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Author's Note: This story is a culmination of the various emotions I felt for Buffy during the episode Empty Places, when the Scooby gang betrayed her. I felt it had been one time too many, and Buffy dserved none of their comments. During the past weeks, this story emerged to my muse, who obligingly decided finish it in time to be posted. It includes borrowed dialogue from the episodes Empty Places, Touched, End of Days, Chosen, and Home, and changes the plot of them completely. It also has what I hope is a happier ending for B/A fans than JW came up with. Enjoy.


"No, that's just it," Buffy said aloud, on the verge of an epiphany. "We've spent all this time worrying about the seal and the hellmouth. Why isn't Caleb guarding them? Why doesn't he have someone there protecting it? Why is he camped out at the vineyard? The bad guys always go where the power is. So if the seal was so important to Caleb and the First, they would be there right now. They're protecting the vineyard or something at the vineyard. I say it's their power, and I say it's time we go in and take it away from them."

There was a moment of uneasy silence around the room. Various people glanced at each other, with telling looks for those who cared to see them. Xander shook his head, suddenly finding the floor very interesting. Giles unfolded his arms and sighed.

Faith was the first to speak. "Or, in the alternative, how 'bout...we don't? I mean, it's a neat theory, B, but I'm not going back in that place, not without proof, and neither should you and neither should they."

Buffy met her eyes steadily. "I'm not saying it's gonna be easy." Nothing ever is, she added silently to herself.

"I think Faith had the floor," Robin commented.

In retrospect, that was the moment she should have known. Guessed what was to come. But at the time, she was unable to do anything but watch the disaster unfold, and provide a verbal rearguard.

Faith continued. "Maybe it ends okay the way you wanna play it, but maybe it doesn't. And right now, I don't think I want you playin' the odds."

"Did you come here to fight?" Buffy asked her.

"Listen, we're fighters, all of us, but you gotta give me something to fight, something real, not..." she trailed off in search of a word.

"Windmills," Giles softly provided, looking at Buffy.

But his once protégé was no longer listening. "There is something there."

But then neither was he. "Maybe. But we can't be sure of that. This is a hell of a lot to ask."

"Too much," Robin agreed.

If she could have put a word to what she was feeling now, it would be stunned disbelief. But her mind had gone numb in the face of this deep betrayal. "I....I don't understand this. For seven years, I've kept us safe by doing this, exactly this, making the hard decisions. And now, what, suddenly you're all acting like you can't trust me?"

"Didn't you say to me today you can't trust us?" Giles countered. "Maybe there's something there that should be addressed."

"Is that why you sent Spike away, to ambush me?"

Giles rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Oh, come on."

"You know what?" Rona suddenly said. "I am sick of your deal with this Spike guy. This isn't about him. This is about you. You're being reckless."

This was the final straw. She could accept Giles' arguments, at least his were experienced based, but one of the potentials criticising her, that was below the belt. "What?"

"You are! I don't even know you, and I can tell! You are so obsessed with beating Caleb, you are willing to jump into any plan without thinking."

Buffy forced herself to count to ten before replying. "That's not what I'm doing."

Kennedy walked up to her. "Well, that's how it feels to us. People are dying."

Finally Willow rose. "Kennedy..."

The potential turned and snapped. "Why are you always standing up for her?"

But to her best friend's surprise, Willow answered softly, sadly, "I'm not."

She thought the previous betrayals had been hurtful, but this one topped them all by miles. "What do you mean, you're not?"

"With everything that's happened, I'm worried about your judgement."

Buffy took in all of their expressions, sensed that this was only the beginning, and tried to steady the onslaught. "Look, I wish this could be a democracy. I really do. Democracies don't win battles. It's a hard truth, but there has to be a single voice. You need someone to issue orders and be reckless sometimes and not take your feelings into account. You need someone to lead you."

"And it's automatically you," Anya remarked calmly. "You really do think you're better than we are."

Again, they misunderstood her. "No, I....."

Anya cut her off. "But we don't know. We don't know if you're actually better. I mean, you came into the world with certain advantages, sure. I mean, that's the legacy. But you didn't earn it. You didn't work for it. You've never had anybody come up to you and say you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn't make you better than us. It makes you luckier than us."

Quiet rage entered her. "I've gotten us this far."

"But not without a price," Xander commented. "I'm trying to see your point here, Buff... but I guess it must be a little bit to my left... 'cause I just don't."

She could not believe this. "Look, I'm willing to talk strategy, OK, I'll hear suggestions on how to break this down, but this is the plan. We have to be together on this or we will fail again."

"We are clearly demonstrating that we are not together on this!" Giles uttered.

She raised her voice to command level. "Which is why you have to fall in line! I'm still in charge here."

"Why is that, exactly?" Rona asked.

Buffy looked at her hard. "Because I'm the slayer."

"And isn't Faith a slayer, too?" Rona countered.

Now Faith started to realise what was happening. But as always, Buffy had seen that coming. "What? Whoa, whoa, whoa. So not what I meant. I'm not in charge, chick. I think B here needs to just... chill out for a little bit, take a siesta or something. But I'm not the one you want."

"Maybe we need a vote... to see who wants Faith to have a turn in charge," Kennedy remarked.

Again, looking back on it, Buffy realised that this was a bad moment to lose it. But she could not stop herself. "No."

Stupidly, Kennedy did not back down. "No, what?"

"No. You don't get to vote until I've had my chance to pal around, you know, get everybody drunk. See, I didn't get this was a popularity contest. I should have equal time to bake them cookies, braid their hair,"

"Learn their names?" Faith pointed out.

Buffy turned to her. "You're just lovin' this, aren't you?"

Faith looked at her. "You have no idea what I'm feeling."

