"Everyone out!" Miss Chalmers was shouting, Willow and Tara on either side of her, urging students through the tiny exit. They'd started with the smallest children, the ones who could fit past the ragged hole in the barrier with little trouble, but now it was getting more difficult, and each student escaped was a battle. "To the front! Move to the front!"

Potentials were fighting back the mob, breaking off to race to the exit when they could, and only the actual slayer, the teachers, and a lone few remained to protect the others' escapes. And naturally, Faith, who'd been torn apart by more than a few vampires already, was still hard at work, bloody and damaged and laughing with sheer exhilaration. Xander grabbed her, pulling her to him. "Come on! We need to go!"

"I'm not leaving yet!" Faith kneed the closest vampire in the crotch, throwing him down when he recoiled and jabbing her stake into his heart. "I've got a war to win!"

"We're not going to win!" They were deep in the midst of the vampire mob, and as many vampires as the slayers had beaten down, triple that amount remained. They were like raging beasts, powerful and dangerous and unbeatable, and too many students had fallen already for this battle to ever be considered a victory. "Faith, come here!"

"You go, then," Faith said stubbornly. "I'm staying here."

"Faith…" His voice cracked, and she turned to look at him with sudden concern. "Please. I can't lose you."

She stopped, her face softening. "Xander…"

"Go, both of you," Gunn barked out, giving Faith a shove. "We've got this."

"But…" In front of them, a vampire slammed the slayer against the wall headfirst. She jumped back up, blinking blood out of her eyes and attacking again.

Faith moved to her, but Xander seized her again. "Faith!" He slammed a stake into the closest vampire, missing the heart completely, but the vampire reeled to the side and cleared a path to the exit for them. "Now!"

She followed him to where Willow was struggling with one of the younger boys, trying to shove him out through the barrier. "Will, Faith!" Xander ordered, pushing her forward.

With one last push, the boy was out and Faith was moved to the front of the line. She turned to look at him. "What about you?" she demanded. "When are you coming through?"

"Soon," Willow said, businesslike. "He's a guy, and he's not injured. They're at the end of the line." She turned away from Faith to toss a remorseful gaze at Xander.

They'd lied, of course. The tear in the barrier wasn't stretchable. The people still waiting to leave, the ones who were broader or larger than the hole were the ones who weren't going to make it through.

But Faith didn't have to know that Xander wasn't getting out.

"It was entertaining at first," Angelus mused, kicking Buffy in the gut. "Spike had found himself a pet potential. He wouldn't be the first, you know." Buffy struggled to stand up, and Angelus gave her another kick. "I've never seen a vampire with more of a sire complex. Wants to be just like his old daddy." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "I was flattered at first. Who wouldn't be? And Darla was so chuffed at the idea of Spike with a plaything instead of me. That woman hates to be ignored, am I right?"

Drusilla giggled maniacally from behind him. Buffy gritted her teeth. "Do you ever shut up?" She scissored her legs around one of his feet and twisted, sending him flying.

He landed against the back wall of his cage, the smirk still fixed on his face. "Well, that's just adorable. You're actually as vicious as Spike always claimed!" He shrugged carelessly. "Now, as I was saying, I was all for it at first. But you know Spike. There's not a plan on earth that he can't botch. I probably should have guessed it." Buffy stalked toward him, fists at the ready. "He went and fell in love with you!"

"Ohh..." Dru moaned, swaying from side to side. "My Spike's gone and left me forever."

"Got that right." Buffy stood over Angelus threateningly. "Say goodbye to your sire, too."

Angelus laughed delightedly. "I can see what Spike sees in you!" He rose swiftly, slamming a fist at Buffy's skull. She ducked just in time, leveling a series of kicks at him. "Bet you like to be on top," he leered, reeling backward. "It must be fun for Spike. Dru's the kind of girl you have to pin down and force."

"Oh, yes!" Dru squealed, clapping her hands. "Daddy wants to play!"

