Part Six: Past Perfect

*

Spike followed Buffy out of the lift and through the chaos of people rushing to battle stations. Major Ellison stood in the middle of the corridor, barking orders at his troops as they ran past.

"What's happening?" Buffy asked him.

"Summers," he said. "Good. Follow me."

They followed him down the corridor to the hangar, where a small cadre of soldiers was loading into a shuttle. Ellison gestured them inside. It would be a tight fit. The shuttle was only designed to hold twenty-five people, and they had that beat by six. They pushed their way in and turned to face the Major as the doors closed behind him.

"We've been infiltrated," he told them as the shuttle disembarked.

"How?" Spike asked.

"They blasted their way in through the cadet lounge. Everyone in the lounge who wasn't killed in the explosions was sucked outside."

"Oh my God," Buffy said.

The Major started to speak, but then he let out a small sigh as he shook his head and looked at the floor.

"What is it?" Spike asked.

When he looked up, he wore a pained expression. "The Chairwoman and her son …"

"What about them?"

"The last time I spoke with her, they were both in the lounge ." He glanced from Spike to Buffy, then back at the floor. "Neither is answering hails."

"Bloody hell." Spike staggered backwards a step, knocking into a couple of soldiers. Buffy reached out to steady him. He looked at her, his eyes wide, disbelieving. "I've known them their whole lives, pet. Both of 'em. Watched them grow up." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "They can't be …"

"I know," she said gently, "but Spike, this isn't the time. You know that. We have to keep it together."

He swallowed and nodded. "I just hope Anne's safe. Fucking vampires." Buffy raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm aware of the irony, love."

She gave his arm a squeeze, then turned to Major Ellison. "Where are we going?"

"The control center, on the other side of the city. It controls power and life support for the whole colony. If the vampires have enough time to crack the codes, they can take out Mars from there, too. We have to defend it at all costs." He moved to the back of the shuttle, and motioned for a private to help him as he opened up a couple of storage lockers. "Suit up!" he ordered as he passed out environmental suits. "Who knows what we'll find when we get there. They might've already blasted their way in."

Buffy held out the silver suit and respirator mask and wrinkled her nose. "Looks bulky," she said. "What happens if I don't wear it and the controls get taken out?"

"Well, it's night," Spike said. "Means you'd freeze to death. 'Course, you'd probably suffocate first. Skin'd turn all purple from asphyxiation, your eyes would bulge out, probably burst some blood vessels ..."

"So you're saying it would be bad."

Spike gave her a look that said he meant business. "Just put it on, Slayer."

Buffy looked a little sheepish as she tugged on the suit. She eyed his clothes, and her forehead knitted with worry. "What about you?"

He gave her a small smile. "Still a vampire, love."

"Oh yeah." Buffy tested her maneuverability. "I can hardly move in this thing. How am I supposed to fight like this?"

"We thought you'd be fighting on Earth," the Major explained. "Otherwise you'd have been trained in the suit."

"Bloody well should've been trained in the suit anyway," Spike muttered. "Since when don't we prepare Slayers for the unexpected?"

"We thought it would be an unnecessary expenditure of time," Ellison said. "Of course, some of your time with her could've been devoted to hostile environment training instead of testing out the firmness of the training mats."

"Sod off, Ellison," Spike said, taking a step toward him. Buffy put a hand on his chest and held him back.

"I've been in hostile environments before," she said. "It's not a problem."

Spike frowned at her in confusion. "You have?"

"I've been inside the hellmouth, remember? I'd definitely call that hostile."

"Oh. Right."

"Anyway," she said, twisting back and forth and getting a feel for the suit, "I'll manage. This thing feels more flexible than it looks."

"Glad to hear it," Ellison said. He moved to the back of the shuttle. "Follow the Slayer's lead," he commanded his troops. "Spike and I will take up the rear."

Spike turned to look at the Major. "My place is with my Slayer."

"You're place is where you're needed most, Watcher!"

A low growl escaped Spike's throat as he glared at the Major. "I'm not one of your ruddy soldier boys, Ellison."

"Spike." Buffy put her hand on his shoulder and turned him to face her. "It's okay," she said.

Spike studied her face. Her mouth was set in determination; but something in her eyes bothered him. "Buffy --"

"I'll be okay," she said. She touched her fingers to his cheek. "It's not your job to protect me," she whispered. The shuttle slowed and began to descend, and her eyes flashed with panic. "I left you a letter --"

"Got it," he said, patting his pocket and managing a smile. "You can read it to me when this is all over."

"Sounds like a plan." Buffy smiled at him. Her smile captured everything Spike loved about her: her courage and strength, her sweetness and vulnerability, the hope she inspired in him and everybody else who followed her. Protocol and discretion be damned -- he didn't care who saw. He pulled her into a tight hug, and as she lifted her face to look at him, he kissed her. She pulled him even closer, and just for a moment, everything else melted away. They were all that existed, all that mattered. The jarring bumps that signalled they were docking reminded them of their mission. Spike sighed and planted one more quick kiss on her lips, then they slowly let go of each other. They assumed positions, Buffy raising her hood and fixing her mask in place, Spike challenging the Major's evil eye with a defiant smirk as he took his place beside him.

The shuttle doors slid open. Buffy stepped into the empty hangar. Soldiers poured out on either side of her and lined up in rank and file, seven to a row, awaiting her command. "Looks like we beat 'em here," she said. "Which way's the control center?"

"It's on the third level, ma'am," said the soldier on her right.

