Author's Chapter Notes:
Written just before the fifth season of Angel and Spike's return from ash.

DISCLAIMER: Joss Whedon and ME are the owners and creators of all things Buffy. THe entire Buffyverse belong to them and only them....I merely visit on occasion and write a story or two.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Takes place a few weeks after "Chosen".
Buffy, the scoobies, Giles and Kennedy had been on the road for weeks following Willow's locator spells for the new slayers. They might have covered more territory if they were to separate, but they all felt a bit fragile after the events in Sunnydale. Perhaps, one should say, the former Sunnydale.

Xander had lost his love, Anya, this time in a final way. He was also still trying to adjust to having only one eye. He and Dawn had made up from the night Xander had tried to obey Buffy and get her little sister out of Sunnydale before the final battle began.

As Xander drove east on I40, Dawn sat behind him and read the map making jokes about over population. They had driven through mile after mile with hardly even a lizard in sight. Dawn was trying to find someplace, ANYPLACE, with a decent population for the group to find a motel and rest.

They were still in the same school bus that had been used to escape the sinkhole that had once been their home town.

After years of the hellmouth spewing its creatures into Sunnydale, Sunnydale had finally returned the favor and just jumped into the hellmouth whole, or so it seemed to the casual observer.

The truth, as those in the bus and the others who had scattered earlier could attest, was far more horrible and costly. Several new slayers had died in the battle as well as Xander’s Anya. Then there was one was talking about what had happened to the souled vampire who had given his life to save them all.

Buffy had only said it was Spike that won the whole battle, burning to his final death in the process. It was his sacrifice of his own life that killed the Ubervamps by the thousands and caused Sunnydale to be sucked into the hellmouth, closing it once and for all. He had saved the whole world in that act of selfless heroism.

After her explanation, she had grown silent on the subject and no one else brought it up. Spike was a funny subject with this group. The history with each one there made him a rough topic.

Willow had come to have a soft spot for Spike over the years after she got over her initial fear of the big bad boy.

Xander had, frankly, always been both jealous and afraid of the powerful vampire. If the truth were told, they had much more in common than either of them would EVER have admitted, even to themselves.

Kennedy had gone toe to toe with Spike as a sort of macho warrior rival. They hadn't really bonded in the time they had known each other. "If anyone other than Buffy ever really knew him at all.", Kennedy thought. Oh well, her Will liked him, so he had to be at least Okay.

Dawn had once adored Spike and felt mostly sad that they hadn't gotten back to a good place after he and Buffy seemed to get past Spikes attempted rape of her big sister. Dawn had kept her distance waiting to see how things played out between her sis and the handsome blonde vampire. Dawn felt she would need some closure in time, but for now cracking jokes and planning the next stop would work to keep those thoughts at bay.

Giles felt the most awkward of all of them. He HAD tried to help destroy the one who ultimately saved the day. The Watcher had badly misjudged the former enemy. Perhaps he'd been blinded by worry over Buffy's obvious feelings for yet another vampire. He had wanted so much better for her future. Ironically as he had diverted Buffy so that Robin Wood could kill Spike, Giles had even asked Buffy if she would spare the vampire she was sparring with if his living would save the world. Meanwhile, he was helping to try to kill the very one who WOULD do just that.

So much about Spike made Giles uncomfortable. Uncomfortable about himself and his errors in judgement and uncomfortable with feeling a vague relief that Spike was now dead and not a part of Buffy's life to worry over. Giles always hated how Spike made him feel about himself. Even in death it didn't change.

Of all of them, Buffy held tightest to her secret thoughts about Spike and his death. She dared not open that door for fear of all that might ooze out of her subconscious. She wasn't read to deal yet. No, not yet, maybe never.

She was too raw and still too afraid of her inner demons. "Spike would have smiled at that last thought.", she said to herself.

Dawn finally decided they'd have to go half way into the State and in to Albuquerque before finding much in the way of a place to stop for a while. There was so much open space in New Mexico! Dawn figured you could put the entire population of L.A. there and give them all a ranch of their own and still have lots of open area left over.

