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Buffy stared at the singed collar in her hands, her vision blurred by unshed tears. The little girl sitting beside her – she thought her name was Abby, but she wasn’t entirely sure – fidgeted, frightened for her best friend and savior. The girl’s father stroked her hair, trying to calm her down.

“Do you think Prince Floofer is gonna make it?” Abby asked anxiously.

“He’ll be fine,” Buffy answered with a tired smile. She really hoped she wasn’t lying. Heroes died. It was a fact of life, but one she hoped the seven-year-old didn’t have to learn just yet.

Prince Floofer. Such a silly name for a hero. But that’s what he was. A toy poodle, small with white curly fur and a strut like he was the size of a great Dane. Buffy had been out walking, trying to clear her head, when she’d seen him, snarling and biting at a pair of men who had been threatening Abby while trying to mug her mother.

Buffy had almost walked on by. She was so tired of being the hero, of jumping in to help with everyone else’s problems. Couldn’t she just have time to herself? Time to grieve? But then one of the men had doused the dog with booze and thrown a lit match on him. He’d been burning, just like…. She hadn’t even stopped to think, had just acted, knocking the men out and using her over shirt to smother the flames.

“Mr. Fletcher?” a woman said, walking out into the emergency vet waiting room. “We have Prince Floofer stabilized.”

Buffy smiled at Abby again. “See? I told you he’d be fine. He’s a hero, and heroes don’t die. Not really.” Her voice cracked as she said it.

In a way, it was the truth. Heroes lived on in people’s memories. She took a deep, shuddering breath and stood up, vaguely aware of the vet talking to Abby’s father.

“Can I keep this?” she asked, holding up the singed collar.

Abby nodded solemnly. She looked at Buffy for a moment before saying, “Prince Floofer isn’t really a very good name for a hero, is it?”

“Hey, no, it’s a great….” She trailed off at Abby’s look. She may have been a little kid, but she wasn’t stupid. “Yeah, it’s kind of awful. I… I know a good name for a hero, though, if you want to rename him.”

“What name?”

“Spike,” Buffy answered, barely able to force it out of her mouth.

She fled before the girl could say anything else, eventually making her way to a park that hosted a lot of loud, boisterous concerts, though it was quiet and empty for now. Spike would have loved it. She dropped to her knees and dug a hole, just big enough for the collar.

“Goodbye, Spike,” she whispered, putting it in and covering it with dirt. “I meant what I said, you know. It’s kinda fitting, though. When you first told me you loved me, I told you that you didn’t. I, I didn’t know… until that moment in the Hellmouth, just how much that must have hurt. I’m sorry.”

She pressed her scarred left hand against the mound of dirt in silent communion. Then she stood up and walked away, her shoulders straight and head held high. In those last days, he had been her strength. She couldn’t allow his death to make her weak. She may not be alone in her burden anymore, but she was still the Slayer. She’d keep being a hero.

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