***An alternate take on the season 5 finale, "The Gift". Someone else makes the sacrifice for the world…

***Disclaimer: I own none of this.

***I love reviews and suggestions. You can also send them to d_jasper77@hotmail.com

'Til the End of the World

Part I

The pain in Spike's back thrummed deliciously as it snaked its way throughout his already battered body. It had been less than a week since the hell-bitch had poked and prodded (and slashed and bashed) him for hours, trying to get him to spill the beans. Said beating still resonated within his undead bones, despite his best efforts to fight through it.

He stood precariously between the elusive demon and Dawn, intent on preventing it from completing its task.

"You don't come near the girl, Doc," he forced through clinched teeth as he felt a haze form before his eyes as the borrowed blood in his veins continued to pour from the gaping wound.

The white-haired demon regarded Spike in interest. The vampire in front of him was almost a legend in vampiric lore as the Scourge of Europe, killer of two slayers and yet he protected the fifteen-year-old girl with the tenacity of a pit bull.

"I don't smell a soul on you," he said almost cheerfully yet with a hint of curiosity. "Why do you even care?"

"I made a promise to a lady," was the immediate reply.

Spike knew things weren't looking too good. With his currently weakened state and misguided hubris at seeing the small old man, he was at a considerable disadvantage. Even at full strength, with the speed the demon had demonstrated, Spike knew it would be a tough fight. But he wouldn't give in; he wouldn't disappoint Buffy again.

"Oh?" the old man said and arched his eyebrows in quiet contemplation before he attacked.

Spike easily dodged the reptilian tongue that lashed out from the demon's mouth. Before he could recover, the demon whipped its leg around in a sweep, sending Spike to the ground. The demon wasted no time as it grabbed the vampire's wrists in a viselike grip and roughly hoisted him to his feet. Spike struggled but couldn't free himself as he peered over the edge, already discerning the intent of the old man.

"Then I'll send the lady your regrets," he almost sang. Spike looked at the panicked teen, his eyes wide with fear for her. Their eyes connect for an agonizingly long heartbeat, communicating everything that words could never say. He opened his mouth to speak but never got the chance as the Doc sent him careening over the edge of the scaffold, down to the waking darkness…

"Giles," Xander called at the fleeting form of the Watcher. "Giles," he yelled again but the man never acknowledged the call.

"Where is he going?" Anya asked her fiancé as they cowered behind the wooden slabs, their only shelter against Glory's followers. Made up of poor citizens that had been brain sucked by the hell god and her remaining toady minions, they stood vigil between the couple and the towering structure.

"I don't know," Xander answered truthfully. There was something about the way Giles looked that unnerved the brunette. It was a look he had seen all too often in the eyes of the enemy and was more than unsettling to see in the eyes of the man who, for all intents and purposes, had been his father figure for the past five years.

"Do you think Spike got to Dawn?" Anya asked as she nervously wrung the baseball bat between her sweaty palms, unaware of the burning sensation that welded into her flesh. As she looked up, however, her own question was answered as she saw a lone figure hanging from a cable with one arm. Though she couldn't make out the body's shape, she could discern one unmistakable trait; a shiny head of platinum blond hair.

"Oh my God," Xander whispered as he, too, saw the dangling vampire. Just as he was about to speak, a small rift, directly below the edge of the platform opened.

"He's too late," Anya whimpered as the rift slowly expanded, the telltale sign of their impending doom. The ex-demon huddled against her lover and Xander held her tightly. For the first time in recent memory, Xander Harris had nothing to say.

The pain in Spike's back had lessened considerable, which should have been something positive. But there was nothing positive about his situation, as he hung from a stray cable with a severely dislocated left shoulder. Call it blind luck or divine intervention, the vampire had been lucky enough to get his left arm entangled in the single cable, and he was now a mere fifteen to twenty feet away from the Niblet and the Doc.