It WAS a land of enchantment like the slogan said....lots of natural beauty and surprisingly different terrain but not a lot of citizens. At least not two legged ones, she thought as she remembered the massive centipede at the last rest stop! Considering the drought problem, the lack of people was probably a good thing.

Albuquerque it was then as they drove on eastward in near silence.

They pulled in to the Holiday Inn later that night. It was right past the major east/west and north/south interstate interchange and they were poised to go in any direction that Willow's spell might send them. They got the rooms and opened the connecting door between them. Somehow the need to stick together made closed doors feel wrong.

They had located and mentored slayers from California through Arizona since that last battle. Slayers who had taken part in the battle would stay behind and act almost as if they were Watchers for the ones who had no clue of what had happened to themselves in a twinkling. Rona and Vi had been the last two, leaving the group in Flagstaff, Arizona to mentor a college girl slayer in that town and a Navajo girl nearby who Willow had identified as well.

It was a relief in a way for Rona to leave as the tension between she and Buffy had never really gone away. It seemed even more noticable after Spike had died. Rona had had an........attitude, shall we say towards Buffy and Spike.

Giles was one of only a handful with a true Watcher background and now there was a world chock full of new slayers and precious few Watchers left. The task ahead was formidable to say the least. At least they had access to the funds from the councils coffers. Travel could be costly.

In time Giles, Robson and perhaps Welsey, if he so desired, would work on some formal restart of the destroyed council. Thanks to all the information Giles had scanned (with help from Willow and Jenny Calendar) from the library into the computer years ago, not all was lost. Angel also had access to information that would be helpful at W&H in L.A. that Wesley could contribute.

What had been gained by the tremendous sacrifice at the hellmouth in the battle against evil had been lost in the files and structure of the council. It balanced, in an odd way. There was MUCH to do, however, and evil never rested long.

The gang had ordered pizza delivered and gathered in one of the rooms to watch some cable and unwind from the hours on the road. They settled in to take a walk in the past with a VH1 look back at the 80's.

Giles was being teased mercilessly about being an old man, even older than the aged rockers on the program. Considering the rest of the group were in diapers or pre-school when the songs were first popular, it left Giles to be the "old man".

Pizza and good natured teasing passed from person to person as the tensions of the day melted. Buffy alone kept quiet as her friends chattered around her. It seemed odd to be less talkative than Giles.

Buffy had been withdrawing more and more within herself since that fateful last battle with the First Evil. As much as she loved everyone in the room, they just would not be able to understand her feelings. On one hand, for the first time in her life she had a freedom to make life choices based on more than being a slayer. On the other she was dealing with a loss she was only starting to realize the depths of feeling.

She had always hated being "the one" with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Now that weight was shared by thousands around the world. She felt a freedom she'd not felt since she was called as a slayer at fifteen. Yet another debt owed to Spike.

Spike! The depths of sadness his name evoked were beyond explaining to her friends and surrogate father. The history she had with Spike covered so much, both good and bad. He had given her so much just in his last few days that none of them would ever know or understand.

She had been BEYOND depressed when he'd found her at that house after the potentials , her friends and family had driven her out into the night. He had said the most beautiful words to her, words she had clung to on her climb back up from the pit of depression and defeat. She had been ready to just lie there and give up until he forced her to listen to him and HIS opinion of what and who Buffy Summers was. He had not asked a thing from her, only gave what she needed. He had held her all night, just as she had asked him to do. She had awakened as if reborn....all due to him. He gave her strength when hers was gone.

If she hadn't had that strength, that renewed sense of purpose, the scythe would never have come into her posession. The scythe that Willow had used to spread the duties of saving the world amongst many girls not just Buffy and Faith. SO, he gave her the freedom she now had available.

No, she couldn't think about him. about loosing him. She had felt the bleakness of losing him once before, but he had come back. He came back CRAZY, but did come back. There'd be no coming back this time and Buffy couldn't handle that reality just yet.

