S J Smith (

Disclaimer: Mr. Whedon, Mr. Greenwalt, Fox, WB and UPN own the rights to these charactors. I'm just having fun when I ought to be working on making money elsewhere.

Distribution: Fanfiction.Net, Land of Denial. Interested? Contact me.

A.N.: Everything up through Season Five happened. AU after that.

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The night was old when they finally found shelter, an ancient building, painted against the light of the coming dawn. A faint breeze stirred the air, bringing with it the fresh scent of salt water, something the pair of scouts almost didn't recognize, it had been so long. But one ran back to the main troope to inform their leader of the resting place. The order to rest there for the day was made, different scouts sent out to procure any sustenance still left in the area, if any could be found in a land of such rubble. Still, sometimes things could be found to eat; all squeamishness was put aside in the name of starvation.

The leader was the last to make his way to the building, his head bowed by dust, a heavy sword flung over his back, a massive claymore, originally created to take the legs from charging horses, armored and carrying knights. He'd found, not quite by accident, that it worked equally well for demons. His troope used whatever weapons they could, crossbows or recurves, rifles or handguns, knives or even explosives, to each his or her own. It didn't matter in the long run, as long as the demons went down.

"Hey, chief," Mato said. He gestured with his head. "It's not so bad inside. Old gang sign, you know, an archeologist like yourself'd probably find it interesting, but no one's lived here for a long time. We won't be putting anyone out."

That was one of his first rules, no putting civilians from their homes. This battle was to save them, not to destroy them and throwing them out of their own secure areas was tantamount to stringing them up for bait. Of course, some of the civilians didn't see it the same way; they spat on the troops as they made their way through what remained of the villages. But others were willing to offer what they could, a place of shelter, sometimes food, sometimes other comfort. He tried to stay away from all that. He'd lost his comfort years before to a broken promise.

"Thanks, Mato," he told the Lakota. The Native American nodded and took charge of the troope, making sure they secured the perimeter. He sighed heavily, closing his eyes briefly, feeling the weight of what he was doing on his shoulders again. He brushed away that concern, entering the house.

Mato had been right. The building, with its heavy walls, wasn't in bad shape but it wasn't from someone's lack of trying. The stone was pitted and chipped, desiccated leaves crunched under his heavy boots as he walked into the room. He automatically scanned the ceilings, searching for booby traps, all his predatory senses, sight, hearing, scent, on the alert. He could detect nothing and relaxed somewhat, though not completely. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd felt comfortable enough to totally drop his guard.

Still, within these stone walls, he felt he could relax. He shook off the thought, too tired to even wonder about it. It was just a place, just another place, like any other place they'd holed up in during this war. He continued on to the next room, an oddly shaped thing, with a broken down door straight in front of him, leading out to what could be...a courtyard, his memory supplied the word. He frowned deeply and turned his attention to Sophie, who kindled a fire in a peculiarly shaped fireplace.

Feeling his scrutiny, she turned to look at him, her expression curious. "What is it, chief?" she asked.

He ignored her, feeling the draw of that fire, of other fires kindled in the past. His memory provided scenes long buried, of nights and mornings and long days spent before flames. The reminiscing tugged at him and he realized. Slowly, he moved forward, his feet remembering the feel of this floor beneath them, his body remembering the space of the room, as if imprinted forever within him. He reached the fireplace with its strange arch, turned slowly, his memory pulling his eyes to various places within the room.

"Chief?" Sophie rose behind him, nearly as fluid as a vampire.

"Sunnydale." The word seemed ripped from somewhere deep inside and if he closed his eyes, the memories would wash over him, so deep as to drown him.

"Hate to say this, chief, but, huh?"

He turned to her, so fast she stepped back reflexively. "Sunnydale," he said again, knowing he looked as mad as Dru in this instant. "Tell the troope to stay here."

"Begging your pardon, chief," Sophie said, eyes narrowing as she indicated with her chin the open doorway, "but dawn's coming."

"I know." He swept past her before she could protest again, knowing she did so for the sake of the unit. But he had to see. It was a need long denied, one he'd subdued for years, and one he'd almost thought he'd forgotten, until he realized he stood within the mansion.

He took off running, the sword sheath on its baldric tightened against his back so it wouldn't bounce. So long ago, he'd run through this town, nearly every night. No need for any other transportation but feet, it was that small. But that had been, god, he couldn't even remember when, before the war, before the End of Days, before everything fell. He pushed the thoughts from his mind, the memories carrying him back as he raced through the deserted streets, finally topping a hill.

The fence was all but shattered, the metal torn away to be recycled, though he wouldn't know if it'd been melted to provide weapons or tools. Still, he didn't hesitate. They'd not turned up any demons in this town, at least not yet and he'd never actually feared cemeteries except for one time.