Her voice went quiet. "Come in here, take everything that I have... You did it before. Did you tell them that? Did you tell them how you used to kill people for fun? Hey, you guys think that's nifty?"

Giles now lost his cool. "Buffy, that's enough!"

Faith was not far from doing so either. "I didn't come here to take anything away from you, but I'm not gonna be your little lapdog, either. I came here to beat the other guy, to do right, however it works. I don't know if I can lead. But the real question is... can you follow?"

"So we vote." Wood said.

It was time to try and stop this sinking ship. "Wait. Guys, I can't watch you just throw away everything that." She paused, glancing at Dawn, who refused to meet her eyes. Slowly she decided. "I know I'm right about this. I just need a little..... I can't stay here and watch her lead you into some disaster."

Then came the ultimate betrayal. Dawn rose up and came before her. "Then you can't stay here. Buffy, I love you, but you were right. We have to be together on this. You can't be a part of it. So I need you to leave. I'm sorry, but this is my house, too."

Buffy looked around one last time. Then quietly turned round and walked out.

As the door closed with a soft click, there was a moment of silence, akin to that of those mourning a passing monarch. Then Rona spoke. "Ding dong, the witch is dead."

Now the key defended her sister. "Shut your mouth."

Faith followed her outside. She saw her standing on the promenade, her face strangely composed. "Hey. Look, I swear I didn't want it to go this way," she started to say.

"Don't," Buffy uttered sternly, and, if Faith had cared to look deeper, with grief tightly reined within.

Faith tried again. "I mean it, I,"

Seeing that words were not getting through, she turned round, and with grief written plainly on her face, she uttered softly, her last piece of advice. "Don't... be afraid to lead them. Whether you wanted it or not, their lives are yours. It's only gonna get harder. Protect them, but lead them."

Faith nodded slowly and walked back into the house. Buffy turned away, and descended the stairs. Silently she walked off into the night, and did not look back.

Sunnydale, as it had been for many weeks, lay unusually, and uneasily silent and deserted as the slayer walked down the road. Her arms were wrapped around herself, but the cold refused to leave her body.

Buffy swallowed back another tear. She felt sad, betrayed and angry all at once. Yet there was also this sense of defeat settling over her, causing her to walk further and further away from Revello drive. Her heart knew already that she would never go back.

It knew a lot of home truths, and was quietly informing her mind of them as she walked into the night. That she should have seen this coming. They had betrayed her before, it was inevitable that they would do so again. Everything she believed in most strongly, they tried to tear down, to destroy.

Well not anymore. From now onwards, she would fight this battle. She would make her stand. She would save the day. Even if she died trying.

Her mind gradually woke to where her feet had wondered, and discovered that they had led her body to a very old, but very familiar, comfort spot. Gently, as if afraid to stir old ghosts, she reached out and turned the silver plated handle on the door.

Surprisingly, it was still unlocked. Buffy entered and surveyed the room, memories overwhelming her. Aside from the layer upon layer of dust, the room was unchanged. Even down to the creases on the crimson silk sheets marking where she had laid the last time she had chosen to visit this sanctuary.

Here she stopped, closing the door behind her. Out of all of the places in Sunnydale, this was the one they had never invaded. For years this had been, and remained, hers and his hideaway. A sanctuary untainted, even though trespassed once as it was by his other half. Those morning after memories however were buried, never to rise again. Here she could surrender, re-gather herself and her forces.

In Angel's apartment, on the silken sheets of the bed where they had first made love, Buffy lay herself down, and cried out her grief.

The Hyperion Hotel. Los Angeles.

Angel stood in shock. "Lilah."

"Angel," she returned. "What's the matter, ace? Didn't think you were the only one that ever got to come back from hell around here, did ya? Speaking of which, could I possibly get some ice water?"

"What are you doing here, Lilah?" Angel asked.

"She's not here," Wes remarked. "It's not her. It can't be."

"There's a signed dollar in your wallet that says different," Lilah countered.

Hurt, Wesley walked away. "It's a lie."

"Lah. It's a Lilah." She turned to Angel. "You're the one with the preternatural senses. You tell him."

Angel complied. "It's true, Wes. It's her."

"But how? She was dead," Fred said.

Angel did not dispute. "She's still dead."

Gunn raised the question all were reluctant to. "Vampire?"

"Eww, please. Angelus drank from me, it's true, but like with most men, it was a one-way street. I was dead already. Besides, my Wesley made sure I'd be spared," she added, pulling down the scarf which covered the long thin red line around her neck, "just in case. It's okay, lover. I never felt a thing."

Wes nodded. "I'm sure that's true," he agreed quietly.

"I don't get this," Gunn commented. "If she ain't alive, and she ain't a vampire, what in the hell is she?"

"I'm just a messenger. That's all. They'll be sending me straight back to hell once I'm finished here."

"Who's they?" Gunn asked.

Angel had already guessed. "Wolfram & Hart. The contract she signed with them extends beyond her death."

"Standard perpetuity clause, I'm afraid. Always read the fine print."

Angel looked her hard. "What's your game, Lilah?"

"No game. In fact, game over." She sat down. "Guess what? You win, which is why I'm here. I have been authorised to make you kids an offer."

Fred scoffed. "You can't possibly think there's anything we'd want from you."

"I don't think you'll want it, but you'll take it, because this is the offer of a lifetime. Just not, you know... mine."

There was a moment of uneasy silence as the fang gang took in what Lilah had just told them. Then Gunn broke the uncertainty

"You want to run that by us one more time?"

Lilah looked at him. "What was unclear?"

"I think the part where you offered us Wolfram & Hart," Fred remarked.

"Just the L.A. Branch," Lilah corrected.

Lorne chuckled. "Just the L.A. Branch. Hi, from another dimension, what the hell does that mean?"

