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This chapter has been edited by the generous slaymesoftly.
Story banner by the talented xaphania.
“Dawn!” she yelled from the front door. Buffy looked into the living room and then into the kitchen only to find them empty. Unnerved by the silence, she turned back toward the foot of the stairs and yelled up to the second floor. “Dawn!”
“I’m here Buffy,” Dawn calmly replied. Buffy heard her sister’s response before she appeared at the top of the stairs. She was cradling her left arm.
Buffy exhaled with relief. Trying to mimic her sister’s calm but unable to keep the whine from her voice, she asked, “What were you thinking last night?”
“When?” Dawn replied with a slight smirk. “When I saved your life or when I said you should grow up?”
Buffy rolled her eyes at the first comment and couldn’t help but laugh bitterly at the second.
“Dawn, you shouldn’t be taking those kinds of risks anymore." In a whisper, she added, "You don’t need to.” The words sounded stale to Buffy’s ears because they were. She sang this tune every week.
“I could say the same for you, Buffy. There are still other Slayers. They haven’t all died out yet.”
Buffy refused to flinch at that. “Well maybe they haven’t all died because I do take risks.”
“And the same could be said for me, Buffy.” Dawn had her smug face on now.
Well, two could have smug-face. “And what would Xander say?” This was the second verse to Buffy's favourite tune.
Dawn sighed to settle her rising irritation. “Buffy, Xander is taking the same risks. Okay, not so much. But more to the point, he respects me enough to let me make my own choices. Unlike you, there’s only one woman in all the world with the power to open dimensional doors.“
Buffy raised an eyebrow at that.
“Fine, maybe Willow can do it too, but not without stinky herbs and nosebleeds. And not as often or as easily as I can.”
Buffy wasn’t convinced.
“Its what I do, Buffy. It’s what I am. It’s how I’ve been able to make a difference for goodness sakes. You know this.” Dawn was being remarkably patient with her sister today.
“And Jesse and Joycie?”
“Broken record, much? Buffy, they’re not kids anymore. They’re old enough to have kids, and they’re as committed to the fight as anyone.”
Buffy wasn’t going to win this argument. She never did, because she knew Dawn was right. But she insisted on arguing the point anyway. She knew Dawn had a purpose better than anyone. Dawn was older than any Slayer, if you counted her existence before she was made human. And the only point of her existence had been to unlock dimensional doors. The blood flows, the gates will open. The gates will close when it flows no more. It was only by accident, three years after Sunnydale was destroyed, that they had discovered Dawn didn’t have to die for the blood to stop flowing. It was only then that Dawn realized her power, her potential.
But Buffy had a purpose too. Dawn had been made human for her to protect, and that mission hadn’t ended with Glory’s death. There would always be a homesick Hell God who could use Dawn if it knew what and where she was. So as far as Buffy was concerned, the less Dawn advertised her ability, the better.
Although, there was no denying how useful Dawn had been over the years. Not every demon was so easily killed; but plenty of demons could be banished to another dimension if Dawn bled at the right time and place and was protected by Slayers while doing it. So Dawn had devoted herself to discovering the site and seasons of activity of portals around the world and would travel the globe to be of service to Slayers, while keeping a home base in L.A. This had required her further developing her talent for ancient and demon languages, a talent passed down to her children — both now seasoned scholars for the new Watcher’s Council in London. Understanding and developing the Key had become a family affair.
Of course, Xander wasn't really all that keen on understanding how to utilize the Key. Even in high school, he had been less interested in the fight than he had been in supporting and protecting his friends. Joining the fight had been the means to do that. So researching portals and occasionally shadowing Dawn in the field was his way of protecting his wife. The problem was, Dawn didn’t always go into the field with Xander and a cadre of Slayers. At fifty-seven, she was still as impulsive as a teenager at times.
The other problem was, of course, that at fifty-seven, Dawn was no longer as quick. There had been plenty of narrow escapes over the years, and injuries to show for it. Last night was no exception. Dawn had got word from Joycie that Buffy was on the hunt for a particularly vicious Dragvlok demon that had left a trail of bodies from Vegas to Bakersfield. She'd known Buffy would attempt to cut him down before he made it to L.A. because he would make a beeline for the Slayers there. And it was far too convenient for Buffy to take him down herself, since she lived between Bakersfield and L.A. He’d be passing by her very doorstep. The Dragvlok should have known that, but then, they weren’t particularly thoughtful, nor were they at all fearful of Slayers. At least seven Slayers in California alone had been killed by a Dragvlok.