"Not right now, Dru," Angelus said patiently, exchanging a flurry of blows with Buffy. "Right now, I want you to go upstairs, find Faith, and tear out her throat."

"I shall paint a picture on my face with her blood," Dru said happily, and Buffy lunged at her.

A strong hand held her back. "Ah-ah-ah," Angelus cautioned. "This is Dru's party. And weren't you trying to save someone else?"

Buffy delivered a sharp slice down his wrist, making him drop her hand. "Spike can take care of himself."

Angelus's eyes glinted with malice. "I wasn't talking about Spike," he murmured silkily, and raised her by the throat and thrust her against the wall.

Jenny Calendar crept into Ethan's lab, eyeing the potion on the counter warily. It hadn't been hard to move past the commotion near the entrance and make it here, but now that she'd gotten there, she was uncertain what to do. She'd imagined a confrontation with Ethan, a showdown of magical attacks between dark and light, and she would emerge as victor or die trying.

But Giles had been wrong. Ethan had left the Academy once the seeds of chaos had been sown, and now they had no way of breaking the barrier, not when the only witch to shatter bits of it had lost the ability with the action. Willow had encountered a wall on her second attempt, tall and dark and completely impenetrable, and now their only hope lay in finding Ethan. And they were running out of time. Even as she'd slipped through the halls, bits of the ceiling were falling as the levels above them collapsed, and fire was beginning to spread on the first floor from the burning chunks of ruined construction.

"Oh, you must see the poetic justice here," came the silky voice, and Jenny stiffened. "You're all trapped in here at the whims of the vampires, with no choice but to fight or be killed. It's lovely, really."

"Ethan," she hissed, her hands raised for an attack.

He spread his palm, letting lazy dark tendrils emerge from it and hold Jenny in place. "Now, that's just rude," he said disapprovingly, moving over to her to pat her on the head. "Here you are trespassing on my laboratory, and you attempt to attack me!"

"Oh geez, you're right!" Jenny gave him her most apologetic face. "I'm just a terrible person." Her arms strained against the ropes of magic holding her.

"Aren't you naughty?" Ethan purred, moving to stand behind her so he could whisper into her ear. "Those ropes won't break. And now I can do whatever I want to you." He drew out each word with slow precision.

Jenny shuddered. "Oh, no! You're not going to do your sexy-dance, are you? Because I've seen that thing, and believe me, you wouldn't even subject yourself to it," she said glibly, fighting to restrain the raw terror that was building within her. Ethan was nothing if not unpredictable, and being trapped and at his mercy was the single most frightening experience she'd ever had. And as her head was suddenly rained on by falling debris, she realized that she had very, very little time left, Ethan or regardless.

Ethan laughed gaily. "You are so very American. So vulgar...it's quite endearing." Cold, thin hands ghosted over the side of her neck. "What ever shall I do with you, Jenny?"

She didn't give him the satisfaction of flinching. "Why'd you do it, Ethan? Don't tell me that getting suspended drove you off the deep end."

He sniffed. "Hardly. I'm far from dissatisfied with my situation. You know Rupert- he takes care of his loved ones. I'm still receiving full benefits without having to cope with a slew of dim-witted watchers-in-training pretending to be Harry Potter." He cupped her face in his hands, gazing at her. "No, I've been watching these vampires for a while now. It's been a source of great amusement, actually." He shrugged carelessly. "Did you know that one of the master vampires has had several students in his thrall over the past two years? He nearly even managed to turn one of them." He considered. "Though I suppose she never would have gotten that far if I hadn't taught her how to take the barrier down."

She shook her head, not comprehending. "Why?"

He smirked. "Because it amuses me."

She spat in his face. "You're twisted."

Ethan swiped the globule of saliva from where it was dripping down his nose and inspected it with interest. "Well, yes," he said mildly. "Haven't you noticed yet?"