"Poncey bugger," the blond muttered through gritted teeth. With his previous injuries still sapping him and the newly acquired hole in his back, the vampire was extremely weak. He had tried several times to flip his good arm to the cable in an attempt to climb back up. It was easier said than done as he slowly pulled his arm up, mindful of the exquisite pain in his shoulder. Finally, after what seemed like hours, his right hand gripped the steel cable and he used as much strength as he could muster to pull him up. It worked and the pain in his shoulder fell to a slightly tolerable level of agony, undoubtedly in thanks for the alleviation of one hundred and sixty pounds of dead weight.

"Bloody hell," he grimaced as he began the slow climb back to the top. At his current rate, it would take forever. "The Niblet doesn't have forever, Spike," he chided himself. Suddenly, the smell of blood followed by the immediate yelp of a terrified girl filled his senses. It didn't take a second thought as to the source of the injury and in that moment, Spike forgot about the pain and vamped out, as he climbed to the top, with a preternatural swiftness not known to even his kind.

He was so focused on getting to Dawn that he failed to notice the shimmering light waver and expand not five feet from him.

"Stop it," Glory commanded as she sagged to her knees. The once powerful god's strength was ebbing fast and she knew it was only a matter of time before the scant mortal that she shared this body with would reappear. The threat was non-existent in her voice though her tone carried all the frustration, pain and desperation of the realization that her plans of vengeance would fall short of the mark.

All because of one girl and her merry friends.

"You're a god," Buffy said conversationally before upcutting Glory to the face with another crushing blow from the hammer. As the god was knocked to her back, the slayer wasted no time in rushing up to her enemy before she could regain her wits.

"Make it stop," the slayer spat and her face contorted with the boiling emotions of the last several months. With each hit, a sliver of the grief, a piece of the helplessness and a lilt of overwhelming responsibility were lifted away.

Buffy, fueled by emotions she had had to smother for so long, had lost count as to how many times the hammer struck home. It wasn't until she regrouped that she stopped her onslaught as once beautiful face of the god morphed back into the decidedly human veneer of Ben.

The former intern struggled for air as he coughed up blood and it didn't take his skills as an intern to deduce the multiple breaks throughout his body. It was a bitter irony that he had cursed the thing that shared his body and knew that if it weren't for their cohabitation, he would be dead.

As he looked up into the determined eyes of the slayer, he hesitated, unsure of what to say. How did you rectify that, because of you, someone's baby sister was abducted for sacrifice and that you shared the body of the one responsible for it? How did you apologize for the responsibility, however indirectly, of the dozens of people that had been killed since you had come to town? Or, even worse, how did you beg mercy when, after the inner turmoil you had fought with the hell god, you finally acquiesced to her goal, your own existence more important than the billions of lives that would end if said god were successful?

"I'm sorry," he choked out and almost laughed at how far short the two words fell towards redemption.

"Tell her its over," Buffy replied, her anger subsiding at the beaten figure in front of her, "she missed her shot." She stared hard at the broken man in front of her and knew what lurked beneath it. This is the only way to kill Glory, she thought. I can finish it right here. Forever. But as soon as those thoughts were there, she dismissed them quickly as she realized that, despite what it could cost her, she couldn't do it…

" She goes. If she ever, ever comes near me and mine again…" she started, the air of finally and promise of retribution clear in her tone before Ben interrupted.

"We won't," he choked out through bloodied heaves. "I swear," he finished and without a second glance, Buffy dropped the hammer to the ground and sped toward her sister atop the makeshift tower.

The reprieve he had been given by the slayer caused Ben to laugh painfully. It was definitely ironic, after all. Not two hours ago, he had made the decision to trade Dawn's life for his, and now, when he had been a single blow away from death, the same woman whose sister he would gladly have sacrificed had given him life.

"I guess we're stuck with each other, huh, baby?" he chuckled as he addressed the depleted god inside him.

He closed his eyes and immediately felt another presence near him. He opened his eyes to the form of the older guy, Giles, as he knelt beside Ben.

