Buffy found herself in the cemetery. At his crypt. It was late and she hadn't meant to come here. She didn't remember getting there, but there she was.
She stood outside his door for a long time. Her senses were alert. Her spidery Slayerish sense told her that trouble was not far, but not imminent. So she stood. Why was he making this so hard? Why wouldn't he just go away? She banged on his door to ask him but there was no answer.
Well, he wasn't home, so she sat on a nearby bench and thought about what he'd told her. About William. She tried to picture him the quiet, mousy man he described. Fueling unrequited love with poetry. Crushed and weeping, humiliated. She pitied him, she understood the loss of love. The pain of it. She imagined his face, sad, sorrowful, hurt. But none of that man was left. It was all Spike now. No writer's soul...no soul at all. But still...there was something...
Glory tiptoed out of the bushes as well as any hell-goddess can tiptoe in high heels. "Well, hello," she called. Buffy didn't hear. "HEL-LO. Slayer!" Buffy had been caught not paying attention. What had all that training been for if not to be prepared and ready? Caught. Slowly she turned around.
"I thought I might find you visiting your boyfriend," Glory grinned.
"He's not home and...hey, he's NOT my boyfriend." Buffy said, with less conviction than last time.
"OK, hon. If you say so. Now it's time for you to tell me where my key is. I'm out of time and out of patience. It's now or never. If you don't tell me NOW, I'll have my minions make Slayer hamburger while I go kill your friends and family myself. I think I start with little sis..." She started to turn away.
Buffy looked around. There were at least six of the little robed men with swords. Not bad odds for the Slayer, but it would still take time. Time that Glory would use to get closer to home. "Uh, wait. Glory?" Buffy called after her.
"What will happen when you find the key?"
Glory smiled. "I guess it doesn't matter anymore. It's not like you can do anything about it anyway, so I'll tell you." Glory stepped closer to Buffy, closed her eyes and started to giggle. "Let me see. I remember the screaming and blood, sacrifice and lots and lots of Glory worship. I'm all-powerful and adored. I never want for anything. Never cold, never hungry, never lonely, never...Hey!" Buffy had taken a step towards the crypt. She stopped. "It's enough, Slayer, that you know you don't want to be around when it happens. Unless..." Glory had an evil thought. "Slayer," she sang, "What do you think? You and me, we'd make a good team."
With no other plan, Buffy was just stalling now, "What do you mean?"
Glory stepped toward her conspiratorially. "What is it you want, Slayer? What would it take for you to come over to my side? When I have my key I can give you anything in the world. Riches...clothes... What is your little heart's desire?"
There was a rustle in the bushes beside her just then and Spike came home. Glory looked up. "Well, well. The boyfriend," she said pointedly to Buffy, making sure that she knew she'd been corrected.
Spike took in the situation quickly. Then he laughed. "Got that all wrong, lady. Couldn't be more off base with the boyfriend thing."
Buffy looked at Spike. She knew he must have seen Glory from where he'd been in the bushes, but here he was stepping into battle with the White Hats, with her.
"Uh-uh," Glory tisked. "I think there's a little somethin' goin' on between you two and I'm never wrong about these things."
Spike looked at Buffy. She looked up at him with wide, helpless eyes. He'd seen that look before. He knew it. He was powerless to resist it. She needed him. "Well..."
"I knew it! I knew it!" Glory cheered. "So...what's the dish sweetie?"
Spike knew that Buffy was stalling. Knew it like he knew anything. "Well, it seems a bit one-sided at the moment. You see...,"
As Spike related the story of their "romance" to Glory, Buffy tried to formulate a plan. As she racked her brain, she found she wasn't listening, but she was watching and she saw Spike suddenly with new eyes. Here he was, helping her...again. Had he changed? Really? With that chip in, would she ever really know? She shook her head. Right now, she just needed to get home before Glory got there. She had to protect Dawn and the others. Glory was clearly distracted by Spike's story but Buffy didn't think it would be enough. She needed something more interesting... Suddenly a dark and terrible idea sparked in Buffy. Quickly she weighed the options and Dawn won. "Glory?" she called, interrupting the tale Spike was telling. Glory turned toward her clearly exasperated with her bad manners. "If you want me to tell you where the key is, I need to know how powerful you really are. I know you can fight better than all of us combined, but what else can you do?"
