Part 1: 20

January 20th, 2001

Sunnydale, California

Spike threw his dead cigarette to the ground and squished it beneath his boot.

Eyes staying fixed on the warmly lit frontage of 1630 Revello, the morose vampire fell back against his usual tree.

"What the bloody hell's wrong with me? Creature of the sodding night a love-sick git tryin' to give a belated birthday present to a girl who'd happily see me as dust."

With a heavy sigh, he reached inside his leather coat, hunting for a fresh cigarette. Pulling out the scrunched up packet he found it had just one left.

"And that's just perfect," he grumbled, putting that last cigarette to his lips. His lighter quickly appeared, its orange flame igniting the tip.

The previous evening had been Buffy's twentieth birthday party here at her house. And for some insane reason he'd turned up to deliver a present - a rather sad and battered box of chocolates. But before he'd been able to make his unwise delivery, he'd intercepted Buffy's little sister, Dawn, sneaking out of the place, heading off on a mission to The Magic Box, looking to find out what juicy secrets her sister was keeping from her. Spike, genuinely concerned for the kid (and also wanting to keep in Buffy's good books) had tagged along to keep an eye on the littlest Summers.

Yeah, cuz that had worked out so bleedin' well.

With his help young Dawn had got inside the locked up store and before too long had indeed discovered the big bad secret Buffy and co. were keeping from her: the shocking truth about her own magical origins.

She, Dawn Summers, was in fact the hocus pocus Key that hell god Glory was after. As it turned out, she wasn't a real person at all; just some ancient blob of energy changed by monks in to human form in an attempt to keep said blob hidden and safe from the evil Glorificus.

Unsurprisingly after finding all of this out the kid had gone and blown a major teenage fuse.

And guess who'd got the blame from big sister for that particular outcome.

Still, things hadn't been all bad. Later, the Slayer had almost apologised for blaming him. Emphasis being on almost.

But Buffy had definitely admitted that he'd been right to stick with Dawn. And that she, Buffy, being Dawn's older sister and The Slayer, should have told the kid the truth to begin with, before she'd gone and found out the way she had. To Spike, Buffy's admission had been an encouraging sign. Maybe, ever so slightly, he was starting to break through her cold wall of loathing. Plus he'd also helped her find Dawn after the teen's latest mini-breakdown earlier tonight. And then fought alongside her to get little sis away from Glory. He must've earned some brownie points for that, surely? So, here he was again. Back outside her house, waiting with another present to deliver.

This time though he'd dumped the chocolates from last night's aborted attempt. The niblet had said they were lame.

The kid had been right.

Tonight, after leaving the hospital and the fight with Glory, he'd had a brainwave and had swung by his crypt, picking up something he was sure the Slayer would like. New present secured he'd then headed on over here to make his late belated birthday delivery. And late it was, gone 11:30 PM. But still the lights in the Slayer's house burned.

Spike had almost gone up to the front door several times.

Well, to be honest, he'd not got any further than the grass the other side of the sidewalk before turning around and hurriedly retreating back to the false security of his faithful lurking tree. For even after his hanging around outside of Buffy's house long enough to chain-smoke a whole packet of cigarettes, thinking and planning, he'd been unable to work up the courage to just go up to her front door, knock on it, and say simply…

What? Say what, lack-brain?

Hey Buffy, here's a lovely little trinket I once tore from the neck of a young Tibetan sorceress before I drank her blood and killed her. Happy birthday.

Spike cursed his own idiocy.

This is insane. This has got to stop. I have to stop torturing myself over her. Time to move on to some fresh blood.

He made a decision.

Shoving away from the tree, the vampire turned his back on the still-lit house and started off down the street, anger, depression and confusion clouding his head as he went.

"You know you really shouldn't be lurking outside of people's houses, Spike. A girl might get the wrong idea and introduce you to her close personal friend Mr Pointy."

Spike froze in his tracks.

He turned back around.

No more than ten feet away, all alone on the darkened sidewalk, stood Buffy.

Arms crossed tightly across her chest, her long blond hair hung down around her pretty, yet stony face as her suspicious eyes watched him intently.

To Spike she looked as beguilingly cute as ever. And just as devastatingly lethal.

"Well, we wouldn't want that now, would we," he stated dryly.

He started back towards her.

Halting just a couple of steps away, he nodded sideways, indicating her house.

"Little Miss Magic-Key feeling better?"

"The Dawnie freakout seems to be over," Buffy answered. "For now at least."

Spike took a practiced casual drag from his cigarette.

