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Come As You Are

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Nirvana Trilogy". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: An alternate NFA story. Willow hears of impending apocalypse in Los Angeles and rushes to the rescue. But why won't Buffy come? And what's happened to Spike? Character death, Spike/Willow.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > General(Current Donor)SpeakertocustomersFR18111,1971141,92327 Jan 1027 Jan 10Yes
Disclaimer: the characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER © 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. ANGEL © 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The ANGEL trademark is used without express permission from Fox.

Author's note: this is the second story in a series but the first story is extremely explicit and disturbing. This one is a lot lighter and you really don't need to read 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' first to understand it. If you're not into really dark 21-rated stuff just start here.

Come As You Are

Willow stared glumly into the mirror as she brushed her teeth. Kennedy still wasn’t home but she wasn’t going to wait up. Both of them were coming to accept that the relationship was pretty much over. The apartment had twin beds, and somehow the plan to push them together had never happened, and really it was just as well. They’d gradually slipped from being lovers to being friends who had sex, and then just to friends, and maybe not even being friends was the next stage.

Willow shuddered. It was seventy degrees outside, even though May was getting on for winter here in Rio, but she still felt cold for a moment. Lonely and cold. Her mind flickered back briefly to her ghastly meeting with Oz three months before; happy Oz, contented Oz, marrying someone else and not missing her at all Oz. She rinsed out her mouth and inspected her teeth in the mirror. “I so suck,” she told her reflection. “The way things go wrong, the problem’s gotta be me. I guess I’m just… not loveable. Maybe it sucks to be around me, and that’s why Giles stuck me out in Brazil, just to get away from me, and get me away from Buffy and Dawn, so that I don’t mess up their lives with being so clingy.”

The phone rang and disrupted her gloomy introspection. She made for it hastily. Kennedy calling to say she wasn’t going to be back? Wouldn’t be the first time. Or the call from the hospital that all of them in this business dreaded, and half expected, every time they heard the phone?

“Yo, Will! Hope I didn’t wake you, gotta be maybe midnight your time, right? Time zones get me kinda muddled sometimes. How’s it hanging?” Faith.

It was one a.m. but Willow wasn’t going to make an issue of it. “Hi, Faith. It’s okay, I was on my way to bed, but that’s all. How are you?” It was nice to hear a familiar voice, even Faith’s. Not that Willow hated Faith any more, she was all done with the Faith-hate, but there were others she’d much rather have heard. She hadn’t spoken to Buffy in weeks, Xander was a crackly voice on the end of a satellite phone with a weird echo effect, and Giles was so cold and remote these days. “What’s up?”

“Look, I just had a strange call and, gotta ask you, how much can Harmony Kendall be trusted? I met her maybe twice as a human, never knew her as a vamp, what’s the skinny on her?”

“She’s a vampire. End of story,” Willow replied automatically. “Can’t be trusted at all.” She bit me, and she beat up Xander, and she kidnapped Dawn. But then she pretty much stopped doing anything evil that we heard of, and I saw her walking with her folks one night and smiling and laughing with them, and I saw them after so she can’t have eaten them, and she went and stayed with Cordy and didn’t eat her. So, okay, evil, but not like Angelus evil. Maybe more like, say, Andrew evil. “Why?”

“She just called me up with this real crazy story. Says Angel is going into a fight he can’t win, against the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart, and he’s gonna die, and I got to help him. She sounded pretty broke up. Had me going for a minute, you dig? But she was saying all kinds of crazy stuff, like she said Spike was alive, and she said you let Fred die, so I figured it was crazy talk. Still, had to check it out. So, sorry I bothered you. I’ll let you get on off to bed. Call you again some other time just to catch up, ‘kay?”

“Hey, wait up, wait up,” Willow spluttered. “Spike alive? Fred dead?”

“Yeah, crazy, ain’t it?”

“N-no,” Willow said uncertainly. “Dana talked about the good vampire with white hair, said she hurt him. She’s got so many mixed up Slayer memories, I thought she meant something Buffy did, got a flash from her, you know? But maybe it really was him. Not like coming back from the dead would be a first, right? What was that about Fred?”

“Well, what she said was, this like ancient demon virus got into Fred and was turning her into mush from the inside, and Wes called Giles to get you to drive it out, and he pretty much said ‘Get lost, we ain’t helping’, and Fred died and this demon-god thing’s walking around in her body now. I mean, that just can’t be right. Giles never said anything to you? I can’t believe he’d turn Wes down on a thing like that. Harmony’s gotta be lying, or crazy, right?”

The apartment door opened and Kennedy came in, chopping her greeting to Willow short as she saw that her room-mate was on the phone.

“I’m not so sure,” Willow said to Faith. “Look, Harmony’s not all that bad as vampires go. Not far short of Spike before he got the soul, I guess. She might be telling the truth. Giles has been pretty funny for a while, and he’s pretty big with the Angel hate. He doesn’t trust Wolfram and Hart at all. He might have thought Wesley was pulling some sorta trick, you know, and just said no without saying anything to me. See, I’d have helped. Like a shot. Fred was my friend.”

And lately I’ve been wondering whether she was all the way straight, at least when I haven’t been wondering if I’m all the way gay. Is she really dead? And Spike alive, or at least undead again?

“I need to find out what’s going down,” Willow went on. “I’d call Angel, or Wesley, but I haven’t got their numbers here. I’ll call Harmony direct. I think I can tell if she’s lying, I’ve known her since we were, like, nine years old. What’s her number?” Faith repeated it back to her and Willow jotted it down hurriedly.

“What, you think maybe there’s something in this thing?” Faith sounded suddenly worried, uncertain. “If Angel’s going to the mattresses I have to be with him. I owe him big time, you know? Harmony said it’s all going down within hours. Angel, and Spike, and Wesley, and Gunn, against the Circle of the Black Thorn, whoever the fuck they are, but she says they’re big-time evil and pretty much can’t be beat. She’s sending a jet to Cleveland to pick me up, plus any other Slayers I can get together, says it’ll be there in less than two hours. But that’s gotta be crazy talk. I mean, two thousand miles plus, no jet plane’s gonna get from LA to Cleveland in two hours, ‘cept maybe an F-15; or Concorde, but they don’t fly any more.”

“Umm, there’s a couple of supersonic executive jets in the pipeline. Gulfstream, Sukhoi, Dassault, maybe Boeing,” Willow mused. “They’re not supposed to be flying yet but, hey, Wolfram and Hart could probably get access to prototypes. Not necessarily crazy.”

“Still Queen of Nerds, huh, Will?” Faith chuckled. “Uh, not knocking you there, you got the brains and that’s wicked cool. I ain’t so big on reading the science mags, not ‘less I’m at the dentist and they don’t have Cosmo or Martial Arts Illustrated.”

Willow wasn’t offended. “So, you gonna be on the plane?”

“Guess so. I’ll round up what I can. Hang on, Robin’s saying something.” Faith turned away from the phone, and Willow heard an indistinct conversation in the background. “Yeah, me and Robin will be there, ‘less you come up with a reason not to before then, think I can drag Vi and Rhona and Caridad along as well, maybe one or two more. You let me know ASAP what you find out, you hear?”