He had to step carefully through what remained of the headstones, crushed to the side or overgrown with weeds. He twisted his ankle once and bit back a curse, limping on to his destination. He cast around, seeking a sign, anything familiar and closed his eyes, trying to remember the last time he'd been here. So long...another world, another life ago. Finally, he paused, recognition striking like lightning and he crept into the clearing before the dawn could come and burn the faded golden grass to a crisp.

His hands swept over the first stone, part of it broken free and missing. The grey marble had dulled from its shiny gleam. He could still make out the letters; beneath the scrawl of someone bored enough to attempt to carve the stone; "-oved Mother" and the dates of her birth and death. Joyce Summers. He rose, going to the next stone, in nearly as bad a shape, though not split into pieces. "ALE RIS" the stone read, the defacing of the stone practically obliterating Xander's name. He remembered Dawn telling him Xander'd asked to be buried near Buffy, so they could watch over each other. Xander had gone down protecting Willow when she'd tried to raise Buffy from the dead, the night Sunnydale was overrun by demons. He wondered, again, if he'd been there, if he could've protected them all.

It didn't really matter, in the long run. Willow fairly left her mind, after losing her two best friends and Red's girlfriend vanished soon after; the ex-vengeance demon disappeared after the death of her boyfriend; the Watcher went back to England, never to return. Willow and Dawn were all who were left, so they'd moved to L.A., to take up with the other demon fighters. They'd managed to stick together at first, becoming close knit but when the End of Days struck, it hadn't been enough. The world as they knew it was torn asunder, the hell-gods and demons striding proudly through portal after portal, ripping humanity from the pillar it had long since set itself on.

They'd tried to fight back, their merry little gang of demon fighters, even broke Faith from jail so they'd have a Slayer at their side. It hadn't helped much, bought them some time, but that was it. She helped as she could, hell, they all had done what they could, trying to stem the tide but it was like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon.

He remembered the last battle that they'd fought together, when the Mohra demons swarmed, howling their rage at being thwarted so long. The word had gone out, destroy their crystals, you took out them, but with the horde that attacked, even that wasn't enough. There had been no end to the green-skinned mob. They'd kept coming and coming until finally, the last of the fighters ran, demons screaming behind. No time for subterfuge, no time for finesse, just run, run full out, don't mourn, don't fall, don't think of anything but escape, like a fox before the hounds.

And they were suddenly down to two, the fastest, the strongest, maybe the smartest though he wondered about that. They'd taken to the rooftops and almost flew through the night, trying to outrun their pursuers. Finally, it seemed they were safe, dropping into a hovel of a building that normally would be something even he would never enter, knowing he was likely to live forever. And they lay together in that warren, muscles twitching from overuse, lost in their own thoughts of how brave their friends had been, to go down fighting. Maybe, he never knew for sure, because just as he thought he could relax, the green-skinned warrior burst in on them, his sword coming down. He'd parried it reflexively, dodged out of the way, muscles screaming in protest. The Mohra lunged at his companion and he leaped on its back. It threw him off and came after him again.

"Duck!" he heard and obeyed, seeing out of the corner of his eye a nice piece of stone smacking the Mohra in the head. It screamed in rage and vanished and he levered himself up again, gathering up his own weapon and going to his companion.

"Thanks," he said and stopped in surprise.

He lay there on the littered floor, blood bubbling up from his mouth. A chunk of wood thrust through his chest, straining towards the sky that couldn't be seen from this hidden room. His eyes were open and tired.

"Welcome," he said, grinning in pain. Maybe it was a grimace. Time had the way of distorting his memories.

"Come on, let's get you off that thing, before you turn to dust." He'd reached down to haul the other up but he waved it away.

"It's time," he said. "My reason for fighting is over."

"You don't mean that."

"I do." He laughed, or sobbed. "She's gone, Spike."

"You don't mean it," he said, knowing, horrified, that Angel did.

He nodded. "Spike, do what you can. There're people out there who need you." And suddenly, he turned on the wooden stake and exploded with a howl, his dust raining down.

Spike remembered staring at the ash for a long time before he wandered away from L.A. After some time, a long time maybe, he wasn't quite sure, he hooked up with a group of fighters who tried to protect humans and sympathetic demons. It had taken them time to accept him but the werewolf, Sophie, and the holy man, Mato, won everyone around. And since he'd had more experience battling than they ever had, being only human, they finally elected him chief.

"And now that you're head of the troope, what are we going to call ourselves?" Sophie'd asked, her sharp-featured face cocked to one side. He almost wanted to scratch her behind the ears, but she was a pretty good hand with her own sword so he never did.

"Yeah, someone's gonna sing about us someday, it'd be good to have an actual name," Mato had agreed.

"The Scoobies," Spike had answered.

"Oh, that's inspiring," Sophie said, making a face.

"Way to strike fear into our enemies," Mato chimed in.

