flames everywhere. Then he looked down.

The mouth of hell gaped wide beneath him. Suddenly he was glad for the chains that held him

secure against the wall of the dizzyingly deep cavern. He pressed his back against the rough

stone, edged his feet backwards. What had happened to this place? Last time he saw it, the

Hellmouth was just a jagged hole in the floor of a ruined library, now it yawned fifty feet from

one steep wall to the other. It was deep too; staring down he couldn't see the bottom, just gouts

of sickly green flame and an oily cloud of black smoke. Narrow pathways ran along the walls and

they were choked with demons traveling to and fro. No wonder the influx of demons was so great,

this was a bloody highway. He heard the faint clank of tools hitting rock and realized they

weren't finished either, they were still widening the hole.

"Isn't it pretty?" the voice came again.

Spike turned his head to see who was talking, not that he didn't already know. It was Willow...or

what was left of her. The bright little redhead he had once assured was eminently bitable had

changed. The years that didn't show in Buffy were all too evident in her. Not that she was old

and wrinkled...she wasn't but she was...terribly different.

Her eyes were like black holes, no light reflected outward. Spike felt if he looked too deep he

would be unable to climb back out. The once vibrant red hair was now the color of old blood

falling across pale skin like a raven's wing. Her skin, it was whiter than his own was, sunlight

had not touched it in a very long time. It looked stretched... a little too tight across brittle

bone. Her hands...every sinew and tendon visible under papery flesh, nails long and sharp. She

wore black silk, a plunging neckline, breathlessly tight, a dress that flowed to the rocky ground

and trailed out behind her.

She stretched her lips in a grotesque caricature of a smile. "Spike...never thought I'd see you

again," she said in a strange hissing voice.

"Same here." Spike snapped.

She glided forward, traced an idle finger down his bare chest. His coat was gone, shoes too. She

had left his pants thankfully. Her nail sliced his skin like a razor and he felt a sluggish

trickle down his chest. He wasn't sure how much blood he had left to lose between her and her

goons and of course Buffy. He was an elder vampire, needing less blood than when he was younger,

but still there was a limit to how long he could go without replenishment. His captor cocked her

head curiously and he saw blue sparks crackle in a halo around her head. She and her magic were

one entity now, inseparable.

"You haven't fed recently...vampire..." she commented.

He shrugged indifferently but didn't speak. Willow sighed and backed up to look at him with a

chiding expression on her ghostly face.

"You broke the rules...twice actually..." Willow raised a hand and beckoned a small cowering

demon over. He crawled forward and reached out with trembling claws to hand her a coiled black

bullwhip. He skittered away quickly, obviously fearful.

Spike wondered what she had become that demons groveled before her. His musings were interrupted

by the sharp crack of the whip she now held.

"The rules...firstly, all demons who come to Sunnydale must come and pay me homage, that is if

they don't get killed trying to get here...getting killed...that happens a lot..." Willow looked

annoyed.

Buffy's efforts had not gone unnoticed by her apparently.

Willow's gaze sharpened. "You...didn't come...or get killed. You failed to bring me any nice

gifts either...like this interesting little book." She held up the Adoperis manuscript and

Spike's heart sank.

"Such a fascinating volume. You know how much I like to read..." She tossed it aside carelessly

and it landed out of Spike's reach. Far too close to one of the geysers of green flame for

Spike's comfort.

"Do you want to hear the second rule?" The whip cracked again, raising a welt on Spike's

shoulder.

He jerked against his shackles and glared at her menacingly. She just laughed. She didn't fear

him anymore...not even a little.

"Rule two...and very important...no one interferes with one of my spells," Willow snarled, the

whip unfurled again and laid open Spike's cheek. His head snapped back at the impact and a growl

of rage rumbled from his vampiric face, brought to the fore by anger and pain.

"What bloody spell? Th' one you laid on Buffy? Your friend? Remember her?" Spike finally spoke.

A bitter laugh. "Remember? Oh yes I do recall the mad creature who lives up on the hill. I

should. I made her that way. Until you came along...annoying as ever and insisting she come back

to you. I felt...the spell dissolve. You had no right..." Willow hissed, arm going back to deal

her captive another blow.

Spike's arm moved quicker than sight and grabbed the leather cord before it connected with his

body. Jerking hard, he tore it from Willow's grip and hurled it into the smoky depths below the

ledge where they stood.

"I had no right? What right did you have to do that to her. She didn't save your hide often

enough?" Spike shouted. He glared into her frightening eyes, unbowed by her malevolent look.

"She didn't save someone else...Tara!" Blue fire poured from Willow's hands; the physical

manifestation of her anger and she walked forward to lay them on Spike's chest. He screamed as

the flame ate into his skin, the pain blinding.

Then it stopped. Willow stepped back, that death's-head grin back on her face. Spike looked down

to see her handprints branded into his skin, red and blistered. She was mad, truly mad. Something

had happened to Tara and it had warped Willow's mind. Spike recalled Buffy's reaction when he

mentioned Tara back in the dungeon. Something bad had happened, set in motion this transformation

in Willow, turned Buffy into the solitary vigilante she had become, and it was Willow who was

destroying the world. Spike understood now.

Willow laughed again...he could hear how unhinged she had become.

