The Shanshu

The Shanshu

By Linda

Rating: PG
Notes: Season 5 of Angel. For my story line purposes, Spike returns in corporeal form and Cordy is not in a coma. Big THANK YOU to my betas: Michelle, Jerusha, Helwitch

***

From the scroll of Aberjain:  "…the vampire with a soul, once he fulfills his destiny will Shanshu, his humanity will be restored.  It is his reward…"


God how she hated hospitals, Buffy thought to herself as she sat between the two beds in the tiny room.  The putrid green paint on the walls didn't help her mood either.  She thought she remembered hearing somewhere that the color was soothing.  That was laugh.  Nothing in a hospital could ever be termed soothing as far as she was concerned.  The sitting, the waiting, the not knowing—together it was getting the best of her.  She felt helpless just watching.

She looked at the figures lying so still beneath the sheets.  The bed on her left contained Angel, her first love, who she continued to care for in a very special way.  As her first love he would always have a place in her heart, but he was her past.  The vampire who lay in the bed on her right she hoped would be was her future.  She loved Angel with the longing and passion of a young girl; she loved Spike with her whole womanly being:  heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Angel had been almost been a mentor to her, above her in many ways.  Spike was her equal in every sense of the word.

They were both stricken several days ago at the very same time and still no one could tell her anymore about what was going on.  It was a waiting game, they said.  There was nothing physically wrong with either of them as far as the doctors could tell.  The best case scenario was they would wake up on their own, none the worse for wear.  Worse case, they could stay like this indefinitely.   Being vampires, not much was known about the workings of their physical bodies other than they typically healed themselves.   She couldn't bear to lose either one of them, let alone both.

This had to be a bad dream, surely she could not have spent her life fighting evil and  coming to terms with everything it meant to be a slayer only to have the happiness and love she had just recently been brave enough to acknowledge with Spike, be ripped from her.  She knew death was as much a part of her existence as life itself was, but surely she would not be asked to give up everything she fought so hard to find.

Giles entered the room carrying two cups of coffee.  He pulled up a chair and sat down beside his slayer and handed her a cup.  "Thought you might be able to use this.  Why don't you let me stand watch?  Go get some sleep, you haven't had any for days.   If there is any change, I will call you right away," he said, concern filling his voice.

"Thanks, Giles, but I couldn't sleep," she answered trying to put on a brave front.   Giles, putting down his cup reached out to take her hand.  She grabbed it tightly and her voice broke as she
asked, "Why?  Why now?   Just when I thought I had a chance of a fairly normal life.  Did I do something wrong?  Am I being punished?"

"Put those thoughts from your head. That is the fear talking.  None of us would be here now if it weren't for you.  You know that.  Things happen, Buffy, life isn't always fair.  You should know better than anyone."  Giles comforted and then added a promise, "We will figure this thing out.  You are not going to lose anyone this time."

"I know we've been through some rough times and I haven't always made the choices you wanted me to, but I want you to know I appreciate you being with me now," she told him.  "But I was right about one thing, Spike is a good man," she teased, trying to lighten the mood.

"I admit.  I was wrong.  He is a good man and he does love you very much, even a fool like me can see that," Giles admitted.  "They are both good men."

Giles, feeling useless sitting there watching Buffy watch the men lying in the beds, decided his efforts would be better served doing some more research.  He gave her a quick hug and headed back to the office to hit the books.

 

Part Two

She told the truth when she said she was glad Giles was there with her, but she was equally relieved when he left.  She knew, even though he hadn't voiced it, that in point of fact he did not approve of her relationship with Spike.  It was still a cause of tension between them.   

Buffy got up from her chair and headed to the window to look down at the city.  Not really looking at anything in particular, she began to think about the past few months and the events that brought them to this place.

They had all come a long way in the few short months since the battle in the Hellmouth and the day they thought Spike had died.  He had certainly caused quite the uproar in LA when he arrived back from the dead.  Though it was hard for him, Angel called Giles immediately, letting him know Spike was alive. 

Even though he was sickened at the thought, he admitted grudgingly, a person would have to be blind not to see the love Spike had for Buffy.  Angel loved Buffy enough to want her to be happy, even if it meant losing her for good.   When he had talked to her in Sunnydale, he could tell she had fallen in love with Spike even if she wasn't ready to admit it to herself at that time.  As much as it hurt, he had seen through her song and dance about being cookie dough and Spike being in her heart.  He let go of hopes for a future with her that night.  He determined then he caused her enough pain in the past; he would not be the cause of anymore in the future.  

It took Giles a little longer to make the decision to tell Buffy.  He wanted more for his slayer, but having learned his lesson in Sunnydale, he realized if he was to maintain any kind of relationship with Buffy, he had to be honest with her.  Seeing her devastation at what she thought was Spike's death, he grudgingly admitted they shared something special even though he was secretly relieved the vampire's death put end to the relationship.  In the end, he put his feelings aside and told her.  By the look in her eyes he was certain he made the right decision.

It took Buffy several days to get to LA.  It was the longest two days of her life but she wanted things taken care because if all went the way she hoped, she wouldn't be returning to England any time soon.

Dawn was enrolled in college in London and training with Giles in her free time.  Dawn felt, for the first time in her short life, she knew what she wanted to do with herself.  She wanted to be a Watcher.  It was an area in great need of qualified people and Dawn's previous experience being the sister of a slayer, combined with her
photographic memory, proved to be invaluable.  Talking things over with Giles and Willow, Buffy decided to leave her in their care to continue her studies.

Giles, Willow, and Xander had everything else under control.  The task of setting up a new Watcher's Council, complete with a training facility for all the new slayers was almost finished.   Xander and Andrew were traveling the world talking to the families of the new slayers, getting them set up for schooling when they were ready.  Though they would miss her, they understood her desire to get to LA as soon as possible. 

Part Three

"I know this is a lot to ask but I have my reasons.  I don't want Spike to know I am coming.  Please, Angel," Buffy said.

The fact that Spike hadn't called weighed heavily upon her and she didn't want to give him the chance to play the hero once again and disappear for her own good. Spike said he didn't believe her when she told him she loved him in the cavern.  Those words still haunted her.

"Somehow I think just telling Spike the truth—you know he's alive and you love him, would be so much easier," he winced at the pain the words caused.  "But since you seem to think this is necessary, I'll try.  You, better than anyone, know how Spike is when he gets something in that thick head of his," Angel offered in a futile attempt to change Buffy's mind.  As hard as it was for him, Angel still couldn't tell Buffy no.

The funny thing was all her fears were for nothing.  In fact, the opposite was true.  Spike was like a mad man trying to get to her. Angel ended up using every trick in his book to keep Spike there in LA.  "Spike, as much as you don't want to hear this, your new found status comes with responsibilities.  You can't just walk out and leave a job unfinished," Angel reminded him for what seemed like the hundredth time.  "You have my word that if you stay and see this project through, I will help you get to England," he promised, holding back the truth.

As much as he hated to admit it, Angel's words hit home.  The old Spike would have been long gone, but his new "champion" status and the responsibility it carried, kept him there in LA.  If he was honest, and if he had to put off going to Buffy, the next best thing was being a pain in Angel's ass.

Finally, champion or not, job that needed finished or not, he couldn't wait any longer.  He had to see her.  He had to know—did she still love him and was it in the same way he loved her.  Telling Buffy in the cavern that he didn't believe her was the hardest thing he had every done in his life.  But he knew if he hadn't said what he did, she would have refused to leave.  Dying was something Spike was ready and willing to do, but taking Buffy with him was another thing entirely.  Now he could only hope that she meant what she said.  One way or another he had to know.

By the look on his face, Angel knew there would be no waylaying Spike this time.  "Okay, Peaches," Spike started sarcastically, "My responsibilities are all taken care of and accounted for.  Whether you help me or not, I am headed to England, nothing you can say or do to stop me this time, Mate."

Not even giving Angel time to response, Spike headed out of the office.  As he reached the door, it opened and Buffy walked in. After all this time, all he could do was look at her.  God, he'd forgotten how beautiful she was.  She took his breath away.

It felt so good and so right, he was afraid it was a dream, but it wasn't, it was really happening.   Buffy, his Buffy, the one who meant more to him than anything in the world, was real, standing there in front of him.

An awful thought struck him, she didn't know he was alive, let alone here in LA, was she here to see Peaches?   Without even acknowledging Angel, she asked, "Well, are you gonna stand there all day and stare or do I at least get a hug?"  The look of promise in her eyes assured him that she was there for him.  That was all it took. The time for words and explanations would come much later.  Right now they had more important things to do.

Spike picked her up; Buffy laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, just happy to be in his arms again.  He carried her to the elevator.  When he finally put her down, they were inside his apartment.  There were rumors flying around the office that orders had been given that they were not to be disturbed.   Whatever the reason, everyone respected their privacy.

In those first few days, they reacquainted themselves with each other and every part of their bodies.  Their hunger for each other was insatiable.  They took time to talk about all the hurtful things in their past, they admitted mistakes, asked each other for forgiveness where needed, and then made a pact to leave the past in the past. From that point on they talked about the future, their future, and what they wanted for a change, not what everyone else wanted for them.

Spike asked Buffy to consider staying in LA with him.  He explained the Shanshu and how it affected both him and Angel.  He shared with her how he felt being a champion and how he finally understood her commitment to her calling, her duty.  He felt he was needed here and that he was making a difference in the fight against evil.

"I'm sorry, Luv.  I haven't really let you have a chance to tell me how you feel about all this.  It's seems a little one-sided," he apologized.  "There are so many things happening here with me, I forgot how much you have been through, too.  All this wouldn't mean anything to me without you to share it with.  Never quite seen you at a loss for words, Pet--that good or bad?"

"Well, if you'd shut up a minute and let me get a word in, I might be able to tell you," she teased. Then she turned serious and added, "Finding out you were alive, was the best and scariest day of my life.  I was so afraid that I was too late, I had done so many terrible things to you..."

"It was mutual, Luv, but remember it's in the past," he interrupted.

"See what I mean," she pointed out.  "Okay, enough said.  But I don't want any doubts now.  You mean the world to me.  I love you with everything that is in me.  I can hardly believe that you have finally begun to see what I have seen for so long.  You are a good man and you've so much to offer to the world," she told him, lying to rest once and for all any remaining doubts.

Angel and Spike had formed an alliance of sorts and she was sure he enjoyed being a thorn in Angel's side more than he should.  But it seemed to bring him so much pleasure; she let him have his fun. Though Buffy didn't really understand everything about the Shanshu, she saw how important it was to Spike.  Buffy marveled at the changes that had taken place in him and was happy he was beginning to believe in himself.  She knew her place was with Spike and for now that was good enough for her.

Naturally, there was plenty of evil to fight and Buffy and Spike made quite the team.  You rarely saw one without the other close by.  In as much as they were totally committed to their jobs and callings, and they were equally committed to one another, Buffy and Spike always made time for each other. They continued to build their relationship bit by bit.   Both of them were thankful they found their way back to the other and vowed to make up for lost time.  Not many couples were given second chances; Buffy and Spike wanted to do things right this time.

Part Four

As she continued to reminisce, she admitted things were a little tense between all of them for a while. Angel and Spike had a lot of history between them which caused problems in and of itself. The fact one of them was in love with her and one had loved her added to the mix. Sometimes when she walked into a room, she could sense the tension between the two of them. Buffy knew she somehow had to clear the air and set the record straight between them all.

Buffy felt part of the problem came from the fact she still had feelings for Angel, not in the romantic way but in the way a person feels about their first love. It was such an important part of her growing up that would always be with her.

In being totally honest with Spike Buffy admitted that the memories of what she shared with Angel still tugged at her heart at times. At first even Buffy didn't know what to make of those feelings but she had come to realize that even though they were something to be treasured,they were not something that could be built on. Their relationship, intense as it was, had been fragile; it had not stood the test of time.

Buffy believed with her whole heart that the love she and Spike shared was the forever kind. Against all odds it had survived each struggle and each trial and had only became stronger. She knew it was this acknowledgement that eased the jealousy that cropped up between Spike and Angel, each respecting the place the other held in her life.

With his feelings for Buffy, finally in the past, Angel was able to move on and it looked like Cordy was ready, able, and willing to do her part. She had loved him since she first came to work for him. She needed him in a way Buffy never would have, and they complimented
each other perfectly. They, too, had lost time to make up for.

Their talents combined—Angel, Spike, Buffy, Cordy, Wes, Fred, Gunn, and Lorne-- made a great team. Business was booming. Everyone had their own jobs to do and each did theirs exceptionally. It gave everyone great satisfaction and pride to run like a well oiled machine. Looking back, Buffy could honestly say she was happy and content with her life.

