Author's Notes:

A/N for this and the previous chapter: Some dialog from the episode Prophecy Girl, written by Joss Whedon was used and/or modified for this story.

~*~
Chapter 19

Spike was pleased that Buffy had seemed to take some comfort from his words and embrace earlier in the day. He felt bad that he had few facts to help the Watcher plan for Buffy's upcoming battle and her survival. Just knowing that Buffy HAD died yet still lived was encouraging, but not particularly helpful.

Angel had gone off in a bit of a huff, still muttering about Powers and all things happening by plan for a greater purpose. He'd even had the nerve to imply that it might be wrong to save Buffy, especially in light of the coming split in the Slayer line that Spike had told them about. "Should have broken the Wanker's jaw, not his wrist," muttered Spike angrily.

On a personal note, Buffy had finally agreed to let him take her to the school dance that night. Whatever the old bat of a patriarch to the Aurelian line had up his no doubt overly showy sleeve, Spike hoped he'd wait until this party was finished. Spike wanted the chance to finally reconnect with Buffy and having her in his arms was a big move in that direction.

~~~

Willow was jealous of just how lovely Buffy looked in her formal dress. It was deceptively simple, all white with an alluring scoop neckline that showed off her graceful neck to perfection. Willow wished she had the nerve to dress with the panache of her more stylish friend instead of the sort of goofy look she usually went for in an effort to hide. Shyness had its own fashion statement and Willow's choice tended towards the fuzzy or the childish.

"There's been so much vamp activity lately. I just hope they let me get in a dance or two with Spike tonight," Buffy was saying. Inside, Buffy was a bundle of nerves. Her heart was screaming rush back to the place where she had been recently with Spike: warm, alive, safe and loved. Her head kept spewing the same litany she knew had been canonized in the dank halls of the Council. Funny, just as the heart and the head were the two spots to kill a vampire, they were proving to be her undoing as well.

Somehow with Spike at her side, she didn't question that she would live to see graduation and years beyond. Those years she saw were ones filled with everything her girlish heart could conceive too. There was something just so permanent with Spike, so real and right.

Ultimately, Spike had kept nothing from her. He had told her everything. She knew when and how he had killed his other Slayers. She knew that he hadn't bothered with going game face in his last Slayer kill. He'd said the girl was tired, had a death wish and that he'd fought her in his human guise to handicap the battle.

"Made it fair. No good if there's not a chance to end up dust," he'd said. He'd even told Buffy of his every effort to put an end to her life in his own timeline.

Somehow Buffy knew that no matter what she ultimately decided about Spike, she would always be safe from him and safe with him. Maybe that was all she really needed to know to make a decision after all.

Joyce popped her head into Buffy's room and announced, "There's something on the news you girls should see."

The news was dire. Vampires. Buffy knew the truth of it and that the nonsense about roving gangs of drug-addled murderers was a not too clever cover-up. "God, looks like half the senior class!"

Willow stared at the image of a crying Cordelia being interviewed about her reaction to her boyfriend's murder. Kevin's sheet-covered body was being wheeled out behind her on the screen. "I've seen too much," Willow said somberly as she walked from the living room and away from the horror on the screen.

The girls retreated back to Buffy's room where Buffy tried to comfort the weeping Willow. "It'll be all right."

"I thought I could take anything, but Buffy, this was different! I know those guys. I go to that room every day," Willow sobbed. "It isn't our world anymore. They've made it theirs. They've even taken away the safety of school."

"Don't worry, Will," Buffy promised. "I'm gonna take it back. Gonna do what I have to do." With grim determination, Buffy picked up a crossbow from her weapons chest and headed for the door. She knew her mom would still be glued to the TV and not even notice her leaving, especially with her friend still sniffling and sobbing in her room. "Stay here. Stay inside, okay?"

Willow nodded in agreement, not even moving from her place on Buffy's bed.

~~~

The Master tested the invisible barrier that had held him captive since before the last Great War. Now THAT was a bloodbath he would have relished! So much of this lovely, bloody century had been spent in his underground tomb, surrounded by minions, idiots and relics of Christianity. Soon his long wait would be over and he would unleash hell on the world that had moved on without him.

