DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course, and the chapter title comes from Sting's, "Send Your Love." Spike's lines come from "Auguries of Innocence" by William Blake, "To Mary" by John Clare, and "Remember" by Christina Rossetti.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The gang has arrived at the Hellmouth, complete with a mystical storm awaiting them; while Giles and a couple Slayers stayed with the cars, everybody else ventured to the crater, and are now climbing down into the open fissures…


All his travels in Africa had prepared Xander for the arduous descent into the chasm in the dried earth, knowledgeable in where to put his feet, versed in how sand could shift without notice below his next step. In a way, it was almost comforting, climbing down into darkness with only the power of his hands and the memory of his muscles to guide his way. So much was still unanswered inside his mind, but this gave no latitude for hesitation. Keep moving or be crushed beneath the weight of the storm above. Even if he didn't know the final destination, the relief having decision taken from his hands was sublime.

Not everyone had it as easy as he did. Spike was unused to such physical labor and fell more than once, drawing blood with every tumble. Buffy was there when Xander couldn't get to him in time, giving him strength to keep going, while Xander guided both Spike and the group around and past the fissure's dangers. The irony didn't escape him; the one-eyed man seemed to be the only one not blind in this particular milieu.

The others had mixed skills, the Slayers having the easiest time of it and Dawn and Willow the worst. Willow, at least, had her mojo on her side, and when things got rough, there'd be a little flash and his old friend would be back on her feet, smiling in rueful apology for having to resort to those kind of tricks.

Dawn's coltish grace, however, had her limbs flying every time she slipped, askew and akimbo in ways that would've been funny if the circumstances had been anything other than what they were. Xander watched her pick herself up the first time, but at the second, he made sure he was there by her side, his hands firm on her waist as he helped her get steady again.

"Figures I'd have to get you on the Hellmouth before you'd touch me again," she said, so softly that he knew it was only for his ears.

Xander colored. "All you had to do was ask," he joked, but when she smiled and his body grew hard, he choked back the rest of it, unable to give it voice. All innuendo and nobody to care for makes Xander a lonely boy.

From that point on, he made sure to keep as close an eye on Dawn as he did on Spike.

They reached what appeared to be the bottom of the crevasse and stopped, regaining their bearings. Overhead, the windstorm still raged, louder and more vicious than when they'd started, but the close dirt walls protected the group from the blustery gales, allowing them the luxury of forgetting it was out there at all.

It didn't allow them to forget what surrounded them, though. Pieces of Sunnydale protruded from the rubble. A car half-buried, its headlights jutting into their path. A telephone pole snapped in half and lying across the dirt. When Xander saw a clawed hand reaching through the wall to grasp at nothing, he had to swallow down the bile that rose in his throat.

The only one who didn't falter at the ghosts made real was Spike.

"This way," he said, limping deeper into the fissure.

"How do you know?" Buffy asked, hurrying to match his stride.

Spike's voice was stronger than Xander had ever heard it awake. "I know."

On and on they walked.

Past mailboxes that were frozen in yesterday. When Xander saw one with its red flag sticking up, he had to bite back the joke about that particular mailman being really late.

Past bodies, both human and demon. The reports had been wrong, of course. Not everybody had gotten out in time.

Past landmarks that grew more familiar the deeper they went. A gnarled tree that looked remarkably like the one in which he and Willow had carved "We hate Cordy" when they'd formed their little club. A dusty fence that could've been an exact duplicate of the one Jesse had broken his ankle on trying to vault over. The stone wall of the cemetery in which Miss Calendar and Mrs. Summers were both buried.

Past the miles and miles of dead. Xander knew with his head that it wasn't that far, but his heart wasn't privy to those sort of details.

At some point along their path, Dawn's hand slipped into his. Nobody said anything, and he didn't let go.

They came to a stop before a huge hole in the earthen wall. "This is it," Spike said. It wasn't more than a whisper, but in the eerie silence of the fissure, it boomed.