"Right. Okay," Buffy said, looking around. "We should have a group on every level. Spike, you take the ground. Major, you're on level two. I'll head for the control room. If everything's clear, head up there to back us up. And someone should stay here, in case they try to get in this way."

Ellison nodded and divided up the soldiers. "Hicks, Elwell, Marrero -- take the rest of your line and go with Summers. Second line is with me, third with Spike. The rest of you stay here and stand guard."

"Let's go," Buffy told her team, and led them into the lift.

As Spike watched her disappear behind the lift doors, he prayed to whatever might hear the prayers of the undead that it wouldn't be the last time he laid eyes on her.

"Gentlemen," he said, unholstering his gun and swinging the barrel up to rest on his shoulder, "this way."

He led his team past the lift and down a corridor. Spike moved stealthily, but then gave it up, rolling his eyes and shaking his head at the soldiers' elaborate maneuvers. Any vamp worth his salt would hear them coming a mile away. They made their way into a cavernous room full of machinery -- solar powered generators, mostly; enough to power the entire city. The room itself was badly lit, and offered plenty of places to hide. Back on Earth, this would have been just the sort of place where you'd be guaranteed to run into his kind. Here, it was more the sort of place you'd find some indestructible, slithery thing with a never-ending supply of sharp teeth and a tendency to lay eggs in your chest -- at least, according to movies he'd seen. Truth be told, if he had a choice, he'd rather they found the latter.

Bugger that. If he had a choice, he'd rather they found nothing at all. Then they could go back to the original plan, and he could have Buffy to himself for just a bit longer.

With a sigh, he aimed his gun at the room, and switched on the faux sunlight. The entire space before him lit up as bright as day. "Split up," he ordered the soldiers. "Search every shadow, nook and cranny. If you find anybody, flush 'em into the light."

As the troops obeyed, Spike leaned against a wall, and shoved his free hand in his pocket. His fingers brushed paper. Buffy's letter. He tried to ignore it. He'd meant it when he said she'd read it to him later; but curiosity got the better of him, and he pulled it out. Unfolding it one-handed proved to be a challenge, and he had to use his teeth, but he managed.

Dear William,

Funny. I don't think I've ever called you that before, except when I was trying to piss you off.

Spike smiled. He could only think of once that she'd called him by his proper name, and she'd been pretty pissed off herself at the time. He glanced up to see how the soldier boys were faring, then turned his attention back to the letter.

But Spike … it just doesn't seem formal enough. Because this is important. You have to see how important this is.

You know what else is funny? I just realized, I don't even know your last name. It never occurred to me to ask. God. There's so much I don't know about you. I wish there was time to find out. But I know the important things. I know you're a great Watcher, and that you do Giles proud. I know you're not a monster. That you're loyal, and faithful, and stubborn, and dangerous and funny and sexy and sweet and about a million other things that are wonderful and infuriating and downright confusing sometimes, but none of it is monstrous. I know that when I said you didn't know how to love, I couldn't have been more wrong. I know you love me, and that you went through hell after you lost me. And now that you've found me again, now that we've found each other, it's going to happen all over again.

I know this, Spike. It was part of my dream. Mr. Snyder told me that everything would be put right. I figure that means I'm not supposed to be here. I know I should have told you, but I couldn't. I just wanted us to be happy, for as long as we could.

I'm afraid it will destroy you. Please don't let it. I have to go into battle tomorrow believing that you'll be able to survive this, that you'll go on, that you'll find a reason to live without me. You have to find a reason to

It's starting. I'm out of time. Know this, Spike: I wouldn't have come as far as I did without you, now or then. I wish we could have more time together. I wish to God that you didn't have to go through this again. But it's okay, Spike. I'm okay. Whatever happens, I'll be okay. I want you to be okay, too.

I love you.
Buffy

Spike stared at the letter. The paper rattled, and he realized his hand was shaking. "Sorry, Slayer," he murmured, "but you're not going to die on my watch. Not this time."

"Sir?" A voice startled him out of his reverie.

Spike looked up at one of the soldiers. He had no idea what to call the boy. Even if he'd been told his name, they all looked alike in their space suits, anyway. "What is it?" he finally asked.

"We did a complete sweep, sir. There's nothing down here."

Spike holstered his gun. "Right, then," he said as he folded the letter and re-pocketed it. "Pick half to stay here, guard the generators. I'll take the rest." He turned to head back down the corridor towards the lift, but as he felt a prickling on the back of his neck he slowed to a stop. He might not practice evil anymore, but he was still born of it. Even if he was terribly out of practice, he could sense when it was near. He was even more out of practice at slipping into game face. The ease with which he did so just then unsettled him.

He turned just in time to see the butt of a gun flying towards his head. He ducked and kicked out, connecting with the soldier's gut and knocking him backwards. As he straightned he unholstered his sun gun. He turned it on, flooding the room with light.

The vampire in the soldier's suit just grinned at him. "Great thing about these environmental suits. They even protect us from the sun." He took a fighting stance.

Spike let his features return to human. "Well that is inconvenient," he said. "Then again, I've been wondering what the other setting would do to a vamp." He flipped a switch on the gun, and fired. Laser beams shot through the vampire, knocking him backwards as he screamed in agony. Spike stopped firing, and the vampire staggered forward.

"You think your little ray guns'll stop us?" the vampire asked.

"Guess not," Spike said, flipping the switch back to its original position. "But it sure as hell buggered up your suit." He turned on the light again, and the vampire's exposed skin began to sizzle. He barely had time to scream before he burst into flame.

The sound of weapons fire brought the other soldiers running. Spike turned the light on them. "Take off your masks," he ordered.

