Disclaimer: The story's mine - the characters aren't

Disclaimer:  The story's mine - the characters aren't.  Neither is Sunnydale, LA, or...well, heaven for that matter.  I'm time-sharing the Oracle's chamber, though - does that count?  Don't sue me.  Please.

Spoilers:  All of it - the whole kit and caboodle.  Every single one of the 100 eps are fair game here (If you haven't seen 'The Gift' yet you may not want to read this)

Distribution:  I'm thinking yeah...as long as I know where it's going beforehand and my name is on it.

Summery:  Spike gets tapped by the Powers That Be to restore the way things should be.  Problem is, Spike doesn't work and play well with others.  He is none too pleased with the PTB's suggestions, either.  S/B eventually, otherwise what's the point?

Rated: R

Note:  "Italicized words" equal mind speech. 

Dedications:  The final chapter of the Eternity series deserves a special dedication.  There have been so many people who have reached out to me and let me know that I've done something good here.  It's my turn to thank them.  So thank you.  Your support and amazingly kind words have inspired and motivated me.  There just aren't enough words to tell all of you how much it means to me.  I also need to send out a special hello and thanks to Barb in Tampa, and a quick hug to Faith (she helped me out with a small case of writers block).  Kelly, Helen, Isabelle, Trish – you know what you've done, you know what it means to me.  It's finally over, the ride is coming to an end, and I'm just so grateful that so many wonderful people enjoyed the roller coaster with me.



When Eternity Lies In The Balance

Chapter 16


Xander finally pulled his eyes away from Dawn.  Fighting back his emotions, he leveled the vampire with a serious stare.  "Well?"  There was resignation and exhaustion in his voice.  All the hostility and anger were gone.  "Where is she, Spike?  You said you got her out of heaven.  Where is she?"

Everyone was staring at him.  Spike could feel the weight of their eyes.  His mind was racing even as he leaned on Dawn for support.  It was doubtful that anyone knew just how thrashed he was, just how close to collapsing in a heap.  But there wasn't time for collapsing.  The only thing there was time for was getting Buffy home. 

Passing out from the pain of his myriad physical injuries could come later.

"Actually, Harris," he said quietly, "that's what one of you need to tell me."

Looking like Spike just reached out and slapped him, Xander shook his head slightly and asked, "Huh?"

Spike sighed and took a moment to squeeze Dawn's shoulders.  "Listen people, I'll be more than happy to explain everthin' to you after we get Buffy back, but for now this is what I know.  The Oracles are gonna drop the girl back into her body and the Powers are gonna resurrect her…or whatever it is they do so she's a walkin', talkin' Buffy again.  Hell, they may've already done it.  So, my question for you is, where is she?"

No one spoke.  Everyone just looked at each other, still having a hard time grasping even the idea that Buffy was coming home.

Giles felt nauseated and his head was spinning.  He took a step backwards and dropped down into the armchair, giving his suddenly weak limbs a much-needed rest. 

There were certain things that a person had to accept about their lives when they became the Watcher of an active Slayer.  Things like dealing with vampires, demons, and all other manner of supernatural evil that threatened the world.  Things like giving up any hope of a normal life, marriage and family and the like.  Things like knowing that no matter how good your Slayer is, one day you would eventually lose her.  They all die.  They die and others are called, and other Watchers takes up where you left off.  Those were all things that Giles accepted about his sacred duty.  Those were all things that he had gone through.  There had been joy, a sense of purpose that was absolutely indescribable, but also terror and tragedy.  He had gone through all of it.

And it had been both so much better and so much worse for Giles because Buffy was so much more than just the Slayer to him.  He had loved her like a daughter.

But never in all of the things Giles had prepared himself for as the Watcher of an active Slayer had there been any mention of what to do when the Slayer was brought back from the dead…primarily because it had never happened.  And this wasn't like before, when Buffy drowned.  That first time doesn't even compare.  No.  Buffy died.  He grieved.  He had been forced to pick up the shattered pieces of his heart and move on, dedicating himself to Dawn.

Now Spike was telling him, telling all of them, that Buffy was coming home again.  She had been brought back from the dead.  There just wasn't a book on that.  This wasn't something he could research, something he could prepare for or fight.  This was real and it was now and Giles was completely unprepared for it.  He didn't know what to say.

Anya looked around at everyone, confused by the heavy emotions that were swirling around the room.  And her hand was getting tired.  She was still holding the mug of cooling blood that she had prepared for Spike.  That was just unacceptable.  She gave herself a mental shake and walked over to the vampire, thrusting the mug into his surprised hand.

"We buried her next to Joyce," she told him.  "There was a ceremony."

Spike hadn't really thought about that.  They had buried her; he figured they would've buried her.  For them, she'd been gone a month.  Somehow, knowing that still hadn't made it real, not like finding out they'd had a funeral for her.  That was real.  That was too real.  He looked down at Dawn, who seemed to be concentrating intently on some unseen spot on the floor.

"You okay, pet?"

She met his eyes and gave him a tremulous smile.  "Yeah, Spike.  I'm okay.  It's just…big.  Really big, ya know?  But I'm okay.  Lets find her, though, please?  Can we go now?"

Spike turned his head and checked out the stunned Watcher.  "Giles?"

Giles started slightly at the hail.  "Y-yes, of course.  We should, um, take two cars.  We'll go now.  Dawn, Spike, my car.  Xander, if you would drive the girls?"

Xander nodded.  "Yeah.  Of course."

Willow moved around to Spike's other side, offering to help get him to the car.  Spike took a minute to gulp down the mug of blood in his hand.  Not only would it help speed the healing process, but it had also been a long time since he'd last eaten.

When he finished, Dawn smiled tenderly at him and took the mug out of his hand, setting it on the end table.  It was a small gesture, but it touched him.  It was a reassurance that she was okay with him and his need for the blood that he fed on.

The three of them followed the rest of the gang out of the family room and into the hallway but they were brought up short before they made it past the front doorway.  Their friends had stopped just outside the door, clustering on the porch and not moving.

