A/N: so this is the final part. I just want to say a final massive THANK YOU to all you readers, reviewers, favouriters and alerters for your interest :) Special thanks go to darklover, SpeedDemon315, applemysteries and sakura1120 for being constant reviewers, I did notice you guys and looked forward to your reading your opinions on each chapter. I hope you enjoy this one :) On to the finale!
When Spike arrived at Giles' place from his visit with the Broker all were there except the man himself as it was his turn to watch over Buffy. He was greeted warmly by Dawn but merely acknowledged by the others who were apparently too deep into researching for speech, but that just meant he could talk with the one person there who would actually listen to him. "So how's it going Bit? Research giving up the goods?"
"Not really," she replied, looking up from the books scattering the kitchen counter. "Even with all of us working on it we're barely halfway through Giles' insane book collection. I mean, I knew he had a lot but I didn't think it was possible for one person to own so many!"
"It's that bad?"
"I started counting them, but when I got to 172 I got ordered back to work," Spike smirked at this. "What've you been doing? Been out patrolling?"
"Not yet pet, been talkin' to a guy says he can get me in touch with the Powers. Thought I'd come here to try and get some info on him to see if he's who he says he is, but looks like that's not gonna happen," he finished, eyes sweeping over the group absorbed in their research. It was amazing how diligent they could be when the cause was right.
"Well, I could always help you," Dawn volunteered, seizing the opportunity to prove herself. She stuck her hands resolutely on her hips, the image comical as she was sitting down: "What's the perp's name?"
"Goes by the Broker, pet," he answered with a small smile, watching as she immediately started sifting through books scattered around her.
"The Broker, Broker...I saw that somewhere...where where where? Hmm...aha! AHA! Got him!" she showed Spike the book she was holding with a flourish, pointing to a drawing: "That him?"
He frowned at the tiny picture, studying the demon with a critical eye and noticing in particular the thin long fingers with no nails. He raised his brows at the chance of her finding what he needed so quickly – seemed like someone really wanted him to follow his instincts. "Yeah that's him alright Nibblet. How'd you find him so quick?"
Dawn smiled proudly. "I'd just finished going through this book when you came in and the name stuck in my head 'cause I thought it sounded like a TV show," she turned to look at the paragraph about him. "Well there's not much here. Says he was originally human and then made himself and his name through a deal he made with the Powers: he would be a conduit for them if they granted all his mortal desires which were immortality, strength and money. Wow, 'cause he's not shallow or anything...it says he's known for always carrying a single silver coin and is generally harmless unless provoked. That's it," she looked up at Spike. "Does that match what you know about him?"
He nodded. "Look Bit, when the cavalry surfaces, tell 'em that I'll be meeting this bloke tomorrow evenin' to talk to him bout Buffy. I want you lot to be at the hospital with her as soon as the sun sets in case the Powers don't like me interfering and decide to try and do something bout it. I don't want Buffy getting hurt 'cause of me, not again," his voice trailed off and he clenched his jaw as the all too familiar anger at himself reared its ugly head. On seeing Dawn about to say something, he quickly started speaking to cut off any unwanted consolation: "I'll be fine, pet, don't worry. Just keep her safe, yeah? That's all that's important. I'm gonna go do a quick patrol, get rid of any beasties lurking around," he went to leave.
"Spike, wait!" Dawn rushed after him and hugged him tightly round the waist: "Thank you for everything you're doing for my sister. It means a lot." After a pause he hugged her back gently.
When they parted, he opened the door and as he quirked his lips in a small smile he walked out and shut the door with a sharp bang. Xander's head shot up and he looked quickly around the apartment. "What'd I miss?"
As soon as the sun started to set the next day Spike was in the sewers, heading quickly for the bus station. He arrived, again, just as the sun settled below the horizon and as he pulled himself up into the alley he hoped that Dawn had convinced the gang into taking extra care to make sure that the Powers wouldn't be able to harm Buffy over his actions. Call him overcautious.
"You know most people use the streets nowadays."
Spike brushed himself as he looked at the Broker. The demon had cleaned himself up overnight – the filthy clothes had been replaced by a stylish suit and purple eyes could be seen looking at him amusedly from under well groomed hair. The coin he was playing with yesterday was running quickly along his knuckles. "Let's cut the small talk, Broker, are the Powers That Be the ones keeping the Slayer comatose?"
The Broker watched the coin effortlessly roll back and forth across his fingers. "She's not really the Slayer anymore you know. The other's taken her place."
"You know what I'm talking about. Answer me."
There was a long pause, the Broker flipped the coin and it span through the air, landing on his other hand before rolling smoothly across the fingers. "Yes," he finally replied, "but not in the way that you think." Before Spike could ask an impertinent question, the Broker held up a finger to silence him: "Do not vent your confusion on me. Patience is, and always will be, a virtue." So Spike waited silently, although not patiently, as the demon opposite him produced another coin and began rolling it on his other hand.