She took a deep breath. "Take down the barrier. You've had your fun, now let your helpless pawns live."

Ethan shook his head, smiling. "Ah, but I promised Angelus a massacre."

"To hell with that," Jenny snapped. "Giles is counting on you. Your best friend...and he, and everyone he loves, will be brutally murdered. Don't you care about him?" she demanded. "Don't you care about anyone?"

Ethan licked his lips. "I know one charming little American I might let live," he murmured, his mouth inches from hers. "If she asks...properly."

Jenny closed her eyes, her shoulders sagging in defeat. "Do it," she whispered. "Please, just do it."

"Gladly," Ethan said with equanimity, and immediately fell backward, his eyes bulging in pain and stunned at the realization that she hadn't been talking to him.

"R-Rupert?" he stuttered, twisting to face the other man. The dagger that Giles had embedded in his back had hit its mark with all the precision of a watcher trained to find a vampire's heart. "But..."

"You said it yourself, Ethan," Giles said coolly. "I take care of my loved ones." Ethan fell to the ground, his face forever trapped in an expression of shock. Giles glared down at him with grim satisfaction. "And there's no one I love more than my students."

The ropes of dark magic dissipated, and Jenny stretched gladly, moving to stand with Giles. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not." But he was still staring at the corpse of his best friend, his expression unfathomable.

She tugged on his arm. "Come on. The barrier should have fallen, and I'm sure Anya's gotten the Council here by now. We have work to do."

He gave her a brief smile. "You made a wonderful diversion."

"I always do," she said before she could stop herself, and gave him a sheepish smile. "Nah, don't listen to me. It's been said that I'm occasionally inappropriate."

"I heard," and another smile crept across his lips. "You're American."

She batted at his arm playfully and they left with haste, leaving the man behind them to be swallowed up by flames as the ceiling fell in.

"Sometimes I really did wonder if he was playing you," Angelus remembered. "Darla was sure of it, but Darla always had a soft spot for Spike. Well, ever since we moved in here, anyway." His eyes gleamed with triumph. "Understandable, though. Spend long enough with that boy, and you'll eventually end up fucking the family whore."

"You're lying," Buffy choked out, kicking him in the stomach and breaking out of his grasp. "You're just trying to make me hate him."

"No, you're trying to create a white knight where none exists," Angelus informed her, dodging her forward attack and slapping her across the face hard enough to snap her neck backwards. She crashed her head against his gut, satisfying herself with the "oof!" he let out at the contact. "What do you think happens all night when we're lying around, nothing to do until morning?" he demanded, smashing her head against the wall. "We talk about our feelings?"

"I can just imagine it now," she croaked, tossing a flurry of punches at him. "'Oh, Darla, Dru, I'm so depressed. I'm such a sad, pathetic guy that I need to thrall a sixteen-year-old girl to sleep with me. And she even resisted the thrall because the idea was so repulsive. Oh, yeah, and if we're talking about inadequate, I was beaten by a sixteen-year-old boy who isn't even trained with a crossbow. What should I do?'" She narrowed her eyes at him. "'Maybe talk a lot, since that's pretty much all I'm good at!'" A kick connected, and Angelus was thrown back a few feet.

He laughed coldly, charging forward again, ignoring her blows and backing her against the wall threateningly. "So petulant, little Buffy. Were you hoping to distract me with petty taunts?" He sneered at her, his nose inches from hers. "This isn't the schoolyard we're playing at anymore. It's your life."

He smacked her again, and she saw stars.

"The barrier's down!" Giles and Miss Calendar came tearing around the corner, and Xander couldn't help but grin at the way Giles was huffing and puffing. Principal of the Academy might give him some cool points in his book, but in the end, Giles really was just an aging man. "Everyone out! Now!"

"It isn't light yet," the slayer argued. "I'm not letting these vamps out of the school!"

"We'll put up barriers."

