A Life Less Ordinary


by
C. Woodhaven


Part Twenty-Two

Buffy stared at the woman in front of her. Nuris L’Duun, the woman who wrote the scrolls Dawn had been poring over for the last few days.  “You look really good for someone who’s thousands of years old.”

“And you look so young to save the world,” the robed woman countered.

“You shoulda seen me in high school,” Buffy quipped.

“In a manner of speaking, I did.” L’Duun smiled and gestured toward the wall beyond the altar. “You are the Chosen One, your existence was foretold eons ago. You’re the reason I escaped the clutches of the Watchers and sought the means to extend my life. So I could forge this place and remain here though the ages, to show you.”

“Show me what?” Buffy looked at her quizzically for a moment, and then approached the alcove. The altar was flanked by pillars of varying shapes and sizes, each covered in gold and topped with the statue of an animal. Beyond the altar, hieroglyphics were etched into the stone, from ceiling to floor, and through the center there was a row of several murals that looked like an ancient comic strip.  

She took a step up on the dais, and skirted the altar to get a closer look.

At first, the primitive images didn’t make much sense, a collection of crude figures – both human and demon – illustrated in flaking paint over the sand-colored stone.

In the first tableau there was vampire feeding from a portly man. A girl crouched in fear on the ground.  Buffy felt like the air had been sucked out of her. “Oh my god! Merrick.”

She traced the figure of her first watcher, then guiltily drew her hand away as some of the paint crumbled under her finger.  She remembered how Lothos had lifted him off his feet and fed from him noisily until there was nothing left. Then he’d snapped Merrick’s neck and tossed him aside.

“Long ago, it was prophesied that there would be a slayer born,” L’Duun explained. “She would be tested extensively, first by the oldest vampires in existence, then by the oldest of demon kind.”  She pointed to the next two panels. They showed the Judge and Acathla.

“She would confront the temptation of using her power for evil,” the woman continued, as Buffy moved to the next image. It showed her and Faith, facing off, with the arch of that impossible window in Faith's loft as a backdrop.

Buffy looked to the next image and shuddered at the cold countenance of ADAM and the burning red eyes of her own altered appearance in the moments before she bested him.  They bested him, she amended, because although she was the only one pictured, Willow, Xander and Giles had been there with her, in heart, spirit and intellect.

“Rising above her destiny, this slayer would forgo the solitude of her calling and relying instead on the strength of other’s. Champions in their own right.

“And she would give her life, not to save the world, but to spare a single innocent. For love.”

Buffy’s eyes skirted over the glowing ball in the center of the mural, with a woman, her, writhing inside, and instead rested on the depiction of Dawn standing on the rickety tower.

“Only to rise again, lost and alone, to protect the world, not from an enemy, but from a friend.”

Willow was painted in black from head to toe, standing on the hill, shrouded in the shadow of a great temple. Buffy touched the male figure, on his knees, blood pouring from his chest.

“That wasn’t me. That was Xander,” she said quietly.

The old woman smiled gently. “And this Xander, did he not learn what he knew about the nature of good and evil from you and your sacrifices?”

“I guess.” Buffy shrugged. “But I’m not really that stellar as a role model. Just ask my sister.”

They were at the final image. It showed a girl standing at the mouth of Hell, ready to plunge inside, an army behind her. “I don’t recognize this one.”

“No, I don’t suppose you would. This depicts the final battle and she who will stand and fight, to stop the armies of evil from ascending out of the Hellmouth,” L’Duun replied solemnly. “The Chosen One.


~*~*~*~*~


Agitated, Spike watched the entrance. He hated being on the sidelines and the longer he sat, the angrier he got.

I’m sorry, Spike. Xander’s words echoed in his head. Not sorry that he was kicking Buffy out, like Spike had thought, but sorry for deceiving him. Anya would have been in on it.  He’d caught a few furtive glances she’d shot his way, but had assumed that they were out of concern for the boy.

There was guilt simmering there, as well, under the anger, because Spike had been holding back from his lover.  He knew why, and obviously Xander did too. It all came back to Buffy.

She was his golden goddess, light where Drusilla was dark, giving meaning to his existence.   He’d spent years trying to be more for her, wanting her to finally see the man he was. But instead of Buffy seeing him for who he was, it turned out it was Xander. And his lover didn’t see just the man, but also saw the monster and he wanted them both.

When Spike got back to the house he’d –

Something solid collided with his head and Spike wheezed in pain.

“Hello, Spike,” Wood said. He was smiling widely. There was a large rock in his hand. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you here.”

Wood swung, and Spike tried to dodge but his head was still muddled, slowing him down. A solid weight struck his temple and he felt the cool trickle of blood down his cheek.

“It looks like this is my night. I get to kill two birds with one stone.”

Spike was having trouble focusing on which Wood was actually speaking. There were three. Blearily, he watched three rocks fall to the ground. Then there was a solid thump and his chest exploded with pain. Wood had kicked him solidly in the chest. Spike sailed across the field, his head striking the unyielding trunk of an old oak. The realization that perhaps the slayer had been right about cutting him out of the loop, flashed through his mind just before he crumpled to the ground and the darkness swallowed him.

“I’ll be back for you later,” Wood murmured.


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy turned to the old woman. “Just so you know, I’m not the only one. I mean - I died. Faith was called.”

L'Duun smiled. “The separation has begun. Soon there will be a third.”

Buffy wrinkled her forehead in confusion. “’Splainy?”

Smiling, L’Duun asked gently, “Have you not passed into the great beyond more than once?”

Nodding warily, unsure of where the woman was going with this, Buffy replied, “Uh, yeah.”

“Then you have a gift.”

Rolling her eyes with exasperation, she said, “I know, I know. Death. People keep telling me that.  I really wish I could get a rain check.”

Chuckling lightly, L’Duun replied, “No, you misunderstand. True, death is the gift of a slayer, but as the Chosen One, you are entitled to something more.”

“Is it shoes?” Buffy asked lightly, peering down at her boots. “Cause these are last year's model and I could use a new pair.”

“I think you’ll appreciate this a bit more than fashionable footwear.” She gestured to the altar.

For the first time, Buffy noticed that there was something on it, covered by a cloth. Tentatively, she approached and pulled the fabric aside. Her eyes widened in surprise at the weapon that was revealed. One end was a wicked sharp battle axe, and the other was a stake. It was beautiful, in a deadly weapon sorta way. The polished red wood shaft vibrated beneath her palm. “This is for me?” she asked as she reverently picked it up. “It’s so shiny.”

“The scythe is your birthright. Your gift,” L’Duun informed her. “It’s not only a weapon. It will act as a conduit, allowing you to choose the third, to pass on your legacy.”

Buffy looked at her sharply. “What? How?”

L’Duun nodded. “Every time a slayer passes, her gift is passed to another. I suspect your powers were bound, some time before your second death. Someone from the council would have been aware of your impending demise.”

“Travers. He came to Sunnydale. To help with Glory,” Buffy whispered in disgust, fist curling even tighter around the shaft. Suddenly, her anger shifted. She felt hope bloom in her belly for the first time. “Does this mean I can win? And how does it work?”

A small smile played on L’Duun’s lips as she nodded. “You will know, when the time is right.”

About a million things whizzed through Buffy’s head at this pronouncement, but she didn’t get to ask a single one.

L’Duun frowned suddenly and tilted her head, as if she were listening for something. It tilted unnaturally far and a loud cracking noise echoed in the temple as her neck was broken. Her body fell to the ground in a heap.

“I think now is just about the right time,” Wood said, carelessly stepping over the old woman’s corpse. “I’ll take that.”

Buffy faced him for the first time since the vineyard. Anger welled inside her. “You’ve been behind it all. Summoning the Bringers and the First, killing the potentials.”

“Not that I think you’ll understand, but I was putting things right,” Wood explained.

“Why?”

“If the watchers hadn’t mucked around with the natural order of things, my mother, my father, Bernard…they’d all still be alive.”

“You don’t know that!”

“At least they would have had a chance!”  

“Unlike the girls you killed.” Buffy’s temper rose, a seething snake. “I can almost understand you going after the council, but what about the girls? They didn’t do anything to you. You hunted them down and killed them in cold blood.”

Wood shook his head, as if he were trying to deny the brutality of his actions. “It was the only way. Once they were gone, once the last slayer is killed, everything will be put to right. The original lines will be restored – all of them.  The world will be safe. I’ll protect it.”

