Buffy had to abandon the car. Debris lay scattered across the road so as to impede even her rugged SUV. She'd have to go on foot from here.

She grabbed the keys, though she had little doubt that the vehicle would be gone by the time she returned. Hopefully, she will have acquired other transportation at that point.

She carried few weapons: a crossbow, a stake, and an axe. Giles had tried to convince her to take a gun, but Buffy had insisted on no firearms. Guns were never useful.

Glass and bits of twisted metal crunched under her sneakers as she walked away from the car. South Central Avenue. She had to get her bearings.

A body lay ahead next to the mangled remains of a stop sign. Buffy knelt down beside it. The man wore day's old clothing with armpit sweat stains and blood spattered over it. No pulse. It was obvious, but she had to check. Wouldn't do to walk past an injured person and not help them.

Dawn hadn't wanted her to come. "Too dangerous" and "Can't lose you" and "Send one of the new slayers". But they both knew that Buffy would make the trip.

A noise like a can skipping along asphalt. Buffy ducked into the doorway of the nearest building. It had been a store in its past life. A tourist shop, judging by the state flags in the window. Well, what was left of the window. The inside of the store had been hollowed out by looters and demons.

Like the demon she could hear traipsing down the middle of the street. It wasn't even trying to be graceful. Instead, it crashed and careened and made as much noise as possible. Only the big ones did that. They didn't have to worry about somebody hearing them as they were the ones everybody else feared.

It blocked her way, though. So it had to die.

Buffy waited until she could judge the angle of its approach. Ten feet away, behind her, a bit to the right. She could see it in her mind so when she swung around the corner of the doorway, she could aim with her crossbow and fire a shot without any hesitation.

She hit her mark and the demon cried out in fury. Not pain. Just fury. It was a big one.

She released the crossbow and snatched the battle axe, already closing the distance to make an offensive attack on the creature. It swung at her with muscular arms wielding lengthy claws, but she ducked and chopped at its legs.

Another howl. This one from pain. The axe does more damage than the crossbow.

She had to drop and roll behind it to avoid being eviscerated by its slashing claws. She was faster than it. It didn't have time to turn around before she'd buried the axe in its back. That was the killing blow.

Buffy wasn't finished, though. She'd sense another's approach. A vampire this time. It was directly behind her as she yanked the axe from the demon's back. The body fell and she whirled in an attempt to decapitate the vampire that thought it could sneak up on her.

She slashed at empty air instead. The vampire had stumbled back, hands raised, its own axe falling to the ground.

Not foe. Friend.

Bleached hair and leather jacket. Friend.

More than friend. Lover. Past lover. Her past lover.

Buffy dropped the axe.


Spike's alive Spike's alive Spike's alive Spike's alive

Why did you never contact me?

"Is it safe?" Buffy's footsteps echoed in the hotel lobby.

"As houses. Illyria put up a protection barrier 'fore she hightailed it to another dimension. "


Were you sleeping with her? Is that why you never called me? Did you fall in love with someone else?

"God-king. Not important. Point is, it's safe. Been going out to try to find survivors to bring in, but...well..." Spike tossed his axe on the reception counter. "Haven't found any."

Why are you acting like this isn't a big deal? Aren't you happy to see me?

Spike turned to her and leaned back against the counter, hands deep in his pockets. "What brings you to Hell's dirty asshole?"

Never mind that! I want to talk about us!

"Angel," Buffy said. Spike's eyes grew even more distant. "With the whole 'demon apocalypse' thing going on, we thought it would be a good idea to consolidate our efforts. But no phones meant somebody had to come in person. I volunteered."

If I'd known you were here, I wouldn't have waited for an apocalypse.

"Angel's dead." Spike's voice was clipped. "Dusted when the first wave hit. Nothing to help you here in LA, I'm afraid."

Hold me?

"There's you."

He laughed. "One lone vampire isn't gonna turn the tide, Slayer. Think I'm best off staying here. Must be some survivor somewhere."