Wesley, with Fred's help, continued to work on the Shanshu prophecy. "Sometimes I feel like we are back to square one," Wesley said. "The more we translate, the more there is to decipher. Some of the scroll we worked on earlier disappears and something else takes its place," he stated. Both of them were frustrated with their progress. Even with as much as they thought they had translated, there still seemed to be more they needed to interpret and be ready for. The one thing everyone knew for sure, another apocalypse was coming, and hopefully they would be well enough prepared.

Spike's soul had thrown things out of balance for a while. Earthquakes, power outages, strange violent behaviors had run rampant. No one could come up with the cause. Then, just as quick as it had started, it stopped. Gunn was told by the Senior Partners that the world was not big enough for two ensouled vampires but they had righted things for the moment. It was not time yet, they said. The champions were not ready.

No one for sure knew exactly what that had meant. One thing they felt certain of, they were headed for another battle. It was just a matter of time. Even though you think you are ready, you never are. Buffy and Spike, having waited so long to be together, decided to live each day to the fullest, leaving no room for regrets. That is exactly what they did.

Then it happened, hell once again broke loose on earth. The beast of Amalfie—with a mouth full of razor-like teeth, six eyes, six arms, and six legs reared its ugly head. If you put together three of the nastiest beasts they had ever fought, you would come close to knowing what the Amalfie looked like. The harbringer escaped with it's minions from its hell dimension to wreak havoc upon mankind. The beast seemingly appeared from nowhere in northern California and was quickly advancing upon Los Angeles. Those it didn't kill and feed upon were turned into part of its army, living only to serve their master.

It took everyone's mental and physical efforts to wage the battle that they hoped would defeat this beast determined to destroy all living things and set up his empire on earth. Even with Wolfram-Hart behind them, they began to lose ground. Needing more help, they called Giles, Willow, and all the Slayers back to LA to help.

They were certain their combined efforts would be enough to kill the beast; they had no back up plan when they made no dent in its army or the beast itself. It was then that they turned back to their books in a now desperate attempt to stop the apocalypse. In an effort to buy them a little time, Willow, with the help of the coven in England, was able to cast a binding spell that contained the army and its master. They knew the respite would not last long, but hoped to buy enough time for them to find the beast's Achilles heel.

It was Giles who came across an old passage talking about a beast who if allowed to combine it's essence with two others would form an unstoppable monster. It did not have a name but it definitely fit their enemy's description. "It says here no weapons formed by man can harm it," he added continuing to scan the book for more details.

"Tell us something we don't know. How do we kill it? Is there a spell that might work?" Angel asked impatiently.

"If you'd let me finish, I think I might have found something. The beast is too strong, his power to great, in this day and time for us to defeat him. Magick won't work either. So we must go back to when he wasn't as powerful and see that he doesn't merge with the two other beings,' Giles stated. "Willow will open a dimensional time portal and you can take Spike and Buffy to the Amalfie's dimension to defeat the beast before it has its chance to rise to its full power," he further explained to the group.

"Piece of cake, Mate. We'll be back before you have a chance to miss us," Spike said looking around the room, trying to break the tension.

"Wait...there's more," Giles interrupted.

"Why am I not surprised. Can't we get off easy just once?" Buffy asked.

"You will only have a certain amount of time. Each part of the beast must be killed within minutes of each other. The portal will then close and we will not be able to reopen it," Giles finished, taking his glasses off and cleaning them nervously. "If you `re there, you'll remain there the rest of your lives."

"Well, don't think we have much choice. We've been in places like this before. We'll just have to do the job and get out. Don't fancy working this hard to get where I am to lose everything now. Besides, I got me a Shanshu coming and I'm not going to miss out on that," Spike said looking to see if he got the desired reaction from Angel. He grabbed Buffy's hand for reassurance and together the group began to make plans.

Willow's worked the spell easily and the portal opened just like it was supposed to. Jumping into the hole it created, Angel, Spike, and Buffy found themselves inside a large, damp, and dark cavern. Buffy shuddered as it brought back memories. As if he could read her mind, Spike told her, "Not this time, Luv. We're going back out together."

"Ok guys, there's the three tunnels, just like Giles said we would find. I'll take the left one, Buffy, you take the middle, and Spike, you take the one on the right," Angel ordered. "And remember, get the job done and get back here as soon as possible. Get out when you can. No one waits for the other. Agreed?" he asked looking at both Buffy and then at Spike for their unspoken promise.

"No need for the warning, we are all going to make it," Buffy answered, refusing to think about any other possibility. She quickly gave Spike a kiss and headed down her tunnel without looking back. Spike and Angel gave each other `the look' and they too headed down theirs.

Spike found his beast first, and putting on his game face he charged straight into the beast. Without the added power of the other two, he was no match for the vampire. Spike swung high his ax and cut the beast's head off. Wasting no time, Spike headed back out the way he came.

Angel, too, made short work killing his demon. The demon was slow and clumsy allowing him to get behind him. He snapped its neck and the demon dropped to the floor. He glanced at his watch, hoping everyone else was enjoying the same success he was. He arrived at the entrance at almost the same time Spike did. Both of them looked around. Their hearts sunk. Buffy was nowhere to be found.

"You wait here. I still have enough time to go help Buffy. She'd be here by now if she hadn't run into trouble. Get out while you can. We'll be right behind you," Spike ordered Angel as he started for the middle tunnel.

"You're not going anywhere without me. You're not the only hero here. Power in numbers, remember," Angel challenged and followed on his heels. Both realizing there was no time for arguments, they headed down the tunnel together.

Buffy had indeed run into trouble, nothing she couldn't handle she was sure, but she could only hope Angel and Spike fared better. She lost her footing on the slick surface and banged her head on a rock. She was having trouble with her vision, she was seeing two of everything and having a problem figuring out which one was real. It was a good thing the beast was slow or she really would have been in trouble. She had lost her ax when she had slipped and was trying to find it while trying to ward off the beast's blows.

Buffy could sense she was running out of time. She continued to beat the beast back with her blows hoping for a chance to make her move. As she began to think this might indeed be her last fight, she saw her ax. It was hidden by the rock she had hit her head on. As she made her move, she saw Angel and Spike coming through the opening. "Need a little help?" they asked in unison.

She didn't know whether to scream at them or hug them, but she would deal with them later. She picked up her ax and chopped the beast's head off just as it came at her once again. "And you think I can't follow orders," she chastised. "I don't think we have much time, so let's get out of here. If we don't make it back in time, I will so kick your asses," she told them with a grin.

The deed done, the beasts killed, the group reached the portal opening just as it was beginning to close. As they landed on the floor of Angel's office, they looked around to make sure everything had returned to normal. Giles and Willow assured them things were fine and the plan worked perfectly. There was no sign of the beast or his army. They would have some damage control to do but the battle had been fought and another apocalypse averted.

And then it happened. Angel and Spike collapsed in a heap in front of them. Unconscious, they were rushed to the intensive care units in Wolfram-Hart's hospital ward.

Part Five

Buffy wiped the tears from her cheeks.   The painful memories were still so fresh that she had trouble keeping her composure.  She tried to shove to the back of her mind the hopelessness she felt at being unable to change the circumstances.  She needed to remain strong.  She was the Slayer and everyone was counting on her.  She wouldn't let them down.  She would find out what was going on and she would fix it, just like she always did.

At least that's what her mind told her.  Buffy just wished she could convince her heart.  What she wouldn't give to see that infamous head tilt and hear Spike's voice call her `luv'.   She couldn't lose him now, not when things between them were going so well.  She needed his arms around her.  She needed his strength; that thought alone threatened to send her over the brink once again. 

`Think Summers, think.  Things like this don't just happen.  Something or someone has to be controlling the situation," Buffy thought to herself, frantically trying to grab ahold of the missing piece. 

The doctor again reassured her there was nothing physically wrong with the two vampires.  With this in mind, Buffy began looking to the supernatural realm as the cause of their comas. She began to wonder if it had something to do with the battle--the apocalypse they had stopped.  That had to be it.  It had been right in front of her all the time.    Hope renewed, she would let everyone in on her theory.  

Buffy called the gang and asked them to meet her in the waiting room just down the hallway from Spike and Angel's room.  She couldn't stand the thought of being any farther away from them than that. 

Buffy was pacing the small room when the gang entered.  Willow, Cordy, and Fred rushed to give her a hug.  "How ya holdin' up?  We were hopin' there was some news since you called us all here," Willow asked her friend, not really needing an answer.  The worry and stress could still be read on Buffy's face.

"I wish, Will, but no change.  Guess it could be worse, right?" Buffy said trying to find something positive to focus on.  Turning even more serious, she began, "Look, guys, I know I'm not the expert here, but something hit me while I was sitting in their room.  Ever since I came to LA, Spike has been talking about something called Shamshoo, Shan...,"

"Shanshu," Wes corrected her.

"Yeah, that's it.  He said something about a vampire with a soul…"

"…once he fulfills his destiny will Shanshu, his humanity will be restored.  It's from the scroll of Aberjan," Wesley finished interrupting her once again.

"I don't care who said it or where is comes from.  Does anyone here see anything kinda familiar?  Vampire with soul, fulfilling his destiny—I think saving the world might qualify for that?  Don't you?  I know were missin' the humanity thing but hey, when is anything ever cut and dried around here?" Buffy asked hoping that she was on the right track.

"Come on, what do you think?  Could their collapse be tied to this Shanshu thing?" she said looking around the room trying to gauge their reactions.

Wes was the first to speak, "Well, we really don't know too much about it.  Fred and I have been studying the scrolls for months, and we really don't feel that we are any closer to figuring out what it means than when we first started."

"What if the fact there are two souled vampires—could that be causing the problems with fulfilling the prophecy?  It did wreak havoc a while back with other things," Gunn reminded them.

"Right and my slayer instinct tells me it is somehow related.  I don't know how but I'm trusting you guys to figure it out.  Whatever it is, you have to find it in a hurry.  I think their time is running out," Buffy told the group.

`You know we're in this with you.  We'll find the answers and those two will be back on their feet in no time," Wes promised trying to give Buffy something to hold on to.

"Thanks, I knew I could count on all of you.  I know they both mean a lot to each of you.  Keep me posted," Buffy said as turned to head back to Spike and Angel's hospital room keeping her vigil there.

Wes and Fred had already spent countless hours studying and trying to translate the prophecy since Spike's return, but Wes began to go through it once again with a fine tooth comb.  He sent each one back to their offices and their areas of expertise and gave them orders to go over every thing again, looking for something they might have missed. 

Giles and Willow went with Fred.  From her office they would contact the Watcher's Council and the Wicca's Coven in England asking them for their help. Each member of the group would do their parts to help with the search, agreeing to meet back in Wes' office in several hours to go over their findings. 

One by one they filed back into Wes' office.  He didn't have to ask if any one had any luck finding something new in their research; he could tell by their faces they had struck out.  They were hoping Wes had faired better.  Wes remained seated at his desk as the group stood anxiously awaiting further instructions from him. 

Lorne was the first to speak, "Come on big guy, you must have come up with something—prophecy is your area of expertise.  Don't think I can be of much help since no one seems to be up to even humming a few bars."

"I struck out too, bro.  Seems like the Senior Partners are keeping to themselves on this one," Gunn offered in defense of his failure.

"Willow and I didn't fair any better either.  Every turn we took led us to a dead end," Fred stated.

"Even the coven seems stumped.  If we only had a little more to go on," Willow offered.

"I didn't come up with anything either.  The Council was completely in the dark on the matter—saving vampires isn't quite their cup of tea," Giles added.

The tension in the room was felt by everyone present.  "Look, everyone, we can't give up.  I have said before, and I will say it again.  I need to remind everybody what we are dealing with here.  Our boss's and Spike's very life depends on us figuring this thing out.  I suggest we go back to square one.  The Shanshu has roots in so many languages that it complicates translation.  The most ancient source is the Proto-Bantu and they consider life and death the same thing.  Maybe we have somehow misconstrued the humanity thing and it just meant that after fulfilling their destinies, they would be allowed to die.  To a vampire doomed to live forever, this could be deemed a reward," Wes stated continuing to study the scroll in front of him.

"Wait a minute; I don't recall seeing this portion of text before.  How strange?"  Wesley continued.  "Not quite sure, but I am thinking this portion deals with…" he looked up at the group with a puzzled look of his face.   "I don't know how we could have missed this."

"Okay, we get that, but you haven't seen what before?" Willow asked impatiently.

"I believe it's saying something about a slayer who loves…them both, having to choose.  I can only assume it means Buffy has to make the choice, who receives the Shanshu," he said still not quite believing what he was reading. "Wait, there's more.  It seems the one who she chooses will receive his humanity, the other, well, I believe he dies," Wes added thoughtfully.

"How fair can that be?  How could anyone expect her to do this?  It will tear her apart.  You've seen her; she's barely hanging on as it is.  She has had to make plenty of life changing decisions in the past, but this…," Willow added, "You better be doggone sure before we tell her something like this."

"I am as sure as I can be about any of it.  Like I said it is a complicated prophecy."  Wes said defending his interpretation and its new addition.