"That's good then," he said. "Niblet's had a rough couple of days. Shame it went and put a downer on your birthday."

A grim smile cracked the Slayer's stony face.

"Yeah, well, I'm kinda used to that. Birthdays and me have a history…mostly of blood curdling horror."

"One of the many burdens of being the Chosen One, pet."

She grimaced. "Just for once I'd like to be burden-free. I'd like to be a floaty little feather floating around without a care. You know, like in Forrest Gump."

Spike shook his head. "Nah, never saw that movie. Not a Hanks fan. Though come to think of it Turner and Hooch did have its moments. Mostly from the dog, mind."

Buffy couldn't help but giggle.

Giggle over, she said rather nervously, "So, anyway, did I...um... say thanks earlier? For…you know…helping find Dawn and helping save her…from Glory. I mean, I know what happened wasn't really your fault. And even though you're evil and disgusting and I can't stand you…"

"No-" Spike cut in, offended, "-you didn't. An' I don't much care for the sound of this particular 'thank you'."

She looked in to his eyes.

"Thank you," she said, meaning it.

Taking another drag from his last cigarette, Spike shrugged, trying to look nonchalant but secretly feeling like a million bucks.

"No big deal. Glad to help."

She nodded. "Good. That's good."

A rather uncomfortable silence followed as the pair stood together, facing each other, saying nothing.

It was Buffy who eventually broke the silence.

"Okay. And so?" She asked pointedly.

"And so...what?"

"And so... you've got your thank you, Spike. Was there some other reason you were lurking? Trying to catch me undressing at the window maybe? Cuz if you were, you should know that sorta thing only ever happens in crappy teen movies."

"Hell no!" Spike cried, faking an expression of major disgust. "Just...just get over yourself, Slayer. Honestly, you got a one-track mind."

Buffy glared at him. "Whatever! It's been a long day…a long couple of days and I'm beat. You got your 'thank you' so you can just turn around and hurry on back to your crypt before I become a lot less appreciative."

With that, she spun on her heel and began stalking back towards her house.

"I BROUGHT YOU A PRESENT," Spike blurted loudly before he could stop himself.

Oh bollocks! Now she's either gonna laugh at me, or stake me, or both.

Buffy froze.

Slowly she turned back around.

She wasn't laughing.

"You did what?"

Swapping his cigarette to the other hand, Spike dove in to his coat pocket, fumbled around, then pulled out a small royal blue velvet pouch. He held it out towards her on the flat of his palm.

"Just a small something. You know, being your birthday an' all…yesterday. Found it layin' around the place, thought it might be useful."

With a look somewhere between hostile suspicion and utter disbelief, Buffy slowly, cautiously made her way back towards him.

"Okay, be serious, you are giving me a birthday present?"

He shifted uncomfortably.

"Well…yeah. What of it?"

Stopping directly in front of Spike's outstretched hand, Buffy stared warily at the small pouch, as if at any moment it might sprout legs and fangs and leap at her face.

She said, "Well, for one thing it's weird. And creepy. I mean, you're…you!"

It was Spike's turn to glare.

"Look, it's no big deal, okay? I just thought it might help, especially with the niblet and what she's dealing with."

Buffy's eyes narrowed on the pouch, her suspicion growing.

"Why? What is it? Some kind of supernatural Prozac?"

Ignoring her wisecrack, Spike opened the pouch and dropped a small spherical crystal in to his palm. The crystal emanated a serene and gently pulsing, swirling red/pink hue; a warm colour, like cotton clouds around a perfect sunset.

"It's a Beyozani Crystal," he explained. "It's supposed to boost positive vibes in the holder if they're feeling especially low. You know, helps cheer you up when the blues are laying it on thick. Like winning at the dogs, or winning at the kittens, or watching Man United, or a nice sunset …not that I've seen one of them in a good long while."

En-rapt by the slowly pulsing, hypnotic crystal, Buffy murmured, "So, like supernatural Prozac then."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Fine, yeah, kinda. But it's not harmful or addictive in anyway, just a pleasant little pick me up. Like a big old bar of chocolate for you girls. If you don't believe me, ask Giles. Book boy will know all about these little buggers."

Still staring at the small glowy ball, Buffy asked:

"So why if Beyonce Crystal here makes you feel good, do you wanna get rid?"

"Simple, luv, they only work for the souled. We de-souled types don't get the benefit of the lift." With a casual sniff, he added, "I've been using it as a paper weight." He pushed it closer to her face. "Here, take it, see for yourself. You look like you could use some cheering up and mellowing out. Just like mum's warm cocoa before bed."