"Yeah, it sucks when somebody survives an apocalypse but never lets you know."

See what I did there?

"Right, let's have it out." He clapped his hands together and rubbed them as if savoring the moment. "Can just see the angry Slayer vibes leaping from you so here: No, I didn't contact you. So sorry. Didn't realize I was beholden to you past death and beyond."

What does "beholden" mean anyway?

"What? Spike, I'm not angry," Buffy protested.


"Okay, a little angry," she amended. "But more...confused and upset and relieved and did I mention confused? Cause you're here. You're really, really here, and I thought you were - " She felt the tears coming, but she held them back. "I mourned you."

He stared at her like she was one of those cubed colory puzzle things that he just couldn't figure out. "Mourned me so much, you went out and snuggled with the Immortal to relieve your sorrows."

"What? You're bringing up - ? That is...how do you - ?"

"Excellent sentence structure there, luv."

She gritted her teeth. This shouldn't be that difficult. "He was a bit of comfort, okay? It wasn't serious. And it didn't last long, thank god. And it doesn't change anything between us."

"Didn't realize there was anything between us anymore."

So that's it. He hadn't believed her. Really hadn't believed her. "What happened to you?" she asked.

"Died. Again. Came back, of course, cause fuck if 'they'll' let a fella rest in peace, right? Fell in with a crowd that actually wanted my help. That didn't say pretty words to me and then go off to snog Angel."

Not. Fair.

Spike looked resigned. "Knew it was over. Bloke can only try for so long before he has to move on. Dying seemed like a good time to try something new."

Buffy's fists curled and she found herself right in front of him, cheeks burning. "It was 'over' because you made it over!" She poked him in the chest. "Look at me, Spike! I know you have that super vampire hearing, so you're not missing any of this! I. Mourned. You. I loved you. And now you're acting like some poor, put-out martyr because I didn't get the memo you didn't bother to send me when you come back?"

"I tried, you bint! Tried to reach you in Rome, but you were busying fraternizing with the Immortal, leaving Andrew to give me and Angel the 'Dear John' speech."

"Andrew? What? You believed a word out of his mouth? Cause...this is the guy who has a chart calculating every slayer's hit points."

He smirked. "Doesn't change what I saw, pet. You dancing around some club with His Fabulousness. Still mourning me then?"

"Yes! I was," she said. His face was so close to hers, she could feel his unneeded breath on her lips. "Spike, is my word just not good enough or...what?"

"Not when your actions contradict them." His eyes followed hers as she glanced at his mouth. "Wouldn't contemplate it if I were you, luv. We've already done that dance and learned that lesson."

She stepped back. Distance was good. "Right." Buffy looked down at the mud-streaked tiles, allowing all this new information to run around her mind. Spike was alive. Angel was dead. Nobody survived in this city. Andrew lied. Andrew knew Spike was alive. Angel was dead.


Her hand flew to her mouth, and she couldn't hold in the sob. When she was fighting, she didn't have to think about the losses. Now, in this blank, in-between moment, she felt the full impact of everything.

Buffy turned away and wrapped her arms around herself. One past lover dead. The other one refused to believe that she cared about him.

There was no additional force here in LA that could help the Slayers. There was no point to her being here. Every moment she wasted was a moment she could spend defending her friends back in Cleveland, where the Hellmouth was attracting the new influx of demons en masse.

"I should go," she said to the door. She knew Spike would overhear. She rubbed her eyes. "After I sleep. Can I sleep here?"

She could see him in her mind, even though her back was turned to him. His shrug. His cavalier indifference. "It is a hotel. Not like it's lacking in room." Then he left.

Buffy waited until the sound of his heavy bootsteps faded before looking for a bed.

Sleep came easier than it should have. There was a time when Buffy would have lain awake all night, sobbing for what she'd lost. That was then. Now was different. Instead, her heart added another tally to the Loss column, and her mind allowed herself to rest. She'd worried years ago that her strength made her hard. She didn't worry about that anymore. Now she just accepted and resigned herself to it.

