Another city, another bar...

Another drink that Spike can't really taste.

Whiskey's long since lost its novelty for the vampire, but it's a small comfort that he takes whenever he can get it, even if he doesn't really pay much attention to the quality or the flavor anymore.

The whole world's been rather gray since the last time he saw Sunnydale…since the last time he saw the Slayer…

Everything is tasteless and empty and dull…

Even sex has lost its appeal. Just no point anymore, really.

Sure, when he enters a room, his eyes still sweep over the inhabitants predatorily, taking in the most gorgeous specimens--some of whom even give him an appreciative glance--but the thrill is gone. He used to relish the chase; the hunt was just as enjoyable as the capture of his prey--either as his dinner or as his lover--but now…

Now it's just not the same.

Every night is an endless cycle of drinking and slaying, always moving forward so that he doesn't sit still long enough to think about the past, but occasionally…

Occasionally the past comes back to haunt him, the same way it haunts us all. Our pasts lurk close at our backs, waiting to spring when we want to remember least…

Such as it is tonight when his eyes make their circuit around the room and they hang on a flash of brilliant red that has caught the low lamplight in a corner and memories slam into him of a portion of his unlife he'd rather not revisit.

Willow.

Her head rests on her hands on the table as she stares at a half empty bottle of scotch, and it's obvious that she's not really seeing what's in front of her. She's far away, in the land of best forgotten memories where alcohol tends to take you if you spend too much time in its company.

His feet carry him towards her of their own accord, as though he's dragged towards her by a magnetic force he can't understand, much less try to resist. Even as he's moving, he wonders…

Maybe he's more masochistic than he wants to admit…maybe he wants to be near her and remember things he shouldn't…

Or maybe misery really does love company.

She's completely sotted. He can smell it on her. The stench of liquor on her is so thick and heavy that it's obvious to his finely sharpened senses that she's one drink away from alcohol poisoning.

Foolish chit.

Bleary green eyes stare up at him when he comes within touching distance of the table, blinking lazily.

They slowly fill with recognition, but her expression remains lax.

"Spike."

Her voice is harsh, like that of a chain smoker, but he knows that it's emotion that closes her throat so, not outside influence.

"Red."

Long, pregnant silence descends between them before she gestures clumsily at the chair across from her. "Sit down. Have a drink."

"I think you've had enough, pet."

Her upper lip twitches into a bitter parody of the brilliant smile she used to have. "There's no such thing."

When she reaches for her glass his hand shoots out to grab her wrist to stop her.

He doesn't know why…doesn't grasp why he's suddenly in the mood to be protective when usually he doesn't give a damn about anyone else…

Electricity races along his skin and she glares up at him, some of the spark of the witch he used to know behind the drunken eyes. "Let me go, Spike."

His grip on her wrist tightens and the power that threatens to spill off from her and at him is almost tangible. He knows he's playing with fire…knows that if she focuses at him she can thrust him across the room and through a wall…

But Spike is used to playing with fire. Drusilla was flame…so was Buffy…

He seems to thrive on danger and Willow…Willow, the once good, pure witch is now absolutely deadly.

"Where's your girl, Red? I'm sure she'd not like to see you here gettin' blasted without her."

"Kennedy's gone." Her brow furrows. "Everyone's gone." She looks up at him again, smiling rancorously at him. "Everyone but you and me."

Some of the tension drains from between them suddenly and she tugs her arm away from him. "The Goddess has some sense of humor, huh, Spike? Of all the people I knew in Sunnydale, I never pegged you and I as being the ones to walk away from it intact."

"Only intact in the most basic sense of the word, Red."

"You're standing here, aren't you? Solid as I am." Drunkenly, she stands and puts her hands on his shoulders to steady herself. "Yup. Solid."

"Solid but far from whole."

"Wholeness is overrated. Trust me, I found that out the hard way." She sways and his arms catch around her waist to keep her upright. "I was whole. Tara made me whole…but she's gone and now I'm in pieces again, aren't I? And you know what, Spike? I like being in pieces. You can't be broken again if you're already in pieces."

He wants to argue the point, but she's right.

And he hates it.

"I'm taking you home."

"Oh no you're not. I'm going to stay here and drink until I don't know my own name anymore." Her fingers leave his shoulders and she gestures with them inelegantly. "I'm going to drown myself in scotch until Sunnydale isn't even part of my vocabulary anymore. Let me forget."

Spike wants to slap her. How she's allowed herself to go from the luminous young woman he used to know to this drunken waste, he can't comprehend, but he catches her hands in his and forces her to look at him.

"There's not enough liquor in the world, Red, take it from someone who knows…you'll never forget…and the scotch won't make it happen. The oblivion will come, but it's fleeting…and it's not forgetting."

Willow's head lolls forward until her forehead touches his chest, resting there as though her neck hasn't the strength to hold her head up anymore. "I like the oblivion. It's better than clarity."

Spike can scarcely dispute this; after all, he's had so much more experience with drowning his sorrows than she has…but he still feels as though he can't let her continue to destroy herself…

But his momentary focus on chivalry is taken away as she lifts her head and looks at him with something very foreign and very wrong in her expression…

Her lips brush against his once.

Twice.

Three times.

And he knows she's not in her right mind because his Willow--the one he tormented oh-so-long-ago--would never crush herself to a vampire so desperately in the corner of a seedy bar in the middle of nowhere.

She tastes like her drink of choice, but there's something else there. Something that's decidedly Willow in her essence as she kisses him without any skill at all and for the first time in a long time, he finds that the rest of the world…the past…it's all melted away into darkness somewhere behind him.

This is the first time in years that his memories are blotted out of existence by something other than violence or alcohol and the seconds tick by, all thought of what he left behind gone from the forefront of his mind.

He forgets.

As their mouths mate and he tugs her towards the door, he forgets it all…

They are precious moments in which he is completely in the here and now, with no reflections of the past to bother him, even as they meet the cool night air in an alleyway behind the bar and suddenly, a rush of magic leaps from the woman he holds so desperately in his arms.

She pulls away from him, looking as though the weight of the universe has settled on her shoulders and she touches his face tenderly. "Forget."

All goes black.

---

Willow leaves Spike stunned in the alley, tears streaming down her face as his pain adds itself to hers, but she doggedly stumbles onwards, knowing she's done the right thing.

She has done this for all her friends, tracking them down one by one to perform the spell she's just used on Spike…a spell that allows her to take their pain and regret and tuck it away in the deepest part of her soul where they won't be hurt by it anymore.

She modifies their memories just enough that they aren't crippled by the agony of their recollections, taking their sorrow for herself so that they can move on.

To take their pain for herself and allow them go on with their lives is Willow's gift to the people who mean the most to her. She'll never be able make her own pain vanish, but with the power she has caged within her, she can lighten the loads of those she loves.

Besides, the world doesn't need the Scoobies anymore…there are thousands of slayers waiting in the wings to stop the next apocalypse, should there be one on the horizon.

Those who defended Sunnydale for so long have suffered enough.

They deserve a rest.