"Sir?" one of them asked. "The air --"

"The air's fine. Take off your sodding masks. All of you, now. That's an order."

They all complied. When nobody burst into flame, Spike turned off the light. "Is this everybody?"

"Everybody but Private Hensley," the soldier nearest him said.

"Stay here," Spike ordered. "Stay alert. And put your masks back on."

He followed the scent of blood down the last row of generators, stopping where the scent was strongest; but there was no body. Spike turned around to face the machinery, and noticed a single red ribbon streaming down its side. He wrenched open a panel and peered inside, then flinched and shoved the panel back in place. He'd been personal with humans too long to not be bothered by what he saw. He gave himself a moment for the shock to wear off, then took a deep breath and opened the panel back up. The unnatural angles of all of Hensley's parts crammed into such an impossibly small space made Spike cringe. Even so, he reached in to retrieve the soldier's tags, trying to avoid the private's accusing, dead eyes. As he did his gaze drifted up to the top of the compartment, and landed on a timer. A timer with very little time left.

"Oh, shit."

He ran back to the front. "Get out!" he shouted at the waiting troops. "There's a bomb!" All of the soldiers ran ahead of Spike and down the corridor. The first of them made it to the hangar just as the bomb exploded. Spike could feel the blast of heat coming, and practically threw the boys just ahead of him into the hangar. He dove after them, keeping just out of reach of the flames. They expected more explosions, but when after a few minutes none came, Spike ordered them back in. "Get the fires put out," Spike told them. "Do whatever it takes to salvage those generators." He turned to the team guarding the hangar. "You lot, come with me."

Spike bit back the stream of epithets that rested on the tip of his tongue as he led the new team up the stairs towards the third level. The vamp in the generator room had obviously arrived before they did, and it was a safe wager he hadn't come alone. Blowing up the generators was smart, but the control room was the real prize. Buffy would be needing all the backup she could get.

"Get to the control room!" Spike ordered the men behind him; then he flew up the stairs, three steps at a time.

***

Buffy followed her team into the lift and turned around. She had just enough time to look into Spike's eyes as the doors slid shut. She tried in that brief moment to drink in his intent, worried gaze. It could very well be the last time she'd see it.

"Jeez, Buff, defeatist much?" she muttered as the lift began its climb.

"Ma'am?" Hicks asked.

"Nothing," she said, and gave him a sheepish smile. "Talking to myself." She started to face front, but then she turned back and took a good look at the tall, blond private. He kind of looked like Riley. She wondered if he was a descendent. If so, he was probably too far removed to know about it.

"So, you're Buffy the Great," Marrero said.

She turned to raise an eyebrow at him. "How 'bout just Buffy?"

"But you're the legendary Slayer," he said. "I've heard stories about you all my life."

Wonderful. No pressure there. Buffy turned back to the doors and checked her weapon's readiness. "I don't know what you've heard," she said, "but I'm just one in a really long line of Slayers."

"Right. That's why the Council devoted so many resources to bringing you here."

Buffy didn't say anything. Instead she took a battle stance as the lift stopped, and waited for the doors to open. She knew the rifle she held had her old gear beat for efficiency, but she still would've felt better going into this with good old Mr. Pointy. The door opened, and she gestured for Hicks to exit beside her, both of their weapons at the ready. When she confirmed the coast was clear, she motioned for the others to follow. The corridor they were in led off in two directions.

"Which way to the control room?" she asked.

"Down there, then right," Hicks said, pointing to her left. "That's the shortest."

"Can you get there from the other direction?"

"Yeah, this hall goes all the way around."

Buffy nodded. "Okay. Hicks, Marrero, you're with me. Elwell, I want you to take the others around the long way and meet us there. If they've already gotten to the controls, we'll do what we can when we get there. You guys get to be the cavalry."

Elwell answered with a nod, then led the cavalry down the corridor. Buffy turned in the opposite direction, and Hicks and Marrero both fell into step behind her.

"You ask me," Marrero said as they went, "they coulda just used that time machine of theirs to fix it so that the vamps never took over in the first place."

"Nobody did ask you," Buffy said. "Nobody asked me, either. They just brought me here. I didn't exactly get a say."

"Look, no offense, Slayer. I just meant --"

"Shh!" Buffy stopped at the corner, and motioned for the two men to do the same. She slowed her breathing and focused her senses, just as she had earlier with Jessica. A familiar vibration pulled at her from the control room. "They're here," she said, and started down the hall without another word.

***

As Spike reached the second level, Major Ellison and his men burst into the stairwell. "There was an explosion," Ellison said.

"A bomb in the generator room," Spike said. "We got it contained. But they're here." He started up towards the third level, but the Major reached out and grabbed his arm.

"I just heard from headquarters. The system's been breached. Mars has lost main life support, and they're under attack."

With a furious growl, Spike tore his arm out of the Major's grip and fled up the stairs, followed by Ellison and his troops. This time Spike didn't bother to hold back the cursing. Their worst nightmares were coming true.

As he neared the third level, another explosion shook the stairs and knocked him off his feet. This time it came from above. "Buffy," Spike cried as he struggled to his feet. A few more steps, and he was there. He flew through the door and down the corridor, toward the heat of fire and the sounds of fighting. He made it a few feet before everything went dark, and the orange glow of the flames began to fade. He stopped to give his eyes a moment to adjust, but then the emergency backup lights came on. Still, he could feel the temperature dropping, and when he tried to draw air into his lungs, there was none to be had. They'd lost life support.