He spoke with crazed conviction that made her feel ill. All those girls, and their watchers, dead, because of his thirst for power and delusions of grandeur. “Even if that’s true, there has to be another way. There’s always another way.”

“It’s the only way.” Wood disagreed. “It’s my mission, Buffy. What I was put on this earth to do - to right a wrong.”

“Ego much?” she asked with disbelief and then squared her shoulders.  “I’m going to stop you.”

“You can try.” Wood snorted. “I’m twice as strong as you now.”  

Out of the darkness, another voice called, “Hey!”

Angel? Buffy felt a smile tug at her lips as Wood turned sharply and a fist connected with his jaw.  

The scythe in her hands rotated smoothly, an extension of her arm rather than a weapon. “Ooof,” Wood sighed breathlessly, looking down at the blade of the axe buried in his stomach.

“I love watching you fight.” Angel smiled.

Buffy wrenched the blade from Wood and he dropped to the floor like a stone. “Thanks.”

Angel said wryly, “At least you could tell me you're glad to see me.”

She was drawn to him, a moth to his flame. His dizzying scent surrounded her. She felt sparks ignite in her belly as his lips brushed hers. She shivered and deepened the kiss as his lips parted and his tongue slipped into her mouth. Angel’s answering groan would have been enough to let her know he wasn’t unaffected, but she also felt the heavy weight of his hand at the small of her back, pulling her forward. She felt the swell of his hardness against her, and felt the answering response deep within herself. And just this once, she allowed herself to bask for a moment in being his and wallowed in fantasies of a future that could never be.

And then he was gone.

Angel hit the ground with a thud and Buffy was facing Wood. He looked crazed and was holding the statue of a cat. “I don’t believe I dismissed you, Miss Summers.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. This guy didn’t know when to quit. “Ugh. Do you know how long it’s been since I kissed him?”

He swung the statue toward her as Buffy brought the scythe up in a natural arc, once again marveling at how right it felt in her hand. Wood was left holding half of the cat and the other half went flying.

“Looks like your shield is gone,” Buffy mused.

“Yours, too.” Wood kicked at Angel contemptuously. “You’ve got a real fetish for the undead, Buffy. First Spike, then this one.”

“It’s called a soul. You should look into getting one.”

Wood hefted the statue’s head in his hand. “I think I’ll settle for sending yours on.”

Buffy dropped to the ground as he threw the damaged statue at her. Unfortunately, Wood had taken her dodge into account with his throw. Her hair ruffled in the breeze as it barely missed her head.

“OK...that does it.” Buffy said angrily, swinging the scythe.

Wood’s hand shot out, impossibly fast, and closed around her fist. He jerked her forward, and Buffy nearly lost her footing. Her cheek exploded in pain as he punched her twice in rapid succession.  Using his stolen strength, Wood pressed the shaft against her ribcage like a crowbar, trapping her between it and the cold stone of the nearest column. And then he pressed up, wedging her between the scythe and the column and lifting her off the ground. He pinned her there, like a butterfly, with the metal pressed painfully into her sternum and across her collar bone.

“I had no idea it would be so easy, killing a slayer,” Wood breathed. Buffy struggled against him, trying to gain some kind of leverage. She had to be careful, though, the blade of the axe wasn’t far from her ear.

“Trust me, it’s not,”  Buffy hissed through gritted teeth. She planted her feet against the column and pushed, hard.

Wood held his ground but his arms were trembling and the wound in his gut began seeping. Buffy took a deep breath and instead of trying to kick away from the column, she kneed Wood in the belly, using the spreading patch of crimson as a target.

Gasping in pain, Wood dropped the scythe and Buffy fell to the floor. “This isn’t over,” he wheezed.

Scrambling to her feet, Buffy replied coldly, “Yes. It is.”

She swung the scythe underhand in a graceful arc, catching Wood between the legs.

His dark eyes grew wide. “My legacy…the mission.”

“The mission is over,” Buffy replied, pulling the scythe cleanly through the rest of his body.

Angel groaned and shook his head, before pushing angrily up from the ground. “OK, now I'm pissed. Where is he?”

Buffy looked left, then right, grinning. “He had to split.”

Angel pointed to Nuris L’Duun. “Who was she?”

Sadly, Buffy’s eyes fell upon the old woman’s body.  “Someone who didn’t deserve to die like this. She waited centuries to deliver a message.”

“I think she expected it,” Angel said quietly.

Buffy followed his gaze. There was a funeral pyre set up neatly in the far corner. It had been obscured by the columns when Buffy had first walked in. “She knew she was gonna die,” she said, solemnly.

Quietly they laid her out on the platform.  

Angel brought a torch from the wall. Buffy stilled his hand. “No. I’ll do it.”


~*~*~*~*~


Buffy stayed until the fire had consumed L’Duun’s entire body. It was something she had to do. This woman had watched and waited for so long, it seemed so cruel that she had died on the eve the last battle.  It didn’t take long. She had been kept alive for centuries by magic. Once it had left her, her body was nothing more substantial than sticks and paper.

Buffy left the temple, now a tomb, and joined Angel, who was leaning against a large boulder just outside.

“You okay?” he asked.

No, she wasn’t. But instead of replying, she countered with a question. “So….why exactly are you here? I thought you were pretty busy on your end. Willow mentioned that it was raining fire. And Angelus.”

Angel waved his hand. “You know how it is in LA. It’s not May if there isn’t an apocalypse.”

“Mmm. Same here.”

He reached inside his jacket and withdrew something from his inside pocket. It was gaudy necklace made of a huge crystal pendant on a thick silver chain.

Buffy took the amulet from him and hefted it warily. “I can already tell you, I have nothing that goes with that.”

Angel smiled. “It's not for you.”

Buffy looked at him, incredulous. “You felt the sudden need to explore your inner Liberace?”

Angel sighed. “I don't know everything. It's very powerful and probably very dangerous. It has a purifying power, a cleansing power, possibly scrubbing bubbles. The translation is, uh-anyway, it bestows strength to the right person who wears it.

“And the right person is?”

“Someone ensouled, but stronger than human. A champion. As in me,” Angel explained.

“Or me,” Buffy countered as they left the temple behind.

Angel shook his head. “No. I don't know nearly enough about this to risk you wearing it. Besides, you got that real cool axe-thing going for you.”

The cool night breeze was refreshing.   Buffy didn’t notice the dark shape rising from the edge of the treeline, nor did she notice Angel glance that way and frown.

“So you're gonna be with me in this?” she asked.

“Shoulder to shoulder. I'm yours,” Angel offered, his attention once again on her.

Don’t I wish, Buffy thought wistfully. She’d love to take him up on his offer, but she couldn’t. Slipping the amulet into her pocket, she replied, “No.”

Angel's smile faded. “No? What?”

“No,” Buffy repeated. “You're not gonna be in this fight.”

“Why the hell not?” Angel asked angrily.

Buffy met his eyes, imploring him to understand. “'Cause I can't risk you.”

Stubborn as always, Angel shook his head. “You need me in this.”

“No, I need you gone.”

“Why?” Angel challenged, and she swore his eyes flashed amber for a brief second.

“If I lose –” She took a deep breath. “If this thing gets past Sunnydale, then it's days-maybe hours-before the rest of the world goes. I need a second front, and I need you to run it.”

Angel crossed his arms. “OK... that's one reason. What's the other?”

Frowning, Buffy replied, “There is no other.”

But like a vamp in a bloodbank, Angel wouldn’t let it go. “Is it Spike?”

“What?”

“You're not telling me something. And his scent, I remember it pretty well.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. That smell thing was definitely gross. Then another thought occurred to her. “I always wondered about you two.”

“What? No. I mean we never –” Angel broke off, looking alarmed. “Except that once. But I was evil!”

Wha-huh? Buffy’s jaw dropped.

Angel’s alarm shifted to panic, then indignation.  “We are talking about Spike here.”

Buffy sighed. Things never changed. No one ever trusted her judgment. “It's different. He's different. He has a soul now.”

“Oh.” That shut Angel up for a moment. He looked stunned and then mumbled, “Well. Everyone's got a soul now. You know, I started it. The whole having a soul. Before it was all the cool new thing.”

Buffy’s grin grew wide. “Oh, my God. Are you twelve?”

“I'm getting the brush off for Captain Peroxide. It doesn't necessarily bring out the champion in me.” Angel glared off into the darkness for a moment.

“He'll make a difference,” Buffy assured him.

“I can see he’s making a huge difference,” Angel said wryly, pointing across the clearing.