"This is fun...I haven't had a new toy in an age...I think I'll keep you for a while. As soon as

I erase you from Buffy's mind, we can play..." Willow walked away from him.

"Why?" he called after her.

She paused, answered softly without turning around. "She has to suffer...eternally. That's why

she can't leave...can't love...she has to die over and over again to wake up and do it all once

more...she has to suffer the way I do."

The witch walked away, leaving Spike to hang bleeding in his chains.

Buffy crept through the crumbled remains of Sunnydale Highs corridors; silent and alert she

avoided small groups of demons that Willow had set to guard the way. She didn't need a battle

just yet. Better to get in unnoticed, save her strength. It was taking everything she had just to

get there. Every step felt like knives in the soles of her feet. The guilt and the memories were

so vivid here. This was the hardest thing she had ever done in a lifetime of hard things.

Echoes of the past were around every corner. Giles polishing his spectacles, talking to the

pretty teacher he had loved until she died a gruesome death, another thing Buffy reckoned as one

of her failures. She could hear Faith whispering "Hey B...", see Willow running past a row of

gray lockers, a welcoming grin for her best friend. She saw Xander struggling with the soda

machine, cracking a joke, bleeding to death with his gut torn open by one of Willow's hounds.

Buffy collapsed to her knees, her body shaking with silent sobs. She couldn't do this...

*"It's over for you here...all your people...gone...but I'm here and the world is still here.

Don't you think its time to go? They're dead, Buffy. But you're not. Don't you want to live,

truly live?"*

That beloved voice whispered in her mind. Did she? Buffy squeezed her eyes shut and brought that

sharp-featured face into focus. He was still there in her mind. Yes, she wanted to live. Buffy

climbed back to her feet, shouldered her pack, and pressed on. She had to do this. End it...for

Willow and herself ...and get Spike free... She had to save the world one more time.

******************************

Part Thirteen: Enemy

The paintbrush tickled. Spike felt that laughter would be an inappropriate response at this

point. A seriously disturbed witch was amusing herself by painting strange symbols on his chest

with black ink and a thin brush and his only impulse was to laugh. Not wise...the brush was

wooden after all, a flip and a shove and he was dusty. He looked down at Willow's head as she

concentrated on her task. She had left him alone for a long while, let him watch the traffic in

and out of the Hellmouth. He had seen creatures out of nightmare make their way up and into his

world. Things that he had never before seen. Big and tall, small and impossibility quick.

Flashing fangs and cruel claws they came, paying tribute in blood and power to the mistress of it

all. Willow.

She had an actual throne. Not the kind you saw in museums or not the sort of museums Spike had

frequented when he was alive, this throne was made of bones. Not human he thought but demon.

Yellowed thighbones and the occasional twisted horn jutting from the sides, it was gruesome.

Willow had sat upon it and watched him for hours, waving away her obsequious minions to simply

gaze at Spike, her eyes glittering black like the most poisonous of cobras. He saw each demon

kneel at her feet. She would reach out a skeletal hand to offer an unholy blessing on each,

accepting their tithes of rare and obscene things they had brought up from hell with them. Once

in a while one would fail to please and Willow would use the very flames she had branded Spike

with to roast them in their tracks. Spike imagined this kept the quality of the offerings quite

high.

He had been almost glad when she finally moved, ordered her servants to bring her ink and brush.

She had begun right below his neck, light stokes, the wet ink itching unbearably it dried. He had

refused to move though, no twitching. That would be a victory for her and he wouldn't give it

easily. So he stood upright, the iron manacles digging into his wrists, the ink drying on his

chest, and was silent.

"You have been gone a long time, Spike. How do you find our little town now?" Willow asked,

dipping her brush once more.

Spike stared ahead stonily.

"No opinion? I'd think it would appeal to the demon in you...but that part is buried very deep

now isn't it. Have you spent the last seventy-five years learning to hide it? So sad...you were

once a splendid creature, now...just a guy with a sun allergy," Willow said in her soft little

voice as she painted.

"Buffy is not what she was, is she? You found her what? A little odd. A fearful thing living in

shadows. Nothing to her mind but kill, kill, kill." Willow's voice sounded proud.

"It took a lot of time to make her that way, to take away everything that bound her to the living

world. Her people, her town. Hard work, but you know me. The little workaholic. This is much more

fun than homework though. Much more...rewarding." A happy chuckle from the witch as she worked.

A row of dots across his abdomen, a broad slash of wet ink, another series of dots. What in hell

was she doing? Spike had no idea what the scope of her powers was now. She fed off the energy of

the Hellmouth and its occupants, that much was clear. It kept her alive beyond her time but at a

terrible price. Her sanity, her taut and stretched appearance. Spike just stood very still. He

felt like he was in the presence of an unpredictable wild animal. Friendly one minute, it could

turn and rend the next.

She spoke again. "Did you think to take her away? Leave me here? Foolish. She and I are bound.

She can no more leave this place than I can. The Hellmouth sustains us both. She would have been

ash in your embrace before you got twenty miles away."

Willow laughed at the thought. "Maybe I should have let you both go. It might have been worth it

to have that happen but no...It's better this way. I get to feel her death countless times. Did

you like seeing her die when my demon cut her down? It's only the second time she has died for

you. Don't worry, it gets better every time."

