Sunnydale is burning.
Has it been so long since this all began? You remember the start, the demons emerging from the Hellmouth and calling others, surrounding the town, shutting out all those who would enter and forcing in those who might have left. You remember the nightly vigils, the fighting, the way you and Spike and the Scoobies battled haplessly to stave off the incoming storm of demons. But there was no end, not when the Hellmouth itself seemed to be a beacon, drawing in all the demons of the world.
Yes, Willow's spell went horribly, horribly wrong. What should have resurrected your sister instead brought forth the demon essence that should never have existed outside of the slayer, an essence that called to all the darkness in the world and summoned it to Sunnydale. What should have made you strong again made you terribly weak, defenseless, with nothing but the powerless spirit of the slayer to stand between you and the forces of darkness.
And then they set the town on fire, and you know you won't last long. You're underground and the fire hasn't touched your home yet, but the demons are getting restless and human victims are getting harder and harder to find.
The first two weeks you spend with Willow and Tara, huddled in your basement on Revello under a spell that should keep you undetected by the biker demons wreaking havoc through the town. You're hungry and scared and you just want to sleep and forget, but then Willow decides that she can't just sit here in safety while innocents are killed, and she leaves the house with little more than a kiss on your cheek. Tara holds you close, whispers false promises that everything's going to be okay, and you accept them, because you have little else to live for right now.
Willow doesn't come back, and for almost a day, you and Tara are silent, pondering the bleak future ahead of you. There's nothing left, is there? It's really over.
But then the door flies open one night, and you're terrified, certain that the spells have finally faded and the demons have found you, but footsteps clomp down the stairs, footsteps you remember, and Spike's running toward you to enclose you in a bear hug and you're crying with relief. Anya and Willow and Xander are right behind him, looking battered and tired, but they assure you that they're alright and that they only need a bit of rest and they'll be good as new.
Spike spreads out one of your blankets on the floor, and you curl up together, keeping your voices low so the rest of the Scoobies can sleep, Willow and Tara cuddled on the cot and Xander and Anya on another blanket on the floor. Spike fills you in on where they've been.
"I staked out the Hellmouth for some time," he murmurs, the rumble of his stomach against your back as he speaks soothing you. "Lot of newbies there, didn't know better, never suspected that one of their own had betrayed them. It's all…" His voice catches, and you give him an awkward, sideways hug. "It's all your sister, that essence of slayer. S'overwhelming, really."
You close your eyes. "What does it feel like?"
He sighs. "Goodness and righteous fury, everything that's perfect and pure in the world. Yin and yang, yeah? The forces of darkness can't resist something that beautiful." A hand descends to stroke your hair. "It's Buffy."
"Really?" And you know you sound weak and vulnerable right now, but you can't be strong anymore, not when he's here to be strong for you.
"Didn't take too long for the others to twig to the fact that I wasn't on their side," Spike says dryly. "One of my old poker buddies- wanker, owed me eleven kittens!- anyway, he was glad to point me out as the traitor. So I headed out and made it to Harris's apartment, where I found the rest of the Scoobies."
"And now you're here," you finish sleepily, finally ready to cave to your exhaustion. But his next words make you jump up again, horrified.
"Not for long," he mutters, and you're gripped with terror.
"You're leaving!" you accuse him angrily. "You're going to go somewhere where- where it's safe, and you're going to leave us all to die!"
Cool arms encircle you and keep you safe in his embrace. "Not going to leave you behind, Bit," he murmurs in your ear. "Gonna protect you forever."
"But you said-"
"You're coming with me." And then he tells you about the dreams he's had near the Hellmouth, the ones where Buffy comes to him and begs him to free her, tells him that she's still out there. You listen dubiously, unable to let yourself believe that Buffy's really out there, but you're willing to trust Spike this time, when he brings you the one thing you've been lacking since this all began- hope. Buffy has told Spike about a prison holding her captive, keeping her from rejoining her body with her essence, the thing that's destroying Sunnydale. Willow's spell split her in pieces to create this chaos, and now they're all paying the price.
