DISCLAIMER: Joss' toys. My playground.
SPOILERS: None really, just the B/S story
Buffy opened her eyes. There was a light above her head. The light from street lamps surrounded the curtains. Night. The rest of the room was dark, but there were sounds, a steady, rhythmic beeping, low murmuring voices, footsteps.
She tried to move. Nothing would respond, not an arm, a leg. Her lips were dry and her throat sore. The last thing she had known, she had been standing back to back with Spike, battling an oncoming hoard of demons. She closed her eyes, trying to remember.
There had been about thirty of them. They all looked the same, about 7' tall with scaly faces and the eeriest eyes, blue where they should have been white. She had seen Spike fall.
"Spike?" she shouted. It came out as a whisper. "Spike?" she called out again, more desperately.
"I'm right here, love," came the reply. She opened her eyes again, assuring herself that the voice had been real and not a dream.
He lifted his head from her side and stood up from his chair. He leaned over her, so she could see his face. He leaned close and put his elbow on her pillow. "I'm here, Buffy," he repeated softly. He stroked her hair and he felt her relax. He was there. He was all right.
She had to know, "We beat them then?"
"Yes, love. We beat them all." He looked at her forehead, trying to avoid her eyes. In the seven years they'd had together, she'd always been able to read his eyes.
"Spike, look at me." she said slowly. He did. His eyes were tired, red-rimmed and full of pain. "What is it? What is wrong? Were you hurt?" She looked him over. His left hand was bandaged and she was sure there were more bandages she couldn't see. "Spike, tell me."
"I'll be all right, Buffy." He said sadly. "It's you. You were There was a poison on their talons, Buffy." he managed to explain, "One tore a nasty gash in your side."
"But I'll be okay," she tried to reassure him. "I've got Slayer healing powers. Remember?"
He nodded and stroked her hair. He tried to smile confidently.
"She's awake?" Buffy recognized Giles' voice from across the room.
"Giles," Buffy called to him. "Will you tell Spike that I'll be all right?" Giles didn't respond but moved to take his place on the other side of the bed from Spike. She looked at him. "Giles?"
"Buffy, it is a very powerful toxin," Rupert managed. "There is no cure."
She absorbed the information slowly. No cure. She looked back at Spike. He bravely met her gaze, but she knew. "Oh," she said. She was going to die. "How long?"
Giles answered, "We don't know. Anyone else would... With your Slayer powers... We're just not sure...not long we think."
Buffy closed her eyes. She had known this day would come. She had always known. She just thought it would be quick, at the hands of some evil thing, not here, slowly in a hospital bed. "What will happen?"
"Again, we're not sure, the Council scientists are working on an anti-toxin, but it...it won't be ready. They say that it appears the toxin was meant for prey. The poison first attacks the muscles, then the organs one by one, leaving the circulatory and respiratory systems until the...," he couldn't finish the thought.
Buffy took it in. The room was so quiet. "Will it hurt?"
Giles looked at her, tears welling up in his eyes. "No, dear. It won't hurt."
Buffy's eyes closed. She thought. "Is everyone here?"
"Can I see them?"
"Yes. I'll just...I'll go fetch them." Giles stepped out of the room.
Spike lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. She watched, realizing that she hadn't felt it. He put her hand to his cheek. "Buffy, you were always afraid I'd leave you. Now you're going. It's not right."
"It's not by choice, my love," she replied. "But we knew...we always knew our time would be short." She took a deep breath. "We had seven wonderful years though. You made me so happy. If I hadn't spent so long hating you at first, it could have been more."
"Your strong spirit is what made me love you, pet. I will always love you, you know. Wherever you go, my love will go with you. I don't know what I will do without you," she saw his shoulders shake as sobs overtook him.
A slow tear dripped down the side of her face. "And mine will be with you, Spike. Through all eternity." They sat together in silence, already missing each other.
Giles opened the door and let in Willow, Xander, Anya and Tara. They surrounded her bed and Spike left the room to collect himself. Giles went out into the hall and shut the door.
Her head felt so heavy. Buffy asked Xander to raise the head of the bed so she could looked each of her friends in the eye. They looked terrible. She tried to be brave. "Please don't be sad. At least this way, I have a chance to say good bye to you all."
"Tara, thank you for being my friend. I wish I'd had a chance to know you better. You helped me a lot when Mom died. Please be there for Willow now."
Tara leaned forward and kissed Buffy's cheek, "I will."
"Are you in pain? Is there something we can do for you?"
"No, Anya, Thank you. You've already helped me more than you'll ever know. Your devotion to Xander gave me hope in the darkest times. Your strength in facing your new mortality gives me courage even now."
Anya wiped away a tear, and kissing Buffy's forehead she whispered, "Thank you."
