Buffy's feet ached as she took another step away from Sunnydale. She'd passed the town limits hours ago and the light of day had fled since then, leaving only the pinprick islands of stars, drowning in the black sea of night. She tugged her shirt tighter around her, torn between pulling a warmer layer from her bag and the desire to get as far away as possible before she had to stop.
Mom. School. Angel. All gone. She had nothing left to give the world but this.
A car's engine behind her grew gradually louder, pulling apart the silence. Buffy turned and moved clear of the road. It was the black car she'd passed at the gas station about an hour back. She was surprised it hadn't caught up before now.
She considered hitching a ride but decided against it. She didn't really want to end up robbed and dead in a ditch somewhere.
Not tonight, anyway.
She stood back, ready to let the one human presence she'd seen in hours go past; an ungrateful, ignorant person who knew nothing of what she'd lost to prevent them getting sucked into hell. Unexpectedly, the car slowed as it approached her, and came to a stop.
She'd thought that, after tonight, nothing could surprise her. Buffy had run out of surprisability. But there was, after all, one thing she never expected to see getting out of a car on the freeway, on this of all nights.
It was Spike.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy said, more from reflex than actually wanting an answer.
"Goin' to ask you the same thin'," Spike drawled lazily, hands shoved in his pockets like nothing was up.
"How can you be here? You ditched me in the middle of the fight! I'd assumed you were interstate by now." And out of her life.
God knew everything else was.
"Got 'ungry. Needed petrol, too."
"Oh." That gas station where they'd been parked… They hadn't caught up because they were busy slaughtering the staff inside. And she'd walked past and hadn't noticed a thing.
But that wasn't her problem anymore.
"Not that this isn't a lovely chat, but I'm wonderin' why you 'aven't tried to kill me yet."
Buffy had been wrestling with that concept too, on the long walk to this point. And she'd come to a solution.
"Because I quit. I give up. Let somebody else save the world next time, because I've had it!" She hadn't noticed she was yelling until Spike flinched, but by then the floodgates were open and all the misery of the last twenty-four hours was storming out. "This isn't even the first time I've saved this stupid planet! I died for it last year and I didn't even get a break then! I just kept going like nothing had happened, like the Master never drowned me, because that's what the world demanded. Never mind that I can't take a bath without taking twenty minutes to talk myself into the water. Never mind that the last time I saw a lake I wanted to run screaming in the opposite direction. No, the world says, Buffy's fine, she's got heaps more we can squeeze out of her!"
Her knees gave out and she collapsed onto the grassy verge. Spike, his face wearing an unfamiliar expression - concern, she would have thought, if this weren't William the Bloody - came around the car and sat down beside her. She leant into his side and sobbed into his shoulder. If felt like the most natural thing in the world to have his arm around her, offering comfort.
"But this time I lost so much," she continued, her whisper almost smothered by the hiccups as she fought back her tears. "I got expelled – I was kind of expecting that, but not really – and then Mom threw me out-"
"Your mum? What did she think-"
"And then I killed Angel."
"Angel was gone months ago, pet," Spike said softly. "Wasn't your lover you killed tonight. I've seen them both and believe you me, they're not the same man."
"I wish you were right, but you're not. I didn't know that my friends were redoing the curse. To give him back his soul. I didn't know, and I wasn't fast enough, and Acathla was already awake by the time the curse got to Angel…"
Buffy dissolved into another fit of tears. Spike's other arm came around her and held her close. She poured out all the pain that had been knotted up inside her, threw it all out into the wind, hoping it would scatter and never find its way back to her. And it didn't seem at all odd that Spike was there. Maybe she was too out of it to care, or maybe, somewhere under the vampire was a man, a man who was concerned for a girl crying on the edge of the road.
"Only Angel's blood would close the portal," she babbled. "So I killed him. To save the world. A hateful world that doesn't even know his name." Buffy took a deep breath and scrubbed at her face with her hand. "I've given up my mother, my school and my boyfriend tonight. And I figured, since the world had taken everything else, it might as well take my calling too."
"I'm not going to be the Slayer anymore. I officially quit. There'll be another one called after Kendra; this is her game now. The world wants to take everything away from me – well, fine. It can have it, and gladly. After losing all that, one thing isn't worth keeping. The world wants everything I have? Well fine! Take it! And I wouldn't do it again! Never again! You can just die next time!" She hit out at the ground beneath her, slamming her fists into the turf. She vaguely felt Spike pulling her back, holding her hands in his own, stopping her before she destroyed herself. Her eyes clashed with his and she stopped, overwhelmed by what she saw there.
She was sitting next to a vampire who looked more human than anyone she'd ever known. It felt like he was staring right inside her and wasn't judging what he saw. It was like he was looking for Buffy, not the Slayer that everybody else saw, including herself.
She wanted to find Buffy. She wanted to find a human being under the supernatural shell she'd been crammed into.
"Get in the car," Spike said.
Buffy blinked, but her brain wasn't performing anything beyond the minimum tonight. "What?"
"I don' trust you on your own right now. Don' want you givin' up your life again. You're in no condition to walk anywhere. And I may be a vampire now, but I was raised as a gentleman, and I don' like the idea of leaving a pretty lady cryin' in the middle of the road, so get in the car."
Buffy astonished herself by standing up and climbing through the door that Spike held open for her. She had no surprise left to spare when he handing in her bag.
"Find somethin' warm, this car ain't heated," he said, before shutting the door and walking around to the driver's seat.
Buffy hadn't really thought about it, but of course Drusilla was in the car too; she slumped in the front passenger seat.
To sit in the same vehicle as the vampire that had slaughtered a sister Slayer only a day or two ago, and another vampire who had killed two in history, felt –
Nothing. Buffy didn't feel hatred or vengeance or revulsion, not even at herself. She'd gone beyond terrified and exhausted and desperate into a blissful space of nothing.
She felt nothing as Spike put the car in gear and drove away. She felt nothing as he looked back at her, checking if she was alright. She felt nothing as she slipped into sleep.
And nothing felt wonderful.