"Well, time's a tickin', kid, but... Of course, after I have my key, I'll be free to do anything, but right now? Well, I can do all sorts of magic tricks."
"Seen it," Buffy said dryly. "Not very impressive."
"The big snake you told me about? Mini-magic." Spike chimed in. He didn't know where Buffy was going with this, but he'd keep playing along.
Glory shot him a scathing look. "I wasn't talking to you, blondie." Then she turned back to Buffy and continued, "I can reach into people's heads."
"You mean read minds? Oh! Can you read Spike's mind?" Buffy asked innocently, knowing all along where this was going.
Her eyes met Spike's for the briefest of moments and he saw apology in there. What was on her mind, he wondered.
"No. I mean I can reach into people's heads...with my hands. It's a special little skill I have. Wanna see?" Glory took a quick step toward Spike and before he could do anything more than look surprised she was inside him. Buffy watched as Glory's fingertips disappeared into Spike's skull. It was a calculated risk, but she was hoping that Glory wasn't hungry, just proud. Then she slipped away and started running.
"What is that?" Glory asked as she pulled a small plastic chip out of Spike's head. Spike fell to the ground, in pain, but chipless. Glory was still examining the chip in her hand. She turned toward where Buffy had been sitting to show it to her. "Hey, did you know he had this in...," but Buffy was gone. Furious, Glory threw down the chip and started to run towards the little house on Rovello Drive.
Buffy was in a panic, she could easily outrun the minions but knew she couldn't beat Glory. Glory would head straight for her home soon. Buffy had to get there first. As she ran she tried to think of the fight ahead but tears of regret were falling from her eyes. Spike would be okay. He would be. He had to be.
Everyone jumped when the warning sirens around the house went off. "Glory!" Tara yelped and the door flew open. Glory was there and she was mad. She crossed the room in a flash and dispensing with the usual banter chose to start her revenge on the Slayer with Xander. One punch and he was out cold, on the floor and bleeding. Her next punch caught Joyce in the stomach and sent her reeling against the wall. Giles was just able to get a chair in the air when she turned toward him. Her first move shattered the wood. Her second, his jaw.
"Stop!" Buffy called from the doorway. "Don't touch them!"
"Sweetie, you pissed me off. I'm not responsible for this. You are. If I have to go back, I'm not going back happy."
Buffy started toward her but Glory had other plans. Buffy couldn't intercept her, she was too late. Glory hit Dawn just because she was the closest. Glory's fist drove against Dawn's chest, hard, and Dawn spun to the floor. Her eyes grew wide as she tried to breathe and couldn't.
Glory moved to another target, trying to punish Buffy by hurting her friends, but Buffy wasn't paying attention. Instead, she was at Dawn's side. "Dawn," Buffy cried, "hang on. Just keep breathing. Please keep breathing." There was destruction all around her. She heard Willow scream and saw Xander get up only to fall back down again, but she couldn't move. She'd already sacrificed Spike, sacrificing the others seemed the obvious progression. Now she stared at Dawn and the small trickle of blood that ran from the corner of her mouth. Her voice came out in a whisper "Dawnie, no." She was the one who tried to comfort her dying sister in the mids of the pain and destruction surrounding them, and she was the one who noticed when Dawn twitched and sighed a horrible, shuddering last breath. Time seemed to stop as through her silent tears, and Buffy saw a pale green light began to leave Dawn's body, like something evaporating out her pores. Buffy knew the energy appearing was the key, was the essence of what Dawn had been and she watched it brighten around her.