Willow tried to crane her neck to see what they were so interested in, but couldn't see over Xander's and Giles' shoulders.  "What is it?" she asked.  "What's wrong?"

Xander looked at Giles, disbelief and confusion etched on his face.  "Giles, is it me or is something wrong with this picture?"

Giles, Tara, and Anya just gaped at the street, the yard, the houses around them.  Slowly descending the front porch steps they spread out and looked around.

Feeling a little better after the food, Spike called out to the four people.  "Hey!  Can't help but notice no one seems to be movin' in the direction of the cemetery.  What's that all about, then?"

"There was an earthquake," explained Giles in a hushed voice, "we were out here when it hit.  We saw it.  There was damage.  Downed telephone poles, trees.  It's gone.  All of it.  Like it never happened."

"Oh," Spike shrugged, surprisingly unconcerned.  But he knew things that he hadn't told them yet.  "They probably just cleaned up whatever damage the portal caused.  Let's go."

"Wait," said Xander, confused.  "What?  Who are 'they'?  What are you talking about?"

Spike rolled his eyes, growing frustrated and burning with the rising need to get to Buffy as fast as possible.  "Later, Harris.  It can wait until later.  Buffy can't.  Seems to me, spendin' a lot of time lookin' at nothin' isn't gonna get us anywhere.  Let's go."

Willow and Dawn supported the injured vampire as they slowly made their way to Giles' car.  Once they had him loaded into the back seat, stretched out and weak, Dawn turned her attention back to the four amazed people in the yard.

"Guys, come on."  There was very little patience in her voice.  She was in just as big a hurry as Spike, more so, actually.  And she wasn't going to let a little thing like mysterious earthquake-debris clean up drag her attention away from the most important moment in her life.  "Unless you'd rather stay here.  I'm sure Willow wouldn't mind driving me to my sister.  The sister that has been brought back from the dead."

In the dark recesses of the car, Spike grinned.  Dawn's show of spine and composure reminded him of their trip to the nest of the Ghora demon.  She'd been so determined and strong that night, stealing the egg she needed for a resurrection spell.  He remembered thinking of her as a bitty Buffy. 

Now, though, she was even more so.  In fact, she was so much like Buffy that the rest of the gang responded to her without even questioning the reasons.  In the month big sis had been gone, the Scoobies had just picked up where they left off.  Following the lead of a Summers girl.  No one seemed bothered by the fact that this one hadn't yet reached the ripe old age of fifteen.  They just acted out of habits ingrained by the strength of the Summers ladies' character.  Yup, he thought, must be the bloody genes.

Giles finally got into the car, tossing a slightly sheepish glance at Dawn, who was already buckled up and waiting in the passenger seat.  Starting the car up, he backed slowly out of the driveway.

It was a silent trip.  Giles and Dawn where both wrapped up in their own thoughts, even questions remained unasked as they each processed the idea of Buffy's return.  It gave Spike his first chance to rest a bit after the non-stop roller coaster ride he'd been on.  Unlike the rest, the vampire had been going full-bore since before the fight with Glory.  He hadn't stopped since he nicked that RV for the gang's ill-fated getaway.  He was exhausted.

But he was also deeply relieved and strangely content.  Coming back, dropping into the dining room of Buffy's house, being with Dawn and the rest of the merry misfits again had been like coming home.  It was a good feeling.  A unique feeling.  Vampires weren't exactly notorious for being moved by the ideas of home and hearth.

Then again, Spike wasn't a normal vampire.  Obviously.  And after everything he had been through, he was okay with that.  Being the Big Bad and glorying in misery and pain didn't seem nearly as thrilling as it once had.  Not when the alternative was loving and being loved by Nibblet, loving Buffy.

He reached out a hand and touched a lock of Dawn's hair that was hanging down the back of the seat.  It was very good to be home.


They're here. 

Buffy had been spending some interesting minutes playing with her newfound balance, testing it out.  Over and over she had called forth the Slayer, feeling her power drop down like a comfortable cloak and wrap around her.  Then she'd switch it off and it was almost as if it rolled itself up and moved aside, closeting itself away from her until it was called again.

It was a heady feeling.  Control.  Power.  A sense of rightness and destiny that was no longer scary. 

Before she died, Buffy had spent long years trying to keep the Slayer away from her life.  She was just a girl, right?  A girl who pined for anything and everything that heralded normalcy.  If killing demons kept the world safe, then she killed demons, but she never embraced being the Chosen One.  Never wanted to.

But now she was separate.  And together.  And it felt so good that there was no question that this was how it was supposed to be for her. 

While she had been exploring her new talent, Buffy discovered something about herself that she never would have guessed.  At first, when she turned off the Slayer in her and was left with nothing but the girl, it had felt like something was missing.  Something was wrong.  She didn't like it. 

So, as she refined her control over her powers, she tried keeping a bit of the Slayer with her even as she sent most of it away.  And it worked.  That part of herself that had been blended, the soul and the Slayer, was who she really was.  Sure, when needed there would be no problem bringing the full force of her power to bear, but the person that she was – that felt the most right – wasn't just a girl.  She was a bit of both.  And that was kind of a surprise.  But she was okay with it, more than okay.

It was during one of her 'power off' sessions that she felt him.  Blended as she was, it was little more than a tickle in her mind, but she felt her power responding to his presence, questioning her, asking her if it was needed.  Vampire…it identified the nearby creature as a vampire.  It was her soul that told her that it was Spike.  And as soon as she got over the surprise of such a definitive identification – a nifty little bonus she hadn't been expecting – she smiled and got to her feet, staring off in the direction her senses were telling her he was.

Common sense told her he wouldn't be alone.  Her family had come to get her just like she knew they would.  Dawn was coming.  Giles, the gang, they were all coming.  They were here.


"Dawn, go I tell you.  I'll be fine.  Go see your sister."

Spike was leaning against the car, trying to let Dawn know that he didn't want to be responsible for slowing her down.  She was, as usual, being stubborn.

"No, Spike.  I won't just leave you here.  You did this.  You're the reason.  And you deserve to be with us."

