The End Of All Things
by internationalprincess

She doesn't really notice at first.

Sure, she's covered in bruises, but no more than usual. It took a little longer for that last rib to heal. And the slayers-in-training did their share of the work beating back those Nasa demons in Stirling. But that was good for them. Like a graduation, or an initiation, or something.

Besides, she's got a right to be tired. All the travel, the training, the constant drain of hero-worship. Adulation's not all it's cracked up to be - these empowered girls in their hundreds, clamoring to know their history, their lineage, their stories.

Her stories.

It takes its toll. She's beginning to seek out quiet corners of the globe. She fights an andhaka in the Himalayas, a gorgon in the Australian outback. She listens to misplaced rumors of a Hellmouth in the salt flats of Utah.

But they find her. They always find her.

So it takes her a little while to notice, with all she has to think about, that the other side has started kicking her ass.

It's hard to explain, though she tries in a disjointed email to Willow. 'It's like the they're draining me,' she writes. 'I mean, not in a vampy way, know?'

Willow sends back a photo from Switzerland. Her cheeks are pink and there is a frosting of snow on her hair. Kennedy is looking at the camera in a slightly predatory way. Buffy has always found her too territorial, and therefore mostly a bore. Willow's email is a rambling story about learning to ski. She's sympathetic, but her only advice is that Buffy take a holiday.

As Buffy leaves the internet cafe she is nearly overpowered by a two-bit frat-vamp who comes running out of an alley.

After she stakes him she lets herself worry, just a little bit.


Xander lives in Anchorage, but takes construction jobs hundreds of miles further north for months of the year and it takes her a while to find him. When she does, he spends the first minute backing away from her.

"Oh, no. No, no-no. I don't want to hear it," he says, before Buffy has even opened her mouth. "Because there's only one reason you're this far all up in the cold in your high-heeled boots, and I don't care how big, or how bad this Big Bad is. I don't want any part of it." He's shaking his head, holding his hands up in front of him to ward her off, and she opens and closes her mouth dumbly, like a fish.

"Oh!" Xander suddenly reverses direction, as if something just occurred to him, powering towards her and grabbing her upper arms a little too hard. "Wait! No....something else-- I mean, is something wrong?!

Something happened. Is it Dawn? Is she okay?"

Buffy sort of folds into his chest, all padded with snow jacket, and (between sobs) reassures him that everyone is fine.

Everyone is fine, except her.

Later, Xander makes her cocoa and rubs her feet back to warmth, because it turns out high-heeled boots and snow boots are not quite the same thing. And he's being careful of her ankle, which has turned a mottled, angry green and purple that refuses to subside even though it's been a week since that particular roundhouse went wrong.

"You need to talk to Willow," he says. "Maybe the spell was off. Or, maybe she just didn't realize this would happen. You know, that everyone else would get all...slayery. And you'd...well, you'd stop?"

She has both her hands encased in a pair of his socks, and buries her face in the steam coming off the cocoa.

"Maybe it's time," she says, finally. Barely audibly.

"Time for what?"

"I don't know, retire. Quit. Slayers aren't supposed to be this old."

"You're twenty-nine, Buff. Hardly time for a bus pass." He lowers her feet back to the floor. "What about this happening to her?"

Buffy shrugs in a non-committal way. She really is tired. Too tired anyway, to explain about New York and the dark finger-bruises Faith left on the inside of her thighs.

"Faith seems fine," she says, and supposes that's the truth. "It's not like she's going to tell me if she's not."

Xander makes her macaroni and cheese for dinner. He does it from scratch, and the smell coming from the tiny kitchenette promises a comfort she hasn't experienced since her mother died.

"If not Willow, then Giles," he suggests, sinking into the scratchy orange couch beside her. "I mean, he's over there with all the knowledge, and maybe there's something he can find out."

It's the sort of thought they'd all like to cling to. That Giles still has the answers, or that the answers can be found in books. Not any more, though. Not since she changed the world. She thinks that ought to feel more exhilarating and less exhausting. She places her now-warm palm against his cheek and begins to slide her fingers under the elastic holding his patch in place. His hand jerks up to stop her.

"It's okay..." she whispers.

"It's really not." He gets to his feet too abruptly, and carries their dishes to the sink without looking back at her.

The next day she leaves before he wakes.