"Means we give. You win. We're moving out. The senior partners are ceding this territory to you, and to prove it, they want to give you controlling interest in our L.A. Office. You get the building, assets, personnel, letterhead, paper clips, all of it. It's yours to do with as you see fit."

"But there is no Los Angeles office of Wolfram & Hart," Fred pointed out. "The beast destroyed it."

"Oh, it's back, re-staffed and zombie-free. We're bigger, better, and shinier than ever, and we want to give it to you."

"You want to give us your evil law firm?" Gunn questioned in disbelief. "We ain't lawyers."

"Or evil," Fred added. "Currently."

Lilah stood. "What we're offering you is a turnkey, state-of-the-art, multitasking operation. What you do with it, well, that's up to you."

Angel finally asked the question that was on all their minds. "Why?"

"Well, I thought that was obvious. You earned it. Think of it as a reward."

"Reward for what?" Gunn asked.

"Ending world peace."

"That's not what happened." Fred protested.


"Jasmine was creating a slave state," Wesley argued.

"Right, where the slaves are full of giggly joy and love. Ugh, what a nightmare."

"She was eating people," Angel countered.

Lilah shrugged. "They knew what they were getting into."

"Her stomach?" Lorne queried.

"World peace comes at a price. Jasmine understood that. She consumed, what? Couple dozen souls a day? Now weigh that against ending the suffering of millions, but you fixed that."

"No, we didn't." Fred said. "I..... I mean, we did, we fixed it, but not in the way that you're trying to make it sound."

"Jeez, it's not like it was a criticism. Anyway, I'm dead and running late." She walked to the door. "Think about our proposal. If anyone's interested and wants the grand tour, there'll be a limo waiting outside just before dawn, and hey... good job."

Fred looked at the others, annoyed. "We ended a nefarious global domination scheme, not world peace... right?"

Angel nodded. "We did, Fred, don't worry." He looked to Wes. "What do you think we should do?"

"Read the fine print," Wes replied.

Some hours later, and Angel was walking down the corridors of Wolfram and Hart, with the still dead Lilah.

Who was still trying to convince him of the hidden benefits. "Money, clothes, women. Did I mention we have a juice bar?"

"This is what you came back from the dead for? To play 'Let's Make an Evil Deal?"

"Show him what's behind door number one, Bob." She came to a halt and opened a door. "I know it's not much, but the Taj Mahal was a bit of a commute."

Angel looked around, surprising unimpressed. "Hmm, what, am I supposed to swoon? It's an office."

Lilah continued the show and tell. "With your own private elevator. Care to take it for a spin?"

Angel looked at her sceptically. "What's it gonna do, huh? Drop me in a vat of holy water?"

"I was pushing for that, but they went with the motor pool. Figured you'd like to stay mobile, what with all that rushing out to save the day you're so fond of."

"Thanks, but I already have a car."

"Now you have twelve."

"What am I gonna do with twelve cars?"

"Anything you want. That's the point, or haven't you been listening?"

"I have, and, I'm done now."

"Wait, I forgot to show you the best part. You're gonna love this." She went to the window and pulled back the blinds.

Instinctively, Angel put his hands to his face. Then he realised. "I'm not bursting into flames."

"Nope." Lilah tapped on the glass. "Necro-tempered glass. The whole buildin's fitted with it. Helps keep those uplifting, wholesome rays from charbroilin' the boss, and 30% more energy efficient. Feels even better when you're naked. I could turn around."

He had tired of this. "Close it."

"Promise I won't peek. Well, maybe just a skosh."

"Close it, Lilah."

Lilah sighed and closed the blinds. "Goodbye, Mr. Sunshine. Hello, gloomy avenger."

"Make that goodbye. I'm not taking the job."

"It's not a job. It's an opportunity."

"Ooh, an opportunity to be part of the problem."

"If that's what you choose."

"I Really don't."

"Again, your choice. Think of what you can do with the resources of Wolfram & Hart at your fingertips, the difference that would make. Nothing in this world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and it's cruel, but that's why there's you, Angel.

"You live as if the world were as it should be. With all this, you can make it that way. People don't need an unyielding champion. They need a man who knows the value of compromise and how to beat the system from inside the belly of the beast."

"The beast's belly? Doesn't that usually mean you've been eaten?"

"Maybe. While you've been namby-pambying around for the past 90 seconds, 6 innocent people have died. Oh, but don't worry. There's always 6,000 more just around the corner or up the coast." She handed Angel a file.

Angel opened the file, and was not surprised. He had been waiting for this element to be part of the selling technique. "Sunnydale." He took the amulet out to view more closely.

"That nifty, little bauble comes with the file," Lilah informed him. "Apparently, it's crucial for some kind of final battle. Guess they're in short supply up Sunnydale way. A bit gauche for my taste, but, hey, not a slayer."

Angel kept the file in his hands, but said, "Buffy can handle herself."

"But isn't it more fun when you handle her?"

Angel chose not to comment. "Keep the intel. Not interested." He turned round and walked out of the door.

Once outside, he took the amulet from the file once more. Looking at it one more time, he put it into his pocket and headed back the way he came. He had to find Wes and tell him that he had refused.

Then there was somewhere he needed to be.

Revello Drive.

There had been much discussion but not much decision making after the slayer left and before her much needed cavalry arrived.

"Hey," Spike remarked as he walked into the room.

Andrew followed him. "Hi, everybody. I missed you guys a lot. Sorry it took so long to get back from our mission, but we had to wait out the sun. Well, I think our mission went very well. We, uh, we rode on Spike's hog, which was very cool, and, uh... uh, played some amusing games, and....... Oh! We got some new information. You know what? I really need to urinate."

He walked out of the room, leaving Spike to observe, "he's a breath of fresh air, isn't he? Thank god I don't breathe. So, I think we got a lead." He looked around and suddenly realised who was missing. "Where's Buffy?"