Spike rolled his eyes and sighed in mock anger.  He couldn't really be mad at her; she was being thoughtful to a degree that he'd never been shown before.  But he just wasn't physically able to walk to Buffy's grave.  He was barely managing to keep himself upright, even with the car as support.

He brushed a hand down Dawn's cheek, impressed that he was able to keep from trembling in exhaustion and pain, and spoke seriously to her.  "I'm tellin' you, Nibblet, not suggestin'.  This isn't up for debate.  I'll not be dragged around like some vampire-sized rag doll.  Besides, it's been so long for you, pet – but I just left her a little while ago.  And she deserves some time with you lot without havin' me tossed into the mix."

Dawn frowned, ready to argue again, when Willow stepped forward and spoke.  "He's right, Dawnie."  She pinned Spike with a meaningful look.  "Not about the 'tossed into the mix' stuff, though.  But he's hurt badly, and it's too far to carry him.  It may hurt him worse than he already is."

That was enough to convince the teen.  She didn't want to hurt him.  But she still felt bad about leaving him in the cemetery parking lot, all alone and hurt.  She leaned forward and hugged him carefully, taking just enough time to whisper in his ear without the rest hearing.

"I'll bring her to you, then.  Thank you Spike, for bringing her home, for loving me, for loving her.  I know how much you love us.  Thank you.  I'm pretty sure you know – you'd have figured it out – but I need to tell you, I need to say it out loud.  I love you, too."  Dawn pressed a quick kiss to the utterly floored vampire's cheek.  "We'll be right back."

She turned quickly and took charge once again.  "Let's go, guys."

Buffy's decidedly odd extended family headed off in the direction of her grave.  They walked in a group, and as Spike looked on – stunned at what Dawn had said, even more so at what she did – he realized why he had never been able to defeat these people, back when he had still been trying to.  They loved one another, deeply cared for one another, and they looked out for each other.  You can't beat that.  And now he was a part of it, too.  Dawn had just made him part of it, too.



Dawn's heart was in her throat.  Her mind was spinning and her body was pretty much on autopilot.  She figured she must be hiding it pretty well though; either that or the gang was too wrapped up in their own stunned amazement to notice the tenuous grip she had on her zigzagging emotions.   

Today was the best day she'd ever had. 

A month ago, when Buffy died and Spike disappeared, Dawn had been devastated.  The combined loss was the worst kind of example of how everyone around her either suffered or died.  She was a lightning rod of pain and torment and it had taken absolutely everything in her to push forward and go on with life without her sister. 

She never told anyone.  Never talked about it.  But her fear and pain had been used as fuel for her determination and purpose.  She made decisions for herself, for what would happen to her, and had convinced Giles to become her guardian.  She made up her mind to rescue Spike, not that there had ever been a question about that, and had convinced Willow and Tara to help her.  She needed to live like Buffy asked her to, so she got out of bed every morning, went to school, worked hard, and watched out for and protected her loved ones as best she could.

She did everything she knew how to do.  And eventually things got better.  The gang loved her and took care of her as she loved and took care of them.  The feeling of being doomed to badness slowly dissipated.  Eventually, the determination and purpose fueled themselves.  She had started to heal. 

Now this.  Maybe she was being rewarded.  Maybe the scales had finally tipped in her favor – they were bound to eventually, right?  Maybe.  But it didn't really matter.

Whatever this day meant in the grand scheme of things…whatever was fated to happen down the road…the one thing that could never be stripped away from Dawn was the memory of this day.  Seeing Spike standing in the doorway of the family room, severely damaged but back, calling her name in that sweet way he had.  Hearing him say that he had been sent to Buffy to bring her back.  That he had succeeded.  This was the best day to end all best days. 

And now she would have her sister again.  To love, to take care of, to watch out for even as Buffy did the same for her.  Because that's what it's all about.  Taking care of each other, loving, being loved.  That's what life is.  Without love, life is nothing but wasted time between long stretches of darkness. 

Dawn walked out of the shadows of the weeping willow tree, the gang just a step behind her.  There, standing in front of her, not more than ten feet away, was her sister.

Buffy stood, clad in the dress that Dawn had picked out for her burial, holding the stake that Dawn had slipped into her hand during a visit to the mortuary.

The sisters stared at each other for a long second, the reality of the situation hitting both of them and holding them silent.  Slowly, and as if they were mirroring each other, identical joyous smiles grew on both of their faces.  Behind them, and completely unnoticed by the two, the gang stared in stunned but ecstatic amazement at the vision in front of them.

Buffy Summers was alive.  She had returned.



The Summers girls, united once again, leapt forward and wrapped their arms around each other.  They hugged tightly, clinging desperately, as if to let go would make one or both of them disappear.

"Buffy, oh God, Buffy, I missed you so much."  The teen wept unashamedly, they were happy tears, cleansing and pure.

"I missed you too, Dawnie.  I love you.  So very, very much.  I'm home.  Everything is going to be all right."  Buffy leaned back slightly to drink in the sight of her sister.  Crying, smiling, she was swept away by the emotions of having her in her arms again.  It was miraculous. 

"I did like you asked, Buffy," the words poured out of Dawn in a rush.  "I lived.  I had to.  It hurt so much, but I did what you told me to do.  I was strong.  I took care of them, we took care of each other."

"Oh, Dawnie, I'm so proud of you.  Look at you." Buffy pulled back and held Dawn away from her slightly, love and joy flooding her features.  "You're so beautiful, do you know that?"  She brushed a reverent hand down her sister's long, dark hair, smiling tenderly.  "Listen to me, Dawnie, when I was…gone…I thought about you every minute.  I know how painful it must have been for you, but I'm back.  And you don't have to live with just the memory of a sister that loves you anymore.  You get to have the real thing.  We both do.  I love you."

Willow and Xander had tears streaming down their faces – neither one knew it, nor would they have particularly cared if they did.  Giles was standing off to the right a bit, and his eyes were suspiciously damp, as well. 