Tentatively, Buffy reached out and took the offered crystal.

And as soon as it touched her skin its glow increased to a brighter, warmer red. Its pulsing also increased, matching the steady rhythm of her heartbeat.

Spike smiled at her instant reaction: her eyes widening, a new spark lighting them up, the corners of her mouth rising.

"Wow!" she exclaimed.

"Told you," he said with a self-satisfied smirk.

A hint of pink in her cheeks, Buffy nodded, openly smiling now as she stared at the bright pulsing crystal held up close to her face. "Yeah, it's nice. And it's definitely working. I'm definitely feeling good about something I'd never normally feel good about."

Spike put his almost done cigarette back to his lips, pulled in a final drag, then blasted the smoke out of his nostrils.

"Oh yeah? An' what's that?"

Her eyes met his.

"You," she said.

Despite knowing the effect the Beyozani crystal could have on some people, Spike was still taken by surprise.

But was she being serious, or just messing with him?

He looked at her more closely.

And with a twinge of shock he realised that for perhaps the first time ever there was not an ounce of anger or hostility coming from this girl standing before him - his long time nemesis, and now the object of his demented affection.

It was good.

Hell, it was great.

But it was also kinda weird.

Trinket's working then.

The vampire dropped his finished cigarette to the ground and stomped it.

"So you like it. Think it will help cheer up littlest Summers?"

"Oh yeah. She likes the happy shiny."

"Good. That's good."

"Spike?"

"Yeah?"

Lowering the crystal, Buffy edged closer to him.

He could smell her lightly scented perfume. But he could also smell the true woman beneath.

He swallowed hard.

Trinket's most definitely working.

She looked deep in to his eyes.

"Thanks for the present. It's nice."

"Um...No problem."

This time there fell a comfortable silence between them. And this time it was Spike who eventually broke it.

"So, a year older, huh?" He said.

"Whu...what?" Buffy stammered.

Blinking rapidly, she stared up at him, bleary-eyed, as if having been suddenly woken from a pleasant reverie. Then, after a quick shake of the head to clear cobwebs, she raised the crystal back up to nose level and peered at it closely.

Its glow had diminished.

"Happy feelings lessening. Make them come back," she moaned.

Spike chuckled.

"It's not a permanent happy, luv. Reality is always lurking, ready to spoil the party. And anyway, it seems like you've got birthday issues not even my little gift can take the edge off."

At Spike's keen observation, Buffy looked up sharply, a darkness flitting across her face.

She turned away from him, walked a few steps to her right, then stopped.

Then, shoulders slumping, she bowed her head.

"Another year," Spike heard her murmur mournfully to the ground. "The teenager's all gone now." She sighed sadly. "Time to get old."

"Ah, so there we have it," Spike loudly announced to the entire neighbourhood. "The fear-of-getting-old monster." He took a step towards her sullen back. "The one beastie not even you can slay."

Spinning back around, Buffy shot him a savage look.

"And what do you know?" She pointed an accusing finger at the vampire. "You don't get to grow old. You get to stay the same forever. No crow's feet, or grey hairs, or sagging bits…or…or…"

Spike barked a sardonic laugh.

"Yep, cuz that's my curse. An eternity looking this good, while you, at the tender age of twenty, start to wither and sag and lose your edge."

Suddenly Buffy lashed out. Her fist cracked across his chin, sending him stumbling backwards.

"Don't make fun of me, Spike," she snarled. "If I get to thirty I could still kick your ass!"

"BLOODY HELL!" the vamp yelled, just about catching his footing.

He was about to dish out some especially vicious retaliatory abuse, when a light bulb suddenly went off in his head.

He paused, frowning at her.

Rubbing his aching jaw, he then inquired, "So, uh, why thirty?"

For a time Buffy said nothing. She just kept glaring at him, flushed with anger.

Eventually though, her face softened.

A big sigh, then, "It was just something Dawn said earlier, okay? A gag about me getting old and losing my edge. And for homework she's been working on a letter to herself in ten years time, all about who she wants to be then. It got me thinking…"

Her eyes dropped back to the ground.

She looked tired.

And despite her strength of character and strength of body (as Spike's aching jaw could attest to), she looked rather small, rather vulnerable, rather frightened.

He nodded slowly, getting the picture now.

"You don't think you're gonna make it to thirty, do you?" He said. "Maybe not even to your next birthday…"

"Shut up, Spike."

"Yeah, I'm right, aren't I?"

She didn't answer.

He took a step closer to her.