Every man she had ever loved had left her. Buffy was getting used to it. Somehow she hadn't expected Spike to go though. God knows she had tried everything to MAKE him leave in the past. There had been no getting rid of him then. She had pretty much just expected he would always be there and now he wasn't. Buffy couldn't deal, not now.

Buffy was startled out of this reverie by the distinctive sounds of guitar chords ringing. VH1 was still showing classics from the 80's. Buffy looked up a the sound and was greeted with Spike. Ok, actually Billy Idol, doing the "White Wedding" video that had put him on top in the 80's. Spike once told Buffy that Billy Idol got his look from him. Seeing the image on the screen gave proof to Spikes claim. It was just TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH.

Buffy got up and went to the adjoining room, fleeing for her very life, or at least her peace of mind.

Silence came over the room like a death shroud. Everyone's eyes fell instantly. No one could look at anyone else and no one could look toward Buffy's retreating figure. Everyone knew, without a word said, what had happened. A ghost was in the room and no one knew how to help poor haunted Buffy deal.

Willow decided enough was enough. Time to take some action that had been needed for months now.


Willow gently closed the door connecting the two rooms. If she was going to finally get her best friend to open up she knew it would have to be a private moment. Not for the world would Buffy let anyone in the other room know the depth of her pain. They had all been down THAT road more than once in the past.

Buffy was sitting in the dark at the end of the bed nearest the window. It was a typical Holiday Inn with drapes heavy enough to block all light, if there had been any. The room was pitch black, like Buffy's mood.

Will sat next to her old friend in that kind of silence only available to long time friends or spouses without being awkward. Buffy said nothing and didn't acknowledge Willow's presence with a look or touch either.

"Hey, Buff,", Willow began quietly. "I think Billy Idol missed some of Spikes charm and swagger if you ask me. There's nothing like the original, after all. He kinda' had the growlage down though you have to admit.". Willow received no reply but trudged on gamely, "look, Buff, maybe you wanna have some kind of, you know, service or something? I know Xander needs to deal about Anya and we could put something nice together even here if you want.".

Willow was almost positive that Buffy would have NO desire to do any such thing. She hoped desperately that it would start her friend talking at least, instead of this awful walled off silence.

"I should have done something constructive like that when I , well, when Tara......", she broke off with a slight catch to her voice at the memory of her soul mate.

As if finally sensing the bond of shared loss, even stronger than friendship at this moment, Buffy turned to Willow and began to softly speak. "How did you know, did Tara tell you?", she asked with a little surprised sound. "I don't think I even knew till it was way too late. He didn't believe me, you know. He ALWAYS knew me, even better than I did sometimes, but he missed that one when it counted.", she said with a wealth of sadness.

"Well Buffy, I did finish Psych 101 even with Professor Walsh dying and all. I can catch a Fruedian slip with the best of college Sophmores.", she finished with a slight grin.

"What do you mean about being all catchy with slips?", Buffy seemed genuinely confused.

"You know that date you were gonna' have with the hottie principal. We were talking and I said I was glad you were going to move on. You said, and I quote, why does everyone in this house seem to think I'm still in love with Spike. Well, it doesn't take a genius to get that the word STILL was kinda the key, Buffy.", Willow explained. "I mean if you'd loved him still be STILL loving him, then the before would have been before know what I mean? Before when you were, know.", Willow was embarassing herself probably more than she was Buffy.

"Buffy, Tara only said you two were, well...together but you kept it a secret 'cause you thought we wouldn't handle it well. She never said anything about you loving Spike. I kinda' figured that out like everyone else did by watching you. You were all protecty and 'Hey, don't touch my boyfriend' and all. We could all see it. I mean here we were all getting ready to fight the First and this big bad Ubervamp and you kept talking about finding and rescuing Spike. Gee, Buffy, you weren't even sleeping except little kitty naps!", Willow let out in a rush.

Buffy turned to her friend and lay open her heart at that. "Why didn't HE see it then, Will?", she asked with a haunted sound in her voice. "God, when he tried to....when he came up to the bathroom that night....he said he knew...why...", she sputtered trying to get out so many thoughts all at once.