The key looked away from him uneasily. "she's not here right now."

"When's she get back?" Spike asked, though a part of him already knew the answer.

Willow got up and walked uneasily to him. "Uh...while you were gone, we all got together and t-talked out some disagreements that we were having. Um... and eventually, after much discussion, Buffy decided that it would be best for all of us if she took a little time off, a little breather."

Spike did not believe her for one minute. "Uh-huh. I see. Been practising that little speech long, have you? So, uh, Buffy took some time off right in the middle of the apocalypse, and it was her decision?"

"Well, we all decided," Xander revealed.

"Oh, yeah. You all decided." Spike chuckled angrily. "You sad, sad, ungrateful traitors. Who do you think you are?"

To his disbelief, Willow answered, "we're her friends. We just want..."

Spike let her get that far, then cut in. "Oh, that's ballsy of you. You're her friends, and you betray her like this?"

"You don't understand..." Giles began to say, but Spike had not finished.

"You know, I think I do... Rupert. You used to be the big man, didn't you? The teacher all full of wisdom. Now she's surpassed you, and you can't handle it. She has saved your lives again and again. She's died for you. And this is how you thank her."

Faith interceded. Or at least tried to. "Hey. Why don't you take it down a notch or two? The time for speech-giving is over, bat boy."

Spike looked at her. "Oh, is that right?"

"Yeah, that's right. Save your lack of breath."

Spike shrugged. "All right." Then he punched Faith.

"You're pretty sweet on her, aren't you?" Faith remarked after she recovered. She kicked him in the face. "I think it's cute."

Spike punched her, she returned it. "The way she's got you whipped." She kicked him into and over the dining room table.

"Enough!" Giles yelled.

Spike jumped up and looked them all. "Finally got what you wanted, didn't you? Where is she?"

"I don't know," Faith replied.

Spike nodded and threw his final punch. Flinging her back out of the dining room into the hall, he stepped over her and headed outside into the night.

Once on the road, he sniffed the air. Finding her scent, he walked away from Revello Drive.

It did not take too long. Nor, did it really surprise him where he found her. He had heard about this place years ago. He was just surprised he could enter. Standing in the doorway, he looked at her crumpled figure on the bed.

Silently he realised then, if he had not before, that there had only been one who had touched her heart. And no one could replace him. "There you are. Do you realise I could just walk in here, no invite needed? This town really is theirs now, isn't it?"

He walked up to the bed. "I heard. I was over there. That bitch." He did not specify which one he was talking about. He did not have to. All fitted the bill. "She's all about smiles and reformation when you're on your feet, but the moment you're down, she's all about the kicking, isn't that right? Makes me want..."

Buffy continued to face the wall. "It's not like they were wrong. Please leave."

"No. This'll change your tune. I came here 'cause I got something to tell you. You were right. Caleb is trying to protect something from you. And I think you were spot on all the way. I think it's at the vineyard. So? You were right. Buffy?"

"I don't feel very right," she commented sadly.

Spike sat down on the bed. "You're not fooling me."

Buffy rolled over and looked at him, letting him see her tearstained face. "What do you even mean?"

"Well, you're not a quitter."

"Watch me."

"You were their leader, and you still are. This isn't something you gave up, it's something they took."

"And the difference is?"

"We can take it back."




"You mean no as in eventually?"

"You really have problems with that word, don't you?"

"You can get them back."

"Can, maybe. Should? I'm just so tired."

"They need you. It's bloody chaos over there without you."

Buffy looked up at him hopefully. "It is?"

"Yeah! Yeah, it's, uh... There's junk... You know? Food cartons, sleeping bags not rolled up, everyone's very scared and, uh, unkempt."

The hope faded. "Sounds dire."

"I didn't see a lot," Spike confessed. "I came, hit Faith a bunch of times, and left."

"Really? I mean, not that I'm glad, but...."

"Oh, you say the word, and she's a footnote in history. I'll make it look like a painful accident."

Buffy looked away. "That's my problem. I say the word, some girl dies...every time."

"There's always casualties in war."

"Casualties. It just sounds so...casual. These are girls that I got killed. I cut myself off from them...all of them. I knew I was gonna lose some of them and I didn't...." she trailed off and shook her head. "You know what? I'm still making excuses. I've always cut myself off. I've always...."

She sighed. "Being the slayer made me different. But it's my fault I stayed that way. People are always trying to connect to me, and I just slip away." She looked back at him. "You should know."

Spike looked back. "I seem to recall a certain amount of connecting."

"Oh, please! We were never close. You just wanted me because I was...unattainable."

If it had been any other room, he would have let his anger show. But not here. "You think that's all that was?"

Buffy sat up in protest. "Please, let's not go over the past."

Oh, no, no. Let's hold on here. I'm hummed along to your pity-ditty, and I think I should have the mike for a bit."

"Fine. The stage is yours. Cheer me up."

"You're insufferable."

"Thank you. That really helped."

"I'm not trying to cheer you up."

"What are you trying to say?"

"I don't know. I'll know when I'm done saying it. Something pissed me off, and I just.... Unattainable. That's it."

"Fine. I'm attainable. I'm an attain-a-thon. May I please just go to sleep?"

"You listen to me." He dropped to his knees in front of her. "I've been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I've seen things you couldn't imagine, and done things I prefer you didn't. I don't exactly have a reputation for being a thinker.

"I follow my blood, which doesn't exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes, a lot of wrong bloody calls." He looked into her eyes. "A hundred plus years, and there's only one thing I've ever been sure of: you."

Buffy looked away, and he reached up turn her back. "Hey, look at me. I'm not asking you for anything. When I say, 'I love you,' it's not because I want you or because I can't have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try.

" I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman. You're the one, Buffy."

