Author Notes: The story starts in the middle of the episode "Entropy". One moment changes everything in the Buffy timeline from the end of Season Five on. Although the main characters are listed as Spike and Buffy, it is just as much about Xander, Anya, Dawn, and very much about Willow and Tara, who I think are the best couple in anything ever. I plan on writing until this story's timeline catches up with the end of Season 8 of the comics, and possibly continuing into Season 9 depending on what happens in them, since they're still coming out. There will be occasional references to events in Angel and the Buffy comics but hopefully nothing that will require having seen or read specific stories. Rated "M" because come on, it's Spike.

Prologue: The Gift, Returned

Spike poured the last of the bottle they'd been drinking the whole evening into the shot glass and held it up for Anya.

"Here. Ladies last."

The demon paused, not taking the glass.

"Thank you."

"Take it quick or my chivalry will run out."

"No." She gripped his wrist. "Thank you." They shared a deep look, recognizing each other's pain. "This is the first time since… it feels good to be with someone who understands."

The vampire kept replaying Buffy's rejection in his mind's eye. "Intimately."

Anya for her part was actually starting to feel glad no wish was forth coming. Somehow this was easing her pain in another way. It had none of this visceral rush of disembowelment or transmogrification, but it was something she was happy to feel after days of loathing the man she had hoped to marry and loathing herself for caring.

"This whole time I've been coming on all hell bent and mad, wanting his head you know?"

"Yeah." Since entering the Magic Box Spike had been reliving every moment he'd shared with the Slayer since her resurrection. He was furious, horny, sad, but mostly just sick of it all. Anya understood at least, but he knew the next night nothing would have changed. Nothing would ever change.

"When really I… can't sleep at night thinking that… it has to be my fault somehow."

Spike gazed into space. Anya stopped talking and looked at the vampire's face curiously. "What is it?"

"It was my fault. That she died." He ran his fingers over his forehead as if trying to press something out of it. "I promised to protect the nibblet and I didn't."

"Buffy couldn't either." Anya protested as she rubbed his shoulder soothingly. He was just drunk enough to lean into it, setting down the shot glass carelessly. "So she went and got herself killed in that hell portal."

"Exactly!" Spike stood almost violently, the pain of the memory ripping away the anger at the Slayer he'd being pouring out all evening. "She got herself bloody killed doing what I was supposed to do!" He panted uselessly for air, hating the empty feeling in his dead lungs, so unlike the passion boiling in his veins.

"But we brought her back."

And she feels like she's in Hell. He thought bitterly. That's the only reason she slept with… it can't be the only reason why. Damn it, it can't! Why do things have to be this way?

"I wish…" he started, half sobbing. Anya's eyes widened in fear. She had given up on getting a wish, but if one were to be made, it was supposed to be for Xander. Her plan could backfire horribly depending on Spike's next words.

"I wish I had saved Dawn."

At those words she could feel the power rising inside of her. It was alarming. Spike was Buffy's scorned lover, true, but where was the vengeance, the torment? Her true face revealed itself, and Spike just looked at the transformation blankly. The universe began to twist into a new shape.

"Done."

He was suddenly outside, on top of a familiar tower. A tower he'd had nightmares about for 147 days straight earlier that year, before it collapsed for good. The vampire took in the scene. Dawn behind him, bound for the ritual, the old demon doctor standing before them ready to cut her flesh, and the fight below. So Anya's a vengeance demon again? Spike thought with surprise. Could have made a smarter wish if I'd known.

"I don't smell a soul anywhere on you." Glory's acolyte said, again. "Why do you even care?"

This time Spike was ready. He stood his ground, his body from the past's exhaustion and injuries ignored. He may not have made the smartest wish in world, but he had meant it. He wouldn't fail again.

"I got a second chance from a lady."

This time the old man blinked. A second later he lashed out his yards long tongue to attack, and before it struck Spike had grabbed it in both hands. He felt a surge of power coursing through his muscles beyond his normal vampire strength, something hot and crawling. He pulled the demon to him and began to strangle him with his own tongue. The doctor tried to swipe him with his reptilian tail, but Spike stomped it as it whipped toward him. He pressed his boot down until there was a crunch and the creature's blue blood ebbed forth. Spike held the chokehold in place until the old man gurgled fluid over his hands. Satisfied he'd done enough damage for now, he took the demon's knife and kicked the body to ground below.

Beneath them Buffy dropped her troll hammer, done with god-smashing for now. She left behind the body that was now Ben, broken and bleeding, too focused on her sister to see her Watcher approach her beaten opponent. The leper hobbits had all died or fled at seeing their leader's defeat. The insane victims of the goddess' dark appetites lay disoriented and limp around the battlefield, lacking a familiar anchor to reality like Tara's. The Slayer nearly flew up the stairs of the tower, praying she was still in time.