Even so, the fighting continued. Spike rounded a corner, only to be knocked to the ground by a flying body. He shoved the dead soldier off as Ellison and his men caught up with him. The other soldiers jumped into the fray, but Ellison paused to offer Spike a hand up. Spike took his hand and let the Major pull him to his feet. A flash of light blinded Spike before he could say thanks. When his eyes focused again, he could see that the left side of Ellison's head was missing. His corpse slumped to the ground, revealing a grinning vampire with a laser rifle trained on Spike. He looked down at the hand he still held, and saw that the arm it was attached to ended at the elbow, with bone protruding from the melted stump. Spike swung the arm up and knocked the gun out of the vampire's hands. Then he gripped it around the wrist like a spear and smashed the bone into the vampire's mask, shattering both. He dropped the arm and raised his sun gun. Within seconds the vampire burst into flames. Spike relished its screams as it dissolved into ash.

With vamps and soldiers wearing the same gear, from a distance it was impossible to tell which was which. Still, nothing could have kept him from being able to pick her out of a crowd. He could tell her by the way she moved, all elegance and lethal grace. Using her hands and feet as Giles had taught her, and using her stake rifle as Spike himself had taught her, she dusted vampire after vampire while around her soldiers fell. Spike's blaster would be useless here. He couldn't fire the laser without knowing who he was shooting, and the suits protected the vamps from the artificial sunlight. He discarded it next to the Major's remains. He'd fight this fight with fists and fangs, just as he'd always done.

Fists and fangs proved reliable as ever as he fought through the melee towards Buffy. The environmental suits didn't protect the vampires from getting their necks broken and having their heads ripped off. He made his way through three more vampires -- mere fledglings, compared to himself -- and was almost to Buffy's side. She clubbed a female vampire with the butt of her stake rifle. The vamp went limp, and Buffy turned her gun around to fire into her heart. She saw him then, and the split-second she took to acknowledge him was all it took. The vampire snapped out of her 'possum act and reached a gloveless hand up to tear a hole in Buffy's suit.

***

Everything went cold. She couldn't breathe. The edges of her vision swam as everything went into slow motion, and her head felt like it was being squeezed in a vice. Then the vampire on the ground before her exploded into dust, and air started to come to her again, and the cold started to fade. Buffy realized that Spike was on his knees in front of her, clutching the hole in her suit. He twisted the material, then looked up at her.

"Hold this," he said. "Tight." Buffy did as he said. He crawled over to a dead soldier and ripped the thin air hose off of his suit, then came back and tied it around the hole in her suit like a tourniquet. "There," he said, looking immensely relieved and pleased with himself. "Good as new." He took off his duster and placed it around her shoulders. "Put this on," he ordered. "See how easy they can tear through leather."

Buffy smiled in spite of herself. She should've known he'd have her back. She shrugged into his coat and looked up at him as he started to button it for her. She supposed it was a good thing she had to wear a mask to breathe, because there wasn't really time for her to kiss him like she wanted to. "I love you," she told him.

He looked up from the coat, and gave her a wink and a smirk. "I kn--"

His smirk faded into a look of disbelief as he looked down at his chest. "Bloody hell," he muttered.

Buffy followed his gaze, and saw a sharp, wooden point poking out from his heart. "Oh, God." Her voice was barely more than a squeak. She looked up and met his stunned gaze, and watched his beautiful blue eyes fade into nothing. She reached out and grasped for his hand, but caught only a handful of dust.

No.

The vampire who stood in his place clutched the offending stake. Buffy stared at the weapon. They'd brought stakes. Which meant they'd been prepared to deal with Spike; but they weren't prepared to deal with her.

"So much for the traitor," the vampire said. He took a step towards her, and raised his stake.

With a cry of savage fury, Buffy spun around and brought a boot to his head. As he turned with the force of the blow, she caught his arm and held it straight out behind him. She brought her elbow down onto his, cracking the bone. He lost his grip on the stake. She caught it with her free hand, then spun around and plunged it into his chest.

Buffy stood for a moment, catching her breath, staring dully at the dust that lay where her lover had been only a moment before. Hopelessness threatened to overtake her, just as it had when Glory had gotten away with Dawn. She fought the impulse to sit down, to take herself out of the fight and just let events unfold as they may. "This isn't right," she heard someone say, and somewhere in the back of her mind she registered that she had spoken. You don't have time to grieve, a more urgent voice screamed inside her head. She felt herself shutting down, the Slayer pushing her grief down as far as it would go and drawing power from her rage. She focused on the stake in her hand. The intimate, old fashioned weapon felt comforting in her grip. It felt good. It wasn't Mr. Pointy, but it would do.

The Slayer abandoned herself to the battle. A primal force of vengeance and fury, she wasn't sure whether she guided the stake, or it guided her. She didn't care. As she fought, she could hear a voice taunting her, egging her on. Nice work, Love, it said. Go on, Slayer. You know you want to. Give it to 'em good, pet. And then silence. Nothing but the sound of her own blood ringing in her ears, her heart pounding in her chest, her own rapid breath. Then, "Summers?" She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she spun around, her stake poised for the kill.

"Whoa!" Hicks brought his own weapon up to block. "Stand down, Slayer!"

She lowered the stake and looked around. Dust and dead bodies littered the floor, as the few who came through unscathed helped the wounded to their feet. "Are we through here?"

"Yeah," Hicks said. "I'd say the mission's pretty much FUBAR*. They blew up the control room. Life support's gonna have to be repaired manually. The Major's dead, and so is half the unit."

Buffy nodded. "This is all wrong," she said. "It shouldn't be like this."