Spike tried to muster a sneer but he couldn't manage it so stunned was he at what Willow had just

told him about Buffy.

Spike's heart plunged in his chest. Buffy couldn't leave? The witch had no reason to lie to him,

trapped as he was. She had to stay here to survive? He moved...just a fraction of an inch but

Willow noticed. She looked up at him, a cruel smile playing on her lips. Black eyes sparkled with

delight.

"You didn't know. You thought you could go have that happily ever after...see the Eiffel tower at

midnight? Long walks along the Thames by the stars? You were going to show her the wonders of the

world... you by her side. What did you think? A happy ending for Buffy? Never."

Spike's jaw twitched again. She was reading him so plainly. He forced his hopes deep, leaving

them to shrivel in the depths of his undead mind. She couldn't leave...

Willow slowly pushed her dark hair back, her brush still as she contemplated him. He did not

look. Refused to let her drag anything else from his racing mind. Damned bitch. What could he do

now?

She shrugged and returned to her task. "How did you know she lived? That is why you came

back...one last shot at the girl who rejected you...no...That wasn't it. That wasn't it at all,

was it?"

She waited for an answer that never came. Paused once more, trying to glean the answer from his

stubborn mind.

"You didn't know. That's not why you came..." she whispered.

Spike silently cursed to himself as she stood abruptly. Willow turned and walked to where she had

thrown the book earlier.

"This book. You came for this?" she hissed.

Spike filled his mind with Buffy. Buffy smiling, laughing, moaning in pleasure as he...

"Stop!" Willow screamed. "Stop thinking of her. She cannot be happy, not for a moment!"

A crack in her reserve. Spike pressed his advantage, the thoughts of Buffy blocking out the truth

of what lay inside the book. He brought to the fore of his mind the night he had so recently

spent in Buffy's arms. How they had comforted each other with touch and words. Willow threw the

book aside again and advanced on him. He had done it now for sure, no more arts and crafts.

She snatched up her brush and slashed one final sigil on his chest and muttered an unintelligible

phrase in Latin.

"Combustum!"

Spike screamed as the letters turned bright red and started to burn. Every stroke felt like a

tiny conflagration in his flesh. Willow laughed in delight.

"The flames can't kill you like ordinary fire but I assure you they will last longer...as long as

I want them to," she told him as he writhed in his bonds.

The witch turned and walked back to her throne. Settling back on cushions of black silk, she

watched her captive suffer...

Up above in the ruins of the high school, Buffy had breached Willow's defenses and managed to

find the library without any skirmishes. Inside the framework of the doors there was nothing left

of the place that had once been a second home to a very young version of herself. Nothing but a

gaping hole from wall to wall. A greenish glow emanated from within but any hint to what lay

below was obscured by thick smoke. Buffy stood on the rim and looked down. Willow was down there.

She felt remorse constrict her heart once more. She couldn't... A growl behind her halted her

thoughts. She spun to find a pack of hounds, hellhounds, watching her from a shadowed recess

nearby. All feelings of sadness and guilt fell away as the Slayer took over. She dropped her bag

and sprinted forward to take on the largest of the beasts. Vile creatures. They had killed

Xander. The last of her friends to stand by her. After them she had been all alone.

She broke bones and crushed throats. No weapons, just her hands and the instincts gifted her by

some unknown agency. She was death in motion. One by one, the beasts fell at her feet, bodies

broken and oozing blood. With every death rattle, Buffy felt more alive, her gaze sharpened, her

thoughts more concise. A realization dawned in her mind. The grief and guilt. Her inability to do

what was necessary due to her crippling feelings...it was another spell. Willow's malice knew no

bounds. She had crafted a puppet of Buffy. One who would lie still and allow endless torment to

be inflicted upon it.

Five hounds dead, six...she beckoned the remaining two. Offered them release. Bound by the will

of their dark mistress they leapt forwards unwillingly. She was there to meet them, hands moving

faster than they could follow. One actually whimpered at the terrible look in its opponent's

eyes. It cowered before her, submitted to the superior strength of will she exhibited. She just

laid one foot atop its neck and broke it cleanly. It felt no pain, just the ending.

The last one fell and Buffy stood amongst the piled bodies of the fallen creatures. An emotion

unfelt in ages beat inside her now. She wasn't sad or lost or bound to duty. There were no

regrets of past wrongs done by her and to her. She was angry. A pure blazing anger...towards the

one who had done this. Ruined the world, ruined her.

Buffy turned once more, picked up her bag, and stepped off the edge into the pit. Falling down

through smoke and flame, darkness and a miasma of hatred. It grew lighter as she descended. She

kept her head down the whole time, seeking a place to land. A ledge loomed out of the dark and

Buffy snapped out a hand to catch it. Hanging by one hand from the rocky promontory, she hauled

herself up and crouched at the edge. Surveying the scene before her, she shuddered slightly. The

spell still threatened to overwhelm her even though she knew its nature now.