Spike turned to face Dawn, gratified to see a smile forming on her tear stained face. "Hold still platelet, I'll cut you down." He carefully cut at the ropes binding her limbs. Any accidental blood now would ruin everything. The girl squeezed her savior tightly, half laughing half crying. The vampire took the relatively peaceful moment to reflect and realized that while he was no longer drunk, he was wounded and very, very tired. He felt Dawn's frantic heartbeat move further away as she stepped to edge of their platform to look down.

"Is everyone safe? Is Glory…?"

"Big Sis got her." Spike reassured the girl. "All's right in the world pet." She took his hand for a moment before the Slayer arrived and she jumped into her sister's arms. The embrace was brief but intense, Buffy still acting with militaristic focus.

"We need to get down from here. Away from the portal." Buffy said tightly pulling Dawn toward the stairs.

"He said it was almost time. It should be okay, right?" the younger Summers said hopefully as she followed.

"Who said?"

"Evil doc." Spike answered. He felt foolish. For a moment he'd believed this was it, the one big gesture that would make Buffy realize she loved him. Of course it wasn't. She'd been expecting him to protect Dawn because he was strong. Because she could use him, like she always did. "He was going to cut her up himself since the godly bint was too occupied with being thrashed about."

The Slayer turned to look at him as they reached the bottom of the first flight of steps. He paused for a moment, vainly avoiding showing the girls his limp. Wherever the extra burst of strength had come from, it was gone now. She stopped as well, scrunching her face like she couldn't decide if she was all right with being impressed by him. "And you beat him."

"Completely beat him. Like he was nothing." Dawn chirped a little excitedly. She was still trying to comprehend that she was safe, that the world was safe, and it was thanks to Spike.

Buffy allowed herself a genuine smile. "Thank you. I won't forget this either." She had trusted the vampire to perform his role in her plan because she had to, but after he survived Glory's torture a part of her had begun to believe that there was something noble in him. Maybe not something human exactly, but something real that would keep the person she loved most safe.

Don't be stupid now, he thought to himself as a tiny bit of hope dared to rear its head, That's no more than a kind word. Doesn't mean anything's better than it would have been. She'll forget, and remember you're just 'an evil, soulless, thing.'"

"Till the end of the world I said. And it's not going to be tonight."

"No, it's not." She continued their descent, feeling a bit puzzled.

The rest of the Scoobies were gathered at the base of the tower waiting anxiously. Xander had taken Anya into his arms and set her down when the Summers sisters arrived. He picked Dawn off her feet before spinning them around. She laughed for sheer joy and was too happy to resist when Anya gave her an only slightly hesitant hug. The witches were still holding tightly to each other, and Dawn could see the recognition in Tara's eyes. She'd been terrified that being the Key would cost everyone their lives, and she hated that it had cost her best friend something worse. Relief flooded her, and the guilt she'd felt since Glory's attack finally began to abate. Willow and Tara embraced her together, and she could feel tears from both of them.

"We love you Dawnie." Willow whispered.

"I love you guys too." She pulled back to look at the blonde witch, who was still trembling. "Is your head, are you better now?" she asked tentatively.

"Willow saved me." Tara clung to Willow's waist as if she might fall into the sky if she let go. "I'm so glad Glory didn't hurt you."

"We all are." They turned see Giles coming to join them. Dawn felt an urge to add him to her list of hugs, but figured he was too British and old for that stuff. Buffy looked at her family with pride. They had all played a part in this victory, and somehow they had all survived.

"We all made it." Buffy was overjoyed, well, very joyed. She felt like she should be overjoyed, but some nagging doubt kept her from reaching elation. She had meant it when she told Spike earlier that night that they wouldn't all make it. Death was coming, and she'd been terrified that it meant she would have to kill Dawn. Yet here they all were. She pushed her worry aside. They were all so happy. She couldn't spoil it for them after all they'd weathered getting here.

"Great work everyone!" Anya said bouncing with excitement as she swung Xander's hand clasped in hers. "We stuck to the plan and no one got killed! It's the perfect time for a celebration." She looked around at her companions, seeing them get that half amused, half tired look that let her know she'd said something they considered silly. "Once we've all slept, eaten, and washed off the stench of running and hiding from certain death for hours."

Xander sniffed himself a bit self-consciously. "Not so much a stench, as say, a mild fragrance? Eau d' we're-all-going-be-killed-by-a-skanky-Hell-god?"