"Can you move?" he asked and the concern and (sadness?) in his eyes were evident. It never dawned on Ben that the man before him would be the last face he would ever see…

Spike screamed as the knife ripped through his undead flesh, bringing him to his knees. Since his daring climb up the cable, the Doc had treated him like nothing other than a pin cushion and the vampire's body was now littered with dozens of gashes and punctures. He had thought that his increased adrenaline boost he received when he heard Dawn's yelps of pain would have been enough to topple the demon from the scaffold. As it was, the master vampire found himself the Doc's plaything.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," the Doc said, waving the bloodied knife in front of his face. He gazed at the kneeled figure in front of him, not able to comprehend the creature's drastic change in behavior over a few short years.

"My dear boy, you really need to stay down," Doc sing-songed as Spike drunkenly staggered back to his feet.

"Never," the vampire groaned, attempting his best to harness the anguish radiating from Dawn as a weapon but falling short. He knew there was no way to win; Doc was too quick and Spike was much too weak. As if to confirm that point, he caught the silver glint of the knife as it sliced through the air and through the soft flesh of his neck.

Spike gurgled, his eyes wide in surprise before stumbling to his knees once more.

"Spike!" Dawn yelled, partially due to the burgeoning vortex below them as well as the vampire's safety.

"Niblet," Spike said and risked a glance behind him. He tried to smile at her as their eyes met but the moment was fleeting as Spike caught sight of what Dawn's blood had unleashed.

"My God," he whispered before he doubled over as the knife was plunged into his chest.

"No!" Dawn screamed, mimicking Spike's screams of pain. The Doc smiled at it all, as he twisted the knife deeper into the undead heart of the vampire.

"You know, I've always wondered how much punishment a vampire could take before he died of shock." He glanced over the vampire's shoulder. "Oh, and lookie there…seems like you disappointed that lady-friend of yours. And I thought you were a man of your word."

The pain in his chest was a step up from the fake stake he had received courtesy of one Riley Finn. It didn't help that the deceptively strong demon twisted the blade back and forth, maximizing the damage. As he ripped it from Spike's chest, a chilling thought crossed the vampire's mind and it was with a certainty that he knew.

I'm going to die, he thought to himself, oblivious to the Doc standing over him, with his arms crossed and holding the blood-soaked instrument.

"You know," the Doc gestured at the fallen vampire, "even if the world wasn't going to be sucked into hell, I doubt that even your regenerative abilities would pull you through this. And that is a shame. Guess you won't be able to watch the less than desirable fate of your lady friend," he leered at Dawn and the teen squirmed in her bindings, "and that tasty little girl over there. But I'm a nice guy and I see you're in pain, so allow me to put you out of your misery." The Doc raised the knife with both hands, ready to plunge it into the back of the vampire's exposed neck. As the blade started its decent, Spike's yellow eyes met the black orbs of the Doc, and the vampire released a final, rage filled strike.

Buffy had watched the struggle between Spike and the mystery man on her mad dash to the top. It hadn't looked to good as every time she had dared a peak, Spike reminded her of an unlucky slab of meat. Though getting to Dawn was her primary concern, she couldn't help but feel a pang of concern at her sometimes ally and undead admirer. She couldn't help but playback the things that had happened between her and Spike over the last several years. They had flipped from mortal enemies to uneasy allies to soon-to-be newlyweds (for a day!) back to uneasy allies. But now…what exactly were they now? They were allies without the uneasiness of before. She couldn't say that she didn't trust him, giving him the responsibility of watching over the two most important people in her life without a second thought. And of course, there was the whole letting Glory torture him for hours thing. That had to be worth something, didn't it? Oh, it did. She had told him that she would never forget it and she wouldn't. After that, she couldn't help but to call him 'friend'. And being her friend entitled him to the package slayer friend deal that included defending him with all she was worth. Oh, the guy up there with Spike was definitely going to pay.

Buffy was two levels down when she stopped dead in her tracks. Her inner turmoil had shielded her from the increasing light in front of her. No, she had seen a glimpse of it before but didn't want to admit it. The portal was open and that meant only one thing.

"Dawn," Buffy murmured. "Oh my…"

"…God," the wide-eyed demon gurgled as he glared down at the fallen knife and the hand wedged in his chest.

