Buffy was back at the hotel, the stairs behind her and Willow beside her as she stood in the lobby with a small cardboard box held in one hand. She looked out at the at the group of people. Giles, Faith, Robin, Andrew. Vi, Rona, and the other potentials-turned-slayers that had survived. Including Kennedy, who was looking belligerent and annoyed. Everyone who had been there at the end of Sunnydale was gathered together.
Well, almost everyone. Dawn was still at Wolfram & Hart, keeping an eye on Spike and reading to him, and Xander…. Xander hadn’t really come out of his room much since they’d first come to the hotel. He was still mourning his losses and licking his wounds. Buffy didn’t blame him for it. There was a lot she didn’t blame him for, like his part in betraying her. He at least had had an excuse; on drugs, in pain, and in shock from the loss of a sense organ. A loss he wouldn’t have suffered if she hadn’t lead him into danger.
“Okay,” she said to the assembled group, reaching into the box. She pulled out what looked like an oval garage door opener with a single button in the middle. “There are enough of these in here for all of you. When it’s time, Fred will get her machine going and Willow will start up a spell. We’ll all push these buttons. They’ll get us into the amulet and also work as an anchor.” She took a deep breath and looked over them all, meeting as many eyes as she could. “We’re going to be fighting manifestations of the amulet, and I… I understand if some of you don’t want to fi-”
“We’re vampire slayers,” Kennedy cut in. “Why are we talking about putting any time and effort into saving a vampire?” She looked at Willow, expression going hard. “You’ve been doing too much magic. No more. You need to stop this.”
Willow made a soft, pained sound, no doubt thinking of Tara and her similar comments. The difference was, Tara had been a fellow witch who had known what she was talking about. And she had known that the problem wasn’t magic itself, it was a flaw in Willow. A flaw the redhead had been working hard to correct.
Fear suddenly gripped Buffy. What if Willow listened to Kennedy? What if she stopped trying to help Spike when they were so damn close? She didn’t think it was something Willow would do, but then, she hadn’t thought Giles would betray her or that everyone would gang up on her to kick her out of her own house.
“You stay out of this,” Kennedy said, walking forward and getting right in Buffy’s face. “You said before that you aren’t our leader, but you seem to be throwing your weight around.” She bent her knees and held up her hands in a fighting stance. “Let’s fight this out, ‘Senior Slayer.’ I win, and you leave us all to work things out on our own. You win, and we’ll follow you.”
“Kennedy!” Giles snapped. “This is most –”
He stopped at Buffy’s upraised hand. “No. No, she wants a fight, that’s fine by me,” she said, not taking her eyes off of Kennedy as she carefully set the box of devices down.
The girl was oozing confidence. She’d had all that fancy, expensive training, and maybe that made her better than most of the others who had just been potentials. But Buffy had been called at fifteen, and then she’d spent years on the Hellmouth. Kennedy was good, but Buffy was better, and she had no intention of hiding that or dragging things out. She struck without warning, punching Kennedy in the face, following it up with two short, brutal kicks to the ribs before dropping down for a leg sweep.
Then Kennedy was down and Buffy sat on her before grabbing her by the hair and smashing her face against the floor. Willow made a half-hearted protest, but didn’t actually do anything to interfere. This was something between the two slayers that had been brewing since the day Kennedy had arrived in Sunnydale. Buffy smacked the girl’s head against the floor one more time, then looked up. Hard. Ice. She had to be ice.
“You’re either with me on this, or you aren’t. If you aren’t, that’s fine. I don’t want anyone going in who isn’t sure of what they’re doing. Just remember this, Spike was willing to die for all of us. He thinks he did die for us, and that he found some kind of peace after. And he was….” Her throat closed up for a moment as the memory of being resurrected flashed through her mind. “He was ripped out of that peace and thrust into his version of hell. If that means nothing to any of you, then leave now. Get out of my sight.”
There was a moment of still silence, then Faith walked forward and knelt to take a device from the box. “We’re with you, B,” she said. “All the way.”
She glanced over at Robin, tossing him a device at his slow nod. Buffy had included one for him, but she honestly hadn’t expected him to help. Spike hadn’t exactly been the former principal’s favorite person. One by one, they all came up and took a device until only the one meant for Kennedy was left.
