The world around her collapsed. In a flash, everything collapsed.
She hadn’t been fast enough. God, she hadn’t been fast enough. And now she was gone. Gone. Her sister was gone—gone in the hands of a mad god. She’d allowed Glory to take Dawn. She hadn’t been fast enough.
Reality was slipping. It was over. It was all over. She’d failed.
“Buffy.” Someone was at her side. Strong, familiar hands closed around her arms, and shook. “Sweetheart, you can’t do this. The Bit needs you.” He hesitated, tossed a look over his shoulder, and added softly, “I need you. Please, baby. Come on.”
Then she felt his tongue on her throat, running over his mark, and the world came rushing back. The block fell aside and she saw everything clearly. Her mind was hers again. And as she fell into Spike’s arms, the dizzying sensation of being one again with Earth caught up with her, and she buckled into stark realization.
Dawn. Dawn. I’ve failed Dawn.
A strangled moan scratched at her throat and she threw her arms around his neck, burying her face into his shoulder as reality meshed and collapsed around her. “She’s gone,” she cried, her body wracking with sobs. “I let her…I let her…”
“Shhh.” His lips were at her temple, soothing her simply with the idea of what he offered. “You din’t let anythin’, sweetling. Happened too bloody fast for anyone. We’ll get her back. We’ll get her back.”
Buffy caught a blurry glance of Xander, Anya, and Willow standing dumbfounded a few feet away, witnesses to her meltdown. She knew she shouldn’t have been surprised to see the astonishment on their faces, but she was anyway. After all, it had been Spike’s idea to keep their relationship a secret. After everything they’d been through over the past few days, he’d said, and with everything on her mind, adding her friends’ predictable reaction was unneeded stress. And he never wanted to be a part of the problem.
They had planned to wait until it was over. After Glory was defeated, they’d come clean. And while she understood his motives, and appreciated his thoughtfulness, a part of her had wanted to scream screw them and announce that Spike was moving into her house. They would live together, move into her bed, have lots and lots of hot naked sex, and it wouldn’t matter what they thought, because she loved him.
Even with their agreement, Buffy and Spike hadn’t exactly been discreet about their relationship. The past few days had been filled with unapologetic excuses to be together as much as possible. And from the sideways glances that her random behavior change had earned, she had begun to think that they knew and understood that it wasn’t their place to judge.
So much for wishful thinking. The world around her was falling and Spike was her rock. She couldn’t release him now; she would tumble away completely. He was the only thing keeping her from breaking, and she refused to let him go.
“It’s not over yet,” he whispered, rocking her rhythmically in the endless comfort of his arms. “You saw what happened. You saw—”
“Ben,” she said, her eyes darkening. “Ben…he’s Glory. Oh God, I brought him here. I brought him here. I called him and he came, and Glory—”
“Shhh.” He pressed his lips to her mark again, and she was overwhelmed with a sense of peace. The day before, after Tara was attacked by Glory, Buffy had gone to Spike and asked that he place a claim on her because she knew what they meant. The books she’d stolen from Giles’s library had gone into more detail than she could have hoped for, and she found herself needing that link. Needing the power they would share.
It made her stronger. It made him stronger. And she felt everything in between.
“Are you out of your bleeding mind?” he’d demanded when she’d told him what she wanted, his eyes wide with both incredulity and hope. “You know what it means, don’ you? You know—”
“I researched it, Spike. I know exactly what it means.”
“It will make us stronger. We need as much strength as we can get.” And then, when his face fell in realization, she’d stepped forward and placed a hand on his cheek. “I want it for the other reason, too.”
He’d looked doubtful, though his eyes flared with hope. “Sweetling, I’m not gonna do it if there’s a…you can look at words on a page as much as you bloody well like. It’s me you’re gonna have to live with when we get to the other side of this thing. Once we’re done with the apocalypse an’ the desperation’s gone—”
She’d stepped forward at that and taken his face in her hands. “I want it. I should’ve said for the other reason first, because really? Potentially saving the world’s just a bonus. I want it for the second reason a ton more than the first.” The stupefied look that overwhelmed him was simply adorable; she kissed him with everything she felt, reminding him without words all that she’d already told him. All they’d already shared. “Get it through your head. You’re stuck with me.”
