|Story Title:||Miles To Go Before I Sleep|
Dawn must say goodbye, but there’s one more mission in the offing, and a little surprise waiting at the mansion for Buffy.
Music Referenced: Photograph, Nickelback http://youtu.be/BB0DU4DoPP4
Some photographs courtesy of FreeFoto.com
|Thanks:||Thanks to YOU for reading! Without you none of this would mean anything! Giant thanks also to Anona for betaing this chapter, including her grammatical and punctuation corrections, wonderful commentary, and final review. Also thanks to Capella42 for her insightful suggestions that made the whole story better. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the very last moment.|
|Rating / Warnings:||
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
Day after the party. Early morning, Sunday, September 11th, 2011:
Dawn sighed and blinked back her tears as she studied the newspaper article from the 'Sydney Morning Herald' that was displayed on Buffy’s computer:
June 2007. After a whirl-wind romance while attending a professional conference in Rome, Sun-Herald financial editor, Samuel Sandstone, married Janet Morley, Annuity Services Director at the prestigious Sydney financial services firm of Latham, Marsden, and Smyth. “It was love at first sight,” Samuel beamed after the simple ceremony. “She swept me off my feet!” The happy couple honeymooned in the beautiful Sicilian coastal village of Taormina …
“Sam…” Dawn sighed heavily, her heart torn between giddy relief that he was alive in this world, and utter heartbreak that he’d married someone else. Love at first sight. “That should’ve been me…”
“What should’ve?” Buffy asked from right behind her, causing Dawn to shriek and jump, nearly toppling her chair over.
“Shit!” Dawn exclaimed, steadying the chair. “Ever hear of knocking?”
“You’re in my office. The door was open,” Buffy defended as she looked at the computer screen.
“Is that … him?” Buffy asked, pointing to a picture of a handsome man that appeared to be happier than anyone had a right to be. He was standing next to an equally giddy young woman in a simple, white dress holding a bouquet of wild flowers. A bluer-than-blue ocean spread out behind them, framing them in the warmth of the Mediterranean.
“Yeah … that’s Sam,” Dawn confirmed.
“He doesn’t really look like a Watcher,” Buffy observed. “He kinda looks vaguely like …”
“Spike,” Dawn sighed.
Buffy started a bit and leaned in for a closer look. "Oh ... I was gonna say Billy Idol, but ... okay, yeah, I guess."
Dawn snorted and rolled her eyes. “Believe me, I know. That’s why I didn’t marry him right away when he asked me. We were just like this,” Dawn explained, waving her hand vaguely at the computer screen. “Love at first sight; all googly eyes, goofy smiles, and racing hearts. I was afraid I was just … projecting.”
“How did he get to be a Watcher? He’s … Australian?” Buffy wondered, squinting at the computer screen. “And works at a newspaper … in finance. Not typical Watcher material.”
Dawn shrugged. “He’s some really distant relation to an old Watcher family. Giles always tried recruiting from ‘within the ranks’,” Dawn explained, adding Giles’ accent to the last words. “It worked surprisingly well, actually. I guess it’s like Slayers: take someone with Watcher blood running in their veins and show them a vampire and they just … get it. They’re, like, born to help.”
Buffy studied the photo on the screen. The girl he’d married actually looked a bit like Dawn. She wondered if her Giles had ever contacted him about becoming a Watcher … then quickly decided to not even mention it to anyone on the Council. Sam had died being a Watcher in Dawn’s world; Dawn would never want that to happen here.
“But … weren’t you guys together for a while?” Buffy wondered. “I mean – projectile infatuation only lasts so long.”
“You make it sound like I had food poisoning,” Dawn rebuffed, then sighed. “Yeah, we were together over two years.”
“And?” Buffy prompted.
“And … I really loved him. And he loved me. We … fit.”
“And?” Buffy continued pressing. “Why didn’t you marry him? You just said he asked you.”
“He asked on our ten-day anniversary. I … couldn’t do it. I couldn’t marry someone I’d known ten days. Then I just …” Dawn shrugged. “I guess I let life get in the way of living. He was learning to be a Watcher and getting to know his Slayer. I was working with Gertie and Shiro and trying to be all … ‘in touch’, and also attending classes at Oxford, and I just always thought there would be tomorrow. We’d get married … tomorrow, when things had settled down. Then, tomorrow never came.”
Dawn blinked tears back and stared at the computer screen and the photo there. “He found someone here that wasn’t afraid …” She nodded her head in approval. “That’s good … it’s good that he found someone as free-spirited as he was … is – someone who knows that tomorrow may never come.”
Buffy stroked a hand down the back of Dawn’s long hair comfortingly. “It’s hard to be impulsive and give your heart away when it’s been broken so many times. Maybe if Spike and I hadn’t left you … hadn’t died …”
Dawn shook her head. “It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault – it just is.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “That sounds like Gertie talking.”
Dawn shrugged again. “Yeah, I guess. But she’s right. She tried to teach me that I don’t always have control over what happens around me, but I do have control over how I let it affect me. It’s totally my choice how I react to circumstances. I can let them control me, or I can take control and refuse to be manipulated. It’s ok to feel the pain, but it’s my choice to let it overwhelm me or if I walk through it and emerge stronger on the other side. I got it – too late, but I got it.
