Author's Note: This story follows the TV show from Season five's The Gift to Season six's After Life. After that, I'll take off in my own direction, so don't be fooled by the first few chapters. This will be a novel length story. I hope you enjoy and I appreciate all reviews

Disclaimer: These characters are made by Joss Whedon. I do not own them.

Chapter 1: The Gift

They were stuck. Buffy was away somewhere battling Glory, and they were stuck.

Spike let out a feral growl against his teeth, glancing up at the jagged, crooked tower that loomed over them, setting the scene for this nightmare. Niblet was up there. His faced struggled as the demon in him felt his anger and frustration, but he kept his composure. He would not risk the slightest distraction from his task. His eyes closed for a brief second remembering what Buffy had asked of him.

"I'm counting on you to protect her."

He knew where he stood: nothing but a soulless, fangless vampire. But, god what he would do for her…. She would never love him, he knew that. But she trusted him. And now that he finally had it, he was not about to let her down.

But when he opened his eyes, he found himself in the same predicament. Trapped.

"Has anyone else noticed that we're going backwards?" Anya shouted above the sounds of the horde that had caused them to be in this very situation.

Spike glanced from the cover that he had taken along with Anya and Giles only to be smacked square in the face with a brick. Ducking back down, he replied with an annoyed grimace, "It's crossed my mind."

"As long as ... Buffy can keep Glory down ... long enough, it doesn't matter." Giles panted, recovering for the moment. He glanced up at the towering structure that laid before them. "There's only a few minutes left to start the ritual."

Anxiously baring his teeth, Spike let out an impatient snarl. Waiting was most definitely not his style. He needed to do something, anything! But every time he made the slightest motion to go forward, he found himself, "Trapped!" he muttered silently, finally voicing the thought that had been echoing in his mind.

Just as he was about to punch his cover box in frustration, he heard Xander come up to join them. Knowing the ponce would most likely have nothing to share, he set his sights back up on the tower were Dawn was being held. It was then he noticed that someone had joined Dawn at the very top. His body froze as dread glued him to where he stood.

"Someone's up there!" Spike spoke, not even paying attention to what they said in reply. His eyes peered back and forth between the scene in front of him to the scene above him. He saw no opening anywhere, but regardless of this fact, his body tensed up as he began to prepare himself for a charge when suddenly he heard Red's voice.

"Spike." His eyes widened. He gave only the slightest moment of appreciation of Willow's magic skill and went straight back to focusing on what she was saying. "Can you hear me?"

"Yeah. Loud and clear." The other looked at him bewildered .

"Is someone up there with Dawn?

"Yeah, can't tell who," Spike replied grimly.

"Are you talking to us?" Xander cut in, but Spike ignored him pointedly, concentrating on Red.

"Get up there. Go now." Willow's voice resonated.

Spike looked uncertainly at the scene that lay before him. There were a hefty set of minions ready to gladly fight to the death and crazies with an unpredictable lack of control. "Yeah, but-"

"Go!"

Finding that her voice gave him all the reason that he was looking for, Spike got up and charged forward. His eyes were set on the goal that was set before him, which at the moment, was to get to the tower stairs. He barely noticed the hordes being pushed aside by an invisible source, courtesy of Tara and Willow.

He finally had the opening and opportunity he was looking for. He charged forward encompassed with a new sense of power and purpose. The demon inside of him growled in pleasure for the opportunity to finally fight and be free from his confinement. It growled and leapt at every opportunity to fight a minion that found himself in Spike's path. But Spike himself barely took notice of what his body was doing, and only concentrated on one thing.

"I'm counting on you… to protect her."

And he would.

"Spike!" Dawn cried out in a relieved and desperate dry sob. He finally had reached the top, taking an unnecessary breath of air as he came face to face with the walking dead, or so it would seem.

"Doesn't a fella stay dead when you kill him?" He cocked off as he came in contact with the Doctor.

"Look who's talking," the Doctor stated with a smile.

It was then that Spike looked at Dawn for the first time. Although relieved to find her unharmed just scared witless, he did not relax. He focused back on the Doctor, this time, noticing the knife in his hand. His clenched his fists. "Come on Doc. Let's you and I have a go," he stated with a jeer.