“I’m coming too,” Willow said, suddenly and decisively.

“Like hell you are. You’re way further from LA than I am, and there ain’t no supersonic jet waiting for you at Rio,” Faith scoffed. “It’s just me, and my crew, and whoever is in LA. You just do the research, Will. Like, who is the LA Slayer anyway, and what’s her number? Sucks that it’s the early hours of the morning in Europe or I’d be calling B. She’s gonna kick herself six ways to China for missing this one.”

“I’ll be there,” Willow repeated. “And I’ll bring Buffy. Kennedy if she’ll come. Sounds like Giles made a decision for me. Well, maybe it serves me right, but if Fred died because of it then he was way out of line. She was my friend, and Angel’s, and I’d have saved her if I could, and I’ll stand beside Angel. And Spike. I’ve got to find out more about Spike, but I’ll ask Harmony direct. I’ll call you in, what, thirty minutes, tell you what I find out, okay?”

“You’re going to be doing the ‘beam me down Scotty’ trick? And taking other people along with you?” Faith asked, catching Willow’s meaning. “You can do that?”

“I picked some new stuff up in Tibet. I can do it,” Willow told her with more confidence than she really felt. She’d never tried teleporting over oceans before, or transporting more than one person with her, but in theory she should be able to do it. Worth the old College try, anyway. “Bye for now.”

- - - - -

Buffy woke reluctantly. The ring tone of an unfamiliar cell phone. Voices. Dawn. Oh. Another one of the little slut’s boyfriend dramas. She snuggled back into Tomasso’s comforting body and tried to get back to sleep.

No luck. Now the voices were at the door. There was knocking. And that wasn’t Dawn, wasn’t a boy. Willow? “Go ‘way,” Buffy snarled.

“Buffy, I’m coming in,” Willow insisted. The door opened. The annoying witch stood there, that irritating pout on her face, Dawn behind her standing on one leg and pulling on jeans. Willow’s eyes started to glaze over, and then she pulled herself together and spoke commandingly. “Abi, aer male!”

Suddenly the room was full of clear, pine-fresh, fragrance. The delicious scent of Tomasso was gone. Buffy wrinkled her nose. “What are you doing here, Willow? If it’s an apocalypse I don’t want to know.” She glared at the bedside clock. “Go away. Come back in the afternoon. Four hours’ sleep here, so not in the best of moods for girlfriend-y chat.”

“There isn’t time, Buffy. We’ve got to go right now. Come as you are.” Willow gulped as Buffy sat up in the bed. “Or maybe not.” A PVC peephole bra? She’d never in a million years have imagined Buffy wearing something like that, least of all in bed.

“So what’s the panic?” Buffy grumbled. “Let someone else deal. All those new Slayers. I don’t have to do this any more. I’m free to live my own life.”

Willow snorted. “You call this living? Look, not gonna argue. Spike’s alive. Except he’s going into a big fight and he’s not gonna be alive much longer. Angel too. We have to help them, and we have to do it right now.”

“Spike’s dead.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “Whatever mystic herbs you’ve been smoking, stop it. Go away.”

“Leave this place, witch,” Tomasso put in, frowning angrily.

“Go fuck yourself, warlock,” Willow retorted. “Your little trick doesn’t work with me. Shut your mouth or you’re in a world of pain.”

“Leave him alone,” Buffy growled. “Nobody messes with my boyfriend.”

“Your boyfriend?” Willow duplicated Buffy’s eye roll. “C’mon, Buff, whatever happened to your taste? I’ve eliminated the pheromone shit. Kick that loser out and come save your real boyfriend. Whichever of the two of them it might be. Clock’s ticking. Get some clothes on, grab a weapon, and let’s go!”

Buffy turned to look at Tomasso. Okay, there was a bald spot at the crown of his head. Okay, he maybe didn’t have six-pack abs. But he was funny, and he took her to nice places, and let her do anything she liked, and he never ever made her fight icky demons or die or return from Heaven or shit like that. It was easy being with him, and undemanding, and there were shoes. “I’m not coming,” she said firmly. “Enough of the drama already. So Spike dies? Deal with it, not like he hasn’t done it before. And Angel? So sick of all that brooding. He got himself into a mess; let him get out of it. Giles said we can’t trust him. Works for me.”

“Giles let Fred die,” Willow said angrily. “He hates Angel, he hates Spike, and he’s making decisions without consulting us and people are dying because of them. Well, I’ve had it up to here with that. I’m going. I owe Spike. My little make-an-army spell wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere if he hadn’t been willing to burn to death for us.”

“Didn’t stick,” Buffy pointed out smugly. “Why should this thing, whatever it is, be any different? I’ve had it with those two. I got Closure.” She said that with finality, as if it was an unanswerable point. “No more vampires for this Slayer. I’ve got a normal life here.”

“Normal?” Dawn chimed in unbelievingly. “You call this hell normal? You’ve sold your soul for shopping and nightclubs and fucking.” She saw her sister’s eyes narrow, and lips tighten, and spoke hastily to pre-empt the explosion. “I’m sorry. You saved the world, you deserve a break. But Spike needs you now, Buffy. Please. Go. Save him. Now. I need to see him, need to put things right. Please, Buffy, if not for him then for me.”

“Go if you wish,” Tomasso told Buffy, his lip curling arrogantly. “I will not be here when you return, of course.”

“I’m not going, Dawn,” Buffy stated. “Willow’s making a big drama out of this and I bet it’s no big deal. I’ll look into it this afternoon. Go back to bed.”

“It’s pretty much breakfast time, anyway, for people who went to bed at a normal time,” Dawn said sullenly. “Okay, Willow, we tried. She’s made her bed, she can lie in it. Let’s go.”

The door slammed behind them and Buffy lay back down. She snuggled into Tomasso, wriggled her ass against him, felt him rise to the occasion, and smelt that warm exotic scent beginning to emanate from him once more.

- - - - -

“I have to use the bathroom,” Dawn said. “I need it too bad to wait, I couldn’t fight like this.”

“Fight?” Willow echoed, but Dawn dashed into the bathroom instead of replying. Willow was on the verge of teleporting away, every second counted, but it seemed Dawn wanted to deal herself in on this one and somehow Willow couldn’t bring herself to refuse. She returned to the living room where Dawn’s boyfriend was pouring coffee.

He smiled at Willow, revealing a gleaming row of white teeth. He was handsome, dark haired, clad in jeans and an AC Roma soccer shirt, and had sneakers on his feet. “Coffee, signora?” he offered. “If we fight, we should be alert, no?”

“If we fight?” Willow queried. “You can’t come. I shouldn’t even let Dawn. You’ve no idea what you’re getting into.” She took the coffee anyway; now that the adrenalin rush was slackening off she was bone weary, something beyond jet-lagged from multiple teleports across time zones, and no longer had the remotest idea what time it was according to her biological clock.

“If Dawn goes, I go,” the young man said, his jaw jutting determinedly, “or how could I call myself a man? I have a knife. I learn judo. I will go with her to help this Spike, this man she talks of like a brother.”

“You’ll get killed. We’re going up against demons.” She took a long drink of the coffee and felt some of the weariness ease, probably more from the heat than from the caffeine.

“Then I will pray as we fight,” he said, unruffled.