“It’s one thing I always admired about you, Buffy. You just took everything in stride … rolled with the punches and came up swinging. You never let yourself be manipulated into inaction … even in the face of overwhelming odds. You always believed you’d win – and you always did ... even if it cost you your life, you still won somehow. I always wished I could be like that.”
A snort of sarcastic laughter burst from Buffy’s throat. “You must have been living with a different Buffy. Either that or the monks really twisted your memories.”
Dawn finally turned around and looked at her. “No, I remember perfectly. I remember you taking on the Master. You were what? Fifteen? Sixteen? You were scared out of your mind, but you did it – and you won. I remember you sending Angel to hell to save the world. Yeah … you took a time-out after that down in L.A., but you walked through the fire, through the pain, and came back stronger than ever.
“I remember you defeating a hell-god. I remember you giving your life – for me. You didn’t hesitate. You didn’t say, ‘Well, maybe I better think this over’, or ‘Maybe I can wait until tomorrow.’ You just … followed your heart. Bam. Done. No doubt, no debate, no indecision.”
“You make it sound like I’m fearless … I’m totally not,” Buffy argued. “I think lots of things over. I put stuff off…”
“Yeah, I know the kinds of stuff you put off: studying for exams you put off, dusting, mopping, and washing windows you put off. Things that matter you just … act. You may feel the fear, but you do it anyway. I felt the fear and I just … curled up in a ball and hid.”
“Dawn, I’m far from perfect and I don’t always act … sanely. I’d probably be better off sometimes if I stopped to think a little more,” Buffy admitted.
Dawn shook her head. “No, you wouldn’t. You and Spike – you guys shoot from the hip, take no prisoners, jump first and figure out how to swim when you hit the water. You live with passion for everything you do. I learned that lesson the hard way. It took a really long time. You’d think that after losing Mom and you … Spike, Tara, and Anya, I would’ve figured it out sooner.
“You know what really did it?” Dawn asked, meeting Buffy’s eyes with hers.
Buffy shook her head.
“One day, it was maybe two or three months after Sam died. Xander and I were in bed wallowing, pretty literally, in our self-pity…”
“You’re getting on the verge of TMI…” Buffy warned.
Dawn smiled. “Right … Anyway, the TV was on in the other room and that old song came on. You know the one that Mom used to hum and sing to us from that movie?”
“‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – ‘Moon River’,” Buffy provided.
Dawn nodded. “All these memories of you and me and Mom and Dad all dancing around the living room to that song came flooding back. You’d be dancing with Dad and I’d be with Mom and …” Dawn’s voice broke and she cleared it.
Buffy nodded at the happy, albeit false, memory. Dawn wasn’t there – neither was her dad, for that matter. Her mom had danced with Buffy. Sometimes Joyce would just spontaneously stop doing whatever it was she was doing, and they would dance in the living room, laughing and singing that old, favorite song. The monks had taken that memory and made it even happier when they’d inserted Dawn into it. Hank would’ve never danced in the living room in the middle of the day ... or, well, anytime, for that matter.
“So,” Dawn continued, her voice stronger. “I asked Xander to dance with me. I just wanted to feel that again … feel something other than this overwhelming blackness that had taken over. He looked at me like I’d asked him to jump off the Eiffel tower. ‘I don’t dance – ever,' he literally growled at me. He was still just as angry about losing Anya as he had been the very first night we spent in that stupid school bus on the way to L.A. after the town collapsed.
“It hit me like a freight train. Sam would’ve danced with me. Spike would’ve danced … you would’ve danced ... Mom, Tara ... hell, Anya would've danced. And finally I understood what Gertie was talking about. I could let all my losses and mistakes pile up and smother me, like Xander had, or I could get up and decide to live. And Willow’s words about how you and Spike would want me to live and love and be happy came back to me, and I knew that Sam would want that too.
“I tried to get through to Xander, to show him how much he was dishonoring Anya’s sacrifice by being so …” Dawn shuddered and averted her eyes from Buffy, but didn’t finish her thought. “He got … even angrier. I couldn’t stay with Xander anymore. I probably owe him for pushing me past my fear, but I can’t reach him. I don’t think anyone can penetrate those walls of razor-wire he’s got up.”
Dawn took a deep, trembling breath and let it out slowly as she looked back up at her sister. “Now, when I have the chance to … for example, come visit my sister and her family in another dimension, I don’t even think about it. I follow my heart. It says ‘jump’ and I jump. I’m not afraid of the water anymore – I know I’ll figure out how to swim … and mostly I have fun doing it.”
“Keep in mind that all that jumping has gotten me killed a time or three…” Buffy warned.
Dawn gave her sister and patient smile. “But, given the same circumstances, would you have ever done anything differently any of those times?” Dawn pressed.
“Honestly? Yes. My first instinct when it came to the Master was to run and hide. To quit, turn in my stake, and move to Outer Mongolia. If I’d done that, he might still be trapped in that stupid church. It was one of those self-fulfilling prophecies.
“And this last time? I think I really should’ve just killed Cordy. She is such a bitch, and now she’s got this whole crazy-jealous vibe going on. I don’t see how anyone could’ve really held that against me. I would’ve probably gotten a medal or a promotion or something.”
Dawn gave Buffy a doubtful look.
“Well, she is! I know one thing: I’ll never turn my back on her again.”