"The Powers That Be are just as perplexed by what has happened as you are. To put things bluntly, they do not know why your Slayer isn't dead. All of their sources – and believe me, they have millions of them – foretold that on the night when the Key opened the lock between worlds, its protector would sacrifice themselves and save the world. The protector being your Slayer, of course." The Broker sighed heavily, watching the coins as their movements mirrored each other on his hands. "It all sounded very heroic, and it all panned out very heroically – until she jumped and then lived. Of all things to go wrong in the grand scheme, that was one option that was never even considered. No one has ever failed to die when they were supposed to. Except her." While he'd been speaking, the coins had drifted from his knuckles up into the air weaving graceful patterns around each other. When he paused so did they.
Spike was openly staring at him, a mixture of pain and disbelief colouring his features. "You mean Buffy...she was...she was meant to die? That night when she jumped to save...it-it was meant to be..."
The Broker's purple eyes met his steadfastly: "Sorry," his voice was insincere, "that's just how it is. Or, how it was meant to be." The coins began spinning around each other, faster than before. "When things didn't pan out the Powers needed a way to give themselves some time to figure out what had gone wrong, but it's been so long now that they're mostly out of options. They're relying on her now, on her humanity, her belief. You should be thankful," he added, deftly grabbing the coins and rubbing them together between forefinger and thumb, "they've decided to be most generous to you, though I have no idea why."
Spike was so focused on trying to process and understand what he had just been told that he barely heard the Broker's last words: "Generous how?" His voice was hoarse.
The demon smiled. "They are letting you say goodbye," he flipped one of the coins to Spike and on a reflex he caught it, immediately cursing his reflexes when the alley began to fade and his vision started turning black.
"What the bloody hell are you doing to me?"
"I?" the Broker's voice was fuzzy but he could still hear the humour in it. "I am doing nothing. Be grateful, vampire, most do not get this opportunity."
"WHAT OPPORTUNITY?" he roared, unable to hear if he got a reply because a crack of thunder reverberated through his entire being. He blinked furiously as he tried to get his vision to clear so that he could wring that worthless Broker's neck for talking in riddles and telling him what he definitely did not want to hear. He couldn't believe what he had just been told. The idea that Buffy was meant to die and because she didn't she'd been locked up in her own head until they could find a "solution" to the problem that her living had caused them was just too hard for him to understand.
Suddenly his thoughts were cut off and he was thrust to his knees by a deafening rattle of thunder. He closed his eyes and covered his ears instinctively until the sound of it had faded. On opening them, he could see he was in some kind of massive field that offered no shelter from the forks of lightning that must be accompanying the thunder. Strangely there was no rain even though the sky was just one continuous black cloud, but Spike didn't dwell on it long as he looked around for somewhere, anywhere that would provide some cover. The only thing marring the entire prairie was a large tree some distance from him so he ran toward it, cringing slightly as another thunder clap echoed around him.
Once under it, he took a moment to properly look at wherever the hell it was that he'd ended up. The tree he was standing under was surrounded by a circle of short cut grass, but the rest of the meadow comprised of long blades of it which were completely still as no wind stirred through the plain, making the thunder seem even more ominous – like he stood in the eye of a storm.
It took another two rolls of thunder before he caught sight of her, stumbling her way through the long grass and heading for the tree as if it was a beacon of safety. The instant he saw her he recognised her, but it was only when she got closer that he could fully understand that he really was seeing her, that she really was right in front of him. When she finally got close enough and saw him staring at her in awe, she frowned: "Why are you here?"
The sound of her voice snapped him back to reality: "I, uh, I honestly have no idea, luv."
The frown didn't disappear from her features, in fact she was looking at him almost as if she had no idea who he was. "Who are you?" she asked.
Spike was now well and truly confused, but as the thunder sounded again the noise seemed to clear his mind and he understood. This place was where Buffy's mind had been for the past four months, and for a reason he didn't want to think about he had been transported here. As an added bonus the Powers had seemingly erased her memory: "It's okay luv, it's me – Spike. Buffy, pet, what d'you remember?"
The sound of her name seemed to shock her and she backed away from him: "Wh-why are you here?" she demanded, her voice trembling.
"Slayer, Buffy, tell me what you remember. I'm not gonna hurt you," he assured her as he moved closer, arms spread to his side as he tried to appear non-threatening as he could tell she was scared. Her brow was furrowed and her stance defensive as she stared at him with eyes filled with alarm. "I-I-I asked why you're here. I didn't...oh god..." her eyes widened momentarily before she squeezed them shut. Another peal of thunder rumbled threateningly.
"Buffy, what is it?"
"God I-I jumped and then..." her eyes snapped open, her gaze almost wild. "Oh, I remember, this place...they put me here, made me...forget...god Dawn! Dawn!" she moved closer to him then, clutching the lapels of his duster: "Is she safe? Is she okay? Tell me!"