Anya and Tara were smiling widely.  They had missed Buffy and had felt her loss, though maybe not quite as keenly as their loved ones did.  Still, this was a momentous occasion.  They were thrilled.

Pressing a quick kiss to Dawn's cheek, Buffy scanned the small gathering of people behind her sister.  Just looking at all of them again was such a gift.  Her family.  Her loved ones.  She was home.  This was where she belonged.

"Go on, Buffy," Dawn said, feeling Buffy's desire to go to her friends – knowing that she would be conflicted about releasing her long enough to do so.  "They missed you too.  I'm not going anywhere, I'm okay – go on."

Buffy flashed a mildly surprised look at the mature young woman in front of her – so different than the scared and traumatized girl that she had left behind.  Grief…her grief changed her.  Made her stronger.  You knew they would be different.

She smiled, comforted, and let go of Dawn's hand.  Gliding gracefully, she walked up to Xander and Willow, who had come together in a shared, supportive, half embrace.

Almost shyly, not knowing what to say, Buffy looked at her teary-eyed friends.  "Hi guys."

They stared at her, not quite as quick as Dawn at processing things of this magnitude.  And, hey…Buffy back from the dead…magnitude.  Big magnitude.  Huge.  

Willow was the first one to find her voice, shaky as it was.  "You're back.  You're really back."

Buffy grinned.  "Yup.  That's the rumor."

"God.  You're here.  Back.  In front of me…us."

Willow looked like she was about ready to lose it, and Buffy knew just how hard her death had affected her best friends.  Sympathy and love gripped her heart.

She needed to lighten the mood, or ran the risk of breaking down, herself.  "And ya know?  Coming back from the dead…not as tough as you'd think.  Can't figure out why more people don't do it.  And heaven…completely overrated.  The food was terrible."

Willow and Xander stared at her, wide-eyed and confused.  The odd comments put a quick end to their tears.  Buffy just looked back at them calmly, a small smile tugging at her lips and a twinkle in her eye.

Behind her, Buffy heard something that sounded suspiciously like a snort – followed by a quick giggle.  Dawn was giggling.  Willow leaned to her right and looked around Buffy.  The look on her face was so funny, all bemused and curious, Dawn laughed again, a big bark of laughter.

When Anya frowned and crossed her arms over her chest, muttering, "Great.  Here we go again with the inappropriate humor," Tara squeaked out a high-pitched tittering that may have also been classified as laughter.

Nothing worked better as an icebreaker than humor…even the inappropriate kind.

Laughing out loud and completely unrestrained, Buffy threw herself at Willow and Xander, grabbing them up in a huge hug.  "I'm back!  Oh man, I missed you two."

As if touching her made it real, made it all okay again, Willow felt her shock dissolve and she returned Buffy's tight, possessive hug fiercely.  "We missed you too, Buffy.  I can't believe you're here.  This is…wow…I'm…wow."

Buffy chuckled freely.  "Tell me about it.  Pretty wild, huh?"

Still a little stiff, but trying to catch up, Xander smiled wryly.  "Yeah, wild.  That's one way to put it.  The best thing ever, that's another."

That stopped Buffy in her tracks, and she felt her heart squeeze a little at Xander's sincerity.  "Oh, Xander."  She drew back from Willow and wrapped her arms around Xander's waist.  Looking up into his eyes, she spoke from her heart.  "This is the best thing ever for me, too.  I love you, Xander.  Willow, I love both of you.  I know I didn't tell you nearly often enough before.  Things are…different now.  I'm different.  Better.  So you guys better start getting used to mushy girl, 'cuz I think you may be seeing quite a bit of her." 

Xander looked down at her, saw her heart shining bright and clear in her eyes.  He could see the difference.  The wall that had always kept Buffy just a little apart from all of them was gone.  It gave him a new hope; it started the seed of a new belief deep inside him.  Not like before, where just having Buffy around meant that they would always come out on top.  This was different.  He wasn't even sure what the belief was, exactly, but he knew it was filling him up.  Making him happier than he'd been in a very long time.

Suddenly, the weight of the box in his pocket wasn't nearly as heavy and nagging as it had been for the past month.

Pressing a quick, brotherly kiss to Buffy's forehead, he said, "Mushy girl, huh?  Well, as long as that doesn't mean you're going to start oozing anything icky, I think we can handle that.  Yeah.  We can handle that just fine.  Welcome home, Buffy."

With a quick grin and a flip of her hair, Buffy moved on to Tara and Anya, hugging both of them quickly.  She gave the mentally whole Tara a wide smile and tossed a comment back over her shoulder to Willow.

"See, Will.  Told you.  Big gun."

Giles watched his Slayer, his Buffy, greet her sister and her friends.  Standing slightly apart from the rest, he tried to hold on to his staunch British composure.  But there was nothing he could do about the wide grin splitting his features.  As he watched the girl quip and laugh and hug and love, his heart healed.  He didn't care why Buffy was here – he'd probably need to ask about that later – for now, all he cared about was that this girl that he loved like a daughter, that he'd lost and grieved for, was back.  And she was walking toward him.  Finally.

Watcher and Slayer, man and young woman, Giles and Buffy stared at each other. 

"Hi, Giles."

"Hello, Buffy."

"I'm back."

"Y-yes.  I can see that.  Welcome home."

Buffy grinned at the inane but proper conversation.  She could definitely see the humor.  "Guess this kind of sets a new bar for Slayers, huh?"

Giles could feel the smile tugging at the corners of his lips but he tried to resist the pull.  "I believe so, yes."

"Guess there's gonna be a whole bunch of research and bookish type stuff you need to do now, right?"

The Watcher nodded in mock seriousness.  "Most assuredly.  You are the first Slayer to be returned from the dead.  I'm sure there are going to be several interesting developments that the council will need me to document."

"The council, right.  Wouldn't want to let my nifty little resurrection go unnoticed by the Watcher's council."


The game was over.  They had done the Watcher/Slayer proper gig.  But this was Giles.  And he was everything to Buffy.  Tears welled in her eyes and trickled down her cheeks.  She smiled warmly at him through the mist of her tears. 