“Okay,” Dawn acquiesced, holding her hands up in surrender. “Maybe your way isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than being frozen with fear of what might happen … what might go wrong. You and Spike are my heroes, so … don’t ruin it by telling me you’re only human and you’ve made mistakes. I refuse to believe it.”
“Right, and the Tooth Fairy, Santa, and Mrs. Claus have a beach house in Malibu together,” Buffy laughed. “They’re quite the hot threesome.”
Dawn rolled her eyes but laughed.
“There are no mistakes,” Buffy advised, still smiling as she reached her hand out and tucked a lock of Dawn’s hair behind her ear. “Only opportunities to take a different path to your destination. I’ve taken the long way home a time or two. I prefer to think it makes me … interesting and quirky, not an idiot that didn’t think far enough ahead to buy a map.”
Dawn laughed, stood up, and pulled Buffy into a hug. “I think our family is map-challenged. It’s really not our fault at all … it must be in the genes. I think it's Dad's fault.”
Buffy laughed and hugged Dawn back. “Yep, that must be it. It could never be our fault – we’re much too pretty for anything to be our fault.”
“And interesting and quirky,” Dawn added.
Later that morning…
Dawn had promised herself she would not cry.
Standing in front of the portal that would lead her back home, she cried. Buffy hugged her again and cried with her. Annie piled onto the hug and cried too. Spike sighed and clenched his jaw. He was not going to cry, damn it.
“You can come back anytime,” Buffy was saying to Dawn. “And … and … you have that spell from Willow, right, the dimension-dream-jumping spell? If you need help, you just focus on one of us and we’ll come.”
Dawn nodded against her sister’s shoulder. She knew she could come back, but she didn’t want to leave. She also knew she had to go home. Giles would be worried and they needed her there.
“Right, off with ya then,” Spike barked. He hated long goodbyes.
The three girls disentangled from their hug and nodded, wiping at their eyes and choking back more tears.
Spike clenched his fists and his fingernails dug into the palms of his hands. He was not gonna cry.
“I love you, Spike,” Dawn sobbed, wrapping him in a tight hug. “Thank you so much for finding me and giving me this.”
Bloody hell. “Anything for you, Niblett,” Spike replied, his voice cracking with unshed tears as he wrapped his arms around her. “You jus’ keep laughing, yeah? Sounds good on ya, pet.”
Dawn nodded and tried to laugh, but it came out as a choked sob. Spike blinked furiously, but it was too late: the tears had won.
She finally pulled away, wiping her eyes and nose again, and turned towards the portal. With great effort of will she composed herself and issued the command for the portal to open. As the white light swirled, she turned one last time to them.
“It’ll only take a few minutes if he’s home,” she told Anya, who was standing off to one side. “He lives in an apartment right on top of a ley line in Cardiff.”
Anya nodded, hands on her hips, face set in a determined scowl.
Dawn picked up her bag along with another duffel that was full of photo albums that Buffy had put together for her. She clenched her right hand closed when the too-large skull ring on her finger began to slip off – Spike’s gift to her. Then she turned resolutely, and disappeared into the shimmering portal.
Buffy and Annie stepped back and urged Anya forward. They all stood in silence, watching the swirling light of the still-open portal. After just a few minutes, Xander stumbled through the portal, looking confused and angry. He had an eye patch over one eye and looked like he hadn’t shaved in a month of Sundays. His clothes were disheveled, like he’d been sleeping in them, and his breath smelled strongly of whiskey.
“What the fuck!?” he demanded, turning to look behind him for Dawn, but she hadn’t followed him through.
“Alexander Lavelle Harris!” Anya snarled at him and Xander spun around, his one eye wide with confusion and surprise.
“What the fuck…” he repeated again, though this time it was more of a statement of shock than a question.
“What’s the matter? You don’t remember me?” Anya asked, her voice hard, arms still resolutely crossed over her chest.
“Oh, you do remember. The whiskey hasn't rotted your entire brain, I see.”
“Anya … I … Oh my God, Anya,” he began, stepping forward. “Is that really you?"
Anya slapped him hard on the cheek.
“Hey!” he yelled, drawing a fist back to retaliate. Spike stepped up and caught Xander’s fist in his hand, stopping him cold.
“Of course it’s me,” Anya continued, unfazed. “Who else would take time away from a very busy day at the shop to come here and see you? The autumnal equinox is coming up; it’s a very profitable time of year.”
“No hittin’ ladies,” Spike informed him coolly, speaking softly, under Anya’s tirade.
“Spike.” Xander growled the name like a rabid dog, his attention diverted from Anya.
“That’s right: Spike. Now shut your gob and listen t’ the demon-bird.”
“Let go of my fucking hand,” Xander demanded, trying to pull free of Spike’s grip.
“Only if ya play nice,” Spike advised, shifting smoothly into his vamp face. He leaned in close to Xander’s throat. “Otherwise I could make it very unpleasant for you.”
Xander leaned back away from the vamp, reaching behind his back to retrieve a stake, but Spike was faster. Holding him only by the dark man’s closed fist, Spike twisted and turned Xander around, lifting him up onto his toes by his arm, which was now wrenched painfully behind his back. Spike took the stake from its hiding place and tossed it back through the portal.