Giles living in Oxford seems like a cliché, but she doesn't bother to point that out to him.

Xander helped him refit the properties owned by the Council, and Willow worked incantations to deflect attention from the fact only women attend the college, erratically at best, and it only consists of a library and an infirmary.

Buffy has never visited until now.

They sit in overstuffed armchairs in his study, the late afternoon sunlight making dust-motes dance around in a way that she finds captivating. She's not really paying any attention to what he's saying. She already knows he doesn't have an answer for her.

"Maybe it is purely physical," he suggests, cleaning his glasses and frowning at her. "You went through an ordeal Buffy. Perhaps you need time to heal before throwing yourself back into the fray."

"I've been thinking about Angel."

If Giles is perturbed by the non-sequitur, he doesn't let on.

"It's just, I mean..." she's struggling for a way to express what she's been feeling. A knot of dissatisfaction, a twisting curl of dread. "They're never going to leave me alone, Giles. I mean, not ever. And if that's the way it's going to be, then maybe..."

And then she loses her nerve.

She asks Giles to show her the library, and when they're interrupted by a porter bringing tales of an injured girl at the gate, Buffy begins to scour the shelves. She wishes Willow were around to help. Buffy's never really been one for the research, but Giles keeps meticulous order and soon she's cross-legged on the floor surrounded by books and dust.

When he comes back, he startles her, and her neck cricks in an alarming way. She rubs at it absently, while trying to cover what she's reading. Giles is too distracted to notice.

"They're so young, Buffy. And they should all have Watchers. That's part of the problem, you know. The lack of training." He pauses, crouching to close some of the books she has stacked perilously high around her. "You've been busy..." He squints at the spines. She catches her breath. "I'd have thought you were the expert in all this. Any vampire in particular?"

Buffy tries to shrug and look disinterested, but her neck still twinges. "Origin myths, mostly. The girls ask lots of questions."

"Earlier, you mentioned Angel?"

Damn Giles and his giant brain.

"Sure. I don't know. Just been thinking about souls, and... immortality."

Giles gives her a look that says he doesn't want to discuss eternity with an injured teenager's blood on his clothes.

"Let me show you your room."

The next day she tells him she's decided to take his advice. "I think you're right," she says around a mouthful of toast. "I need to rest. If it's okay with you, I think I'll stay for a while. Spend some time reading."

Weeks later, Giles claims she looks healthier. She neglects to mention the wrist she managed to sprain reshelving his books.


She needs Willow to herself, so she tells Kennedy about a vicious Razakel demon in Provence and drops a few hints that the French slayers might be having some trouble defeating it. Kennedy is packed and gone within hours. If Willow notices the tactic is deliberate she doesn't mention it.

They sit in the garden long after the sun sets, and she tells Willow about visiting the others. Censored stories: Faith, in slanging matches with taxi-drivers; Xander's trailer in the snow. In the dark, moths dance around the tealights Willow has in paper bags on the table. Buffy begins to feel a little bolder.

"It's not getting better, Will," she says finally. "I mean, I'm not getting better." She picks at the cork from the bottle of Bordeaux they have abandoned, half drunk, between them. "I don't know if it's the last spell. Or the other one..."

She thinks that she would give almost anything in the world to avoid speaking of resurrection with Willow, and the look on her friend's face says the same.

"Or maybe...I don't know, maybe it's just the natural order reasserting itself. Slayers die young. Maybe if we don't, something else takes over."

"But there are things we could try!" Willow insists, grabbing Buffy's hand. "Like, maybe it was an energy-transference, from you to the girls, or...or...some kind of demon-virus. We can start tomorrow. There are diagnostic spells, healing herbs..."

"I actually don't want that," Buffy says slowly. "There's something else I want from you."

She digs the book she appropriated from Giles' library out of her shoulderbag, and flips it open to the page she's been studying for the last few weeks. It is getting dog-eared, and there's a ring of airplane coffee on the bottom left corner. Willow chews her bottom lip while she reads, her eyes getting impossibly wide.

"No, Buffy. Absolutely not. No way. Why would you...? I mean, why would you possibly...?" Willow's expression is a mixture of hurt and confusion. "You can't ask me to."

"I trust you to do it right."

"You can't ask me to!" Willow's voice is rising on a wave of panic and indignation.

