There wasn’t much Spike was aware of, but what there was came in bucketloads.
Like blood. Those buckets were literal. Worst of it was, most of it was his.
Like bodies. Stacked on top of him like a pile-up of American football players. Smelled worse, though.
Like pain. Scorching, mind-numbing, bone-rattling pain. Pain like someone stuck him in a dragon’s gullet and let it chomp away.
Oh, wait, somebody bloody did.
Spike scowled, or tried to. He’d been fighting a pair of trolls, muscle-bound beasts that looked like some kid had melted his GI Joes together into a lumpy mess under the sun. The dragon Angel had been such a git about taking on alone – because honestly, a dragon? Just had to spit at a vampire to take him out of the game – had swooped down just in time for TweedleUgly to pick Spike up, while TweedleUglier had grabbed the dragon’s jaw and swung it around to catch its new chewtoy. Spike heard Blue’s shout of fury just seconds before razor teeth sank into his leg.
Fate was kind. Apparently, dragons didn’t care how many licks it took to get to the center of a Spike pop. A few good bites, and it spit him right back out again.
He would’ve been mad if he hadn’t been in so much agony. Blackness came soon afterward.
The one thing there wasn’t a lot of was noise. None of the bodies above him moved. Not a heartbeat, not a groan. If he didn’t hurt so much, Spike would’ve thought he was in hell. Since he wasn’t, he could only assume that the fight was over.
There wasn’t really a question of who’d won. The only question was why he was the lucky one who got to see the other side of it.
It took strength he didn’t really have to start shoving at the mountain atop him. Every muscle screamed. Spike might have, too. Not even burning in the Hellmouth had caused this kind of torment.
Relief came when the bodies suddenly lost to gravity. They tumbled away, lightening the load weighing him down, but before Spike could drink in the cool, blood-soaked air, a strong grip clamped around his wrist.
He fought. Or he tried to fight. There wasn’t enough left in him to do much of anything as somebody hauled him out of the fray.
Spike blinked, trying to focus on his surroundings. The lashes of his left eye were glued together, most likely by dried blood, and his right was bleary, like he was looking through cloudy water. His feet left the ground, then something solid appeared at his back, strong hands pinning him upright.
“You’re not Angel.”
Spike snorted, coughing up blood he had to spit to the ground. “What gave me away? My jaunty sense of style?” He peered closer, but all he could see was a pair of brilliant blue eyes that looked eerily familiar. “Who’s asking?”
The man ignored his question. “Where is he?”
He tensed. “Might not be much left of me, but the part that’s left isn’t a turncoat. Sod off.”
“You’re alive, we lost, only one side left to be on.” Summoning the last of his strength, he knocked at the hands holding him. It worked this time. Too well. Without the man holding him, Spike sank to his knees.
“I wanted to fight. Angel told me to go home.”
“And you live in an alley? You need a better realtor, mate.”
“No, I followed him here. But I guess I was too late.”
There was no reason for Spike to believe him. But something in the way his voice cracked said he was sincere.
“Who’re you to him?”
“I’m his…” The young man paused, staring down the length of the alley. “Connor. I’m Connor.”
Spike had only heard about him, and only after the fact from Blue. Details so fantastic, they put most of the Hellmouth’s shenanigans to shame. Any other time, and he would’ve loved plying the kid for answers, but right now, he was in too much pain to care much about anything but stopping it.
“Sun’ll be coming up soon,” Spike said. He smelled dawn encroaching, heat that would burn away the rain and the blood and destroy half the evidence of the fight nobody but them had cared about. “Make you a deal. Get me somewhere safe, maybe a packet of blood or two, and I’ll tell you everything you never wanted to know about your old man.”
He expected to have to cajole the kid a little, but Connor scooped his arm beneath Spike’s shoulders without argument. Every step sent fresh jolts of pain up his legs. It was almost enough to make a bloke wish for a wheelchair again.
“You haven’t told me who you are,” Connor said.
“Spike. The original bastard child.” He shot him a grin. “Sometimes tells me, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Somehow, Andrew had always thought heroes would stay in better places
than no-name motels on the outskirts of Lincoln, Nebraska. The room
didn't smell--after last night, that was paradise--and, judging from
the blast of cold air that hit him when he opened the door, the a/c
worked, but the wallpaper was peeling in a spot near the water-stained
ceiling, and the edges of the bedspread were frayed.
Still, they wouldn't be defeated by a cheap motel, not after what
they'd just survived. "The heroic spirit," Andrew began, turning
around to address Xander, "remains--"
And then he broke off mid-sentence, because what he'd been about to
say next was, "--indomitable in the face of adversity."