"Well, it is," Hicks said. "All we can do now is regroup, come up with another strategy."

"No," Buffy said. "No. I can fix this."

"Where's your Watcher?" Hicks asked.

Buffy looked back at the spot where she'd last seen him standing. His dust had been scattered, and mixed with all the rest. She shook her head, and swallowed. "He didn't make it."

"I'm sorry," Hicks said.

Buffy looked at him. "I can fix this," she said. "Can you pilot the shuttle?"

"Yeah."

"Good. I need to get back to headquarters."

He nodded. "We'll go back there just as soon as --"

"No. Now."

"What about the rest of --"

"It won't matter for them after I get back there," Buffy said.

"The hell it won't," Hicks said. "We're not leaving them here, not even temporarily."

Buffy looked down, and for the first time she realized she still had Spike's coat on. She put her stake in the pocket, then came to stand face to face with Hicks. "You saw what I can do," she said, careful to keep her voice low and even. "You know I can force you."

Hicks eyed her warily. "You wouldn't --"

"I just lost the only thing I had left that mattered to me. At this point, there is very little I wouldn't do. Get me to Council Headquarters. Now."

***

She repaired her suit in the shuttle. She could have just changed into an undamaged one, but she needed something to do. Something mundane to keep her from thinking too much -- to keep her from breaking down. When she finished she put the suit back on, then pulled his coat on over it, pulling it tight around her as she went to stand by Hicks.

"How much longer?" she asked him.

"About a minute."

She put her hands in her pockets, and her left hand brushed against paper. She pulled it out and looked at it. Her letter. Did Spike get a chance to read it before ... ?

"Better make it a fast minute," she said.

"Headquarters should be coming into view right ab-- Oh. Oh, no."

"It's okay," Buffy said, with more conviction than she felt.

Hicks looked at her. "I was starting to wonder if you'd lost your mind, Slayer. Now I know you have. Don't you see that?"

She saw it. The bridge that led from the hangar bay to the main building had been blown out completely, as had most of the main building's windows. Light still shone from some of them, which meant that the power hadn't gone out; but it was a safe bet that there was no life support. Bodies and body parts littered both the ground below and the sky above, as those that were blown free of the moon's gravity drifted into space. It seemed unlikely that there would be any human survivors, but flashes of light from inside the building signaled more explosions. Maybe there were still victims to be had; or maybe the vamps were just being thorough.

"Don't bother with the hangar," Buffy said. "Get me to the main building."

"Fuck you, Summers," Hicks said. "I'm going back for the others."

Buffy jerked his rifle out of his holster and aimed it at his head. "Drop me off first. Then you can go back."

Hicks clenched his jaw, but he complied. "I don't know what you think you're going to accomplish in there," he said.

Buffy lowered the weapon. "I'm going to put it all right."

Hicks maneuvered the shuttle as close as he could to the gaping hole on the top level. He and Buffy both secured their masks to their hoods, then he opened the doors for her. Buffy tossed him his weapon. "I'm sorry," she said. "Maybe ... maybe next time you'll get to grow up under better circumstances."

Before he could question her, she leapt the short distance to the building. She stood for a moment and looked around, realizing she had no idea where she needed to go. The briefing room lay straight ahead, at the end of the corridor. She should be able to call up building schematics from there. She walked up to the doors, but they didn't open. She was about to pry them apart when a friendly voice said, "Voice authorization code?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. They hadn't wasted any time implementing the security changes she'd suggested. A lot of good it had done them. She stepped up to the panel and said, "Dawn."

"Please hold for retinal scan." She stood and stared at the panel while a light shined into her eye. "Thank you, Miss Summers. Please proceed."

The door slid open, then shut behind her. She walked toward the Chairwoman's console, and sighed. She couldn't even run an i-Mac without Willow. How the hell was she supposed to work this computer? She pounded a fist on the table in frustration. When she did, a whimper came from beneath the table. Buffy reached underneath and clutched what felt like an arm, and hauled the arm's owner out and onto the table. She raised her stake.

"Oh God, please, no!" cried a woman from inside an environmental suit.

Buffy lowered her stake. "Anne?"

"Buffy? Oh, thank God!" She got up from the table and hugged Buffy. "I thought you were one of them."

"Likewise," Buffy said. "What are you doing in here?"

"The whole Council was supposed to meet in here. I guess I got here first. Nobody else ever showed up. I could hear ... oh, God, Buffy! I could hear screaming, and explosions ... I was so afraid to open the door!"

"It's okay," Buffy said. "If you did, you'd be dead."

"Oh, God." She reached out and clutched Buffy's arm. "What do we do now?" Then she looked down at the coat Buffy wore, and realized. "Spike?"

"He's gone," Buffy said.

"No. But he's -- no!"

"Anne," Buffy said, but the young woman didn't appear to hear her as she broke into tears. Buffy tried again, shaking her shoulders this time. "Anne, listen to me!"

"What?"

"It's okay," Buffy said. "I'm going to fix things, but I need you to help me. Can you do that?"

"I don't ... I think ... what do you need me to do?"

"The time machine that they used to bring me here. Do you know where it is?"

Anne nodded.

"Do you know how it works?"

"I dated the operator, he showed me once how to work the controls. But I ... oh. Oh, Buffy, no. You can't --"

The image of Spike crumbling into dust invaded her head. Buffy bit back a sob, but she couldn't keep her lip from trembling or tears from spilling. She shut her eyes against the memory, then opened them and looked at Anne.

"I have to."

"But you'll change everything! Don't you understand? All of the people here, we might not even exist!"