Spike said, "Let me tell you a story." And he did, about the vengeance demon and the pair of witches, about the Key and the street fighter, about the second Slayer and the two Watchers, about the seer and the karaoke singer and the genius, about the boy who grew up and the soldier and the werewolf who ran away. About two vampires and how they'd all carried on after the death of the girl they'd respected and some had loved, the girl who'd brought them together and welded them into a band such as no one would ever see again.

"If she'd lived," Spike had said, lost in the distance of time, "if she'd lived, we might not even be fighting this war. But she didn't, so we have to do it for her and for them. For the Scoobies."

And now, he knelt in front of the final stone, even more scarred than Harris' had been, jibes and jeers chiseled into the marble. With all the desecration, it could only be her stone. He pulled a heavy cord from around his neck, dragging a leather bag from where it had nestled against his chest for longer than he could remember. He opened it carefully, spreading the mouth of the pouch and spoke. "Slayer, Harris, Joyce; bet you didn't expect to see me ever again. Hell, I don't think I figured to ever find my way back here. Wanted to let you know we all fought, fought well at the end. Went down bad but I'm still kicking and taking names. And the Scoobies, my Scoobies, fight in your honor, I wanted you to know."

He tore some of the yellowed grass free, pawing a hole into the ground between Harris' and Buffy's graves. Plucking out a small coil of red threads, he held them up, the pre-dawn light igniting them. "Red was so brave. You would've both been so proud of her. She fought to protect Dawn like a tigress. When Dawn went down, it was like all the fight got pulled out of her." Spike glanced down at the hole and carefully set the coil of Willow's hair into it. "Dawn couldn't stay out of the battle. She had to fight, too. Angel'd been working with her since she and Red moved to L.A., and I followed 'em. Angel and Willow both tried to keep her safe, they did, Slayer. I did, too. None of us was fast enough and she went down before a sword. She took out her killer though, somehow managed to trip him up so he fell on his own weapon. Your little sis had guts, Slayer. Want you to know that." He fished out a small cross carefully, hissing as it pressed against his flesh. He lowered it into the hole and went on with his description of the battle.

"Faith fought with us, too. Don't know if you knew that, Slayer, but she was a good ally at the end. She loved Dawn too and she wished she'd had a chance to make up with you. She dreamed about your death," he gestured at the other stone, "and yours too, Harris, but she didn't know what to do. She wasn't afraid to die, none of us was. Last I saw of her alive, she was facing eight demons, cussing and smiling, with Gunn protecting her back and Fred between them. You never got to meet Gunn and Fred; they were Angel's Scoobs, along with Cordy and Wesley. They all died at that battle, them and this crazy singer, from another dimension." He placed a reminder of each in the hole and covered it over again. One last thing remained in the pouch, a small wad of fabric, tied tightly. Spike removed it, tossing it gently in his palm, then closing his fingers around it.

"Angel, too," he said, softly. "When his gang fell, with Willow and Dawn gone, Faith dead, he didn't see any reason to go on. But he saved me, so I could keep up the good fight. And I've been doing it too, in your names." He dug again, close to Buffy's headstone, dropping in the bundle of ashes into the dirt. He smoothed soil back into the hole, covering it over closely. "Been trying to make you proud," he said.

The air was warming around him, the light taking a rosy cast. Spike got to his feet abruptly, staring at the stone. "Now you're all together again."

"Who?" The voice didn't startle him, he knew one of them would track him down and had expected either the wolf or the holy man to do it.

"Old friends," Spike said, gesturing at the remains of the three stones. He pressed his fingertips to Buffy's and stepped back abruptly, joining the woman who waited for him.

"That's them?" Sophie asked, a little awe in her voice.

"That's them," Spike said. Pre-dawn lit the overgrown glade, making his skin itch. A part of him wanted to wait out the sun, to fall to ash here, with the people who'd influenced him so much. He wondered suddenly where Rupert Giles was and Red's wolf, and if they were still alive. He wondered if they knew about this little sanctuary, amidst the hell that the world had come to be. Squaring his shoulders, he took another step back and spun on his heel, starting the journey back to the remains of the mansion. Sophie trailed behind him, a little reluctant to leave the legends behind. Let her stay, the sun wouldn't be the death of her.

Spike hesitated at the entrance of the cemetery. If he closed his eyes, the morning breeze seemed to carry with it a joyous cry of welcome, of old friends greeting one another again. But that was just a fancy of his, not real. Just like that faint sweet scent of the Slayer lingered in his memory and not on the air and the cool hand that pressed his shoulder in thanks couldn't be Angel's.

He shook it off, hearing Sophie's familiar patter as she trotted up behind him. "Where to, chief?" she asked.

"Anywhere but here," Spike said. They took off for the mansion and its cover from the morning sun and Spike thought, he'd have to tell them, Mato and Sophie, if anything happened to him, to bring him back here.

When he died the true death, he wanted to be among friends. Family. He wanted to come home.