"I'm dying, Willow. I want to do something good with that."

"Buffy, no," Willow's choking on tears and she leaps to her feet and begins to pace back and forth, looking anywhere but at her. "We haven't even tried anything else. You have to let me..."

Buffy cuts her off. "I've thought about this. I've thought it all through, for weeks now. Months. The girls will keep coming, and they will keep needing help. They'll need training, and support. And more than that, they'll need their sense of identity. I can do that. I want to do that." She gets to her feet and takes Willow's hand, stilling her, pulling her closer.

"But I won't be able to if some vinyl-skinned, ugly-mugged hellbeast runs me through tomorrow, or a week from now, a month from now. What happens then?"

Willow sinks back to her chair, tears coursing down her cheeks. Buffy kneels in front of her and takes both her hands.

"Please, Willow. We do it this way, I get to keep my soul."

When Willow looks up again, there is something cold behind her eyes. She pulls her hands free, and gets up to go inside. She doesn't look at Buffy, but her tone is threaded with something brittle as she says, "Don't ever speak of this again."


If Willow won't help her she'll do it the old fashioned way.

It takes six weeks to find him, in a beach bar near Paracas on the coast of Peru. Drinking pisco sours and leering at local girls who call him 'demonio blanco' and grind against him when they dance.

"You look terrible, love," he whispers, as Buffy cuts in. But he pulls her flush against him and gasps when she kisses him behind his ear.

"Good to see you too," she murmurs against his icy skin. "You're a long way from home."

"Needed to get away from L.A. Is the boyfriend in tow?" he sneers, looking over her shoulder, and it takes her a minute to realize he's talking about Rome. By way of an answer she runs her hands down his back to grab at his ass, and he half carries her from the bar, working kisses along her jawline, down her neck.

Hours later, she can't keep her eyes open. Her legs are knotted uncomfortably in his sheets but she hasn't got the energy to move. Spike's leaning on one elbow, tracing the scars and marks across her naked torso. "How did you get like this, love?" he whispers, half to himself. "What's happened to you?"

"It's okay," she murmurs as she falls asleep, "you're going to fix this."

"You're insane," he snorts, the next night. Four shots down, and she's brave enough to tell him what she wants. "You're a bleedin' lunatic."

"But you'll do it anyway."

"You don't have any idea what you're asking."

"I've been dead, Spike. Twice. So you can help me, or you can weep over my grave, 'cause third time's a charm."

"Roll out all the melodrama you like, princess. No one chooses this. Watching everyone you love grow old and die." He gestures with his shotglass, "Over and over again."

She downs another shot and glares at him. "Believe it or not, I'm used to loss."

Spike has the good grace to look stricken, but only for an instant.

"And what makes you think it'll work. That you won't just be an ordinary old bloodsucker like the rest of them?"

"You've got a soul, Spike. You're the only one who has. Angel's is a curse, but yours...I think you can pass that on."

"And if not?"

She draws the stake swiftly from her boot and lays it on the table between them. He laughs humorlessly. "You don't want much, do you, love?"

It's a week before she's strong enough to leave his bed, a month before she has the aching hunger under control. He never leaves her side.

The stake never leaves his.


Faith has most of the lights out in her apartment and the place still looks like a dump. Clothes on the floor, remains of Chinese take-out on the coffee table.

"Long time, B," she says, giving her an appraising look, leaning against the doorframe.

"Gonna invite me in?"

Faith arches an eyebrow, and swings back round into the lounge, collapsing to the sofa and swinging her feet up in one lithe motion. "Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly."

Buffy's not sure that's specific enough, but her tentative first step doesn't meet with resistance, so she follows her inside.

Faith has dark circles under her eyes, but she's not carrying the weakness that dogged Buffy during her last days. She's not even sure why she's here, except that Faith is the inside-out of herself, and if anyone can understand this, it's her. "I was going out. Come with?"

Faith frowns at her. "What, no catch-up? No holiday slides?" Her tone aims for sarcasm and falls a fraction short. "You've been MIA for six months. Giles hasn't heard anything; Willow won't say your name out loud. What the hell, B?"

"I came to you to avoid the third degree. Let's go."

For a moment, Faith looks like she might argue. Then she grabs a jacket off the back of the sofa and presses her hand to the small of Buffy's back as she guides her out the door.

