Credits: Borrowed a bit of the dialogue here from the AtS episode "Not Fade Away."

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CHAPTER SIX (EPILOGUE)

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"Day went by fast, huh?" Gunn asked of no one in particular.

Illyria joined him as they moved toward the door. "Try not to die. You are not unpleasant to my eyes."

From his spot by the refrigerator, Spike smirked as he listened to Gunn's awkward reply.

"Uh…thanks. You…try not to die, too."

He couldn't blame the boy. The god king's less-than-stellar social skills left most of them at a loss. Of them all, only he and Wesley seemed able to relate to her. In entirely different ways, he suspected, at least as far as Illyria was concerned. The way she watched his fellow Brit was all too telling, though Percy seemed completely unaware of it.

Shame. Finding last-minute happiness in the arms of the woman who loved you was something he could highly recommend.

Closing his eyes he inhaled deeply, savoring the lingering traces of Buffy's delicate scent. It was all around him. Not even the overwhelming presence of the others could mask it. Spike glanced at Angel standing stoically a few feet away. When he'd arrived less than an hour ago, there'd been no acknowledgment. Spike didn't know if his grandsire had purposely ignored the truth that lay right under his nose, or if he'd simply been too distracted to notice. Either way, he saw no reason to bring it up. Those last hours they'd had together belonged to him and Buffy…and no one else.

In the short space of time between her departure and the return of Wes and Illyria, he'd had what felt like a lifetime to regret sending her away. But the paths they had chosen were taking them in different directions, and it wasn't right she should forsake hers to follow him. Any more than he could abandon his own, no matter how tempted he might be.

But she loved him. Nothing could take that away. Not overprotective Scoobies, pissed-off Senior Partners, or even Angel could rob him of that knowledge. Nor could pending annihilation dampen his spirits.

Buffy loved him. He loved her. And that's the way it would always be.

Even when he was no longer around to remember it.

Taking a deep breath, he moved to stand beside Angel. "What do you think all this means for that Shanshu bugaboo? We make it through this, does one us get to be a real boy?" Not that he expected or even wanted it; he'd never put that much stock in prophecy. But he'd always been one to explore the options.

Angel crossed his arms, face grim. "Who are you kidding? We're not gonna make it through."

Yeah. He'd figured as much. "Well, long as it's not you."

Angel stared straight ahead and Spike shrugged, disappointed he hadn't got a rise out of him – for old time's sake, if nothing else. "So let's go piss off the big boys, yeah?"

He hadn't quite made it to the open door when Angel's voice stopped him.

"Spike…"

Turning, he found the other's gaze locked on him intently.

"Is she gone?"

So he had noticed. "Yeah."

"Good." Angel paused, then, "Did she…say anything?"

A dozen possible answers ran through his head, none of them even halfway kind.

"What do you think? She was worried about you, of course. Wanted to know how you were. Wanted to help. You know how she is. Told her the best thing she could do was head over to England. Get the troops ready in case things don't work out here."

Angel studied him, his expression impossible to read. "Can't imagine she took that well."

Spike shrugged. "Better than I would've expected. Reckon she's a might less hard-headed than she used to be."

Angel didn't respond. Spike gestured toward the door. "Best be gettin' on with it, right? Show those Senior Partners just how big a headache two soul-having vamps can be."

It seemed he'd found the magic words. Angel shook off whatever mood had grabbed him, squaring his shoulders. "Yeah. Let's go kick some demon butt."

He brushed past Spike, forcing him to step back, then paused in the doorway without turning around. "One more thing. Thanks. And…not just for sticking around."

Spike froze, eyeing Angel's back suspiciously. Then, slowly, he nodded. "Welcome."

Oddly enough, no lightning bolt from the blue arrived to strike them down. But if they somehow managed to survive the night, he didn't think they'd be testing their luck again anytime soon.

As Angel disappeared up the stairs, Spike took a last look around the sparse apartment – a once-barren place now filled with the best memories of his life. Shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his leather duster, he raised his chin in a final silent salute.

And froze as he felt the crinkled paper against his left hand.

Extracting the note from his pocket, he carefully unfolded it. When he finished reading it, he didn't know whether to laugh or swear.

"Why you stubborn little…"

Spike,

Remember all those times I told you to go away and you wouldn't? Payback's a bitch.

Don't start the battle without me.

Love you,

Buffy

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FIN