"She's fine, pet, she's fine. You saved her," Spike quickly told her, tentatively placing his hands on her arms. "Buffy? You with me, luv?"
Her eyes seemed to clear and she looked at him for the first time with recognition and gently let go of his coat. "Spike. Hey. What're you doing here?" Almost laughing at the sound of her speaking normally, he hugged her close and immediately froze when he realised what he'd done and instantly let her go, mentally preparing himself for a beating or at least some harsh words. When none came he looked at her and was shocked to see a smile on her face.
"Gee it's great to see you too," she said playfully, seemingly completely ignorant of their surroundings. "Now are you gonna tell me what you're doing here?"
"Like I said, luv, I'm not sure. But we're gonna leave..." he looked around them. "Not really sure how we're gonna leave, but we'll find a way." He started to walk off into the field but paused when he sensed she wasn't following. "Buffy?" She was still standing beneath the tree, her gaze fixed somewhere on the ground.
"No," she said quietly, "that's not what's meant to happen."
A feeling of dread pooled in his heart, but he refused to acknowledge it. "Course it is, why would you want to stay here? The weather ain't half as good as in Sunnydale," he joked. The distant sound of thunder proved his point.
Buffy looked up at him, her eyes wide and sad and resigned: "I'm not staying here, but I can't go back. I have to go the other way."
His eyes widened, the words the Broker had said about the Powers relying on Buffy's humanity and her belief flashing in his mind. But Spike didn't yet know what her belief was in, so he didn't give up: "No," he refuted her, stalking back over to look her straight in the eye. "You don't have to do anything. Nothing. Do you hear me, Slayer? What they said isn't true, it isn't. You're needed, you get that? We need you. I-" his voice broke and he clenched his jaw. He didn't know how she knew about her intended fate, but she obviously did – she was still looking at him with that wide, vulnerable gaze full of acceptance. And he hated it.
"That's what she told me, in the desert. The First Slayer told me that this was going to happen. I didn't understand it until that night on the tower, and then they made me forget...but Spike it has to be like this-"
"Why? Tell me, Slayer – WHY the BLOODY HELL does it have to be anything like this?" Against his best efforts, a tear fell down his cheek.
She didn't flinch from his hostility but reached up and gently placed her hand against his cheek, caressing it slowly and wiping away the tear. "Because that's how it's meant to be. I'm so sorry, please try to understand," she spoke softly, tilting his head so he would be forced to look her in the eye before explaining simply: "Death is my gift."
So that's what she believes in. Before he could make any response she reached up and touched her lips to his. It was the gentlest of kisses, a barely-there touch that echoed the kiss she'd bestowed on him after he bore torture from Glory, only this time it contained something more substantial than a thank you. And it was perfect. When she moved away from him, he couldn't care less that he was openly crying now, reverent eyes soaking in the image of her inches from him as her breath gently brushed against his skin.
"Make sure to keep your promise," she murmured softly as his vision began to fade, "And tell Dawn I meant what I said on the tower." When the image of her started to blur, he reached out to grab her but caught nothing except air.
"No! NO! Luv, Buffy – Buffy, no, please. Please, Buffy! BUFFY!"
Make sure to keep your promise...
When he opened his eyes he was lying in the alley beside the bus station. The Broker was gone, but it was still dark – sometime in the late hours of the night. Maybe I dreamt it, Spike thought feverishly, stumbling to get to his feet, I'll bet it was that bloody Broker demon who decided to play Beat the Spike then left me here and I dreamt the whole thing. As he made to stand his hand landed on something flat and metallic.
Don't look at it Spike mate, just don't look. Even as he thought it he turned his head to see what his hand was hiding, picking his arm up slowly until he could clearly see the small silver coin his hand had landed on.
Buffy. He was on his feet and sprinting to the hospital less than a second later, his feet beating a fast rhythm on the tarmac and his breath coming in harsh unneeded gasps. On reaching the hospital he didn't slow as he bolted past the reception and up the stairs to the third floor, however when he got to the end of the corridor he stopped and stared ahead of him. Spike swore he could feel his heart pounding, his chest tightening as he slowly made his way to her door.
As he got closer his enhanced hearing picked up the sound of sobbing and he tried to ignore it. However when he opened her door, he couldn't ignore it no matter how much he wanted to.
Try as he might to disregard that he could only hear six heartbeats, he couldn't tune out the monotone sound of the hospital machine as it displayed a flatline, or the sight of a distraught Dawn being feebly comforted by a crying Willow. He watched in frozen horror as two nurses who had appeared from somewhere slowly placed a sheet over Buffy's lifeless body.
Spike didn't know that less than three weeks later he would gaze up at her standing at the top of the stairs, brought back by Willow's spell. It didn't matter that he would only have to unknowingly wait those twenty days to see her now lifeless body resurrected. All that mattered was that she was gone, and it was his fault.
Buffy had been in a coma 127 days yesterday, 128 today, but he reckoned that today didn't really count, did it?
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