Every time she opened herself up to the possibility of being able to love, the opportunity just faded away. Left town or died or burned up or was defeated during an apocalypse or rejected her or...it didn't matter. It was easier to sleep rather than dwell. Sleep so she could return to the fighting which made up the entirety of her life.

Though the room she was in was dusty from long years of disuse, the bed was comfortable, and Buffy found herself in a deep sleep. She awakened groggily, aware first of the moisture at her lips (drooling while sleeping: always attractive). Her muscles were like sandbags as she wiped at her mouth while rolling over, wondering at what had woken her.

That question answered itself. The dim light shining through the closed blinds revealed Spike standing in the doorway. Buffy blinked the sleep from her eyes, not sure what to expect. Was he going to kick her out?

"People keep leaving," Spike said. "Can keep telling yourself it doesn't matter. Doesn't hurt. But it does."

Buffy knew he wasn't just talking about her.

"Sucks, doesn't it?"

He tilted his head, though his face was still heavily guarded. "There's nobody left in this city for me to help, is there?"

"You already know that, Spike."

He sighed. "Just easier to keep false hope than to take another risk, yeah?"

"Yeah." Her eyes drifted down to the quilt. Specks of dust clung to the worn cloth, and Buffy couldn't resist trying to wipe it clean. "But there are some times - very few times - when those risks are kinda worth it. Like, when you're just in that one moment and the fact that you might die doesn't matter cause you're just so happy. It's dumb, but it's the upside to the badness."

He considered for a few moments before speaking again. "Sounds like you really took to that speech-making habit of yours, Miss Summers."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Please, I didn't even make you yawn yet."

Spike chuckled, and Buffy thought it was a beautiful sound. "May I join you?"

It sounded like such a formal request. Buffy smiled and scooted over for him. He removed his jacket, tossing it onto the plush armchair in the corner of the room before settling down beside her. His weight shifted the mattress and Buffy was tilted in his direction. She didn't resist.

His arms were around her and her body pressed to his in a familiar fashion. His body was cold but his company wasn't. She sighed and closed her eyes, tucking her head under his chin to inhale the harsh scent of cigarettes and leather. She couldn't remember when that had become a comforting smell for her.

"Sorry 'bout Angel," he said, though she heard it mainly in the rumbling of his chest.

"Me, too. I mean...it's not just my loss, is it?"

He took a while to reply. "No. Him. Wesley. Charles. Lost a lot of good people when the hordes from Hell came down. Doesn't feel right that I'm - " He stopped speaking.

Buffy looked up. He had tears in his eyes and struggled to hold them back. She caressed his face and kissed him on the lips like she'd wanted to before. She translated the sympathy and comfort she had for him into that kiss since she wasn't very good at putting them into words. When the kiss ended, he released a shuddering breath and swallowed hard.

His hands gripped her waist tightly, and she knew that he was still fighting back his need to grieve. She knew because she was doing the same thing.

She rested her forehead against his. "Make love to me?" she whispered.

His eyes were wide and searching, but he didn't speak in his reply. He surged forward, taking her mouth and her body. They were wordless, but they spoke directly to each other's souls in actions. Her hand trailed down his back, only lightly scratching. His tongue lapped at her neck, teasing her life pulse. Her legs twined with his as her hips rose to meet him.

He had been right before. They'd done this dance and learned that lesson. But that had only been the primer. They'd learned the moves all those years ago, but they hadn't figured out the substance. The meanings. Now they explored it together, learning what came after mere fucking.

The sex ended, but they continued making love. They were physically sated, but emotional need wasn't satisfied so easily. He turned his face into her neck, and she felt his hot tears on her skin. She held him close as she shed tears of her own. They languished in a moment where neither of them had to be strong or hard.

They stayed together till the sun went down again, and Buffy knew she had to be leaving. She had responsibilities and duties and commitments. Nothing had changed.

"I have to go," Buffy said to the wall, but she knew Spike would hear. His only response was a slight tightening of his arms around her. "Please come with me."

Spike answered with a kiss.