It was still a long way down to where she could hear and see movement. Buffy lowered herself over

the edge again and descended. She dug her fingers into tiny fissures in the rock, hugged her body

against the rough stone to keep from falling. Even though she was suspending her entire body

weight from one hand, Buffy felt no pain. Just anger and purpose. She was washing clean the stain

of Willow's curse with every handhold. This was who she was, not the thing Willow had created. It

had taken the determination of one very irritating person to make her see it but now she felt

like she was fighting free from an invisible web. Every breath came easier, things looked sharper

somehow. She knew whatever Willow did to her once she made her way down, she would never go back

to her refuge on the hill. She was done living that way. Another ledge appeared beneath her

dangling feet. Buffy let go of the wall and dropped the dozen feet to the platform and saw that

she had finally found what she sought.

Demons everywhere, a figure chained across the great chasm, Spike. He was twisting as if he was

in great pain. Buffy looked for a way to get to him. There was a narrow pathway cut into the

rock. She started towards him, noticing that not too far from Spike an alcove held a throne. The

throne held Willow. The anger surged in Buffy's chest again. Damn her. She was watching him

suffer. Light-footed, she ran along the uneven stone towards them. A demon reared up in front of

her, roared in rage. Buffy just shoved him aside and he spun away into empty space. Buffy closed

the distance between Spike and herself quickly. She saw the glowing symbols on his chest and

pulled a bottle of water from her bag, unscrewing the top as she ran.

She sprinted the last few steps and threw the water across Spike's chest. The ink ran, the

symbols melted away, and Spike stopped screaming. Buffy grabbed one chain, yanked it from the

wall with brute strength. Spike pulled the other loose. Spike grabbed Buffy up into his arms and

pressed a quick but fervent kiss on her forehead. A scream of rage pierced the air behind them.

Buffy stood inside the circle of Spike's arms as she turned to confront her enemy, for that was

what Willow was.

She gazed upon the rabid witch who stood in front of her macabre throne seething with rage. Buffy

smoothed back her tousled hair, squared her shoulders and looked at her onetime friend. Her eyes

free of the torment Willow had so carefully planted there, she gave Willow a purely happy smile.

She knew it would drive the witch to madness, to see how she had failed at the last in her quest

to shatter Buffy.

"Hello, Willow."

******************************

Part Fourteen: Forgive

Buffy regarded Willow through calm and clear eyes.

Willow vibrated with uncontrollable rage. "Guards!" she screamed. "Take them!"

"We're done for, pet..." Spike muttered as he took up a fighting stance at Buffy's side.

As glad as he was to see Buffy come for him, the cold realist in him saw that the odds were so

very against them. The most they could aspire to was to die together...not what he had hoped for

but...

His train of thought was interrupted by the appearance of a small army of demons ready to do the

bidding of their frightening queen. Snarls and growls came from the demons as they approached en

masse. Buffy handed Spike a club studded with nails and pulled out a wicked looking sword with

jagged edges for herself. More of her impressive weapons. Spike hefted his club in one hand,

liking the weight of it. Very manly. Then the demons were upon them and thought was impossible.

Spike warranted he had done a respectable job by the time the battle ended. A good dozen had

fallen beneath his club. It was slick with blood and matted with fur and scales. Still a dozen

among fifty was not enough. As for Buffy, she had fared even better; maybe twenty bodies lay at

her feet. A wild and savage gleam in her eyes as she fought. She was bloody splendid, Spike

thought as he watched her. A goddess of battle. This was the Slayer pure and simple, nothing

remotely human about her. Yet it was the final dozen or so demons that did them in at the last.

Overwhelming the pair as they fought. Willow shouting instructions in the background. Something

about a cell and that was the last thing Spike heard.

When he opened his eyes it was to see Buffy looking down at him with concern on her battered

face.

"Are you okay?" she whispered to him.

"Noarrgh..." he mumbled through his swollen lips.

"Yeah, that's about how I feel." Buffy agreed, looking over her shoulder warily.

Spike squinted at their surroundings. Another sodding dungeon. He groaned and tried to sit up. It

was hard; the demons had practically torn him apart. Buffy helped him. Propped him against the

wall so he could get a better look. A cell with three stone walls and an iron grate for the

fourth wall. Beyond the grate was that awful throne. Willow sat upon, watching them both with

undisguised malice.

"Bloody wonderful...the wicked witch awaits..." Spike growled.

Buffy nodded in agreement.

"What are we gonna do? Just sit here and waste away while she watches?" he asked.

"No...I'm going to talk to her," Buffy replied, never taking her eyes off their captor.

"Buffy...don't push her. She's absolutely mad. Nothing left of th' cute little redhead there..."

Spike warned, gently probing his ribcage. At least two had broken ones...maybe more.

Buffy looked back at him. Bent down to drop a light kiss on his cheek. She looked so sad...not in

the same way as before but there was a new regret in her eyes now. He felt a stab of fear far

sharper than the pain in his ribs.

"I think there is something left. I have to try and find it," she said.

Spike grabbed her arm. "Buffy..."

She pried his desperate fingers from her arm, gave him a last searing look as if she would burn

his face into her mind one last time and stood. He struggled to stand, to stop her but she was

already at the bars.

"Willlooow...." Buffy called tauntingly.

Willow smiled and descended from her throne. The witch walked to a nearby table piled high with

arcane materials. She began to pick and choose, throw things in a small black cauldron. A spell

was in the works.