So Dawn had been hot on her sister’s trail. Joycie had told Buffy of the Dragvlok’s whereabouts, and had told her mother about Buffy’s plans. Of course, she had assumed her mum would take back-up. In the end, Buffy did what she did best. Dawn’s sudden appearance behind the Dragvlok distracted the demon as he had Buffy momentarily pinned to a tree and she regained the advantage after he took a swipe at Dawn. She beheaded the Dragvlok with her trusted scythe. Then she hacked him into seven pieces for every Slayer he had murdered.
Buffy had never been uncertain of victory. The Key hadn’t really been needed, and wouldn’t have been much help anyway. There wasn’t a dimensional portal for 10 miles. So there had been no point in Dawn getting slashed by his claws.
It wasn’t a serious injury thankfully, just a wake-up call that Dawn was still placing herself in unnecessary danger. Buffy had silently patched her sister up at her place and would have driven Dawn home had Dawn not insisted she was fine to drive herself.
Still, there was no winning the argument with her sister, so Buffy accepted defeat and changed the subject to now more important matters.
“How’s the arm Dawnie?” she enquired with sisterly concern.
“It hurts,” she said simply. “But wounds always do. It’ll heal Buffy… with time.” She spoke the last words with some sadness. They both knew that time didn’t just heal wounds. It inflicted them, too. Dawn understood why she and Buffy were destined to continue this argument for the rest of her natural life.
Buffy didn’t want to lose her.
The Slayer looked upon her sister with a mixture of deep admiration and love before ascending the stairs. She took in her long brown locks, greying more every day. She was as lovely and graceful a middle-aged woman as she had been a girl, but with a preternatural composure borne from surviving countless wars and not a few apocalypses. There was a light in her eyes too — nurtured by the love of two amazing children and the devotion of one of the best men Buffy had ever known. Dawn was full of love. Buffy could not have been happier for her sister. She had gotten the life Buffy had always wanted for her.
Buffy gave Dawn one of her trademark suffocating embraces. There were no tears to hold back, though. They had all been shed years ago.
“Any plans for the day?” Buffy asked her sister with sudden cheerfulness.
“Packing. I promised Joycie and Jesse that I wouldn’t miss my flight again, so I figured I’d pack during the day, freeing me up for any unforseen action tonight before the flight tomorrow morning.”
“There will be no unforseen action, Dawnie, that the Slayers in town can’t handle.”
“Yeah, yeah. So did you drive all the way down here hoping for a last-minute sisters' shopping trip or were you just checking up on me?” Slaying had never quite killed the shopping bug in Buffy, though her purchases had become decidedly more practical.
“Just checking up. Also, spring sales are over.”
“Buffy I don’t think machetes are ever on sale,” Dawn teased.
“True. But I could use a pair of fashionable but steel point boots. Like I said, just checking up. It’s only an hour’s drive anyway. What else is there to do during the day? No demons to slay,” she shrugged. “And I couldn’t sleep, anyway, for worry about you.”
“You’re becoming more vampiric in your sleep habits every year you know,” Dawn warned.
“Grr. Arrgh.” Buffy scrunched up her face in her best bumpy impression.
“Yeah well, a Council salary will do that to you. Daytime is for shopping and sleeping,” she said chirpily.
“Don’t forget sunbathing” Dawn added. “For someone who’s spent the last five years back in California, you’re awfully pale Buffy.”
“Just saying. Why don’t you head to the beach for a nap while there’s still a bit of sun?”
Dawn wasn’t sure why she made the suggestion. Buffy hadn’t been to the beach since Jesse and Joycie were little and the family would take trips back to California from London. She had taken enthusiastically to the Aunty role when the kids were young, and she was full of life then — more focused on family than ever before. The Slayer had taken a bit of a backseat to Aunty Buffy in those days.
But after the kids were grown, there had been nothing to keep the Slayer from taking over Buffy’s life. Especially when the other Slayers started dying off too quickly and new ones didn’t emerge to replace them. Buffy’s mission came into sharper focus then. She was losing her Slayer family — a family she had birthed when she tasked Willow with awakening them all. The blood of every dead Slayer was on her hands now. If she didn’t stem the slaughter, she’d find herself alone. Alone with the burden of protecting the world. Alone with the weight of her guilt. Alone with a soul bathed in blood. So at some point Buffy stopped being a Slayer.