"They haven't worked until now!" She dodged a glancing blow from a particularly large vampire. "Go, Giles. Take everyone out. I'll hold back the vamps."

"But that's suicide!" Xander blurted out, flushing when all the teachers turned to stare at him.

"In every generation there is a slayer," the slayer intoned, and the last few remaining potentials holding off the vampires recited with her. "She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of evil." She spun around, stakes in each of her hands, and caught two vampires hurtling toward her. "She is the slayer." She turned pleading eyes to Giles. "Please, Giles. Let me do what I was meant for."

"Narra..." Giles began, and Xander realized with surprise that he hadn't even remembered the name of the girl who was about to save all their lives. "I can't..."

"Don't tell me that," Narra said quietly. "You took me from my home, you brought me to your school, then you sent me away to face danger every night. All for one purpose. Don't you- don't you dare take that purpose away from me!"

There was a silence marked only by the shouts and howls and thumps of battle and the vampires' confident taunts. And when Giles finally spoke, it was with great heaviness in his voice. "Let's go. Everyone. We'll leave this to Nar- to the slayer."

The potentials moved from the fight reluctantly, but Xander could see the relief on their faces. They didn't want to die, not yet. Not like Narra did.

He watched her fight, saw the determination and hopelessness combined on her face, and he envied the people who could die for a cause like that. And his eyes landed on one more dead body on the ground, and for a moment, he let go of his grief and let himself take pride in Jesse's sacrifice.

"Xander Harris, why are you still here?" It was Giles, his eyes soft beneath his glasses, and Xander noticed with a start that they were the last ones remaining.

He gave Giles a lopsided smile rife with meaning. "You know me," he pointed out. "I have a lot of trouble letting go of this place."

Giles's eyes crinkled in a sad smile, and he put a hand around Xander's shoulders and they walked out together.

There were four large busses parked in front of the school, but most of the students still stood outside, gaping at the slow destruction of their home as it lit up the night sky. The building was sinking within itself, bending and folding into the center and piling on top of other levels…utterly unsalvageable. And for a moment, Xander wanted to cry.

Cordelia came running to him, her eyes dark and annoyed. "Where's Jesse? I thought he was with you." Her lip trembled, the irritated façade dropped in a matter of seconds. "Why won't anyone tell me where he is?"

And then he really did weep.

Narra fought.

And on it went, and on it lasted, even as the school itself was staggering under the weight of seven floors of burnt construction, even as fire rained from the sky and her face was showered with blackened ash. On the enemy surged, and on she continued her defense, her only weapon a stake glowing with fallen embers.

She swung and released a thousand times, rarely hitting her mark precisely, not when she could barely see through bloodied eyes. But dust still filled the air and vampires still attacked their threat, blind with fifty years of rage and hatred, and the slayer fought on.

And on.

And on.

"I'm pretty sure we've talked about this before," Angelus said casually, squeezing her neck a hair too tightly for her to breathe. "And I kinda like the idea of my cock in your mouth, but knowing you, I'd probably get it bitten off." He made a face. "How about it? Up for some time with the only guy who's ever been with your boy?" He ground against her, leaving no illusions that he wasn't 'up for it'".

She sneered at him. "Yeah, let's do that! Or maybe..." He'd made a fatal mistake, getting so close, and she stomped down on his instep with savage might.

He howled, and she jumped on him again, fists pounding on his face with vicious blows. "You don't touch me!" she growled. "You don't touch Faith! And you sure as hell don't touch Spike!" She slammed the heel of her hand into his mouth, and he vamped instinctively, fangs slicing into a palm still red and raw from crawling through boiling-hot vents.

She cried out in agony, pulling her hand desperately, but he'd already sensed her defeat and rolled her over, pinning her to the ground. "Having fun?" he snarled, trapping both her hands under one of his own and cupping her cheek with the other. "Frankly, I'm disappointed. I thought you'd be more entertaining than this, but you're a spitfire. And not nearly interesting enough to...make docile." He leered at her. "I prefer the innocent ones, anyway. And you stink of dried Spike spunk."