"Oh, and by the way, Giles, I love you.  And I missed you very much." 

Giles smiled tenderly and opened his arms.  Buffy launched herself at him.  The flood of emotion was drowning him, but it was the best kind of drowning.  To hell with stiff British upper lip.  He rocked Buffy in his arms, pressing his cheek against the top of her head. 

"I'm so proud of you, Buffy.  You always made me proud.  The one regret I had when you died, I realized that I had never told you that I loved you.  I should have.  I should have told you how much I loved you."

Buffy sniffled into his jacket and her words were slightly muffled by the tweed.  "I knew, Giles.  I always knew.  And I never told you either, not like I should have.  But things are going to be a lot different now.  I've changed.  I'm not afraid anymore.  I love you."  Buffy pulled back from his tight embrace and met his eyes.  "You're my hero.  You know that, don't you?  Everything I do, everything I am is because of you.  You're my hero, Giles.  I need you to know that."

Overcome, stunned, the tears fell down the Watcher's cheek.  "Oh…Buffy."  He wrapped her up in another hug.  He never wanted to let her go.

In fact, he squeezed her so tightly that Buffy had to give him a gentle reminder.  "Giles…kinda need to breathe.  Wouldn't be a good to send me back to the land of the recently deceased so soon after my return."

He blushed and loosened his grip…a little.  "Right.  Sorry."

"Giles," she whispered, not wanting the others to hear, "how long have I been gone?  I noticed the grave…my grave…not new."

"Almost a month," he whispered back.  "Twenty-six days."

"Oh.  Wow.  It didn't seem that lo-"

Buffy didn't get to finish her sentence.  Giles felt her stiffen in his arms and he released her in surprise.  Looking at her, he saw her expression.  Concentration and focus had replaced the softness.

"Buffy?  What is it?  What's wrong?"

The Slayer – for that's what she was, all Slayer – didn't respond right away.  The velvet cloak of her power had been brought forward and wrapped around her tightly.  She spun and dropped into a fighting stance while the gang rushed toward her.  They had seen the transformation and recognized it as something new.  Something they had never seen before.

"Vampires," Buffy said seriously, "four of them.  Coming this way."  She nodded her head in the direction she was looking.  "From there."

"Oh, bloody hell."

"Yeah," grumbled Xander, "can't the evil dead guys give us one night off?"

"Unless something has changed drastically since I've been gone," said Buffy, "they're not exactly known for courtesy."

"We need to get out of here, fast.  We don't have any weapons."

Buffy turned her head and slid a surprised glance to Xander.  "You came to a cemetery at night without any weapons?"

"Well…yeah.  We were kind of preoccupied at the time, you know."

The Slayer shook her head slightly and grinned.  "Oh, right.  Sorry.  But you know what?  I'm not in the mood for fleeing.  I say new group rule is no more running away.  And not all of us are unarmed."

She looked around the ground, having dropped the stake a while ago.  "Well, we weren't all unarmed just a minute ago.  Damn it."

"Buffy!"  Dawn bent down and picked up the discarded stake.  "Here!"  She tossed the stake to her sister, who caught it with a spin and some flair.

"Thanks Dawnie.  Guys, get behind me.  You're about to see some of those changes I told you about."

"But Buffy, we can help.  We may not be loaded with the wood, but we can still fight."

"Thanks Xander, but I don't think that'll be necessary.  Willow, Tara, you guys have any barrier spells you can throw up around the group?"

Willow had never really thought about that.  Sure, around a standing structure, she'd done that before, but around people?  That kind of spell would come in handy.  In fact, she felt a little guilty about never trying that one on her own.  "Um…no.  Sorry Buffy.  But we'll start working on one tomorrow.  It's a good idea."

"Yeah," Buffy said wryly, stepping forward and putting some distance between her and her loved ones.  "I'm just chock full of the ideas of goodness."

Coming at them, stepping from the shadows several yards away, were the four vamps.  Two of them were large, over six feet, one was about 5'10" and the fourth was small.  Not much taller than Dawn – who, Buffy thought with dry amusement, was still taller than she was.

It was the small one that was the eldest of the group, though.  Buffy could feel it.  The others were just muscle.  One of them was recently risen, too, the average sized one.  It was odd, just how much detail her new senses offered her.  But it was a very useful tool.

One of the large vampires stepped forward, and Buffy's narrowed gaze picked up the way he moved in front of the small one.  Head bodyguard, she thought.  Good to know.  Gotta start somewhere.

"Well, well, Vincent," the vampire addressed the other large one next to him.  "Look what we have here.  A whole group of tasty humans visiting the dearly departed.  You know what that means, right?"

Vincent grinned evilly and growled low in his throat.  "Yeah, Mitch.  Means dinner.  And look…we're having the all-you-can-eat buffet."

"Wow," Buffy stood with her arms crossed over her chest, the stake hidden in the crook of her arm.  "Was there a memo I missed?  Because last I heard, vamps weren't really known for their sense of humor, but that was funny.  Of course, doesn't mean I'm not going to kill you.  And let's make this quick.  I'd hate to ruin my dress."

"You've got balls, little girl, I'll give you that." Mitch growled at Buffy.  "Good thing, too, give me something to rip off you before I drain you dry."

Slayer senses on maximum, Buffy calmly stepped up to the hulking mass in front of her.  Caressed by her power, snug in the cloak of strength, her body was practically tingling.  She stopped about a foot in front of the demon and smiled at him.  It was an innocent smile, and he seemed to miss the glint of confidence and warning in her eyes.

"You get to try.  But I think I should warn you…" 

Buffy moved so fast the vampire never knew what hit him.  In a blink, she had spun around, the skirt of her gown whirling out around her legs, and brought her arm around in an arc, plunging the stake she'd hidden into the center of his heart.  As she stared down at the pile of dust that had once been Mitch, Neanderthal vampire, she finished her sentence.

"…I'm a little bit more that I appear to be."

Vincent lunged at her but she stepped out of the way and dispatched the new vampire – the average sized vampire – while Vincent's momentum carried him past her. 