“That’s not playin’ nice,” Spike warned him again. Spike dropped his fangs to Xander’s jugular, but honestly, Xander stank too much for Spike to actually break the skin. Spike wondered momentarily when the Big Bad had gotten this … poncey. Probably all these years dipping into the Slayer’s silky, clean, and oh-so-sweet skin had softened him. Bugger.
Spike growled and twisted harder on Xander’s arm. “Gonna behave now?”
Xander winced but didn’t scream out from the pain. Spike knew it had to hurt; the man’s shoulder was on the verge of dislocating. “Fine,” Xander ground out finally, unable to see another way out of this.
Spike released the pressure and Xander lunged away from him. He spun on Anya, just barely noticing Buffy and Annie standing behind and to one side as he turned.
What’d you slap me for?” he demanded of his dead ex as he tried to get his bearings. Spike, Buffy, Anya … this must be some kind of … Sunnydale death dimension, he thought. It couldn’t be heaven. God would never let William-the-fucking-Bloody into heaven.
“Well, someone had to do it. You’re giant oaf!”
“I’m a what?” Xander shrieked, his voice and his ire rising further.
“Oaf,” Anya repeated calmly. “Someone regarded as unintelligent, rude, and unpleasant. O-A-F. Oaf.”
“I know what the word means, for fuck’s sake,” Xander spat.
“Good,” Anya replied. “Here’s another one for you: disappointment.”
Xander snorted. “I can’t be disappointed; I never expect anything good to happen.”
“I’m not talking about you being disappointed,” Anya explained. “You are a disappointment. To me. To Buffy. To Dawn. We expect more from you.”
“Oh well … boo-hoo,” Xander snarked back. “I’m all broken up…”
Anya slapped him again even harder. Spike growled when Xander raised his fist again to retaliate. Xander pressed his hand over the mark she’d left on his face, dropping his clenched fist down near his side. “Don’t do that again,” he snarled at Anya.
“Someone needs to,” she asserted. “You’re acting like a petulant child. You need to grow up Xander Harris. You need to take responsibility…”
“Responsibility?!” Xander interrupted her, his voice angry and harsh. “Don’t talk to me about responsibility! I live with it every minute of every day. Your death haunts my dreams and tints my life the color blood. It’s all over me – your blood is on my hands and I can’t ever wash it off. Responsibility … pffft,” he snorted, looking around to try and find a way out of this place.
Sometime while he’d been talking to her or struggling with Spike, the portal had closed. Did Dawn intend to leave him here in what must be Sunnyhell, since Spike was here? Maybe he was he actually dead now. He wondered where the rest of the Dead Sunnydale Society was: Tara, Buffy’s mom, Kendra. He wondered if Jesse would be here – the first person Xander had ever seen turned into a vamp, his best friend from high school.
Anya seemed to soften at his words. “Really?” she asked in that way she’d had when she was newly human: a little unsure and needing his assurance.
Xander looked back at her and sighed. He released the fist he had clenched at his side and raised his hand slowly towards her. “Really,” he affirmed softly. His fingers grazed her cheek. She was real – not a ghost. She was warm and soft and just like he remembered her. Maybe a little older, but weren’t they all?
Then he furrowed his brow. Older? Dead people don’t … age. He looked at Spike and Buffy; they looked almost exactly the same. “Who are you?” he asked, his fingers lingering against her warm skin.
Anya gave him a little smile and leaned into his hand. “Oh, well, I guess those last few brain cells just bit the dust. I’m Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins. I’m here to tell you that you need to stop acting like a big, dumb oaf or no one will ever love you again.”
Xander snorted derisively. “Love is overrated.”
“You didn’t used to think so. Xander, listen to me,” Anya said, gently, but firmly – as only she could. “It was Anya’s decision to fight. She wouldn’t’ve let the likes of you stop her. I mean really, I’m … I mean she was a thousand years old and an ex-demon. She knew the risks and she chose to take them. Get over yourself, already.”
“I should’ve stayed with you. I should have never left you with fucking Andrew,” Xander argued. “I could’ve …”
“Died protecting me?” Anya asked, cocking a brow at him.
Xander shrugged. “That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I would have. It would’ve been better than this … this so-called life.”
“Ok, say you did. Say I’m alive and you’re dead. Would you want me to push everyone away? Would you want me to be miserable, just barely surviving day to day? Drink myself into oblivion every night? Scare the one person in the world that really wanted to help me so much that she changed her phone number and moved so you couldn’t find her?”
“Are we still talking about you here? Didn’t know you swung that way, Ahn,” Xander quipped dryly.
Anya gave him a hard glare. “You haven’t answered the question. Your attempts to make unamusing jokes in order to avoid the actual discussion don’t work with me. I know all your tricks, Xander Harris.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “No,” he said softly, just barely audible.
“What was that?” Anya asked, leaning forward and putting a hand to her ear.
Xander cleared his throat. “No,” he said more firmly. “Of course not.”
“Oh. So it must just be me that’s a selfish ex-demon that wants you to live that way? Is that what you’re saying? Ex-demons aren’t real people? We aren’t human enough to want the ones left behind to be happy?” Anya ranted at him.
Xander held his hands up in surrender, shaking his head in denial. “No, no, no …” he repeated, even as she kept talking.
“You don’t think I would want you to keep living – to fall in love again? That’s it, isn’t it? Ex-demons are just petty and vindictive; we don’t have hearts or compassion – we don’t even know what love is. Well, let me tell you something, you self-righteous, walking penis …”
“Anya! NO!” he finally yelled over her, grabbing her upper arms and stopping her.