Taking the position of leadership, Giles rose and stated the obvious, "Let's go then.  Why waste any more time?  Waiting and having something else happen to them is not going to make it any easier on Buffy."  Silently they headed to the hospital to share this news with the Slayer.

Part Six

Buffy stood gazing out the window watching the traffic and people running here and there.  Life went on.  It saddened her to think how naïve people were.  Most lived their lives never knowing the evil she faced day in and day out.  Only a few knew the price she had paid. Now Angel and Spike were paying a similarly high price to save the world.  On the other hand, she felt privileged to know not one champion but two in her short lifetime.

Buffy watched the clock impatiently and wondered what was taking everyone so long to get back to her.  She looked back at the vampires lying so still in their beds and was overcome with emotion.  She could feel them slipping further and further away from her.  She couldn't just stand there any longer and do nothing; taking one last look at each of them, she headed out of the room.

As she reached the door, it opened.  There stood Giles.  She could tell by the worried look on his face as he came into the room that something was terribly wrong.  He stood silently facing her.  "What is it?   What did you find?" she asked, huge tears forming in her eyes.

He reached out to put his hand on her shoulder and spoke softly, "Let's step outside where we can go over what we found with everyone."   That was all Giles would say as he ushered her to a waiting room down the hall.

Everyone was there, Wes, Fred, Cordy, Lorne, Gunn, and Willow, all waiting for her.  She felt sick.  `This can't be good,' she thought.  "All right, spill," she said taking her position of leadership even though she was barely keeping herself together.  "Don't look so glum.  Whatever it is, we'll get through it together.  We'll find a way out just like we always do."

Wes stepped forward and began, "Well, Buffy, it looks like you were right.  We believe it is tied to the prophecy.  In fact, the battle Spike and Angel fought, earned them a Shanshu."

"Okay then, that's good, right?  Why the long faces?" Buffy interrupted, hoping for the best.  She knew before she even asked the question, that one of the infamous "buts" was about to follow.  She only hoped she was strong enough to face whatever it was.

"But…well I, we," Wesley stammered not knowing how to tell Buffy what they had uncovered.

"Buffy," Willow, pushing Wes to the side, reached out and grabbed Buffy's hand, and began.  She hoped hearing what they had found would be easier coming from her.  "The Shanshu prophecy goes on to say, `the slayer who loves them both, must choose who receives their reward.  And there's more," she rushed so she didn't lose her nerve, "The one she doesn't choose, dies."

Everyone in the room was focused on Buffy and her reaction.  The minutes seemed like hours as they watched her sit there staring at Willow.  Finally, Buffy, trying to let what she had just been told sink in, broke the silence, "Choose?  Dies?" she asked.  "Surely, Wes, you made a mistake. Oh my God, I can't believe this.  This isn't real.  I'm going to wake up any time now, please tell me, this isn't real," she begged.  "I'm supposed to choose who gets their reward and who dies?  How fair is that?  I can't do that!  You must be wrong. What kind of sick joke is this?  No one in their right mind would expect me to choose between the two of them, allowing one of them to live and one to die," she said as she began to cry.  Willow took her in her arms and held her as she sobbed.  The others watched helplessly not knowing what to say or do to help her.

Seeing Buffy's total devastation was hard on everyone in the room. In fact, Giles had to leave the room at one point unable to bear her heart rending sobs.  Willow continued to hold her friend, stroking her hair and quietly promising her that they would find a way out of this.  The others in the room stood silently waiting for Buffy's sobs to subside.

Emotionally and physically exhausted, Buffy quieted and stood a few more minutes in Willow's embrace.  Looking into her friend's eyes, she softly spoke, "Thanks, Will, I'm so glad you're here with me." Drying her eyes with a Kleenex Cordy handed her, Buffy became all business once again.  "Sorry about that, guess I'm human after all," she told them trying to get things back on track.  "Guess I needed to let off a little steam, but I'm okay now and ready to face this situation head on," she tried to speak the words with a confidence she did not feel.

"Wes, I know this is what you think the prophecy says, but I refuse to accept it.  I will not make a choice.  I can't.  Surely all my years as the Slayer count for something?" she said, briefly allowing her emotions to overwhelm her.  "Obviously the prophecy doesn't seem to be set in stone.  Somehow Spike getting his soul wasn't foreseen by the Powers That Be," Buffy continued thinking out loud.

Giles slipped back into the room, hoping no one had noticed his absence.  Buffy did though and acknowledged his return with a nod of her head and a half smile.  "Who has the power to add to and change the prophecy?  Giles, any ideas, I'm kinda grasping at straws here," she asked.

"I believe that would be the Powers That Be.  They are the only ones with that kind of power," Wes answered before Giles had a chance to. He was trying to turn things over in his head looking for something he missed.  "I just don't see how that is going to help us here. What they say or decide is pretty much the final authority on things and it appears they have made up their minds on this issue."

"Well then, I'll just have to find a way to make them change their minds, won't I?  How do I get in contact with these high and mighty Beings," Buffy challenged.  "They have fooled with my life one too many times.  I have been their puppet long enough.  I'll just call in a few favors," she added defiantly.

"Buffy, you must think this out.  I won't say I understand how you are feeling because I don't, but you cannot just go up to these beings and tell them what to do.  In fact, I'm not even sure there is any way to contact them.  I think they do the contacting and from what I can gather, their decision is made and you are not going to be able to change it.  Trying something like that could result in losing all three of you," Giles told her.

"So you expect me to just roll over and play dead? You know me better than that," Buffy said sarcastically.    Ignoring Giles's warning and becoming serious once again she said, "Come on guys, think, there has to be a way.  There always is.  Anyone else have any suggestions?"

It was Fred who finally broke the silence.  She said softly, "Well, guys, the only person I know who has a connection with the Powers That Be is Cordy.  Gunn could contact the Senior Partners but I don't think they would be of any help.  Why would they?   What would they have to gain?"  She continued her train of thought, "Maybe we are still missing something.  It definitely doesn't seem fair and things have appeared to change before our eyes.  It does appear this might not be set in stone."

Buffy, her eyes hopeful for the first time since this had all began, looked first at Willow, then at Giles and stated, "I refuse to make this choice.   I'm willing to try anything."  They smiled weakly at her, not wanting to take what little hope she might have.

Gunn didn't feel the same loyalty.  "I agree with Fred on this one. I'm sure the Senior Partners wouldn't be of any help. You guys are forgetting, after the murder of the former Oracles, everything about the new ones has been cloaked in secrecy.  The new policy is no one gets in to see the Oracles.  Rumor has it even asking questions about them gets you killed.  The Powers That Be are not taking any chances this time," he explained.

"Please," Buffy plead.  "This might be Angel and Spike's only chance.  I understand your concern but I have to try.  Better yet, just point me in the right direction and if someone gets killed it will be me.  I believe they won't kill me, I have to do their work for them--the prophecy says I have to decide who lives and dies," she said resenting the position she was being put in.  Even death would be better than this.

It was then she noticed Cordy sitting with her head in her hands quietly crying.  In all this turmoil she hadn't thought about her feelings and how deeply she would be affected by all this and now she could possibly be their only connection to the Powers That Be.  She moved from the crowd and joined Cordy on the couch.  She placed her arm around her shoulders.  Cordy looked up with tears flowing down her cheeks and said, "I don't want to lose him, Buffy.  I feel so helpless.  There's nothing I can do.  I'm so afraid."

"Maybe there is something you can do," Buffy said.

Cordy looked at Buffy, "What could I possibly do?"

"You have a connection, a connection to the Powers That Be.  Can you communicate with them?   Get me in to talk to them?" Buffy asked.

"I haven't had a vision in ages, Buffy.  You guys know that.  I've kinda been on my own for a while.  Besides, I never contacted them; they have always been the ones to contact me.  They always sent a guide to take me to them," Cordy explained.

"Maybe Willow could help--do a spell or something, send for a guide person.  I don't know.  We have to try something.  I refuse to give up.  Will, what do you think?" Buffy asked.

"Well, there are plenty of ways to summon a guide, but I can't promise I can summon one who can help us, but count me in," she promised.

Cordy agreed, "I'm not sure I can do anything to help but I'm willing to try.  I couldn't live with myself if I lost Angel, and I didn't at least give it my best effort."

"Nobody is going to lose anyone.  I promise.  I'm the Slayer, remember.  I laugh in the face of death and live to tell about it. We're going to get through this and you and Angel are going to have a long and happy life together," Buffy promised hugging Cordy to her.

One by one everybody in the room offered their support.  Buffy found her strength in the love of her friends.  "I can't say, I think this is the best way to handle this situation, but since I don't have a better plan.  I can't blame you for wanting to try this," Giles conceded.

"I agree with Giles.  I wish I could say there was something else we could try, but I can't.  I think this is our only hope, your only hope," Wes stated.  Fred nodded her agreement.

"You know I'm with you, Buffy," Willow said and went to sit on the other side of her.  Together the three of them sat with their heads touching, drawing strength one from another.  No words were spoken, each lost in their own thoughts.

Part Seven

Buffy wasn't sure how long they sat there, but when she looked up everyone, except for the two friends sitting beside her was gone.  "Well, time isn't on our side, guys.  We should get started," Willow told her.  "There is a lovely garden right off the main foyer downstairs.  I spent some time there yesterday.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  I can't think of a better place to try to connect to a higher power," she suggested.

Buffy agreed and together they moved arm in arm down the hallway toward the elevator.  As they walked by the room where Angel and Spike lay, she paused and touched the door.  Buffy knew time was growing short but she needed a few minutes alone with them. Even if they couldn't hear, she needed to tell them what she was doing and she wanted to say goodbye just in case she didn't come back.  Her friends understood her unspoken request and remained behind outside the room, giving her the privacy she needed.  She smiled back at them, then closed the door behind her.

She leaned against the door and looked at the figures lying so still in their beds.  They meant so much to her, each in their own way.   She couldn't remember a time in her life when she had felt so tired and so alone.  She needed to talk to someone, but the only one she could share anything with was lying in one of those beds.  He would know just what to say to give her the strength she needed to do what she had to do.  Spike would understand the turmoil she was going through; but then she thought--how could anyone understand, when she didn't understand it herself?

In her heart Buffy knew there was only one choice she could make.  If it came down to it, she would choose Spike in a heartbeat.   She loved him with all her heart, soul, and strength.  She had watched him struggle to become the man he was today.  Even without a soul, he had loved her and had always been there for her.  She believed with all her heart he had earned this reward.  It should be as simple as that, but it wasn't.

Her head reminded her how much this reward meant to Angel.  Buffy knew how long and how hard he had worked to make amends for his past.  No, she had to be honest at least with herself.  She had sent him to his death once and she knew she couldn't live with herself if she did it again.  It had almost killed her the first time.  She knew that she and Spike would never be happy at Angel's expense.  No, she would be better off dead than having to make this choice and live with those consequences.

She went to Angel's bed first.  She took his hand and brought it to her face.  Her first love, her first heartbreak, how did she say goodbye?  "Angel, I can only hope you can hear me from wherever you are waiting.  I'm so sorry I'm not strong enough to make this decision.  I hope somewhere inside you can understand how I am feeling and not hate me for being selfish.  I guess I've reached the end of my rope.

Life and death decisions have been a part of my life for so long, I guess I should be a pro at it by now.  But I'm not.  I want you to know how much you mean to me and always will.  You're a big part of what I am today.  Without your love, support, and understanding during my first years as a slayer, I wouldn't have made it.  You taught me so much about myself.  Please remember this and find some comfort in it."  She kissed his hand as she put it back on the bed and leaned over and kissed his forehead and whispered, "Good bye my friend, I will never forget…never forget you."

The words no sooner left her lips when she was overwhelmed by a feeling of de-ja-vu.  It felt like she said those exact words before to Angel.  `Oh my God, I did,' she thought.  The long buried memories came flooding back to her—seeing Angel in LA, the Mohra demon, listening to his heart beat, the peanut butter ice cream on a chocolate waffle---everything about those few hours they had together.   Buffy stood there stunned, taking a minute to process everything and what they meant to her.

Why did they come back now?  As she sank to her knees by his bed, she began to cry.  He sacrificed the thing he wanted most in his life for her.  Angel gave up his humanity so that he could help her, protect her.  This long buried memory had to be the reason she felt so torn between the two.  Buffy also saw, with great clarity that this was her past. 

As she continued to allow everything to sink in, she realized as strong and intense as her feelings were, they were they didn't change how she felt about Spike.  She loved him.  More than she ever thought she would be capable of loving anyone.  She knew now with great certainty that what she had felt with Angel paled in comparison to her feelings for Spike.  Her memories put everything in perspective.  This realization and acceptance of her past was in itself freeing, though she still owed Angel and couldn't turn her back on him.