Glory saw it too. "My key!" and she reached out to grab it. Her fingertips sent off showers of electricity. Buffy closed her eyes and covered Dawn's body with hers, prepared for the worst. And then...nothing. Quiet. Silence deeper than any she'd ever known.
"Where'd she go?" Willow asked heavily.
"She just disappeared," Tara replied.
"Did she get the key?" Anya asked from where she now sat with Xander's head in her lap.
"No. She couldn't. It was too pure and she was too late," said a voice from the door. It was Dreg. The robed priest walked over to where Glory had been. "Oh Great and Magnanimous Glorificus," he called out to the air above where she'd last stood, "forgive we unworthy ones. We have failed you."
"What happened?" someone asked.
"Glorificus ruled another dimension but her kingdom was lost in war. Our world has often served as a sanctuary for the gods who are always at war, so she came to our world to heal and to seek weapons with wich to defeat the siblings who deposed her, but needed the key to get back. Sadly the key was, at the time, pure energy without form, but the Knights of Bysantium took care of that detail by making the energy corporeal. Unfortunately, one of her enemies, a powerful warlock, used this to his advantage by cursing Glory with a time limit of 240 days. If she didn't find the key within that time she would simply cease to exist. We did not know about the curse at first and we hadn't quite solved the riddle of the time limit... Ah, well, I guess we know that answer now..." He paused for a moment then with stepped to the door and left into the night air. No one stopped him.
The room was still shimmering with green light but was quiet now except for sounds of pain, comforting whispers and the unspoken pain of Buffy's vigil.
A shadow fell across the doorway as Spike flew up the stairs ontp the porch. He stopped before entering the house and eyed at the doorframe angrily then helplessly he looked beyond it for Buffy. He found her on the floor in the midst of chaos, next to Dawn. Dawn who wasn't moving.
As if his presence gave her the strength to do so, Buffy lifted her eyes and looked around the room; at Giles with his hand on his chin, at Xander helping Joyce stand, at Willow's broken arm, her mother holding her ribs, at the look of worry and frustration on Spike's face and then down at Dawn. A terrible, groaning sound ripped out of her throat. It was raw pain. Never had she felt such agony, loss and regret. Her screams stopped, replaced by unstoppable tears. The others could only listen, knowing that this was Buffy's pain, there was nothing they could do. But Spike grew frantic. He pounded the door frame with his fists.
"Buffy!" he yelled, but she was beyond listening. He looked around the room for someone, anyone to help him. He found her. "Joyce, please," his voice was so full of pain. "I"m begging you. Please, let me in."
Joyce looked at Spike and knew what she had to do. It was right. She nodded.
In an instant, Spike was at Buffy's side.
Buffy couldn't look at him. She couldn't face what he must think of her and her choices. She looked back at Dawn's beautiful face. A strand of hair had fallen across her cheek. She watched as Spike's hand reached out and gently returned Dawn's hair to it's place and as he bent down and kissed her brow and whispered something only Buffy heard. His voice caught in his throat when he breathed, "Niblet."
Buffy choked back a sob and began to understand that there was something here to be seen. Something she should pay attention to. She looked up to see that Spike was crying. Words began to form in her mind. Spike without the chip was crying. She couldn't focus on why it was important, but she knew it was and she filed it away to ponder later.
After a while, Joyce joined them next to Dawn's body and they all grieved for the girl they'd known for such a short time...and forever. Buffy looked at her mother. "Mom, I'm sorry I couldn't save her. I'm so sorry."
The green glow of the key which was still illuminating the living room was began to fade slowly. With it, Buffy noticed, Dawn herself vanished. Her body was becoming lighter and transparent. Soon it would be gone altogether. Joyce reached out to hold Buffy's hand until the end, afraid they would forget and afraid they would remember. When Dawn was gone, Joyce squeezed Buffy's hand. They would remember.