"I don't wanna be the one," she uttered quietly.

"I don't wanna be this good looking and athletic. We all have crosses to bear." He stood up and backed away. "You get some rest now. I'll check in before first light. You can decide how you want..." he walked away.

He got as far as the door before she called him back.

"Spike? Could you...stay here?"

He turned round and smiled. "Sure." He glanced around the room and saw the chair. "That diabolical old torture device, the comfy chair." He took off his coat. "It'll do me fine."

"No, I" She gestured to the bed. "Will you just hold me?"

Spike nodded. Slowly he walked to the bed and lay down beside her. Then he opened his arms and pulled her to him.

Together, they watched the night go out.

At first light, Buffy rose. Without a word she walked to the door and opened it. On the threshold of the apartment, she turned round to look back at her champion.

"Thank you, Spike," she uttered. "I'm ready to face things now. When you wake up, don't worry. You'll know where to find me."

In the end, it did not take too long to find out what it was Caleb had been determined to hide from her in the vineyard. In fact, she mentally kicked herself for not having spotted the scythe in the stone before. Reflecting on yet another myth explained, she pulled it out and turned round to face her enemy.

And Caleb looked scared for the first time. "Now, before you go hurting yourself with that thing, why don't you do yourself a courtesy and hand it over now?"

Behind her casualness, Buffy was smiling. "Yeah? You want it?"

"You don't even know what you got there." He stepped back.

"I know you're backing away."

"You think wielding some 2-sided doo-da's gonna make a difference?"

Buffy swung the scythe in her hands, testing the weight, feeling the power. "Honestly, I don't know. But I sure wanna find out."

She swung the weapon at him, and they began to exchange blows once more. There was not much of a difference, but she could tell. Despite his bravado, this was now a one way fight.

"Ha ha ha ha! You're not slipping out of this fight, girl. Can't you see? You can't stop me. I can just keep going back for more. It's like being reborn."

He rushed forward and punched her. After a series of blows, he knocked her to the floor. "You know, I gave you ample warning. Told you not to interfere, but you chose not to heed."

Buffy tried to rise, but he kicked her down, and took the scythe. "I was kind of hoping it'd go this way."

He raised the weapon ready to swing down, but, just as she began to doubt herself, her backup arrived.

"Hey!" Angel remarked in greeting before knocking Caleb to the floor with a single, well-placed punched. Then he stepped forward and helped her to her feet. "I was never much one for preachers. You look good."

"You look timely," Buffy replied, never more pleased to see him until now. "And also good."

"Heard maybe you needed a hand."

Caleb rose from the floor. Buffy watched him for a moment, then turned back to Angel. "Let me take care of this one first. Care to play audience?"

"Happy to." Angel stood back against a wall, and smiled at Caleb. "You are so gonna lose."

Caleb went for the scythe again, and Buffy let him take it, before playing dodgeball with the weapon until he took his chance and stabbed the wall.

"God, I missed watching this," Angel remarked as she pulled the weapon out. She thrust and sliced Caleb in the stomach.

Once he had fallen to the floor, she turned and looked to her audience.

Angel straightened and came towards her. " least you could tell me you're glad to see me."

Buffy dropped the scythe and wrapped her arms around his neck, thoroughly kissing his lips in greeting.

Another thing he had missed. Responding instantly, he indulged himself until she needed to breathe, and then pulled back. "Well, I guess that qualifies as 'happy to see me."

Buffy looked into his eyes, smiling for what seemed like the first time in days. "Angel, what are you doing...... Don't even. I just want to bask." She paused for a moment, smiling at him. "Okay, I'm basked. What are you doing here?"

"Not saving the damsel in distress, that's for sure." He cupped her face with his hands, searching her eyes.

Buffy leaned into the caress. "Oh, you know me. Not much with the damseling."

"Got your share of distress, though. I got coverage on the whole thing. It's very gripping. It needs a third act."

Buffy shook her head. "You have to leave L.A."

Angel smiled at her. "Believe me, its on the cards. It's the First, right? The First Evil. The power that tried to convince me to kill myself."

"Yeah. It's gotten a little more ambitious since then. It's raising an army."

"Yeah, well, it failed once, and I'm here to tell you,"

He did not get a chance to finish. A cat shaped statue suddenly connected with his head, flooring him to reveal Caleb. "Are you ready to finish this, bitch?!"

Buffy threw a hard, well-placed punch, and then picked up her scythe. "Okay, how many times do I have to kill you? Ballpark figure."

Caleb rose. "You understand nothing."

Buffy swung the scythe at him, but he grabbed it, and held it still. "You think you have power over me?"

Silently, the slayer freed the grip he had and knocked him to the floor.

"Stupid girl." Caleb stood. "You'll never stop me. You don't have the ba...."

He trailed off, as Buffy put the weapon between his legs, and moved it upwards.

"Who does nowadays?"

She finished halving him just as her soulmate rose up from the floor. "Okay, now I'm pissed. Where is he?"

Buffy looked at both halves, then chuckled. "He had to split."

Angel handed her the folder he had been carrying.

"Reliable source?" Buffy asked him.

Angel shook his head. "Not remotely."

"Mm, any port in an apocalypse," she commented in understanding.

"I, uh, brought something else as well," he took the amulet out of his pocket

"I can already tell you, I have nothing that goes with that."

"It's not for you."

Buffy looked at him, confused. "Splainy?"

"I don't know everything. It's very powerful and probably very dangerous. It has a purifying power, a cleansing power, possibly scrubbing bubbles. The translation is, uh..... anyway, it bestows strength to the right person who wears it."

"And the right person is?"

"Someone ensouled, but stronger than human. A champion."

"Not me?"

"No. I don't know nearly enough about this to risk you wearing it. Besides, you got that real cool axe-thing going for you."