She straightened, tears still flowing down her cheeks as she turned to the bed that held Spike.  Buffy crawled up in the bed beside the still figure and laid her head on his shoulder she wrapped her arm protectively around his waist.  Buffy closed her eyes and tried to remember every detail about this man she loved with all her heart.  

She softly caressed his arm.  "William," she began.  "You know you're in for trouble when I call you that," she teased.  "I know you're looking down from wherever you are and you're really pissed.  I can almost hear you saying, `It's okay.   I understand.   Just make the bloody decision, already.'   You're right, it should be easy.  But I can't sacrifice you for him or him for you.  I couldn't live with myself.  Please don't ever doubt how much I love you.  I just wish I could be sure you understand. Let me know everything is going to be okay.  Would a little bitty sign that you hear me be too much to ask?" she finished, willing him to answer her and thinking how easy it would be to just lie here and wait for something to happen.

Buffy wondered if she would have the strength to get up and leave him.  It didn't feel like it, but realizing they were running out time, she called on the slayer inside her and put on a brave front so if this was indeed the last time Spike would see her, she would have no regrets. "Okay, no more brooding, big guy in the other bed does enough of that for all of us," she joked and continued, "Hey, don't give up hope, I haven't.  I'm the good guy, remember.  I have my heart set on a happy ending," she finished.  She lay there a few more moments before she stood and kissed his lips and whispered, "I love you."

Taking one more look at the sleeping forms, she stood at the door, "Next time I see you two, I expect you live and well, no more lying around.  I haven't lost a battle yet and I'm not planning on losing this one," she told them as she opened the door and walked out without looking back.

She held the door open and gestured for Cordy to go in, "We'll meet you down there," Buffy told her, knowing she too would appreciate some time alone with Angel.  "Let's go, Will.  We've got work to do."

The ride in the elevator seemed to be taking forever but she was sure only minutes had passed.  Willow pushed the emergency stop button and asked, "Are you sure?  You could end up losing both of them."

"Never been more sure of anything in my life.  You know me, I'm the original all or nothing girl," she answered. 

"That case, you came to the right place.  They don't call me a Goddess for nothing.  One way or another, I will see to it you get to see the Oracles.   I won't let you or the guys down.  I need to stop on the next floor and pick up some supplies I'll be needing.  The garden is on the first floor.  I'll meet you there." Willow promised and then reached over and pushed the button to continue their ride.

Leaving Willow off on the fourth floor, she continued to the first floor alone.  After what seemed like an eternity, the doors finally opened and Buffy crossed the foyer and entered the garden. 

The place was truly amazing.  Flowers bloomed everywhere.  The fragrances were breathtaking.  She wondered along the path, enjoying the sights and smells surrounding her.  Willow was right, it was peaceful here. 

Ahead of her were several rose bushes filled with huge flowers.  They were the deepest shade of red she had ever seen. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath, the smell was almost intoxicating.   Taking a few minutes, Buffy lost herself in their beauty. When she opened her eyes, she noticed the most delicate and beautiful white rose blooming right in the middle of the sea of red.  She reached out to touch it.  How could she have missed it?  It was her sign, she had asked for a sign.  `You heard me didn't you?'  The white rose was the only flower Spike ever bought her.  He told her they reminded him of their love— pure.  `Thank you,' she whispered.

It was there that Willow and Cordy found her.   When she turned to face her friends, they could sense something had changed.  A new air of confidence surrounded her.  Buffy confirmed it by saying, "Come girls, let's do this thing.  I have it on good authority everything is going to be just fine."

Part Eight

Anxious to get started Buffy led the way back to the center of the garden.  Seeing Willow's supplies on the small bench in front of the waterfall she remarked, "Great minds think alike."  Pushing things aside she sat down.

Everyone could feel the tension in the air.  Needing to say a few things before they got started, Buffy took the opportunity, "Will, I want you to know I'm so proud of you.  You've been through so much and yet you're stronger for it.  I'm so fortunate to have you on my side--not everyone can boast they have a goddess in their corner.  I know I've said this before but thanks for being here with me in this."

She turned to Cordy, "And you.  When I think back to our high school years, wow, I can't believe I'm looking at the same girl.  You've become quite the lady.  Well, part demon, keeper of the visions,-- and did I miss anything?" she laughed.  "We'll get through this and you and Angel will have a long and happy life together, I promise."

"Okay, Will, let's get this show on the road, time's a'wastin.  Just tell me what I need to do."  Buffy said, once again all business.

"Not worried at all," Willow lied trying to cover her nervousness.  "A slayer, a goddess, and demon—quite a powerful combination—we'll be heard.  I promise."

"Okay, first things first, we need to get a few things ready.  Cordy, because of your connection with the PTB, I need you to take the bag of sacred sand and form a circle big enough for us to sit in.  The circle will then become sacred and the place we ask them to join us. Buffy, I would like you to sit just where you are and try to clear you mind.  Chase away the negative energy and replace it with positive thoughts.  Concentrate on what you want to accomplish and prepare your heart to welcome the spirits," Willow ordered as she took charge of what would happen next.

Willow closed her eyes and meditated.  She silently called on the goddess within her to give her strength and wisdom to handle whatever might come.  She was confident she could call upon her powers to open a portal for Buffy to go through but she had no idea if the Powers on the other side would welcome her presence.  Finishing her mental preparations, she opened her eyes and saw Cordy was finished with the circle and both of them were waiting for the next step.

Willow took several items from her bag--a feather which she placed on the top left side of the circle, a shell on the top right, a piece of charcoal on the bottom right side, and placed a rock on the bottom left side.  Then she explained to her friends, "These represent four elements—the feather for air, the shell for water, charcoal for fire, and the rock for the Earth."

She took a bottle of oil out of her bag and approached Cordy.  Taking the oil she dipped her finger in it and anointed Cordy's forehead— touching the top of her forehead and then her chin.  She dipped her finger in the oil again and touched Cordy's chin and then her forehead, and then asked her to step inside the circle.  Then she anointed Buffy in the same way.

Before anointing herself and joining them in the circle she told them, "This oil is the fifth element.  It has been blessed and represents the Spirit.   It marks your willingness to be a vessel." With those words she anointed herself.  She took one more thing from her bag, a long crystal—this too represented the spirit, and then joined them in the circle.

Willow reached for Buffy's, then Cordy's hand and asked them to join their hands and together then sat down.  Willow squeezed Buffy's hand to reassure her.  She was amazed at the transformation taking place in her friend.

Sitting quietly for a few moments, each lost in their own thoughts, it wasn't long before Willow began to speak, "It is in all humbleness that we come before you.  We come not for ourselves but our friend. She has been your obedient servant for many years.  She has sacrificed her life time and time again for humanity.  She has given unselfishly—above and beyond her calling.  Now she asks for Your help.  We ask that you honor her request.  Grant her an audience we beseech thee."

Everything remained quiet and calm.  Nothing seemed to be happening. Not losing hope, Willow repeated the request, she waited once again. Still nothing happened.  Beginning to get frustrated she became more forceful, "Here sits a champion of your people, I demand you honor her request," and with that Willow continued to speak in a loud tone in a language they did not understand.

Before Willow finished, the wind began to blow.  This seemed to encourage her and she spoke even louder, words they didn't understand intermixed with demand, audience, and ended with the demand—NOW. Willow's eyes turned yellow and the tips of her red hair appeared to be on fire.  A blinding light flashed out of nowhere and when they could once again see-- Buffy was gone.

"Well, I would say, we did our part.  The rest is up to Buffy," Willow said shakily, reaching over and giving Cordy a hug.


One minute she was watching Willow with her yellow eyes and flaming hair, the next second she was blinded by an intense light.  Before she could comprehend what was happening, Buffy landed with a thump. She quickly tried to get her bearings. As she looked around she saw she was in another beautiful garden.  She was struck by the peacefulness she felt here.  She was reminded of how she felt when she died and was in heaven.  She wasn't sure what she had expected, she was taken completely off guard.

She was continuing her exploration when a voice boomed, "You presume much Slayer."

Startled, Buffy looked around for the person behind the voice with no success.  She could only assume it belonged to one of the Oracles.

"Always been told I had a lot of spunk," she answered.  "So I guess you know why I am…"

The voice boomed back at her before she could finish, "Quiet, the fact you are the Slayer is the only thing standing between you and death right now."

Trying to hide her nervousness, she took the fact that she wasn't dead yet a sign of hope.  She determined to make the most of this opportunity.  She boldly continued taking for granted she was speaking with one of the Oracles, "The Shanshu--I'm here to ask, no beg if I need to, please don't make me choose."  Pausing and getting no response, she added, "Look I have faithfully carried out my duties and have been an obedient servant, well most of the time.  I don't think this is too much too ask."

She was rapidly losing hope when the voice simply answered, "Indeed, for your life of service, request granted.  Account settled.  Be sure I do not see you here again!"

Thinking to herself, if she had known it would be this easy; she wouldn't have waited so long.  Before she could even say thank you, she found herself standing in a large waiting room.

"I have examined her heart and motives.  I do not believe she is a threat," the same voice she heard in the garden boomed in the small room.  Still she saw no one.  Buffy was confused.   If that wasn't an Oracle, who was it?  Just when she was sure she was alone in the room, she looked around and watched two of the most beautiful creatures--one appearing feminine and one appearing masculine--she had ever seen coming toward her.  They moved with such fluidity that they appeared to be floating.  There was a soft glow hanging around each of them, and they were clothed in white.   These must be the Oracles.  She sensed their kindness and gentleness.  Surely they would understand her plight.  They stopped just in front of her.  "We have heard much of you," they replied in unison.

Buffy was once again overwhelmed by her situation and her emotions threatened to take over.  "Thank you so much for seeing me.  Please help me," was all she could choke out.

"Be still my child.  We know of your plight.  The choice we have given you was meant as an honor.  It was not meant to cause you this pain.  This grieves us.  You are capable of great love and you have shown many times you are capable of great sacrifice.  But this is a situation that is not easily remedied," the beings replied.

"But you can help me," she asked hopefully.

"All is not that simple child.  Much has been thrown out of balance by the two vampires with a soul.  The one called Spike is indeed a marvel having fought so hard to gain his soul.  He is also capable of great love.  But so is the one called Angel.  He has become a true champion of the people.   That is why we have tried to rectify the imbalance in a way we felt fair to all; we are sorry we have failed," they spoke again unison.  "We have much to think about."

"Surely you have to know, I can't do this.  I can't make this choice," she pleaded as she sensed their dismissal.

"Hush," they said sternly.  "We must talk things over.  It is very complicated."

Buffy, shaking with emotion stood quietly and watched as the beings appeared to be having a heated discussion.  `This can't be good,' she thought.  The feminine figure was doing the majority of the talking while the masculine being was adamantly shaking his head.  She seemed to wait an eternity and was rapidly losing hope when all of a sudden the conversation was over.  Preparing herself for the worse, Buffy waited.

We will honor your request," they continued.

Hardly able to take in what they were saying she said, "Thank you, thank you.  I can't…"

"Do not be so quick to thank us.  Nothing comes free in this life. This situation and request have posed quite a few complications and can not be taken care of simply," they warned her.

Part Nine

In that moment, even with their warning, Buffy felt a huge weight lifted from her shoulders—all she could think of was the fact that she wasn't going to have to choose between the two men.  Too soon, though, a sense of foreboding overcame her as she waited for the Oracles to explain what they meant.

The Oracles began, "Out of respect for you and the courage you have shown in coming to us, we will grant the Shanshu to them both. But…"  Relief began to wash over Buffy.  She basked in the sensation.   It disappeared as fast as it appeared when the higher beings continued, "Because of the magnitude of the request we must ask you to make the ultimate sacrifice.  You…"

"If it is my life, I give it willingly.  Angel and Spike have earned their humanity.  I, I mean, we owe them that much," she offered unselfishly.

"We are not asking for your life," the Oracle replied, almost insulted at the suggestion.  "As a human your understanding of this dimension and the greater good is limited.  You make decisions for your future based on your past. We make decisions for you based on what we know your future to be.  As a human your knowledge is lacking.  Your life has nothing to do with this situation.  Thinking that your death could rectify the position we find ourselves in is the perfect illustration of your limited capabilities.  Taking your life is not something we could or would do," they finished.

"Okay, I get that.  If it isn't my life…" Buffy interrupted.

"Hush.  You are much too impatient.  This often gets you in trouble, just as it does now," they rebuked.

"No, please, I'm sorry.  I'm just, I'm just scared.  I'll do whatever you ask," Buffy told them.

"We know that, little one that is why we are willing to make the necessary changes to your dimension to work this out," they assured her gently.  "You need to know how delicate this situation is.  The one you call Spike is indeed a puzzle, even to us.  He was not foreseen.  His quest for and earning of a soul has thrown the elements of the universe into confusion.  It should not have been possible, yet he managed to make it so.  Despite his lot in life, his grasp of love is beyond measure.  His love for you is deep and pure; it has been talked about even here.  Still the imbalance he causes is as great as the love he feels," they continued.