The time was drawing near when the world would know its Master. "Soon," he spoke to Colin and sent the Anointed One to his destined rendezvous with the latest little girl empowered to be his mortal foe. "Soon."

~~~

Giles and Jenny were in the library getting weapons ready. All the signs were clear: the Master was making his move.

"So this Master tried to open the Hellmouth but got stuck in it and now he's finally going to get out. What then?" She looked at Giles and read the answer in his eyes. "Naturally, try to open the Hellmouth and bring out the demons to end the world as we know it."

Giles leveled a somber gaze at her before replying, "Yes, that about sums it up."

"And this acolyte, this 'Anointed One', is a child, according to Spike," Jenny continued at Giles' nod. "He's the one that will lure Buffy to the battle, to her death?"

"Buffy's not going to face the Master. I am." Giles loaded the crossbow and slung the bag of arrows on his back.

Buffy entered as he was speaking and barred the door with her body. "No, you're really not." She had crossed her arms in front of her and brooked no nonsense. "So, I'm looking for a kid, huh? And he'll lead me to this Master?"

Giles took in her stance but wasn't giving an inch himself. "Buffy, I'm not going to send you out there to die. You were right. I've waded around in these old books long enough. I've forgotten what the real world is like and it's time I found out. Time to do more than prepare others to fight the battles."

Buffy gave him a fond grin. "You're still not going up against the Master. I'm the Slayer. I don't care what that book says. I defy the prophecy, Giles, just like Spike said….I make my own fate."

Buffy knew full well that Giles would still try to take her place in the battle to come. With one quick, unexpected punch, she laid her Watcher out on the library floor at the feet of his girlfriend. "When he wakes up, tell him…I don't know, think of something clever or at least annoying."

Buffy headed outside and only had to walk a very short distance before she encountered a young boy asking for her help. She knew even without getting close enough for the tinglies that this small child was the Annointed One, the right hand of the Big Bad himself. "It's okay, I know who you are."

The child vampire didn't seem surprised at Buffy's reaction but instead held his hand out to her. She took it and allowed the little child to lead, just as in the prophecy.

~~~

Spike arrived at the library before Giles was conscious again. "What the hell happened to Rupes?" He bent over to check the head injury that was bruising but not bloody.

"Buffy insisted on going out to meet her fate head on. Giles' head got in the way." Jenny put a hand on Spike to still him from bolting. "She was adamant, Spike. Said she was going to defy prophecy."

"Bloody hell!" Spike was pacing nervously.

"I thought you said she survives, or revives or something!" Jenny began to look alarmed. "Why are you so worried?"

"Things are different this time now, aren't they?" Spike snarled. "It's a crap shoot now. Don't know how it's gonna go this time."

Giles was moaning and trying to sit up. Spike whirled on him and demanded, "How could you let her go alone?"

Giles looked at the irate vampire in irritation. "As the soon-to-be-purple area of my jaw will attest, I did not LET her go anywhere. Buffy has a mind of her own."

"We have to help her, have to find her." On Buffy's trail, Spike headed for the door only to run headlong into Xander.

"Whoa, fang boy, where's the fire?" Xander tried to stop Spike's progress and was nearly knocked into the lockers for his efforts. Spike grasped his head as the chip fired.

"Buffy's gone to fight the Master. She needs backup," Spike choked out.

"And she needs this backup…Why?" Xander, not having been in the prophecy loop, clearly didn't get it. "Buffy's the Slayer, Spike, not that anyone could tell it by you, of course."

"Bastard's gonna kill her without help," Spike tried to explain.

Xander drew himself up and all amusement left his face. "Sign me up. Lead the way."

Spike looked at Xander with new respect. The boy had a big pair on him even if he were a bit simple. "You're way out of your league, whelp. The Master'll kill you before you can even breathe, if you're lucky. I'll handle this. It's my family, so it's my problem. I shoulda settled this right off."

Xander narrowed his eyes and refused to be deterred. "How can I say this clearly? I'm going. Buffy's my family, or as good as, so it's my problem too."