Xander didn't look indomitable. Xander didn't look like a hero,
either, even though Andrew knew he was one; he'd been there.
But what Xander looked like was--well, a guy who'd been sitting in a
hot, stuffy bus all day with a bunch of teenage girls, trying not to
get carsick; a guy who'd been wearing the same clothes for three days
because that was all they had; a guy who'd totally ignored his
doctor's instructions and had obviously, from the way the skin was red
just beneath, been scratching the still-healing skin under his
And a guy whose One True Love had just died a hero's death when it
probably should have been Andrew who died. Nobody would miss him, not
really; they might not be happy he was dead, but nobody would look
like that because he was gone. "Sorry," he said, meaning,
mostly, "Sorry I started to say something stupid," and only partly,
"Sorry it's my fault Anya's dead."
Xander hitched one shoulder up in a half-hearted attempt at a shrug,
and then dropped the ShopKo bag he'd been carrying onto one of the
beds. Andrew had a bag like that, too; they all did. Everyone with a
credit card had chipped in on the shopping trip; nobody wanted to go
another day of washing their underwear in a motel sink. When Xander
flopped onto the bed next to the bag, Andrew decided that meant he
could have the first shower.
When he came out, Xander was still lying on the bed in the exact same
position he'd been in twenty minutes ago. Andrew got dressed while
Xander was in the shower, stuffing his dirty clothes into the plastic
bag. They'd have to find a laundromat tomorrow; he could offer to do
Xander's laundry for him.
Right, Andrew, he scoffed, because doing someone's laundry would make
up for not dying when you were supposed to. When you deserved to.
The thing was, Andrew wasn't all that good at making things up to
people. Before Buffy had showed him the Error of His Ways, he hadn't
done a lot of admitting he'd screwed up, even, except to Warren, and
Xander wasn't Warren. Xander was one of the good guys, and Andrew was
trying to remember that Warren was a creep and a psycho and really not
ever Andrew's boyfriend, which was harder to say than the psycho-creep
part, even to himself.
But Warren, Andrew had apologized to. Warren, sometimes, had let
Andrew make things up to him, and sometimes Andrew wondered if one of
the reasons he screwed up so much around Warren is that those were the
only times Warren really let Andrew near him. Warren thought the stuff
Andrew did--offered to do, wanted to do--was gross and
humiliating and a punishment, and Andrew had used every ounce of
sneakiness in his body to make sure Warren kept thinking that.
It wouldn't be like that with Xander, Andrew knew. He wouldn't have to
pretend it was punishment. He might even get to make Xander feel a
little better. Xander deserved that, because Xander was nothing
like Warren, except in the way Andrew's stomach clenched with
not-quite-fear when he was around.
Andrew wanted to try to make Xander feel better, wanted to make up for
being here when Anya wasn't, when Anya was so much better than he was.
So in spite of that clench of not-quite fear, when Xander came out in
jeans and a clean polo shirt and sat down on the edge of the bed to
put his shoes back on, Andrew asked himself, What would James T.
Okay, it would be with some hot female Romulan commander, probably,
unless you believed the stuff you read on the Internet about him and
Spock--which Andrew did not, and he'd read a lot of it
just to make sure it was all stupid--but still, "What would Captain
Kirk do?" was a good question for situations like these. Andrew sat
down next to Xander and said, carefully, "I could--if you wanted a,
um, a distraction, I could--" and put his hand on Xander's thigh,
hoping Xander didn't notice how much his palm was sweating.
But the hot Romulan probably wouldn't have grabbed Kirk's arm, yanking
it away before his hand could move any further up. "Stop it," Xander
growled, and Andrew realized how much he'd missed hearing Xander's
voice, the past couple of days when Xander hadn't had much to say.
"You can't fix anything like that."
"I know," Andrew said. "I don't care."
"I care," Xander said. "It can't--God, I can't do that to you."
Whatever he would've said afterward was lost because Dawn banged on
the door and yelled for them to come have dinner, and after dinner,
Andrew came back to find out that Xander had switched rooms with Mr.
Even with Xander avoiding him, it still felt like Xander might really
care about him, just a little bit. But people were always telling
Andrew he had a problem with reality, so maybe he was just imagining
things again. He probably was.
But maybe not.
‘Gentle reader, out of the dreaded depths of dark despair, we plucked our victory….|’
Yes, he would start like that because when you were telling a story, you could end it the way you wanted, give it a happy ending, tie up the loose ends, bring the lovers together forever.