Buffy nodded her head in agreement.  Until this moment she hadn't fully grasped just what an accomplishment it truly had been for Spike.  Realizing it made her love him even more if that was possible.

To make sure she understood what they told her, the Oracles gave her a few moments before they spoke, "Because there are so many aspects of this situation, we must do something we have never done.   In normal circumstances we could not even attempt to do such a thing," Buffy braced herself for what was coming next; she hoped she had the strength to do whatever they were going to ask.

"Above all else, we must keep order in the universe.  There cannot be two souled vampires in existence any longer.  We were able to maintain order when the one called Angel received his soul through a curse.  Spike's ability to earn a soul has been a totally different challenge.  Together they are beginning to cause dimensional fractures; we can no longer keep your universe balanced.

It is because of the things we will need to do to restore order that it must be as though the vampires never existed.   To do what you ask and bring your world back into its rightful state, we must wipe even their memories from all who knew them--including  you—should you desire.  We will allow that decision to be yours," they tried to explain the situation on a level Buffy could understand.

"It is only because they are dead that we can attempt to do this. Technically they should never have existed and we should never have had to face this situation.  What they have done during their `undead existence' will be seared from the minds of the world.  So that history remains intact, whatever they did as vampires that was significant to destiny's plan will be done by someone or something else.  Any and all memories of the two will be completely erased from your dimension.  Not cloaked, not buried deep within, but gone. Their memories, too, will be appropriately replaced.  Even if you choose to keep your memories, they will have no memory of you.  We assure you this is a very complicated process and only we have the power to do this with no serious consequences," they finished, both watching the woman in front of them.

"Oh my God, in order to let them both live, I have to give them both up.  Killing me would be easier," Buffy stated bluntly as tears began to roll down her cheeks.

Seeing her pain saddened the Beings but there was nothing more they could do.  "So it is your decision to remove all memories, even yours?"

"Yes, no, can't I have even a moment to think.  Will this hurt?  Will I feel like I am missing something?  Will I ever be happy again?" she asked, flooding them with questions.

"We can assure you, it will not hurt.  As far as you feeling like you are missing something, we are not sure.  You feel deeply and with your enhanced slayer abilities, we cannot promise you that you would not have those feelings.  As for being happy, that will be up to you.  Happiness is never up to us, you must seek it.  It is your choice," the Oracles answered.

Buffy frantically tried to process the little information she had at her disposal.  If she chose to have her memories removed she wouldn't remember the pain of losing someone she loved.  She remembered how devastated she was when Angel left her and how she felt when she thought she had lost Spike.  She didn't think she had the strength to go through that kind of pain again.  But then she thought of how much she loved Spike and how much they went through to be together.  Could she stand to lose the memories too?  Impulsively, as only Buffy could, she made her decision--after all, she was the original all or nothing girl!  `As long as she remembered them, a part of them would live on in her and who knows…' she thought just a little rebelliously.

Before she had a chance to tell them her decision, they once again spoke, "We sense the despair you are feeling.  We wish there was something we could do to ease this pain."

"Then do something about this," she said sarcastically.

"Do not be so swift to judge us.  There are forces involved here that are out of even our control.  It is our wish to honor your request and in doing so, make it as easy on you as possible.  Do not think keeping your memories will change anything.  The only thing it may do is bring a measure of comfort," the male persona spoke almost as if reading her mind.

"We will give you a little time to yourself to make sure you have made the decision best for you. Please know Angel and Spike will be rewarded lives deserving of the champions that they have been.  They will know much love and great happiness," they finished, allowing her a little glimpse of what the future would hold for the vampires.  She was totally lost in her thoughts when she realized she was once again alone in the room.

Stunned, shocked, relieved, it was hard to describe what she was feeling.  Even with their warning, it was an easy choice to make, that much she knew.  Buffy already decided she had given up enough in her life.  If she had to give up the men she loved, she would keep the only thing she was allowed, her memories.  She loved them enough to let them go, to be what they both fought so hard to be.  As hard as this all was, at least she didn't have to choose one and let one die.  She knew it would be easier to have her memories gone too but she couldn't do that.  She couldn't bear letting go, it would be all she would have left.  "Do it, and let me keep my memories," she said, reinforcing her decision.

"It is done," the voices echoed out of nowhere.

When Buffy awoke in her bed, she reached for Spike beside her.  "I just had the craziest dream," she said sleepily.  She panicked, he wasn't there.  Then it all came flooding back to her.  He was gone. He wasn't coming back.  He would never be hers again.  In her head she knew she had done the right thing, but her heart was having trouble catching on.  She grabbed her pillow and sobbed.  Small comfort that it was, she would have to hold on to the fact that he and Angel were out there somewhere, happy and loved, it would have to be enough.  It had to be.

Part Ten

Totally exhausted, Buffy stayed inside her apartment.  It was the same one she had shared with Spike.  She didn't try to contact anyone and she didn't want to venture outside into a world that no longer contained her Spike.  At least in here she could still feel him.  For days she did nothing but live inside her memories.  She didn't want to forget anything—even the smallest detail was precious to her.   She was desperately afraid that there would come a time when the memories would dim and she wouldn't be able to remember his smell, his touch, or worst of all, the way his body made her feel.  She was determined not to let that happen.

Nights were the worst.  Sleep would elude her.  She would wander silently room from room—remembering.  The wine stain on the rug in front of the fireplace—Spike had done that the first night she was here.  Buffy would sit on the edge of the big garden tub where they had spent many evenings together soaking the cares of the world away— it was their special place, just theirs.   Needing a place where they could shut out the world, they had agreed that they brought nothing else in here but themselves. 

Buffy loved the den.  She was shocked to find out that Spike loved books and she had filled the shelves with all his favorites.  He had told her one of his very favorites was Great Expectations.  He would spend hours reading it to her.  She had to admit, it didn't matter what he read.  She never tired listening to his voice. 

There was a place on the overstuffed sofa in the living room that if she sat in just the right place, Buffy could almost swear she could smell him.  She loved the way he smelled—the fresh, clean scent of the soap he used.  Spike didn't use aftershave or cologne.  She laughed to herself when she remembered him telling her, `Demons don't need to smell me comin' a mile away."  He couldn't smoke when he came back as a ghost and he hadn't picked up the bad habit again.  As happy as Buffy had been when he had stopped, she missed that smell now too.

She would sit at the kitchen table and remember all the meals they had shared together.  It always amazed her how much Spike enjoyed food.  It was here they had their first big fight.  Funny, she couldn't remember what it was about but she did remember how angry Spike had been as he'd stormed from the apartment.  He couldn't have gotten very far because when she opened the door to follow him he was right there on the other side.   Relieved to see Spike standing there, she'd thrown herself into his arms and tears from both of them had flowed freely.  They vowed not to let their tempers get the best of them again.

Finally, she made her way back to the bedroom.  Buffy slowly laid back on the bed.  She turned on her side and ran her hand along the indentation in the pillow next to hers.  She liked to believe it had been made by Spike.  She closed her eyes and lost herself in the memory of his touch, their hours of lovemaking, hours when they lay spent in each others arms, and the times they shared their hopes and dreams for the future.  Buffy began to cry softly for the future that would never be theirs.  Emotionally spent she continued to cry, and sometime around dawn she eventually fell asleep.

It wasn't long before the phone calls started.  Everyone—Wes, Fred, and even Cordy—took turns checking up on her.  They were worried.  It wasn't like her not to call if she wasn't coming to work, they all told her.   She could hear the concern in their voices but she brushed them off and told them not to worry.  She was just feeling a little under the weather.  She wasn't ready to face everyone yet.  She still needed more time alone with her memories.  A little under the weather?  That was an understatement.  She was dead inside.  Buffy felt empty, like she had nothing left to offer anyone. 

She began to question her decision to keep her memories.  She knew it would be hard but she hadn't expected to feel this kind of devastation.  Right now it overwhelmed her.  She hoped she just needed some time to adjust.  She was the slayer after all, she could handle anything.  Buffy felt cheated.  She had given so much for this world and it seemed she was always on the short end of things.  It was her duty, her calling, but at this point in her life she hated being a slayer.  Buffy was tired of being the strong one.  She would trade everything she had and everything she was for a normal life. 

Buffy missed Angel's friendship.  He always seemed to be able to set her on the right path when she fell off.  She could really use his mentoring and support.  Buffy's heart broke for Cordelia who didn't have any idea what she had lost.   She even felt guilty for taking Angel away from her.   If only she had someone she could share all this with.  But she had made her choice and she needed to learn to live with it.  She would think about all this tomorrow, but for now, she just needed her bed and some sleep.   It was there she could hold Spike again and feel alive.

***

Several days later, knowing that she couldn't hide forever, she ventured out.  Buffy prepared herself to meet her new world, a world without Spike and Angel.  She wasn't sure what to expect.  She thought things would be different but they weren't.  Everything appeared to be the same.  The world just lacked two people she cared so much for.  It saddened her that her friends along with the world didn't even know what they were missing.

Buffy found herself wondering where they were.  The Oracles promised Angel and Spike would have wonderful lives.  Did they feel something missing in their lives?  Were they truly happy?  She envisioned them with jobs and coming home to a wife and children.  Buffy stopped this line of thinking because it became too painful.  It caused her life to feel even emptier, if that was possible.  Some days it was all she could do not to run out into the world and try to find them. 

True to the Oracles' words, it was as if Angel and Spike never existed.   She felt like she was living with someone else's memories.  She had different memories implanted, ones that were the same as everyone else's.   Wolfram-Hart was still there, but it was now a respectable law firm.  She knew she had the same job, but the agency was now back at Angel's old hotel—the Hyperion.  It felt normal.  As she parked her car outside of the building and made her way inside, she chuckled.  It amused her, when she saw the sign above the door that she worked for Angel Investigations.  Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, Fred, and Cordy all worked there with her.  No matter what, it didn't seem like evil took a day off.

Giles and Willow left and went back to England.  They were busy with the newly formed Watchers Headquarters.  Giles was in charge of getting the new council started and Willow, with her magick under control, had become his right hand `woman'.  Dawn was staying with them, still training to be a watcher. 

Dawn.  Buffy remembered back to the final battle with the First.  It was Dawn who wore the amulet that day instead of Spike.  Being the Key made her more than human and it qualified her to wear the necklace.   The power that emanated from the amulet, destroying all the ubervamps, had not hurt her and they had left the cavern together after closing the Hellmouth.

A person could go crazy trying to figure out all the hows and whys, so Buffy didn't even bother.  She decided to just go with the flow for a while until she was able to think clearly enough to make plans for her future.  It did seem easier when she was out and among people.  She seemed to fit in—her memories of Spike and Angel less consuming and harder to recall.   Sometimes, though, Buffy would panic when she felt the memories dimming.  Quickly she would slip away to her apartment.  There, alone, her memories were still vivid.  Though the nights were long and the remembering painful, she was grateful. It was the pain that kept her connected to Spike and Angel.  As long as she felt it, they were still with her.


Walking into the hotel, everyone greeted her.  They were happy to see her getting back into a normal routine and feeling better.  The only one who didn't seem to be around much was Cordy.  She chalked it up to her flightiness and figured she was off in Hollywood once again trying her luck at acting.  She supposed that without Angel here there wasn't much to keep her attention.

She threw herself into her work; as long as she kept busy her loss was bearable.  Sometimes she would find herself in a situation that reminded her of one or the other and although the memories were painful, she found comfort in the fact she had the opportunity to love two special men.  She couldn't share with anyone what had happened or the loneliness she was feeling.  Sometimes she would catch herself beginning to share something that had happened concerning Angel or Spike.  But something always seemed to stop her in time.  Loneliness was something Buffy was used to; she would survive

***

A month or so later, Buffy was heading out of the hotel.  She was going over some of the paperwork Wesley had given her about a case they were working on.  She was completely absorbed in what she was reading and didn't pay attention when the door ahead of her opened.  Her heart stopped as she saw who had walked in--coming through the door was Angel.  She blinked several times to make sure she wasn't seeing things.  Her heart started to pound wildly.  He looked great, tall, dark, and suntanned.  No sign of the broody vampire she had known and loved.   She laughed to herself.  She couldn't help but stare. 

She was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't notice he was walking her way, and in her daze, she walked right into him, knocking the papers she carried out of her hand. As both of them scrambled to pick them up, they bumped heads.  "Sorry did I hurt you, Miss?" Angel asked, looking directly in her eyes.  For an instant Buffy watched hopefully for a sign that he remembered her.  Sadly, she realized there was not even an ounce of recollection there.  As they continued to lock gazes his eyes pulled her into him and she allowed herself to be lost in her memories. 

Buffy went back to the night they had in LA when Angel became human the first time-- everything, the ice cream, the promises, the walk along the beach, and the sacrifice he had made for her.  She was glad she made this sacrifice for him.   Seeing him so healthy, and by the countenance of his face-- happy, it made the loss a little easier.