Buffy had gone pale, and her knuckles were white from how tightly she clenched the stake in her hand. Xander thought it was funny how nobody had bothered to say anything about her choice. Odds were that they weren't going to find any vampires anyway, but it just seemed right that Buffy would return to the Hellmouth with the first weapon to prove its loyalty to her.

"Let's do it," she said. She turned to Willow. "I don't think our flashlights are going to be as good in there. Can you do something about the light sitch?"

Willow nodded and a second later, a soft golden ball bobbed ahead of them, leading the way into the bowels of the hole.

Everybody followed. Spike was the first in line.

It didn't take long for Xander to realize where exactly they were. The light revealed the cold walls he'd built with his own hands, the hinges he'd put into place with a pride that seemed out of place now. His eye burned when he realized that if he turned around, he could conduct the search for Anya's body that he'd been denied that last day in Sunnydale High School.

He didn't, though. The weight of Dawn's hand in his stopped him.

What changed the direction of his feet was Spike. He was the one who led them deeper into the high school, into the basement and below the seal that still stood open. The floor was a jigsaw, broken in the middle from the force of the amulet's power that had broken free upon its use, and they had to be careful to avoid falling to more certain injuries than those they already sported. They descended single-file, but Xander was forced to a halt when the front of the line stopped moving.

"Oh, my god," he heard Buffy whisper.

"'To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,'" Spike murmured, just as awe-struck, "'hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.'"

Dawn leaned toward Xander. "Did Spike fall asleep again?" she asked. "Because that's Blake he's quoting."

"I don't think so." He loosened his hold on her hand and edged around the Slayer in front of him, climbing down step by step to join Buffy at the bottom.

When he got there, he almost wished he hadn't moved from his nice comfy spot in front of Dawn. He stared at the sight before him, both disbelieving and not at what he saw. After all, it made sense in a sick, Hellmouthy kind of way. But if it played out anything like the last time, it was going to kill Buffy to have to live through.

His heart broke for his friend.

A flicker of motion drew Xander's attention away from the tableau and down to Buffy. He watched as Spike curled his hand into hers.

Correction.

It broke for both of them.


She hadn't expected this. Truth be told, she hadn't known what she expected, but it sure as hell wasn't this.

In spite of the damage done above, the cavern where the battle with the Turok-Han had occurred was mostly intact, the edge of the precipice still dusted with the ash of all those dead vampires. She saw Amanda's body exactly where it had fallen, saw the body of the French girl who Buffy had caught peeping at Spike more than once, saw all the girls who hadn't made it out with the rest of them.

And she saw Spike.

Not the Spike whose warm hand was sweating against hers. That one was at her side, breathing heavily, whispering poetry like a mantra designed specifically to soothe his fluttering nerves.

No.

She saw the other Spike. The trapped one. The one who'd apparently been calling out across thousands of miles, through tons of dirt, calling for someone to finally set him free.

He stood exactly where she'd left him.

Bathed in that same golden light that had erupted from his chest, he stood frozen in time, hands splayed against the power of the amulet. His mouth was pulled back into a wicked grin, and his eyes glittered with some unknown glee. Flames, caught in mid-dance, licked up and around his limbs.

Her chest was tight. He'd been so ready to take it on, jumping into the fray as only Spike could. If she'd known that this was how he had died, it might've been easier to remember the whole of that particular day instead of just the parts that didn't cause her direct pain.

"I don't get it," she heard Xander say behind her. "They should all be bones now." She realized he was referring to all of them, all the bodies that should've spent the past three years decomposing. "What happened?"

"Buffy happened," Spike said quietly.

Her head jerked around to stare at him, but he was already gazing down at her, his eyes soft with something she realized she hadn't seen in them since his return. "What're you talking about?" she said.

His head tilted toward the scene before them. "This. I understand now. I know what happened." The corner of his mouth lifted, just as his other hand reached up to cup her cheek. "I remember."