"We need to find her," Spike says softly. "And we need to keep you safe."
"I'll never be able to leave," she points out. "Not with demons guarding the entire perimeter of the town."
He shakes his head. "We have a plan."
Willow has masked your life signs with a simple spell that she assures Spike will only last a few hours, since he's totally panicking over the fact that he can't hear your heartbeat, and you're covered in a hooded jacket and follow Spike across town to an underground parking lot that he tells you is frequented only by demons. A few jeer as you hurry past, shouting mocking taunts at Spike, but he easily ignores them, his grip tight on your arm and his posture stiff and tense.
"Ready?" he asks as he pulls open the back door of his DeSoto, and you make a face. Why does he have one of these, anyway?
One of these is a simple white coffin, cheaply made and just big enough to fit a tall woman or a short man, and she shudders at the sight of it. "We loaded it in on our way to your house," he explains, tossing you a worried glance. "You all right, Bit?"
You nod shakily and climb into the backseat, edging over before you climb inside. It's kind of like a bed, you tell yourself. And Spike got a plastic one so he could poke a few holes through it. You'll be able to breathe, you'll be able to hear, and no one will know that you're alive. You'll be safe.
But as Spike closes the lid over you and you're plunged into darkness, you're grateful that he can't hear your pounding heartbeat and gasping breaths. You can't let Spike know you're scared, or he'll give up right now. And though you're not sure that his dreams really mean anything, you want to get out of Sunnydale.
God, do you want to get out of here.
The car starts with a roar and you inch over, closer to the side of the coffin secure on the seat, hoping against hope that the box won't tip over the side of the backseat. After a few minutes, the coffin still sturdy and still, you calm down and close your eyes, imagining that you're lying in bed, Mom sitting in the chair across the room and Buffy leaning against the doorjamb. It's easier to live in a dream than to face the present, these days.
The car halts, and you can hear Spike pump the windows down and poke his head out. "Yeah?" he asks brusquely, and you tense. This is it.
"Hey, it's Spike!" a demon snarls, and a few others approach loudly. "Finally running away, traitor?"
You can picture Spike shrugging nonchalantly. "Nothing left here, is there? I'm moving on to greener pastures."
"Yeah?" The demon sounds unimpressed. "And leaving your witch friends behind? Somehow, I doubt it." He raises his voice. "Search the car."
The back door swings open and you instinctively hold your breath, even though you know they can't hear it. It's only seconds before your hiding place is jerked from the backseat and thrown onto the ground outside with a crash. You manage to maneuver your hand up to touch your forehead, where your head smashed against the coffin top, and gingerly feel the sticky wet blood.
"Open it," the demon orders, and Spike springs to action.
"Oi! That's an Aurelian vampire in there! We don't open the coffin until the vampire rises."
"Is that a fact?" The demon is unconvinced. "Seems more like you're trying to smuggle someone out of here."
"I don't hear a heartbeat," another demon offers helpfully, and the first lets out a sigh.
"Fine. The body will remain unseen." Then there's a swishing sound and a shout from Spike, and a dagger is driven directly into the coffin, millimeters from your heart. You nearly cry out in shock, but you stifle it instead and stare, terrified, at the blade. Moments later, it's removed and shoved into a spot somewhere near your feet, and then twice near your stomach and once on your face until you're trembling and terrified, certain that you're going to die. The blade nicks your cheek and comes out bloody, and this finally seems to satisfy the demons that you're truly in there and dead.
Spike roars out of town moments later, and only once a few minutes have passed does he call out in a hoarse voice, "Dawn?"
"I'm okay," you tell him, holding back tears. "We're gonna be okay."
Spike thinks that Buffy showed him a place on the outskirts of Gilroy, and he finally stops the car and opens the coffin when they're a sizable distance away. You need to sit outside for a bit, breathing in the fresh night air and enjoying the feeling of your hands stretching out freely, and Spike understands and takes a smoke while he guards you. "We're out of Sunnydale," he murmurs, almost disbelieving.