Dawn scampered into the room, laden down with two crossbows, her boyfriend’s leather jacket, a sword, and an axe. She dropped them on the couch and snatched up a cup of coffee. “Put on your jacket, Leonardo, it’ll give you some protection,” she advised him, and downed the coffee in two quick gulps. “Okay, let’s do this thing. And stupid sisters now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not there.” She passed Leonardo the axe, and one crossbow, and readied the other crossbow and the sword.

“Okay,” Willow said reluctantly. “I’ve already put a team together, I’d left Buffy ’til last ’cause I thought she wouldn’t need any persuading. They’re waiting for pick-up in England. Then on to LA. Breathe out.” She snapped her fingers and they were gone.

- - - - -

“Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon,” Angel declared. “Let’s go to work.”

The bedraggled band of heroes raised their weapons and advanced. The dragon swooped down at them. Suddenly a horn blared, headlights blazed in the alley, and a stretch limousine skidded toward them with a screech of brakes. The dragon sheered off and gained height once more.

“Wait up!” a frantic voice yelled, as Angel’s party turned towards the car. Doors were thrown open and figures spilled out. “I’ve brought some help,” the voice continued. It was Harmony. She climbed from behind the wheel. “I told you you totally should have had confidence in me.”

Angel ignored her for the moment. “Faith,” he breathed.

“You got it, big guy,” the Slayer chuckled. “Here and ready to rock and roll.” She held aloft a gleaming weapon, an archaic bardiche, decorated with gaudy red and silver. More Slayers, all armed, gathered around her. The tall figure of Faith’s boyfriend approached from the rear of the car, the streetlights reflecting from his shaven head, and he raised an Uzi.

“They’re getting close,” Spike yelled. “Save the reunions for later.”

“The dragon comes,” Illyria growled. “I remember when they were vermin, hardly more than the newts.” She seized a section of chain link fence, ripped it from its supports, and threw it like the net of a retarius.

The first of the demons reached Spike. He ducked under its axe swing, kicked the demon in the groin, wrenched the axe from its hands and delivered a savage chop. A second demon was on him before he could pull the axe free and they grappled.

Angel leapt to his aid. Vi and Rhona, veterans of the battle against the Turok-Han, raced to join him. Gunn ran forward, slashing with both his axes, felling the nearest of the demons. Caridad and another Slayer went with him, and they smashed into the oncoming demon horde. Harmony followed up. Robin’s Uzi chattered.

The dragon fell from the sky, snarling and roaring, and clawing at the chains entangling its wings. Faith fell on it with the Slayer Scythe, joined immediately by Illyria.

The back door of the Hyperion Hotel flew open and more Slayers rushed into the fray. Kennedy. Dana. Three of the Slayer brigade who had forced Angel to back down and hand over Dana to Andrew’s care. Others unknown to Angel or Spike. Behind them came Willow, Dawn, a young man in a leather jacket, and Xander.

The former Sunnydale construction worker had changed a lot. He was thin, tanned, confident and dangerous. His safari jacket and hat with a leopardskin band were totally out of place in Los Angeles; the Kalashnikov in his hands perhaps less so. He swung it to his shoulder, aimed, and opened fire.

Willow dropped a carpetbag to the ground. “Bag of knives,” she intoned, and a swarm of blades rose from the bag and hurtled toward the demon army.

Bedlam. Chaos. Screams, grunts, the clash of blades, and an eerie ululating cry from the throat of a tall and lithe black girl, in a red cloak, who bounded into battle thrusting with a massively-bladed spear.

“Bloody marvelous!” Spike bellowed, a wide grin across his face. “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!” A demon wielding a spiked club approached him warily. Vi streaked past, almost a blur, lashing out with her sword as she passed. The demon toppled. “Ta, mate,” Spike grinned, taking the club from nerveless hands, and smashed it into the face of the next demon to approach.

“Faith,” Angel grunted, running a demon through. “You shouldn’t have come.”

“No way was I gonna let you do this thing without me, big guy,” she replied, the Scythe a blur of constant motion. “Harmony called, I came.”

“They’ll just keep coming,” he warned. “They won’t let me live after the way I messed them up. It’s never going to end.”

“Then we’ll just keep fighting,” she told him, unruffled. “It’s what I do. Fight the good fight. You taught me that.” The conversation ended as the press of the fight moved them apart.

Yet another newcomer arrived on the scene from the street end of the alley. A tousle-headed young man, sword in hand. Dawn and Leonardo moved to interpose themselves between the newcomer and Willow. “It’s okay, I’m here to help my dad,” the young man said.

“Connor?” Willow said uncertainly. Vague memories of this youth flickered in her mind. Angel’s son? Ridiculous. Impossible. But, hey, parallel universes, hundred year periods in Hell dimensions, whatever. She sensed that he could be trusted. “Go get them, Tiger,” she urged, and Dawn and Leonardo relaxed. Connor charged on into the melee. He was involved in a vicious hand-to-hand struggle before he got thirty yards.

“Yay me, right, boss?” Harmony smiled. She seized a demon that had already been wounded but was still fighting, vamped out, and ripped out its throat. “I did good, didn’t I? I didn’t let you down. Soul, schmoul.”

“Yeah, you did good,” Angel assured her. His sword jammed in the ribs of an oncoming demon, and he released it and extended the stakes from his sleeve holsters. “The best PA there ever was.”

Harmony’s smile was beatific. It remained on her face even when a warrior demon thrust its spear all the way through her chest until the wooden shaft contacted her heart and turned her to dust. The demon staggered away, Harmony’s knife embedded to the hilt in its throat, and fell face first into a puddle.

Angel vamped out for the first time in the fight, roared, and charged unheeding into the fray. Demons fell in his wake like corn behind the reaper.

Willow kept up a barrage of offensive spells from the rear. Dawn and Leonardo flanked her, stopping any demons that broke through the lines from reaching the witch. Xander and Robin emptied magazine after magazine, eventually running out of ammunition and moving forward to engage in hand to hand combat. They had to almost wade through the heaps of demon bodies as they advanced and they passed more than one fallen Slayer.

Gunn fell at last, unable to stay on his feet for another second, but he was still breathing. Rhona carried him to the rear and Dawn began a desperate attempt to staunch his bleeding.

The demon army wavered. The thirty-foot giant at its heart had fallen, torn apart by a storm of bullets, and had done dreadful damage in its collapse. The bravest of the demon fighters had been slaughtered. They were outmatched. They still had the advantage of numbers, but their cohesion was broken. Any attempt to gather an organized force was frustrated by Willow, who was able to pick off leaders at a distance even through the melee. No individual fighter on the demon side could stand before Faith, Vi, Illyria, Angel, or Spike. Only the greatest of their warriors could match Kennedy, Rhona, Caridad, or Connor. A few could equal the other, less experienced, Slayers, but the balance was tipping toward the side of ‘Good’. Some demons at the rear began to slip away.

And then Angel, pushing too far into the mob, overstretched himself and a blade sheared through his neck. He had no chance for last words; suddenly he was dust.

A roar of triumph went through the demon army. The trickle of desertions stopped, and they began to push forwards once more.