At the mention of smell Spike stepped closer to vengeful woman and took a curious whiff. She smelled human. So she didn't come back with me. Unless her future self is around somewhere else… Xander is in for quite a bit of trouble if she is. Oh that should be rich.

"Definitely shower and sleep time before we do any victory dancing." Buffy agreed. "We can all meet up tomorrow at our place." She looked over to Willow and Tara, remembering how the day began. "Though I doubt you guys are going to get much rest with three walls instead of four. Want to come home with us?"

The witches exchanged a glance before looking back at the Slayer and her sister. Dawn's face was incredibly hopeful, and Tara couldn't disappoint her. Willow nodded, already planning out what they'd need from their room.

"Sure. I'd have to pick up a few things from our dorm first, but yeah."

Spike left the Scoobies to chat about their plans and what to do about the insane people and found a pickup truck Glory's crazies had been using to move building supplies. He was ready to hot-wire it but the keys had been left inside. He considered nudging Xander with the bumper of the truck as he drove it back to the group, but a sharp, all too familiar pain stopped him. I couldn't have wished the chip out?

"I can bring the weapons back to the Magic Shop if you're all going to tuck in for the night." He offered as he stepped out. Buffy shrugged and went to get Olaf's hammer. Giles was cleaning his glasses, a gesture so invisible no one but Tara paid any mind to the expression on his face. He's a killer. She couldn't remember things from the darkness she'd been trapped in that well, but there had been certain truths she'd been shown. Giles was willing to kill to protect the world, and to protect his surrogate daughter from becoming a murderer. No one else seemed to realize what had happened to Ben, or if they did they didn't care. For her part the witch was just relieved he hadn't had to do what he apparently been planning to do and kill Dawn. If he ever tried to, Tara would be right beside Buffy to stop him, whatever the cost.

The bleached headed vampire slung the decapitated robot over his shoulder. Last time it had been Willow who salvaged it, but only after a few days had passed. Xander stomped over to him.

"Hey, where do you think you're taking that?"

"I'm taking it back to the shop with the other weapons."

The carpenter scoffed. "Oh sure. You're gonna use it to play checkers and fight demons. God you're sick."

Spike growled a bit. The Buffy-bot had disgusted him for a long time just because of its hollow declarations of affection, but now that he had been inside the real thing the idea of sex with it was repulsive.

"It's for the Slayer. Why don't we let her decide?" The men glared at each other before looking to Buffy. She rolled her eyes.

"He's right Xander. It is a useful tool." Spike smirked triumphantly. "And Spike? Anything you put inside of it is going to be chopped off and kept as a trophy. Got it?"

The vampire kept smiling. He knew it was wrong, but he couldn't help but be aroused. I am sick.

"The structural damage looks pretty clean." Willow said as she picked up the bot's head. "I should be able to fix it in a few days."

"Perhaps you can reprogram it, make it less focused on Spike." Giles offered. "And maybe get it to say my name right." He added quietly.

Later Tara sat with the Summers sisters in Ben's car waiting for Willow to come back with their clothes and toiletries for the sleepover. Buffy took the moment to look at Tara with concern.

"How are you feeling?"

She wasn't sure how to answer that. It had felt like years in that filthy, noisy maze.

"I-I'm okay. Really."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there to stop Glory. I never wanted any of you to have to go through this because of us… me."

Tara shook her head.

"You gave us a chance to leave before. We're all with you Buffy. You protect the world, and we protect you. It's why Willow works so hard at the magick." She looked at Dawn. "I'd do it all again if it saved one member of our family."

Buffy stifled a tear.

"Willow… she never gave up, you know? On you, on me, on the fight. I don't think we could have beaten Glory without her."

Xander stepped out his bathroom yawning. Anya was waiting for him with an expectant smile. Of course she was waiting. The world hadn't ended after all.

"You can give it to me now Xander."

He fished the ring box out of his pants pocket and began.

"Anya…"

"Ooh!" she interrupted. "Get down on one knee. It's an essential component of the ritual."

He smiled as he kneeled, hoping she wouldn't object to him proposing in his pajamas next.

"Right. Great respect for the ritual here." Xander took a deep breath before continuing. "Anya, will you marry me?"

"Yes!" She kissed him and quickly slid the ring onto her finger, beaming at it. "We're alive and getting married." She sighed, holding her hands together dreamily. "Can we celebrate now?"

Truthfully he was tired as hell and would have been happy to just collapse beside her for the next week or so, but now wasn't the time to deny her. In high school Xander had naively believed that guys always were up for having sex and girls had to be romantically coaxed into the mood, and only at very special times. That was a laugh. Anya liked sex as a solution when she was insecure, joyful, lonely, or just bored. It was scary how insatiable she was sometimes, but at least she never seemed to be disappointed in his performance. His ruminations on the matter were derailed as Anya started to nibble on his earlobe. Traitor. He thought a bit amused as his body responded.