"Can't we just-" You want to stay away, to never come back. Spike's literally chasing a pipe dream and you just want to be safe, away from the nightmare.
"No," he says curtly, and you think of the Scoobies still trapped in Sunnydale and feel guilty for even thinking it.
You search for a few days, wandering the area around Gilroy, looking for the place Spike dreamed of with little success. During the day, you stay in the car and Spike sleeps in the coffin. He won't let you leave his sight, even then, and every time you open the car door he's awake and scolding you for trying to leave again. If the coffin hasn't given you claustrophobia for life, the time in the car must have done it, and you can't take it anymore.
"Spike, she's not here."
"No," he agrees distantly, and then you're in the car with nary a complaint from Spike, and you're puzzled until you realize that he's moved on to the next location along the edge of Gilroy.
"Spike…" you start, but he's leaping up and out of the car, racing down the road toward a building.
"It's here!" he shouts, and his enthusiasm is contagious, so you follow him at a run, climbing the stairs of what's unmistakably a temple and crashing into Spike as he stops short.
"What is it?" you demand, craning your neck to look around him. "Is it Buffy?"
But no, it's a wall, a statue in front of it, and Spike touches the statue, gives it a shove and a secret door opens. For the first time in a long time, you feel hope again. Spike seems to know what he's doing, and maybe- just maybe- his dreams were real.
The secret room you've found is bare, the only item present a weapon embedded in rock. It's shiny and red and wooden at one tip and curved like an axe at the other, unmistakably the weapon of a slayer.
Etched on the wall above it is an inscription in a language you're pretty sure is Latin, and Spike translates it aloud. "It is not for thee. It is for her alone to wield." He pauses, having come to the same conclusion as you. "For the slayer," he says slowly. "Nibblet, can you hold it?"
You pull it from the stone so easily that you're certain some magic is involved- after all, you arethe slayer's sister, made from her- and hoist it up. "Is this what we needed to find?"
Spike shrugs, suddenly unsure. "Probably. In my dreams, your sis was here." He takes in a shuddering breath. "We'd better go back. It's been almost three weeks since the fires began, and they can't last forever."
It's already too late when you return. The demons are mostly gone, the town a burnt husk, death and destruction everywhere. Not many survived the last of the fires, human and demon alike, and you're toeing around corpses in the street, clutching onto Spike's coat as you do.
You find the Scoobies still safe in the basement of a house that is only ashes now and they join you in surveying the wreckage with somber faces, gazing upon the destruction of their home.
"It's over," Willow whispers.
"It's never over," Spike says gruffly, and he's gesturing for you to step forward, the weapon you've dubbed the Scythe still in your hands. "Let's go to the Hellmouth."
Even the Hellmouth is gone, though, and it fills you with a strange sort of sorrow to see it dried up and silent beneath a seal engraved with the image of a goat. Buffy isn't quite there, but the slayer's roiling presence is strong, and you envy Spike his ability to detect one within the other.
Instinctively, you lower the Scythe, axe facing down, and embed it into the seal. There's a dull "thunk" and the slayer is finally at peace.
"Buffy…" Spike whispers. There are tears in his eyes, in all your eyes, as you all finally accept it. Buffy's gone, and no folly can ever bring her back.
You've lost her.
You cry as a group and kneel around the Scythe, where the slayer's presence is still strongest. "She'll always be here," Tara murmurs. "Always."
And you weep some more.
It takes some time, but you finally leave, speaking in hushed tones about what you're going to do next. You can't mourn forever and Sunnydale is gone, so it's time to think of the future without Sunnydale, without Buffy, and without everything you've held important to you. You all crowd into the DeSoto and Spike sets off to Los Angeles.
None of you can bear to return to the Hellmouth, not after the trauma that you went through there. You live your life as best as you can, remembering Buffy and Sunnydale and mourning what you've lost but celebrating what you've gained as time passes. Some things can't be undone, and you've learned that the hard way.
Because none of you turned away. And none of you came back. So you never saw the slayer essence merge with the Scythe and the ghostly figure of your older sister materialize only moments after you all turned away, her hands outstretched and calling to you.