She became a hunter.
In the best shape of her life, Buffy was stronger, more flexible and twice as fast. She had spent twenty-five years in Europe training Slayers in London, and the challenge of besting hundreds of girls time and again had honed her skills. Every trick a new Slayer threw at her, Buffy adopted, until there was no Slayer who could handle her repertoire of moves. And every time Buffy went into the field, she fought alone. If there was a free Slayer in battle, she sent her to help her sisters. So after forty years of training with Slayers and battling with demons, Buffy had ascended to a level of skill no other Slayer could reach.
After London, Buffy had spent ten years travelling the world to support and teach the Slayers who had refused to go to London. Not all of them wanted to use their power, and there were plenty outside of Europe who were too proud to accept instruction from a California blond named Buffy. They didn’t know their history. So she did the best she could and always left the door open for them to seek help from the Council when needed. After a decade roaming the world, Buffy had been desperate to replant roots, and so when Dawn and Xander had decided to leave London for the warmer weather of L.A. in their later years, she decided to follow.
But L.A. really wasn’t her scene. Been there, done that, thanks for the memories. Also, it was Angel’s town. So she moved an hour north to a sleepy Sunnydale-esque town of law-abiding citizens who remained blissfully oblivious to the devils that walked among them. There were plenty of demons to kill in Santa Lucia and plenty to hunt in nearby Bakersfield and L.A.
She was efficient in her work these days: fish’ em out, cut’ em down. No time for quips and batting around her toys before the kill. She couldn’t kill enough in a night. The more she hunted, the fewer the other Slayers had to. Like a lioness, she killed to protect her cubs. These days, she was always on the hunt.
And hunters didn’t sunbathe.
“Maybe another day” she lied. “The beach will still be there.” There was a moment of awkward silence between the pair. Taking a deep breath she decided, “Well, I guess I’ll leave you to pack for London, then. Just let me run to the bathroom and I’ll be out of your fine but greying hair.”
Buffy couldn’t help but giggle. Dawn was still an easy target sometimes. The women shared a small smile before Buffy took her sister’s face in her hands and kissed her forehead like the mother she had never quite been. “Take care of yourself Dawnie. Give my love to the rug rats.”
“You could come you know,” Dawnie added.
“I know, but the Slayers in London have the Council and the Coven. Someone needs to back up the California girls. This isn’t a good time to leave them alone. There’ll be more Dragvloks coming to L.A. soon if Angel’s sources are right.”
“Alright. Well, let yourself out. I’ll be burrowed in my closet for the next hour.”
“I love you Dawn. Be careful.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to get a blood clot in my leg on the flight over.” Buffy narrowed her eyes at that. Dawn could be such a smart ass. Dawn giggled, “I meant, right back at ya.” The younger sister turned towards her bedroom and the arduous task of packing for a month away. She was looking forward to seeing the kids again. Xander had headed out two days earlier to catch Willow before she headed to Scotland for a week. He had telephoned that morning to tell her there was some exciting news. She was hoping that meant wedding bells for Joycie and the other Watcher she’d been dating for years.
Buffy headed to the bathroom. Closing the door behind her, she caught her reflection in the oversized mirror over the sink. She supposed she should cut her hair soon. It was almost to her waist, a little heavy when it was down, and it tended to bounce when she… deciding not to finish that thought, she faced the mirror head on. She rarely looked in the mirror at home, but there was no avoiding it in Dawn’s bathroom. She noticed she had gotten curvier in the last few years on an American diet, but she was pleased to see that she was mainly muscle, lean and limber. She took in her face next. Huh. She was pale, she realized. How had she not noticed? Bending closer to the mirror, she inspected her face from different angles. She really wasn’t the sun-kissed girl of her youth anymore, with skin so pale.
But in forty years, time had changed little else.
* * *
[Three weeks earlier]
“Toohey’s Old, mate, and make it quick.”
“G’day to you too, mate,” the demon bartender countered with annoyance.