Illyria screamed. “I will not permit this!” she cried in anguish. She plunged her hand into the chest of the nearest demon and ripped out his heart. “Vermin! Filth! You have taken Wesley from me. Gunn lies bleeding and may perish and he was pleasing unto me. Now you have slain the King. I will tear your entrails from your disgusting stomachs and strangle you with them.” With every exclamation she destroyed another demon in gory fashion. Those near her began to recoil, to back away. The triumphant air among the demons began to ebb.

Connor carved a path toward the spot where his father had fallen, unstoppable in his berserk fury. Faith whirled in a dervish dance of destruction, limbs and heads flying as the Scythe spun through the air. Spike fought like a machine, face dead white and set, tears trickling unnoticed down his cheeks. Dana followed him, her face an enigmatic bloodstained mask, the cleaver in her hand rising and falling in remorseless execution of all who crossed her path.

The demon who had slain Angel confronted Spike. Tall, proud, clad in enameled lamellar armour, a gleaming jewel set into its forehead. Very much a Samurai amongst demons. Its sword strike at Spike was masterly. Only the hours of practice against Illyria, sharpening his skills to a degree he had never achieved before, enabled the blond vampire to evade the blow, catch the striking arm, and turn the sword against its wielder. He drove the blade through the armour, slashing the creature almost in two, and its blood gushed out over his arm and shoulder. Convinced that it was disabled, Spike ripped the sword free and lashed out at a crocodile-headed beast, ignoring the Samurai demon. The blade that tore into his shoulder came as a total surprise.

Spike turned to face his assailant. His wound burned with a pain disproportionate to the severity, as if the demon blood that was mingling with his own was toxic or acidic, and he swayed with sudden weakness. The Samurai demon faced him, its terrible wound completely healed, its reserve shortsword in its scaly hand and a triumphant grin upon its hideous face. Spike parried its first blow, but his arm was losing its strength and he failed to hold on to the sword. The demon poised its wakizashi for a decapitating strike and Spike felt too weak to dodge. “See you soon, Angel,” he muttered, lashing out one last defiant kick at the grinning demon, but without effect.

Its head split apart, the jewel shattered, and the monster crumpled screaming to the ground. “Head,” Dana recited, appearing from behind it. Her cleaver descended once more, shearing away the jaw of the fallen demon, and its body began to melt away. “Heart,” she continued, lashing out her other hand and driving a stake into an oncoming beast. “Head.” Another cleaver blow. Then there were no more demons around them. The demon army was defeated, broken, dissolving in panic-stricken rout.

“Thanks, love,” Spike croaked. “Saved me. Think I’m going to…” He staggered and fell to his knees.

Dana tossed aside her weapons and scooped him into her arms. “You fought well, my brother,” she told him in Classical Greek, then reverted to English. Even her accent was English, somehow, no doubt that of one of the dead Slayers whose memories swam through her damaged mind. “But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” She carried him back along the alley as his consciousness faded and everything went black.

- - - - -

Willow tensed. The demons were retreating towards a portal. The battlefield chaos had hidden it from her until now; not the physical barrier of the combatants’ bodies, but the psychic turmoil of the conflict. Now she could sense its presence and also that there was power beyond it. A lot of power. Probably enough power to reform the demons and send them back through for another attack; probably with reinforcements. She had to slam that mystical doorway shut.

She looked deep into her mind, accessing the new abilities she had gained in Tibet, and suddenly she knew what to do. “Dawn!” she called urgently. “Cut yourself. Just a little.”

“Are you sure?” the girl who had once been the Key asked, hesitantly, her eyes fixed on where Dana was approaching bearing an unconscious Spike.

“I’m sure,” Willow replied, calmly and confidently. “I know what I must do.”

Dawn bit her lip, paused, and then nicked her arm with the blade of her sword.

Willow smiled. She raised her arms to the heavens. “Go scriosa an Bhadhbh do ghrianán rúnda” she chanted. White streaks crept through her hair and blood began to trickle from her nose. A green glow appeared around Dawn’s arm, causing the teenager to gasp in alarm, and then a crackling bolt of green lightning shot from Dawn to the Scythe in Faith’s hands a hundred yards away. An aurora formed above Faith’s head, a red glow from the Scythe joining the green in a shimmering band of colour, and then the lightning leapt again.

It struck a seemingly random point, at the far end of the alley, in a flare of white light. A pale blue hemisphere forty feet across was suddenly visible, flickering and indistinct, demons leaping into it and vanishing, and then the hemisphere crumpled in on itself and was gone. Sections of demons fell to the ground, those who were entering the portal as it closed being sliced in two as it disappeared. The remaining demons wailed, and fled from the alley, or fell to their knees and begged for mercy, or turned defiantly and fought and died.

- - - - -

“Spike!” Dawn cried. “Spike!” She ran to meet Dana and examine her unconscious burden. “Spike! Are you alright?”

“Human,” Dana declared. “The Philosopher’s Stone, the Blood of Eternity, that which Alchemists have sought since time immemorial.” Dawn had no clue as to what she meant, unless it was something to do with The Immortal, and in fact doubted if Dana herself had any more idea, so she ignored it and concentrated on trying to find out what was wrong with Spike.

“There are wounded,” Leonardo said uncertainly to Willow. “They need doctors. Hospital. The police will come. La Polizia would have come to such a battle long ago. The American police, they are fast in the movies. Helicopters, motorbikes; yet they are not here.”

“I’ve been screening us,” Willow replied. She could feel the strength draining from her even as she spoke. “Can’t keep it up much longer. We’ve got to go now.” She looked for Faith, but the Slayer was too far away to call, and Willow didn’t want to spare the magical energy to speak telepathically. The former Sunnydale High School Principal was the closest of the Cleveland party and so she called to him instead. “Robin! I’m taking my bunch out of here. Once I’m gone the cops will come running. Grab Faith and everybody who came with you and get the hell out of here, okay? I’ll take Spike and that demon girl.”

“What about the wounded and the dead?” Wood asked.

“I don’t know,” Willow sagged. “I’m beat. Getting hard to think. I’ve got to take them, I guess. If we spend any time sorting things out I’m just gonna flake out. Gotta do this right now.” Wood started to say something else, to object, but Willow couldn’t allow herself the time to listen. She pictured those she had brought with her, living or dead, added Spike and Illyria to that list, visualized the new Council building where she had assembled her army, and spoke a word of command. There was a rumble of thunder as air rushed into a score of new vacuums and they were gone.

Those left behind stared around in bewilderment. “Everybody out of here, people,” Robin Wood bellowed. “The cops will be getting calls any second. Move it!”

Willow hadn’t gotten things quite right. A dead Slayer had been left behind. Charles Gunn lay forgotten on the ground, no longer bleeding, but poised on the verge of death. “Damn.” Wood scanned the ground for his discarded Uzi; it was supposed to be untraceable, but no point in taking chances, and his fingerprints would be on it anyway. “Everybody into the car. Vi, Rhona, get this wounded guy. Caridad, bring Yelena.”

“I cannot, Jefe,” Caridad pointed out. Her collarbone was smashed and one arm hung limply. “I am sorry.”

“I got her,” Faith called. She scooped the corpse from the ground. “We’re outta here. Hey, kid, don’t stand around. Jump in.”