Buffy looked at him, realising who he thought should wear it. For the moment, she chose not to argue the point. "So you're gonna be with me in this?"

He stepped closer to her again. "Shoulder to shoulder. I'm yours." He stroked her cheek again, and finally saw the truth she had been trying to hide from him. "There's no other backup, is there? They all deserted you again, didn't they?"

Buffy tried to turn away, but his hand held her firm. "Angel," she pleaded softly, "please, don't. I'm not ready to collapse yet. That can come after the battle. If I need to."

"Yes you do," he persisted.

Spike stepped out of the shadows. "He's right, pet." He walked up to Angel. "You're right, they did what they always do. Turned traitors. Even Little Bit. They chose Faith."

"All of them?" Angel queried, not quite ready to believe it.

"All of them," Spike confirmed.

Angel growled. "How dare they? When I get my hands on them, I'll...."

"It doesn't matter," Buffy uttered. "I'm not bothered about them anymore. I just need to save the world. Again." She looked at them. "Alone."

In unison, they both shook their heads. Angel voiced their mutual objections. "Nu'ah. No way. You need help."

Buffy shook her head. "I don't want anyone else risking their lives and getting killed."

Spike shook his head. "How many times do I need to tell you? You don't cause people to die. They just do. And you can't stop us. We're volunteering."

"And not just us," Angel added, reaching into his pocket and drawing out his mobile. "Wes, Fred, Lorne and Gunn can be here in two hours."

Buffy shook her head. "Maybe you're right, I need more than one. But six is not enough. The First has an army. I need an army in response."

"'God is on the side not of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots,1'" Spike quoted calmly.

There was a brief second of silence, then Angel glanced at him in surprise. "Since when did you start reading Voltaire2?"

"Hey, you're not the only learned vampire," Spike countered, though not harshly. "I could read before Dru. Still can, actually."

Angel smiled and turned back to Buffy. "He's right, Buffy. Let us help you."

Buffy looked at the both of them, and surrendered. "You're right. I do need help. But we also need a plan. And a base of operations."

"Right," Angel agreed. "The mansion on Crawford Street sound good?"

"I didn't know you still own that," Buffy said in surprise. "Sounds perfect."

Angel wrapped an arm around her. "Come on, lets get out of here."

Barely ten minutes later, and he was unlocking the door and leading them inside. The slayer glanced around the place with a smile. "You cleaned up."

Angel nodded. "The place had four years worth of dust on it." He paused. "You go on up and get some rest. I'll call the gang."

Buffy thanked him with a look, then walked up the stairs.

Spike turned to Angel when she had gone. "How long have you two been keeping in touch?" He asked him casually.

Angel put his cell down from his ear, and sat down, gesturing him a place on the opposite couch. "Since I left four years ago. At least once a week, by phone at first, then as I got to learn how to work a computer, emails almost every night."

Spike sat down. "I never even realised." He shook his head, then looked his grandsire straight in the eye. "So you know, everything, right?"

Angel leaned forward, clasping his hands. "Everything. And I want to thank you."

Spike did a double-take. "What?"

"For being there for her, while I was away. For helping her, and giving her comfort when I couldn't. For giving her pep talks when she needed them."

"You can't be serious," Spike remarked in disbelief. "You can't know everything. Things I did....."

"At the time, Buffy needed that." Angel paused. "She may not have said as much to you, but when she........ came back, she couldn't feel anything. Her heart, her soul, had been ripped out of her. So when you told her how you felt, she surrendered, because she needed to feel something. Anything, no matter how small or how harsh it was. You gave her the time she needed to repair herself." He paused to look at him. "I'm sorry."

"It's alright," Spike replied. "I know. I probably always did, it just took awhile for my mind to realise. It's always been you."

"And its always been her."

Spike nodded silently. "So, any spare beds?"

Angel nodded. "All four of them, not counting Buffy's. Second and third floors, two per level, with ensuites."

Spike rose up. "I'll be on the top floor. Night."

"Night," Angel turned, picked up his cell, and began dialling.

Buffy was still awake when Angel finished his call and entered the room. He watched her for a moment, as she stood with her back to him, watching the night sky out of the large window, then he went and wrapped his arms around her. Devotedly, he kissed the small mark on her neck where his teeth had once been, and then placed his face next to her own. "Ready to cry yet?" He asked her.

She placed her hands on his clasped ones around her waist. "Strangely, I'm not sad anymore. I think a part of me was expecting this to happen." She leaned against him. "So. Anything I missed in the city?"

"Nothing much. I called Wes, and they're on their way. Wolfram and Hart offered us the building, but I refused."

"You refused their defeat?"

"No. It would have been defeat for us if I had said yes. Even with the intention to try and turn them from the inside out, they still would have won. It was a deal with the devil, and I'd rather pass." He paused to kiss her scar again. "I also got visited after that by those blue-skinned guys."

"I thought they were dead."

"Apparently, they can resurrect themselves. Anyway, turns out, refusing the devil was the final test. After that, all I to do was ask."

Buffy stilled and turned round. Angel widened his embrace in order to not lose her, then re-tightened as she faced him. "Your soul?"

"Is permanent," Angel answered. He smiled at her. "Care to bask in that for awhile?"

Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck and he obligingly leaned down to be close to her face. "All night," she answered.

He leaned even closer. "Your wish is my command." He touched her lips.

At some point during the night, one of them got up to close the blind. But other than that, neither of them moved from the bed. Despite the distance between the last time they had made love, none of the times were hurried or rough, anxious desires to be together as quickly as possible.

Nor were they acts as if the end of the world was in sight, or their death would meet them on the morrow. Instead every act was gentle, slow, and blissful. Each worshipped the other in wonderful dance after wonderful dance which had no beginning, middle or end, just an existence, in which, for the first time in three years, both of them had a part.