Buffy turned and saw Spike standing at the treeline, watching them. In the bright light of the moon, she could easily see the long streak of blood down the right side of his face.  That explained how Wood got past him.

“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve told him to guard his perimeter?” Angel lamented.

“That’s just Spike,” Buffy said. “He gets bored waiting around. Since I’m all-action, no-waity girl myself, I can’t blame him. He’s a good fighter.”  

“I can tell,” Angel replied sarcastically, and then sighed. “I guess I should get back,” he said reluctantly.

Buffy nodded. He was right.

Angel brushed a length of hair from her shoulder. Again, his scent washed over her. She wished she could hold on to it forever. For all she knew, this was the last time she’d be this close to him.

“I'll go start working on the second front. Make sure I don't have to use it,” he murmured before fading back into the night. Buffy was about to turn away, when she heard him call softly, “Be careful.”

“You, too,” she whispered.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike watched the two of them part. The pain in his head dwarfed by the gnawing ache in his belly. This was just another replay of the scene that had plagued his unlife, first with Dru and now with Buffy.  He was so damn tired of competing.

“Look who decided to show up,” Spike said angrily as soon as Buffy was in earshot. “Just like him to swoop in and then out again.”

Buffy looked over her shoulder. “Actually, I sent him away.”

Deflated, Spike replied, “I – Oh.”

“I think we can handle it.” Buffy held up the scythe. “I’ve got a plan.”

Spike's eyes widened. “And a big shiny weapon. Is that blood?”

Peering at the surface of the axe, Buffy wrinkled up her nose. “Yeah. And entrails.”

Spike took a deep breath. “Listen, Buffy. You were right. ‘Bout the First and keeping me in the dark. No way Wood could have known where you were tonight, ‘cept by tapping into me.”

“It all worked out.” Buffy gave him a small, secret smile. “You ready to head home?”

“Yeah.” Spike nodded, and for the first time that word conjured up images of Xander and Anya’s place, rather than Buffy’s. If he intended to build something with the two of them, he’d have to let go of his pride some. When it came down to it, when it was a choice between doing something right or something easy, his boy always took the good path. And if Xander could accept the monster, Spike could accept that in his lover.  

Making his way through the forest behind the slayer, Spike didn’t notice the temple fade into nothingness behind them.


~*~*~*~*~


The briefing went well. Giles was at turns angry with her for not telling him her plan, and jealous that he hadn’t had a chance to talk to L’Duun himself. The potentials screamed at her for about thirty seconds before, incredibly, Faith swooped in and told them to zip it or they’d be dealing with her.

Everyone was dispersing now. Faith was walking the potentials to Xander’s old place, and Spike was just grinding out the stub of his cigarette on the walk.

Buffy watched as he gave her a quick wave and then caught up to Xander and Anya, further down the block.

“You’re never gonna make it.”

Buffy turned to face herself. “You know, that outfit is so last year. If you’re going to pretend to be me, could you at least try to have more fashion sense?”

The First laughed. “How about this?”

Buffy rolled her eyes as it morphed into Spike. “Please.”

His voice dropped to a husky whisper. “I remember when I used to hear you say please with quite a bit less sarcasm, Slayer.”

“Spike and I are so over,” Buffy said, but her jaw tensed.

He laughed. “You are such a cold fish, no wonder I needed to take up with the boy.”

Buffy froze. “What?”

“Does that hurt your tender sensibilities?” Spike sneered. “Or are you disappointed that I got to have a toss at the lad first. I mean, he was right in front of you for years. Not my fault you ignored him.”

“Xander would never…” Buffy started, but then she gazed down the street, watching Spike and Xander.  She suddenly felt uncomfortable at the easy camaraderie between the two of them. Surely that wasn’t jealousy she felt worming its way through her stomach.  “You know what, it doesn’t matter anyway. After tomorrow, you’re history.”

The First smiled nastily, his eyes following the real Spike and Xander. “Don’t count on it.”

Buffy blinked and the First was gone. She sighed.

Willow came down the front steps, her arms crossed, searching Buffy’s face anxiously. “I saw you talking, but no one was there. The First?”

“You know it,” Buffy replied shakily. “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an…” She broke off, feeling herself pale. “I hate that expression.”

Willow blanched, too. “I know what you mean.”

“We’re not all gonna make it, Will.” Buffy crushed the traitorous tears that threatened to spring up. “We’re gonna go down there and not everyone is going to come back.”

Willow nodded solemnly. “I know.”

“What if…” Dawn, or Giles, or Tara, or Xander….Buffy found herself unable to speak their names.

“You can’t think that, Buffy.” Willow was silent for a few moments, before she added, “And anyway, even if you knew for a fact we weren’t gonna make it out, you’d go down there and fight. We all would.”

“Can you explain that to me, ‘cause I just don’t get it!” Buffy felt some of the anguish she’d held deep inside for seven years well up and spill out. Her voice was a harsh whisper. “How can any of you follow me after what happened to Xander? Why follow me, if you know you’re gonna die?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Willow said softly. “And that’s more important than surviving.”





Part Twenty-Three

Spike leaned against the kitchen counter, watching everyone file down to the basement. It was time for the big pow-wow and he wasn’t invited. He hadn’t protested when he’d been asked to sit this one out. After the spectacular cock up at the temple, he knew not to argue. Buffy was right, he was a liability.

The potentials had gone down first, followed by Willow, Tara and the rest of the cartoon gang. Xander shot him a regretful look as he passed, and Spike tipped his head. Go on.

Buffy was the last, lingering behind.

“Aren’t the masses awaiting?” Spike asked, pointing to the open basement door.

“I guess I’m going to be fashionably late.” She shrugged and then admitted, “I wish you could be there with me.”

Sighing, he said, “My tender feelings are not hurt, Summers. I wouldn’t go, even if you invited me. It’s too big a risk.”

“I know. I’d just like your opinion.”

There was a time when those words would have made him want to sing. There wasn’t much of a melody tonight, but his heart did hum a bit. Through the years he’d known her, there’d always been a chasm between them. It didn’t matter if they were enemies or lovers, they’d always danced in the dark on different sides of the abyss . Seven words, spoken tonight in earnest, though, had done more to close the gap between them than his soul had.

He felt like it made them almost friends. It seemed almost too good to be true. “Really?”

Neither one of them noticed that Giles had ascended the stairway and was standing in the doorway to the basement. He quickly stepped back into the shadows, listening.

“Yes, really.” She grinned, and withdrew something from her pocket. “Instead you get this.”

Spike took the necklace from her and lifted an eyebrow. “A tacky bauble. My unlife is complete.”

Buffy laughed. “It’s for world-savage. I need someone to wear it when everything goes down. Someone with a soul, but stronger than a human. A champion.”

Surprised by her words, he looked up sharply from the trinket in his hands. “Champion, huh. I’d have thought you’d have given it to tall, dark and broody.”

“He offered. I told him, no.”

“He’s too important to risk.” Spike nodded, closing his fingers around the ugly thing. He expected it to feel hot, or tingle, or something, but there was nothing. The thing better have its alarm set, because they were only going to get one shot at this. “I understand.”

“No, I want you to wear it.” She curled her hand around his. “I see the good in you, Spike. You’ve earned the right to wear it.”

Spike felt something like pride swell in his dead heart, but it faded swiftly. What the hell did he know about saving the world? “I’m not a champion, Buffy.”

“Yes, you are,” she reassured him. “Now get out.”

“Bossy sow,” he murmured good naturedly, the ghost of a grin on his lips. He pushed open the screen door and paused. “It’ll take me a few minutes to get out of earshot.”

She gave him a little salute. “Got it. Thanks.”


~*~*~*~*~



As Spike faded into the darkness Buffy turned, surprised to see… “Giles!”

“I came up to see what was keeping you,” he replied, almost defensively, and then added sheepishly, “I didn’t want to interrupt you and Spike.”

Only a few feet of kitchen separated them, but it was filled with an ocean of tension. She offered a tentative, “Thanks.”

“Certainly.” He gave her a small smile, which faded as quickly as it had come.

Buffy hated seeing the defeated slope in his shoulders. He slipped off his glasses and began cleaning them. The gesture almost brought tears to her eyes.

She remembered how he’d treated her when they’d first found out about Angel. Disappointment had been etched in every line of his face as they parked outside her house, but he didn’t call her on it. He treated her like an adult; ironic, because she’d never felt so much like a kid in her life. They’d had their ups and downs over the years, but he was a better father to her than her own had been.