Spike was in no mood for pleasantries. He was hurting in all the wrong places, and not in a good way. Yeah he was still the Slayer of Slayers, but one Slayer at a time for fucks sake. Not even ol’ Bat Face in his prime could have taken on a pack of seven Slayers. Hell, not even the poncy Immortal could have survived what Spike just had. He was the luckiest vamp on the planet for surviving that ambush, and he was pretty sure a broken rib had ruptured his spleen.
“Bloody hell” he groaned as he tipped the bottle to his busted lip and felt a stabbing pain in his side. Immortality could be a real bitch sometimes. Unrelenting debilitating pain sure as hell hadn’t been in the bloody brochure.
It was his own fault, he knew. The Council of Wankers didn’t know he’d survived the Hellmouth, let alone L.A.; and even if they had, ol’ Rupes would’ve been too happy to rectify the situation. Well, the Watcher is dead now, he considered with mixed feelings. He wouldn’t have told the Slayers anything good about Spike, that he knew. No doubt the prat had given Willow and the Slayers credit for the Hellmouth closing. Fair enough. They had all done their part. Anyway, who was he to demand gratitude? He had more blood on his hands than the First. Hell, the First didn’t even have hands. Come to think of it, neither did Spike once. Thanks to a Slayer.
It was bloody inconvenient being a White Hat when everyone assumed he was still a Big Bad just because he had fangs. Everywhere he went — Chile, Turkey, Botswana, Nepal, you name it — he’d have to contend with a Slayer. Make that packs of Slayers. He was a better demon fighter when he let out his own, but the Slayers would just see two monsters in a tussle — not a White Hat doing their bloody job.
Angel could have given the Slayers a heads up he supposed, but not without giving away Spike’s identity. And there was that. Spike wasn’t sure why he was so set on keeping his identity a secret all these years. Demons still knew who he was, of course, but they didn’t give him much trouble, or at least no more trouble than he could handle. But the Slayers would be off his back if he outed himself.
But there was Buffy.
She’d be around sixty now, he thought. Bloody hell, that was a hard thing to comprehend. Buffy old. She wasn’t supposed to live to see thirty. No other Slayer had. But he knew she was alive. The Poof would have told him otherwise. Plus, he had heard her name thrown around in more than one demon bar over the years — the name she would never relinquish that is: The Slayer. He’d hear something to the effect of The Slayer sicked her bitches after me from time to time. She must have settled nicely into the general role, he thought. No doubt she fought the good fight for a while before she settled down. She had always wanted a normal life, after all.
So he figured the Slayer to have long been domesticated - a loving wife and mother — hell, a yummy grandmum by now — healthy, happy… and finished. She would’ve filled-out nicely, but she’d still be fit he reckoned. A glorious matriarch to a world of Slayers.
She didn’t need to know about him, he insisted. What would he be to her after all these years? Nothing more than a semi-fond memory from a forgotten time. Or worse, a painful reminder of one of her darkest periods — not her hero come home. Not the knight in shining leather whose hand she held as the Hellmouth crumbled around them. Fuck that was a beautiful moment. Spike turned over his right hand and traced the scar in his palm that time wouldn’t fade.
So he knew why he could never tell her. After all this time, he was no longer to her what he had been — whatever that was. She hadn’t loved him, he knew. But she had cared enough to say as much as he started to burn. That was something. Hell that was everything — the most he ever had in his unlife anyway.
She shouldn’t have mattered so much to him anymore. Forty years should have lessened the hurt, dampened the love. But that’s the funny thing about time when you’re immortal. Forty years is nothing. It’s like, because the body doesn’t age, the heart doesn’t either. Or the mind. Spike could remember with perfect clarity the first time he and Buffy had kissed when they weren’t under a spell, just as clearly as he could remember the pain he felt when he saw her kiss Angel after the night Spike held her in his arms. He could remember the smell of her sweat, the sounds she made when he touched her, the expression on her face when she came, the way she glowed when she was happy, the fact that he had never made her glow.
And then there was the sad and beautiful fact that she was surely no longer what she had been: his fierce and fearless warrior-goddess with a damaging right hook. She would have handed over the reins to the bitty Slayers years ago. That was a good thing, he supposed. She deserved to rest, should’ve rested long ago. But fuck had he loved to watch her dance.
She’d still be a goddess though - he was sure - just a greying, domestic one. William would have adored growing old with her. She’d be elegant, but strong, like his own mum had been. Maybe even wise. And still one hell of a woman.