"Xander?" Xander who had been standing at the foot of the bed, wiped his face and looked up at Buffy. "Xander, you're a very lucky fellow," she glanced at Anya, then back at her friend. Xander nodded and tried to smile. "I'm going to miss you, Xander. You have a good heart. You always knew just what I needed and you always told me the truth."
"You didn't deserve any less, Buffy. You deserved a lot more. You don't...," his voice caught, " You don't deserve this." New tears fell from his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't there."
"Xander," she chided, "If you'd been there, it could be you in this bed and not me. You know I couldn't stand that."
"Still, I'd just..."
"I know, Xander," she struggled to find the words, "and thank you."
Buffy turned to her best friend. Willow sniffed and took her place at Buffy's side. Opening her mouth, she knew, would only bring sobs, so she stayed silent.
"Will, you've been my best friend for as long as...well, forever. Remember my first Sunnydale High School science class?" Buffy smiled and Willow shook with silent tears. "You think you're not strong, Will, but you are. You've always known your own heart. I rarely did."
Willow broke down and cried in Buffy's lap. "Buffy, I can't believe... I guess I never wanted to believe. There's so much I still want to share with you."
Buffy wished for all the world that she could just raise her hand to comfort her friend. But she couldn't. The door opened again and Giles came in softly, "Buffy, Father Timothy is here. Shall I see him in?"
Buffy tried to swallow. It hurt. "Just one more minute, please, Giles?" He nodded and stepped back out into the hall. "Everybody, I need to tell you...to ask you something important." Willow raised her head to look at her with the rest of them. "You're all still part of the team. Whoever the new Slayer is, you'll be there for her, won't you? She has to know she's not alone." They all nodded silently. "And one other thing, and this one's just for me. I know it's not easy, but Spike's going to need you to be his friends, like you were mine." The Scoobies looked at each other. Even though Buffy had been with him for so long, they'd never been close to the vampire. He had just always been hers. Now, with her gone, what would bind them together? "Please?" she begged. He has no one else." They each nodded again.
"Thank you all. Thank you for everything, always. Now, I guess I should see Father Timothy. It's something we set up a long time ago. I never thought..." An unexpected sob escaped her lips.
"Buffy," Willow ran to her side, crying. "This can't be happening. It just can't. I'm not ready to say good-bye."
Buffy forced herself to breathe slowly. "I'm ready Will. I've been a Slayer for such a very long time." Tears ran down her cheeks. "But I am going to miss you all so much."
"No," Willow sobbed. "No." Tara put her hands on Willow's shoulders.
They knew it was time to go. Each of the Scoobies took their turn to kiss Buffy good-bye; first Xander, then Anya, Tara and Willow who had collected herself enough to do this last thing. They left the room. Buffy closed her eyes. It was getting hard to breathe.
Father Timothy came in the room alone. "Hello, Buffy," he said softly.
Her eyes flickered open. "Hello Father, " she returned.
"I promised you I'd come. Do you remember?"
"I'm humbled, Buffy, that you came to see me two years ago. I'm glad that you shared everything with me, that I know all about you and can help you now." He looked down on her. Their meeting had been brief, but he'd never forget the story she told, about being the Slayer, loving a vampire, killing beasts that roamed Sunnydale. He'd never had believed it except that he'd been so fascinated by her stories of the Hellmouth that he had confirmed it by looking through old papers, talking to police officers and finally walking the streets himself.
They'd had a second meeting, then, and discussed the practicalities of what was about to happen here today. After that he had seen her at church sporadically. He knew her strong faith was not founded in ceremony, but in the fact that she knew that she knew that evil really existed. She battled it every night.
She fought to catch her breath. "Can I lower the bed for you?" she nodded. The motor hummed as the bed lowered. Her breathing evened out somewhat.
"Shall we then?" he asked gently.
Buffy nodded again.
The priest laid prepared the few things he had brought. A candle, his stole and prayer book. As they had discussed, however, he had carefully left behind the holy water, host and crucifix. Spike was nearby and Buffy wouldn't have him kept away for anything...even eternity. The priest began...
I recommend you, dear sister, to Almighty God, and commit you to His mercy. May the noble company of Angels meet your soul at its departure; may the court of the Apostles receive you; may the triumphant army of glorious Martyrs conduct you...
The priest finished his duties and stepped back out into the hallway. He addressed Giles, "She wants to see you." He added, "She's having difficulty breathing." Giles nodded solemnly and entered the room again.
"Buffy?" he called out. He stepped to the bed and watched her as she gasped for each breath. His tears betrayed him. Suddenly his knees felt weak, but he had to be strong for her. He touched her shoulder, "Buffy?"
She didn't feel his touch, but she knew he was there. Buffy opened her eyes again. That was getting harder too. "Giles," she smiled.