Connor obeyed. He was bemused, still shocked by his father’s death, but stumbled to the limousine and clambered aboard.

Robin got into the driver’s seat. “I used to live in Beverly Hills,” he announced as he started the engine. “I know a doctor who can be trusted. Just hope he’s still there.” The limousine shot backwards to the road, spun around, and raced away.

- - - - -

Ilona Costa Bianchi strode through the corridors of the Wolfram and Hart building in Rome. Her PA and the Head of Maintenance for the building trailed at her heels. “I expect all these lights to be working before nightfall,” she snapped.

“Yes, Signora,” her subordinates agreed meekly.

“Any other structural damage? The elevators?”

“No, Signora.” The Maintenance Head swallowed nervously. “The White Room. It is… not there.”

Ilona stopped in her tracks and tilted her head to one side. “Not there? What do you mean?”

“It is not there. The elevator does not stop there. There is no longer any such place. Only the elevator mechanism, the pulleys, the motors. The White Room has gone as if it never existed.”

“Very interesting.” The CEO smiled wolfishly. “Pietro, call the Liaison to the Senior Partners. I want to see him in my office in fifteen minutes.”

“At once, Signora.” The PA hastened to obey.

- - - - -

Spike opened his eyes. He was in a bed. Naked. Warm. Warm? He felt his shoulder. There was no trace of the stab wound. He raised his head and looked around, and immediately saw a familiar face, but not one he was expecting. Kennedy.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, meeting his eyes. She lowered the magazine she’d been reading. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”

“Strange,” he replied. “Funny feeling in my guts. Not really a pain, but not nice.” His forehead creased. “Vision’s a bit blurry. Bit weak.” He sat up. “Not too bad though, all things considered. So you lot came through for us. Thanks. God, that’s a bit bloody lame, innit? Thanks for saving my life. How are the others? Gunn? Blue Thunder? Christ, Angel’s dead, isn’t he? Fuck.”

“Gunn? The guy who was already wounded when we got there? He got left behind in LA, but I think he’s okay. The blue girl, she’s fine, I think. Pretty miserable but not hurt. What is she, some kind of Slayer from Mars?”

“Not a bad description,” Spike said, a trace of a smirk crossing his lips, but his mouth turned down again in seconds as grief and loss filled his mind. “Angel’s dead. Wesley. And Harm’s dust too. God, I hate this fucking universe sometimes. Doesn’t seem fair. Not your fault, though, Ken, bloody marvelous that you came to help. Your bird, was it?”

“My bird? Willow?” Kennedy smiled wistfully. “She’s not my ‘bird’ any more. Yeah, she gathered us all together, well, her and Faith, and that Harmony girl called us. It’s a long story. You and me were never friends; I’m maybe not the best person to tell it, I’m only here now because we thought you’d be out a lot longer. I’ll get Dawn, or Xander, they’ll tell you more. But at least I get the chance to be the first to grovel. All the time in Sunnydale I was against you. I thought you should be staked. Thought Buffy was an idiot for keeping you around. But if I’d had my way we’d all be dead. Maybe everyone in the world. You gave your life for us all, or were willing to do, and I want to thank you.”

“You saved me right back, pet. Call it quits if you like.”

“Thanks, Spike.” She extended her hand to him. “If it’s not too late, maybe we could be friends now?”

“Sure thing, Ken,” Spike smiled, and took her hand. His smile vanished as they shook, and a look of fear crept into his eyes. “I’m alive. I’m bloody alive, aren’t I? I’m a sodding weak, useless, pathetic human.”

- - - - -

“You sent for me, Signora Costa Bianchi?” The Senior Partners’ Liaison to the Rome branch of Wolfram and Hart shuffled nervously as he addressed the CEO.

“I did. Tell me, what do the Partners say about this interruption to communications? The Los Angeles branch has been destroyed by a minor earthquake. Here the White Room has disappeared. The same has happened in Moscow, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Sydney, and Kuala Lumpur. What do they wish me to do? What orders have they given you?”

“I have no orders,” the Liaison quavered. “I cannot contact them. It is as if they are not there.”

“Interesting.” Ilona pulled a Beretta 92 from her desk drawer and shot the Liaison three times through the chest and head. “Pietro!”

Her PA came running. “Yes, Signora?” He looked at the body on the floor with worry evident on his face.

“Have that trash disposed of at once. If the carpet needs cleaning, arrange for it to be done. Then get me the clients list. I want all those who do not pay their way told that they must pay more or else they should find someone else to handle their business. Let the end of the world come when it must, we will not work to bring it closer. From now on we shall do as a law firm should. Our only priority shall be to make lots and lots of money.”

“But the Senior Partners!” the PA protested. “What will they say?”

Ilona gestured with the Beretta at the corpse on the office carpet. “Could I have done that if they still had power over us? I think not. The Senior Partners are gone from this world. Angeloos, and the beautiful Spike, must have done what we all wanted to do but dared not. I spit on the Senior Partners, ptah! We shall speak of them no more.”

- - - - -

Dawn shuffled hesitantly into the room. “Spike,” she greeted. “Umm, hi.”

“Nibblet,” Spike beamed. “God, look at you. All grown up. Can’t call you Nibblet any more, really.”

“Yes, do. Always.” She was carrying a bundle of clothing, and she laid it down on the bedside cabinet. “The doctor says you’re fine. I, uh, brought you some clothes. You can get up any time you like.”

“Not while you’re here, pet. Stark bollock naked here.”

“Umm, yeah.” Dawn’s cheeks flamed. “Spike. You’re… alive.”

“Too bloody true. Not what I wanted. Should have been Angel, it was his dream; I got it by some sodding cosmic fuck-up. But it’s good to see you, Nibblet.”

“Why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you tell us you weren’t dead?” Dawn’s restraint broke, and she hurled herself onto the bed and seized Spike in a tight hug. “I missed you so much. Everything went so wrong without you. I thought you were dead, and I could never tell you I was sorry, and you didn’t come. You didn’t come for me.” She sniffled. “Didn’t you care? You didn’t come.”

Spike patted her awkwardly. “Sorry, Nib, sorry. Would have done, yeah, but I didn’t know I’d be welcome. Hardly said a word to me, you did, that last year in Sunnydale, after you threatened to set me on fire. Missed you like crazy, I did, but I never knew you’d miss me.”

“How could you not know?” Dawn asked, and then answered her own question. “I never told you. I was so angry at you, and never gave you the chance to give your side of things, and then I stopped being angry at you and I never told you. I was going to, I was going to grab you after the battle was over and say I was sorry and ask you to call me Nibblet again, only you never came out.”

“No need to be sorry, love,” Spike told her gently. “I did a bad thing. Deserved to be hated. Not blaming you at all, Bit.”

“So are we good again?” She lifted a tear-stained face to his.

“Yeah, we’re good.” Spike was finding the reconciliation painful and embarrassing, and he sought for a way out. “Was that your young man with you and Willow?”

Dawn smiled fondly. “My ‘young man’? You sound like someone in one of those, like, Merchant Ivory movies. Yeah, that’s my boyfriend Leonardo.”

“Treats you right, I hope.”