“Buffy,” he began, and now it was his turn to be tentative. “I know it's probably too late to repair our relationship…”

A lump formed in her throat at these words: too late…

The image of coming home and finding her mother dead on the couch flickered through her mind. It made her realize that it wasn’t too late at all. She and Giles were both here and they were both alive and that wasn’t always going to be the case. “We’ve both done a lot of things we’re not proud of.”

“Yes,” Giles agreed slowly, sounding surprised and hopeful.

“We’re family, Giles,” Buffy explained, feeling the truth of the words in her bones. “That’s what happens.”


~*~*~*~*~


For something so monumental, Buffy’s meeting barely took a half an hour. That girl has a way with words, Willow thought as she made her way to her bedroom. The butterflies in her stomach were having a parade - a big, fluttery, gay pride parade. It was a good plan, but scary.

Willow slowly scanned her bookshelves. “If I were The Jarvis Compendium…where would I be?” she murmured.

“You’re going to do it, then?”

She looked up, relieved to see Tara. Emotional support would be so great, right about now. “Yeah, I’ve got to.”

Tara took a deep breath and slowly nodded. “Okay then.”

Willow frowned, that hadn’t been the reaction she’d been hoping for. “That’s your I’m-pretending-it’s-okay face. I was kinda hoping to see your you’ll-do-great face right about now. You know, the one you give me even though you know that substituting maraschino cherries instead of dried, in a batch of brownies, is not a good plan.”

Instead of smiling, Tara’s somber expression deepened. “It’s just…”

Biting her lip, Willow asked, “What?”

“This is magic. Big magic.”

“I know, I know. But I ensouled Angel, again! And, ooh, Delothrian's Arrow! That was cool. And powerful,” Willow reminded her. “I can do this.”

Still, the concerned look didn’t completely disappear, and Tara seemed as if she was trying to figure out the most diplomatic way to say what she was thinking. “You did really well with that stuff. But The Jarvis Compendium…that’s…”

“Chock full of darkness,” Willow finished. “I know. But I need it to cross-reference something. I’m not going to use any of the spells.”

Tara threw up her hands. “See, this is what I’m talking about - you’re already making deals with yourself. It’s too much magic.”

Willow felt suddenly like the clock had shifted back a year. Guilty anger reawakened in her belly, consuming the butterfly parade in the blink of an eye. “I can handle this, Tara.”

“No, you can’t. Buffy is asking too much from you. It’s too soon.”

“She wouldn’t do it if we had a choice.” Willow replied, defensively. “Please, you have to understand. I need you with me on this.”

Anger of a different sort crossed Tara’s face. “And what if it kills you? Or you go off the deep end again? Is Buffy going to help you pick up the pieces?”

Guilt and self doubt gnawed at her. Tara had given up everything to come with her to England and work with Giles and the coven to help her control her magic. She was right to be afraid; this spell was huge. Bigger than huge. It was channeling something so much more powerful than a soul: pure energy out of the universe. If she made a mistake, or didn’t tap into the right power source, she could kill everyone she was trying to help.

Maybe it was too much. “I can’t just tell her, no.”

Tara’s voice softened. “Why not?”

“Willow? Who are you talking to?” Tara walked into the room and froze, looking between Willow and herself.

Confusion shifted immediately to understanding and Willow glared. “I should have known.”

The First shrugged. “Can’t blame a girl for trying?”

The real Tara came over to her, and their fingers laced in both comfort and solidarity. The extra boost of magic available wouldn’t hurt either. “I don’t know how you can become Tara, and I really don’t care. Get out,” Willow said coldly.

The First smirked. It was a nasty, alien expression on her girlfriend's face. “You want answers. You’ve got them.”

A glowing energy ball grew in its palm.

Willow’s eyes widened and she and Tara had the same thought. They both began chanting a protection spell.

The First rolled its eyes. “Oh please! Save your strength. You’re playing in the big leagues now.”

It hurled the ball toward them.

The black magic twisted and expanded as it flew and angry blue-white crackles shimmered over the surface. White-hot fire exploded in Willow’s middle as the ball of energy passed through her. She crumpled to the floor and was vaguely aware of Tara falling to her knees beside her.

The energy didn’t dissipate. It grew larger and larger, radiating outward, rippling through the house and beyond, encompassing the town. The few people who still remained in Sunnydale toppled like dominoes as their memories were returned.

“What’s that on your sweater?” Tara asked, perplexed. Her beautiful face scrunched with vague confusion for a brief second before she fell to the ground, dead.

Tears streamed down Willow’s face as Xander’s voice echoed in her head:

I wish Willow had Tara back.


~*~*~*~*~



Faith leaned on the railing and smoked. The door to the balcony opened and shut behind her, but she didn’t turn. Wasn’t like she didn’t know who it was. “You got all the pretty maids tucked into their beds?”

“Yeah, they’re sacked out,” Oz replied.

“Never thought I’d see you out like this.” She pointed to the moon, swollen and full, with her Marlboro.

Oz rubbed the talisman wrapped around his wrist. “I’m still not used to it.”

“It bug you?” she asked, curious. “All that energy just simmering under the surface. Knowing that if you let your guard down, even for a second, people could die?”

“You sure you’re asking about me?” Oz countered in an amused tone.

Faith shrugged. “Just curious.”

“Sometimes, yeah." He looked like he might say something more, but then his brow creased. “What’s that?”

The hair on her arms stood up and Faith frowned as a bluish sphere swept toward them, crackling with energy. No, swept was the wrong word. It was swelling, growing larger and larger as it barreled across town toward them at breakneck speed. Shit.

“Oz, duck,” she shouted.

They both dropped like stones behind the concrete wall of the balcony, both knowing full well that it wasn’t gonna be enough to shield them. The blinding energy struck like a freight train, knocking the breath out of Faith.

As she struggled to suck wind there were a whole lot of pictures in her head, most of which she didn’t understand: Tara dying, Willow freaking out and going all dark and veiny, ripping the skin off some guy. Then she heard the words. It sounded kinda like...Xander?

I wish Willow had Tara back.

And then it was over.

Faith got shakily to her feet, holding her hand to her head. It ached like a bitch. Her retinas had been flash fried as well, leaving her with a whitish, purple blotch in her vision. It pulsed in time with her headache, fading slightly with each burst of skull popping pain. “I don’t know about you, Shorty, but I vote we don’t do that again.”

Instead of an answering chuckle or wry response, she got nothing but a low grumble.

“Oz…you still there?” she asked, squinting into the shadows as her eyes adjusted.

He’d drawn himself back into the corner, beneath the tattered awning. His eyes were solid black and fangs had sprouted in his mouth. Great, there was a rabid werewolf at her twelve. Oz growled at her and she tensed. Looked like party time wasn’t quite over.

“Two seconds and you’re going over that balcony,” Faith warned.

Oz rose up on his haunches and Faith steeled herself to follow through with her threat. “I’m not playing, half-pint. Those girls in there are too important. So what’s it gonna be? You want to stay here, or become parking lot pate?”

He chuffed angrily once, then twice, before he replied gruffly, “H-here.”

“Then suck it up and start contemplating your bellybutton lint, or whatever it is you do to get yourself under control, or they're going to be scraping your carcass off the pavement. Capiche?”

Oz gritted his teeth together and nodded. Half formed words tumbled from his lips, chuffing a sort of chant. After several long moments he took a deep breath, and then another, and she finally saw the changes recede.

“You good?” she asked, once he’d gotten himself fully under control.

“Five by five,” he replied weakly.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander was finishing dinner. Spike’s blood was warmed and he’d gotten Anya a plate of fruit and cheese. He really hoped neither one of them wanted to eat off of him tonight. Not his choice, but still. Sticky blood or stinky cheese, neither was appealing.

He was naked, except for his patch and collar.

After the thing at the temple, he’d so expected anger, nasty looks, something…from Spike. Instead, he’d gotten a quickly mumbled, ‘We’re good,' and everything had gone back to normal. It was a scenario he hadn’t remotely envisioned, but he was thankful that he’d dodged the bullet of Spike’s anger. The guilt he’d felt over keeping his lover out of the loop had been eating him alive.

He wished he could talk to Spike about what was going to go down. He wanted to hear Spike's thoughts, and opinions. And a large part of him wanted to find out what Buffy had asked Spike to do, so he could fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. But he couldn’t. Even if the soldier inside wasn’t screaming about Top Secret with SCI clearance, Xander couldn’t ask. If he filled in the gaps for himself, the First would be able to download Spike’s memories and connect the dots as well, and that would put Anya and Spike in danger.