Spike took a step closer, ready to intervene, but a small, almost unperceivable, shake of Anya’s head stopped him.
“I never thought that! You … don’t you know how much I love you? How ashamed I am of running away like a … coward.”
Anya tilted her head slightly, studying him, her brows furrowed in confusion. “You … ran away from the battle?”
Xander shook his head as tears prickled his good eye. He blinked rapidly, trying to push them back. “No … I ran away from our … wedding. I was so afraid … afraid I’d … I’d turn into my father, that I’d hurt you … let you down, and … I have.
“I’m my father’s son in so, so many horrible ways,” he admitted, suddenly realizing that he was holding her arms too tightly. He released her and brought a fist up to bang desperately against his own forehead. “I can’t stop … I just … can’t stop.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Anya asserted as a flat statement of fact. “I’ve met your father. I’ve shared several awkward and embarrassing meals with your parents, and you are not him.”
Xander snorted sarcastically and took a step back from her. “You don’t know me… you don’t know anything about my life.”
“Oh, is that so? I know that you drown your sorrows in whiskey and women. When the women start getting too close, you kick them out … apparently literally. I’m actually surprised none of them have hexed you yet. If you’d done that to me, I would’ve made your penis swell up like a basketball and ooze green pus from extremely painful boils which required lancing … daily.”
Spike and Xander both winced.
“Now, you listen to me Alexander Lavelle Harris,” Anya continued, pointing a finger at him. “I may not know all the details of your life, but I know you and this …” She changed her motion and waved her hand up and down his body. “… is not you.
“You have a good heart under there,” she continued, poking a finger against his chest.
He winced slightly and rubbed the spot.
“It’s been battered and broken, but if you’ll just let someone in to help you heal it, it will get better. You taught me that. You showed me how letting go of vengeance and anger can heal a heart – even one that’d been broken for a thousand years,” Anya continued.
“Let go of the guilt. You aren’t keeping me alive with it – you’re only killing yourself by degrees. That’s not what she would want for you; she loved you too much to ever want that,” Anya concluded, stuffing her fists on her hips determinedly.
Xander closed his eye and dropped his head, then nodded slightly. “I know she wouldn’t,” he whispered to the floor.
Anya’s bravado melted slightly. She stepped forward and pulled this broken and battered Xander into a hug. The aroma of pungent, hundred-proof B.O. assaulted her nostrils, and his explosive breath made her eyes water.
“And she’d want you to bathe … daily … with soap and shampoo,” Anya added, trying to breathe shallowly as she blinked her eyes closed against the assault of the fumes. “And shave. Whisker-burn is painful and drastically reduces the number of orgasms you can provide during oral sex. Honestly, Xander… did she not teach you anything?”
Xander laughed and sobbed at the same time, dropping his head onto her slender shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Ahn … I never meant to hurt you. Never … never wanted to hurt you.”
“Then stop hurting yourself,” Anya replied. It was a command, not a request. “Start living again.”
Another sob escaped the big man’s throat and his whole body shuddered with the release of pent-up anger, guilt, and sorrow.
They stood there like that for some time. Xander’s tears dampened Anya’s blouse as they fell in a seemingly endless flood. She stroked a hand over his long, unkempt hair and down his back, trying to give assurance and comfort.
It at once amazed and frightened her how broken this man had become after her death. It also brought back that old feeling that time was slipping by too quickly. When she’d been immortal, she’d never thought about time – it would go on forever. Now, the sand seemed to be falling through the hourglass at an alarming rate, and this Xander was proof positive that she was not going to live forever. That, she realized, was why people had children – it was a way to make themselves, or at least a small part of themselves, immortal. Maybe she’d been too hasty in refusing to have more children after JJ…
Xander’s sobs slowly quieted and he stood back, wiping at his eye and nose with the back of his hand. “I … I’m sorry …” he stammered, trying to regain his manly composure.
Anya rolled her eyes and sighed. “You should be; this top is dry clean only. Do you have any idea how much it costs to get tears out of silk? I mean … it’s not as bad as blood, but they leave these little salty stains. And snot! Oh, forget it! It’s worse than semen. I don’t know what’s in snot, but…”
Xander was smiling at her, shaking his head.
“What? I’m serious!” Anya objected.
“I know you are,” he agreed. “Thank you. Thank you for … taking time from such a busy day and … slapping me.”
“Oh. That was my pleasure. Really, that made the snot stains almost worth it. Would you like me to slap you again … ‘cos I could. It’s not a problem.”
Xander held his hands up in surrender. “I appreciate it, but I think twice is my limit.”
“On your face maybe … your cute little butt, however …”
“Ahn!” Xander cut her off, a blush rising quickly up his neck to his face.
Anya shrugged, then inclined her head to a place behind and off to the side of Xander. “Stop shutting people out, Xander. I hear your friends really care and would like to help you.”
Xander looked in the direction Anya was looking. The portal was open again and Dawn was waiting for him. He closed his eye and rubbed a hand over his unshaven face, regretting how he’d treated her … her and so many others.
He turned back to Anya and nodded solemnly. “Thank you.”
Xander took a step towards Dawn, but Spike stepped into his path. Their chests nearly bumped before Xander could stop. Spike leaned in near Xander’s ear and spoke in a low growling whisper. “Hurt the girl again and it’ll be the last bloody thing you do.”