Buffy grabbed Anne by the wrist and pulled her out into the corridor -- what was left of it. "Look around, Anne. Pretty soon the only people existing here are going to be vampires. Is that the kind of existence you want?"

"No, but --"

"The Council brought me here to save the world. That's what I'm going to do. The only way that I can."

Anne looked around at the remains of the top level, and gasped. Buffy followed her gaze to a pile of bodies at one end of the hall. She recognized some of the Watchers lying in the heap. Some of their heads peered out from strange angles. Most of their throats had been torn out. The walls and floor around them were splattered with blood.

Buffy looked back at Anne. She looked like she might faint. Buffy took her niece by the shoulders and turned her until they were eye to eye. "Anne, I can end this."

Anne simply stared at her. Buffy feared she was going into shock. Then Anne licked her lips, and swallowed, and her expression steeled into one of resolve. "The time machine's this way."

Buffy's relief mixed with a tinge of pride. Anne was a Summers after all, and she'd been brought up by Spike. Buffy should've known she'd come through. As she followed Anne down the corridor and past the pile of dead Watchers, explosions shook the building. They reached the open lift doors, but there was no lift. "In case of emergency, use stairs," Buffy said.

"It's six floors down," Anne told her.

Buffy shrugged. "I'd call this an emergency. Let's go."

As they went the explosions felt closer and closer; but they made it safely down the six flights. "The time machine lab is down here," Anne said, starting down the corridor.

"Wait," Buffy said, grabbing her arm and holding her back. "There are vamps down here. I can sense them."

Anne nodded, but then looked back towards the lab. "The coast looks clear."

"All right. Let's go," Buffy said, holding her stake at the ready. "Stay close." They made it to the lab without any problem, though Buffy could feel vampires getting nearer. She gave her password to the authorization panel. Nothing happened.

Buffy stepped back, and motioned for Anne to give hers. Still nothing. "Guess we'll have to pry the doors open," Buffy said.

"If you could pry the doors open there wouldn't be much reason for secure access," Anne said.

"Well, we have to get in there somehow," Buffy said. Just then something black and cylindrical landed at their feet with a clatter, and they both looked down.

"Buffy ..." Anne began.

"Run!" Buffy grabbed her and half pushed, half threw her down the hall in front of her. They both hit the deck as the grenade went off. Fire passed over them, but their suits protected them. Without any oxygen the fire was out almost as quickly as it started. Buffy scanned the area, but couldn't see who threw the grenade. She looked back at the lab, which now had a big hole where the doors had been. "Well, that was considerate," she said as she got up and pulled Anne to her feet. "Hurry. We don't have much time."

Inside the lab, Anne led Buffy around to the controls. She pointed to a chamber in the middle of the room. "You need to be in there," she said.

"Okay," Buffy said. "Are you sure you can do this?"

Anne nodded. "I don't have to understand the physics or anything, I just have to know which buttons to push. You'll want to go back to the night President Morgan gave the order. I should be able to get you right inside the oval office --"

"No," Buffy said, looking over her shoulder at the controls. "Before then. Is it still set for the time that I died?"

Anne checked over the settings, and nodded.

"Get me back ten minutes before then, on the tower."

Anne looked at her, puzzled. "Why then?"

Buffy remembered Spike's tearful confession. Well, he cut her. She bled, and the portal opened, and you had to jump. And the hellmouth was left without a Slayer, and the vampires got so organized that they were able to take over the world. She looked up at Anne.

"Because that's when everything started to go wrong."

Anne seemed to consider this, then nodded in understanding. She altered the setting. "Buffy? Good luck."

Buffy hugged her grandniece. "Spike would be proud of you," she said. "I am." She let her go, and climbed inside the chamber. "Ready when you are," she called. She heard another clatter, and spun around. Another grenade lay on the floor just outside the chamber. "Now!" Buffy shouted, banging on the glass. "Now! It has to be--"

Everything went white.

***

"You don't come near the girl, Doc," Spike warned.

The old man sniffed the air. "I don't smell a soul anywhere on you ... why do you even care?"

"I made a promise to a lady."

"Oh." Doc nodded in understanding, but then his reptilian tongue lashed out at Spike's head.

Spike dodged it, but it was just a feint. Before he knew what was happening, Doc had a hold of him from behind, pushing him to the edge of the platform. The little old man guise was obviously a ruse, designed to give his enemies false confidence. The creature was impossibly strong. Spike struggled to free himself, to keep away from the edge, to send the old bastard over the side in his place, but it was no use.

"I'll send the lady your regrets," Doc said.

"Why send them? The lady's right here."

Spike and Doc both turned toward her voice, just in time for Buffy's fist to connect with Doc's face. The old demon let go of Spike as he struggled to keep his footing.

Spike had to fight for his own footing. He overcorrected and fell forward on his hands and knees, and gasped as fresh pain from his stab wound shot through him.

"Get Dawn!" Buffy shouted as she whaled on Doc.

Spike gritted his teeth as he climbed to his feet. His hand instinctively went underneath his coat to his wounded kidneys. When he pulled it out, it was slick with blood. "Brilliant." He wiped it on his jeans and hurried over to Dawn.

"Are you okay?" she asked him.

He nodded. "Hold tight, bit," he said as he worked on undoing her straps. "I'll have you down from here in a jiff."

"Um, Spike? Look." She was looking over the side, at the fight that still raged below. Between Glory and Buffy.

Spike looked from the fight below to the one above, and felt just as flummoxed as Dawn looked.

"Is that the BuffyBot?" Dawn asked.