Once he and Anya had gotten home, things had been surprisingly normal. Well, normal for them. He didn’t think Will got home, stripped naked, slapped on a collar and made Tara dinner. But that was his routine and he was comfortable with it.

He’d just finished arranging their meals on the tray when a wave of magickal energy swept through the room.

He crashed to the floor as memories overwhelmed him. It was like clouds had been lifted and suddenly he saw himself standing at his dresser, the image of Willow sobbing brokenly in his arms fresh in his mind. He’d dug Anya’s damaged pendant out of the box on his dresser, closed his hand around it and then the world had changed.

Things that had happened and things that should have happened were all jumbled up. Visiting Tara’s grave, talking to her about how Willow was doing on her magical road to recovery….Chloe hanging herself instead of Kennedy…. Things that might have been, if he hadn’t whispered those six words:

I wish Willow had Tara back.

Xander’s eyes sprang open as the two timelines converged. “Oh my god, Kennedy.”

Kennedy died. She wasn’t supposed to die. She’d have lived…if he hadn’t. Nausea rippled through him and he shakily rose to his feet, and moved toward the living room, hoping that Anya and Spike were okay.

Anya was just standing up and she was angrier than he’d ever seen her. “You made a wish.”

Xander dropped to his knees. “I’m sorry, Mistress.”

“That’s not good enough,” she replied coldly. “Was I not clear when I told you wishes turn ugly?”

Shame and grief filled him. “It’s my fault Kennedy died.”

“Yes, it is.” Frost chilled the air.

“Anya,” Spike interjected softly.

She looked at him sharply and he raised his hands in supplication. “I’m just saying, give the boy a chance to explain himself.”

Looking at them both contemptuously, Anya said, “By all means, Xander, explain why you disobeyed me.”

Panic seized him. “I didn’t…no…that’s not what happened?” He could tell that it was the wrong thing to say.

“I told you to throw it away. How is that not you disobeying me?”

“We weren’t together then…I didn’t. I wouldn’t have broken my word.”

“Why did you do it?” Spike asked.

“She was in pain. She was hurting beyond belief. Turning into Warren after kissing Kennedy. It was too much. Willow was broken. You didn’t see her, you don’t know her.”

Anya’s face fell and again he realized he’d said the wrong thing. “She’s still more important to you than I am.”

The bottom dropped out of his stomach. That wasn’t it at all. “No. Not anymore. But just because…It’s not like that,” he floundered. “She’s my best friend.”

Anya looked stunned. “And what am I, Xander?” she asked.

Spike’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, I think I’d like to hear the answer to that myself.”

This wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening. But it was. He had finally found something perfect in his life, and it was flying out the window.

“Buffy and Willow are a part of me. I can’t stop caring about them. You say I don’t want you, Anya. But you don’t want me. Not really. Not all of me.”

Slowly, Xander rose to his feet. He didn’t look at either of them, but reached around and unbuckled his collar. It dangled from his fingers for a few moments before falling to the coffee table. He expected one of them to object, this was so not his place, but they remained silent.

The silence grew and he realized that neither one of them planned on objecting. His heart stuttered painfully in his chest, as if it had missed a beat.

He walked to where his clothes were neatly piled up and slipped on his boxers before he finally spoke. “I’ll crash here on the couch tonight, if you don’t mind. After tomorrow…I’ll be out of here tomorrow. Assuming we all make it.”

“No.”

He inhaled sharply. “Okay. I’m sure Buffy’s got space.”

“So you’re running away. Again,” Anya said angrily. “I’m so surprised.”

He moved to put the rest of his clothes on, stomach clenched. Pulse pounding noisily in his ears, he didn’t hear Spike cross the room. Cold fingers slid into his hair, wrenching his head back. Xander stifled a surprised cry and struggled to get away. He was afraid of what Spike was going to do. Not a Two-bottles-of-rotgut-Friday-night-after-getting-laid-off-again kind of scared, more just afraid of the unknown.

“You want to leave, ruin what we’ve got here? That’s fine,” he said angrily. “But you tell her the truth. She’s earned it.”

Suddenly, his scared-of-the-unknown feeling was eclipsed by genuine terror. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Spike’s face shifted and he growled, and Xander knew with certainty that he was so going to hell, because along with the terror, an undeniable spark of arousal flashed in his belly. “Tell her.”

Tell her what, didn’t even enter his mind. The words bubbled up in his head the second Spike issued his directive, but Xander knew he couldn’t say them. There was no way he was going to speak them out loud. “I can’t,” he whispered.

“Yeah, you can.” Using his hair as a leash, Spike guided Xander roughly to his knees. “Say it and you can go.”

Then he looked at Anya. Her expression was raw, a portrait of devastation; tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down in a river down her cheeks. It was the wedding all over again. She was broken. Fuck. He owed her this.

“I would leave them, if you ordered me to,” he whispered shamefully.

The tears stopped. “What?”

“If you ordered me, I’d give up Buffy and Willow,” he said softly, his throat burning as he forced the words past. “I don’t want you to have that much power over me. But you do.”

Spike released his cruel grip and Xander sagged. The enormity of what he’d just admitted washed over him. He’d give up his best friends in the whole world just so he could be with Anya. And Spike. In for a penny, in for a pound. He tilted his head and looked at his other Master. “I’d do it for you, too.”

Spike looked stunned, but Xander continued. “They’re like my sisters. You’re my family.”

Wordlessly, Anya brought the collar over. Spike affixed it to his throat.

“I want you naked, in our room. Now,” Anya said.

Guilty relief flooded him. His mistress was back.

He quickly did as she’d commanded, practically sprinting into their room, shucking his boxers off and kneeling at the foot of the bed. His heart began to pound as her clear voice carried from the living room. “Give me a few minutes alone with him.”

“Sure, ducks.”


~*~*~*~*~


Spike gave a low whistle when he finally entered the room. “It’s not even my birthday.”

“I thought you’d like this,” Anya replied, sounding pleased. “I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.”

Xander was lying on his back, his hands spread to the sides and buckled to the two edges of the bed. She’d bound his legs, thigh to calf and his stomach muscles quivered from holding his feet up off the sheets. His knees were spread, laying his arse, balls, cock and chest open to Spike's view. He looked like a beautiful exotic butterfly. The jet black of the thick plug filling him was a stark contrast to the pale skin of his lovely arse.

The gag was the candle on the cake, it included a protruding dildo. It looked like the boy was going to be used at both ends. His bound cock was flushed, hard and leaking against his belly, and Spike was certain Xander really didn’t mind.

Spike stripped his kit off as Anya did the same. She got so hot seeing Xander trussed up; the heady scent of her arousal permeated the room.

She trailed her fingers along Xander’s cock, smearing pre-come up and down his shaft. “You’re not allowed to come.”

Xander’s muffled affirmative was more of an excited groan.

Spike stood back and watched the show, stroking his shaft slowly. Anya settled herself above the thick dildo, making sure not to put too much weight on his outstretched arms. It probably would have been easier if she’d been facing Spike, but that wasn’t how they did things. It was always her and Xander, and him and Xander. There was no her and Spike.

The soft sigh she made as she lowered herself, taking the silicone prick inside her fully, went straight to his cock. She didn’t raise herself right away, savoring the sensation of being full.

Spike understood that so very well. This might be the last time they got to do this; he wasn’t in the mood to rush things, either.

Instead of kneeling on the bed, Spike decided to go a different route. He sat with his legs on either side of the boy and slid forward so that his inner thighs supported Xander’s bound legs, bringing his groin close to Xander's arse. It was a quick exchange, the plug slipped out and his cock slipped in.

Xander trembled and shook at the intrusion, his hands clenching into fists as he tugged uselessly at his bonds. The smell of want poured off him in waves.

Spike leaned back onto his elbows, savoring the tight heat surrounding him for a long moment before thrusting his hips shallowly. From this angle, shallow movements were the only type he could make.

Xander’s feet rested on his ribs as Spike continued this slow, torturous fuck. It was delicious agony watching his cock slide in and out of Xander’s quivering hole. Half-an-inch in, half-an-inch out. Xander gave a strangled scream when Spike added a hip roll to stroke his over-sensitized prostate. He kept the movement in his repertoire.

Anya let out a sharp cry and gripped the headboard; she ground her hips down as she rode out her orgasm.

Without breaking their connection, Spike shifted, bending his legs beneath him. He rested his hand on Xander’s thighs, pushing them even further apart as he rose up on his knees.