"Tell me then. Because this…this isn't…"

"Sshh…" He silenced her by leaning in for a kiss, and though it was the first time she'd felt his lips on hers in this incarnation, the unfamiliar warmth of his mouth was overshadowed by the delicate memory of his touch.

"It was your strength," he said when they parted. "Your strength joined with that of the amulet, and it…" He turned his gaze back to the tableau. "…gave it the power to make a snapshot, so to speak."

"So this…isn't real?"

"No, it's very much real. Somewhere in there, part of me is still alive."

Slowly, he extricated his fingers from hers, but when he took a step toward the frozen-in-time version of himself, Buffy grabbed his arm.

"What're you doing?" she asked in sudden terror.

"What we came here to do."

Though he pulled at her grip, she refused to let him go. Somehow, she knew that if she did, everything would change again.

"Don't do this," she begged. She hated that she was pleading, but after everything, pride was not something Buffy thought she could afford. "Please. What good can possibly come of it?"

He looked at her. Smiled softly. Said the one thing that could shatter her resolve.

"I get peace, Buffy."

Blinking against the sudden onslaught of tears, Buffy looked away to hide them from Spike as he continued to speak.

"'I think and speak of other things to keep my mind at rest,'" he murmured, "'but still to thee my memory clings like love in woman's breast.'"

"More poetry," she muttered. "Just great."

"It was the only means I had in my sleep to communicate with you," Spike explained. "I wasn't…the first time I was alive, I didn't always express myself very well."

"I've always thought you expressed yourself just fine."

He smiled. "No, you didn't, but th---."

Her hand shot up to cover his mouth. "Don't you dare say that again," she warned. "Do you have any idea what I went through the first time you did?"

Spike nodded and reached up to peel her fingers away from his face. "If it means anything, I believe you now."

"And you're going to go through with this anyway?"

"I have to." He glanced back at his other self. "And you have to do it with me."

Shock weakened her hold. "What?"

"It's the amulet. It houses the power it stole from you when we…" Spike took her hand and gently tugged her toward the scene. "We must put an end to this together. The power is yours to take. I can't do it alone."

He was going to do it. In spite of everything, in spite of knowing how she felt about him, knowing that she feared the worst, Spike wanted to do this, to find the peace that had been denied him for the past three years because of her interference. There was nothing she could to do to stop him, but as she stumbled those few feet to stand in the middle of that stolen moment of time, Buffy realized that if she did the worst and physically prevented him from completing what he'd come to do, she'd lose him even more surely than if she plunged her stake into his chest.

"I always knew I wouldn't be leaving," he murmured as they stood before the unmoving Spike, but there was no sadness in his eyes when he turned to look at Buffy. "But I have you to thank for allowing me this one last dignity."

Mute, Buffy nodded, though her heart was screaming inside her chest for him to stop. She let him guide her hand to the amulet that hung around the other Spike's chest, and together their fingers curled around the ice-cold stone.

"I love you," he said, and his head bowed to brush another kiss across her lips. "'Yet if you should forget me for a while and afterwards remember, do not grieve…'" His warm breath tickled against her neck where he whispered the verse into her ear. "'For if the darkness and corruption leave a vestige of the thoughts that once I had, better by far that you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.'"

And before she could do anything, his fingers tightened around hers to yank the amulet free.


One minute he was watching Buffy and Spike pull the amulet from the frozen Spike's neck.

The next, he was spitting out sand as the earth pressed into his cheek.

"Xander?"

Dawn's voice. Dawn's worried voice. What happened? Did he blackout and miss the big finale?

"Is he awake?"

Giles? What was he doing in the Hellmouth?

"I think so," Dawn replied.

Warm fingers fluttered around his shoulder, and Xander rolled onto his back, blinking blearily at the sky above. He frowned when he saw the clear expanse of black, the stars twinkling in solitary grace. "What happened?" he croaked. Wearily, he tried to prop himself up onto his elbows, only to have his head suddenly spin as the world swam around him.