But he wasn’t William. He was Spike. Still young. Still undead. Were he to face her now, she’d just see a freakish reminder of how different they were, how little he belonged in her world. How wrongly he fit. Stop it, he chided himself. Thoughts of Buffy only set him to brooding, and the world didn’t need another brooding bastard.
“Another Toohey’s mate.” He was nowhere close to being drunk yet. Maybe he should order a bottle of Jack, he thought. Didn’t seem right to him though, drinking Tennessee whiskey in Sydney. When in Rome and all that rot. They had some half decent beers in Oz he would admit, better than the Yanks made, but not as good as home. Seemed proper to drink a local schooner. Just have to drink a case of ‘em. Good thing the last demon he killed had some dosh to nick.
Come to think about it, good thing the Slayers weren’t too tough either. He had barely survived his battles with Xin Rong and Nikki Wood. Seven Slayers should have killed him on superior numbers alone. The skill wasn’t there though, or the ferocity. Spike reckoned their travelling in packs made them soft — too reliant on superhuman back-up and too inexperienced in going all out — fist and fangs — in a battle to survive. That’s how Buffy had gotten too good to beat. Sure she had the Scoobies in an apocalypse, but she sent Angel to hell on her own. She bested Spike in the harsh light of day.
Their numbers were dwindling fast too, the Slayers, especially the further you got from London. Used to be you couldn’t walk two blocks without sniffing out a Slayer. Plenty of them seemed rogue too, or at least not yet under the thumb of the Council of Wankers. Too many, too dispersed, he supposed. That meant they weren’t trained in centuries-old fighting techniques and demonology and whatnot. Some of the chits seemed to think a stake could kill anything. Well a stake can kill a new-born Slayer too. They learned that much. Sad, really. None of those girls had to die if they hadn’t been called. They could have been tucked warm in their beds every night, not out trolling cemeteries. But then, who knows how many people they had saved because they had been called. No use questioning the state of things now, he supposed. It was giving him a headache, anyway.
He had to get out of Oz, he decided; and not just because it was no fun finding dead Slayers on every corner, and even less fun getting beat down by packs of ‘em he could’ve easily bested in smaller numbers. It was too bloody sunny Down Under. The locals were always boasting about having the highest number of sunny days per year or some such thing. Sunshine and no subways. It was inconvenient as hell for a vamp accustomed to getting around by day. And anyway, it had been a month since he’d slaughtered that pair of Dragvloks he’d been hunting. Time to move on.
He just needed a place to go.
Spike supposed he could always check in with the Poof. He usually rang Spike when he had a job in some far corner of the world that needed a tough bastard with nothing to lose. Hence the Dragvloks, who had been picking off Slayers like sausage on pizza ever since an army of them had blown up the Dragvlok homeland in Vancouver. They were vicious by nature and bloody tough to kill, especially for a Slayer, now that the Dragvloks wanted vengeance.
Spike hated to ring the Poof though. It looked too needy. He preferred Angel ring him because he was needy. He supposed he could always drop into L.A. on some pretence of passing through, and ever-so-subtly see what kind of action the Poof knew about. Angel would be shocked to see him, and none too pleased. Spike hadn’t stepped foot in California since the battle with the Black Thorn when everything went to shit. He had just started to fit in with a group again when they all got slaughtered. Even Big Blue. Only Spike and Angel had survived the bloodbath, and barely. And while they had come to tolerate each other at Wolfram and Hart, and had developed something of a working relationship, it was never going to hold up with just the two of them. They weren’t friends for fucks sake. They were just the only survivors of the destruction of what Angel had built for himself there. That’s probably why Angel seemed to want Spike to stay out of L.A. Ol’ Spike had become a painful reminder to everyone.
So Spike had left California — the place of some very spectacular kickings of his ass. The place where he had lost the few friends he had managed to make in a century. The place where he had once meant something to a woman who had long since moved on and grown old. He wondered where she was now.
Fuck it. He was bored, and killing random demons was fun, but unfulfilling. He preferred a mission, the tougher the better. And the Saviour of Slayers had a noble ring to it. So he’d get the heads up from the Poof on where the Dragvloks were hunting Slayers now and derive a small bit of pleasure from shocking Gramps.
Spike dropped a twenty on the bar, pocketed his smokes, and headed to the back door.
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