Buffy wasn't ready to come back to the present yet, but a familiar voiced dragged her back.  It was Cordy.  She came through the door, waving frantically.  Buffy could see by the look on Cordy's face that she wouldn't have any luck trying to steal him.  She watched almost jealously as Cordy put her arm possessively around Angel.  By the way he quickly slipped his arm around her and gazed down at her his eyes filled with love, Buffy could tell the feelings were mutual.  `This must have been what was keeping Cordelia away from the office,' she couldn't help but think to herself.

Feeling a little out of place, Buffy offered her hand to Angel in friendship and said, "Hi, I'm Buffy.  Nice to meet you."  It felt good that she could honestly say she meant it, but she also knew that it would be too painful for her to pursue any kind of relationship with him, even friendship.  Directing her attention back to Cordy, she continued, "Gotta run, nice to see you.  Let's get together soon," she said, but knew neither she nor Cordelia would let that happen.  Buffy hurried from the building before she lost control of her emotions.

It was strange to see them together.  Destiny was indeed a funny thing.  Buffy was jealous that they seemed to have found each other again in this new world but she had to admit-- they did look right together.   In the middle of this thought, she grinned.  Surely destiny was on her and Spike's side too.   She felt her hope renewed.  Spike was out there somewhere working his way back to her.

Part Eleven

Having a job helped keep Buffy's mind occupied while she waited for Spike and for that she was thankful.  She would catch the gang watching her when they thought she wasn't looking.   One by one they tried to break through the walls she had built in self protection but she couldn't let them in.  It saddened Buffy that she couldn't share any of her pain or hope with them.  She knew they wanted to help but there was nothing anyone could do. 

Buffy was meeting Fred for lunch.  She knew that she had been neglecting her friends so she had agreed to the lunch date.  As Buffy entered the restaurant she saw Fred was already seated at a table and waiting for her.

"Hi there, I saw Wes earlier and he said you were pretty busy and didn't know if you were going to make it.  I'm so glad you did," Fred said getting up as Buffy approached and gave her a hug.

"Me, too.  I almost got caught up in the work but then I decided—it could wait.  I wanted to have lunch with my friend," Buffy answered warmly. 

They both took a seat at the small table.  A waiter brought menus and took their drink orders.  Buffy genuinely appreciated Fred's offer of friendship and she determined to enjoy their time together.  "Speaking of work.  You've been pretty buried yourself."

"Yeah, trying to get a lab set up in the hotel has been a real challenge.  But it will be a big asset as soon as it is finished," Fred replied.

Placing their orders and sipping on their drinks, both of them were aware of the silence.  Both of them, feeling a little awkward, were relieved when the meals were quickly served and they began eating, "This is great!" Fred said enjoying her salad. 

"This chicken is delicious too, we'll have to remember this place," Buffy agreed.  She could sense Fred had something she wanted to talk about so she waited for her friend to share what was on her mind.

"Has it been hard for you?  Not being the slayer anymore?  Having to share your power?" Fred asked timidly.

Hesitating for a moment Buffy answered honestly, "Actually, no.  Sure it was an adjustment at first.  I think maybe it was a little more of a letdown than I expected.  But it didn't take me too long to get over that.  Then Wes offered me this job, which I love, by the way.  And I really haven't looked back."

"Oh Buffy, I'm so glad.  We've, I've kinda been worried about you.  You seem so unhappy lately that I thought maybe it was something to do with us," Fred told her.  Buffy couldn't help but notice how thoroughly relieved Fred looked.

"Is this what this date was all about?" Buffy teased.  "I admit I've been a little on the dumpy side lately but I promise, it has nothing to do with you or the Agency."  She reached out and took Fred's hand and squeezed it.  Fred returned the gesture of friendship. 

Both of them felt better with the air cleared.  As they continued to eat their meals, they laughed and giggled and enjoyed their time together.

As they were finishing, a commotion broke out in the front of the café.   "Look, mate, I can see a table right over there!" said a figure dressed in black angrily to the waiter who had helped them.  Buffy's heart stopped when she looked up and saw the person causing the trouble.  Seeing nothing but bleached blonde hair, Buffy jumped up and made her way to the front.  It was all she could do to keep from running and throwing herself at the man.  It was a good thing that she did.  As she approached the men, the figure in black turned toward her. 

"Well, well, come to help out?" he asked.

Buffy's paled as she looked into the face of a perfect stranger.  It wasn't Spike.   Silently she turned and went back to her table, trying hard to hide her disappointment.  "Who was that?" Fred asked.  "Do you know him?"

"No," Buffy answered, "Just thought I did.  He reminded me of someone I used to know." 

Barely keeping herself together, Buffy apologized to Fred for cutting their afternoon short and quickly left, not giving her a chance to protest.  She needed to get back to the security of her apartment.  Where was he?  She didn't know how much longer she could wait.

Just when Buffy thought things couldn't get much worse, they did.  Wes pulled her aside one morning and told her he had decided to hire Angel as an investigator.   Apparently he had his own office upstate and wanted to relocate here.   That was how he had met Cordelia in the first place.  In his job search, he had seen their ad for the Agency and considering it's name--Angel Investigations--thought it was just the place he was looking for.  As fate would have it Cordy was the only one in the office that day.  They had hit it off and the rest was history.   It was very obvious to everyone, they were a perfect couple, and they welcomed him to the firm.

Buffy sunk deeper into depression.  It became harder and harder for her to see Angel everyday.  She felt like she was losing her safety net—her job was the one thing that was keeping busy and sane. Even with the hope that she carried close to her heart, it was hard to watch Angel and Cordy together.  She was thankful for the days that Cordy wasn't in the office.  Buffy wasn't sure which was harder— watching them together or hearing Cordy go on and on about her `perfect' boyfriend and her `perfect' life.  Sometimes she just wanted to scream.  It wasn't fair—she had given up so much, she should be the one so happy and living the `perfect' life.

It was one of these occasions that caused Buffy to do some serious soul searching.  In all fairness, in order for her to find peace in this situation, she needed to release the past and accept the consequences of the choices she had made but seeing Angel day in and day out was taking a toll on her.  It was a constant reminder of what she didn't have—Spike.  As much as she had welcomed the pain in the beginning it was beginning to wear her out physically and emotionally.

She needed to be happy for Angel and Cordy and whatever their future held.  After all, she was still holding out for a future with Spike.  She believed with all her heart Spike was her destiny and he would come to her somewhere, somehow.   Just like he always had.  But when she was forced to spend the day with Angel working on a case, she had to admit to herself how much she missed him.  Being with him felt right, it felt comfortable.  To have those feelings made her feel like she was being unfaithful to Spike and she couldn't bear it.  God, things were so confusing.  There were days Buffy didn't feel like she had any more room in her head, her thoughts and feelings threatening to overwhelm her.

Buffy thought back to her teenage years.  She was a mess and she hated to admit she acted very selfishly the majority of the time.   It was a wonder any of the Scooby gang had been able to stand being around her.  She'd detach herself from all of them and only let them in when she needed something.  Buffy wasn't proud of the person she had been back then.  It gave her a sense of satisfaction thinking that she'd made amends for some of her character flaws and she knew in her heart that she was a better person for it. 

And Spike.  He always saw through her smoke screens.  Buffy was so thankful that he had never given up on her or them.  It almost made her sick to think of the horrible things she had said and done to him.  But he was always there for her—watching her back.  She wasn't going to give up on them now either.   With renewed vigor Buffy decided to become the best friend and coworker she could be.  When Spike came back he was not going to find her moping around!


Days passed, days turned into weeks, and weeks quickly turned into months.  Buffy was finding it almost impossible to keep hoping.  She was fighting a losing battle.  Her moods began to get darker and she began to separate herself from the very thing that had kept her going:  her job and her friends.

Buffy began not showing up for work, instead she spent hours where ever she could find crowds—the park, the shopping mall, even the bus station.  She became obsessed with finding Spike.  Buffy refused to wait any longer.  She would make things happen.  She began to look for Spike at every turn, every room, and in every face she saw.  Buffy spent hours on the internet searching for any clue and lead that might take her to him.  She even hired a private investigator to look for Spike.   

Even though none of her searches produced any leads to go on, Buffy refused to give up.  She watched and she waited.  Buffy lost count of the times she thought she found him.  She became more and more frantic.  She began to scare people with her behavior.  One man had even threatened to call the police.

It was this that made Buffy realize she would have to put a stop to this before it really got out of hand.  She had to face the facts; she was not going to find Spike.  The Oracles had warned her but she had refused to believe it.  "Any and all memories of the two will be completely erased from your dimension.  Do not think keeping your memories will change anything," they had told her.  But she had hoped they were wrong and that destiny would step in and bring Spike and her together once again.  That hope she carried for so long was beginning to burn dim.  She forced herself to admit that it could be time to let it go completely out.

Buffy knew she needed to do something drastic to be able to move on so she called Willow.  She asked her to do a locator spell.  She knew if Spike was indeed out there somewhere, her friend's spell would find him.  Buffy almost told Willow the truth when she said she was looking for someone she didn't want her friends at the Agency to know about.  She must have sensed Buffy's urgency because Willow agreed without hesitation.  The spell turned up nothing.  There was not trace of Spike anywhere to be found.

Buffy turned in her resignation at the office.  The gang had sensed she was unhappy and though they hated to see her go, they realized it was something she needed to do and it was best for all parties involved.  Buffy made the best excuses she could so that she didn't hurt anyone's feelings. 

She stayed in LA long enough to close up her apartment.  Buffy was glad everyone had accepted her decision to leave and head to England without question.  They understood her need to visit to her sister.   It wasn't just her sister that she wanted to see though.  She wanted to see some of the places where Spike had been as a human.   Buffy hoped while she was there, she would find a way to say goodbye.

With travel arrangements made and goodbyes said, Buffy soon found herself headed to England.  Giles, Willow, and Dawn seemed genuinely pleased to have her coming to see them.  They thought it was just a visit.  She would tell them it was permanent when they'd had the chance to get to know each other again.  Relationships had still been strained after the battle with the First.  Everyone had been so completely exhausted that they didn't take time to work things out. 

Buffy had taken Dawn by surprise when she told her she was taking a job in LA instead of going to England with the rest of them.  She had said she understood but Buffy knew she had hurt her sister's feelings, if Dawn would let her she would make things up to her. 

The cab pulled up in front of the international terminal and the driver helped her unload her suitcases.   As she waited, Buffy felt the hair on her neck stand on end and she began to look around.   `Stop it,' she told herself thinking how badly she needed to put some space between her and LA.  Buffy checked in at the counter and made her way to the security checkpoint.  Nothing had taken as long as she expected so she was in no hurry to go through and wait. 

Buffy found herself actually enjoying the stroll through some of the little shops.  Sadness threatened to overtake her when she stopped in a leather shop and spied a black duster hanging there.  She touched it longingly but then reminded herself he was gone.  Gone for good, and that she was right in getting on with her life.   Buffy reminded herself that Willow's spell had been the turning point.  He wasn't here.  It had forced her to face that fact and try to move on.  Spike wouldn't like the woman she had become these last few months anyway.

Moving from the store, Buffy headed to the little coffee shop and bought a cup.  She still couldn't shake the feeling that someone was following her, but every time she gave in to the feeling and looked, no one was there.  She told herself she had been a slayer way too long.  She sat down at a table and began to sip her coffee--nothing like a good cup of café mocha to get the blood pumping.  There it was again, that feeling.  Giving into it again, she quickly scanned the area to try to find her source of discomfort. 

Her heart stopped as she spotted him--Spike.  No…someone else with that bleached blonde hair, dressed in black.  She hated herself for doing this again.  Her heart was beginning to settle at her minds adjustment to the fact, when he turned so she could see his face.  It was him.   He was leaning against a wall.  Before she could catch her breath, a beautiful brunette approached him holding the hand of a little blonde haired girl.  The woman's eyes sparkled as she playfully touched his arm and laughed at something he had just said.  

It was Spike, her Spike—with a wife and a family.  Her eyes drank in every thing about him.  His finely chiseled features, his eyes not showing the worry and strain she was used to seeing in them. His lean, hard body, his hair showing the beginning of dark roots through the blonde…perfect waves.  He looked wonderful.  And it was obvious he was happy. 

Buffy had played this scene time and time again in her mind, but nowhere had she planned for him to have a family.   What was she going to do?  Coming from a broken family herself, she knew as much as she loved him, she couldn't wreck his home.  She didn't know what to do.  Buffy felt her heart breaking.  Seeing him alive, happy, with a wife and family should be enough for her.  She knew it would be the right thing to do to walk away, but she didn't think she could. 

As hard as she tried, she couldn't make herself look away, she just stared.  She hoped they wouldn't notice but she admitted to herself that she didn't even care. She wanted to be happy for him but it was tearing her apart.  Why did she ever think it would be easier to see him one last time? Why had she ever thought destiny was on her side?  It never had been—why should it start now, she thought bitterly.