“God is definitely never gonna let you into heaven, Fang-boy,” Xander snarled back.
Spike’s eyes sparkled dangerously. “Reckon not. Just means I’ll see you in bloody hell, yeah? Knowing that should make you sleep better.”
Xander smiled frostily. “I’ll save you a seat.”
“Make it first class. Don’t like the snacks in coach,” Spike smirked and stepped out of Xander’s path. He turned to watch the dark man join Dawn near the portal. Xander’s shoulders slumped slightly, as if ashamed, as he approached Dawn. Spike hoped the message – all the messages – had gotten through.
Dawn’s eyes met Spike’s for a long moment, and she gave him a reassuring smile and a nod of thanks. She waved one last time to all of them before retreating with her lost cause back through the swirling light. In just a few moments, they were gone and the portal was once again closed.
Buffy and Annie stepped up to Anya. “Do you think it worked?” Buffy asked.
Anya shrugged and sighed heavily. “I’m not sure.”
“Shoulda slapped the wanker a few more times, if ya ask me,” Spike grumbled.
Anya’s eyes sparkled as the group began to walk up the stairs out of the Hellmouth. “He was kind of dashing – all dangerous and pirate-y looking. I think I’ll get Xander an eye-patch. He can be a swashbuckling rapscallion and I can be a helpless island maiden, dressed in only a loin cloth that he’s captured, tied up, and forced to…”
Spike cleared his throat with a low growl, cutting her off. Anya looked at him. “What? Don’t tell me you and Buffy never…” Then she followed his gaze toward Annie, who was listening with rapt attention.
“Oh. Right. Just kidding … ha-ha,” Anya offered flatly.
Annie rolled her eyes.
After leaving the high school, Buffy, Spike, and Annie walked Anya to the Magic Box. Xander and JJ were there babysitting ‘Kenzie for them while they said goodbye to Dawn and tried, at Buffy’s insistence, to get through to the Xander from that world.
Anya only worked at the Magic Box a few hours a week these days, but liked to check on things in person when she wasn’t working on the Council’s finances. She and Giles had hired a couple of college students who did a good job as sales clerks and kept the store profitable. Anya always had a back-up plan when it came to jobs and money. If the Council gig fell through, she could always fall back to the Magic Box, so it was important to keep it successful.
“I see our little fireball has doubled her vocabulary,” Xander smiled as he handed the baby to Buffy.
“Does Spike have any brains in his head at all?” Xander asked MacKenzie in a sing-song, baby-talk voice.
“No!” the baby replied clearly, shaking her head vigorously from side to side, flinging short, red curls in all directions.
Xander beamed at Spike. Spike rolled his eyes.
“Is your dad as handsome as me?” Xander continued in the same tone, leaning in close to the baby in Buffy’s arms.
“Nuh-uh,” ‘Kenzie responded, still shaking her head ‘no’.
Xander chuckled and stood back up away from the baby. “Smartest one yet, Spike. You’re gonna have your hands full with this little fireball.”
Buffy sighed and jiggled the youngster on her hip. All their other children’s first words had been ‘ma-ma’ or, if you asked Spike, it had been ‘pa-pa’. MacKenzie’s had been, quite clearly, ‘no’. Buffy was afraid Xander may be right; it didn’t bode well for the future. She shuddered at the thought of a teenager whose first word ever had been ‘no’.
“With that vocabulary, at least I know she’ll be safe around bloody gits like your whelp,” Spike offered, looking on the bright side while giving Xander a sneer.
Buffy, Spike, and Annie thought they’d be safe this Sunday morning as they walked home from the Magic Box so they didn’t take their normal precaution of going a block out of the way to avoid waking in front of the Katzes’. It was a fatal mistake.
“Mr. and Mrs. Waverly! Yooooo-hooo … Betty! Ike! Could I just have a word?” the Quidnuncious demon called as she padded down the sidewalk after them in her orange, zip-front housecoat and pink fuzzy slippers. Her lilac hair was still in rollers and covered in a bright red scarf. The garish effect was blinding.
All three of them turned as her words cut the air like a dying buzz-saw. Spike instinctively stepped in front of Annie and Buffy, who still held the baby, and he took the full force of the demon-woman's noxious perfume on himself. He could stop breathing – they couldn’t.
“Mrs. Krass,” Buffy drawled from behind Spike. “How … lovely to see you today. I thought you’d be at church. Why aren’t you at church?” she asked, annoyance filtering into her words.
“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, dears,” she replied in her nasally whine. “I know you young people have your … quirks, but I must say that I find it disturbing that you’d keep wild animals in your home. You do have young children, after all. Certainly you’ve seen the shows on the television. Do you have any idea how many children are killed every year by dangerous, wild animals their owners thought tame? It’s simply not prudent to keep such creatures as pets. Additionally, you must realize that you are not zoned for a zoo and are putting the whole neighborhood at risk.”
Buffy opened her mouth and closed it again, shaking her head to try and follow the woman’s logic. “Oookay…” Buffy drawled, keeping Spike between her and the woman’s mind-numbing haze of aroma. “I … umm … I’m not following what that has to do with church this morning.”
“Well, it’s perfectly obvious, dear. How do you expect your neighbors to get a decent night’s sleep with lions and tigers and ... who knows what all wandering around your back yard?”