"Sorry mate," the nearly exanguinated vampire taunted as he wobbled to his feet, hand still gripping the Doc's spine. "But the Man upstairs," he paused before ripping his hand free, complete with spinal column as souvenir, "doesn't listen to wankers like yourself." Spike looked up and down at the still standing demon before pushing him over the edge.

"Spike!" Dawn called, the tears evident in her voice. "Spike! Are you okay?" She lowered her tone as the vampire drug himself over to her.

"Never better, Niblet," he said sarcastically as he loosened the bonds, allowing the frightened teen to wriggle free and wrap her hands around his neck.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" she repeated as the tears cascaded down her face, mingling with the blood on Spike shredded duster. "You saved me! I knew you would. Oh my God! I love you Spike! I love you!" The heartfelt confession by the teen had blinded Spike to the extent of his injuries or the fact that their world was about to be destroyed. He couldn't stop the tears that graced his own cheeks at the small girl in his arms. For the first time in his unlife, he felt at peace as if nothing could touch him.

"Uhhh," he grunted and toppled backward as the reality of the situation came crashing back down on him.

"Spike? Spike! You're hurt!" The fear in Dawn's voice was even greater than her yelps of pain when the Doc had sliced into her.

"That I am pet," he said as Dawn held his head in her hands, "that I am."

"Don't worry, Buffy will know to do." She tried desperately to sound reassuring but even she caught the faltering in her voice.

"Sorry to disappoint, platelet, but big sis won't be able to fix this mess…" he hesitated, unsure of whether to tell her and knew he had to. "I'm dyin', bit." The heartbreak in her face was almost too much to bare, and Spike felt himself fighting the current that threatened to pull him under, if only to stay with Dawn for a few more minutes.

"No, you can't," she screamed and hoisted him up by the lapels. "You can't die! You can't leave me!"

" 'Fraid I don't have a choice, Bit. Lost too much blood." She fearfully took in the various wounds on his body as the blood poured from him like a fountain. She didn't know how much blood loss would kill a vampire, but she wasn't going to let her best friend die on her.

Dawn gently lay Spike's head down on the metal and crawled over to the fallen knife. She wiped the congealed blood off as best she could before she crawled over to the vampire, her left arm extended.

"Bit," Spike said through fluttering eyelids, "what are you doing?"

"You need blood is all," she said and tensed her fist before slicing open her wrist, "and I'm gonna give it to you."

Before Spike could protest, the determined teen shoved her bleeding limb into his mouth and the vampire couldn't fight the half-dead demon within him as it raged to the surface and latched onto Dawn's wrist with an animalistic vise.

Dawn hadn't exactly thought about her actions before she went through with them. All she was concerned about was her best friend not dying in her arms. She had even forgotten about the rip in space-time that continued its violent expansion.

The pain that shot through her arm as the blade opened her skin was secondary to the panic that threatened to choke her as her life was sucked from her very body. She felt herself swoon at the blood loss and before she could pass out, Spike released his hold on her.

"Spike," Dawn moaned as she fought to keep her eyes open.

"Niblet," he smiled weakly. "You saved me." Even though he was far from being even in bad shape, Dawn's blood had had an immediate effect and he deduced that, because of her status as the key, it was more potent than any mortal's blood, maybe even the slayer's.

"Dawn!" Buffy's voice called behind the two. They both turned meekly to the sound of the slayer's hustling strides and in an instant she was beside them.

"Dawn, are you okay?" she asked as her sister's head lolled to the side. She glanced at Dawn's wrist and then to Spike, still in game face. "What did you do?" she spat and Spike cringed at the acidity of her tone.

"Luv…"

"What the fuck did you do?" She said and slammed her fist into his face.

"Buffy, no…" Dawn called weakly as the slayer reared back to punch the downed vampire a second time. "Buffy, please…he was dying."

That got the slayer's attention and her eyes darted from her weakened sister to the considerably weakened vampire. The anger drained from her immediately and her face contorted in shame. She should have known Spike would never harm Dawn. Or her, for that matter.