Anya was unbuckling the gag, tearing it away as she claimed Xander’s mouth in a kiss. Spike pounded into Xander, relishing how the boy tried to writhe against him, pull him even deeper inside. It sent him over the edge, and Spike let go, spilling inside his boy.

Xander was shaking as Anya kissed and licked a path down his sweat-slicked belly.

“You think you deserve to come?” Spike teased, dragging his finger though the pool of warm cream beneath the purpled head of Xander’s cock.

Xander shivered, looked away and tried to get himself under control. “It’s up to you, Master,” he panted, struggling to get the words out.

Anya’s lowered her mouth over his weeping cock, just as Spike released the catch on his cock ring.

Xander howled, but still held himself back.

“Good boy,” Spike murmured as his cock slipped out of the warm body beneath him. “Time for your treat.”

His fangs descended and he darted forward, sinking them into the tender skin of Xander's inner thigh. Xander screamed and came.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike was naked, smoking a cigarette near the open window. It was just like the night Xander had returned from the hospital.

“We have to stop meeting like this,” Xander quipped.

Spike slowly looked him up and down, eyes resting on the still throbbing bite mark on Xander’s thigh. “I don’t know about that. I like the view.”

Xander blushed. “Things are going to change after this is over,” he murmured. It wasn’t a question, he was looking for confirmation. “If we make it out.”

“Yeah pet, they are. The hiding isn’t working anymore. I want…” Spike sighed and flicked his smoke out the window.

Spike didn’t need to finish his sentence, Xander knew that feeling well. “We all want.”

Nodding, Spike asked, “Does that scare you?”

Xander’s tongue shot out, wetting his suddenly too dry lips. “Is terrified too strong a word?”

Instead of responding, Spike pressed his lips to Xander’s. The kiss was sweet and gentle, but Xander shivered when Spike’s fingers drifted with gentle possession over the fresh bite-mark.

When he pulled away, Xander braved the question that had driven him to seek Spike out. “How did you know?”

He hoped he didn’t have to explain the ‘what’…because he really didn’t want to get into the whole sick feeling of actually admitting he’d dump Buffy and Willow.

Of course Spike got it. He always got it. “That collar you wear is just a piece of leather, Xander. It’s what’s in here that counts.” He traced Xander’s breastbone, just above his heart.

Xander held Spike’s gaze. “I meant it, Spike. You and Anya are my family. This is what I want. What I’ve always wanted.”

This time the kiss was longer, slower and heartfelt. They’d crossed over a hurdle, into the scary beyond.

I love you…The words danced on his tongue, but Xander left them unsaid. It was too much, his emotions were raw.

“Should get some sleep,” Spike murmured. “It’s a big day tomorrow.”

And surprisingly, he did sleep, they all did.





Part Twenty-Four

“I know you’re tired of speeches. I’m tired of giving them,” Buffy said, keeping her gaze steady and her voice solemn. “But this is it. It’s our only shot. We have to stop this now or the First wins and the world will fall.”

Her expression softened and she looked hopeful. “What do you think?”

“It’s good. I think it’s really good.” Willow smiled brightly. Too-brightly.

Buffy’s shoulders slumped. “It sounds so fake.”

Willow smile fell and her expression turned apologetic. “Maybe a little.”

“I’m going to get them killed,” Buffy sighed.

“Maybe just some of them,” Willow said hopefully, and then her face fell. “Xander is way better than me at the whole gallows humor thing.”

“Speaking of Xander,” Buffy began tentatively.

“We’re not going to talk about it, Buffy.” Willow cut her off fiercely.

“She was dead. Tara was supposed to die. And Xander…”

“No!” Willow’s expression hardened. “I know what he did was wrong, but I can’t be upset. I couldn’t live if Tara was gone. Both sets of memories are still here. I know, without a doubt I would have killed myself. ”

That bit of information startled Buffy. “What about Kennedy?”

A shimmer of tears clouded Willows eyes and she looked away, ashamed. Her voice was barely audible when she replied, “And what if he’d wished for your mom back? Or Angel to never lose his soul? What would you say then?”

“That’s not fair.”

Willow shook her head. “The choices aren’t fair? Or it’s not fair that he picked me to help, instead of you? He would never have done it if he’d known the price, Buffy. Never.”

Buffy sighed. Willow was right.

“You can’t berate him for this, Buffy. You know that, right?” Willow said. “He’s beating himself up enough over it.”

“Yeah, I know,” Buffy agreed.


~*~*~*~*~


Xander opened the cupboard and looked with longing. He couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and touching the implements inside. He’d been so afraid of the whip when Spike had shown it to him. They still hadn’t used it for its intended purposes during a scene, the threat was enough.

He wondered…

“You’re not supposed to be in here unless we’re playing,” Anya chastised.

Guilt washed over him and he dropped his hand. “I’m sorry, Mistress.”

Instead of chiding him further, she studied the open cabinet with interest, her eyes tracing the same path that his fingers had just taken. “You want to be beaten,” she said, knowingly. There was no disapproval in her tone; she was making an observation.

Outside these walls he dodged and deflected better than anyone, but he didn’t do that here. “Yes, Mistress.” Hot shame burned the tips of his ears.

He stilled as she walked up to him, her hands ghosting down his sides. “That would make it so easy, wouldn’t it? If I hurt you, so you could feel better about that girl?”

Kennedy, Xander thought. Her name was KENNEDY. “Yes.”

Her weight shifted suddenly as she leaned up onto her tip-toes. Her lips tickled the shell of his ear as she began to whisper.

Bile rose in his throat. And the longer she spoke, the worse it got. He wanted to pull away, but forced himself to remain still until she finished speaking. His gut was still reeling when she released him.

“You can’t save the world if your back is torn to shreds and I am expecting you to survive today,” she said calmly as she left the room.

Stomach roiling, Xander forced himself to take deep breaths until it settled. After several tenuous minutes, he won the struggle to keep his lunch down. Barely.

And then her previous litany galloped through his head once again, in full gory detail, and Xander sprinted for the bathroom. “D’hoffryn let you off easy. I would have…”


~*~*~*~*~


The afternoon sun blazed high in the sky when they gathered at the entrance to the school. Xander realized that losing his lunch earlier was probably a good thing. It definitely cut down on his usual before-battle queasiness.

Unexpectedly, he felt a huge wave of regret that this thing he had spent so much time building was going to come down in a few short hours. “Destroying two high schools in four years; that’s got to be some kind of a record.”

“Three,” Buffy said casually. At his amused expression she added, “I torched the gym in LA before I came here.”

Xander shook his head in mock disapproval. “They’re so going to start fining you.”

The building was quiet when they entered, as still as death. Which was not really the analogy he wanted.

Spike barreling in under a blanket. “Outta the way, kiddies. Vampire on fire here.”

“Ohh, and me without my marshmallows,” Dawn said with a smile.

Once the vampire was a safe distance from the door, and any stray beams of sunlight, he tossed the still smoking blanket at her, grumbling. She dodged it with a laugh and went deeper into the school. Spike followed.

Xander stayed behind. So did Buffy, Willow and Giles. It didn’t take long for everyone to file past, until it was just the four of them. Xander felt the weight of the years heavy between them. There was so much to say, but he couldn’t find the words. Anya and Spike might be his family now, but this was his other family. His first family. And he loved them all so much.

It was fitting that Buffy broke the ice. “So, what do you guys want to do tomorrow?”

Willow grinned and said thoughtfully, “Nothing strenuous.”

“Well, mini-golf is always the first thing that comes to mind,” he suggested.

Giles looked affronted. “I think we can do better than that.”

“I was thinking about shopping. As per usual,” Buffy suggested.

“Oh!” Willow said excitedly, “There's an Arden B. in the new mall!"

Xander nodded. “I could use a few items.”

Giles went from affronted to scandalized. “Well, now aren't we going to discuss this? Save the world to go to the mall?”

Buffy shrugged and peered down at her feet. “I'm having a wicked shoe craving.”

“Aren't you on the patch?” Xander asked, grinning.

Willow confided. “Those never work."

Sighing heavily, Giles mumbled under his breath, “Here I am, invisible to the eye...”

All that was missing was him cleaning his glasses.

Giles took off his glasses and gave them a brisk cleaning. Xander felt a thick lump in his throat. It was go time, they all knew it.

Xander turned towards the rest of the crew, Buffy and Willow joined him. “See, I need a new look. It's this whole eye patch thing,” he continued.