"Right then," Spike gave in and tossed the boy a stake. "Let's not waste any more time."

~~~

Colin led Buffy to the entrance to the Master's lair. He pointed to the opening and invited her with a gesture to enter. The boy didn't follow her down, Buffy noted.

Hundreds of candles lit the way through the dank and dim. Buffy's nerves were on a knife edge and she gave a slight start as the Master spoke. "Welcome," his voice dripped with sarcasm as it seemed to come from all directions yet none at all.

"Thanks for having me," Buffy quipped as her heart hammered in her chest. "You know you really should talk to a contractor. Looks like you've got some water damage."

The Master twisted his lips in a grotesque version of a smile. "Oh, good. I've heard about you, you know. The feeble banter portion of the fight, it is then or we could just cut to the…"

Buffy spun around and shot off an arrow from her crossbow, her target true. The Master deftly caught it midair while Buffy reloaded. "Nice shot. You're not going to kill me with that thing."

Buffy aimed and prepared to shoot again. "Don't be so sure."

The master shook his head as if in sadness at her stupidity. "You still don't understand your part in all of this, do you? You are not the hunter. You are the lamb." With that the Master moved at a speed that defied all physical laws and appeared right next to the Slayer. He knocked the bow from her hands and grabbed her by the neck.

Buffy froze. 'Oh God, I'm gonna die!' She thought in terror.

~~~

Spike had finally isolated Buffy's scent and was well on the trail, with Xander running to keep up. He could hear the vampire murmuring under his breath as he moved pantherlike, following Buffy. "Please, let me be on time. I'll do anything you want, BE anything you want. Dust me, whatever, just don't let Buffy die."

In that moment, Xander knew any hope that he might have ever held of winning Buffy's love was false hope. If they all survived this night, there was no way the vampire and the Slayer weren't going to be the next big item in the Watcher's Chronicles. He was surprised to find himself not minding too much.

~~~

Willow and Angel arrived at the same time, rushing into the library. Willow had broken her promise to stay at the Summers house as soon as she realized Buffy had left to go fight the good fight alone. Meeting Angel on the way to the school had done nothing to dispel Willow's worries as the vampire filled her in on the Codex and the prophesied death of her best girlfriend.

The ground was beginning to shake and the rumble was audible, like a train headed right towards the group. As Jenny and Willow clutched at each other for balance, a gang of vampires rushed the library and began to fight with Giles and Angel.

"Why are they coming here?" Giles looked about in desperation.

As Giles voiced the question, the floor began to crack open and reveal the location of the actual mouth of hell: the library of Sunnydale High School! A green tentacle began to undulate, working its way out of the widening gap and reaching for the humans. Meanwhile, vampires kept on coming through the library door in a seemingly endless supply.

Jenny and Willow ran to a fallen bookshelf and, working together as rapidly as possible, moved it to blockade the library door. As the men fought the beasties, the women tried to keep any more from joining in.

A tentacle wrapped itself around Willow's left foot and she let out an earsplitting scream that drew Angel's attention. The vampire quickly grabbed one of Giles' swords and lopped off the writhing appendage. Two vampires leaped onto his back as he was distracted.

Willow and Jenny armed themselves and rushed headlong into the battle, dodging tentacles, slime and vampires as they sought to reduce the numbers of the enemy.

The tentacled creature finally made its way into the world through the now huge hole in the library floor. It was enormous, having three heads and towering over the puny humans from its full height that reached the ceiling.

Giles grabbed an axe and rushed up the flight of stairs to better aim at one of the heads of the horrifying creature.

~~~

The Master had his hand firmly around Buffy's throat. She was struggling to break his hold, but just as she managed to get away and run, the Master caught her gaze and she stilled like a rabbit before a snake. The Master edged closer to her, making weird hand motions as hypnotic as his gaze.

"You gave it a noble try. You heard the prophecy that I was about to break free and still came to stop me. Prophecies are tricky creatures. They don't tell everything, do they?" The Master laughed, then whispered in her ear, "You're the one that sets me free! If you hadn't come, I couldn't go." The demon licked her tender neck and laughed as she shuddered. "Think about that!"

The Master waited as Buffy froze in her horror. He nuzzled a spot on her neck, savoring the fear the roiled off the girl, letting her terror spice up her blood a bit. "Oh, God, the power," he moaned and sank his fangs into her jugular. He only took a few pulls on her artery, growling into her skin as he supped, before he dropped her to her knees.