"Spike, I…" she started as she helped Dawn to her feet.

"No worries, slayer," Spike said with a touch of amusement that belied the hurt he felt at Buffy's mistrust. "Evil bloke like me, I'd expect no less than…" he abruptly stopped and Buffy saw Spike's eyes virtually bulge from his eyes.

"Dawn…" he choked. "Dawn!" At his final shout of desperation, Buffy whirled around and saw her sister hobbling towards the edge of the scaffolding.

"Dawn," Buffy shouted as she whirled the dazed teen around after catching up with her. "What are you doing?"

"The portal, Buffy," she said through another avalanche of tears, "it's open. I have to close it."

"Dawn…"

"No, Buffy! It was opened with my blood and it has to be closed with my blood. Buffy, I have to do it."

"But it'll kill you," the slayer said, not hiding the tears that now adorned her face.

"I know," the teen whispered and turned to run but was again caught in the iron grip of her sister.

Buffy studied her sister intently. She was right. Spike had said it earlier; it had to be the blood, it was always the blood. Her sister's blood--the self-same blood that coursed through both their veins. And that was when it hit her.

"Death is my Gift," she whispered the same thing the First Slayer had told her. "Death is my Gift." She knew exactly what she was she had to do--what she was destined to do.

"Buffy?" Dawn gaged the intensity of her sister and instinctively knew what was going through her mind. "No, Buffy, you can't!" Dawn pled. "It has to be me. It has to be my blood."

"Your blood Dawn. Your blood and mine." They were both silent and was startled out of the inevitable goodbye as a dragon soared above them.

"No!" Dawn yelled in defiance. "I won't let you!" She screamed and tried to wrench her arms away in vain.

"Dawn, this is my duty. This is what I have to do."

"But what about me?" The girl cried. "What about me?" Buffy didn't know what to say. She knew this was what she had to do but it didn't make it any easier. They had both lost their mother and now one was destined to lose their sister. It was a crappy deal and Buffy couldn't help but think that she was taking the easy way out. Losing her mother had been a crushing blow and Glory kidnapping Dawn had devastated Buffy. How would she end up with both sister and mother buried in ground, leaving her alone? That wasn't an option.

"Spike," Buffy called as Dawn began her struggle anew.

"Please, Buffy. Please let me do this." She screamed and her struggle died down as the soothing arms of the vampire wrapped around her shoulders.

"Big sis is right, Niblet. Can't let you do that."

"Spike," she mouthed before crumbling to her knees in uncontrollable sobs.

Buffy watched in agony at her sister's pain but it didn't stop her resolve.

"Protect her," she told Spike and turned to run. Spike's hand reached out to hers, stopping her in her tracks. Startled, Buffy turned to the vampire with a questioning look in her eyes.

"You know I love you, Pet."

"I know," was all she could say as his bright blue eyes bore into her soul.

Spike brought Buffy to him in a final embrace and it took all her willpower not to fold into his arms and just wait for it all to end. But she couldn't be that selfish. If Death was her Gift, then she would give it to the world…

Just as she was about to push him away, Spike lifted his head and brought his lips to hers.

The kiss was unlike any Buffy had ever had. It was reminiscent to the one she had shared between Angel before sending him to hell. It was filled with passion, tenderness and other emotions that she couldn't conceive. Not because they were from him, but they poured forth from her.

The finality of the kiss gave the slayer an internal freedom she had never allowed herself. If it had been any other circumstance, Buffy would have attributed what bubbled from within her as displaced emotions from the last several months, maybe even years. But it was more than that. It was the realization that this vampire…this man, before her loved her with everything that he had. He would never expect her to be anything other than herself and, to her chagrin, bring her to the truth, kicking and screaming. Unconditional love was what it was and Buffy wanted nothing more than to be covered and bathed in it. And then it hit her. I really do love him.

The shock of it all, startled her from the kiss and Spike searched her face in concern before his face lit up with the brightest smile she had ever seen.

"I love you, Buffy." He said.

"Spike, I…" she hesitated and he silenced her with another kiss.