Dawn’s face clouded again. “Way better than I deserve. I’ve been bad this past year. Real bad. The big klepto thing I had is nothing to what I’ve been doing. Leonardo stuck by me. Came and fought for me. Right doesn’t begin to describe how he treats me.”

“I’ll have to meet him, okay? Sounds like a good lad.”

“He is.”

An awkward silence fell for a moment, until Spike broke it by facing up to the big issue they’d both been avoiding. “Didn’t see your sister in the fight, love. Is she – is she alright?”

Dawn swallowed hard. She really, really, didn’t want to have to tell Spike this, but she couldn’t avoid it any longer. “She wouldn’t come, Spike. Willow asked her, I even begged her, and she wouldn’t come.”

- - - - -

Willow opened her eyes and immediately closed them again. She brought up a hand to shield them from the light, but something dragged at her, and then a hand caught her arm.

“Careful, you’ve got an IV in that arm,” a familiar voice warned her.

“Kennedy?”

“Yeah. Hey, I’m two for two. I was with Spike when he came round, too. I’m the Prince.”

“Don’t tell me you kissed Spike,” Willow croaked weakly.

“Didn’t kiss you either. How’re you feeling, Will?”

“Pretty much yuck, like maybe something died in my mouth. What year is it?”

“You’ve only been out for eighteen hours,” Kennedy told her. “I was pretty worried. You’d lost about ten pounds, the docs said, and your hair stayed white for ages.”

Willow’s hand flew to her hair and she struggled to sit up and look for a mirror.

Kennedy helped her to rise. “Don’t worry, all the white’s long gone now. Red as you ever were. We were worried, sure, but they say it was just exhaustion, a little dehydration, you know?”

“And overdosing on the magic,” Willow said heavily.

Kennedy shrugged. “You pushed yourself too far. I don’t see what else you could have done. That was fighting the good fight more than anything since Sunnydale. Maybe equal to Sunnydale. You’re a Goddess, like I said. Want a drink?”

“Please.” Willow accepted a glass of water from Kennedy and sipped at it. “Did everything work out okay? How many did we lose?”

“Three. Minori, Praphasi, and Yelena. Caridad got some bones broken but she’s going to be okay.”

“And how many of Angel’s crew did we save?”

“Spike, Illyria, Gunn. Three. Four if you count that kid who turned up after the fight started.” Kennedy paused. “They lost one before that battle even started, a guy called Wesley, used to be a Watcher, Giles knew him. Angel and Harmony died, well, dusted during the fight.”

“Was it worth it? Seems like a draw. I just got different people killed. I wanted to save lives, not just be a Chooser of the Slain.”

“Oh, yeah, it was worth it. That’s for sure. It seems that Angel hit Wolfram and Hart harder than anything in centuries. He got them so pissed they opened right up to dish out some payback, let down their shields, and when you blasted their portal you locked them out of this dimension totally. Or so Giles says, anyway, something like that. I can’t follow the magic and the dimensional stuff, you know that. I just kick ass. And, sister, you kicked some major ass this time.”

“So he’s not mad at me?”

Kennedy laughed. “He’s scared you’ll be mad at him. He’s nerving himself up right now to do some serious crawling to Spike, and then to you.”

“Spike,” Willow said. Her hand went to her hair. “I have to see him.”

“Are you sure you’re gay?” Kennedy teased, eyebrows climbing.

Willow snatched her hand away hastily. “Don’t be silly. I don’t think of Spike like that.” Although, that time when he tried to bite me, and was so sweet to me, apart from wanting to kill me that is, and I thought about him every night afterwards, nearly as much as Oz, right up until I met Tara. “And yes, I’m gay.”

“If you say so,” Kennedy replied, smiling enigmatically. She stood up. “I’ll call the docs; they’ll want to check you out now you’re awake, and I guess take the IV out. Xander’s waiting for news of you, and I’ll let him know you’re okay. There are clothes in the drawer. Bye for now.”

- - - - -

“You amuse me,” Illyria declared. She cocked her head first to one side, and then the other, looking disconcertingly as if she was a bird estimating the distance to an insect. “This world tires me. It is harsh and cold and unwelcoming. Your presence is restful.”

“Thanks,” Xander said, slightly nervously. “You’re not so bad yourself, as creatures from before the dawn of time go. Ever considered wearing a furry bikini?”

“A garment of fur, covering only the genitalia and mammary glands of this shell? Would that please you?”

Xander swallowed. “It wouldn’t exactly put me off,” he conceded. He rocked his head from side to side, a habit he had acquired since he lost his eye, doing it unconsciously and not realizing that he was echoing Illyria’s mannerisms.

“It shall be as you desire,” the God-King decreed. She concentrated. Her armor melted and reformed into a garment far skimpier than that worn by Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years BC’. “Is that satisfactory?”

The buzz of conversation in the Council canteen died away.

Xander’s voice broke the silence. “Umm, Illyria, perhaps this would be a good time to discuss what’s not appropriate in public places.”

- - - - -

“So, Red, I suppose you’ll be eager to get off back to Brazil. Can’t imagine you wanting to hang round here when you could be in Rio.” Spike spread strawberry jam on a scone, took a bite, and then licked a smear of jam from his fingers. “Why they had to set up the new Watchers’ Council on a business park in County Durham beats me. We’re stuck out in the middle of sodding nowhere.”

“It was cheap,” Willow explained. “We got a government grant. Look at all the facilities we have, we’d never have managed to get anywhere like this in the middle of a city.” She tore her eyes away from Spike’s tongue and sipped at her coffee. “We’re not so stuck. There’s a bus. Hey, if you want to go shopping, we could go together. We could go to the Metro Centre or Newcastle. Or into Durham. The cathedral there is just so old. Like, a thousand years old.”

“Look, pet, no use trying to impress me with history. English myself, remember?” Spike sighed. “I might just take you up on that. This being human thing is hard to get used to. Being in here with crowds of sodding Watchers in Training is giving me the creeps. Sort of feel I’m being studied like a sodding bug under a microscope, you know?”

“Yeah, it must be hard for you. But hey, they’re paying you, and you’ve got a legal ID and everything, and Giles says you don’t even have to do any work if you don’t want to. Guess he’s pretty big with the guilt trip right now, huh?”

“Sodding deserves to be,” Spike grumbled. “Still, can’t blame him that much. Angel played it a bit too bloody close to the chest. Even the day before everything went down I was thinking he’d gone evil. Poor sod. I miss him like hell, y’know? All bleeding year I was taking the piss out of him, trying to make him lose his rag, gloating to him about Buffy. Fought him for the Cup of Perpetual Torment just to get something he wanted, not ’cos I wanted to turn into a bloody human myself. And now he’s gone I’d damn near stake myself to get him back. Weird, innit?”

Willow reached out and took his hand. “Well, he was family,” she agreed. “Not so surprising you were like that.” Spike looked down at their linked hands and raised his eyebrows. Willow blushed and snatched her hand away.

“Wasn’t objecting, pet,” Spike told her. “Just surprised me a bit. You weren’t all that much for spending time with me back in Sunnydale.”

“You always made me nervous,” Willow confessed.

“What, now I’m a human I’m safe, that it?”

“It wasn’t just because you were a vampire. Mainly it was ’cause of you being a guy, and ’cause of what you said to me in the factory that time.”