They started picking up the pieces, called for an ambulance to treat the wounded, uprighted furniture, turned on lights. Much later, after visiting the hospital, and seeing everyone home, Buffy and Spike helped Joyce back into the house. All three of them stood in the foyer, looking at the living room and remembering what had happened there earlier.
After a moment, Buffy turned to her mom with as much cheer as she could muster, "You should be in bed. Those cracked ribs won't heal themselves you know."
"You're right," Joyce answered. "I should go upstairs..." She started toward the stairs but then her voice trailed off and she turned back to look at the only child she had left. "Buffy, Dawn was my daughter, every bit as as much as you are. I'll miss her and cry about what she may have become. But Dawn fulfilled her destiny and Glory's gone. Your sister was never ours to hold on to. She did what she was meant to do then just disappeared." She took in a rough breath and continued, "I've been thinking and I'm not sure that she would have been here tonight even if you'd stopped Glory from hurting her. She may have just vanished when the curse ran out. Who knows. Anyway, you shouldn't feel it was your fault."
Buffy reached out and hugged her mom, gently.
In her ear, Joyce whispered, "The only question left now, is how are you going to fulfill your destiny?"
As she watched Spike help her mom up the stairs, Buffy thought about what her mom said.
When he came back downstairs, Buffy made tea for them both and they stood drinking it in the kitchen, enjoying the warm cups in their hands as much as the taste. They both knew they would talk, eventually but there was no rush.
When they'd nearly finished, Buffy put down her cup and sighed.
"I owe you an apology, Spike."
"The thing with Glory and the...chip?"
Buffy nodded. "Well, I had come to talk to you, but then Glory showed up. I had to try to get home before her and needed a distraction. At the same time, I realized that with the chip in your head, I'd never really know..."
Spike tensed. How could she use him like that? Risk his life, yes, to save Dawn, but just to satisfy her curiosity about the chip and what might be between them? How could she have gambled with his un-life so casually? He set down his cup rather harder than he expected to and walked around the kitchen island to face her. "Buffy, for what it's worth, it worked. Look, I can do this again," his face distorted and he leaned toward her. "I realize that I'll never be a man to you, but...," he shifted back and steadied himself.
"I had a talk with Xander a couple of days ago..."
"Xander?" Buffy looked surprised
"Yeah, of all people. The boy was a little hard to follow, but I think the gist of it was that you could never love me because unlike you I couldn't feel sorry for the rest of the world. I would never understand why you fight. How you fight because you care about people and I'll never care. Yet here you are, not caring."
Buffy looked up at Spike. "I'm so sorry Spike. I had to think of Dawnie, of my friends."
"And apparently I"m not in that group either. Not man, not family, not friend."
"No, Spike. You are none of those. I don't know..." Buffy didn't know what to say. He really wasn't any of those things. She didn't know what to feel. She had used him, had sacrificed him for Dawn, had left him to fend for himself. But she had trusted him to be okay, had asked for his help and he had answered. If what had happened with Glory was something of which she was not proud, could it also be something of which he was?
Spike didn't know what to say either. He started to turn to leave and then knew what had to be done. He turned back to Buffy, took her face in his hands and kissed her and that kiss contained all the words, everything they needed to say, but didn't know how, and surprisingly, Buffy kissed him back. When the kiss ended, he slipped his arms around her and her head rested on his chest. They stood that way for a long time.
After Spike left, Buffy went upstairs to check her mom. She was sleeping in Dawn's bed. The sight made Buffy cry, but it made her feel good too. Glad there were people around who cared for her, loved her and would miss her if she were gone. She tiptoed into the room and tucked a blanket around Joyce, kissed her lightly and went to her room.
She didn't know when she fell asleep. The days events kept replaying her head and she watched Dawn die in her arms a hundred times, but sometime during the night, Buffy opened her eyes with surprise and sat straight up in bed. She remembered then what she had seen earlier, Spike crying with her over Dawn and she knew why it was important. She knew. She realized what Spike was. The chip was gone and he was himself again.