Destiny was a cruel thing--to give her this moment only to take it away.  Selfish or not, Buffy decided she had given up enough in her life.  She couldn't leave with out talking to him one last time; surely there was no harm in that.    After all this was the moment she was waiting and hoping for since her world had been turned upside down.

Buffy closed her eyes took a deep breath.  `Okay I can do this.  I have no intention of becoming a home-wrecker.  I just need to hear his voice and look into his eyes one last time. If anyone's listening, I could use a little help here,' she pleaded quickly.   

When she opened her eyes and Buffy looked to the spot where Spike had stood.  He was gone!

Part Twelve

Buffy frantically scanned the atrium.  She hadn't closed her eyes but for a second, they couldn't have gotten too far.  She scanned the interior of the shop beside the wall where she had first seen Spike.  Beginning to panic, Buffy looked from table to table to see if maybe they had sat down.   She ran down the hallway toward the ticketing counters, then quickly moved through baggage claim, and finally checking the passenger pickup area.  She didn't see them anywhere.  Could this be fate?  Was it a sign? 

As her hopes dimmed, and with it the cold realization that she had lost her chance, Buffy's eyes filled with tears.   Spike was gone.  Accepting the cruel, hard truth, Buffy knew she had to get out of there quickly before she lost her resolve.   What had she been thinking?    She should have walked right up to him and thrown herself into his arms—to hell with the woman.   
Buffy headed back into the terminal.  She went back to the atrium and collapsed on a chair.  Pulling herself out of her daze, she realized she needed to get out of this place.  The memories of what she had just lost were tearing her apart.  She couldn't take her eyes off the spot where just minutes ago, Spike had been standing. 

She looked at her watch, then at the security area and saw that it was getting busier.  Buffy decided she could wait inside the gate area just as easily, anywhere was better than here.  There was nothing else she could do here but mope and that wouldn't change a thing.  She had to accept the fact and move on.  Buffy tried to focus on the positive side to things—she had seen him.  He looked great.  He looked happy and it appeared he had a normal life.  Now Buffy just had to love him enough to let him go. 

With a renewed determination to get on with her life, Buffy grabbed her purse from the table and headed for the security gate.   Head down as she double checked her purse for her tickets and ID; she passed the spot where he had been.    `He still uses the same soap,' she thought as she swore she could smell its fresh clean scent.  `Stop it,' she scolded herself as she tried to block her loss from her mind.  `Just get on that plane and on with your life,' she thought trying to be reassuring. 

Thinking about England and her sister and friends who waited for her there, Buffy was able to get her emotions under control.  The thought of Dawn and how much she missed her sidetracked her enough to allow her to keep her sanity.  The plan was working well as she continued to fumble in her purse double checking everything one last time.

Buffy was so intent of being strong and getting out of there that she wasn't paying much attention to where she was going.  She couldn't believe her luck when she ran into someone and then spilled the contents of her purse on the floor.  Embarrassed, Buffy mumbled an apology and bent down to retrieve her belongings. 

She heard a voice laugh as she watched her lipstick roll between the feet in front of her.  Buffy figured she made a pretty funny sight scrambling around for her things.  As the figure bent down and began to chase her belongings around the floor, Buffy's heart stopped as she heard a familiar voice say, "That's what happens when you hurry, luv."

Stunned, she didn't know what to do.  Buffy couldn't take much more of this emotional roller coaster but she had to look into those deep blue eyes one last time.   She wasn't sure what she hoped to see or what it would accomplish; Buffy only knew she had to do it. 

With Spike's help, she slowly stood back up.   Feeling as though she was in a dream, Buffy stared into his eyes.  They say the eyes are the doorway to the soul.  It was never truer than in this case.    Buffy saw deep within his being and she caught glimpse of the beauty his soul.  It took her breath away.  Even with this connection, she saw no recognition in his eyes.  The Oracles were right; he didn't remember me at all.  Hard as that was to accept, Buffy took comfort in what she had been allowed to see. 

Buffy couldn't help but notice the familiar way his head tilted as he looked back at her.  She had to admit, at the very least, she'd hoped to at least sense some physical attraction to her from him even if there was no memory.   If he was feeling anything, he was keeping it well hidden.  Conflicting emotions consumed Buffy.  As much as she didn't want the moment to end, she knew it must.   Spike must have sensed the same thing as he broke the stare-fest first and scolded, "Off with you, you don't want to miss your flight."

Those words almost sent her over the edge she was barely hanging on to.  She had to hurry, she was losing control.  The urge to throw herself into his arms was becoming overwhelming.  Not knowing what else to do, Buffy quickly thanked him and headed toward the gate, her head down, trying to hide the tears that were forming there.

This time it was the tears that blinded her as she ran into someone else.  This just wasn't her day.  She was about to apologize for her behavior when she looked up and, once again, into the same pair of intense eyes.  It made her go weak in the knees.  Buffy had never fainted in her life but she was sure it was a possibility right now.  She was trying hard to stay composed; she didn't want to lose it in front of him.  Maybe she had left something behind after all. 

"Didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you, Pet?" Spike asked.  "Not like you, Luv, to be at a loss for words," he teased as he cocked his eyebrow and waited for her reaction.

Buffy wasn't sure what to make of his comments.  After everything that had happened today, she didn't want to make a fool of herself.  She was still trying to process what was taking place when she asked hesitantly, still afraid to get her hopes too high, "You know me?"

"I'm the one who's supposed to have the memory loss, remember?" he told her, reaching out to touch her face.

His touch jolted her from her dreamlike state.  Spike knew who she was and who he was and what they were.  She began to cry.

Never being one to handle a woman's tears, he frantically tried to calm her; maybe he should have tried a little less shocking approach.  In the end he gathered her in his arms and let her cry, whispering over and over how much he loved.   She wasn't sure how long they stood there wrapped in each other but she was certain she missed her flight.   

Needing some time to themselves, and to figure out where they went from here they headed to a motel close by.  Both were quiet on the cab ride there.  Quickly they checked in and found themselves alone in their room.

"You know, Pet, if you'd had a little more faith, we could have spent our first night together in our nice comfy bed in our nice little apartment," he teased as he surveyed the less than inviting surroundings.

Her feelings hurt, Buffy challenged, "Do you have any idea of what I have been through, Mister?  A little more faith?  Couldn't you have just hurried a little?"

Feeling the pain etched in her face, Spike pulled her into his arms.  He guided her to the bed.  "I'm sorry, Luv.  That wasn't nice.  You're exhausted, let's get some rest and we'll sort everything out tomorrow." 

Buffy agreed.  Then remembering Dawn was expecting her, she quickly called and let her know that she had missed her flight.  Assuring her nothing was wrong, she promised to call tomorrow and give her more details.

Laying in the comfort each other's arms, exhaustion over took them and both slept deeply.   Buffy began to panic when she awoke in the morning in an empty bed.  `It was all a dream,' she said to herself.

"Don't think so, cause if it is, I'm having the same one," Spike answered as he came out of the bathroom.  "So how's my girl this morning?" he asked, joining Buffy on the bed.  He gathered her into his arms. 

She rested her head on his chest, enjoying his warmth and listening to his heart beat. "Just hold me like this for a little while on second thought, a life time would be just perfect.  I've missed this so much," Buffy purred.

"Me, too, Luv, me too," Spike replied enjoying their closeness just as much.

Lost in the comfort and pure joy of being in each others arms again, the couple spent the rest of the morning in this position.  Only hunger forced them to spoil the moment.  Not wanting to face the world just yet, they ordered room service and soon Buffy and Spike were seating across a small table enjoying their simple meal

"I think I can learn to really enjoy this eating thing," Spike said polishing off his meal and beginning to help Buffy with hers.

Buffy laughed and teased him, "Who do you think you are kidding—King of the Blooming Onion.  And I seem to remember a time or two when I thought you might kill for some hot wings!"  She couldn't help but think of good it felt to be sitting across from him and making small talk.

Having nothing else left to eat, Spike picked up the dishes and placed them back on the tray they came on then placed them in the hall to be picked up. Buffy took the opportunity to take a quick shower.  When she came back into the room, Spike had opened the blinds and was enjoying the sunlight.   Her smile was met by an even bigger one from him.

"Forgot how good the sun can feel on a person's face," he commented.  Looking her over he said, "You look great!  Glad you're dressed, not that I `d complain seeing you in a state of undress," he laughed and then turned serious.  "But I think we need to do a little talking before we get to the good stuff."

His good intentions almost vanished when he caught a whiff of the vanilla scent he loved so much.  Spike took Buffy's hand and lead her back to the little table and sat down opposite her.  "Well, luv," he started.  "Before we go too far, I want you to know how proud I am of you.  I don't know for sure how, but I was able to see and hear you when I was lying in that hospital bed.  Peaches was with me too and though I hate to admit it he was proud too.  I will never know what I did to deserve to be loved by a woman like you, but I promise you—I will show you the rest of my life how grateful I am."

With tear filled eyes, Buffy reached across the table to touch Spike's face.  He leaned into her caress before taking her hand and kissing its palm.  He didn't let go of it as he continued, "When you left the hospital room that last time, things changed.   Don't know where I was but I was alone.   At first everything seemed calm and peaceful, I wondered it maybe I was in Heaven.  That is until strange memories began to flood my head.  I began having trouble separating real ones from made up ones.  Everything became muddled.  Buffy, I was losing myself and it scared the hell out of me.  Just when I thought I'd the upper hand and had fought back to where I was sure of everything, it would start all over.  Each time it was harder and harder to find my way back."

Buffy could see how much this memory was affecting Spike, "Take your time.  You're okay now.  It's over and you did come back," she reminded him.

Spike closed his eyes and shuddered and if to rid himself of the horrible memories.  "It was you Buffy.  You kept me from going off the deep end and not coming back.  I focused my whole being on you and how much I loved you.  The next thing I knew I was standing in front of two who I assumed were Higher Beings.  They called themselves the Oracles.  This part is still a little fuzzy cause I was still having a little trouble deciding what memories of mine were real but I remember them talking about me and how they weren't sure what else they could do with me.  The female one said they had known I was special.  Just hadn't counted on me being so stubborn.  They agreed they had to face the fact that the only place that I fit was with you—figured the only thing left to do was to send me back to you.  They made some comments about your courage and great sacrifices being worthy of a reward.  Then BOOM, next thing I remember I'm standing outside the Hyperion." Spike explained. 

He seemed overwhelmed by emotion once again and nervously ran his fingers through his hair.   Trying to reassure him everything was alright and remind him she was here for him, "Take your time.  I'm not going any where," Buffy said as she squeezed his hand. 

It must have given him the encouragement he needed because he took another deep breath, smiled at her and continued, "My head was still feeling a little thick but I thought you would be in there and I hurried in.  Angel was the first thing I saw.  I got scared.  Maybe I was too late.  Thought about walking out when Cordy saw me and asked if there was something she could do for me.  I looked right into the poof's eyes and I could tell he had no idea who I was.  None of them did, I have to admit it threw me for a few minutes.  Finally I asked for you, and they kinda looked at each other and no one said anything.  Angel finally asked what business I had with you.  I somehow managed to assure them I was an old friend and that's when they told me you were headed to England and in fact you would probably be at the airport shortly.

"I still wasn't sure exactly what was going on, but I headed to the airport as quick as I could.  I was afraid you wouldn't remember me either so I watched.  I watched you as you got your luggage from the cab and went inside to check in.  Saw you come into the atrium with your coffee and sit down.  I watched and waited hoping you would notice me," Spike told her.

"Oh, I did  and I wanted nothing more but to run and throw myself into your arms…but the woman, the little girl, I thought they were yours," Buffy tried to explain.

"Buffy, the woman and child just needed some help.  While I was waiting I saw a man trying to steal her purse, and I was able to stop him.  She was just thanking me again, when you saw us.   I had no idea that was what was going through your head.  You hid your emotions so well, I thought my worst fears were confirmed, you didn't remember me just like the others.  The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was walk away from you that day."  Spike told her as his eyes filled with tears.

"I almost got into a cab, but I decided I couldn't, I couldn't walk away like that.  I had to see you and make sure everything was like it seemed.  When you looked into my eyes, I could see my Buffy there, but I couldn't see past the brave front you were putting up.  I didn't know what was going on and I didn't know what to do.  Then you turned to leave, it was then I could feel your heart breaking.  I had to do something.  I had to keep you from getting on that plane.  So I did the only thing I knew to do and here were are, not too much worse for the wear," Spike said, finishing his story, looking at her trying to read her reaction.

There would be time to go into greater detail about everything that she had gone through waiting for him but now wasn't the time.  Feeling they had both needed time to digest and sift through Spike's story, Buffy quickly filled him in on what happened on her end and what she had done after leaving the hospital room that day. She told him about seeing and working with Angel.   Spike did, indeed, scold her but it was for not having enough faith to believe he would find some way back to her.   None of that mattered now, only the future and that they would work on tomorrow.  Tonight they had better things to do.