Buffy grabbed the small one by the shoulders and threw him into a tombstone several feet away from her.  He collapsed, unconscious, in a heap.  "You stay there," she told the still form, "I'll deal with you in a minute."

Vincent came at her again, with more restraint this time.  He swung out a punch at her head, but she ducked under it and popped back up.  When he threw an uppercut she just leaned backwards, out of the way, and grinned at him.

"There's one other thing," she told him as he growled in frustration and anger.  She wouldn't stay still long enough to hit – and he didn't know how she could move so fast.  "See those people back there?"  Buffy stepped out of the way of a swing kick and nodded her head in her family's direction.  "They're not here visiting the 'dearly departed'."  She still hadn't bothered trying to punch him, and as the vampire's anger mounted, his punches got sloppier and less controlled.  And easier to avoid.  "They're here picking up the 'recently returned'."

Finally tired of dodging and avoiding, Buffy stepped forward and slammed her fist into the enraged vampire's face.  Over six feet tall and at least two hundred pounds, he still flew back as if he weighed no more than a small child and landed with a thud and a grunt several feet away.

Buffy tilted her head and followed after him, looking down at his stunned face.

"You're…shit!  You're the Slayer!"  Apparently it took awhile, but the light bulb finally switched on in poor Vincent's addled brain.  "You're dead!  You're supposed to be dead!!"

"No," Buffy replied calmly, leaning over and shoving her stake into his chest.  "You're supposed to be dead.  And now you are." 

Straightening, she looked over at her family, noticing their stunned expressions.  "I'll be right there, guys.  Just one more thing I need to deal with."

"Go on," called Xander, not really sure what he was seeing but liking it a whole hell of a lot.  "We're good.  Take your time, Buffster."

Buffy grinned at the familiar endearment and stalked over to the small vampire by the tombstone.  Leaning over, she picked him up and gave him a good shake.  He regained consciousness, struggling futilely in her grip, and glared at her balefully.

"Get rid of the ridges and fangs, dead boy," she sneered at him.  "I know you're old enough to control your features.  Let's see the man behind the mask."

When the angry but trapped vampire did as he was told, Buffy gasped in horror.  "Okay, so the boy behind the mask."  The child couldn't have been any older than thirteen when he was turned, explaining why he was so small.  It made her sick.  "Now I know why you needed the bodyguards."

"Y-you're the Slayer!  You're supposed to be dead!"

Buffy set the boy back on his feet and stepped back a bit.  "You know, I bet I'm going to hear that a lot.  Listen, I'm not going to kill you.  I could, but I won't.  You're going to spread the word for me.  That way, maybe I'll get less stunned disbelief when I come up on the various and sundry evil in the area."

The vampire, confused at why he wasn't a pile of dust yet, mumbled at her.  "W-what word?"

"Well, I can tell you've been around awhile.  You're not a new vampire.  That tells me you know how to take care of yourself.  You're so small, you'd have to."

Offended, the vampire puffed out his chest a bit.  Buffy just laughed at him.  "Oh, please.  This isn't some kind of testosterone contest.  You're a vampire – you're small – deal with it.  Tell them – let them all know I'm back.  And let them know if they want to live in my town, they follow my rules.  They hunt, they die.  Period.  They want to live peaceably, go on a non-human diet, they live…or, unlive…whatever.  And you might want to let them know that not only am I back, but I'm better than ever."

Buffy turned and walked away from the very confused vampire.  "Wait!" he called out after her.  "I thought you were supposed to kill all of us.  Since when do you grant mercy on one of our kind?"

Buffy spun around and stared at him.  "Kinda pressing your luck, there, aren't you?  Anyway, you're wrong.  The Slayer isn't just a killer.  Not this Slayer, anyway.  I'm the Keeper of the Balance.  Now go."

Without bothering to explain further, and chuckling at the vampire's puzzled but relieved look, Buffy rejoined her friends.  They were staring at her with opened mouth wonder.

"Hi guys."  She gave a little wave as she turned her power off, feeling it roll away from her with a satisfied brush against her soul.  "I told you…there've been some changes."

Giles, as the first to recover, stammered.  "I-I would s-say so."

Suddenly, Buffy remembered something.  Something that was missing.  Someone that was missing.  She'd been so overjoyed at seeing her family, she hadn't noticed that Spike wasn't with them.

"Speaking of vampires, where's Spike?"


"Come on, people!  How long does it take?  You go in, hugs and kisses all 'round, and you bring her out.  Bloody hell, what'd you do?  Set up some tea and crumpets and throw a welcome home party?"

Spike was growing antsy.  The group had been gone for a while.  They should have been back by now, shouldn't they?

Just when the worry – worry that something might have happened to them – grew large enough to override his pain and send him, stumbling and sore, towards Buffy's grave, he heard them approaching.

Looking through the darkness, he saw all of them.  Dawn and Buffy walked arm and arm in the lead with the rest of the Scoobies following close behind, laughing and smiling amongst themselves.  Spike grinned.

There they were, the two girls he held in his heart.  Both alive and well.  Talk about one good day.

Buffy glanced up and saw the man responsible for bringing her home and she had to choke back a gasp at his beaten and broken appearance.  He was hurt – badly – but he was standing up at least…swaying a little, but standing.

She dropped Dawn's arm and turned to look at her family.  "Guys, give us a minute, okay?  I need to talk to Spike."

"Sure, Buff," said Willow with a grin.  "Take as long as you need."

Buffy crossed the grass and stepped onto the pavement.  She held Spike's gaze, seeing clearly the love he had for her – even though he was trying to hide it.

Spike waited expectantly, not sure what to say.

"Hi," she said to him, a touch of shyness in her voice.

Her shyness served to buoy his confidence, he didn't know why.  "Lookin' good, Slayer.  All back from the dead and what all."

He was so transparent.  She could read him like a book.  All that bravado and smug superiority was just a front.  It may have fooled the old Buffy, but as she had been reminded quite thoroughly, the old Buffy was dead. 