And he had. He’d made her his, and in so doing, given her a part of himself. They shared strength, now; strength, and one of the strongest bonds in the world.
Buffy knew. Somehow she knew. Were it not for Spike’s presence, she would have lost herself completely. Collapsed outside the service station where the D&D-wannabe knights had cornered them. She had felt her consciousness slipping, and he’d caught her before the fall.
She had absolutely no idea how long she remained like that. Locked in a state of grief, sobbing her reprieve into Spike’s shoulder as he rocked her into a soothing lull. She knew that she needed to fight to her feet. She knew that she needed to get up and get Giles to a doctor. She knew that her sister was out there, and she couldn’t save her if she was lost in a sea of personal despair. She knew that she couldn’t give up when there was still a war to fight—an apocalypse to stop—and that nothing was fixed. Reality could be seized and controlled.
Nothing was set. She still had the power to change the universe.
Her sobs quieted after a few seconds as resolve set in.
Resolve. Spike had given her that. He’d fed the calm. He’d let her cry.
But she couldn’t cry anymore. Not now.
“Sweetheart.” Spike pressed another kiss to the mark on her throat. “I think it’s time to get up now.”
Buffy nodded. She held onto him as they rose to their feet together. And her fingers remained entwined with his as they turned to her friends.
“Let’s get inside,” she said, her voice fighting for authoritative when all she wanted to do was collapse again. But no—there would be none of that. Spike was with her, keeping the world from falling. “Xander—go check on Giles. We’re gonna need to get moving as soon as possible.”
Less than five minutes later, they were regrouped in the convenience store, gathering whatever supplies they had—namely the sword that Buffy had swiped from one of the knights and a few other assorted weapons that she and Spike had thrown into the Winnebago before going to collect the others. There wasn’t much, but the Slayer wanted every provision with them for the trip home.
With every move, she felt a surge of love and strength. Spike was the only thing that kept her from shattering, and he sensed it without needing words.
“Willow,” Buffy said softly as she rejoined the others. “I need you to fix the Winnebago.”
The redhead was silent for a long minute, then balked and blinked when she realized she’d been addressed. “Me? I—Buffy, I can’t fix a Winnebago. I couldn’t even use my Easy Bake Oven. How can—”
“I think she means use magic,” Anya added helpfully.
“I’d bloody well hope so,” Spike murmured, his eyes on the ground. A sudden shy demeanor had fallen over him—untimely if nothing else, but she knew why, and her heart swelled with adoration.
She was holding his hand. In front of them. Them. Her friends. Her Watcher. All of them. It was a small gesture, but it meant the world.
“Yeah, with magic.” It’d seemed obvious enough to Buffy when she’d made the suggestion. “I need you to fix it. We need to get out of here. Get Giles to the hospital.” She paused, then turned to Spike. “We’re going after Glory. There might be something at her place—some clue about where she would have gone.”
“Right there with you, pet.”
She turned in silent invitation for another’s input, but the peanut gallery had nothing to offer but blank stares.
“Hello?” Buffy waved. “Guys? We’re kinda on a timetable here. That thing has my sister.”
That statement was the proverbial bucket of water. The bewildered looks faded, and resolve set in.
“Okay.” Willow pursed her lips. “All right. We’re heading back to Sunnydale. Xander can take Giles to the hospital.” She paused. “Do you guys need me to go with you? Maybe I can pick up on some vibey stuff at her place.”
Buffy and Spike exchanged a glance.
“Sounds right,” the vampire agreed with a short nod, and Buffy found herself dissolving in relief.
She had no idea what she would do if he weren’t with her.
“Anya will look after Tara, then.”
“You, me, and Spike will find Glory,” Buffy agreed.
Tara wailed suddenly, her body jerking so hard that she nearly lost balance. “The world is spinning.”
Willow was at her side in a second.
“Straight to a new day! Big day. Big, big day.”