Buffy slowly stood up, gazing at them with silent gratitude. It was going to be enough. They’d take the fight to the amulet. She could feel the ice melting.
Kennedy rolled over and glared as she wiped the blood off her face. She didn’t care one way or another about Spike, and Buffy knew it. She just wanted to be in charge. For the most part, Buffy didn’t care who was in charge, but it wasn’t going to be Kennedy.
“Fine,” she spat, standing up and holding herself like things were broken inside. They probably were, but she would heal. “If you all want to waste time on Buffy’s pet vampire instead of actually fighting evil, you do that.” She glanced towards Willow. “When you’re done with this, we’ll talk about the magic.”
“No,” Willow said quietly. “We won’t.”
“You’re choosing her over me?”
Buffy winced. She’d learned, too late, that she couldn’t let her friends dictate her love life. It was a choice she’d had to make. And one that Willow had to make. She started to say as much, but stopped as Willow shook her head.
“No, I’m choosing me,” she said. “I’m sorry, Kennedy, but this isn’t working out. I can’t… I don’t….” She shook her head. “This relationship isn’t right for me, and trying to pretend it is isn’t fair to you.”
Kennedy looked like she’d just been slapped and was fighting back tears. Buffy actually felt a little bit sorry for her. Then the girl squared her shoulders, gathered the remains of her dignity, and left.
“I’m sorry, Willow,” Buffy said softly.
“Even though you didn’t like her?” Willow asked with a slight, sad little smile that took the sting out of her words. “It’s okay. We really weren’t right tog-” She stopped abruptly, eyes wide as she looked at something behind Buffy.
She whirled, expecting to find some enemy that had snuck in, but it was Xander, coming down the last couple of steps. He bent to snag the last of the devices. Since she hadn’t expected him to leave his room, she hadn’t actually included one for him.
“Looks like you saved one for me. Good.” He stood and smiled. “Let’s go get our Bleached Menace.”
Monsters were loose on the streets of Los Angeles. Nothing really new there, in and of itself, but this was a different set than usual and they were making themselves known. And he knew it was likely his imagination, but Spike couldn’t shake the feeling that quite a lot of them seemed to be specifically targeting him.
Of course, it might have been because he was on his own. Angel had buggered off after the dragon and Spike had been separated from where Illyria had been protecting a dying Charlie. No one to watch his back. No one to see or care if he bit it.
Had he done enough that when that time came, he’d be waiting where Buffy would go? Probably not. Didn’t matter anyway. Not like she wanted him anymore. If she’d ever actually wanted him at all.
He kept going through the motions, even now, his body doing what it needed to keep going. Punch, kick, fling himself at foes. Truth was, though, he’d given up in Rome. He’d been feeling steadily… emptier the past few months, and something had just gone out of him then. Had fled away, and the rest of him longed to follow.
Hang on, Spike, we’re coming! Buffy’s voice, his mind conjuring thoughts of her in what would probably end up as his final moments. It distracted him, and he faltered, let too many of the other demons get in close. He was surrounded, several demons thick.
So this is it, then, is it? He was ready. God, was he ready. Didn’t mean he was just going to lay down and dust. He’d take as many of these sorry sods with him as he could. Maybe buy the sprog he’d saved and its mum a chance to get out of L.A.
With a roar, he threw himself into it, heedless of his own safety. Something shredded the replica coat he was wearing, tearing past it and slicing into his side. He ignored it, ignored the feeling of borrowed blood trickling down. He headbutted another something and immediately punched something else. He was getting tired, fatigue dragging at his limbs, slowing him down.
A massive, clawed hand swiped towards his face, and he knew, knew he wouldn’t be able to stop or dodge it. He didn’t even try. He’d taken a lot of the buggers out, and now it was over. This was it. He’d finally be done. Finished. At peace again. He smiled and closed his eyes.
Then immediately opened them again when blood that wasn’t his splattered across his face. The shrieks of dying demons suddenly filled the air along with mostly female voices raised in battle cries. What. The. Bloody hell?