Buffy fell forward, still in a trance, landing face first in a shallow pool of water.

The Master stepped to the edge of the invisible barrier that had been his bane for so long and, as he forced his hand through, the barrier broke in a burst of energy. Laughter reverberated from the walls as the ancient vampire made his way back into the world he would soon conquer.

Spike got to the fallen Slayer first, pulling her from the dirty water. If his heart still beat, it would have stopped cold at the sight of his beloved, cold, bitten and not breathing.

"She's dead," a wide-eyed Xander gasped and then choked back a sob.

"She's not breathing," agreed Spike. He turned Buffy onto her back and finished checking her over. There was no question she was dead, but it had just taken place.

"If she drowned, we can do CPR!" Xander shouted.

Spike kneeled beside Buffy and placed his mouth over hers, breathing into her lungs the life-giving air she had to have to survive. Over and over he repeated the movements-air in, chest massage, air in-until finally Buffy gurgled up the brackish rivers of death and began to cough while gasping for air.

"That's it, love, that's it! Cough it all out," Spike encouraged.

"I thought vampires couldn't breathe?" Xander asked in wonder. "How come you can play lifeguard?"

"Stupid git," Spike smiled before explaining. "Vampires do lots of things that require the ability to move air in and out of lungs. I talk and smoke, even pant after heavy exercise. What kind of stupid things have you seen on the idiot tube that would make you think we can't breathe if we want to?"

Buffy finally finished spewing out the water that had taken her life and was becoming aware of Spike and Xander there with her. "Spike? Xan? What...?"

"Welcome back," exclaimed a joyful Xander.

"See, pet, still gonna be here to kick my arse when needed, yeah?" Spike felt like he could weep at the sight of her breathing on her own.

"Where's short, gray and ugly?" she managed to gasp out.

"If you mean that bloody soon-to-be-dust head of my family," Spike began, "I think the old bat headed out into the world. My guess is he's headed for the Hellmouth itself."

"Great," Buffy said, "I thought Sunnydale WAS the Hellmouth."

"'Tis, but there's an actual way in and out. My guess is he's headed there for a bit of hell raisin'" Spike helped Buffy up from the ground and looked her over. "You look a picture, love."

Buffy snorted at the flattery under the circumstances. "Yeah, but a picture of WHAT?"

"Always beautiful to me, 'specially all heartbeat havin' and lungs pumpin' air, not water." He put a helping hand under her elbow as the trio made their way out of the lair to put an end to this disaster.

Xander looked at Buffy in concern, "Buff, you're still weak. We can go after the Master from here."