Buffy called again. "Willow..."

"Be quiet," Willow snapped. "A few minutes and you'll be your old quivering self..." The witch

threw some strange glowing herbs in the pot and turned the flame beneath higher.

"Did Tara teach you that spell?" Buffy said softly.

She saw Willow stiffen; her hands begin to tremble.

"Don't speak of her...you have no right." Willow hissed, refusing to look at Buffy.

"Did Tara practice spells to twist people's minds? Would she approve?" Buffy asked.

Willow turned to face Buffy. Eyes crackling with dark energy. "Stop," she commanded.

"Do you remember why you decided to stay in Sunnydale? Instead of going off to Oxford...Harvard?

What did you tell me? You thought saving the world sounded like a good cause...you wanted to be

part of that," Buffy pressed.

Willow's hands started to burn with blue fire.

"Buffy...don't do this...she'll kill you," Spike warned urgently.

"You're angry with me...you've been angry with me for seventy years. Why don't you take it out on

me instead of the rest of the world? Face to face for once. Tell me how you feel Willow..." Buffy

urged.

Willow stalked up to the bars, pressed her face close to Buffy's until their noses almost touched

through the bars. The air shimmered around them as Willow glared at the person she considered

responsible for the end of her world. Willow reached out slowly and unlocked the cell with one

flick of a shaking finger.

"Buffy, this is madness. You can't stand against her! Come back here!" Spike surged forward, ribs

grinding against each other as he stumbled towards the open grate. Gasping in pain he slammed

into the bars just as Buffy firmly shut the grate behind her. He laced his fingers through the

bars, looked at Buffy wild-eyed.

"Buffy, you can't kill her. If you do, you die too. Please let her put the spell back on you.

I'll get away. I'll find a way back to you an' get you free of her...If you do this...you'll

die!" he pleaded.

Buffy cast her eyes downward for a moment. "I know," she said quietly.

Spike hurled himself against the bars but they wouldn't give. "Buffy!"

"I know it will kill me and I have to do it. You have to do what you came here for. Get the book

and get it to someone who can close the Hellmouth. I know I promised I would never ask you to

leave again but that's all you can do now..." Buffy brushed her fingers against his softly before

walking away towards a waiting Willow. It burned worse than any torture Willow had devised.

"No..." he whispered, watching her go.

Buffy walked to the center of the room and stopped in front of Willow. Bare inches separated the

two. Buffy spread her arms to show she held nothing.

"No weapons, Will. Wanna call off your boys or what?" Buffy said challengingly.

Willow waved away the waiting group of demons near the throne. Grumbling in disappoint, they

obeyed and lumbered away. The chamber was empty except for a witch in black, an imprisoned

vampire, and an all too ready Slayer.

Willow's arm moved with inhuman speed and a ball of her blue fire came hurtling towards Buffy.

When it arrived, Buffy wasn't there. She had moved, a scarce inch to the right but enough to

avoid the flames. Willow hissed in disappointment. Buffy darted forward and Willow felt her head

snap back from an unseen kick to the chin and Buffy was somehow back where she started.

Willow touched one finger to the trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth. "You hit me," she

said, sounding surprised.

"Gotta say you had it coming, Will," Buffy said without sympathy.

Willow's next shot grazed Buffy's cheek and Buffy reached up to feel a row of blisters raising up

on her skin from the intense heat of the fire.

"You killed Tara. You must suffer." Willow snarled.

"I've been taking credit for that for a long time, Willow but you know what? It wasn't my fault.

The demon killed her. As for me...human error...I'm not perfect. I have to forgive myself for

that," Buffy shot back, weaving in to land another lightning quick jab to Willow's side.

The witch staggered under the force of the blow and started muttering a spell. Another fast punch

to the mouth stopped the spell midcast.

"None of that now," Buffy warned.

Willow eyes whirled faster. She looked amazed that Buffy was able to stand against her like this.

Spike felt a tiny glimmer of hope. Maybe it didn't have to end the way he thought. He pressed

himself against the bars, seeking a weakness in their structure.

"What's this all about Willow? Besides torturing me. The demons, the Hellmouth? Why Willow?"

Buffy demanded.

Willow backed up, leaned back against her throne. She was confused. This wasn't going the way she

planned. Buffy was cool, confident, and utterly unwilling to let Willow punish her as she

deserved. She looked at the defiant Slayer standing a few feet away. This was the Buffy who

simply didn't believe anyone could beat her. The Slayer who had battled a god to her knees.

"Why Willow?" Buffy persisted.

Another kick, another fist. Willow felt things breaking inside her as Buffy pummeled her. She

fell to her knees, the black silk of her dress shredding on the sharp rocks.

"Why Willow?" Buffy asked again.

"To get her back!" Willow screamed.

The blows stopped. Willow looked up. Buffy just stood above her. Hands hanging loosely at her

sides. She was waiting.

"If I have enough power...if I find the right spell or talisman...I might find the way to bring

her back. You came back. Unworthy, unreliable you...why not her? Tara...the brightest, the best

of all of us..." Willow continued, her gaze dropping to Buffy's scuffed boots.