The Doctor tapped his knife, "I have… a prior appointment."

His eyes narrowed, "This won't take long."

The sick Doctor only grinned, "No, I don't imagine it will."

Enraged, Spike let his inner demon loose. He lunged forward, ready to switch to game face and kill this piece of dirt that was blocking him from his task that Buffy had given him. But during this vital moment, as Spike's emotions raged in a hot anger, the Doctor's cool, detached manner had the upper hand. He used Spikes barreling motion, and sidestepped around it, grabbing Spikes neck as he rushed past. Spike barely had the time to realize his dilemma before the Doctor plunged his knife into Spike's back.

He barely heard Dawn's gasp over his own intake of air. Damn it! He pulled himself away from the knife and only gave the slightest groan of pain as he placed himself between Dawn and the Doctor.

"You don't come near the girl, Doc," Spike threatened as he tried to ignore the pain that was radiating from his back. He faced the Doc square and straight as he pushed past the knife wound and the resulting blood loss that had made his body exponentially weaker.

The Doctor looked pleasantly confused, "I don't smell a soul anywhere on you. Why do you even care?"

Spike didn't even hesitate, "I made a promise to a lady." His eyes narrowed, and that's all I need, he finished mentally.

"Oh?" the Doc commented as if they were engaged in small talk. But his actions finally deceived his tone and mannerism as his mouth opened to reveal his long and disgusting snake of a tongue. As it shot toward Spike, he desperately lunged away. For the first time in a long time Spike felt panic that started in the pit of his stomach that rose to the top of his chest as the Doctor's tongue wrapped around his legs and pulled him forward. He struggled with every ounce of his remaining energy and then some. But he was unable to escape the Doctor's grasp. He could only look at Dawn. His little Niblet. He felt bile rising in his throat in sick horror "Then I'll send the lady your regrets."

Spike had only a moment to whisper, "No!" as he kept his eyes on Dawn, her face mirroring the very pain and fear that Spike felt at that exact moment. As he felt his feet leave the ground, Spike heard her desperate cry break in out in a voice he had never heard from her before. And it was her voice and her anguish that was in his head when his body finally made contact with the ground below.


God I hope I'm not too late.

This was the thought in Buffy's mind as she stood up straight, breathing heavily as she finally found herself able to drop the Troll God's Hammer. Ben, who had been Glory only moment before, was looking up at her with fear and confusion. Yes, it would be safer to kill him, but at the moment, she didn't trust herself to make a decision. Her mind was elsewhere. More specifically, her sister, or the key, or whatever you wanted to call her these days. But she meant everything to Buffy, and right now, that was all she could think of. So before ever letting herself second guess her decision, she left Ben and headed straight for the tower where Dawn was sure to be.

She rushed into the horde of madness. She briefly saw Willow and Tara standing hand in hand making motions here and there to help aid the remaining Scooby Gang. As soon as they saw her making way forward, they're faces gave similar determined, tight smiles only to snap a look back to the crowd in front of her as the minions and crazies careened out of her way, giving her a clear path to the tower. Even though she was grateful for their help and happy to see Tara back to herself, Buffy still paid them no attention as her mind was still focused on one person. Dawn.

As she made her way up the tower that had to be the most structurally unsound building she had ever set foot on, she whirled around each staircase loop, finding the path relatively clear, which surprised her. She expected to find at least a baker's dozen worth blocking her from their precious key, but she barely registered it as she willed her legs to move faster than humanly (or slayery) possible. As she reached to the top ladder that would bring her to the platform where Dawn was at, she heard her sister's cries. When she finally climbed the last ladder rung, her sister caught sight of her. Buffy saw the figure in front of her sister, but more importantly, she caught a glint of silver speckled with dark, crimson spots. A knife, Buffy thought in horror, with my sister's blood.

"Buffy!" Dawn cried with pain. The Doctor turned around, and advance toward her.

Buffy, paying no attention to the demon in front of her or to what he was saying simply shoved the Doctor out her way off the platform, sending him to his death. Not taking the time to bask in the satisfaction of killing the monster that dare harm her sister, she went straight to Dawn.

"Here," she motioned to her sister, eager to separate her from the bounds that had kept her in place.