“When you were wearing that fuzzy pink number with the lilac number underneath? And you said there’d be no having of any kind?”

Willow blushed again. “Sort of, yeah. Then when you tried to bite me and you remembered every little thing. It was sort of flattering and scary all at the same time.”

“You mean when I said I’d bite you in a heartbeat?”

“You’re doing it again,” Willow complained, her grin showing that her complaint wasn’t meant seriously.

“Sorry, pet. Fancied me, did you?” He studied her, with his head tilted to one side, his tongue just showing between his teeth.

“Maybe,” Willow admitted. “Only you were a vampire so I kinda squished any warm fuzzies. I still sorta liked you, though.”

“Well, you were always my favorite one of the Scooby Gang,” Spike told her. “Course, that’s a bit like saying you were my favorite disfiguring skin disease.”

Willow flinched. Her lip quivered, and her eyes widened and began to glisten with the beginnings of tears.

“Sorry, pet, I’m sorry, it was just a joke,” Spike said hastily. “A bad joke. I’m a sodding nitwit. Didn’t think it’d upset you.” He seized her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Look, I’ll take you up on that offer of the shopping trip, okay? You’re an absolute marvel, pet, saved my life, saved a couple of my mates, not your fault the others didn’t make it. Total bloody genius you were, going straight to the right place and all.”

“That was pretty much luck,” Willow revealed. “I don’t know LA all that well. That hotel was about the only place I knew well enough to visualize for the teleport. It was just pure luck that you were fighting right outside.”

“Yeah, well, thanks anyway,” Spike said. He realized that he was still holding her hand and released it hastily.

“I wasn’t objecting, Spike,” Willow told him, copying his earlier remark to her.

“You’re not flirting with me, are you, pet?” Spike asked incredulously. “What happened to the gay thing?”

Willow’s face acquired a pink tinge. “There is no flirtage. It’s just, you know, I never spent enough time with you before. There was the vampire thing, and then you were all with the Buffy stalking, and you were getting to be pretty much a friend but we were all locking you out ‘cause of that vampire thing, not to mention the creepy stalker thing, and then I was all big with the whole ‘destroy the world’ trip, and I came back and I thought it would help a whole lot if I could talk it over with you ‘cause, hello, you’d been there, only you were all crazy and stuff, and it never happened. And now, Kennedy and me have broken up, and Buffy’s gone all Insano Girl, and Xander’s all George of the Jungle and I never see him, and it would be nice to have someone to talk to who remembers the whole Sunnydale thing.” She lowered her eyes to her plate. “And okay, yes, there was flirtage, and I so suck at it, don’t I?”

“Nah, pet. You’re cute.”

“Cute? Cute kitten, not sex kitten? Yeah, I so suck.”

“Question is, pet, do you swallow?” Spike teased.

Willow went bright red right out to the tips of her ears.

“Easy there, pet, just kidding,” Spike smiled. “Come on, let’s go shopping. I want to get to Vision Express. I need glasses as a human, y’know. That’ll kill any sodding flirtation off right there and then, had to get it in while I had the chance.” Willow blushed again. “That last one was totally unintentional, pet,” Spike assured her hastily. “If you’ve finished your coffee we’ll go. Then that’ll be the end of it, lasses don’t make passes at blokes with glasses.”

- - - - -

Spike stared at his reflection in the optician’s mirror. It was unnerving. He couldn’t venture any opinion as to the choice of frame for his spectacles. Seeing himself in the glass, the reflection moving as he moved, was so disconcerting that he was almost helpless. He’d been avoiding the bathroom mirror as much as possible, shaving by feel with an electric razor, but now he was forced to face up to it.

Willow made the choice for him. “Hey, these Calvin Klein ones look totally cool,” she assured him. “You have to go with those. Trust me.”

“It’s all backwards to what it is on video,” Spike muttered, drawing a puzzled look from the optician’s receptionist. “Okay, pet, whatever you say.”

It would take a couple of hours to make the glasses. They wandered around the Metro Centre while they waited. “Last time I was in this part of the world there wasn’t a sodding thing but coal mines as far as the eye could see,” Spike remarked, attracting some dirty looks from locals who saw his youthful appearance, heard his London accent, and assumed he was displaying regional prejudice rather than telling the literal truth. Willow dragged Spike into shops, persuaded him to try on clothes, and then took him into El Molino for tapas.

“So, what’re you doing for the Council in Brazil, anyway?” Spike asked, as they tucked in to the food.

“Being Kennedy’s Watcher, more or less, and studying voodoo,” Willow told him. “Macumba, Candombé, that sorta thing,”

“Adding a bit of variety to your firepower?”

“Not so much. I’m only learning to do the White sort, uh, I’m just learning how to counter the Black stuff. See, I’m maybe gonna be the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for the Council, sorta. Umm, that’s from Harry Potter.”

“I know Harry Potter, Red,” Spike grinned. “Read the Nibblet’s copies, didn’t I?” He bit into a tasty morsel. “Sodding brilliant, this. Doesn’t quite make up for losing the strength, and all that, but it comes close.” He was silent for a moment and stared at nothing with a pensive expression on his face.

“Christ, makes you bloody think, dunnit?” he went on. “Little Nibblet all grown up. Boyfriend sleeping over, the works. In fact I get the impression she’s done a damn sight more than that. Buffy seems to have just let her run bloody wild, like she didn’t give a shit for the kid. Could bleeding well strangle her for how she’s treated the Bit; ’cept I couldn’t make a bleeding dent in her these days, could I? Don’t bloody understand it. What was she thinking of, taking up with His sodding Benevolence the Immortal? That git mucks up everything he touches. What was Giles doing letting her get away with it? He was right quick at stepping in when it was me that was the problem.”

“That’s why, Spike,” Willow told him. “We messed up so bad when it was you. We should have respected her decision. Angel first, and then you, we were all with the interventions and the ‘no road to Buffy’, and we made everything like ten times worse. So we stayed out of it, and by the time we realized we should have been doing something it was all too late. Buffy kinda went to pieces after Sunnydale, you know? She just gave up on things. Took a vacation, only it turned into retirement without her telling us, and it’s like she didn’t want anything that would remind her of being the Slayer. And, maybe, she never got over hating us for throwing her out of her house. Even Dawn. Yeah, okay, we were totally out of line. That’s something I’m about as ashamed of doing as anything I’ve ever done, even the mind-wipe thing, and the attempted world-destroyage. Hating me for it, fine, I’d deal. But Dawn was just a scared kid. So not fair.” Willow paused to dig in to the food and take a mouthful of Spanish beer.

“So you all let the Slayer make her own decisions, and when she made bloody stupid ones you stayed out of it, because Giles had fucked up when he got together with the Principal to have me killed?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Willow agreed. “See, we all agree that we were stupid then. Did you see Robin Wood in LA? He was there for you. Yeah, part of it was ‘cause of Faith being there for Angel, but part of it was for you. Xander was there for you. He wouldn’t have lifted a finger for Angel. It was all for you.”

“He’s not so bad,” Spike admitted grudgingly. “We’ve saved each other’s lives a time or two over the years.”