"Yup, that's me, resurrection girl.  Nice of you to tell me I was the only one that was going to be getting that privilege, though.  You know, you might have mentioned it back in the realm.  Imagine my surprise when two Oracles broke the news to me."

Spike was stunned.  Bloody hell, she knows.  Shit.  He hadn't thought about that.  And suddenly, Spike was absolutely terrified.

He'd explained it to Joyce.  He couldn't tell her, because if his sacrifice didn't matter to her, it would destroy him.  All hope that they could have ever had anything together would go up like so much smoke.  And if it did matter to her, it would hurt her, and he didn't want to be responsible for any more of her pain.

Now that she knew, he was going to have to deal with the knowing – and dread pooled in the pit of his stomach.

"Buffy, I –"

She quieted him with her hand.  Her fingers pressed gently to his bruised mouth and he basked in their warmth just as he had in heaven.

"And imagine their surprise when I let them know, in no uncertain terms, if they didn't find a way to get you back, the only thing I'd be keeping in balance when I returned would be my checkbook.  Although, now that I think about it, I don't think surprise was quite what they were feeling when I had them around the throat."

Buffy watched Spike's eyes widen in surprise.  She grinned at him.  "What?  You didn't really think I was going to let the man responsible for reminding me who I am – and giving me this new peace in the bargain – be terminated by a bunch of all powerful Powers, did you?  But you managed to get back on your own, didn't you?  I told those two puffed up Roman peacocks you weren't as easy to kill as they thought."

She…oh, Christ.  Was she saying what he thought she was saying?  Spike didn't know.  He didn't know what was happening.  He couldn't even think.  All he knew was that his heart was in his throat and his stomach was in knots.  And it felt fantastic. 

Man.  She said man.  She just called you a bleedin' man, you pillock, and all you can do is stand there like a poof with your mouth hangin' open.  SAY SOMETHIN' you poncy bugger. 


"No, Spike.  Don't say anything.  Not yet.  You're hurt.  And I want to go home.  Plus, we need to tell the gang what happened, and why I was brought back.  But we need to talk.  There are things…things that need to be said."  

He looked at her in surprise.  She'd said that to him before, back in that bitch of a realm he'd pushed her out of.  She had a small smile on her mouth and there was something in her eyes that he'd never seen before, not when she looked at him, anyway.  Spike tilted his head and stared at her curiously.

Buffy met his gaze and smiled.  Turning away from him after a minute, she called out to her family.

"Come on guys.  What do you say we all go home?"

In the time it took for a vampire and a Slayer to share a meaningful glance, both knew that things were going to be better for both of them – way better – than they had ever been before.


Hours later, Spike sat alone on the back steps of Buffy's house.  Well, Dawn's house, actually. 

It was over.  He and Buffy had told their combined story.  The gang knew everything – more, actually, than he would have preferred, because Buffy had insisted that there be no secrets held back out of a misguided sense of protecting Dawn or the group from knowing the truth.  They were told everything.  Spike's first option to bring Buffy back, why he didn't take it, why he almost didn't take the second option and what finally made him go through with it.

Hell, he'd been opened up and had all of his insides poked at mercilessly by the group.  It was a raw and exposed feeling.

But he'd been honest. 

And Buffy had let the group know that he had taken on the job of going to heaven knowing full well that he wasn't going to be getting out again.  That had surprised all of them – and it made Dawn cry.  He'd hated that.

But he told them about the All, and what was coming with the Powers.  Xander hadn't been thrilled that the next major challenge was going to be a bit worse than a hell god, but he'd been supportive.  Giles hadn't said much of anything, just nodded and made notes in a notebook.  Spike got the feeling that he was thrilled by all this groundbreaking information – like he was looking forward to being the one responsible for setting that Watcher's council on its collective ear.

Of course, Spike didn't really know what was worse.  Spilling his guts about everything he went through, or listening to Willow give a 'deconstructing Spike' lesson about her experiences with his aura trail.  And he almost lost it when Dawn explained her role in the nether realm-jumping trek.

Giles had filled Buffy in on the guardianship of Dawn, and his new citizenship.  They had filled her in on everything that had been going on for the past month. 

It had been a long and painful conversation.  For everyone.  Many tears shed by all.  Not him, of course…well, not when anyone was looking anyway.

And now it was over, and the gang had gone to bed.  After the long night, they decided to all crash there, instead of going to their respective homes.  Plus, though the All had cleaned up the effects of the portal on the house in much the same way they had the rest of the dimension, they had left the effects of what Spike found out was his own emotions…his aura…controlling Willow's magic.  The living room was still a complete mess.  So the group would work to get that fixed up tomorrow…later today.

Dawn had fed him thoroughly before she finally dragged off to bed, exhausted but happy.  And he was recovering even now from the return to this reality.  It would take a couple of days for the worst of the injuries to heal completely, and he looked like a walking bruise…or, that's what Anya told him he looked like…but he could stand on his own two legs now, and even walk – if a little painfully.

Nibblet had set up the basement for him.  Gave him a couple of sleeping bags and some more blood, just in case he needed it.  She and Buffy were in Buffy's old room – unwilling to be separated even while sleeping.  Giles had given up the master bedroom and was in Dawn's old room.  Camping out, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya had taken over the master bedroom.  Everyone had gone to bed about an hour ago, exhaustion had started to slur their speech and make them muddle-brained.

And as tired as he was, Spike was the only one that couldn't sleep.  His mind was in too much turmoil, his emotions too shaken by everything that he'd been through.  So he'd come out here to think.  It was the first time in a long time that he didn't mind a little down time.  His normally frenetic nature had been subdued by the ramifications of everything he had done, and what he'd accomplished.  He brought Buffy back from the dead.  He'd cheated his own death.  He was home, alive, and so were the two people he loved most on this miserable rock of a planet.  A planet that he had worked to save and would continue to work to save.

It was all so big – so huge – that he couldn't sleep yet.

The sky was lightening.  There would be a new day dawning soon but he still sat there.  He had time yet before he would have to go in and hide from the deadly rays.