"I'm here, Buffy. Right by you."
"Thank you," words were coming harder now. "Thank you for being my Watcher, my friend, my...father." Giles took in a deep breath of his own. "Giles?" she continued.
"Promise me you'll love him."
"Spike. Love him."
Giles thought of all the times he could have killed Spike, of his violent past, his smart mouth and deceitful ways. How could he love him? Then he looked down at Buffy. This girl, so young at the beginning, had been so confident in the early days, sure that her instincts and his knowledge would win the world. Then there had been a time when that surety was lost. She questioned their partnership, her ability. And she began to compensate for it by training harder and harder, but without the confidence, the training was useless. Then Spike had told her he loved her. And eventually Buffy realized she felt the same. Giles had been livid, but beyond his rage, he saw her blossom into the Slayer he had known she could be. Confident, sure, smart, careful but thorough. He was so proud of her. If Spike could do that... "Yes, Buffy. I will," he assured her with a catch in his throat.
She smiled again. "Thank you."
Giles leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "I love you Buffy."
HIs slayer looked into his eyes, "Me too, you," she whispered.
He stepped out into the hallway again, wiping tears from his face. Tara had helped Willow gather her thoughts and they were focused on softly repeating a Wiccan Rite of Passage for their friend:
"Hoof and horn, all that dies shall be reborn,
Corn and grain, all that falls shall rise again.
We all come from the Goddess, unto her we shall return
Like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean."
Spike was back and he slipped wordlessly through the swinging door of Buffy's room. She was worse. Her breaths were coming in short gasps now. Spike saw his world falling apart. He reached for her hand, it was cold. "Buffy, love?" he asked.
She opened her eyes slowly and smiled at Spike. "Hi, honey," she breathed. "It's almost time."
Spike couldn't find words. "Buffy, do you know how much I love you? I can't exist without you. I can't just stand here and hold your hand while you die." He leaned toward her, his face shifting. "Forgive me, love."
"Buffy, I have to."
"Don't turn me."
"It's the only way."
"No. We decided."
"To hell with that. I'm changing our decision. I can't live without you."
"No, Spike. No." Buffy struggled to make herself heard. "It's too late. Besides, the poison. You'd die too."
"So what?" he lost his game face and it turned to one of utter sorrow, "I can't go on without you, pet. You're my world."
"Spike," her voice was barely a whisper now. Her breathing stuttered. "Promise me...you'll stay."
"Buffy, I can't. If you don't let me do this, I'll be with you as soon as the sun's up."
"No. You must stay. You have to...stay to help...and to...tell her."
"The next...Slayer. You...have to stay...to tell her...she's...not alone. She has...friends...family...and if she's...lucky...like me...she'll find...true love."
"Buffy?" Spike called her name softly, then louder and then he yelled, "Buffy!" But she was gone.
Everyone in the hallway knew she'd gone. Giles stepped back into the room to see Spike leaning over the bed, closing her eyes, stroking her hair. It was the tenderest moment he'd ever seen. He blinked away his tears and walked up behind Spike, reaching out to put his hand on the vampire's shoulder. After a minute, he turned around. His face was full of the agony and sorrow he felt. Giles did the most natural thing in the world. He put his arms around Spike and held him tightly as they both grieved for Buffy.
Buffy opened her eyes. Everything was white. She looked down. She was wearing white, standing on a white floor. If there were walls, they were white too, but the space was so big...she wasn't sure if it was just...space.
A woman's voice welcomed her. "Hello, Buffy." The voice sounded like it was all around her, inside her. She raised her eyes. There, on a simple chair, on a step in front of her was a woman. She was lithe and strong with dark hair and ancient eyes. She was dressed the same as Buffy.
Buffy cleared her throat to ask who she was. "No need to speak, we can hear your thoughts."
"Is this heaven?" Buffy thought.
"No, it is not," the woman replied gently. "But you will be introduced there soon. First, we have another matter to attend to."
"Who are you?"
"I am, Leticia, the Chosen of Chosen. I sit here as leader of the Slayer's Circle."
Buffy looked at her. "Circle?"
"Yes," she smiled warmly, "Look around, you are in the midst of your sisters."
Buffy looked to the right of Leticia, and followed a long line of thousands of faces leading off into a circle she could barely see across. Each face about the same age, and although each face different - Asian, African, Indian - each was like hers. They were each welcoming her with their thoughts. Buffy felt overwhelmed by their acceptance.
"I sense though, new one, that you are different." Buffy turned back to look at Leticia as she spoke. "You have brought something with you. Something very special." Buffy looked down. What special thing could she have brought, that had not been carried by one of the many others? Leticia spoke to her again, "Now, as the newest, your place is to my left. The ceremony must begin, we're already late."