They poured in around him, pushing back the flood of demons, giving him room to move, to really fight. The girls what had survived the Hellmouth along with Rupert, Xander, Andrew, and even the teacher. And there… oh god, there was Dawn, about to get her fool head bitten off. He rushed forward and tackled the thing away from her, carrying it down to the ground and jamming a stake in it. It didn’t dust like a vampire, but a bit of wood thrust right through the heart tended to be a mite detrimental to most living things.
He jumped to his feet and just stared at her. Dawn. His Nibblet, grinning and looking at him with bright, happy eyes. Had she finally forgiven him? And if she was here, did that mean…? Something slammed into him from behind and achingly familiar arms circled around him.
“Spike,” Buffy whispered, sounding close to tears. “Oh god, Spike. We’re here. We came for you. We’re going to get you out.”
He pulled away from her so he could turn and see her. There really were tears. “Buffy,” he breathed out her name. She was here. Why was she here? “What…?” He frowned suddenly. “What do you mean, get me out? Out of the fight? Lot of people in danger here, love.”
“No.” She shook her head. “The only one in any danger is you. This is….” She sighed and closed her eyes, then opened them, a pleading look in their depths. “This is going to be hard to believe, but you didn’t die in the Hellmouth. You closed it. The power of your soul….” She paused and swallowed. “The power of you. You closed it, and you got sucked into the amulet. It created the whole thing with you being trapped here with Angel as your own personal hell.”
“So you’re saying hell’s Angel then, are you?” The words popped out, his mouth running off without him while his brain tried to process everything. He was in his own personal hell? And Buffy and all the others had come for him.
“We have most of you out. For the rest, you just have make a real effort to leave. To come to me.” She held out her hand for him. “Please, just take my hand.”
Spike stared at it. It could be a trick. Or it could be real. Does it even matter? he wondered. Trapped in hell…. God, did that describe how he’d felt lately. If it was real, she was here to rescue him, and that…. He swallowed. He wanted to believe it. He slowly reached out to take her hand. He wanted it to be real. But if it wasn’t…. Well, he didn’t really have anything to lose, did he? His hand closed around hers, and everything faded away.
Pinkish gold light filled Buffy’s vision and danced along her tongue as a summer thunderstorm, wood smoke, the earthiness of vampire, cigarettes, whiskey, and leather. So many other things she couldn’t put a name to, that all combined into one thing. One being. Spike.
He was in her. Part of her, and she held him close as he struggled weakly. No, no. Don’t go. Had to hold on. Keep him with her. Wait. Wait, she remembered this. Last time, there had been too much. It had burst out of her and gone to the…. The fish tank! She’d forgotten. Spike had to go to the fish tank, so he could be whole.
Buffy opened her eyes and let her jaw fall, and the pinkish gold essence-of-Spike flowed out of her. It wasn’t as bad as last time. There was still a feeling of loss, but no images of Spike chained up and drugged while his hands were cut off. That was a major plus.
Instead, when her vision cleared, she saw Spike lying beside her on the hospital bed, still and silent. But the fish tank was full, and Willow was already standing beside it, chanting under her breath. It was only the two of them in the room with Spike, though Dawn had desperately wanted to be there.
Willow plunged her hand inside and grabbed hold of the Orb of Thessulah with one hand. The other settled on Spike’s chest. And then he convulsed, limbs flailing.
“Spike?” Buffy called, grabbing one of his hands. He shook, the entire bed trembling with the movement, then went still again. “Spike?”
There, the slightest twitch of those beautiful lashes. They fluttered, and then Spike’s eyes opened. Tears filled Buffy’s own. It was over. She had him back. She really had him back.
“Hey now, love, none of that,” he whispered, his voice a little rusty. He reached up with the hand she wasn’t holding and brushed away a tear with his thumb. He smiled, and it was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen. “You came for me again.”
“Yeah. Of course I did. It’s all part of the hero package.” Uncertainty and pain in his eyes, and she could have kicked herself. How had she not seen how he was going to take that? “I beat the bad guys and save the day. And always put on my A-game to rescue my damsel in distress.” She reached out to caress his cheek.
“My knight in shining armor, then, are you?” Love, wonder, and gratitude now in those blue eyes.
“Uh-huh,” Buffy whispered. “No matter what, I’ll always, always come for you.”