When he heard the soft padding of bare feet approaching behind him, coming through the open kitchen door, Spike knew what he had been really waiting for.  Somewhere deep inside him he had known she would come looking for him and he braced himself for whatever was coming. 

Buffy sat down on Spike's right and stared off into the darkness of the backyard.  Neither one said anything. 

Finally, it was Buffy that broke the comfortable silence…but it was Spike's words she used to do it.  "Well, this is just…neat.  This remind you of anything, Spike?  Of course, you don't have your manly shotgun this go 'round, and it's not heaven.  But, hey…you can't have everything."

Spike grinned at the girl's spirit and cocked an eyebrow at her.  "Trust me, pet.  This place looks a sight better than heaven – that place wasn't the most pleasant for me, ya know."

"I know.  Thank you, Spike.  I didn't say that before and I need to.  Thank you for everything you did for me, for Dawn."

Spike shook his head, "No, Buffy.  Don't thank me.  You don't ever need to thank me for that – for any of it."

Buffy understood and nodded. 

She was nervous, she wanted to tell him what was in her heart and even with her new balance and peace it wasn't easy for her to tell this man she loved him.  Even when she knew that he loved her, too.

"Spike…I have a confession…I know I told everyone that I didn't want any secrets about the wicked fun little romp we had, but there was a couple of things I held back on.  I'll tell them, but I think you deserve to hear it first."

Now, this was getting interesting.  Spike's ears perked up, and in much the same way he had in heaven, he thought, confess away, pet.

She pulled in a deep breath before she started.  "I told you that I wasn't going to let you sacrifice yourself.  I told you that I sent the female Oracle – bitch – back to the Powers demanding to get you back.  But I didn't tell you what happened when she came back."

Spike frowned.  As he recalled, she had.  The sister came back, all shocked and amazed that the Powers didn't know where he was, and then the ground started shaking.

Buffy got up, suddenly filled with nervous energy, and paced along the grass in front of the steps.

"When I saw her face, I knew something bad had happened to you.  And then something happened, Spike.  To me.  As soon as I saw the look on the sister's face I realized it – finally saw it – stopped denying it to myself.  And it hurt so bad.  I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest.  Do you know what I'm saying?"

Spike thought he just might…but it was too much of a revelation to let it go like that.  He grinned at her and shot her a slightly teasing glance.  Suddenly everything about life…or unlife…seemed quite a lot better.  "Might help if you actually said it, pet."

Buffy stopped in front of him and knelt at his feet, staring up at him in much the same way he'd done to her in the other realm.  "I realized that I love you, Spike.  And when the Powers couldn't find you, when I thought I lost you without telling you, it ripped me apart.  I thought I'd never see you again – never tell you what was in my heart.  That's when I realized that time isn't guaranteed to any of us.  And then, later, when I saw your image in that weird little puddle the Oracles have, I knew I would get to see you again.  I decided that, no matter what happens, no matter how long I live or you live or anyone lives, you have to be brave enough to accept love when you feel it.  You have to let it in.  No matter how…unconventional it seems to be.  But I don't need to tell you that do I?  You're a vampire in love with a Slayer, and you've always been man enough to admit it.  I love you, Spike.  And I want you with me.  You're in my gut, too.  And you're in my throat.  You're in my heart and I don't ever want to let you go."

Before she'd noticed he'd moved, Spike had slipped off the porch and pulled her up in his arms.  She stared up into his blue eyes and smiled at the hungry and possessive gleam there.  Mixed in with the passion was the love, she could see that too.  And then his head was descending, and he captured her mouth in a searing kiss – and all thoughts fled on eagle's wings.

Giving himself over to the wonder of the woman in his arms, Spike's mouth plundered her soft lips, feeling them part under his questing tongue.  He shook with the intensity of the feelings he had for her.  It was blinding, burning him.

Pressing her body tightly to his length, feeling her arms wrap around him tightly, he knew that she was his just as much as he was hers.  Finally his.  She loved him. 

Spike deepened the kiss, their tongues dueling in an erotic ballet.  His hands framed her face and he pulled back from her lips, raining soft, gentle kisses along her chin and down to her neck, where he nibbled playfully.  He felt her shudder and heard her moan his name.

It was so good.  Perfect.  They were perfect together.  He'd always known they would be and now he had his chance to show her just how good they could be.  They would soar together. 

Rocked to the core, he rested his forehead against hers, closing his eyes to savor the delicious feelings her hands were giving him as they trailed from his back down to his waist and lower.

"I love you, Buffy.  God, I love you so much."

"I love you, too.  So much."

Spike glanced up at the sky and grabbed Buffy by the hand, pulling her into the house – moving quickly.  She giggled a bit but didn't resist.  Once they were inside, he surprised her by turning her around and facing her towards the window.  That wasn't quite what she was expecting.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her back into his chest.  She leaned her head back and rested it on him. 

"Spike, not that I'm not enjoying this, but what are we-"

"Shh.  Stop talkin', Buffy.  Watch."

As the unusual couple stood in an embrace in the kitchen of the house on Revello drive, the sun came up and painted the sky in brilliant reds, pinks, oranges, and golds.  It was beautiful and breathtaking.  And remarkably romantic.

"I may be a vampire, pet, but watching the sun come up on another day with the woman I love in my arms is just too good a thing to miss.  And the great thing about indirect sunlight – no big pile of dust at the end of it all."

Buffy smiled and turned around in his arms, brushing a hand down one chiseled cheekbone.  "That's a good.  A big good.  Can't have the man I love fitting into a dust buster, as it tends to put a crimp in the relationship."

Kissing her quickly, Spike grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the basement…which is where she'd assumed he was pulling her before he gave her the wonderful surprise of watching the sunrise.

It was the beginning of a new day and all was right with the world for the time being.  And when you're the Chosen One, or a vampire helping the Chosen One, you take the brief moments when all is right in the world and you embrace them fully.  You love each other.  You find happiness and you make it your own.  That's what gets you through the tough times. 

Love is always what gets you through the tough times.