Willow turned on the small bedside lamp and looked into her hurting friends eyes. The dam holding back Buffy's words broke as the memories began to flood into her conscious mind. "When you guys brought me back, I was so depressed, Will, you know that. I couldn't talk to any of you about it. Spike was there being all sympathy and concern. You know how he was always so weird like that for a vampire. Drove me crazy! How could I do my job if a soulless vampire could love, show compassion? It was just not...I couldn't deal, ya' know...not then. Anyway, we got kinda' close. Talky close.", she emphasized on seeing Willow's look.

"Then Xander called up that dancing demon and the next thing I know Spike is singing to me about being my slave and all and I'm singing to you guys about being in heaven, then I followed Spike out and ...well I kissed him. I kissed him again the night Giles left. He wanted to get all 'Let's talk about this.' and I just wanted to remember why I couldn't go down THAT road no matter how good a kisser he is.....was.", she finished sadly. "I called him everything I could think of to remind myself what he was to keep from taking that leap. You know, evil, souless thing...stuff like that to kinda' turn me off. I started hitting him too. He hit me back finally and figured out the chip didn't work on me.".

"WHAT,", Willow yelled, causing Buffy to jump and the friends next door to become alarmed. "What do you mean the chip didn't work?", she asked with more concern than needed under the circumstances. "Didn't Tara tell you that part Will?", Buffy asked in surprise. Willow shook her head "no" in reply. "Yeah, the chip didn't recognize me as human from the time I came back. I had Tara look up the spell you did but she said I was human, just with a sunburn kinda'.".

Giles had been at the door in response to Willow's shocked "WHAT" when Buffy said that. He was startled to know that Spike had been free to do real damage to Buffy for so long and wondered at why he had not taken advantage of the fact. Giles figured any conversation involving Spike, chips and Buffy would only suffer with his presence. He returned to the rest of the group. The ringing of the phone drew his attention back to the here and now as he answered his cell phone.

"Spike said I came back wrong.", Buffy continued. "I was really scared and well, we fought. He really DIDN'T have any pain when he'd hit me, Will. I guess I just grabbed that as an excuse, you know, not being completely's not like I thought it through, but, well..I could do whatever I wanted and it would be okay because I came back wrong. I really was hard on him, Will. I mean, I was the one who kissed him, I was the one who, you know...started everything. He really loved me Willow and part of me always knew it was true. I, well you remember how beat up he always looked and how I was always gone.", she confessed.

"I always thought he was getting beaten up while fighting vampires and demons, Buffy, I never guessed. ", Willow hid her shock at the information of how Buffy had treated Spike.

"Well, I used him and even told him I was doing it. HE said he was okay with it because that's what he thought I needed, I guess. After Riley came back, I started to realize that I was really hurting Spike and broke it off.", Buffy blushed then corrected the wording, "broke up, I mean.". "You pretty much know what happened after that. You know, with Anya and the nerds camera and everythihng.", Buffy tried to condense those months into a few terse words for Willow. Some memories would remain private, even now.

"I don't know why he showed up like he did that night. He was a bit drunk and I was already sore because of the buzz saw and a vamp who wacked me around earlier. He said he'd come to say he was sorry for hurting me, you know, the Anya thing. I wasn't in the mood and told him so. Willow, he said he could tell that I cared even when I said I didn't. He said I felt it too when we were...when we did, when he...', she trailed off in embarassment. "He said he'd make me feel it and say it.", her voice a mere whisper.

"I remember the look on his face when I finally pushed him off. He looked like that later, in the basement of that woman's house, when he remembered killing again 'cause of the trigger and the First. He was horrified by what he'd done. It was real, Willow, the horror and self loathing. I made him leave and he did. It's not like I had to hit him with furniture like I did Xander when he was a hyena or anything. I guess that's when he left to get his soul. He knew the chip didn't stop him and he didn't want to be ABLE to hurt me.", she sighed deeply in rememberance of his tortured body and mind when he returned to her.