“And if it hadn’t been for you he’d have lost both eyes. We know what we owe you, Spike. We’re trying to make up for it. Maybe we’re not doing such a great job but, hey, we’re trying.”

“Gave me an opening for a good line there, pet, but I’ll pass, seeing as how you got upset before.” Spike finished off the last morsel on his plate. “Okay, love, let’s go get those glasses. The final humiliating step turning me back into William the Bloody Awful Poet.”

- - - - -

The shopping trip extended to include drinks, a trip to the cinema to see ‘Shaun of the Dead’, and another meal. They arrived back at the Watchers’ Council offices at half past ten. The building was almost deserted; only a handful of staff slept on the premises overnight, and the daytime staff had departed long ago.

Illyria and Xander were still there. They were playing ‘Prince of Persia 2: the Sands of Time’ in the entertainment lounge. They had obviously been there for hours and showed every indication of remaining there for the foreseeable future. Willow and Spike left them to it and returned to their rooms.

“I’d invite you in, only, pretty much emergency accommodation, not much more than a bed,” Willow said at her door. “Hey, I’ve had a great time, you know? Maybe we could do this again?”

“When are you thinking of heading back to Rio, love?” Spike asked.

“Well, Kennedy’s already gone, if I stay here much longer Giles is gonna start moaning at me,” Willow replied. “I guess I could stretch it out till, say, Sunday?”

“All right, then, pet,” Spike agreed. “We’ll do this again.”

- - - - -

“I think I’m starting to get the hang of this human thing,” Spike told Willow. “Maybe I’m not so useless after all. Not that I’ll ever be able to kick the arse of a Fyarl demon again, not without the vampire strength, but they put me through an assault course today and I met the standards for the Parachute Regiment. Graded me as a Fourth Dan Black Belt in jiu-jitsu, too. Bleeding marvelous, innit?”

“That’s great! You so rock.” Willow seized the excuse to give Spike a quick hug. “Any more thoughts on what you’re planning on doing with your life?”

“Still not sure, pet.” Spike sucked in his lips and screwed up his forehead. “The Council job offer is looking good. They really want me, not just some sense of obligation. And I heard from Vi, y’know? God, that kid’s good. Saw her in the Hellmouth, and in LA, and she’s about the best fighter I’ve ever seen short of Illyria. And, bloody hell, she says she owes it all to me. Wants me to be her Watcher. Makes me feel right proud. But I sort of feel I owe it to Angel to go on doing the ‘help the helpless’ bit.”

“Spike,” Willow said hesitantly, “why don’t you come with me? I mean, you know Brazil, you speak Portuguese, and you do Brazilian jiu-jitsu. You could be a big help to me. And, hey, Rio’s not short of the helpless. Plenty of scope for making with the help-age.”

“Sure that’s all you mean, pet?”

“Okay, it’s not all I mean. Kennedy’s moving out. I heard from her last night, she’s getting her own place; she’s got a girlfriend now. I, the days out we’ve had, I’ve really enjoyed them, I sorta want to spend more time with you. Well, not just sorta, more a whole lot. And I’ve got the feeling that you’ve liked it too. I mean, it’s like we’re dating. I don’t want to stop just ’cause I’ve got to go, and, hey, there isn’t anything to stop you coming. The rooms here, not so much with the living space, just intended for short stays. I’ve checked with Giles and he’s fine with you going to Brazil, in fact it’s a really good idea, and I’m babbling, aren’t I?”

Spike chuckled. “You are, pet.” He thought for a moment. “Look, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m still not all the way there with the being human bit. Finding my feet, sort of thing. There’s things I can still do, things I can’t, and I’m getting sorted but I’m not there yet. There’s stuff I have to deal with, and I need space. It’s not that I don’t like you, love. Fact is, the you that you are these days I like a whole lot. As much as I did back when I first knew you, before you started with the power tripping. And, yeah, I do fancy you. Maybe one day.”

“Yeah. Look, you change your mind, you give me a call, okay?”

- - - - -

Willow and Kennedy walked together into the apartment building. Both were splattered with demon goo; it had been a rough night on patrol. There had been a death metal concert at the Maranaca Stadium, and it had brought hordes of demons out of the woodwork; some had just wanted to groove to the music, but others had regarded the rock fans as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“Shame Spike wasn’t here,” Willow moaned. “He’d have enjoyed it, I bet, and we could have used his help.”

Kennedy glanced ostentatiously at her watch. “One hour twenty-two minutes since you last mentioned Spike,” she grinned. “Bang on schedule. You’ve got it bad, haven’t you?”

“Maybe,” Willow admitted. “It would be nice if he was here. We could chill out, wind down by thinking up new ways to get rid of The Immortal, have hot chocolate with little marshmallows, and watch some TV.”

“And then go to bed and fuck like bunnies,” Kennedy teased.

“It’s all right for you, you’ve got Nella waiting for you to do just that,” Willow said enviously, and then smiled. “Hey, it’s real nice that we’ve stayed friends. Super nice. I love you, Ken, just not that way any more.”

“I know. I should never have come on so strong with you in the first place,” Kennedy acknowledged. “Just friends is fine. Goodnight, Will, see you tomorrow.”

They hugged briefly and went into their own separate apartments. Willow headed straight for the bathroom, stripped off her clothes, and showered. With the demon goo gone, feeling clean and fresh and relaxed, she stood in front of the mirror and dried her hair.

“So, another night alone,” she told her reflection. “Still, better no lover than the wrong one, huh? And, accepting things rather than forcing what’s not there, that’s mature and responsible of me, isn’t it?” She made a face. “Still the kind of girl that guys tell ‘you’re like a sister to me’. All I’ve added by being bi is getting the sister speech from girls too. Or maybe the brother speech. Oh well.”

She wandered into her bedroom, still naked, and noticed the message light blinking on her ansaphone. She pressed play. It was Spike.

“Hi, pet, fancied a chat, is all. Call me some time.”

She checked the time of the message, knowing that it would be way past midnight in the UK, and she didn’t want to wake Spike up. It turned out that it had been left only half an hour previously; Spike might no longer be keeping vampire hours but he’d obviously been staying up very late. She dialed him immediately.

“Hiya,” she greeted him. “I just got in from patrol. How’s it going?”

“Not bad,” he told her. “Giles has posted Andrew to Tierra del Fuego, which should sort out the irritating little twat, and I heard from Xander today.” He passed on some gossip about Xander and Illyria to her, and news of Dawn, and she replied in kind. “I’ve got contact lenses now,” he went on. “Don’t look too bad in them, pet, you’ll have to see.”

“I could zap myself over,” Willow offered.

“You sure? Be bloody great to see you, missed you a lot, but don’t want you straining yourself again.”

“It’s no big,” she assured him. “Hey, last time I’d done trips from Brazil to England, and Tanzania, and England again, and Italy, and then to LA, and I’d been moving lots of other people with me, and then there was all the big gun stuff. Just me, one trip, not really a problem. Anything particular I should wear?”

“Hadn’t really planned on going out anywhere, love, just staying in my room. Just come as you are.”

Willow looked down at herself, stark naked, and laughed. Carpe diem. Go for it, girl. “Well, you asked for it. I’ll do just that. See you in five seconds.” She hung up, snapped her fingers, and was gone.

The End

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