In his head, Andrew feverishly rewrote the past few hours. If he concentrated really hard, perhaps he would begin to believe that what he was thinking had actually happened.
He would write – ‘With a swish of his great sword, brave Andrew stood over the injured Anya until she could escape to safety.’ Make a little joke about – ‘Buffy dragged a complaining Spike out of the ruins.’
But as fast as he built up the wall of words to protect him from the world, it crumbled inside his head. It was no use. His friends had gone and Andrew could no longer pretend.
He glanced across the bus at the other passengers and realised that telling Xander that Anya had died saving Andrew’s life, had been his very last lie. At least it had been a kind one.
They walked together along the London street. “You’ve grown. You’re so tall,” Spike said.
“You should have seen me last year. So, did you bring me a present?”
“Present?” Spike said.
“Yeah. You know. Like a ‘my friend survived the LA Apocalypse and all he brought me was this lousy t-shirt’ t-shirt.”
“No, no present,” he replied. “Though I liked the friend part.”
Dawn took his hand and squeezed it. “You’ve been away from here for a long time, haven’t you?” she asked him.
“Far too long.” Spike pointed to a building. “I was born there. Grew up there.”
“A Virgin Megastore?” Dawn asked. “Weird.”
“Hardly. House was torn down and they built that thing there. So much has changed.”
“Why do I think you aren’t talking about the architecture?”
He stopped walking. “Didn’t really want to hang around and watch them plan their happily ever afters. Seemed like a good time to come home.”
“Is that what you think? Buffy and Angel, happily ever after?”
Dawn didn’t reply. She hooked her arm through his. “I thought maybe you were over her. She did too, when she found out you’d been back for more than two years and didn’t come to see her.”
“I thought I might be. Been through so much. Then I saw her again.”
“You still love her.”
“Don’t matter. She’s with him. And I thought that damned chip hurt.”
“Poor Spikey,” Dawn said. “But I wouldn’t worry. It won’t last.”
“I appreciate your vain attempt to try and make me feel better. But there’s things I’m tired of fighting. Destiny. Soulmates. All that bollocks.”
“Gee,” Dawn smiled. “And I thought you knew my sister. Buffy’s with him because she thinks she’s supposed to be with him. And she does love him.”
“You have an odd way of cheering me up, Bit.”
“She loves him because of what he represents. He’s high school. True love. But she’s not a kid any more, and I don’t think they even know who each other are.”
“I ‘spect they’re busy finding that out.”
“She was so angry when she found out where you’d been. That you didn’t want to see her. What do you think that means?”
“That your sister’s a control freak?”
“Well, yeah. There’s that. But you didn’t see her after we left Sunnydale.”
“Meaning,” she punched him in the arm. “That she loves you too. And when all the sappy stuff wears off, and they start butting heads, she’s going to look at him one day and say, ‘what the hell am I doing?’ to herself.”
“Besides, she has work here. It means a lot to her. And I think he has a life there now he won’t want to give up.”
“And where does that leave me?”
She bent down and pulled on a little shoot trying to grow through a crack in the pavement. “Hope.” She changed her mind and left it alone. “It leaves you hope.”
Gone. It was all gone. Buffy wanted to feel something, but right now she was numb. Her home, her mother’s grave, everything she owned, it was all gone, lost to her forever.
Buffy brushed her hair back and pulled it into a ponytail, peering into the mirror in the motel bathroom as she listened to the far-away laughter and chatter of the Slayers who had made it out alive. She wished them well, but she couldn’t join in. Not after everything that had happened.
And then there was Spike. The love of her life—one of them, anyway. He had died for her. Willingly. To save her. To save them all.
Why couldn’t she feel anything? She owed him that, at least.
She could picture his face, laughing, smirking, frowning. Could hear his voice in her head, telling her he loved her. But he was dead and gone now, another casualty of the Hellmouth.
A soft knock sounded on the door and she opened it, unsurprised when Willow slipped into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She wrapped her arms around Buffy’s midriff in a comforting hug. But it couldn’t dispel the emptiness inside of her.
“We made it,” Willow whispered. “The Hellmouth is closed. We survived.”
Buffy tried to summon some enthusiasm; she was their leader, after all. Soon they would be looking to her for the next step. There were always more battles to fight, more apocalypses to avert.
The thought that this was not the battle to end all battles left her weary and angry. With so many slayers now, she should be free. Instead, responsibility hung heavy on her shoulders, threatening to smother her.
“We did,” she agreed finally, trying to force some enthusiasm into her voice.
Willow gave her a squeeze and released her. “We’ll leave tomorrow for England. Giles says there’s a lot of work to do; the Council is mostly gone. But we can rebuild it, drag it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.”