"Go to hell," she spat.

"Maybe later," he said amiably. "Right now, I've got a potential to finish off."

His grip tightened on her chin and he regarded her with curiosity. She strained with her legs, her arms, her head, but Angelus was being careful now, and all she could do was push with futile motions.

He bent to lick a trail down her neck, and she stiffened. "Bet you'd taste perfect," he murmured. "All fire and fury and sheer terror in your blood. I could take you now, kicking and screaming and begging for mercy- but you don't beg, do you?" He turned an amused expression to her. "You'd make useless threats or just stay silent, determined not to give me the satisfaction of knowing you've given up."

She was frozen, the reality of her death hitting her. This wasn't Angelus taunting her from behind bars. He was here, unfettered, free to kill her, and no one would know. No one was going to save her.

And then it hit her.

At first, she mistook it for a surge of adrenaline, brought on by her approaching death. But it couldn't be, not when it didn't leave her heart pounding, when instead it filled her with a quiet confidence that warmed her. It was...

Power. Power like she'd never felt before, a strength that spread through her and loaned itself to great things, things she'd never known before; and yet, they all felt familiar, the essence of power old and strong and utterly female. There was nothing truly magical about it, not the sort of magic that the witches practiced, but it felt otherworldly in origin and use, and as Buffy lay still, contemplating her death, it became a part of who she was, and her identity transformed.

It was...it had to be...slayer.

She knew it as surely as she knew night from day, and she accepted the strength because it was now as much a part of her as her brain and lungs and heart. An age-old saga of girls and destiny, a mission until death that would last on beyond. The beginning and end of her existence, the very purpose of her life. She wasn't just a girl with potential anymore, just a blip on the great scheme of chances lost and passed by. She was slayer.

And it was time to fight back.

Angelus's hand on hers was strong, but nothing compared to the power she'd just received, and she threw him off her with newfound force. "Hiya," she said, flashing him a grin. "Wanna fight for real now?"

For the first time ever, Angelus was at a loss for words.

She shrugged. "Well, fine, and I was looking forward to using my witty repertoire. Guess you're not going to play with me."

She did a back flip- and lord, was she fast!- and landed right in front of him, sending a flurry of blows at Angelus. She miscalculated, underestimated her first punch and watched with glee as the blow didn't just make him fall back, but actually sent him flying across the room.

"It's good to be strong!" she said, laughing. After years of fighting creatures far stronger than she and besting them, going up against an equally matched opponent was a breeze. And she'd spent the past few years training for eventual slayerhood while Angelus languished in a cage, muscles atrophying from lack of use. It was no wonder that Narra had beaten even Spike, with this kind of power!

A shadow crossed her face at the thought of Narra, whose death was undoubtedly the source of Buffy's newfound powers.I'll use them well, she vowed. And I'm going to start by kicking some vampire ass.

Angelus was back up, his eyes dark and moody as he made a strategic retreat, and she shot toward him, knocking him off his feet with practiced moves. "Really? You were just going to leave our dance like that?" she demanded, mock-hurt.

He stared blankly at her. "Dance?"

She pouted. "Oh, now you've outlived your entertainment value." She swung at him again, enjoying the sheer ease with which her power came. She'd complained about the exercises Gunn had made them go through years ago, exercises clearly meant for individuals far stronger than the potentials, but now she was grateful for the way they made it so much easier to fight in a dramatically more powerful body. Not that she could imagine ever having trouble with a body this strong, not when even a miscalculation could be lethal for her opponents. She was born for this.

She had Angelus woozy and bloody beneath her when she realized she had no stake, no way of killing him. "Damn Gunn, confiscating my lighter," she grumbled, fisting a hand in his hair and slamming it against hard stone. How to kill, how to kill, how to kill…? Stake, fire, holy water...decapitation? She wrinkled her nose with distaste.