A voice came from above her. No anger or hurt in it anymore. Just an aching sorrow. "This isn't

the way to Tara, Willow. You'll never find her down here...in hell. And if you did, what would

she think? What would she say about the Willow she found here?"

Willow felt the hot sting of tears in her eyes. So strange...when had she last cried?

"Tara once did a great thing for me. Helped me through something. I want to do the same for you.

Give you an undeserved gift." Buffy's voice sounded closer and Willow realized the Slayer was

kneeling in front of her, her hazel eyes steady as she spoke.

"I forgive you," Buffy whispered.

Willow reared back. "No! No you don't. I killed Xander...would have killed Dawn if she had ever

come back. I've let hell into our world, more each day. You can't forgive that," she shrieked.

"Still, I forgive you," Buffy's gaze never faltered.

"Decades of torment, alone and friendless? You can forgive that?" Willow demanded.

"Yes," was the answer.

Buffy watched Willow closely. It was working. The black was draining away leaving brilliant green

in its wake. As Willow focused on her, Buffy saw her friend for the first time in far too long.

"Willow, I forgive you," she said one final time.

Willow slumped forward against Buffy. The tears fell freely now.

Spike watched in disbelief from his cell. Only on the Hellmouth could a fight to the death end

this way. Bizarre was the norm here.

Buffy lifted Willow's limp head from her shoulder, looked at her gravely. "There is a way,

Willow. A way to mend this and maybe see Tara again...in a place beyond this world."

Willow just looked blank. Buffy stood and fetched the book from its place on Willow's table. Held

it up for Willow to see. Willow shook her head. She didn't understand. Spike did though.

"No, Buffy! Let it alone. What do I care if the bloody world crumbles away. Not if I have you!"

he shouted, renewing his assault on the bars to his prison.

Buffy looked determined and ignored his outburst. "The book, Will. There's a spell in it to close

the Hellmouth, stop the demons from becoming more numerous."

Willow rose to her feet, came forward slowly. She took the book from Buffy and opened it for the

first time and read the spell. A moment passed, another, and suddenly black flooded her eyes once

more.

"No! I will not give it up! I need its power to live!" Willow screamed.

"What for, Willow? You'll never find her here," Buffy replied sadly.

The black receded again and Willow looked out of the witch's eyes again.

"Can you do it, Will?" Buffy asked.

"Yes...I can," the witch replied, sounding weary.

"Buffy, please," Spike said from the cell.

Buffy left Willow's side to return to Spike. She didn't open the grate however, just stood on the

other side and looked at the grieving vampire.

"I can't let you go now. You'll try to stop us," she said.

"Bloody right I will," Spike retorted. "Buffy, we'll find another way."

"No. We won't. This has to end now. Willow will do it and the world will have its chance," Buffy

said firmly.

"But..." Spike began.

"Why did you come? What did the Council tell you to make you agree to this?" Buffy asked

unexpectedly.

Spike was nonplussed but he answered, keeping an eye on Willow as she assembled her needed

ingredients for the spell. "Your children...Dawn's. I wanted to believe they could live in a

better world. One where monsters like me were not at the door everywhere they went."

Buffy nodded. "I thought so. It still holds then. Dawn has children and grandchildren and more.

They do deserve that." She reached out and twined her fingers with his. He clutched at them

desperately. "I died a long time ago, William. It's just time to make it official."

It was then that Spike knew he could not dissuade her. She had made up her mind. Chosen the good

of the many once more. As much as he hated it and her a little for doing so, he knew it was a big

part of why he never loved anyone as he loved her. Why he could never put her behind him. She was

as close to pure good as he would ever get.

He leaned his face against cold iron, felt her warm lips press against his forehead. She

whispered a request into his ear, waited for his promise to fulfill it. He nodded his assent,

unable to look up knowing it would be the last time he saw her, wanting to stave it off that

moment even for a little while.

She squeezed his fingers. He raised his head at last. She gazed into tear brightened blue, felt

her heart skip a beat. Nothing in her life had ever been as intense as him, as alive.

"Goodbye...William."

Her fingers opened...his dropped to his sides. She turned and walked away. He leaned against the

bars, helpless to move, no part of him functioning any longer, and watched her go.

Willow and Buffy knelt inside a circle Willow had created from oddly colored sand. The two

clasped hands, at the end they were together again. Willow opened the book in front of her. One

thin arm raised in the air in supplication to greater powers, she began. Oddly slurred words that

sounded nearly recognizable but somehow...not. The circle flared to life, encasing Buffy and

Willow in incandescent light. Spike didn't look away. He would see this through until the end.

Willow called forth all her hoarded power and tried to force the Hellmouth to obey her bidding.

The earth shuddered violently as she recited the spell, a hard determination in her voice as she

encountered resistance. Buffy squeezed her hand in support and Willow forged ahead. Her words

grew more commanding, more insistent, and finally a great cloud of smoke billowed up from the pit

as they watched. The greenish glow emanating from the bottom of the pit guttered once, twice, and

finally...went out. A howling could be heard from the myriad demons as they realized that the

gateway to earthly paradise had closed leaving them stranded. Spike heard them fleeing like rats

from a sinking ship.