Buffy forced her eyes away as the redhead took her girlfriend into her arms, attempting to sooth her with a calming hum, though she could tell how shaken Willow was. In the past few months, the Slayer had watched the death of her best friend’s former self—this new version, self-reliant and confident, was such a far cry from the girl she’d once been. And it hurt beyond hurt to see a face of strength in such pain.
Spike suddenly squeezed her hand, dragging her back to the present. “Sweet, what if we come across Ben?”
The name of the doctor she had trusted—the man she’d practically entrusted with her mother’s life, the man she’d called when Giles was injured—made her see red. “We get him to take us to Dawn,” she said softly. “If Ben’s there, Dawn will be close. And if he doesn’t…” She paused, then looked up and met his eyes. “Well…let’s just leave it at this: I’ll kill anyone who stands between me and Dawn.”
“Ummm…” Xander waved a little. “Could you two back up for the slow people here? I mean, if Giles needs a doctor, I’d think you’d be all welcoming of Mr. Stethoscope.”
Spike arched a brow. “Well, yeah, but not one who also happens to be Glory.”
Buffy offered a near indiscernible nod.
“What do you mean?” Giles asked.
It occurred to the Slayer like a shot in the dark, seeing him contorted with pain, but sitting up and trying to gather his bearings, how incredibly strong her friends—everyone—had become in the past few years. Willow was just the tip of the iceberg. She had no idea why it took something like this to make her see it, but the realization was there—staring at her through the pained eyes of her surrogate father.
Spike’s brow furrowed. “You know. Ben is Glory.”
“You mean…” Willow frowned, her arm curled protectively around her girlfriend’s shoulder. “Ben’s with Glory?”
A dark, unsettling feeling knotted Buffy’s stomach. Something here was incredibly not right. “No,” she said, “he’s—”
“‘With’ in what sense?” Xander asked.
“They’re working together?” Anya ventured, equally confused.
Buffy could feel Spike’s frustration mounting, tagged with confusion and almost a hint of anxiety. It was mutual sentiment. She felt his, she felt hers, and she felt theirs.
“No. No. Ben is Glory,” he said slowly. “Glory’s Ben. They’re one an’ the same.”
He glanced at her, imploring her for help, which she gave gladly. “Entirely the same. He turned into Glory. He was standing right there—” She pointed at Anya, who blinked and looked around her as though Ben would spontaneously appear. “—and turned into Glory. How could you guys not catch that?”
She was answered with a sea of blank stares.
“When did all this happen?” Anya asked.
Evidently, Spike had reached his boiling point. “Not one hour ago!” he practically yelled. “Right here, before your very eyes! Ben came, he turned into Glory, snatched the kid, and pfft—vanished! Remember?”
The gang traded uncertain glances. Remember? Obviously not so much. More blank stares followed the uncertain glances, then nothing at all.
Spike tossed Buffy a long look, then turned back to the group. “You do remember…?” Nothing. “Is everyone here very stoned?”
There was no response—just more vacant looks.
“Ben!” the vampire snapped, exasperated. “Glory! He’s a doctor, she’s the beast. Two entirely separate entities sharing one body. Like a bloody sitcom. Surely you remember.”
Nothing. Buffy rolled her eyes. “Oh, for Pete’s sake.” She held out her arms, balling her hands into fists. “This is Glory,” she said, waving one fist. “This is Ben.” She waved the other. “See them? Separate? Now watch.” She clasped her hands together in what had quickly turned into a bizarre rendition of ‘this-is-the-church-this-is-the-steeple.’ “This is the body they share. Glory and Ben. One body.”
“Are you saying that Ben is giving Glory orgasms?” Anya asked. “Because that is near impossible. Human males don’t have the stamina to give gods orgasms. You’re insinuating copulation that can’t possibly take place.”
“No, she’s bloody not!” Spike screamed. “She’s the only one here who hasn’ gone completely carrot-top. Ben. Glory. One’s a doc, the other’s a hellbint. They’re sharing a body! One minute Ben is Ben, the next, he’ll be Glory. Is any of this sinkin’ into your incredibly thick heads?”
Another long, agonizing pause.
“So you’re saying…” Xander started. “Ben and Glory.”
“Have a connection,” Anya supplied.