“You’ve been snortin’ too much o’ that Estee Lauder and Bengay combo,” Spike informed her. “Addled your last brain cell.”
“Do not try to change the subject, young man,” Mrs. Katz scolded Spike. “As the head of the Neighborhood Watch, it is my duty to address dangerous situations in the neighborhood. And I believe we can all agree that wild animals most certainly fit that criteria. I certainly know that I am unanimous in this.”
“Mrs. Krass,” Buffy cajoled, shifting the baby to the other arm and as far away from the woman as possible.
“Katz,” the demon-woman corrected.
“Right,” Buffy smiled sweetly. “We have two cats. Two very small, very domestic cats. That’s it – and they hardly ever go outside.”
“I’m sorry dear, but I heard what I heard and saw what I saw. And my Abner heard it too – last night. It was quite disturbing.”
“Last night?” Buffy asked, heat rising up her neck and flushing her face. “We … uhhh … had a party last night. Some of our guests might’ve gotten … loud.”
“I am well acquainted with the din of a party, Mrs. Waverly. This was after the hullabaloo had died down, and was most assuredly not human.
“It sounded as if you had fed a poor, helpless kitten to a ravenous lion. By the time I got to the window, I could only see the animal racing for the house. I’m quite certain it was a white Bengal tiger. I saw them at the Cincinnati Zoo some years ago while visiting my sister.”
“Didn't know they had proper habitats for your kind at the Cincy zoo. Don’t reckon your sister could pull some strings an' get you a nice spot next to 'er there,” Spike taunted.
“The Cincinnati Zoo has many award-winning habitats, Mr. Waverly. It's quite state-of-the-art. Now. please do stop trying to change the subject,” the demon-woman chastised.
Spike snickered and Buffy poked him in the ribs from behind. He flinched and stepped away, letting Buffy get a face-full of Mrs. Katz’s noxious fumes. Buffy choked and backed up a step, waving a hand in front of her face to fan the odor away from her and the baby.
“Mrs. Krass,” Buffy began, before sneezing, once ... twice ... three times in row.
“Bless you,” the Quidnuncious offered. “And it’s Katz, dear. Pronounced just like the small animal you fed to the tiger.”
“Right,” Buffy confirmed, wiping at her watering eyes. “I’m not sure what you and Abner heard … or saw, but I can assure you there are no wild animals in our yard and we’re not in the habit of feeding kittens to things.” Buffy thought of Clem, but she’d never fed him a kitten; she hoped Spike hadn’t either. She shuddered at the thought.
“You’re perfectly … safe. Right, Spike?”
“From tigers,” he agreed, setting an unwavering, viperous gaze on the woman as he tucked his thumbs over his belt buckle.
Mrs. Katz’s last brain cell must’ve recovered from snorting the Estee Lauder and Bengay combo, because she took a step back from the vamp. “I see,” she said coolly, before clearing her throat uncomfortably. “Well, I do hope you’re right, dear. As the head of the Neighborhood Watch, I would be … compelled to call the authorities if…”
Spike growled. Mrs. Katz took another step back. The barely audible rumble of warning cut her words off as if someone had hit the ‘mute’ button.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Krass,” Buffy filled the silence with a friendly tone. “We’ll be more careful with the music if we have another party. You know these new bands these days – all those screaming guitars and … growling … ummm … tambourines.”
“Katz,” the woman choked out, prying her gaze from Spike’s and looking at Buffy, who was smiling serenely at her.
“Right,” Buffy agreed again. Still smiling, Buffy concluded with, “Nice chatting with you.” She turned and began walking away from the woman. Annie hurried to catch up while Spike brought up the rear, moving slowly away from the Quidnuncious with his best predatory swagger.
As they walked away, Annie lectured, “Stealth. Look it up, Mom – seriously.”
Buffy rolled her eyes but her face flushed pink again.
Finally home, Buffy entered the garden doors first and froze. Annie walked directly into her back and Spike sandwiched the girl between them. “OUT! Get out!” Buffy yelled, pushing back on her daughter and husband.
Spike felt his adrenaline…errr… spike. All his senses jumped to high alert status as he pulled Annie back and out the door. “What is it?” he asked, pressing their daughter behind him as he started back in to help his wife.
“Stay out!” Buffy demanded, handing the baby to him and slamming the door closed in his face.
Spike flinched back, protecting the baby, and his nose, from the slamming door. When he looked in through the glass, he saw Buffy moving quickly around the room like a mad-woman.
“What’s she doing?” Annie asked, coming up beside her father at the glass. “What are those?”
Spike furrowed his brow a moment as realization hit him. He began to laugh, a deep, throaty roar, as he turned the handle of the door and let his daughter enter. Buffy had slain nearly half of the intruders, gathering them up in her fists and crumpling them into submission, but there were still many more which had eluded her.
“What is that?” Annie asked again, walking up to one of the two-dimensional demons before Buffy could snatch it away.
“It’s your mum,” Spike explained. “As a zombie-fied Billy Goat Gruff.”
Spike whistled sharply, drawing a stern look from Buffy. After a moment, the twins and Bess appeared at the top of the stairs, responding to the shrill whistle.
“Your mum wants ya t’ see this,” he called to the blondes atop the stairs. He picked up one of at least a hundred enlarged copies of the photo of Buffy as a six-year-old dressed up for the school play and looking like a deer – or a billy goat – caught in the headlights.