"Hey, you've made it this far, Slayer," he said gently, trying to sound supportive. "That's quite the feat for one of yours. And you know why? Two reasons: First, you're better than all the ones before you. Way better. An' I should know, I killed two of 'em."

She glanced up at that, a glint of fury in her eye, looking like she was about to say something unpleasant.

He didn't let her.

"Second," he continued. "You've got your family and friends around to help. Joyce and the little bit. And that Scooby Gang of yours, pain in the arse they might be - especially that ponce Xander. But they all bring something to the fight. They help you win. Just by being there they give you something more, they give you an edge your predecessors never had: a real, personal reason to fight, to win. And that's why you're gonna beat this skank Glory. Cuz no way in hell – hers or any other – are you gonna let her hurt your family." Unleashing his best cocky, confident grin, he added, "Bitch is going down!"

Buffy just stared at him.

And then she started to laugh.

"Bitch is going down," she repeated through her laughter.

Spike's grin remained. "I've got quite the turn of phrase, don't I?"

As Buffy continued laughing, Spike went on:

"An' I have another little surprise for you if you're still concerned about your future. That Beyozani Crystal you're holding-" he pointed at the small globe she still clutched in her right hand, "-can also, according to the stories, give you one brief glimpse of your future if you wish hard enough. Again, only for the souled, mind, so I can't personally confirm it as truth. But I'm sure Rupert will if you ask him nicely."

Her laughter dying down now, Buffy raised the crystal back up to eye level, peering at it quizzically. Its glow was now just a tad brighter than when Spike had been holding it.

"So, you're saying that this little ball of fun can show me if I'm still going to be breathing in ten years time?" She frowned at the pretty crystal. "Hmm, even if I believed that, should anyone really know what their future holds for them? I mean, what if they see nothing?"

Spike shrugged. "Then I guess they'd need to start living each day as if it's their last."

She shot him a look.

He held up his hands defensively. "Not that that's what you'll see, Slayer. I know for a fact you'll still be around when you hit the big three zero…and way beyond. For one thing, you're just too damn hard to kill."

"Nice save," Buffy smirked. She looked back at the crystal. "Maybe I should just do what Dawnie got told to do - write a letter to myself ten years from now when I'm thirty, saying where I hope to be then and what I want to be doing."

"And just what is it you want to be doing at thirty?"

She gave a big heave of her little shoulders. "No idea. But right now I'll settle for just being alive. I think if I did write my letter now it would simply say 'Congratulations, Buffy, you made it. Good luck with the next ten.'"

Spike nodded thoughtfully. "Sounds as good as anything."

"So, would you do it?" Buffy asked him. "Look forward... if you could?"

It was a good question.

He'd never really bothered to think that much about the future. When you're immortal there isn't exactly much point.

"I dunno," he answered honestly. "But I think maybe not. Takes away the mystery, the not knowing. And that's what's kinda fun. I mean, it would be like reading a book and suddenly jumping ahead a few chapters, reading a bit, then going back to eventually catch up from where you left off. Kinda spoils the rest of that particular journey." He sniffed. "But then, as you so eloquently pointed out, what do I know? I'm not gonna get old, or go grey, or sag. I'm not mortal. I'm not you. What do you, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, need to do?"

Buffy stared intently at the crystal in her hand, lost in thought.

Finally, with a deep sigh, she looked up at Spike, her face baring the scars of tired confusion.

"I think I need to go home, go to bed, go to sleep and think about this some more when I'm not feeling like I've been awake and on edge for two days straight."

She tossed the Beyozani crystal in the air and caught it again.

"Pretty and shiny. If nothing else it might distract Dawn for a while."

She then turned on her heel and started back towards her house.

Spike watched her small retreating form with a strange new sense of foreboding.

Maybe she's right. Maybe this Glory business isn't going end well.

"Oh, and Spike?" Buffy called over her shoulder, keeping on walking.

"Slayer?"

"Thanks for the birthday present. And for the talk. But just so you know...I still really don't like you. And this never happened. If you tell anyone, or if I catch you lurking outside my house again, I'll buy Mr Pointy a one way ticket to your chest cavity."

And without another word she climbed the steps to her porch, opened her front door and disappeared inside her house. A few seconds later the porch went dark.

Spike stood and stared at Buffy's closed and now darkened front door, pondering their previous few minutes together.

Overall I think that went pretty well.

Turning away, and with a newly confident swagger, the vampire started back along Revello Drive, heading south in the general direction of his crypt a couple of miles away.

"Right. More cigarettes then."