“Oh, you could go with full black secret agent look.” Buffy offered, not so helpfully.

Willow piped in. “Or the puffy shirt, pirate slash-“

“The earth is definitely doomed,” Giles said with an exasperated sigh, but unable to contain a small, smile.

He watched them for a long beat, both mourning the children they used, and proud of the adults they’d become.


~*~*~*~*~


“So, is the cartoon pow-wow over?” Spike asked him once they rounded the corner. “I’m not getting any younger.”

Xander tried not to laugh. He was definitely not fooled by Spike’s huffy exterior. “Not getting any older either, Fangboy.”

“Don’t let this bauble fool you, boy.” Spike’s voice was low and husky. “I’ve still got your number.”

Suddenly the mirth faded. “Yeah, you do,” he replied, and snagged Spike’s arm, gently holding him back from the crowd. Willow and Buffy continued on, either deliberately oblivious to their conversation, or simply oblivious. Xander didn’t care.

“Whatever she wants you to do, be careful. Come back to us.” Xander’s voice was low, thick with emotion. Come back to me, was what he really wanted to say.

And, as if Spike had read his mind, he put a hand on Xander’s shoulder, his thumb automatically stroking his mark through the cotton of Xander’s shirt. “I’ll do my best.”

I love you, Xander thought for the second time in the last twenty-four hours, but again he didn’t say it. It would be too much like good-bye.


~*~*~*~*~


Everyone split up. Willow and Tara made a beeline to Wood’s office. Buffy, Faith and the potentials milled outside the door marked Basement Access.

“You guys ready?” Buffy asked, scanning their faces.

No one spoke, but most of the girls nodded.

“Let’s go.”

Xander, Anya, Dawn and Oz hung back, watching them go.

“Showtime,” Xander whispered as the door shut behind Faith.

“I’ll take you to the gym, Oz,” Dawn offered.

Oz frowned for a moment and looked down the hall. Fifteen feet away was a set of double doors beneath a large plaque that read ‘Gym’ in eighteen inch letters. Then he looked back to Xander and Anya and his expression cleared. “Sure.”

“Subtle she is not,” Xander said softly as the two of them walked away.

Anya nodded. “Not surprising, Buffy isn’t either.”

There were so many things he wanted to say to her, but now that they were together, he couldn't find the words he wanted. “Be careful,” he offered, instead.

“I expect you not to die, Xander,” Anya said pointedly.

He smiled. She had such a way with words. “I love you, too.”

“Do you?” She looked hopeful and afraid, at the same time. She was beautiful. He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers.

He nodded. “Always.”


~*~*~*~*~


Eighteen hours ago…

The plan seemed simple on paper, Xander thought, or in this case, on whiteboard.

“Xander? You ready?”

“Thanks, Buff.” Xander stepped up to the board, his hands sweating. He’d never been good at explaining things in front of the class. What was worse was that everyone’s eyes were glued to him. In school he could count on at least two thirds of the class to ignore him. And often the teacher.

He took a deep breath and drew a rough sketch of the front of the high school. “Okay, this is so not to scale.

“There are two main entrances, here, and here,” he circled them on the drawing. “They have to be protected. There are going to be ubervamps and Bringers trying to get out and we have to stop them.”


“Who’s we?” Vi asked.

“Willow and Tara will be setting up here, in Wood’s office.” He scribbled ‘Wood’s Office’ in the appropriate square. He briefly thought about drawing crude stick figures of Willow and Tara, but decided against it.

“It’s directly over the Hellmouth,” Tara supplied, “We’ll be able to channel the energy directly down.”

“Less chance of it making that wacky turn in Albuquerque,” Willow said with a smile.

Less than ten of the girls got the joke, the rest of them looked at her blankly. Kids these days, they had no culture.

Xander went back to the drawing. “Anya and Dawn will be here.” He pointed to the hall, just south of the gym at the door to the basement access. “Once Buffy and everyone are down the rabbit hole, Anya and Dawn will barricade the door.” He made a lame little scribble. “Hopefully blocking the ubervamps from getting through, then they’ll move to the secondary entrance and block that one as well.” He added a second cloud shape to the door to the east of Wood's office.

“Oz will defend the other entrance to the stairwell, in the gym.” He scribbled ‘Gym’ on the map.

“Him?” The girls looked at Oz in disbelief.

Faith grinned. “He may look tiny, but he’s got a hell of a bite.”

“Are the girls going to barricade that door, too,” Oz asked softly.

“No. We’ll need to get you out,” Buffy replied. “And we’ll need to get out.”

“Do you have it?” Oz asked somberly, looking at Faith.

She nodded and opened her jacket, showing the tranq gun. “Right here.”

“And just in case something goes wrong,” Xander added. “The ubervamps are coming from the Hellmouth, but we want to make sure the Bringers have nowhere to go either. Anya and Dawn will be guarding the pass-through door between these classrooms. No one will be able to get from one side of the building to the other.”

“But those can’t be the only entrances to the school. There have to be more,” Molly said. “What’s stopping the baddies from getting out?”

Xander smiled as he scribbled in a couple of x’s, marking the only other two exit doors from the building. “Don’t worry about them. I’ve got the rest of the school covered.”

“H-how?” Cho Ahn asked in her stilted English. “How you block bad men?”

His smile grew. “I’m going to bake a cake.”


~*~*~*~*~


Even though her hand hurt, Buffy gripped her sword tighter. She’d sweated blood, all these years, trying to keep the darn thing shut. Somehow it seemed fitting that the only way to open the seal was through a blood offering. It was kinda poetic that it was her blood. Painful poetic justice. When the last drop had fallen, the portal had opened up and a set of stairs magically lowered in an elegant spiral that descended into middle-earth. Or maybe sub-middle-earth. She didn’t know which was worse, ubervamps or hobbits. Both gave her the wiggins. “This is it,” she murmured.

“Seems to be,” Spike agreed.

It took so much less time than she though to get everyone to the bottom. And when they arrived, she stood frozen for a moment. It was like walking onto the surface of the moon, or another planet - huge, alien and full of precipices and gorges. She walked to the edge of the chasm with Spike and they peered down. Below them, thousands of ubervamps milled around, maybe hundreds of thousands.

“It’s been good fighting with you, Summers,” Spike said in a low whisper.

She felt a stab of something like remorse at his use of her last name. As if she didn’t rate a 'Buffy’ anymore. The unwelcome thought that Xander had maybe earned the use of his name during their private tête-à-tête flitted through her mind, before she pushed it away.

“You got anything yet?” she asked him, changing the subject.

Spike lifted the amulet and squinted at it. “Zero juice. Sorry. And I look like Elizabeth Taylor.”

Looking up at the impossible sky above her, she whispered, “Come on, Willow. Before they notice us.”

An angry snarl tore through the air.

“Too late, B,” Faith said, dropping into a fighting stance. “The natives know we’re here.”


~*~*~*~*~


As Tara finished the salt circle, Willow looked at the scythe in her hand. Buffy and Faith both said they felt a tingle when they held it. She got nothing. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she said, dejectedly. Doubt swelled big in her gut, like a hippopotamus, bringing its fat friends - lack of confidence and misgiving - in tow. “What if it doesn’t work?”

Tara knelt across from her, placing her hands over Willow’s on the scythe. “You were made to do this. Everything you’ve ever done has brought you to this point. You’re the strongest witch I’ve ever known.”

“And if I go evil?”

“I’ll ground you.”

And Willow suddenly realized that she didn’t need confidence. All she needed was for Tara to believe in her. She began to chant. The spell was so easy, which is what had scared her. As soon as she spoke the last word, she knew: Tara was right, she had been made to do this.

Such wonderful, beautiful, amazing power channeled though her. She felt it, splitting into dozens of points of light, then hundreds. All the power in the universe that was good and right flowed through her. She giggled euphorically. "Ohhh, nifty."

Then she collapsed into Tara’s arms. “We did it.”

Tara stroked her hair. “You did it.”

The earth rumbled beneath their feet and they looked at each other.

“L’Duun said that this scythe was my legacy,” Buffy had said, “so that I could choose the next slayer. And I am - I choose all of you. Wood had one thing right; we need to restore the natural order of things. Each one of you was born with the potential to be like me. So tomorrow, I’m giving your birthright.”

“The battle’s turning," Tara whispered.



~*~*~*~*~


It was a bit of amazing, seeing the girls fight, Spike thought. You could tell the instant Willow’s spell worked. Shit, he could feel it. It was like ants crawling over his skin, being in the midst of so many slayers. Real slayers, not potentials.