“Give me that!” Buffy growled at him, snatching it from his hand and balling it up in her fists.
Spike laughed and just picked up another one. They were everywhere. Taped to walls, the banister, lying on the floor, on the tables, stuffed in bookcases, covering the front of the TV screen. There was even one blown up to life-size – easily as tall as Dani and Billy – glued to a cardboard cutout, and standing up in the doorway to the training room. Everywhere you looked a glassy-eyed child-goat stared back.
Dani, Billy, and Bess came down the stairs and they each picked up one of the pictures and began to laugh.
“That’s Mama?” Billy asked, holding the picture up so he could look at it and his harried mother at the same time, comparing.
“Yep, that’s your mum,” Spike confirmed, chortling.
Buffy sighed and sagged. It was too late. “I’m going to fu...reaking kill Dawn,” she muttered to no one in particular as she sank onto the couch, squashing another of the evil photos in the process. She’d managed to keep that picture ‘lost’ for a good twenty years. She’d hidden it in the lining of that blue photo album when she was ten years old. She should’ve just burned it. How the hell did Dawn know where to find it?
“Those damn monks,” she growled, suddenly acutely aware of the only way Dawn would’ve known where it was.
Spike put the baby in her playpen then sat down beside his wife, tapping one of the photos idly on his thigh. “Bloody adorable you were, kitten,” he purred.
Buffy rolled her eyes and continued to look dour.
Suddenly, Spike stomped his boots on the floor in an imitation of someone walking, and growled in a deep, gravely baritone, “Who's that tramping over my bridge?”
He cocked a brow at Buffy expectantly. It was her cue. “Not. Happening,” she informed him frostily.
He shrugged, pitched his voice higher than Buffy thought was possible, and recited what should’ve been her line, “Oh, it's just me, the second Billy Goat Gruff, and I'm going up to the hillside to make myself fat.”
By now the three youngest children had gathered in front of the couch near their parents. Bess watched, bemused, from behind them. Buffy sat there, still looking utterly dejected, next to Spike, who was playing all the parts of the children’s story by himself.
“Now I'm coming to gobble you up,” said Spike, in the deep troll-voice.
“Oh, no!” Spike continued in the squeaky goat voice. “Don't take me. Wait a little ‘til the third Billy Goat Gruff comes. He's much, much bigger than I.”
“Very well! Be off with you,” commanded the Spike-troll, puffing his chest up to make his physical presence as dominating as his deep voice.
The kids all giggled at his troll impression, their eyes glittering with delight.
Spike banged his boots on the floor again. Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp.
“Who's that tramping over my bridge?” roared the Spike-troll again.
“It is I! The biggest Billy Goat Gruff,” answered Spike, in a voice nearly as hoarse and deep as the troll’s.
The kids tittered and even Buffy had to smile at his silly impersonation of a goat and a troll.
“Now I’m coming to gobble you up,” Spike roared in the troll’s deepest, scariest voice.
“Well, come along! I've got two spears,” Spike began the big goat’s rhyme, leering at each of the three children in turn as he spoke. “And I'll poke your eyeballs out at your ears! I've got besides two curling-stones, and I'll crush you to bits, body and bones!”
All the kids' eyes went wide as they shrieked and giggled merrily.
“And then,” Spike drawled in his normal voice, as he moved with lightning speed and gathered Annie, Dani, and Billy tightly in his arms. “A vampire came an’ bonked the troll in the noggin, tossed the wanker off the bridge, and ate all three billy goats up. The end.”
Spike dropped raspberries on the struggling and shrieking children’s necks, arms, and torsos until they all, including Spike, collapsed in a heap of gasping giggles on the floor in front of the sofa.
Buffy’s heart swelled as she laughed with them, her ire at her sister forgotten. She slid down off the couch to sit next to the pile of bodies on the floor.
“Epilogue,” Buffy added to the story. “And then the Slayer came along and captured the vampire’s heart with her feminine wiles. She took him home to meet her mother, who promptly bonked him on the head with an axe and tamed him like a big puppy.”
“Grrrrr…” Spike growled, sounding more like a wolf than a tamed puppy.
Buffy laughed and dropped a kiss on his lips. “Maybe later you can show me how that vampire devoured those poor, helpless goats,” she whispered in his ear.
Spike’s eyes flashed wide and he wrapped his tongue over his teeth lecherously. Buffy’s grin widened and she captured his lips again, the kiss deepening exponentially.
Annie cleared her throat. “Hello? Impressionable children in the room! This is not stealth!” she informed them, shaking her head impatiently. They ignored her.
Annie got up and headed for the kitchen. “Mom said we could have the desserts that were left over from the party for lunch,” she announced to the room in general. Dani and Billy jumped up from their sprawl with glee and followed their sister into the kitchen. What an awesome day! Ice cream sundaes for breakfast and fancy desserts for lunch! Bess followed them – hey, most of those desserts where chocolate.
“Thought they’d never bloody leave,” Spike growled against Buffy’s neck.
“Thank God for sugar-fiends and leftovers,” Buffy agreed before recapturing his mouth with hers.
Next: The last chapter in this 'season' will be next. Another clue about the origin of the Gem of Amarra will be found. They'll end this story with some good news and some bad news.
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