He squeezed her hand. They were the same hands as when he’d sent her away there near the end in the Hellmouth. “The damsel bit’s getting a mite old, pet. What say we both be heroes for a spell and watch each other’s backs?”
She smiled. He’d always been good at watching her back, even when she’d been too blind to see it. “I think I’d like that. I’d like it a lot.”
The sharp slap of a hand against someone else’s flesh rang through the air, followed by several meaty thuds and grunts of pain. Spike wanted to step in, get a few of his own licks in, but this wasn’t his fight. Honestly, he probably shouldn’t even have been in Angel’s office for this, but Buffy still got nervous if he wasn’t close by, like she thought he’d go up in a puff of smoke when she wasn’t looking.
“You bastard,” she spat. “Have you ever had even the tiniest bit of respect for me?”
“Buffy,” Angel protested.
She stopped him with a shake of her head and an upraised hand. “I don’t want to hear it. You stole a day from me. You….” She shook her head and turned towards the door. “I’m out. You’re the one who’s always saying we should stay away from each other. I agree.”
She swept out the door, slamming it behind her. No doubt she intended him to follow after, but she’d needed that door slam. One final burst of violence and a symbol of closing the door very firmly on part of her past.
“It’s for the best,” Angel murmured, mostly to himself, it seemed. “She deserves a normal life, not….” He looked at Spike. “She deserves normal, not things like us.”
“Not your call, mate,” Spike pointed out. “Don’t matter that there’s a whole army of ‘em now, she’s still Slayer, bloody the. She’s too big to fit comfortably in the box you want for her.”
Angel was always nattering on about that. About wanting normal for Buffy, but when it had landed right in his bloody lap….
Spike had realized something while in the amulet. Angel didn’t really understand a bloody thing about prophecies and destiny. He’d known that to an extent, what with Dru and all. Was a reason she’d called him her explicator at times and not Angel. Spike had always been able to puzzle them out, and he knew that they were just a future, not the future. “Destiny” was just a possible future with the right backers. It could be thwarted, or even attained and sent back with a two-fingered salute and a big, fat “return to sender” stamped all over.
The sorry sod had well and truly buggered himself, and he didn’t even realize it. He’d been human. He’d had his bloody Shanshu, and he hadn’t wanted it. He’d turned back the hands of time and changed the flow, just so he could grab hold of his prize with both hands and throw it away. Spike wasn’t sure which would be kinder, to clue Angel in, or let him continue wallowing about in Egypt. And more to the point, did he even want to be kind to the tosser?
Let it alone, for now, he thought. Kind or cruel, Angel had enough on his plate for the moment. He was the one sporting a collection of nasty bruises while Spike was the one walking away with the prize. Not Buffy herself – was a person, she was, not a sodding geegaw found in the bottom of a crackerjack box – but the chance to be with her. That was the prize. That they had a shot at building something together.
“Goodbye, Angel,” he said before turning his back on his grandsire and following his Slayer out of the office.
She was right there outside the door, waiting for him, and when she held her hand out, they fit together like they’d been made for each other. He smiled at her, but before he could say anything, Dawn came flying out of nowhere and attached herself to his side like a limpet.
That had been a surprise. He’d never thought she’d forgive him, but the moment she’d first seen him out of that sodding amulet, she’d kicked him in the shin before trying to hug the stuffing right out of him.
“Come on,” Buffy said quietly. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Where are we going to go?” Dawn asked, pulling away, but taking Spike’s free hand in hers.
Buffy smiled. “Wherever we want.” She glanced at him. “Any suggestions?”
He tilted his head, thinking on it. He’d been all over the globe in his life. If he could go anywhere he wanted….
“Not Rome,” he said firmly.
Buffy laughed. “Yeah, I don’t even speak Italian. We’ve got our entire lives to figure it out. Right now, though, I’m dying for a burger.”
“Well, then, that settles it,” he said. “Today, grub and a bit of a rest. Tomorrow,” he let go of Dawn’s hand to make a grand sweeping gesture, “the world.”
He took his Nibblet’s hand again as they started off towards the lobby. He didn’t know where his journey with Buffy was going to lead, but one thing was crystal clear. It was going to be a hell of a ride.
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