"Don't think so," he said. "The 'bot got her block knocked off, literally. They can't have repaired her this quickly."

"So then, why are there two Buffies?"

Spike shrugged. "We'll sort it out after we get you safe." He went back to work on her ropes.

"But, she just appeared out of nowhere. And look at her clothes. She looks all futuristic, like she stepped right out of Farscape or something. Except for the coat."

"Eh?"

Dawn looked back and forth between Buffy and Spike. "Spike, she's wearing your coat. How can you both be wearing your coat?"

Spike looked at Buffy. She held her own against Doc but didn't look to be anywhere close to defeating the tough old bastard any time soon. The coat she wore did bear a certain resemblance to his own, though a hell of a lot more battered and worn. He shook his head. "I don't know, nibblet."

"Maybe she really is from the future?"

"That can't --" Spike stopped. Now was not the time to argue with the teenager. "Yeah, mebbe. Let's go with that."

He fumbled some more at her ropes, but he couldn't get the knots to budge. "Bugger!" He looked around for the knife that Doc had stabbed him with. It lay on the edge of the platform. Spike reached for it, but a reptilian tail swept out and knocked him off balance, sending him over the side.

"Spike!" Buffy and Dawn both cried.

He managed to grab hold of the platform. As he pulled himself up, he could see Doc reaching for the knife. Buffy was doing her damnedest to hold him back. Spike got back onto the platform and lunged for the knife, but before he could reach it Doc's tongue lashed out and retrieved it. He threw it at Dawn. Spike dove to intercept, but instead of catching it like he planned he just knocked it off course. It landed at Dawn's feet.

"Ow!" she cried.

"You all right?" Spike asked her.

"Yeah. It cut my foot, but I'll live."

Spike heard an awful, rasping sound coming from the old man. He seemed to be laughing. He lay at Buffy's feet while she punched him, again and again, but he kept laughing. Spike had enough. He picked up the knife. "Buffy!" he called, and tossed it to her. She plunged it into Doc's chest. He kept laughing.

"God!" Buffy said. "Would you just die already?" She raised the knife again, and this time brought it down into Doc's eye. He stopped laughing. His tail twitched a couple of times, and then went limp.

"Old geezer was tougher than he looked," Spike said as he walked over to Buffy. "For a minute there I thought he'd be the death of us all." He held out his hand to help her up, but she just stared at it. Then she looked up at him. Her eyes glistened with tears. "Pet? Come on, now. We did it. Nobody's gonna hurt kid sis, everything's gonna be all right."

Buffy nodded, and took his hand. He pulled her to her feet, but she didn't let go. "You're right. Everything's gonna be all right. For real this time." She met his eyes, and there was something in hers that Spike had never seen before.

"Hello?" Dawn said. "Everything'll be more all right after you untie me and we can go home."

Buffy looked at her sister like she'd just seen her for the first time. "Dawn!" She ran to her, and hugged her, and kissed her cheek. "Oh, God, Dawn. I missed you so much."

Dawn pulled back and looked at her. "Yeah, missed you too. Say, where'd ya get the coat?"

Buffy looked from Dawn to Spike. Spike just waited, watching her expectantly. "It's kind of a long story," she said.

"You're from the future," Dawn said.

Buffy grinned. "Apparently not that long."

"We figured it out," Dawn said. "'Cause your clothes are so shiny. How far in the future? How did you get here? How come you're not older?"

"We'll talk about it after we get you down from here," Buffy said as she tore at Dawn's bonds. For her they came apart with ease. "The important thing is that everybody's safe--" She stopped, and looked at Dawn's foot. "You're bleeding."

"Oh. Yeah," Spike said. "The knife nicked her foot. 'S nothing a band-aid won't fix."

"No, you don't understand," Buffy said. She looked over the end of the platform, and all the color drained from her face. Spike went to stand next to her, and looked down at something he could only describe as a tear in the fabric of the universe.

He swallowed. He knew what was happening, but still he had to ask. "What is that?"

"The Key," Buffy said. She shook her head. "No. I ... God. I tried. Spike, I swear I tried to stop it."

There was a panicked note in her voice and a hopeless expression on her face that Spike didn't like one bit. "Buffy? Don't go all catatonic on us again, love."

Buffy looked up at him as realization dawned. "I can still fix it." As she looked forward again her face relaxed into a look of peace. She started to step forward, off of the platform.

Spike grabbed her arm and jerked her back. "What the bloody hell d'you think you're doing?"

"Closing the portal," Buffy said. "It needs blood, you know that. Mine will work just as well as Dawn's."

"Buffy, no!" Dawn said.

Buffy looked at her, and reached out to stroke her hair. "Dawnie, it's okay. This is why I came here."

"But --"

"Trust me," Buffy said. "Everything will be okay." She looked at Spike. "Take her to the other Buffy. Don't let anybody come up here."

Spike shook his head. "If you think I'm gonna leave you here to take a header into that thing --"

"If I don't do this, she will," Buffy snapped. "And then she'll have to do this all over again. Like Groundhog Day, only scarier. This way, it ends." She looked at Dawn. "Go. Glory's dead by now, you're safe. Your sister's coming to get you, don't let her get up here. If she comes up here, she'll die."

Dawn opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, and swallowed as a tear slipped down her cheek. She started to go, but then Buffy caught her and pressed something into her hand.

"Give this to her. And don't read it!"

"Like I would."

Buffy just raised an eyebrow at her.

"All right, I won't read it. Jeez!" Dawn's breath caught, as she realized. "Oh my God, you really are Buffy." Dawn rushed forward and hugged her.