The club is overheated and fierce, exactly what she'd hoped for. They dance for hours with the kind of abandon they had in high school, attracting all the wrong kinds of attention. Faith leans in to bite her earlobe, a move calculated to make Buffy writhe.

And in one swift move they're not dancing any more.

"What the fuck is this?" Faith demands and she's furious, eyes blazing.

Faith has her jammed up against the wall of the club, forearm braced across her throat, and between them a freshly sharpened stake traces lazy designs across Buffy's cleavage. Faith leans in, and Buffy can smell the whiskey on Faith's breath, the rivulet of sweat running between her shoulder blades, the salt of the guy she went down on in the bathroom stalls while Buffy was waiting for drinks. She can smell all of this on Faith, but not herself. Not anymore.

"I can't believe how slow I've been. You're fucking dead."

Buffy blinks slowly and licks her lips. She's practiced what to say in her head, but she isn't ready to deliver her lines while being choked. She stays silent.

"Don't be coy with me, bitch. Is it even you?"

Buffy pries Faith's arm away and slumps a little against the wall. "You know, if breathing was still important, that would have been uncomfortable."

Faith is crowding over her and Buffy leans forward, feeling the rough wood of the stake press against her pale flesh. "You going to kill me, Faith? Because this is your only chance."

Faith hauls her by her wrist out a fire exit and into an alley. She throws the stake aside with a look of disgust and comes at Buffy with nothing but her bare hands and anger.

They've always been evenly matched.

Their bodies slam against the dumpster, the wall. Faith pins her to the ground, the damp of a puddle seeping into her clothes. She arches and springs back to her feet, rolling Faith to the side and planting her boot in. Again and again they come together. Gasping, clawing, creatures of the night. Faith, a blur of red leather and venom; Buffy, steel and ice. They kick and thump at one another, until a left hook drops a rapidly-slowing Faith to the ground, breathing hard.

"Finish it," she grits out from a clenched and bloodied jaw.

"I'm not here to destroy you," Buffy pants, extending a hand to pull Faith to her feet. "I'm here to help."

Faith slaps her hand away and gets up by herself, glaring at Buffy. Buffy thinks about Paris and the heartbreak in Dawn's eyes. There is nothing but fury in Faith's.

"I can't be near you right now," Faith spits, shouldering past her and out of the alley.


She's staring at the moon's reflection in the inky bay when she hears him coming up behind her.

"Once upon a time," he says, "a great conflict was about to start between the Birds and the Beasts."

She doesn't turn around; closes her eyes and listens to him.

"When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated as to which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said, 'Come with us'; but he said, 'I am a Beast.' Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said, 'Come with us'; but he said, 'I am a Bird.'

Angel is standing behind her, and she leans back against his chest, arms folded across herself to capture some imagined warmth. He traces his fingers up and down her arms.

"At the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicing, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to retreat, or they would have torn him to pieces. 'Ah,' said the Bat, 'I see now...'"

"Fables?" she asks him sardonically. "You don't strike me as the type."

"How did you convince him to do it?"

"He's not as fixated on the moral of the story as you are."

"I'd give up a thousand lifetimes to reverse it."

"You have them to spare."

He turns her around, tucks her hair behind her ear. Her heart is so full of him, she almost imagines it still beats.

"Giles tells Wesley they're divided against themselves. Is that what you wanted?"

She sighs and steps away from him, turns back to lean against the seaward rail. "They're saying I'm an abomination." The ocean smells clearer, cleaner than she could possibly have conceived when she was alive. It is as if she can feel all of the water everywhere at once, just in the salt taste of the spray.

She says, "It'll take time. Think how long it took you to win anyone over." If she meant it as a joke, it falls flat. But she's not really sure that she did.

He leans beside her on the rail, arm pressed against hers. "I wish you'd talked to me first."

"How did you find me?"

"Dawn knew you were in Asia. I followed the stories from there. Young girls being 'kidnapped' by an aswang. Word gets around."

"Will you stay?" Her voice, as she asks him, sounds younger than she'd hoped. She needs a way to convey to him that she's not sixteen anymore. That what she's seen, what she's had to do...that he can't expect her to be the same person she once was.

He tangles his fingers with hers.

"For a while," he says, without proviso or promise.


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