Buffy smiled at her brave friend and shook her head, "No, I feel strong, different. Let's go!"

~~~

The Master had reached the roof of the school library and was surveying his planned kingdom. "My world! Oh, my beautiful world!"

Below him, through the skylight, he could see the battle as the demonic squidlike creature continued to avoid death at the hands of the four warriors chopping and lunging at it.

"Yes, come forth, my child. Come into my world and begin the cleansing," the Master crooned in encouragement.

"I don't think it's yours just yet." Buffy's voice, already as strong as ever, broke through the Master's gloating. He swung his head in surprise, clearly not believing his eyes.

"You're dead! You were destined to die! 'So it is written and so it shall be.' You cannot be here," he quoted from the ancient prophecies in vain.

Buffy grinned in glee, "What can I say? Someone really smart once told me that we all make our own fates." She swung at the Master, knocking him down. "Time to make mine and end yours."

Below the duel of fates, the battle continued with Xander and Spike joining in against the massive calamari from hell. "Didn't I see this guy in 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea'?" jibed Xander.

"Here you go, Nemo," shouted Spike as he tossed a saber at the lad. He took a double-edged battle axe for himself and leapt on the nearest tentacle, hacking away at the green ugly.

Buffy connected with a powerful roundhouse kick, nailing the Master in the face. He managed to swipe his clawed fingernails across Buffy's breast, drawing blood. "Bet you wish you'd finished eating dinner before running from the table, now don't you?" Buffy taunted. She leveled a punch at his kidney.

The Master connected with her jaw, knocking her into the wall of the roof, but she bounced back and responded with a swift side kick that knocked the Master next to the skylight.

"You know," Buffy said, "You're so excited about being in hell…Be my guest, go there!" With that, she kicked the Master through the skylight and into the library below. The screaming demon landed on a piece of the library table, impaling himself directly through his unbeating heart. They all looked on in amazement as the ancient vampire dissolved to ash, leaving his skeleton behind.

As soon as the Master was no more, the hellsquid disappeared back into the hole that was once the library floor.

"Wow! That's something you don't see every day," quipped Xander as the last tentacle slipped beneath the closing gap.

"The Master?" Angel asked while staring at the unexpected remains of the one who had sired his Darla and made his vampire existence possible.

"Dead. The Hellmouth is closed," Giles replied.

"Buffy?" asked Jenny. "Did she make it?"

As if in answer, the slightly bedraggled Slayer dropped from the hole in the ceiling and smiled at her friends. "Yup. Died and everything. It's been a weird day."

"We should have known a little death wouldn't stop you," Giles beamed.

"Captain of my own ship, master of my own fate," Buffy responded.

Willow stared at Buffy in shock at her paraphrase of Henley's poem. Her mouth gaped wide in wonder that her friend had ever heard the line.

"What?" Buffy grinned at Willow; "I don't sleep through ALL my classes!"

As everyone gathered round the Slayer, Spike sidled up to Angel. "Glad to see you decided to join the party, even if there was a bloody prophecy. Mite surprised you decided to do more than watch though." Angel glared at Spike, but the younger vamp continued anyway. "Heard that's what you do. Give a warning, then step back and watch the Slayer do all the hard part."

Angel had the grace to duck his head in remorse. Clearly his planned life at Buffy's side was not going to be happening now. Judging from the smiles and looks being exchanged between his troublesome descendent and the girl of his dreams, the game was over. Buffy had obviously made her choice and it wasn't him.

"Guess I need to work on a new five year plan," Angel said quietly. "Tell me, Spike, what did I do in this future world of yours?"

"Well," Spike wished he could lie and tell the git that he had headed for Timbuktu or New Guinea. "You stuck around and put everyone through hell."

"Yeah, I got that message Spike," Angel said in exasperation. Really, he hadn't done anything wrong and was STILL being made to feel guilty by the younger vamp! "I meant after, once I knew Buffy and I weren't…you know."

Spike resisted the urge to rub in the loss. It was a good feeling, coming out on top for a change. Still, he was determined to be a better man for Buffy and he had to start somewhere. "You went to your own city, L.A., the City of Angels. Set up a right nice agency helpin' all the needy of the metropolis just like a regular superhero. 'Helpin' the hopeless' or somesuch. Took the cheerleader with you; looked like there might be somethin' there in time."

"What cheerleader?" Angel seemed to perk up at the thought of a consolation prize.

"The stacked brunette with the million dollar smile. Cordy, I think her name is," Spike said. 'Need to get Dark Eyes on that soul anchorin' plan before Gramps gets his happy on with a different girl,' Spike thought with determination. He caught Jenny's eye and motioned for her to join him.

After relating his worries to the gypsy, Spike remembered another loose end to tie up. "Mind keepin' an eye on my girl for a little bit, luv?"

"Of course I don't mind, Spike, but what are you planning to get up to?" Jenny teased. She was half expecting Spike to reveal some grand romantic gesture that he would need a bit of time to prepare.

"Just a little item left to deal with. She looks too happy baskin' in all that love to bother with it." Spike headed for the door before Buffy could notice him leaving.

~~~

The boy looked at the white-haired vampire in curiosity. Colin had never seen this one. He didn't have the same reverence in his attitude as the Master's other minions. In fact, they were all chanting and reading from sacred texts that dealt with raising the Master again as the black-clad Master Vampire sauntered towards the Anointed One.

Spike had an evil smirk on his face as he hoisted the boy and pulled him unceremoniously to his feet. "Time for a little less ritual around here," he growled as he twisted the head off the young vampire, "and a little more fun!" Spike wiped the ashes of the unconsecrated Anointed One from his hands and followed up his action by staking the rest of the Master's old hangers-on.

"Now that all the trash is taken out, time to see 'bout my girl." Spike was whistling a cheery tune as he headed back towards the school and his bright—no, effulgent—future.