Buffy nodded, heaving a sigh of relief when she heard Willow leave and the door click shut behind her.
Trying not to dwell on the past, Buffy turned on the faucet and splashed cold water onto her face. She was a survivor, she reminded herself.
So why did she feel so dead inside?
The world almost ended today.
She stood in a hotel bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror. The room was filled with steam, but she hadn’t yet stepped beneath the hot water to soothe aching muscles and wash away the scent of battle and death.
The world almost ended today, and she needed a moment to process.
She knew there was nothing to hear but the water falling against the tub. She knew there was nothing to smell but the clean floral of her roommate’s shampoo. She knew there was nothing to feel but the slippery tiles. She knew there was nothing to taste but the mint toothpaste. She knew there was nothing to see but her own reflection.
And yet she kept hearing growls and screams of pain. She kept smelling blood and sweat. She kept feeling uneven dirt and tasting dust and fear. She kept looking over her shoulder for enemies and friends.
The world almost ended today, and she was understandably freaked out.
She’d expected to find a tangible mark of change. She’d expected to see new muscles and at least three extra inches of height. She’d expected to see Slayer writ large on her forehead.
There was nothing.
There was no sign of newfound strength and purpose. No sign of the injuries she’d taken earlier today. No sign of the unnatural evil she’d learned of over the past few months.
The world almost ended today, and no one even knew.
She finally stepped into the shower, letting the pounding water close out everything beyond her fingertips. She could feel the tension in her back and shoulders easing, her body slowly relaxing.
She could feel the cold hard knot of grief and disbelief in her throat loosening.
She sank to her knees, sobbing out her sorrow and guilt.
The world almost ended today, but she survived.
Walking away from Wolfram & Hart was one of the hardest things Harmony had ever done. Especially since it meant taking a shortcut through the low-rent district. In her eagerness to pass one particularly squalid block of buildings, she’d snapped off the sexy kitten heel of one of her shoes.
As Harmony wobbled down the street, she heard the engine of a sports car pull up to a stop beside her.
“Ugh, domestic,” Harmony said to herself.
“Excuse me, Miss, are you in need of assistance?” the driver asked.
Harmony turned to sneer at him, because yeah, right, like she was about to climb into a Ford, but the candy-apple red color of the paint job called out to her vampire senses, even in the dark, and her nostrils caught the scent of genuine leather mixed with the musk of a healthy human male.
“Oh, thank God you came along!” Harmony exclaimed, turning on the waterworks. “This has been the worst day of my life! My boyfriend broke up with me, and then I got fired from my job, and my favorite pair of shoes just fell apart as I was walking down the street, but that doesn’t even matter, since I don’t have any place to go!” she sobbed.
“Aw, don’t worry, babe! It’ll be okay, I promise,” the driver said, leaning over to pop open the passenger door. “I’ll take real good care of you.” The last was said with a predatory smile; Harmony recognized the white flash of teeth in the dark.
“I’m sure you will,” Harmony said as she slid into the car.
At the city limits, she suggested that he pull over, sighing up at him and batting her lashes. When he did, she broke his neck and pushed him out of the car, after partaking in a few pints to shore up her strength.
She had a long way to go before dawn.
He stares at his skin in the darkness, tiny slivers of light from passing cars on the highway illuminating his flesh in intermittent bursts.
He has blood on his hands.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. No real traces remain of what he's done that he can detect. So impersonal, the slightest pressure on the trigger again and again, then Lindsey had sprawled before him, wide-eyed, bewildered, indignant, then simply dead. Far from an innocent casualty of the battle, but still . . . are any of them, really, after this last year?
He wonders if anyone else is still alive, or even made it to the alleyway for the rendezvous.
"Albuquerque, next stop."
The bus slows, pulling into the station, its lights garishly bright against the watery darkness of near morning. He rises, grabs the bag, pulls his trench coat tighter as he shifts from his seat, ready to exit. There are few passengers on this late night route, and he takes his time as he moves down the aisle towards the door.
He takes a deep breath, wishes for a Seabreeze, and moves down the steps, stilled by his reflection in the angled bus mirror. Hat tilted so only a fringe of brown hair shows above a pale white face, dark brown eyes staring traitorously back at him. He's a stranger now, even to himself. His hands aren't blood red, but they aren't a beautiful green any longer. He's no more innocent than the others, and this is his price to pay.
He steps off the bus, checks the directions Angel handed him, and the charm in his pocket to hold the glamour in place, then makes his way through the early morning light.
Remember don't tell anyone which is yours.
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