When light began to show through the blackness of the blind, it found them lying side by side, facing each other as they opened their eyes. Without a word he pulled her into his arms, until her hard nipples brushed his hairless chest and her face was level with his own.

"I love you," he uttered for the first time in years, though he had proved so much in every action the night before, and in every touch which she could feel now, that the words were almost needless.

"I love you too," she returned, though her assurance was also unnecessary. Silently, she gazed into his eyes, as the reality of what they had done settled in, and her mind began to contemplate the consequences which could follow.

Just as before, he noticed the questions within her eyes, this time immediately. "Hey, I'm here. To stay this time. I'll never leave you again, nor will I let anyone persuade me to do so. I promise."

"Good, 'cause I don't think I could handle it." Her words were said with a upbeat tone, but, just like before, Angel could detect the fear underlying her habitual and instinctive self-defence. It did not annoy him that such feelings were still present with her with him, in fact they had every right to be.

He also knew that mere verbal assurance from him was not enough. Time would be the only thing to bury those fears, and they could only hope that from this moment on, they would have it. Because he understood, he did not speak. Instead, a look passed between them, before he leaned alittle forward and kissed her.

Buffy returned the kiss, and understood the intent behind it. They had rarely needed words when it came to knowing the other's feelings, mind, heart and soul. Almost from the first time they had laid eyes on each other, they had known and understood by instinct, everything they ever needed know.

Forgetfulness of this fact, and the often stupid mistake of letting others interfere in their relationship, had caused their split, never a breakdown of the bond which had existed between them from the beginning. She had realised this, as had he, the moment she had picked up the phone, and the moment he had heard her voice say his name.

She knew it would be him, because of the bond, and vice versa. Even later, when emails were added to the equation, they knew far more about each other than the words they would say or write to one another. And because of their bond; Parker, Riley, Faith, Darla, Cordelia, even Connor, had never touched them.

Without communication, perhaps it would have been a little more difficult, but both of them still would have known that this; the reunion, would occur. Unless their bond was destroyed, it would always be on the cards. Communication had only made it come sooner.

His lips broke from hers then, and she opened her eyes to meet a smile and a glance that was such that it did not need verbal confirmation. She was also sure that such a expression was reflected on her face.

Sounds turned audible then, just as she was about to lean alittle forward and continue what had occupied them the night before. Their warrior senses kicked in, helped by the fact that the living room was a double height room, and they realised that their reinforcements had arrived.

Reluctantly, they were walking down the stairs to that double height room hand in hand barely five minutes later. The room fell into silence as the speaker looked up and noted their arrival, but there was only a chorus of 'good mornings' before he returned to the situation at hand.

The couple smiled at each other as Wesley began his speech. While she was listening, Buffy realised once more the difference between Angel's 'family' and hers. If they had been at Revello Drive, their hands clasped arrival would have treated with more than a look. Sitting down, they tuned into the strategy session.

"With regards to the amulet," Wes was saying, "it turns out that Wolfram and Hart know as little about as we do. Beyond the fact that within it is some great power, meant to enhance the wearer's strength, I couldn't find anything else about it with in the records. Whatever power lies within it, the source is older than time. More importantly, we don't know if the effect is fatal."

"So that rules out using it then," Buffy remarked. During the silence which followed, she turned to Angel next to her. "I don't want anyone else dying."

"And we can't promise that nobody will anyway," Angel reminded her. "But it might be the only thing that tips the scales to our side."

Buffy nodded, but her eyes remained on his, an unspoken fear revealed in them. Angel understood it instantly. Not only that, he possessed such a fear. He did not want her wearing it either. Silently, he replied, with a nod of the head, assuring her that the weapon would be a last resort.

"Now," Wes began, "what can you tell us about the Turok-Han?"

"Not much," Buffy admitted, leaning forward. "They're pure vampires, stronger and older than anything we've encountered before, and more difficult to kill. A stake won't do it. Decapitation will."

"And its bloody likely that we're facing an entire army of them," Spike added.

"So, to recap; we're going to open the Seal of Danzalthar in the high school, walk into the mouth of hell, and massacre an army?" Fred sought to confirm.

"Pretty much," the slayer replied. She glanced at Spike. "What was it you said? God is not on the side of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots?"

"Yeah, though Voltaire wrote it," Spike replied.

"He was a clever man," Wesley commented. "Let's hope he's right."

They arrived before dawn of the next day, walking through the sewer's access to end up in the basement of Sunnydale High. As they walked towards the site of the old Library, now the Principal's office, a second's glance told them all they needed to know; the place was deserted.

Whether this fact comforted or grieved her, Buffy could not tell, the lines within her were too blurred to define. All she could think for certain, was that the potentials and her old group had not formed the same battle plan as they had. She then focused her mind on the task ahead.

When they reached the seal, Buffy held out her hand to Spike, who then gave her the knife. One by one they slashed open their palms, letting the blood drip on to the engraved stone, until it opened to reveal the way.

Not a word passed between them as they walked down into the depths below. The slayer took the scythe from behind her, where it had been strapped to her back, and held the weapon ready to strike.

They came to a precipice, and saw the army of the ubervamps stretched out before them. A single look was exchanged between them, and then they entered the fray.

Buffy and Angel were first. Choosing two likely candidates for death, they craved their way through the ranks of Turok-Han, before fixing on two of them at random and then attacking them. Behind them, Gunn and the others allowed themselves a brief moment to acknowledge the evidence before them; two champions for the Powers That Be, working together flawlessly despite many years apart, then followed them into the army.