In bed, comfy under her duvet in her fresh set of Yummy Sushi pajamas, Buffy held the Beyozani crystal above her sleep-begging eyes. It's warm, gentle glow pulsed slowly and steadily, making her eyelids even heavier than they already were.

Should I do it? Just take a sneak peek at Buffy circa 2011? See if I'm still alive, still slaying? Who knows, maybe even married with kids?

That last part was pretty darn unlikely, she knew. No matter how much she might wish it to come true. Husband and kids - not something in the brochure for slaying. But then a lot of her life so far hadn't been in the brochure either. She was a mould breaker. She made new rules and broke lots of old ones. Who knows what the next ten years might bring. But only so long as she managed to survive this latest big bad.

Yep, Spike was right.

Now there was a weird thing to contemplate.

She'd survived because she wasn't just a slayer. She was more. She had more. She had her family, her friends: Mom, Dawn, Giles, Willow, Xander. She had their unswerving love and support. And it was that which would ultimately get her through, help her survive, and make her win.

Smiling, she whispered, "Bitch is going down!"

How crazy was it that Spike of all people could help her see what was what, to cut thought the fog of her fear, her doubt and her despair? Pretty darn crazy is what. But thanks partly to him she knew now all she needed to know. She knew what she had to do. Glory was not going to hurt her family; she was not going to win. Buffy would beat the evil. Just as she always did. All she needed were her friends and family with her. It's all she would ever need. For as long as she'd be around.

"Sorry pretty little pink Beyonce," she said to the crystal. "But I don't need to see my future. I've got all I need right here to see me through whatever might come."

Shifting on to her side, she reached out and opened the top drawer of her bedside table, placing the crystal deep inside.

"I need to focus on the here and now - helping Mom get better, protecting Dawnie, and sending hell bitch back where she belongs."

Pushing the drawer closed, she switched off her bedside lamp, turning the world dark.

"And as for the future," she mumbled sleepily in to her pillow, "It can take care of itself."

Seconds later Buffy Anne Summers, twenty years young, fell in to a deep and restful sleep. The best sleep she'd had in a very long while.

Part 2: 30

January 19th, 2011

Somewhere in the world

The traditional singing of 'Happy Birthday to You' had finished with Willow looking especially relieved.

Willow hated having to sing anything, Buffy knew. She was still mentally scarred by what had happened back in Sunnydale over nine years ago with the all singing all dancing demon called Sweet.

Afterwards, she'd declared that her singing voice was for the shower and nothing more.

But back to the here and now.

Songs had been sung, presents had been given and the big, fat, heart-shaped cake frosted in blood red icing and bearing a chocolate stake stuck in to the top, had been cut. Everyone had a big piece and were munching away happily.

"Wow! Thirty! So how does it feel to officially be old, sis?" Dawn managed through a mouthful of cake. Little sister was perched on the arm of the big easy chair in which Xander was sat, hungrily attacking his own slice of frosted goodness.

Cake slice in hand, Buffy opened her mouth to answer…

Only for Xander to get in first with an affronted, "Hey! I'll have you know I'm actually older than the Buffernator here. So any wise cracks about being old and infirm will definitely not be tolerated. Especially when coming from the girl who's gonna have to treat her 'old man' real nice if she wants those new designer shoes she's been ogling online."

With a squeal of delight, Dawn dropped down in to Xander's lap and gave him a big ol' messy cake kiss.

Willow, eyes big, waved an excited hand at Dawn. "Ooh, Jimmy Choo?"

Xander, breaking the kiss, looked over at Willow and said without missing a beat: "Bless you, Will."

"They're shoes, Xander," Buffy clarified.

Xander shrugged. "I knew that. Just my latest feeble attempt at a joke."

Buffy nodded slowly. "Oh, okay. So maybe you are getting old and infirm then. At least mentally. I mean, you are still with my sister."

Dawn turned on Buffy, glaring in mock-fury. "Hey, old timer, keep your crotchety comments to yourself."

Buffy smirked at her. "You wait, only another six years, kiddo, and I'll be giving you the same treatment you've so lovingly been giving me."

Dawn snorted. She then stuffed the last of her cake in to her mouth, chewed it all up, then re-opened her mouth, wide, displaying its yucky contents to her sister.

Grimacing, Buffy looked away.

"Dawn, that's disgusting. How old are you?"

"Not as old as you."

"Oh hey!" cried Willow, jumping up excitedly from her seat between Buffy and Xander. "Bubbly should be nice and chilly now...gotta have a proper toast, you know. Big day...gotta do it all right."