Angelus, sensing her distraction, sent a weakened blow at her face, just enough force behind it to make it hurt, giving Potential-Buffy a headache and temporarily dazing her. Slayer-Buffy barely batted an eyelash.

She scrunched her eyes shut, grabbing hold of his head with one hand and his shoulder with the other; and as he rained ineffectual blows on her body, she reached out and pulled with all her might.

"Slayer?" Angelus whispered, and for the first time she could remember, there was fear in her voice.

And very suddenly, her arms were apart and Angelus's horrorstruck face was staring at her from one hand. She dropped it with disgust, watching as it burst into dust beneath her.

Finally, Angelus was no more.

She took a deep breath, staring down blankly at the vampire who had terrorized her and her friends for so long. There he was, dust. Just like Robin. Just like any other vampire would eventually become, in her hands.

With one exception, of course.

She turned the corner, wondering at all the unbarred cells around her. What had happened? Where were all the vampires?Wherever Narra was, she reminded herself glumly. I hope everyone else is okay. Had Faith made it out before Dru had come for her? Was the school still on fire? She shivered. Was she the only potential left?

She pushed her doubts from her mind and headed for the door to Spike's room, quickening her pace as she did until she was running full-tilt at it, slamming into the metal door and bending it inward. She heard an answering bang as Spike did the same, and it took several more attacks before the door was finally misshapen enough for Spike to climb over the bent top and run to her.

"What happened to you?" he demanded, running light fingers along the bruises on her face. "Where is he? I'll kill him!"

"Beat you to it," she said, almost shyly, and Spike turned to look at her in wonder.

"You managed to- Something's different about you," he said slowly, his eyes taking her in searchingly. "Buffy...slayer?"

She nodded. "Seems like it."

"Oh." He kissed her tightly to him, hands roving along her back, cooling her heated skin.

"You gonna kill me now?" she asked half-jokingly. In some ways, the savage Spike she'd read so much about was still a mystery to her, one whose moves she couldn't quite predict.

He considered it seriously. "Nah."

"You sure? It would probably, like, send your rep skyrocketing to bag a fourth."

He shrugged. "Yeah, okay. But not until I'm done with you."

She beamed at him as they pulled apart. "And when would that be?"

"Never." His hand slipped into hers, and they began their escape together.

"Do you think...?" Anya started quietly from under Giles's arm. "Maybe she made it."

"No one else has been called," Faith agreed from where she sat cross-legged on the grass, watching as firefighters tackled the mess that had once been the Academy. "It's gotta be B."

"It's always been Buffy," Willow agreed, shooting Faith a shy smile from where she was curled up against her girlfriend sleepily. "She'll be here."

Xander sank to the ground beside Faith, helping a blank-faced Cordy join him on the grass. "Hi," he tried tentatively.

Faith stared fixedly at the burning ruins. "I don't need a babysitter, Harris. I don't need someone to keep me safe."

"I wasn't going to let you die in there!" he protested helplessly.

"Oh, so you'd rather that I had to live without you?" She glared at him. "That's just selfish."


"Would you two shut it?" Cordelia snapped. "My god, Faith, don't be such a bitch. Your boy's a hero and he's alive, so stop with the pointless anger already and grow up." She turned away from them, her red eyes blinking back tears, and there was an awkward, sorrow-laden pause.

Faith was silent, but she sank against Xander, gripping his hand so tightly that it was numb, and he tightened his own grasp on her. Theirs was a fragile love, but it was one deep enough to overcome both their stubbornness and their unwillingness to do things the other's way. And confident in that, Xander pressed a kiss to her head and she let her lips linger on his shoulder.

"Buffy!" Tara said suddenly, and they all sprang up, running to the two figures pushing up a patch of grass and climbing out of a secret exit.

"The Initiative entrance," Buffy explained, grinning as they piled hugs on her. "They all packed up and left ages ago. Did you guys know that the vamps all escaped from the basement?"