"Buffy, it hurts!" Dawn gasped. Buffy examined her carefully and finally found her gaze at her feet. There was blood. And lots of it. She felt something akin to horror when she saw it, but she grabbed frantically on to a small strand of hope; she didn't see a portal that looked anything like Hell being unleashed on Earth. With that in mind, she tried to calm both herself and Dawnie as she said "I got it. Come here. You're gonna be okay." She tried desperately to get the wounded, limping Dawn moving, "Go!" Buffy cried out desperately.

But Dawn was looking at something behind them both. "Buffy, it's started."

Buffy turned, setting her eyes unwillingly on the light that shone before them. It had only taken a second, but the portal had been opened. Its lights slowly grew and began to crackle with obscenely high levels of magics. She could only gaze in horror to the scene in front of her. The wide expansion of pure energy was growing more violent as time went on, sending rays haphazardly in every sort of direction. She could hear and feel the ground below shake and groan under this new element that had entered the atmosphere. She could hear people screaming off in the distance. She could feel the weight of the enormity of the situation of her shoulders. But what she focused on most was one thought.

She had been too late.

She slowly turned back to Dawn who was crying as if the whole thing were her fault, "I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter." That wasn't good enough for Dawn, she tried to tear past Buffy. Her eyes went wide as she grabbed Dawn, "What are you doing?"

"I have to jump. The energy," Dawn motioned to the destruction that was set in front of them.

No! Buffy screamed in her mind, "It'll kill you!"

"I know," Dawn softly said, barely looking at Buffy as she said it, "Buffy, I know about the ritual. I have to stop it."

Buffy refused to listen, "No." The earth gave another groan as the portal sent another crackle of energy toward the ground.

"I have to!" Dawn insisted, "Look at what's happening… Buffy, you have to let me go. Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop." Buffy could only look at her sister, at a loss. The amount of love she felt for her sister at this moment was incomparable. The fact that she would give her own life… to save… but Buffy shook her mind free of that thought. She had vowed to protect Dawn from that fate no matter what. Even if it means protecting her from making the choice on her own. But how else could they stop it? She looked back with an anguished look to Dawn, "You know you have to let me." Dawn sobbed softly. "It has to have the blood."

The blood? Why is she saying it like that? Buffy thought despairingly. It is her blood, our blood! Her mind rang out. And then she stopped.

Our blood.

Her mind began to race over everything that had happened and all that she had learned this year. The monks had made Dawn from her; she was a part of her. If Dawn's blood could stop the apocalypse, then why not hers? Her mind was just beginning to wrap around this idea when she came back to what the first slayer had told her.

Death is your gift.

The sun had finally come out, being only minutes late from preventing the portals opening. Buffy should have been angry, but all she could do was smile. It all finally made sense, and her body and face mirrored this new sense of knowledge. A new resolution began flooding Buffy's very being. She knew what she had to do. She didn't want to put the thought into words, but all she could think was that she would take Dawn's place. And when she looked at her sister, Dawn could see her plan in her eyes.

"Buffy…" she said, her eyes full of terror, "no!"

"Dawnie I have to."

"No!"

Buffy closed her eyes for a brief moment. What do you say to someone at the end? God, there was so much. "Listen to me." Dawn shook her head, tears flying off her face in the process. "Please," Buffy pleaded gently, "there's not a lot of time, listen."

She placed her hands tenderly on Dawns arms and drew a breath inward to calm herself. Her chest felt an energy similar to what she had felt when she had found out she was the Slayer, when she had discovered her mother dead, and when she realized that Dawn had been kidnapped. It was similar to all of that nervous, high energy with one distinction; she was in control. She was able to make this decision so she might spare her sister. Knowing this, Buffy exhaled slowly and was able to find the words.

"I love you. I will always love you." She gave Dawn a gentle smile, "But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles...," Buffy paused. There were so many things to say to her watcher and surrogate father, but she had to be succinct, "tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay." She bit her lip softly she thought of all the people she owed a final word to… her best friends, Willow and Xander… Anya and Tara too, and even Spike, who had helped them despite their tense relationsh—well, whatever you wanted to call it. Angel, her first love… and it would seem her last. Even Riley flitted in there, but she shook away the images of those nearest and dearest to her, and simply said, "And give my love to my friends. I have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other." Dawn looked down, her sobbing increasing, but just as Buffy was about to raise her hand to Dawn's chin, she raised her face to continue to hear her sister's last words. "You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me."