The odds appeared impossible to the detached eye. An entire army of very large, very strong, ubervamps verses two souled vampires, a demon from another dimension, a man raised on the streets, an ex-watcher, a physics graduate and the slayer;- hundreds verses seven in terms of numbers, -on a battleground that the enemy had chosen; the mouth of hell. A scythe, inhuman strength, and a amulet were the allies weapons, set against vampires, Boca del Inferno, and the First Evil. Viewed like this, it was unimaginable to see such a battle lasting beyond a few hours.

Nor did it, though not quite in the way one would imagine. One by one the seven began to back away towards their entrance, reaching surface of the cliff with their enemy almost on top of them. The battleground set into sudden silence, broken only by the sound of metal falling to the floor.

The amulet lay where it had fallen; in the narrow valley between the two opposing sides. For a moment the move appeared a mortal mistake on the part of the allies; then it started to rattle and glow.

One of the seven had realised something during the strategy session. That the amulet had never specified a wearer. And the wearer could just as easily be the ground, rather than a human champion.

It was possible for anything to be a hero.

The glow turned into rays of light; stretching above the them to the ceiling of the concrete of the school's foundations. A crack appeared, then another, then another, until the blue light of the sky began to shine through.

Angel and Spike backed away from the light, calmly and casually, though none of their enemy was watching them by now for any sign of weakness. They were too transfixed by the opening above them, which was getting larger by the minute.

Suddenly the ground started to shake, just as the sun's deadly rays shot down on the ranks of the Turok-Han. The seven watched the fire start, then turned and ran out of the hellmouth.

Buffy was in the lead, racing to the sewer access they had come in by. Spike and Angel were close behind her, followed by Lorne, and Fred, with Gunn and Wesley bringing up the rear. Their enemy were not following them, but none of them dared to do an Orpheus; turn and look back.

The sewer tunnel reached Crawford Street, and as they climbed out of the manhole into the enclosed garden at the back of the Mansion, they felt the aftershocks of an explosion rumbling its way through the ground beneath them.

Buffy turned walked to the window which looked out towards the school, and saw only a hole where it had once been. The scene was almost like the first time they had blown up the hellmouth, except the destruction was more lasting. There were no walls, no remains whatsoever. As if the ground had swallowed it up.

When night fell, only then did they return to what was left of the battleground. A large crater greeted them, with nothing within it except volcanic looking ash and third-degree singed soil and earth.

The slayer stood on the precipice with Angel behind her, secured in both his love and his arms which rested about her waist. Fred, Wes, Gunn and Lorne stood beside them, all eyes fixed on the burned earth a silence akin to mourning settling over them.

It lasted but a few minutes. Then they turned round and walked back.

The occupants of Revello Drive heard the explosion, like everyone else who remained in Sunnydale. When the aftershocks had died down, they exited the house, and made their way to the High School.

Stunned shock and disappointment were the basis of their reactions as they stood on the precipice of the crater, and viewed the destruction within. Some of the group wondered where the victors were, and, more importantly, who had lead them. Later they would go out, and try to find answers to these questions.

But not today.

None of them knew then that they would never find the answers. Nor that the victors had any intention of telling them how the battle had been won. Or how the world did not need champions, save those who were willing to keep the balance of good and evil on a equal scale. They no longer deserved that privileged knowledge.

But for those that did, and those that wanted to look, the answers and the victors were easy to find.

Five were in a hotel called the Hyperion, keeping watch over the business of Angel Investigations.

Two were on a highway, in a black, 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX convertible, heading west.

A sun shone upon them, but neither experienced any damage from the once deadly rays. In the driver's seat, a tall, dark and handsome man rested one of his hands upon the steering wheel, and the other upon bare skin arm of his passenger.

In the seat next to him, the slayer carefully rested her head upon his shoulder, revelling in the sound of his breathing, which had come to him soon after they had returned to Mansion from viewing the crater, a shanshu granted by the Powers That Be.

At the fore, on the highway before them, lay many a destination in a not so perfect world. Nor were they perfect, for he still possessed vampire strength, and she was still the slayer. But the heavy burdens of those warrior titles no longer bothered them. They were merely their vocations, which they would pick up, once they had finished their vacation.

Nor did the barriers which once existed between them pray on their minds. They were gone, never to return and face a pair of souls bound more tightly and more determined than ever before not to fracture and break before them. This was another victory they had won, a hard bitter battle which would never again see the light of day.

The Plymouth reached signpost; signalling a terminus for Taco Bells and Dennys, along with Hampton Inns, and Marriot Residences. At a nod from the passenger, the driver turned the car into the road for the latter hotel, which would become their bed for the night or nights, until they decided the name of their next destination.

Parking the car, he turned the engine off. Then he turned to his companion, the mate of his soul, and his lips found hers.
Buffy and Angel kissed until the sky turned shades of pinks and yellows. Then they let themselves breathe, before indulging in the luxury again and again.

They had the rest of their lives together. And they were determined not to waste one minute of them.

The End.

1) From the Piccini Notebooks, circa 1735-1750. Also Voltaire's Notebooks, 2nd edition 1968, volume 2, Editor; T. Besterman:

Dieu n'est pas pour les gros bataillons, mais pour ceux qui tirent le mieux.
God is on the side not of the heavy battalions, but of the best shots.

2) Voltaire: pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet. (1694–1778). He was a French writer, dramatist, and poet. One of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, and frequently came into conflict with his home country of France as a result of his radical political and religious views and satirical writings. He spent a period of exile in England in the years 1726–29 and was introduced there to the theories of Isaac Newton and the empiricist philosophy of John Locke. He also became acquainted with British political institutions, and extolled them as against the royal autocracy of France. Voltaire lived in Switzerland from 1754, only returning to Paris just before his death. His major works include Lettres philosophiques (1734) and Candide (1758), a satirical tale attacking Leibniz's optimism; he also wrote plays, poetry, and historical works, and was a contributor to the great French Encyclopédie (1751–76). (Source: The Oxford Encyclopedia).