The cavern was plunged into darkness. Even with his enhanced vision, Spike had to strain to see

the figures of Willow and Buffy, still inside their now defunct circle. They were leaning

together, no movement. Spike listened in the now echoing silence of the cavern. He could

hear...heartbeats. Two distinct heartbeats but before he could translate that sound into hope, he

heard one falter. It beat slower and slower and then abruptly stopped. Now there was only one. He

listened to it; clung to the sound like it was his last anchor to Buffy.

Beat...beat...beat...beat...beat...beat...beat...and then...nothing.

Spike slid to the ground, the pain in his abused body nothing to the pain in his heart. There was

one final sound...what was it? A harsh sobbing. Was it someone? No...that sound...it was just

him.

******************************

Part Fifteen: Farewell

Footsteps sounded on the crumbled cement that had once been a high school parking lot. Broken

glass crunched under bare feet as Spike transported his burden to a more congenial spot on the

dried grass beyond. He stopped and carefully laid his cargo down, taking care to lower the

lolling head slowly. He slid his aching arms out from beneath her and stood. The moon shone down

on the tableau. The dead looking upon the dead. A thought flitted through Spike's fractured

brain...

Sleeping Beauty...

That was what she looked like. In death, her face was cleansed of worry and pain. The perfection

of her features was evident. Not that she was truly perfect but to him...Spike shook his head. No

time for this now. The sky was still dark but he could feel the dawn just beyond the edge of

sight. It tickled at the back of his neck like a stopwatch counting down. He still had another

task to complete. He had promised. He turned back to the rubble of the school and started back

inside.

He encountered no one inside. The demons that had escaped the closing of the Hellmouth were well

away from this place and running fast like bugs left uncovered when one kicked over a rotten log.

He strode through the hallways of the school. It ended where as it began. His first battle with

her had been here. The sparks of hatred flying between them. What time could alchemize...the

fierceness of his hatred...just as fierce his love. Spike found the fathomless hole that led to

Willow's lair, swung over the side and lowered himself into the pitch black. He knew the way. He

had climbed up this same path, a limp body across his back and his very hands remembered.

Endless moments later, he alighted on the correct ledge, traversed the narrow pathway and located

the source of his journey and his promise. Willow. She lay unmoving inside her circle, hair

spread behind her like a pool of blood. Her face held a look of peace. Spike felt a sudden and

nearly uncontrollable urge to pitch her from the side and into the depths below. Let hell have

her after what she had done. Buffy might have forgiven but he didn't have to. He couldn't do that

though. He promised. Her vindictiveness had destroyed them all but he would honor Buffy's last

request.

Spike winced at the pain in his ribs as he knelt to scoop the dead woman up into his protesting

arms. Ripping the bars from his cell had added to his list of injuries but he could not take the

time to recover. It must be done before dawn or he would have to remain in this place another

day. Slinging her over his shoulder somewhat less gently than he had done with Buffy, Spike began

the tortuous climb up once more.

Outside, he lay her on the grass next to Buffy. Fell to his knees to rest a moment. He looked

from one face to the other. Buffy looked just the bloody same. A twenty-something girl frozen in

time...while Willow had every year, every hatred carved into the lines of her face. He felt if he

shook her too hard she might just blow away on the chill night wind. He felt the pain inside

creeping up, threatening to overwhelm him but he had to finish this.

Standing unsteadily, he pulled one body over each bare shoulder and made his way across the dead

grass and up the street to his final destination. It wasn't much of a funeral march. Just him, no

shirt or shoes, carrying two dead friends. The only mourners were the stars and the silent moon.

It would have to be enough; there was no one else. Spike followed the echo of Buffy's directions

in his mind and found the place she told him of just seconds before she died. A quiet hillside

grove.

It looked somewhat better cared for than the cemetery it was set in. Someone had trimmed the

grass, kept the weeds at bay, even watered it and laid living flowers across the two graves.

Spike laid his burden down once more, being sure to arrange them with dignity. The tombstones,

obviously hand carved from rough granite by inexpert hands, read...

Tara

Beloved

Xander

Steadfast Friend

Had Buffy kept this place up? Willow? No way to know but this was where Buffy had asked him to

bring them. They would all be together in end. Seeing an old workshed near the bottom of the

hill, Spike walked away from the gravesite and towards it. Arriving, he pried the ancient door

open and found a dented but usable shovel inside. Back in the grove, he looked down at the

ground. No decision really. He would bury Willow first. Keep Buffy with him as long as possible.

Racing the coming sun, Spike dug. Each heave of the shovel a silent scream of rage and sorrow.

Next to the resting-place of her beloved, he made Willow her final bed. Exhausted from the

effort, he pressed on until the hole was a decent depth. Grim humor curved his mouth for a

second. The dead digging graves for the dead. Funny world. He climbed out of the hole and lifted

Willow up for the last time. Her arms trailed out behind her, the ruined black silk of her gown a

proper shroud for a witch. Spike strove one final time for the forgiveness Buffy had given with

such ease. It just wasn't there. She was a better person than he was but he had always known

that.

He tossed the body contemptuously into the hole. A minor spite towards a person he would have

gladly killed given half a chance. She lay at the bottom of the grave, the moon providing a last

glimmer of light to shine across her pale, peaceful face. Spike thought she looked...finished.