"That's why I had the chip removed like I did later. All those months before he got his soul and the chip didn't work on me. He could have done ANYTHING to me even bite me when I slept, but he didn't. Yeah he DID try to rape me - that's the term for it, but it was different in a way too. But the point is, why did he STOP, not why did he do it? He should have been no different towards me then he was when he first came to town..., no chip, no soul. He had changed even then, Will. Ok he was still an evil vampire, but he'd started to fight back with the demon! So much happened so fast after that night.", she said needlessly.

"I took Dawn for him to watch when we went looking for you. He was gone and Clem was there. I really thought I was furious with him over, you know, what had almost happened. It was weird, when Clem said he was gone and didn't know for how long....I felt like the floor had opened and I was falling into a pit or something. I was reeling but had to get busy finding you.", Buffy shot a look of apology to Willow at bringing up THAT night.

"Why did you guys think I spent so much time with Clem that summer? Since when did I care about the history channel? I kept hoping he'd come home. I tried to tell myself it was because I wanted to have it out with him but really I just HAD to see him again, you know?".

Buffy took a deep breath, coming into the home stretch now. "I'd finally given up. He was gone like dad, like Angel, like Riley, like Giles, like they all do. I'd closed that door finally then - BAM - the door opened in the basement and there he was all crazy and wild and... wonderful to see. Yeah, I took the job Robin offered so I could look out for Dawn. But I also wanted an excuse to see what he was doing, how he was doing. Well you pretty much know the rest, you were there. I just couldn't seem to say the words - made excuses, lied to myself and everyone else too. He never pushed me, said he'd moved past it even.", she had a far away look remembering running into him in the hall upstairs in her old home. Both gone now, Spike and home.

"Angel asked me if I loved Spike,", Buffy shared. Willow had been startled to hear the name of Buffy's first love in the middle of this catharsis about Spike but continued to listen. "I didn't really answer, couldn't. I said Spike was in my heart. You remember that old Rod Stewart song don't you. 'you're in my heart you're in my soul', Buffy began to sing..rather sadly. "Hey, I bet it'll be on VH1 to make me miserable too!'. Buffy exclaimed with more than a little irony.

"Willow, Spike and I never...not after he got back, we never", she didn't need to finish the thought. "He held me, loved me with words, gave me strength. He's the reason I got the scythe and came home and he's the reason I had the strength to take the fight to the First. He gave me my freedom, Will. Okay, yes, you did the spell, but it was because of Spike we had the scythe to begin with. He knew the amulet was dangerous but chose to be my champion. He saved us all, Willow. My Spike, my good man.", she began to cry softly, finally.

"I begged him to leave with me, said he'd done enough, but he wanted to finish it once and for all. Willow, I finally had the courage to face what I really felt and tell him. I told him that I loved him and he didn't believe me - God, Willow, he didn't believe me! He died thinking I was only being NICE, telling him what he wanted to hear. And I LEFT him there to die.". AT that, the months of tears began to cascade down her face as she began to sob in grief for her lost lover Spike as well as missed opportunities. Her slender body shook with the force of the sobs finally escaping her, cleansing her.

"Buffy, maybe he DID believe you.", Willow saw something Buffy had missed in her pain and loss. "You were free and yet you were staying there with him. Buffy, he was afraid you'd stay till the end and die too. He wanted you to leave, to live.", she stated as if it were a fact. "He knew, he had to know. Everything you did, the looks you gave him...Buffy, he had to know. He just gave you a final gift is all.", she said as she held her tear wracked friend.

Willow and Buffy held each other as Buffy mourned her dead love, alone in a private memorial of sorts. A time of truth telling and fact facing and terrible, terrible loss.

Giles stood in the doorway and wondered what he should do. He had told Wesley that he would handle things from here, but, what was the right way to "handle things"? The phone call had left more questions than answers and the right thing was anything but clear to Buffy's Watcher and father figure. Should he tell her what had happened in L.A.? Now that she had finally begun down the road back to all of them who loved her. Did he risk putting her into God only knew what position. Things were anything but clear out there in L.A. at this point anyway. Would he be doing Buffy - or Spike - any favors by speaking up? He took off his glasses and wiped them as he tried to decide what to do.


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