Buffy stepped into the empty spot pointed out to her.
"Now join hands and we shall begin," Laticia directed.
Buffy reached out her left hand. A dark hand grasped hers. She looked up. "Kendra!" she cried.
"Buffy, It's good to see you again. How is Mr. Pointy?" Buffy hugged her old friend, pleased to see that she'd remembered how to smile. They quickly they collected themselves and Buffy held her hand tightly as Leticia continued.
"For Buffy's benefit, let me just say that a greater power has already selected the next Chosen One. It is our duty here, in this Circle, to endow her with our gifts of knowledge, power and skill. After we have completed this task, she will fulfill her destiny, as we each did."
Buffy felt a current of electricity travel through the circle in front of her. Leticia leaned toward her and spoke, "You have but to think of your greatest skill in order to embody it in the new Slayer. She will carry parts of each of us. Now, begin."
As she watched, each of the other Slayers began to glow with blue and green flashing lights which began to collect in the center of the circle. Buffy realized that each light was a bequest to the new Chosen One; power, strength, cunning, skill, agility, healing, instinct, everything she had known.
What could she contribute? She'd been good, but others had been better. Buffy thought back over her life searching for a gift. Suddenly she understood what the special something had been that Leticia mentioned and Buffy knew she could truly give the newest girl something no other Slayer had ever had. She wished her happiness.
With that, the love that she'd brought with her from life, the love of family, of friends, and especially of Spike, began to glow warm red around her. Buffy's vibrant spark flashed into the center of the circle. She watched it tenderly as it joined with the others' and the energy of the circle began to swirl, then spin. It became a bright globe above them, sparkling with the energy of thousands of years, millions of hopes. Then it disappeared.
Leticia looked over at Buffy, curiously. "What was that?"
Buffy smiled, "That was...something very special."
"Somehow, Buffy, I don't believe I will be the Circle's leader for very much longer," Leticia smiled back.
The Circle began to break up. Several of the others approached her to welcome her personally and to talk.
Buffy hesitated still curious about what had just happened. She asked the Circle's leader, "Now what do we do? Do we get to see what happens?"
"No, we do not. Our power extends no further, unless there are extraordinary circumstances, like spells and such."
Buffy understood and nodded, "How will we know if it worked?"
"Simple. When the Circl next meets, we will ask her. Now, I shall introduce you to your sisters if you like."
Cassie stood on the subway platform. She'd just missed the train. It was cold and dark waiting for the next one. The lights at this end of the station were always out. She readjusted the backpack she had slung over one shoulder. Too much homework again. She'd never get used to this schedule.
Two men who had been at the other end began to approach her. She'd known they were there, but was surprised they'd come for her so quickly. "Hey, little girl. What are you doing out here all by yourself?" They laughed roughly. Cassie's eyes grew large as she backed toward the platform's corner. "What you scared of, sweetie?" one said, "The boogey man?" At that, both men's faces contorted unnaturally into ridged images of fanged evil. They closed in on her and she dropped her book bag.
There was a scream and suddenly dust filled the air. One of the men disappeared. Cassie flipped the stake in her hand from underhand to overhand and looked at the second vampire. "Your turn, sweetie!" She dusted him too. She blew the extra dust off her stake and put it back in the pocket of her coat like a gunslinger. After just three months of being out here on her own and now two at once. She smiled to herself.
"Very nice. Bait and switch, huh?"
Cassie looked around for the owner of the voice. That creepy "vampire warning light" she had, hadn't gone away. There was still danger. She reached for her stake.
"You won't be needin' that, Slayer."
Another man was approaching her from the dark of the subway tunnel. His footsteps sounded loudly in the chamber as he stepped out onto the platform. She sized him up. Long leather coat, heavy combat-like boots, bleached hair. "How do you know who I am?" she asked.
"Well, now, that's a long story, pet."
Cassie lowered her weapon. There was something...familiar about this. His voice, his manner, they were comforting. Without even meaning to, she asked, "Can you tell me more about myself? I mean about Slaying? My watcher is all, "learn, learn, learn" but he doesn't teach me what I want to know."
"Watchers aren't a bad lot, love. You've just got to know how to handle 'em," he smiled. "He's right, you know, you do have a lot to learn. But I'll be around, helping' you out."
"Anyway," she said a little unsure of what to say, "I'm headed home now," she turned away then stopped. "Hey, what's your name?"
"Okay. See you 'round, Spike." She stopped again. "Hey, my mom always makes me hot chocolate when I patrol in the cold. There'll be extra, if you want to come."
"Well...," Spike began, "...only if you've got those little mini-marshmallows..."
He caught up with her and they walked up the stairs together.
"Good," he nodded. "We'll get a cuppa, then I'll take and introduce you to the other Scoobies. We've come to help you."