"Lie down," Dawn said, pushing him back onto the ground. "The magic takes a little while to wear off. If you get up, you're going to puke all over my shoes."

"Magic? What did Willow do?"

"Gee, thanks, Xander," Willow said from the darkness. She appeared at the periphery of his vision, looking dusty and tired. "Sometimes when magic goes kaplooie, it's not necessarily my fault, you know."

"It was the amulet," Dawn explained. "When Buffy and Spike broke it free, there was this really bright flash."

"Next thing we knew, we were back at the cars," Willow said. "You're next to the last to wake up."

He noticed then that the winds were gone, that the clouds from the storm that had raged prior to their descent had vanished. Whatever had caused it, it was over. A weight seemed to disappear from his chest.

"So, how are Buffy and Spike taking it?" he said. "Please don't tell me he's still talking in rhymed couplets. I'd hate for that to be a permanent thing."

Dawn's eyes ducked, and Willow sighed. Neither was a good sign.

"Buffy's fine," Willow said. "But---."

"Spike didn't come back," Dawn blurted.

The weight returned to bear him down even harder into the earth.

"Damn it," Xander muttered, closing his eye. Spike had warned him about this. He'd known all along. It was just…nobody wanted to believe him.

"Where's Buffy?" he said, suddenly shoving himself upward. He ignored the sense of nausea and stumbled to his feet, turning his gaze around and around as he searched for his friend.

"I don't think this is a good time---."

"It's never going to be a good time, Will." Then, he spotted her, a small, hunched figure in the distance. He always managed to forget just how tiny Buffy really was.

"She's been like that since we realized Spike wasn't here," Dawn said quietly.

Of course she had. She'd been the one of all of them to believe that everything would be OK this time.

Shrugging off their worried hands, Xander began the walk to Buffy's side, strength returning with every stride. By the time he reached her, he was feeling more like his old self. And…it felt good.

"I hate this place," she said before he could open his mouth.

"Yeah," Xander agreed, dropping to sit at her side. "Gotta admit it's not that high on my list of must-sees, either."

They stared into the horizon, and though it was impossible to see the crater of Sunnydale from this far away, the shadows it cast seemed to creep along the earth to touch their toes. Xander stretched his legs to reach them better.

"I'm doomed, aren't I?" Buffy said, breaking the silence. "I find the man I want and then I have to kill him. It's my penance for breaking Andy Thompson's heart in first grade, I just know it."

"OK, first off, you didn't kill Spike---."

"Do you see him with the rest of us?"

"That's not the point. He wanted this. We both know that."

"Still not feeling better here, Xander."

"Doesn't mean I'm not right. This was what everything was working toward, Buffy. If he hadn't found you, I'm pretty sure he would've sleepwalked all the way across the ocean if he had to just to make it happen. Do you know how many pairs of sandals he would've ruined doing that?"

The corner of her mouth quirked, but she fought against his attempts to lighten the mood. "I'm going to miss the poetry."

"Well, I'm going to miss not being the only guy in the group again."

"Judd was a guy."

"Buffy boyfriends don't count."

"Then how does Spike count?"

"Because…" Xander sighed, turning away from her inquisitive eyes to stare again at the horizon. "…Spike's pretty much always been the exception, hasn't he?"

He felt her nestle into his side, and put his arm around her shoulders to hold her closer to his chest.

"I'm glad you came," she said quietly. "I know…I know it was tough for you."

"It would've been tougher if I'd stayed behind," he replied. "I'm beginning to see that now."

"Do you still miss her?"

It didn't escape his notice that she wouldn't say the name. "Yeah," Xander said. "I still miss Anya."

They lapsed into a comfortable quiet then, her breath warm against him. This was a better mourning than their first, he decided. Neither one of them was at risk of a hangover in the morning.