“Yes, obviously,” Giles agreed. “But what kind?”
Buffy about tripped over herself. This was not happening. “Are you guys kidding me?” she demanded hotly. “My sister is out there and she’s going to die and you guys are just—”
“Oh, I get it,” Spike said, offering a jaded laugh and a nod. “That’s very crafty. Glory’s worked the kind of mojo where anyone who sees her li’l presto-change-o instantly forgets. An’ us…” He glanced to Buffy. “Bein’ somewhat other than human, we stand immune.”
At that, the sacred place on her throat started to burn. A good, slow burn that didn’t hurt as much as it reassured that the connection was still there. She reached up and ran her fingertips over the contours of his bite mark, small shivers rippling through her body at the contact. “I’m guessing that I can remember, then, because of…”
Spike nodded, smiling softly. “Either that or you’re jus’ a li’l bit brighter than anyone else here, pet.”
“So…” They glanced to Willow simultaneously, who was frowning as though her brain hurt by the words her mouth wanted to put together. “Ben and Glory…are-are the same person?”
“Glory can turn into Ben,” Xander continued, his voice slow and cautious. “And Ben turns back into Glory.”
“And anyone who sees it,” concluded Anya, looking immensely pleased with herself. “Instantly forgets.”
Dual sighs of relief rang out on the same beat. Buffy slumped, leaning into Spike in reprieve.
“Thank God,” she moaned.
Spike grinned faintly and pointed at the former demon. “Kewpie doll for the lady,” he agreed.
Giles nodded. “Excellent,” he said, then paused and frowned, glancing around again. “Now. Do we suspect there may be some kind of connection between Ben and Glory?”
Everyone stared at them once more.
Spike sighed loudly.
“Don’t bother,” Buffy said. “This is getting us nowhere. Willow, go fix the Winnebago. Everyone else, do what you’re supposed to be doing.” She turned to Spike, who immediately grabbed hold of her wrist when he noticed how hard she was trembling.
“Sweetling, it’ll be all right.”
“If we see Ben,” she said quietly. “And if he…if he stands between us and Dawn, we kill him.”
It should have worried her that she gave the order without so much as a flicker of regard for the human life she had just okayed for death. It should have, but it didn’t. She remembered Ben’s demeanor before he changed—remembered the panicked look that overcame him. Remembered how he’d cursed at someone—Glory—and though he’d tried to get out, he’d been more than eager to help in the first place.
And he’d known about Dawn. He had. The looks he’d given her couldn’t have meant anything but. She’d brought that thing out here, and he’d come with Glory on his back.
If he tried to keep her from Dawn, she would kill him.
Spike didn’t betray his astonishment with words or actions, but she could tell that the callousness in her voice had taken him aback. But he nodded just the same and squeezed her hand. She was so grateful for the comfort.
Right now—this moment—he was all she had.
It was a mantra that Buffy kept repeating to herself. Everything would be all right now. They had a plan. And Tara was going to lead them to Glory.
She shoved her key through the lock of her front door and was immediately overwhelmed with a calming sense of familiarity at being home. In the past few days, she hadn’t been home at all. The house was quiet and vacant—every corner harbored memories of the mother she’d lost, the sister she wasn’t supposed to have, and everything in between. She didn’t want to swell with tears, so she cleared her throat and did her best to remain stoic.
It was all right; they were going to find Glory.
And Spike was with her. Spike was right behind her; he would keep her from falling.
“The weapons are in the chest by the TV,” she said. “I’ll grab the stuff upstairs.”
She stopped in mid-step and turned. Spike was still outside. He looked sheepish and offered a small wave.
She frowned, feeling sucker-punched. “I haven’t…?”
He smiled softly. “We haven’t exactly been here since we started, pet. S’all right. We can do this later. If you wanna jus’ hand them over the threshold, I’ll—”
Buffy turned completely, fighting the temptation to roll her eyes. Did he honestly thing she would intentionally keep him out of her home now? Now, after everything they had shared? “Oh, knock it off,” she said, her tone a surprising mixture of somber playfulness. It sounded tragic to her ears. “And get your ass in here.”
