DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction produced for entertainment purposes only. 'Angel', 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and all related characters are the creations of Joss Whedon and copyright of 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy, Inc.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is not an Alternate Universe story. It is merely one of many possible futures.

RATING NOTE: This is not a happy or fluffy fic. This story is rated for angst and character death. Although I have done my best to keep those scenes as non-graphical as possible, please do not read this story if such things disturb you.

Release Me
By Shadow's Mirror

"I'm here to see the Slayer."

The husky voice came out of the shadows, startling the girl leaning against the tall tree that marked the edge of the encampment. She straightened, suddenly alert. A wary look entered her eyes as she peered into the darkness, searching for the source of the voice. She shifted her stance. The move was subtle, but easily recognisable to anyone with even the slightest experience in battle. Her arms were by her sides, but tensed in preparation to draw a weapon. She was young, barely fifteen, but her movements spoke of experience... and hard-won knowledge.

"Which one? There's more than one, you know." There was the faintest trace of smugness in her tone.

"Not to me." He stepped out of the shadows, a tall thin figure in a long tan coat that had seen better days. As he strode forward, the moonlight glinted off his blonde hair. The girl gasped in recognition.

"Y...you're..." She took a step forward, her training forgotten in her shock. There had been a time when she would have paid dearly for that mistake. But that time was long past. Now, he only nodded.

"That's right. I am. Now... I heard she's here. If it's true... take me to her."

The girl blinked, her wits slowly returning. She started to reply, but a new voice came from behind her, stunning her into silence.

"No need. I'm here."

The speaker approached. Her long blonde hair flew around her face in the night breeze and she walked with a slow, measured stride that spoke of confidence without the slightest hesitation. When she was barely three feet away, she stopped. A slight smile curved her lips as she looked at him. "Hello Spike."

For a moment, there was complete silence. Then he smiled back at her. "Buffy."

The watching girl blinked and looked from one to the other, confusion on her face. When they began to walk away together, she hesitated and then began to follow them. Spike glanced back at her, raising one eyebrow when she met his look with a determined glare. Buffy turned her head just enough to speak over her shoulder. "Weren't you keeping watch?" Her words were mild, but there was a thread of steel in her voice that made the younger girl wince.

"B... but he's..."

Buffy turned and smiled at her, very gently. "An old friend."

- - -

They found a quiet spot on a grassy hill overlooking the small collection of tents and campfires that made up the encampment and for a time they sat there, side by side. Finally, Spike broke the silence.

"It's been a long time, love." He turned to smile at her.

"Yeah." She smiled back. "The last I heard, you'd been..." Her smile faded and she looked away, biting her lip to stop herself from saying the words she didn't want to speak.

"Yeah, well... I could say the same for you." Picking up a blade of grass, he began to turn it over in his hands, studying it as though it was the most fascinating thing in the world. "How'd they manage it this time? I thought Giles said it was impossible."

"It was. Spells, wards, charms... You name it, they broke through it." A faint trace of bitterness.

"They were determined."

"They were fighting for a cause." Buffy looked up, her gaze filled with memories and sorrow as it roamed over the encampment. "They still are."

"Still... I'm surprised they managed it. Not like Giles to be sloppy about that sort of thing." Spike glanced at his companion, his gaze openly curious.

As if sensing his attention, Buffy glanced at him. "There was a loophole. The blood of those who cast the wards could also undo them. We knew about it. That's why I made them all promise. If I fell, they were to let me go." Spike nodded, understanding.

"Guess you should have made sure that went for all their descendants too. To their credit that they waited so long. It's been... what now? Close to two hundred years?"

Buffy nodded. "Give or take a decade."

Spike studied her for a moment, noting the changes that time had brought to her. When he'd first known her, she had been a young girl playing at being a woman. A girl forced to grow up far too soon and face the terrible realities of life as the Chosen One. Now, she was a woman. Fully-grown and completely in control of her abilities and her emotions. She had aged, but gracefully, and her constant activity had kept her in top condition.

"You look good."

"I'd say the same for you... but it's not true." Buffy frowned slightly at the man beside her. His frame was thinner, his face hollowed and his eyes were shadowed, their usual go-on-and-dare-me light dimmed in a way that she had not seen since his torture by The First. He looked like a man who had been through something that had shaken him down to his soul. "What happened to you, Spike?"

"In between all the battles with Wolfram and Hart and the end-of-the-world apocalypses, you mean? Oh, you know, the usual. Found new allies. Lost old friends. Fell in love... again..." He shrugged as though the words meant as little to him as he made them sound. They both knew it was only an act.