That was the way it was supposed to be, right? Taking the shovel to hand again, he poured a first

heap of dirt over her and another and so on until no trace of her ghostly white countenance could

be seen. He had fulfilled his promise. A decent burial for the girl who had once been the most

loyal of friends. Buffy had asked and Spike had obeyed. Such a small thing to do for her when he

had hoped to do so much more...

Spike smoothed the last mound of dirt over the fresh grave and laid his shovel down. He turned to

where Buffy lay. He had put this off as long as possible. Not even looking at her as he completed

his task. As if ignoring it would change what he had to do. Put her in the earth...and not follow

her down.

He lay down beside her body. Supporting himself on his elbow so he could look down at her, he

remembered something he had read while still alive. He had been a lovesick fool back then and

took to heart every word he read about love. Imagined it the very thing he felt for that stupid

girl whose name now escaped him...But the words rang true in his mind ...for this ethereal

creature who lay beside him now.

"All thoughts, all passions, all delights, Whatever stirs this mortal frame, All are but

ministers of Love And feed His Sacred Flame."

This... had been sacred and now it was done. Spike wondered if he could physically make himself

do it? Dig the grave and put her in? He had watched from the shadows a long time ago, when they

buried her the first time. That had been excruciating but to wield the shovel...do it with his

own hands...

The moon had set and only the stars shone down on them now. Sleeping beauty...he thought again.

How did the story go? One last kiss...after all he was just as dead as she. A kiss from one dead

to another. He leaned over; his throat tight and aching with sorrow, and pressed cold lips to

hers. A farewell. Her lips still held some lingering trace of warmth, as though life was loath to

let go its hold.

He smoothed a stray hair from her face... it seemed as though the near-ended night had taken on

the quality of a dream. For surely it was a desperate, imagined madness of his grieving mind that

he saw her lips curve ever so slightly? That they parted just the smallest bit? Her chest rose

and fell nearly imperceptibly. Cool air flowed past her lips and animated her still form. A faint

whisper from her mouth. Spike leaned closer to hear, afraid that the moment would come crashing

down around him and reality would stream back in...

"Cellular sunburn..." she said.

Spike gathered her closer into his arms. Watched with wild hope as she opened her eyes. Glorious

eyes.

"Buffy?" he choked out.

"The wrong spell," she said.

He just gaped, that one word all he could manage. It could still fade away.

"Willow was wrong...and Tara too. It's the first spell, the Resurrection one that raises me every

time. Not the Hellmouth," she concluded, a note of wonder in her voice as she stared up at her

astonished companion.

Spike pulled her close. Pressed his ear against her chest to hear the delightful sound of blood

coursing through living veins and the steady thump of her heart. An undeserved gift...she had

said to Willow. Well this was his. He raised his head to kiss her deeply, the slight warmth of

her mouth now a raging heat. She was alive. Buffy kissed him back, joyously and just as deep. The

two held each other tightly as the sun started to turn the horizon the palest shade of gray.

Buffy frowned, looking over Spike's shoulder. She saw the new grave. Pushing to her feet, she

walked over to it. Spike let her go. She would be back. Buffy stood at the edge of the newly

turned earth.

"Goodbye Willow. I hope you find her..."she said softly.

Buffy saw the approaching dawn. "Time to leave," she said over her shoulder to a waiting Spike.

Spike rose to his feet, held out one hand to Buffy. "Where to love?"

Buffy turned and took his hand, looked up into his brilliant gaze. "Only one more thing to do,"

she replied.

They turned and started down the hill.

******************************

Epilogue

It was near sunset the next day and Buffy and Spike had left Sunnydale far behind. They had

driven through the bright new day, hidden by the specially tinted windows of Spike's car, to a

place of Buffy's choosing. They now stood in the deep shadow provided by an ancient willow tree

near a large, old, rambling farmhouse. The house was painted white with yellow trim. A large

porch surrounded the house and a picket fence wrapped around it, white daises poking from between

the slats. As Buffy and Spike watched, two small girls came tumbling out the front door, down the

steps, and out into the gently waving late summer grass.

They laughed as they ran, a half-serious game of tag developing between them. The smaller girl,

the one with the long, straight, brown hair, fell and bumped a dimpled knee. The older girl

stopped and ran back to gather her younger sister in protective arms. Her blond curls fell across

both their faces as she murmured words of comfort.

Buffy looked up at Spike and smiled a purely happy smile. "No monsters here," she whispered to

him.

He nodded slowly, a smile of his own creasing his face.

Buffy's face turned serious again. "I still have to fight, you know. The world still holds far

too many demons."

"Of course. An' I'll be right there with you. Th' rough an' tumbles always fine with me. But

we're gonna live too pet. No more skulkin' in corners for you," Spike said gravely.

Buffy nodded in assent. "Can you think of a good place to start? To live? Truly live?" she asked,

looking hopeful.

Spike laughed happily and kissed her hard and quick. "That I do, love. That I do."

They looked up at the sound of a soft voice calling the children back. The girls stood and

started back towards the sound of love and safety that awaited them inside their home. The last

golden light of the ending day cast halos atop their small heads as they climbed the steps hand

in hand.

Buffy and Spike also walked away...into the shadows of the coming night.

The End