Spike rewarded her with one of his heartwarming smiles and took a slow step over the threshold. “Hmmm,” he said, his eyes swimming with love. “Presto. No barrier.”
For a long moment, there was little she could do aside from staring at him in wonder. And it occurred to her out of nowhere—slamming her into a proverbial wall—that this could be the last time they were alone. They were going to find Glory—Tara was going to lead them to Glory—but there were absolutely no guarantees.
It could end for both of them tonight. And she’d only now invited him back in.
He doesn’t know how much I love him.
“Um,” Spike said, making a beeline for the chest she’d indicated a moment before. “Won’ bother with the small stuff. Couple of good axes should hold off Glory’s mates while you take on the lady herself.”
He was speaking to fill the silence. She knew it. He didn’t want to think about what the night could cost them anymore than she did.
There wasn’t much time. The world was crashing and there was so much she wanted to tell him. There was so much she needed him to know. But now, standing on the edge of forever, everything boiled down to one reality. One necessity that surpassed all others.
She needed to say it once, if only once, before she lost everything.
“There’s a chance…” Buffy began cautiously. “Spike, I don’t like thinking about it, but there’s an incredibly good chance that we’re not all gonna make it. You know that.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, making a few selections from the weapons chest before returning to her side. “Hey. Always knew I’d go down fightin’.”
The look on his eyes was hopeful, but there was something else. He was pleading with her wordlessly to do something—or not to do something. To say something—or not to say something. She couldn’t tell which. She couldn’t tell what he wanted, and decided that it didn’t matter at that moment. She’d been cautious for his sake—and her own—and if she was going to go and fight the good fight and potentially lose him, she needed him to know that he would take her heart with him if he died. That he was loved as much as he’d ever been. As much as he had ever loved.
“I’m counting on you…” she began, “to protect her.”
“Till the end of the world,” Spike swore ardently, and the storm in his eyes tugged at her heart. “Even if that happens to be tonight.” He glanced down and paused. “I need to say it one more time. If this is the last time we’re alone, I jus’…I need to say it.”
Buffy’s breath caught in her throat. “Spike—”
“I love you.” He met her gaze once more, and her knees about buckled with the wealth of what he gave her, even in a simple look. There was nothing he hid from her—nothing. Whatever he had to give, he handed over gladly. He was hers, and there was nothing else. “I’ve loved you longer than I’ve known how to love. You’re the world to me. An’ these past few…days with you have been the best of my bloody life. You’ve treated me like you…I’m a monster, but you treat me like a man. And I love you more than you can ever know.”
She didn’t realize she was crying until he reached up and wiped her tears away with his thumb, smiling as though he’d reached the heavens. And she knew then—she knew—that if he died that night, he would feel complete.
He would, and so would she.
But no—no. It wasn’t supposed to be like that for them. She wanted to come back to the house with Spike and Dawn on either side of her. She wanted to kiss her sister goodnight then fall asleep in her lover’s arms. She didn’t want this to be the end. It couldn’t be.
“Get your stuff, I’ll be here.”
Buffy shook her head through her tears. She couldn’t let it end like this. He had to know—before they went in to fight the last battle, he had to know how much she loved him. “No. I need to tell you—before we go. I was going to wait, but if this is it, I really need you to know—”
Something flashed across Spike’s eyes and he held up a hand, his gaze going wide with realization. “No,” he gasped softly. “No. Please no. Not now.” A pause. “After.”
She stared at him for a long minute.
A small, grave smile played across his face. “After,” he said again. “Tell me after.”
Buffy held his eyes for a minute, then nodded and turned back to the stairs.
After. There would be an after. She would see to it. Now that they had this, there had to be something to follow.
There had to be.
Willow and Tara were in each other’s arms. Anya was at Xander’s side. Giles was standing over Ben’s body.
Dawn was trembling and crying softly, and she refused to release Buffy’s hand.
The sun was creeping over the horizon.
“We should get Spike inside,” Dawn said, her words jutting between the tremors wracking her body. “Daylight’s coming.”
Spike met Buffy’s eyes and smiled softly.
“It’s okay, Dawnie,” she said. “We’re all going home.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/102227.html