They laughed shakily, wrapping their arms around her again, more than a few somber faces among them. She frowned. "What's wrong?"

"We'll talk about it later," Xander said softly, squeezing her arm. "For now, we're just glad that you're here."

"Oh, and not just me," she said, remembering her companion suddenly. She slid out of the group hug, reaching for Spike's hand again. "Uh, guys? This is Spike."

They stared silently at the vampire, the only one they'd seen escape the Academy walls that night, most with dubiousness bordering on suspicion. Willow was the first to react, grinning nervously and sticking out her hand and shaking Spike's. "Uh...pleased to meet you. For real, I mean. Buffy's always talking to you, and I've seen you fight her a few times, so I kind of feel like I know you, but I guess you don't remember me-" She paused to take a breath.

Spike rolled his eyes. "Lemme guess. Willow."

"You got me!" Willow beamed, startled.

"Sl- Buffy talks about all of you all the time," Spike explained, sharing a soft smile with Buffy. And of the circle, the ones who hadn't before finally relaxed, if only from the love so clear in Spike's eyes.

Then Giles was hurrying to them, and Spike stiffened visibly, his hand tightening in Buffy's. "Buffy."

"Oh. Right." She made a face. "Do we have to? He's going to just be…difficult."

Spike smirked. "You make the rules now, remember? You're the indispensible one."

"If you say so," she said reluctantly, plastering a smile onto her face as the principal approached. "Giles, I was called!" she announced, beaming up at him.

He nodded with relief. "I did hope so." He frowned. "And you've brought Spike with you."

She nodded. "Yep. And let me get one thing straight." She held up their entwined hands. "Where I go, Spike goes. That's not negotiable." And she was stern suddenly, and older and mature beyond her years, the load of the slayer firmly in place. "He's going to fight with me for as long as I'm slayer. Got it?"

And Giles nodded reluctantly, though any of the students present might have sworn that there was a proud gleam in his eye at the idea of it. "I'll speak to the Council. They won't be happy, but I'll see what I can do about it. They're having enough trouble with Anya's existence that they might just consider Spike the lesser of the two evils," he added conspiratorially, and there was a dark humor in his expression.

"Good." Buffy wrapped an arm around him in a half-hug, her other arm still tight against Spike's as she did. "Thanks, Giles. You've been…you were a really great principal," she murmured, kissing him on the cheek.

He flushed noticeably, and tightened his own embrace around her. "And you were a delight, even when I thought you might drive me mad. All of you, in fact," he said, his eyes settling on the group suspiciously. "I should have kept a closer eye on you all."

"Probably," Faith conceded. "But it wouldn't have been nearly as fun."

They paused to watch as the building fell to its final death, the fire quenched at last but far too late, ashes fluttering down around them and the once great Academy nothing but a burnt husk. "What now?" Buffy whispered, gazing at the wreckage before them.

"You're the slayer now," Willow said wonderingly. "Shouldn't you be deciding that?"

"With the Academy gone, the slayer will likely be called upon for support," Giles put in.

"Yeah," Faith agreed. "This is your show, B."

"Yeah, Buffy." Xander said, and she could sense their expectant eyes on her. "What are we going to do now?"

She had no answers, so she just squeezed Spike's hand in her own and smiled with all the promise of a new beginning.

The End (for now…)

This is it: the end. There is a sequel in the works, and I'll try to put the first chapter up sometime over the next week or two- Spike and Buffy's story is just beginning here, and there are more than a few intentional loose ends that will come to play in Between the Thorns. Until then, though, I want to thank you all for sticking with me on this wild ride for the past eight months, no matter how often I withheld Spuffy from you. :) I've loved your feedback and appreciated each review- I don't know how I made it through sixty chapters straight, but I know that that has quite a bit to do with it. Thank you all.

And if you've enjoyed the story, I'd be grateful if you would leave me one last comment. :)