"No words, luv. I see it--in your eyes." He stroked her hair and planted another kiss on her forehead. Buffy closed her eyes and she never saw him vamp out. By the time she felt his fangs pierce her skin, it was too late.

Dawn Summers was in her own world. Spike's comforting touch had, in some way, relegated her to accepting what Buffy had to do. She hated it, hated it with all of her being but what was she to do? The only thing she was certain of was that she wouldn't watch so she had plastered her hands to her face, oblivious to her nails digging into her flesh.

A cool hand against her arm brought Dawn out of her shell. She tentatively lowered her hands, expecting to see Spike's crushed face telling her that Buffy was gone. Instead, she saw the vampire, almost smiling, holding an unconscious Buffy in his arms.

"Buffy!" Dawn gasped and wrapped her arms around her sister's thin waste. She patted Buffy on the cheek and when her head lulled, she saw the two small punctures in her neck.

"Spike?!" She asked in apprehension. She was so focused on his eyes that she hadn't noticed the weary look of pain in his eyes or the blood that poured from his ears.

"Buffy was right," he said as he helped Dawn lay Buffy down, "your blood is the same as hers." He smiled wistfully at the final look of love he had seen in Buffy's eyes and he knew that that split second would forever be with him, no matter where he ended up.

"Spike…" Dawn started as her eyes bulged at what he meant and what he meant to do.

"Listen, Bit," Spike said as he grabbed the trembling girl by the shoulders. "I don't have much time. So listen up…"

The first thing that Buffy felt was the sting in her neck. She was vaguely aware of being held by someone but she wasn't sure who it was. Said person ran a hand through Buffy's hair and the slayer wasn't fully awake until a tear fell onto her forehead. Something was wrong.

"Dawn," she shouted as she sat up and quickly regretted it as nausea rolled off her in waves. It took a few minutes and a soothing voice in her ear before the world stopped spinning.

"I'm here, Buffy," her sister's reply was so even yet full of pain.

"Dawn?" Buffy whispered as she took in the sunken eyes of her sister. As Buffy searched her sister's eyes, Dawn avoided direct contact which only furthered the nausea in her gut.

As she got a closer look, she realized that said nausea had nothing to do with loss of blood…

"Dawn," she said, trying to keep the mounting fear out of her voice, "where's Spike?"

But the teenager refused to look at her and though she tried to speak, the emotional lump that was stuck in her throat was answer enough.

"No," she murmured to herself and didn't even notice when the tears started to fall anew.

"Buffy!" a familiar British accent called and for an instant she thought it was Spike and this whole thing was just some horrible dream. She turned around hopefully, her hand still intertwined with her sister's only to feel reality crash down on her at the approaching figure of her Watcher.

"Buffy, thank God," he praised as he embraced his two surrogate daughters with all the love he could muster. "You stopped Glory before she could open the portal." He went to hug her again but noticed the heartbreak etched on both girls faces. "Buffy? What's wrong?"

"Spike…" Dawn choked out before bursting into sobs.

"Spike? Wha…" and Giles noticed the bite marks on Buffy's neck. The anger that simmered within him threatened to overflow and it took everything he had to keep it from his voice. "What did he do?"

"You're wrong," Buffy said, her tone emotionless with shock, "I didn't get here in time. The portal was already opened by the time I got here."

"Then how…?"

"Spike…he…he…drank from us. Me and Dawn's. He took our blood…to close the portal." She looked at the empty space where the portal had been and the only thing visible now was the purple and orange haze of a new day beginning.

Giles could only stare at the two heartbroken girls in shock. How had he known it would work? Or better yet, why? Giles removed his glasses as the disbelief of it all sunk in. Spike, the slayer of slayers, Scourge of England, had given his life. Not for the world but for the love of the two girls that sat before him, Spike had sacrificed himself without a second thought. He could only sit and stare out into the sun as it rose. He laughed humorously at the irony of it all. They had been saved, not by the slayer, or by the Key, but by the selflessness of a soulless vampire.

So caught up in his thoughts, Giles never noticed the tears that spilled from his own eyes.