"I heard about that. How is Illyria these days?" Such simple words, but they brought an almost physical heaviness to the air. "Oh. I'm sorry."

"Nah. Nothing to be sorry about. She went out like she wanted. Fighting the good fight." Spike released a soft chuckle, but his smile didn't ease the sorrow in his eyes. "Wes would have been proud of her."


Silence descended on them again and they allowed it to wrap around them, relaxing in each other's company as they had not done for many years. The minutes passed but eventually Spike's soft voice broke the silence again.

"Aren't you gonna ask?" It was all he said. It was all he needed to say.

Buffy sighed softly. "I'm not sure I want to. But... I have to know. If he's still in the world..." She trailed off, somehow knowing the truth even before Spike's reply.

"He isn't."

"Did he..." She stopped herself. "Never mind. How? Do you know?"

"Yeah. I was with him. We were fighting this Tibaren demon clan. Fierce warriors, but we were better. I took out my last opponent and looked around and there they were, on the other side of the warehouse. The last of the clan and him, dueling it out the old-fashioned way. Sabres." Spike's voice broke and he paused a moment to clear his throat. "Then... he was gone. Just like that."

Buffy bowed her head and silence filled the void around them once more. But this time, it was Buffy's soft voice that interrupted the stillness.

"Why are you here, Spike?"

"Keeping a promise. Before the fight, he gave me something. Told me it was yours and that I was to return it to you when I got the chance. After... I couldn't bring myself to do it. I didn't want to be the one to tell you. Then... I got word. I couldn't believe it. I was sure my source had it wrong." Spike's voice broke again. He remembered that time all too clearly.

"He didn't." Buffy looked away, her gaze unseeing as she dipped into her own memories of that time, and of the battle that had cost her so much.

"Yeah. I went there. Saw..." Spike couldn't say it. He closed his eyes against the pain and forced himself to keep talking.

"I almost left it there, but something told me not to. Somehow... I knew I'd see you again. Here." He took her hand and pressed something small into it.

"Thank you." Buffy didn't need to look. She knew what it was. She could feel it, deep within herself.

"I get the feeling you were meant to have it now, not then." Spike frowned slightly, as if unsure where the feeling came from.

Buffy smiled slightly. "Yeah. Me too."

Spike stretched and looked down at the camp, as if noticing it for the first time. Now that he had kept his promise, it was as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

"So... This is a... nice place. If you like the whole military deal. Never cared much for it myself." He managed to keep his shudder to a bare tremble. He still had nightmares about the Initiative.

Buffy smiled slightly. "They're good kids." She glanced at Spike, her lips suddenly curving up into the closest thing to the old Buffy grin that he had once known. "They saved the world, you know."

Her words surprised a chuckle out of him. "I heard. Guess we're not the only ones who can say that now." His eyes brightened with a hint of his old spirit as he teased her back, just like old times. But this time... his words made her smile fade into sorrow.

"No. I guess not." Buffy sighed and stared down at the camp, where Slayers of all ages lived, trained and learned to battle, just as she once had. It was only a temporary base, one of many that had been set up during the war. But it was the only home she knew... now.

"What are you doing here, love?" Spike's soft words brought tears to her eyes. She didn't bother to blink them back. He'd seen them before.

"Me? I'm just... going through the motions." She smiled slightly. A smile tinged with sorrow and the bitterness that she had once tried to hide.

"I've heard that song before. You kept on fighting though." Spike remembered it well. It was both one of his darkest memories, and one of his happiest.

"Then. But this..." Buffy gestured to the camp below them, then shook her head as she turned to him. "It isn't my fight anymore. I fought, I died... I thought I'd earned my rest." She knew he'd understand.

The pain in her voice caused his own heart to ache in sympathy. "Then these kids came along and raised you from the dead to lead them into battle against the hordes of darkness. Which you did. Quite easily, from what I heard."

"Yeah. Most of them panicked when they saw me."

"Well, you are a legend in this time. To both sides."

"A legend... whose time has passed." Buffy looked away, but Spike's soft reply made her look back.

"Know what you mean, love." Spike stared down at the camp, but it was clear his mind was elsewhere.

Buffy sighed and looked down as well, watching the small figures as they went about their night training and other tasks. "They don't need me now. They didn't need me at all. Not really. They had the strength all along. They just needed to believe in themselves."