No longer able to keep her at arm's distance, Buffy drew her in her arms and held tight as she could without hurting her in her delicate condition and placing a kiss softly on her cheek. She was so proud to have such a wonderful young woman for a sister. And Buffy, although afraid of what would happen, could not think of a better way to go then protecting the person she loved most in this world.

With that thought in her mind, Buffy whirled around and sprinted toward the edge of the ledge so Dawn would not have the opportunity to stop her. With every step she took, she felt her resolve not growing weaker, but stronger, as if she was not alone in this, like something, or someone was helping her every step of the way. And as she leapt off the platform she looked directly ahead, the energy she had been holding inside of her left her chest and all that was left was her.

For a moment, everything was quiet.

Her life did not flash before her. She simply closed her eyes as she fell toward the Earth. She found herself sinking into a surreal calm with the assurance that everything would be alright. This was all she knew and felt when she hit the portal. She was…

Gone.


Spike opened his eyes slowly. He had not blacked out, but he was unable to function. He had fallen God knows how many feet after all. He tried to pull himself together. Buffy was counting on him to protect Dawn. He had no right to spend his time trying to recuperate. But try has he might, his body refused to do what his mind wanted. He could only move in slow, half motions.

Suddenly, a bright light began to shine over him. He struggled with his duster as he tried to pull it over his head thinking it was the sun, but he stopped when he caught a glance of what was happening above him.

The portal had been opened. The portal had been opened and he had been unable to stop it.

Spike clenched his teeth together and shouted out in frustration. It was then the Earth started to shake under him and finally, cracked underneath the stress of the portal. As he rolled himself away from it, he struggled to rise to his feet, but he kept collapsing upon himself. He was pretty sure that the majority of his limbs were broken or fractured in some sort, but as far as he was concerned, if he was alive, it was his duty to help Buffy protect Dawn from those who would undoubtedly try to kill her to stop the portal. He was prepared to face an eternity of hell on Earth, as long as it was what Buffy wanted in order to keep Dawn safe.

He glanced at the scene around him. The hordes had all scattered and disappeared by this point so at least he didn't have to worry any hassle from them. Slowly, by gripping on a random piece of debris, he was able to rise to his feet, if only by pure will. He slowly began to limp his way to the tower stair entrance. Each step took an enormous amount of effort and a painful amount of time. He was only halfway there, when suddenly the portal stopped and the Earth promptly deceased its shaking.

For a moment, everything was quiet. The evaporated portal seemed to have vacuumed up ever sound and every movement with it. It was as though the powers to be themselves hit a giant mystical pause button so they could catch their breath for what would happen next. Spike found himself frozen, not with dread and not with fright. Just… frozen. Waiting for a sign to move forward.

And then his cue came. In the form of a loud and sickening crunch.

It was that sound that fast forwarded him back to the current situation. It was a crunch, that was all too familiar to Spike, for it was the same sound he made when he had fallen from the tower.

No longer able to feel his injuries, Spike could only move toward the spot where he heard the sound. The panic he had felt minutes before, returned in full force as he rushed to the presumed crash site "No, no… not Dawn! No!' He kept saying to himself, keeping his emotions at bay until he could see with his own eyes.

As he rounded the corner he saw the Scoobies standing in shock. "No!" he breathed desperately once again. He moved quickly forward, but he was soon hit by the sun's rays. His body forced him to duck away to avoid sure incineration, but he wouldn't allow any further delays, no more pauses. He forced his eyes upon the crash site.

And then he saw her.

Buffy.

He did nothing but stare in shock. This can't be right. This is wrong, no, No, NO! he kept thinking to himself over and over. He somehow heard a sound above him, and saw Dawn walking down the stairs, her skin blood and tear streaked as she too focused her attention at the body that once held Buffy. He slowly moved his face to her broken body once again. His beloved Buffy. His body finally collapsed as his head fell into his hands, sobbing. His Buffy… now….

Gone.

And he had failed her.