The celebration was passionate and left Anya drifting off into a blissful sleep from the afterglow. Xander watched the sun come up outside their window, unable to shut his eyes for panicking. I'm getting married. I'm getting MARRIED. Oh god. What have I done? He knew he loved her, was crazy about her, and was thrilled to have her body draped over his and her breath on his chest. But something about the idea of marriage scared the crap out of him. Panicking, panicking bad. What do I do? I can't back out… I'm just freaking out because it just happened today. It's totally normal to worry. Right? Just a stupid guy thing. It'll be better in the morning. Just don't think about it. It was a long time before he joined his fiancée in slumber.

Willow and Tara hadn't stopped touching since the redhead came back from their dorm. They had waited for Buffy and Dawn to go to sleep before taking the shower for themselves. Tara kept tracing her fingers along the cut on Willow's face as Willow adjusted the water. She held Tara's hand to her cheek and kissed it before taking Tara's injured right hand in both of hers. "You took off your cast baby. Doesn't it still hurt?"

"Not too badly." She winced as her lover massaged it. "A little."

"That's no good. Let me make it better." She planted another kiss on Tara's right hand, this time sending her magic to heal it. The blonde shuddered in response, the thrill of Willow's energy as powerful as ever. There was something new in that energy though, something dark. It was stronger magic than she'd had before their quarrel, already so strong it made her frightened. Just what had Willow done while she'd been lost? She caressed her younger partner's side, looking into her green eyes and willed herself not to show her fears. They'd all been through so much, she couldn't press Willow for details now. Now they just needed to be close.

"I love you so much."

"I know. I love you, and I'll always be there, for anything you need. Always."

Spike paced his crypt, taking stock of everything that had happened since the wish. Buffy was alive, and she'd never be torn out of heaven or have to claw her way out of her own grave. He was unsure it made any difference. It would spare her a lot of pain, and meant her life could go on without a four month interruption. But what did it mean for them? He couldn't very well tell her "I was sent back in time and saved you from resurrection and torment." He'd saved Dawn, but he had done that plenty of times since Buffy came back and it never led to declarations of love.

He sighed, frustrated. The past year hadn't all been bad. She had kissed him, mounted him, wanted him, even just basked in his company when he did things right. But it all came down to two things: needing to feel something other than numb, and the feeling of wrongness from his chip not working on her. Would she ever have been with him if she hadn't felt those things?

The vampire opened a bottle and fell back into his most comfortable chair. She had kissed him once without any magic or death related angst, back before the final fight with Glory. And it had been after a moment of 'heroism'. He took a few long draughts and pondered his situation again. He had done a lot with and to the Slayer, some good, some bad, some bloody unspeakable. Now he was the only one who remembered it. He could use that to his advantage. He would know what threats would come to Sunnydale before they arrived and could be a hero defeating them. He would know ahead of time what would piss Buffy off and what would turn her on. It was a plan with serious potential. Spike licked his teeth as he went to find some paper. He would have to be prepared.

Buffy had fallen asleep beside Dawn in her own bed, her sister having asked with some embarrassment if she could join her. She had agreed for both their sakes, still trying to believe it was over.

Her dreams were no help. Lightning struck from a white mass of chaos in the sky, hitting a building. It transformed into a hive of grotesque alien creatures as the people below screamed and ran in terror. A massive beast that looked to be a dragon flew out of the chaos and roared into the night. The lightning kept striking, the white mass kept growing. She could smell blood. It was dripping, dripping without stopping.

She woke, trying not to groan and disturb Dawn. It had felt vivid, but her instincts told her this wasn't a prophetic Slayer dream. It seemed important though, like there was something she didn't comprehend about the world around her, something off. Buffy briefly wondered if the First Slayer had been sending her some kind of message like she had last year, but it didn't match her style. That and the lack of the Cheese Man. She wished, not for first time, that she could borrow some of Giles or Willow's brain power to puzzle her dreams out without having to tell them in person and trouble them with things that could be no threat at all. Most of all she wished she understood the message the Guide had given her. Love would lead her to her gift. Death was her gift. Whose death?

She decided that she could worry later. Her family was alive and whole, the big bad was defeated, and she hadn't had to compromise herself to do it. If her dreams kept on the same track, well, she'd deal with it then.

Author's (other) notes: Obviously in the episode "Wish", Cordelia wasn't sent back in time to the day Buffy would have come to Sunnydale. All I have to say about that is: exactly. Expect chapter two next weekend.