Buffy squeezed her back, and kissed her. "I love you," she said.

"I love you too," Dawn said; then she whispered, "Thank you." Then she let go, and turned to climb down the tower.

Buffy wiped her eyes. "Go with her," she told Spike. "The sun's coming up. I came here to keep you from getting dusted, not to cause it."

He shook his head. "Don't do this, love. Please." His voice broke on the last word, but he didn't care. "There has to be another way. We can just --"

Before he could finish, she took his face in her hands and pulled him down into a kiss. He pulled back in surprise, and looked at her. The look of love on her face ... he couldn't believe it. He never thought she'd look at him like that. Ever. He let out a disbelieving little laugh. She just smiled at him, though her lower lip trembled as she stroked the side of his face. She pulled him back down, and he closed his eyes and surrendered. She kissed him like a lover, like someone who knew him intimately. Someone who wanted him. Someone who loved him. He slid his arms around her as he returned it, determined to hold her there for as long as he could. It didn't matter where -- or when -- she came from. She was still Buffy.

When she broke it off, he rested his forehead against hers. He didn't let go.

"I loved you so much," Buffy whispered. Spike pulled back and stared at her in wonder. Tears streamed down her face. She reached up a hand and caressed his cheek. "Keep your promise, Spike. No matter what happens."

He nodded. "I aim to."

She pushed him away from her, and took a few steps back from the end of the platform.

"I love you," Spike told her.

Buffy smiled. "I know." She took a deep breath and said, "Buffy dies saving the world, take two." Then she ran forward, and dove off of the platform.

He tried to watch, to bear witness, but the morning's first light hit him, and he had to run for shade. When he got to the shadow of the tower's beams, his knees buckled, and he sagged to the floor. Then he cried. He shed tears for the sacrifice of a Buffy who would never exist, and for a love that he had never known. She was Buffy, and she'd loved him, even though it was impossible. He also shed tears of relief. Because his Buffy lived.

When he could stand again, he started making his way down the tower. It was a tricky business, trying to jump from shadow to shadow, watching every step on the way. He didn't know how the hell he was going to get back to his crypt.

"Spike?"

He looked up to see Buffy coming up the ramp towards him. His Buffy. Tired, battle worn and disheveled, but alive and relatively unhurt. She'd never looked more beautiful. She seemed to be studying him. She looked at him the way that ... it was the same way she'd looked at him when she'd pretended to be that sodding robot, after he'd said he'd rather die than see her in pain. Right before she'd kissed him. Right before she'd forgiven him.

"Pet?" He glanced down at her hand, which clutched a sheet of notebook paper. Some sort of letter. "You all right?"

She noticed him noticing the letter, and shoved it in her pocket. "Yeah. You?"

"I'll live." He gave her an ironic smile. "In a manner of speaking."

Buffy nodded. "Dawn told me what ... We should go. This shade won't last much longer."

"Right," Spike said. "Things all squared away with Glory then?"

"Yeah," she said. "We all made it through another apocalypse. Well, sort of." She frowned, and crossed her arms. "There's, um, there's a body. Giles is taking care of ... of her."

Spike nodded. "Could be worse, pet," Spike said. "Could be you."

"But it is me. Or, was. If she hadn't been there ... Spike, it was supposed to be me."

"Shh, love," Spike said, putting his hands on her shoulders. "That's why she came here." He reached up to brush her hair out of her face. She didn't flinch away from the intimate gesture. "She's what you'll never have to be."

Buffy looked up at him, and this time her eyes held something else. It looked a lot like what the other's eyes had held before she jumped. Slowly, boldly, he leaned towards her, and she didn't pull away. Instead her hand came up to caress the lapel of his coat. He wasn't even sure if she was aware of the movement. He closed his eyes and leaned in to close the gap.

"Here, I found this," Dawn said, coming up the ramp towards them, dragging a heavy tarp behind her. They both jumped apart, putting an arm's length between them as Dawn offered the tarp to Spike. "You can cover up with it till we get home."

"Home?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, "you can crash at our house for the day. Dawn said you got stabbed, I want to look at your wound."

Spike leered at her, already back to form. "You know, Slayer, you don't need a pretense if you want to play doctor."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "As if. And, shut up. I'm way too tired for banter, you have an unfair advantage."

Spike smiled at her. Not a smirk, just a smile. "Later, then."

Both girls helped him arrange the tarp, making sure he didn't have an inch of skin that would be exposed to the sun. As Buffy helped him pull the heavy material over his head, their eyes met, and he could feel the heat coming off her as she blushed.

"Thank you," she said. "For keeping your promise, and protecting her."

"I said till the end of the world, didn't I?" He looked around, and shrugged. "The world's still here."

Buffy smiled at him, and there was that look again. "Let's go, William," she said.

"Oh, it's William now, is it?"

She shrugged. "I just wanted to see how it sounded when I'm not all pissed off at you." She started to turn, then looked back at him. "What's your last name?" He raised an eyebrow at her, and opened his mouth to answer, but she waved a hand to cut him off. "Nevermind. There's still time to find out." Her eyes lingered on him a moment longer before she turned to leave; Spike could swear he saw that look again.

They started down the ramp, Buffy and Dawn walking ahead of him. Spike thought over what had happened -- what the other Buffy must have been through to make her come back here and give her life for them. He tried to imagine if his Buffy had been the one to take that dive and close the portal. Every way he could imagine it, that was a future he never wanted to know. He followed his girls down the ramp, both of them safe and sound, and smiled. He much preferred the future in front of him.

*

The End