Then, he saw it. A shifting against the shadows. Something about it niggled at the edge of Xander's memory, but he didn't say anything, not when the shifting began to take form, nor when it started to solidify into a familiar swagger. It was only when it came ever closer that he relaxed his hold on Buffy, letting her slip away as he rose to his feet.

"I'm going to go make sure one of the mini-Slayers didn't do anything to my rental while we were gone," he said. "Why don't you just sit here for a few more minutes until it's time to go?"

She nodded in agreement, and he pivoted on his heel to head back as she turned again to face the yawning landscape. He'd only walked a few feet when he heard Buffy stand up, and he couldn't help but smile at the sound of her starting to run.

Risking a glance over his shoulder, Xander saw Buffy making a beeline for Spike as he approached, wincing slightly when she tackled the other man to the ground. He heard Spike's low throaty chuckle, a sound that had been curiously absent over the past week, but it wasn't until Buffy called out to him that he stopped in his tracks.

"Yeah?" Xander replied, turning to face her.

Buffy and Spike were holding hands as they returned to their feet, and her smile was beaming as she led him to join Xander. "Look who I found," she said.

Xander swept his gaze over Spike's rumpled form. "Took you long enough," he remarked.

"Yeah, well, had a few miles to walk, now, didn't I? Not all of us could get magicked back, you know. Some of us were a little busy getting our different sides assimilated."

He couldn't help but grin. "I knew you watched my Star Trek videos when I wasn't around."

"So that Borg bird was a looker. Sue me."

"So, are you still human? Or are we back having to put up with the sucking undead?"

"Still human," Spike said. "Got the sweat to prove it."

"And William?"

Spike's face softened. "He's still around in his own way. Well, he's always been a part of me, but let's just say I'm a little more willing to let him come out and play these days."

Xander simply nodded. As the trio began the walk back to join the others, he listened to the soft sounds of contentment that Buffy seemed unable to contain. He didn't need to look at her to know she would be glowing with happiness; if Anya had been around, she would very likely have made some comment about the benefits of orgasms for a woman's complexion. It would've been awkward and inappropriate, but she would've made it anyway, because, well, that's what she did.

For the first time in over three years, thinking of Anya made him smile.

THE END

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you so much to Sadbhyl for two reasons, for hosting the Sting Soul Cages Ficathon at LJ that prompted this fic in the first place and for beta-ing it for me, reminding me that I wasn't screwing up when I worried about it being too angsty. If it wasn't for her, I probably would've given up on this a long time ago.

I was assigned "Mad About You" for the ficathon. For those people unfamiliar with the lyrics, here they are:

A stones's throw from jerusalem
I walked a lonely mile in the moonlight
And though a million stars were shining
My heart was lost on a distant planet
That whirls around the April moon
Whirling in an arc of sadness
I'm lost without you I'm lost without you
Though all the kingdoms turn to sand
And fall into the sea
I'm mad about you I'm mad about you

And from the dark secluded valleys
I heard the ancient songs of sadness
But every step I thought of you
Every footstep only you
And every star a grain of sand
The leavings of a dried up ocean
Tell me, how much longer? How much longer?

They say a city in the desert lies
The vanity of an ancient king
But the city lies in broken pieces
Where the wind howls and the vultures sing
These are the works of man
This is the sun of our ambition
It would make a prison of my life
If you become another's wife
With every prison blown to dust
My enemies walk free
I'm mad about you I'm mad about you

And I have never in my life
Felt more alone than I do now
Although I claim dominations over all I see
It means nothing to me
There are no victories
In all our histories, without love

A stone's throw from jerusalem
I walked a lonely mile in the moonlight
And though a million stars were shining
My heart was lost on a distant planet
That whirls around the April moon
Whirling in an arc of sadness
I'm lost without you I'm lost without you
And though you hold the keys to ruin
Of everything I see
With every prison blown to dust,
My enemies walk free
Though all the kingdoms turn to sand
And fall into the sea
I'm mad about you I'm mad about you