Epilogue

Buffy watched in the mirror as Dawn put the final touches to her veil.  "Will you stop fidgeting already?  You'd think you were nervous!" her sister teased.  Putting the last comb in place Dawn stood back to survey her work.  Buffy turned to face her.  Tears filled Dawn's eyes as she looked at her sister.

"Do I look that bad?" Buffy asked. 

"Oh my gosh!  Buffy, you look incredible.  You look absolutely radiant and the dress is gorgeous too," Dawn assured her.

They were interrupted by a knock at the door followed by a familiar voice, "Pet, let me in."

Dawn squealed and ran to the door to make sure he didn't come in.  She cracked it and scolded, "Don't you know its bad luck to see the bride on her wedding day?"

"Yeah, seems that's all I've heard for the past few days.  Can't say I put much stock in old wives' tales.   Been apart too long, just let me tell her I love her.  She is in there isn't she? She hasn't changed her mind, has she, Bit?" Spike asked as he pushed on the door to see if she would let him in.

"Oh, right, like she'd really change her mind?  You know Buffy better than that!  You already told her so now you can leave.  We'll see you in a few minutes," Dawn said, not backing down an inch as she closed the door.

Buffy watched the little scene and her heart overflowed with love.  For the first time in her life, she was perfectly content.  She knew without a doubt where she belonged and that her place was with Spike. 

The only thing that could have made the day any more special was to have had her Mom here with her.  Even though Joyce had been gone for several years, Buffy was sure she was with her in spirit and approved wholeheartedly.    At least she was able to have Dawn here with her and for that she was very grateful.

"I need to go make sure everything is ready.  Promise you'll lock the door when I leave, and no matter what he tries you won't let him in here," Dawn laughed, knowing if Spike really wanted in, there would be no keeping him out.

"I promise, Dawnie.  I'll be in here all alone when you come back.  But hurry, I don't think I can wait much longer," Buffy said anxiously.

Dawn left the room and Buffy locked the door.  She walked back to the mirror and double-checked everything one last time.  She picked up her bouquet from the small table.  How beautiful it was—white roses with one red one nestled in the center.  She lifted it to her nose and enjoyed their fragrance. 

Buffy thought back to the changes that had taken place in her life these last few months.  Sometimes she still had to remind herself it wasn't a dream.  After Spike had found her at the airport, they had spent several days sorting out everything they had been through.  Though Spike wanted to go to England right away, Buffy had wanted to take some time for themselves.  For a change, he hadn't put up too much of a fight.  She called Dawn and simply told her something had come up and she would get back in touch with her as soon as she could.

With the formation of a New Watcher's Council, Giles saw to it that she received all her back pay.  Having learned to support herself, she put the money aside for a rainy day.  It definitely came in handy now.  Finances were not something she and Spike would have to worry about.  They could take all the time they needed to rediscover each other and plan for their futures.

She and Spike left for Italy that very day.  It was someplace Buffy had always wanted to see, and they felt it was as good a place as any for some well deserved rest and relaxation.  Looking back on those first few weeks made her blush—there hadn't been much relaxation and definitely not much rest.  But they got to know each other all over again, and if it was possible, they fell deeper in love. 

Knowing it was time to move forward with their lives and begin to plan their future, she and Spike headed to England.  When Buffy introduced Spike to the group as her fiancé, they were all a little shocked.  Dawn welcomed Spike with open arms.  The look on Buffy's face had told Dawn this stranger was the one for her sister.  She loved him instantly for the happiness she saw in Buffy's eyes. 

Willow, too, seemed to warm up rather quickly.  Spike's flattery and charm were too much for her.  Though it also did her heart good to see Buffy finally find someone she could share her life with. Giles and Xander were the holdouts.  But Spike eventually won them over.   Slow and steady he earned their trust by he showing them day in and day out how much he loved Buffy.  Every choice he made was with her best interests in mind.  Anyone could see how good they were for each other.

At first it was really hard dealing with the fact that everyone else's memories were different from their own, but deep inside Buffy was pleased that Spike could have a fresh start with her family and friends.   Spike seemed truly appreciative of this opportunity and determined to make the most of this second chance.  

They decided to remain in England.   Spike loved it there, and he told Buffy he thought it would always feel like home.  He had proved to be a real asset to Giles and the Watchers' Council so when he offered them a job—Spike as an advisor and Buffy as a teacher, they knew this is where they were meant to be.

Buffy worried about Spike at first.  She wondered if he would have a hard time adjusting to being a human.  But he didn't miss a beat.  If he was having a hard time, she never knew it.  He quickly shed his black duster and soon the black jeans and tee shirt were replaced by lots of reds and blues.  He still loved his jeans but he was often found in dress slacks.  He even wore a necktie if he was working at the Council.  Buffy admitted to herself that it didn't matter what he wore. He always looked great.

Though the Spike she knew and loved was still there, she was sure she saw signs of the kind of man William must have been sneaking out.  He let his sensitive side be seen more frequently and his gentleness amazed her.  He was perfect in every way, and the best thing was-- he was hers.

With everything falling into place, they had set the wedding date.  Buffy couldn't believe it was finally here and in a few short minutes she would be his wife.  A knock at the door snapped her out of her reverie. "We're ready, if you are," said Giles from the other side of the door.

Buffy opened the door.  "You look absolutely stunning, my dear," he told her as he offered her his arm. 

"I want you to know how much this means to me.  I know we've been through some tough times, but I'm so thankful you're here for me now.  I hope you know how much I love you," Buffy said with tears filling her eyes.

"Now, now, don't ruin your makeup," he teased.  "I'm deeply honored that you've asked me to walk you down the aisle.  I love you too and I'm so very proud of the woman you've become," he said as he escorted her to the doorway of the chapel.

As they began down the aisle, she saw him.  Buffy had never seen him in a tuxedo and she wasn't disappointed.  Spike, too, had his first glance at his bride.  She was stunning.  He had a hard time catching his breath as she walked toward him.  As she reached him, he offered her his hand and they walked up the platform and faced the officiant.  Giles stepped to Spike's side to serve double duty as best man and Dawn joined Buffy by her side.

"On behalf of William and Buffy, I welcome each and every one of you.  They are honored that you have chosen to be with them on this special day," Willow said in greeting to the intimate crowd.

"I'm privileged to have the honor of overseeing this ceremony. Please bear with me if I seem a little nervous.  It's not everyday you get to do something like this.  I pray a special blessing will rest upon these two special people today.  William and Buffy have something they would like to say to each other," Willow continued.

Spike and Buffy turned to face each other, joining both hands.  "I'd all kinds of things I wanted to say to you today, luv, but one look at you in that dress and m' mind went blank," he told her looking into her eyes, trying to gather his thoughts.  "Buffy, you are my everything.  I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  You're the reason my heart beats.  I know I can trust you with my very being.  I stand here a very privileged man to have you in my life.  I will do everything in my power to be the man you deserve," Spike promised.

Buffy eyes shimmered with tears. "Spike, I'm the privileged one.  You bring out the best in me.  With you I feel complete and I know I'm finally whole.  I know things haven't always been easy but together we've made it through the fire.  I love you with all my heart, my soul, and my strength.  I will spend the rest of my life loving you. Thank you for never giving up on me."

Squeezing each other's hands, they turned to face Willow once again.  Spike turned to Giles and took a gold band from him and Buffy, handing Dawn her bouquet, took its match from Dawn. 

"William and Buffy, you hold simple gold bands in your hands.  Though it might be simple, what it represents is anything but simple.  It is a token of your love and covenant with each other.  It represents your love for each other—endless and unbroken.  True love like yours is something to be treasured.  As you each place your ring on the other's finger, I pray that each time you look at it you will remember the vows you made to each other today," Willow said solemnly

Both of them were shaking so badly they could hardly place the rings where they belonged.  When they finished, they smiled at each other and waited for the words that would make their lives complete.

"William and Buffy, as much as you pledged before these--your family and friends, and each of you have given the other a token of your love, it is by the power given to me by all that is good and true that I pronounce you, husband and wife.  William, you may kiss your bride," Willow finished.

Wasting no time, Spike reached out and pulled Buffy to him.  He gently kissed his bride.   It quickly grew more passionate and a little ahem from Willow brought them back to reality.  As they broke apart, Willow spoke one last time. "May I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. William Abbott."

Amidst cheers and bubbles, the happy couple made their way out of the little chapel and into the limo waiting outside to take them to small little country club where they would join everyone for the reception.

A bottle of champagne was waiting for them inside the car.  Spike wasted no time popping the cork and pouring each of them a glass.  "To our future, Luv.  May it be everything you've ever dreamed of and more," Spike toasted.

"Sounds good to me," Buffy seconded as they clinked their glasses together and then took a drink.

Spike took their glasses and put them down.  As best as he could, considering the bulk of Buffy's gown, he pulled her into his arms.  Buffy's headpiece poked him in his face, "Mind if I take that off, kinda dangerous.  Wouldn't want me wounded on the honeymoon," he laughed. 

Her veil removed, they enjoyed the rest of the ride just soaking up the happiness that had evaded them for so long.  Happy and content, neither one could imagine life getting much better than this.

All their family and friends were waiting for them when they walked into the room decorated just for the happy couple.  Xander saw them coming and announced their arrival, "It is my privilege to officially present to you once again-- Mr. and Mrs. William Abbott."

Buffy smiled at her husband as he looked down adoringly at her.  She didn't think she would ever get tired of hearing herself called Mrs. Abbott.  He whisked her to their table and the festivities began. 

She was looking forward to their first dance.  Spike had teased her that the song had to be "Wind Beneath my Wings".  It almost was until one evening a song came over the radio, and it touched both of their hearts.   It could have been written for them.  So as the DJ began to play "All I Have" by Beth Nielsen Chapman, Spike swept her off her feet to the dance floor.

They surprised each other by softly singing along with the music.  Never taking their eyes off each other as they did:

You can say you love me
And I'll believe that's true
Trusting you is easy
`Cause I believe in you
There is nothing I would miss
As long as we're in love like this. 
All I have is all I need
And it all comes down to you and me
How far away this world becomes
In the harbor of each others arms

I feel like I've known you forever and ever
Baby that's how close we are
Right here with you is where my life has come together
And where love has filled my heart
You know I'd go anywhere
As long as I have you to care

Ooh-and with the love you bring
I never want for anything
I found what I've been searching for in you.

Lost in each other, they didn't realize the room had quieted and everyone was watching and listening to the couple singing to each other.  When the song ended and Buffy and Spike broke apart, applause broke out.   Their family and friends were deeply touched by their display of love and devotion.

Events of the evening quickly came to an end, and it was time for them to leave.  Pelted once again by bubbles, the couple made their way back into the limo.  Spike had one more surprise awaiting Buffy.  He hadn't told her where they were headed for their honeymoon.  Thinking they were going back to their small apartment inside the Watchers Council to change their clothes and pick up the suitcases they had packed earlier, she was surprised to find they were headed deeper into the countryside.

"Where are we going?" Buffy asked.

"Need to take care of a little something before we can get started officially on our married life, not to mention the wedding night," Spike teased. "Just lean back on me and enjoy the ride."

Buffy did just that.  "Do me a favor, Luv, keep those eyes closed just a little longer," he asked as she realized she must have dozed off and the car had come to a stop.  Spike gently guided her out of the car.  When they had taken a few steps, he whisked her up into his arms again, "K, Pet, you can open them," he told her.

"Figured you've made all my dreams come true, now it's my turn to do the same for you," Spike said as she opened her eyes. "It's ours, luv, couldn't think of a better place to start our life together."

Overwhelmed once again by emotion, Buffy looked at the cottage in front of her.  She remembered all the times when she and Spike had discussed their future and what they each wanted from it.  Buffy would always tease him and tell him she wanted it all—down to the little cottage in the country.  It had to be big enough so that there would be plenty of room for her fat grandbabies.   And the most important part—it had to have a white picket fence because, she would tell him, all cottages in fairy tales have them and she wasn't settling for anything less.

Looking at the beautiful cottage in front of her, she could hardly believe what she was seeing.  Spike had given it to her—her dream house.   He carried her through the white gate and kicked it closed.   They were both all smiles as they crossed the threshold.  Putting her down inside, Buffy looked around.  "Spike, it's perfect," she exclaimed, beginning to explore the other rooms ending up in the main bedroom. 

"I don't know what to say.  I can't believe you did this for me, for us.  I don't have anything for you," Buffy told him, suddenly feeling bad.

"Buffy, you've given me more than I could have ever hoped—your love and trust.  You've made me the happiest man on earth."  He picked her back up and laid her on the bed.  "Come to think of it, I do kinda have a little pay back in mind," he teased as he began to kiss her.

The End

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