"You hear from Kennedy recently?" Buffy asked as Willow hurried in to the kitchen next door. "I thought she might come. She's okay, isn't she?"

There was some banging, clattering and tinkling of glasses.

"Oh she's fine," Willow answered. "She wanted to come. But it's that thing in Honduras. She had to deal. The town was running out of virgins."

"And a virgin drought is a terrible thing," Xander chimed in. "Especially if you're a six foot praying mantis with some hot, hot breeding on your mind."

Buffy chuckled, shaking her head. "I hope you've told my sister about all your previous girlfriends, Xan. Especially of the insectoid type."

Dawn nodded, smiling confidently. "I know all about the supply teacher mantis thing. I know all of his dark secrets."

Looking a tiny bit uncomfortable, Xander patted Dawnie's arm reassuringly. "Uh, yep, she knows all there is to know about the Xan-man." At the same time his one good eye sent Buffy a silent, begging look, that said, 'please for the love of God don't say anything more about my embarrassing pre-Anya love life. She doesn't know everything.'

Buffy just smiled back, silently agreeing to keep quiet on the matter.

From the kitchen came the sound of glass shattering, quickly followed by a faint, "Oh shoot!" from Willow.

Immediately, Buffy leapt to her feet and rushed next door.

"Will, you okay?" She asked, arriving in the kitchen to see her friend on her knees, carefully picking up shards of glass from the kitchen floor. "Hey, don't do that, use the pan."

But Willow didn't seem to hear her. She just kept on picking up the broken pieces, cradling them tenderly.

"I'm so clumsy. Now I'm two flutes down," she whimpered.

Buffy grabbed the nearby pan and brush and bent down to help.

It was only then, by being at face level, that she noticed Willow was quietly sobbing, the occasional tear falling down in amongst the broken glass.

Buffy reached out and touched her friend's shoulder.

"Will...what is it? Please don't cry. It's just a couple of champagne flutes. There's still enough to go around."

Willow shook her head.

She looked up at Buffy. Her big pained eyes were red and wet with tears.

"I'm so sorry, Buffy. The flutes...they were from Giles, some old family heirlooms. H-he left them to me to keep, along with the champagne. It's a real good one apparently, pretty old. He left instructions for us all to drink it from his flutes when you turned thirty, to toast you, and absent friends and loved ones."

Hearing this, Buffy felt own eyes beginning to sting.

"Oh, Will," she lamented, voice cracking. "It's okay, it was an accident. Giles would understand. And we've still got enough. Let me help you take them in."

She took Willow's hand and gently helped her up.

"I miss him, Buffy," Willow murmured, wiping her eyes with her free hand.

Buffy nodded, only just managing to hold back her own tears.

"I know. So do I."

It was then that Xander poked his head around the door.

"Everything okay in here, ladies?"

Buffy grabbed the tray of cut crystal flutes from the side counter and passed them to Xander. He took them from her carefully.

"Everything's fine, Xan. Take the flutes in. And be careful. Willow will bring the bottle."

Xander looked to Willow, back to Buffy, then nodded once and disappeared with the tray back in to the main room.

Buffy grabbed the big cold bottle of champagne from the counter and offered it to Willow, who was busy drying her eyes with a small ragged tissue.

"Here, Will, take this on in. I'll clear up and be there in a tick to do the honours, okay?"

"Buffy...I should clean this up..."

"Go," Buffy insisted, shoving the bottle at Willow.

Willow, her eyes dry and less red now, smiled wanly and nodded. Taking the offered bottle, she went to ease past Buffy. As she did, she paused right next to her best friend, leaned in, and gave her a little kiss on the cheek.

"Giles would be so proud of you. He always was," she whispered.

As Willow left the kitchen carrying Giles' bottle of champagne, Buffy closed her eyes, picturing her lost watcher.

And there he was. His image still as clear to her now as the day they had first met all those many years ago in a Californian school library.

A world away.

A life time away.

I hope you are still proud of me, Giles, wherever you are now. God knows I haven't always deserved it. But I'm trying the best I can. For you. For everyone. Wherever you are now, keep watching over me, okay? I'll always need you to. Always.

A minute or so later, mess cleared up, Buffy rejoined her friends and family.
Smiling brightly, she cast a grateful gaze over the small gathering. The people in the world she loved the most. The ones who meant everything to her.

"Okay. So where's the bottle? It's time to get that sucker open and drink to my health and sure to be magnificent future."

A hearty cheer went up.

