A/N: And the final one. Spoilers for the entire season eight, and the beginning of season nine. Here's me trying to justify the somewhat blurry timeline that comes with the comic territory.


"If I live another year," says Buffy, "I can rent a car."

Dawn shakes her head and continues her attempts to fight the bright pink ribbon from Andrew's present into place around Xander's forehead. "I'm pretty sure you have to be able to drive for that," she says.

"Oh yeah," says Buffy. She leans her face into her hand and stares at her free dessert. Applebee's is pretty much her best friend right now. "Who came up with that rule?"

"Eleven more and you can be president!" Xander offers cheerfully then looks around at the booth's other occupants, suddenly unsure. "Right?"

Spike raises an eyebrow when Xander's questioning look lands on him where he sits in the corner on the bench with Buffy. She'd been in the corner originally, and their elbow duel had been somewhat epic but ultimately impractical. "How 'm I supposed to know?" he points out.

"Yeah, Buffy! You could run for president!" Dawn grins at her, finding the silliness irresistibly attractive.

"And pass a law banning soddin' Harmony Kendall from television," Spike adds, scowling into his beer like just saying the vampire celebrity's name burned his tongue.

"Buffy Tries to Lead People, Part Two." The Slayer's gloomy tone is far different from the merriment around her. "There's a sequel I don't need."

Spike doesn't seem to mind much that she sort of snuggles up against his shoulder then, he just pats her knee under the table. If Dawn and Xander notice they don't say anything.

They probably don't notice.

"You gave those girls what they needed, pet. Just because they didn't like it doesn't mean it was wrong."

"Yeah. And it's nice not having to share you with your fifteen-hundred other sisters."

"Because they're the only ones I hurt." Buffy stares at the end of the table, at the place where they could have pulled up a chair for Giles, or Angel, or Faith, or Willow.

On the other bench, Xander and Dawn exchange uneasy looks. Buffy gives them an apologetic smile. "Sorry, guys. I'm being all bummer birthday Buffy."

"At least we aren't trapped in a house!" Xander points out.

"Hey!" Dawn pokes him in the ribs.

"Or, if we do get trapped, we have plenty of food."

"Yeah," says Spike. He peers over Buffy's head to survey the rest of the restaurant's occupants with an expression of dissatisfaction. " 'cause waitstaff always go down real nice." There's a muffled thump under the table and Spike scowls at Dawn as he reaches down to rub his shin. "That'd be a joke, Lil' Bit." Spike looks at Buffy accusatorily. "Weren't you supposed to teach her about humour?"

Buffy shrugs. "We got stuck on the self-defence and not letting vampires eat people lesson."

Spike glares at her for a while as she looks on innocently and after a bit he succumbs and reaches out to stroke her hair, though the motion is disguised as an adjustment to the plastic tiara perched atop her head. Not that the latter is much better.

Fortunately, whether by coincidence and by his own purposeful ignorance, Xander happens to be checking his watch at that moment. "If we leave now, we can still get in that annual birthday monster slayage I'm sure we've been looking forward to all year. I know I have."

Buffy and Spike wait on the kerb with the bag of presents while Dawn and Xander leave to fetch the car.

"How's a birthday slay different from a regular slay?" Dawn asks as they walk away.

"Well, first comes the traditional song," Xander replies. Buffy's pretty sure he says something about candles in orifices before the distance and nearby chattering party drowns out the rest of his reasons. Probably for the better.

Beside her, Spike lights a cigarette up with a snnick of his lighter. They stand in relative quiet for a few minutes, the pale blue smoke gathers around their heads in a foggy halo.

" 'm sorry," Spike says at length.

"You're who, now?" Buffy blinks at him in surprise. She's supposed to be sorry. It's kind of her thing these days. Sorry for estranging her friends, sorry for letting Angel take advantage, sorry for almost ending the world, sorry for ruining everything, sorry for Giles. Spike's been amazing, and should probably yell at her or something, honestly. She'd deserve it.

"Thinking that could have been a bit more exciting of a party."

He is right. Kinda. Willow's still ignoring her for the most part, and Andrew and Kennedy and Faith are busy cleaning up her mess. She doesn't even want to think about Angel. Of course there's still that hole there. That hole left by people who should be there, but couldn't even if they wanted. Tara, Anya, Giles…

But it's the best way it could be. She can't just wish her friends back to life, even if it is her birthday.

Buffy leans up against Spike, like the chill had gotten to her and he's actually got something to offer her for it. "Naw," she says. "Xander got some new accessories and I get to go stab things." She smiles up at him until his lips quirk up around his cigarette in response. "What more could a girl ask for?"