The First was outraged, but like a paper tiger, there wasn’t much it could do. It had to sit out on the sidelines, waiting, taunting, but ultimately unable to affect the outcome. And if Anya and Dawn did their job and took out the Bringers, it would never come back.

Suddenly Spike was pinned in place, unable to move. The weight of centuries old magic bore down on him. The amulet began to glow and grow heavy on his chest. This was it.

The sky opened above his head and fire shot through him, a million points of light. The blazing, righteous fury of the sun channeled through his body and burned the ubervamps to a crisp. Instantly. All of them.

And suddenly he realized: it wasn’t the amulet that burned at all. It was his soul.

I should have told him, Spike thought. The words of love that he’d offered Buffy so casually seemed to dry up whenever he was with Xander. He’d thought he was being safe, thought that he was being so smart, not committing, keeping his distance. Showed what he knew.

Foolish, because now that he was faced with the end, he realized the truth. I should have told him that I loved him.

All the girls got out, but Buffy remained. She looked at him with those huge eyes and laced her fingers with his. He marveled that while he was on fire, she was apparently immune.

“I love you,” she said impulsively. He could tell she wanted more than anything to make his passing mean something substantial. As if saving the world wasn’t enough.

“No. you don’t,” he said with a smile. “But thanks for saying it. Now get out.”

He gave her credit, she held out longer than he thought she would. And that was nice, having someone stay with him toward the end. He was actually glad it was her, because he’d probably have much more trouble letting Xander go.

Finally, she gave him a mournful look and bolted up the hole like a good girl. And Spike stopped holding on, letting the power consume him.

Can we rest now?

Pain grew like a living beast - white hot and huge. This was what the fires of Hell felt like. Oh dear God, it burned.


~*~*~*~*~


Everything was working like clockwork. Each one of his timed explosions had gone off without a hitch, demolishing the back half of the school in less time than it took to make a pizza. Nobody does it like Sara Lee, he thought crazily.

Xander should have taken that as a sign - nothing ever went off without a hitch.

He heard growls and snarls from the gym, followed by shrieks of pain, and he marveled, “Way to go, Oz.” Oz being able to turn at will, was definitely a bonus.

He used some of the rubble to reinforce Anya and Dawn’s barricade of the staircase door before concentrating on uncovering the skylights. Part of the California Alternative Energy Initiative was a requirement to install as much natural lighting in public buildings as possible. Some genius had covered them during the mass exodus. Although, come to think of it, that genius might have been Wood.

It wasn’t difficult removing them, but it was time consuming. As if on cue, the second he finished, Willow and Tara stumbled out of the Admin room. Willow was beaming from ear to ear. “We did it!”

“I knew you co–“ Xander began, and then ground shifted beneath his feet and cracks started to appear in the floor.

Fear seized him. “Out, get out,” he said shouted, and sprinted towards one of the classrooms.

Willow looked panicked. “Xander! No. Come with us.”

“I can’t,” he insisted. “I’ve got to get to Anya and Dawn. They’re trapped on the other side of the building. I’ve got the only other key.”

“But…”

“Tell Giles to wait for us,” he pleaded. “Please.”

She nodded and then grabbed Tara’s hand and ran towards the door.

As soon as they made it out the ground lurched again and a huge patch of floor disappeared below the largest skylight. Glass rained down and a bright beam of light shot down from the sky into the heart of the Hellmouth.

It struck Spike. Xander didn’t see it, but he felt it the instant it happened. He knew without a shadow of doubt that somehow Spike was the conduit for the light and he was going to use it to save them all. And then it would consume him.

Torn, Xander hovered at the edge of the pit, unsure. The chorus of Should I stay or should I go? droned in his head. Stupid Clash. And then Dawn screamed and he bolted towards her and Anya. He unlocked the door and left it wide open behind him.

There was a huge crash behind him, but Xander was so focused on getting to Dawn and Anya, he ignored it.

As he entered the North-South corridor, he realized that a group of Bringers must have been holed up in the row of classrooms on this hall. Shit.

The girls were at the far end, trapped like rats.

“Xander!” she shouted, as soon as she saw him, sounding terrified.

The ground rumbled again, and everyone lost their footing briefly.

A quick glace around once the dust cleared, and he confirmed that Anya was doing all right. She hadn’t even paused, wielding her sword like a pro, hacking through the eyeless fiends at an impressive rate.

Xander sprinted toward Dawn, but had only made it halfway down the hall before he was knocked aside by something huge and hairy.

His heart pounded with fear. “Oz?”

The werewolf ignored him, attacking the bringers, viciously tearing them apart with his teeth and claws. It took an impossibly short amount of time for him to chomp his way through all of them. It was like a Bringer Buffet.

Oz whirled, facing Dawn and snarling.

“Oh no you don’t,” Anya bellowed, barreling forwards with her sword draw. “You leave her alone.”

Oz charged her and Anya's hand tightened around the hilt. She waited until the last possible second before striking. In one smooth move, the pommel caught him across the face. Xander’s jaw dropped as the weight of the sword, combined with what must have been an insane amount of adrenalin, sent Oz flying across the room. He hit the far wall with a thud and slid to the floor.

Xander watched in awe as Oz’s transformation went backwards, until his friend was curled to the floor, human again. He had a huge cut along one jaw, but otherwise he seemed okay.

Turning back to Anya, Xander was about to ask her what the hell happened, when a Bringer rose from the floor behind her. In slow motion Xander watched, horrified, as he plunged his dagger straight through Anya.

She dropped her sword and looked down, stunned. Her fingers traced the tip of the curved blade that protruded from her stomach. Her white shirt was stained with crimson. Her eyes found his and she looked surprised and confused. “Xander?” she asked, and fell to the ground.

He didn’t remember much after that. Just flashes. Grabbing Anya’s sword and running the Bringer through. Pulling the knife out of Anya’s back and trying to staunch the blood that was pouring out of her.

This was it. Spike was gone and Anya was going to follow. Dawn was screaming at him to leave, but he ignored her. It was like God had pressed the mute button and the world no longer had sound. He thought she left and took Oz with her.

Closing his eyes, he curled his arms around Anya, staying with her. Vaguely he realized the building was coming down around them, but he didn’t care.


~*~*~*~*~


It could have been a minute or an hour later when he was roughly shaken. He peeled his eyes open and blearily tried to concentrate on the girl speaking to him. It was Cho Ahn.

After several repetitions her words finally sank in. “She fine. Not dead.”

It was like the world suddenly snapped back into focus and the sound was jacked up to eleven. “What?”

“Come now. Must go.”

The spell must have worked. She picked Anya up like she was made of paper. “Hurry. No time.”

Xander nodded and followed her through the devastation of the school.

The trip to LA was a blur. Buffy and Willow sat with him, but neither spoke. Or if they did, Xander didn’t hear. He applied compresses to Anya’s chest and marveled that even though there was so much blood, she kept breathing.

They’d stopped at the nearest hospital, in the school bus that Giles had stolen. Considering Sunnydale was now a crater, though, Xander didn’t think the school board was really going to notice. Someone must have phoned ahead, because Anya was life-flighted immediately to the trauma center at Cedars. Four hours of surgery and she’d pulled through alive. Barely.

His home was destroyed, consumed by the Hellmouth. By Spike’s sacrifice. It was then that Xander realized that his lover had never had a chance. Even if he’d survived the whatever from the amulet, he’d never have made it through the gauntlet of sunlight to safety. I never got to tell him that I loved him, he thought dully.

Anya should have died, they said. Instead, inexplicably, she was in a coma. Her body stubbornly refused to shut down.

“That’s my girl,” he told them, smiling.

And so he sat, in the murky light of the ICU, holding her hand. The beeps of the monitors were the only things keeping him company. Buffy and Willow had visited, for a while, but then they had to move on. They had slayers to train and the council to rebuild.

He didn’t blame them. In fact, he wanted them to go. Even though he loved them like family, this was his place now. With Anya. He wished desperately for Spike, ached for him. Buffy tried to broach the topic once, wanted to tell him about Spike’s last moments, he supposed, but she had backed off sharply when he’d made a strangled sound.

He hoped that Spike hadn’t suffered. He wiped absently at the sudden tears from his eye. He never seemed to run out. He looked at his lover, his Mistress, and said fiercely, “I won’t leave you, Anya. Ever.”




End of Part 1


Look for part two sometime at the beginning of the new year



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