A while later and Buffy had snuck outside for some fresh night air and a spot of alone time.

It was January. And it was cold. But not terribly so where they were. She didn't even need a coat.

Meanwhile, inside the house the party was still going on. Plenty of champagne, beer, wine, party snacks and even more cake were still being consumed. Music was now playing loudly too. From out on the porch it sounded to Buffy like Lady Ga Ga – Dawn's latest favourite noisemaker. A couple of other people had also turned up to the celebration. Monica, a local girl and young mother who Buffy had become friendly with. And Monica's younger sister, Bree, who Buffy had met a couple of times and quite liked. So not a huge gathering then. But that's just the way she liked it nowadays - simple and uncomplicated whenever possible. And anyway, all of the most important people in her life were here, which after all was the most important thing.

Well, all except for one.

He'd promised to get here if he could.

But things had been pretty crazy recently what with everything that had happened these past few years. There had been a lot of messes to clean up around the world, a lot of wrongs to put right. And he'd been leading the charge, doing the work, helping the helpless, making things better. He'd sent her a present. It had arrived by courier yesterday morning with a small card bearing a simple line of well wishing. His present had been something truly beautiful, though it didn't make up for him not being here.

Buffy moved to lean against the wooden railing, peering hopefully in to the pitch-black night. But the sounds of distant traffic and busy crickets were all the night returned to her. She sighed and said quietly:

"You'd think he'd make it here on this birthday of all birthdays."

"An' so that's just what I did, luv," came a familiar English accented voice from behind.

With a gasp, Buffy spun around.

At the other end of the porch Spike was leaning nonchalantly against a wooden post.

He was dressed in his usual long black leather coat, his hair still its eternal platinum blond. A half-done cigarette hanging loosely from his lips.

"Spike!"

"Slayer," he nodded in greeting.

She resisted the almost overwhelming urge to run to him, to wrap her arms around him.

Instead, she said calmly, "I thought you were gonna be busy back in France."

He gave a small shrug.

"Andrew's finishing up there. Besides, that country with its garlic fetish doesn't exactly sit well with us undead types. Never even liked the foul stuff when I was human."

Abandoning his lean he started towards her. Taking the cigarette from his lips he blew away a plume of smoke, then dropped the remains of the cancer stick and stomped it out.

Buffy left her spot too, starting to move towards him.

The pair met in the middle of the porch.

Only inches apart now, Buffy gazed up at the vampire - a long-time nemesis, a long-time friend.

She laughed.

Spike frowned.

"What's so funny?"

"Oh nothing really. I was just thinking...about that night back in Sunnydale, ten years ago."

"What of it?"

She was studying every part of his face - his eyes, his razor sharp cheekbones, his mouth.

"You still look exactly the same. No change at all. It's so not fair.".

It was Spike's turn to laugh. He began to study her face closely too, his predator eyes taking in every pore, every micro-scar, every single tiny line. He then cast a brief eye over the rest of her.

An approving look on his face, he told her, "Well, no real crow's feet yet, can't see any grey hair. And definitely no sagging. You look pretty damn good to me, pet."

"Such a liar."

Spike shook his head, looking deadly serious.

"Not this time, luv. You look just as beautiful, just as powerful, and just as scary as you did that night back in the Dale."

He glanced down at her wrist.

"An' I see you got my present."

Buffy raised her right arm up between them, looking to her wrist, to the beautifully crafted sliver chain with its many tiny sculpted ornaments dangling.

She smiled appreciatively.

"I did. Yesterday. And it's very beautiful. And I love it. Thank you."

"Good," he said, casually sniffing. "It's an antique, hand crafted for a Sultan's wife nearly two thousand years ago. It's supposed to guard against evil and bring good luck. Or something."

Staring at the bracelet, Buffy's eyes went wide with amazement.

"Spike! This must be worth a small fortune," she cried.

"A small one," he conceded.

She gave him a suspicious look.

"Did you steal it?" she asked, lowering her voice.

He looked appalled.

"What? No! Of course I didn't bloody steal it. What do you think I am?"

She cocked an eyebrow.

"A vampire, a rogue, a bad boy, an occasional criminal?"

He chuckled at that. "Yeah, well, okay. Guilty as charged." But then he fixed her again with his intense eyes. "But not about this." He nodded at the bracelet. "Not about you."

"Then how...?"

"I know a bloke who owed me a major favour...kind of a life and death thing. He sold it to me for a knock down price. It was still a lot, but it was worth it."

Buffy could tell he was being truthful. She'd long ago learned to tell when Spike was spinning a yarn and when he was being up front. Experience counts for a lot.