Spike nodded. "Word on the street is, the battle's over. At least for now. The evil will rise again. It always does. And there'll be champions there to face it, and turn it back. Just like we did."

With nothing more to be said, the silence gathered around them again, but this time it remained unbroken for a very long time. The two champions, friends and long-ago lovers merely sat on the grassy slope watching the activity in the camp below them and thinking their separate thoughts. The minutes stretched into hours, but it wasn't until the sky began to lighten in the East that Buffy stirred.

"I did love you. A part of me always will."

Spike smiled and nodded. "I know that now. It took losing you, then losing her, to show me... but I know. I love you too."

"Spike." Buffy slowly turned towards him. "Can I ask a favour? For... old times' sake."

He took one look in her eyes and knew what she would ask of him. He knew what it cost her pride and he knew the torment of her soul that gave her the strength to ask it anyway. "Name it, love."

The kiss was sweet, the embrace sweeter still. She put her lips to his ear and whispered her request.

"Release me."

He could not refuse her.

She tilted her head, baring her neck to him, and his face shifted into its true form. He pressed a kiss to the bare skin and then held her close as he sank his fangs deep. As he released her from the bonds of her life, tears ran down his pale cheeks. On her hand, the Claddaugh Ring that Angel had asked Spike to return to her seemed to gleam, even though there was no light to be reflecting off it.

- - -

Four days later...

The air was chilled and smelled of flowers and trees and other growing things. It was an odd scent for a cemetery to have, but it was the reason why he had chosen this cemetery to be her last resting place. Not for her a place that reeked of death and decay. No... not for her.

Spike leaned against the side of the headstone. The grave was so new that the earth had barely begun to settle. He liked that. He enjoyed the rich scent of freshly turned earth. Looking around, he smiled slightly. For the first time in two weeks, he felt at peace. The night was almost over. In just a few more minutes the sun would dawn over the City of Angels and it would be time for him to go. But... he still had a few minutes. As he relaxed in the pre-dawn stillness, he allowed his mind to wander. Not for the first time, his thoughts turned to Angel.

Since the night of his turning, Angel had been part of his life in some way or another. First as a companion, then as a rival. Later, in Sunnydale, they had been enemies for a time. Then rivals again, for the love of a Slayer who would end up loving them both. For a time, they had been co-workers. Then Fred had died and their world had been turned upside down.

Over two hundred years had passed since then but it never ceased to amaze Spike just how much power that one fragile human woman had held over both himself and Angel. To save her, they had put their animosity aside. When they had learned the horrible truth, they had shared the pain of knowing that they could not save her. And when she had died... they had grieved together. It had taken them years to realise it, but it had been that day that their battle with each other had ended. After that, they had fought back the darkness side by side for almost fourteen years. Barely a moment in a Vampire's existence, but Spike could still remember every night of it. Especially that last night.

Angel had given him the ring a few months earlier. At the time, Spike had joked that he wasn't Angel's errand boy, but he'd known how important it was so he'd given his word to get it to Buffy if anything happened. He'd never dreamed it would happen so soon.

As Spike remembered that final battle, he heard again the ring of sword against sword and smelled the scent of aftershave, leather and blood that he recognised immediately. The slightest of smiles crossed his face. He'd had this experience many times in the past two hundred years.

"I kept my promise. I gave her the ring. I'm done. She's done. We're done."

He raised his face to the sky, his head resting against the smooth marble gravestone. When he spoke again, his words were directed at something far more intangible than the memory of a friend. "You hear me? No more. Please, no more. Let us rest. All of us. Even if... we have to rest alone."

Spike shifted slightly, turning to run his hand lightly over the cold stone marker. "I wish I could say that I'm coming to you, darlin'. But I'm not sure if I've earned that right. Still... I got a feeling I'll see you again. You... and the others too. Hey, we beat back the darkness, even within ourselves. Anything's possible." He chuckled softly. "No regrets. I even get to see the sun... one last time."

He looked up to the East, where the sun was beginning to tinge the sky with the faint pinks, golds and yellows of dawn. "The best poets go out with a good quote. I've had centuries to think of one. Never been able to decide. Until now." A sliver of sunlight eased over the tops of the buildings and struck the headstone he was leaning against.

"Release me."

In the light of a new day, the engraved writing on the green marble marker gleamed brightly. It was unusual. There was no date of birth, merely the date of death, two weeks earlier. Above that, two words that had made many a passerby wonder, and even more smile with understanding.

'Illyria. Beloved.'

The End