She believed him. And she gave him a thankful smile.

"Well thank you for my gift. I'll treasure it just as a Sultan's wife would. And after what happened, after what I did, I know it won't have any magic powers…unlike that gift you gave me ten years ago. So no turning me in to a rat, or making me invisible, or..."

Spike shook his head and laughed.

"You're safe. It's just jewellery."

Buffy nodded enthusiastically. "Which is good. Because I so don't want to have to deal with any big moral dilemmas tonight."

"Huh?"

She dug in to her pants pocket and pulled out a small round object. An object that had once glowed a warm pulsating reddish pink; a colour that once had swirled in a semi-hypnotic way. Now though it was just a dull crystal, its colour and its magic long gone. She raised it up between them, between the vampire and the slayer.

Spike's face went slack.

If he could have turned paler he would have.

"Y-you still have it," he croaked. "After all this time. I thought you'd have got rid long ago. Never really the best of things to have, these little buggers. Not when magic was alive at least. I was wrong back then. It could have influenced you, dulled your senses. And in my defence I was in the no soul brigade when I gave it to you. But Giles should have warned you..."

"He did," she said, a sadness tingeing her voice at the mention of her lost watcher. "He told me it could be used to make people feel good and then bend them to someone else's will. He also told me about the future glimpse thing. He told me to destroy it."

"So why didn't you?"

Buffy went quiet for a time, studying the little round crystal.

Finally, she said, "Because I think you really were trying to help back then, trying to make me and Dawn feel better. Plus the whole glimpse of the future thing was a big temptation."

"Did you...?"

Turning away, Buffy took several steps back along the porch, the sounds of fun and music drifting to her ears from inside the house. Stopping, she listened for a moment to the muffled festivities.

She closed her eyes.

"It really was tempting," she said softly. "On more than one occasion."

Her eyes reopened.

"But, no, I never did. I took your advice, Spike."

She turned back to face him.

"I didn't want to spoil the journey."

Spike nodded, understanding.

"And like you said-" Buffy went on "-I had everything I needed to help me get through, to win. My family, my friends, those I've since lost...Mom, Tara, Giles. You even for a while. And so, now, ten years later, thirty years old, I made it. I'm still here. Still me. Still fighting. Just like you said I would be. I didn't need to see the future, Spike. Here and now is what I know, what I deal with." She gave a contented smile. "The future can take care of itself."

Hurrying back to the waiting vampire, she pressed the now dead Beyozani Crystal in to his palm.

"Here," she whispered. "A gift to you…back to you. A memory of a different time. It did its job. I passed the test. Thirty years old and I'm happy in life and in whatever the future brings."

Looking down at the now empty, magic-free crystal, Spike nodded sagely and tucked it away in his inner coat pocket.

Looking back to Buffy, he grinned his usual cocky, confident grin.

"Well, just glad I could be of service, Slayer."

His right hand rose to gently stroke her cheek.

"Here's to the next ten then. With no crow's feet, grey hairs, and no-"

She reached up and touched his hand at her face.

"And definitely no sagging bits," she finished with a smile.

Spike laughed. He then leaned in and kissed her lips so very tenderly. It was a kiss of deep friendship rather than one of lovers.

A few seconds later and their lips parted.

"You know I love you," Spike said earnestly. " And you know there are people all around the word who love you too. With all that behind you, you'll never have to be afraid of the future. And you'll never, ever fail. So, happy thirtieth birthday Buffy Summers. May there be many, many more to come."

Blushing slightly, she took his hand in hers.

"You're coming in, right?" she asked hopefully. "Dawn's insisting on playing Twister later."

Spike groaned, then said:

"Oh go on then. But I'll need a beer or three first. And only so long as that ponce Xander keeps his hands to himself. I've seen the way he looks at me."

Rolling her eyes, Buffy swatted the vampire on the arm. "Xander's not gay, Spike. Plus he's been with Dawn now for ages. They're very happy. I think."

"Uh uh. I remember what you told me he once said about me, how I was well muscled and compact. He wants me, Slayer. I know it. And how the hell did that ever happen with the niblet? Has she gone and lost half her brain or something? I'm gonna have to have a long and serious talk with the Little Miss."

He nodded to himself thoughtfully.

"Yeah, Uncle Spike is back."

Entering the house together, arm in arm, Buffy chuckled and said:

"Now just play nice, Spike, okay? Or I just might have to reconsider that no staking clause in our relationship."

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present."

- Babatunde Olatunji