All About Spike

Five Cinders That Never Burned
By Lesley

A 'Five Things That Never Happened' challenge response. This one offers different tracks things could have gone for Spike from 1880, Entropy, Bargaining, Chosen, and ATS S5 - regular casting spoiler only, speculation only - but didn't.

Disclaimer: Belongs to Joss, ME, Fox, etc.

Dedication: Lori for the wonderful beta, help and support. Magpie, as ever. Diva Stardust and Miggy for sharing their respective birthday presents, and the magnificent Lovesbitca. Kita for the challenge.

Rating: NC 17.

Feedback: Is treasured. Slayerdudette@lineone.uk

Pairings: Multiple. It's a set of 'what if?'s after all.

Warnings: Angst. Character Deaths - some on an epic scale. Strong language, sexual content, adult future Spawn, shameless sentimentality, gratuitous Glam Rock references, and images that some people may find disturbing - especially lovers of the Buffy character - I'm really, really not kidding on this.



Telegraph

He looks down at it. It's the fifth to have burnt his fingers and seared his heart. It's the last one he can ever receive, and the last thing in the world he ever wanted. It's a simple thing, the simplest in fact - only a piece of paper. Just words - but it's the end of his world. It seems wrong that he gave the telegraph boy a tip for tearing his heart out, but he's a gentleman, and gentlemen do what's right and proper. He always has.

It's given him everything. His darling Cecily - the best wife a man could hope for. The five sons she gave him, the joy and pride at their achievements. Three beautiful daughters, their dark curls taking the best from both of them and making them look like angels. He'd give anything for the girls not to have been taken with the fevers, but he knows he can't begrudge them to God. It's old fashioned, though as an old man in his sixties he's allowed to be, but he still finds comfort from the ring made up of their hair. He hopes Cecily feels the same, as she wears the matching brooch, but Cecily isn't one to talk about her feelings - she's a lady.

He's got the hardest thing in the world to do now. He has to tell her: his Lady, his beloved, the angel of the home, his beloved Madonna, that all their sons have now been taken from them. Taken in the service of King and Country. He tries to be proud, but it's been harder and harder each time.

His fingers caress the black ribbon across the corner of each photograph on his desk. Will - the eldest, the published writer, and his pride and joy, whose fingers, far cleverer than his own had ever been, are now stilled forever in the Flanders mud. Arthur - whose love of Kipling had taken him to his own deeds of daring do on the North-West frontier, even before the War to end all Wars. The strangely martial son he'd never understood - fallen so close to the topless towers of Illium that the schoolboy in him can't help but recite the verses from Homer over the pyre of his warrior boy and his colonial phalanxes. Richard - whose marriage into such a good family gave Cecily so much pleasure, though no grandchildren to grace the nursery - gassed and sent home to die, drowning on dry land, and the sight of whom had sent the last of his own hair white. Gentle David - slaughtered on the Somme.

And now Alfred, the baby of the family - swept away in the conflagration that's taken so many of their friend's sons, and now all of theirs. Cecily's sweet Affie - the only one she unbent her stays enough to play with, before sending him away to school like the rest. The popular boy always in demand for weekend parties at his friend's country houses. The darling young man all the debutantes wanted to catch, and with the face and sparkling blue eyes that made his mother and everyone who met him love him. The young man that made his mother proud, and who did effortlessly everything his father never did very well. The banter over a game of billiards, small talk over the port and cigars, and the charming of the ladies in the drawing rooms of all the parties he'd never deny Cecily, but never enjoyed. All so easy for his youngest, but all taken so lightly and with such a glint in his eyes and irresistibly wicked wit that William's never resented his son's bond with his mother. How could he? He still misses his own, dead so soon after his wedding.

Cecily had been a paragon among women when he lost his mother to that ghastly sickness that consumed her, supporting him in his grief, while arranging everything to minimise his pain, clearing everything away that could set off his tears. She'd been a tower of strength each time the girls sickened and died. His mourning angel armoured in black silk bombazine and a backbone of steel, despite her own tears. He's indulged her passion for spiritualism and strange people with odd smells in the parlour because of it, though his own strongly held beliefs restrict him to talking to the vicar.

He hates to admit it, but Cecily's arms work better at giving him comfort than the words of God. She's the moon and the stars to him, and he blesses the evening she amazed him and said 'yes'. When she told him she wanted a quick engagement and wanted nothing better than to be his wife as soon as possible he knew he'd have to pay for tasting heaven on earth. Now he has - the fruits of that heaven all gone to God.

And he has to tell her. Then he has to be the man of the house and do his duty to the servants, tell them that Young Master Alfred has died in the service of the King Emperor. And he will. William's always done his duty. And it's so hard. He wipes away the tears, digs his nails into his hand until he has the control to do that duty, and eyes the whiskey decanter he's going to take refuge in when everyone's taken care of. Control won, he swallows hard and walks out to Cecily's parlour.

She must have heard the knock on the door earlier, and her eyes are enormous. They're also quick, darting down to the telegram still gripped in his hand. One look at his face and she knows that her baby's not missing or wounded, or best of all a prisoner of war. He's gone, and the only thing holding Cecily up is the whalebone of her corset, then as he reaches her, his arms. The telegram drops to the floor as he holds her and allows her to cry herself into coherence on his shoulder, while his own tears soak into the silver silk of her hair.

Once she's cried herself out he settles her on the sofa, and uses the bell for a stiff brandy for both of them. It helps a little. The spark of warmth allows him the strength to say, "Thank you," to Daisy for doing her job, and it allows Cecily to gather her strength. He loves it when she allows him to comfort her, to be her strong knight, but he loves her strength too, and he blesses it now, when he needs it so very badly. He'd rail at God if he didn't have her, but he does, and he's never needed her more than now, and, as ever, she's not let him down. She's strong enough to insist he goes to the Servants Hall and that she won't need her maid sent. She'll wait until he comes back, and she kisses him with the salt still damp on her cheeks.

Once he's gone she shouts, "Anyanka!"

And she appears with her customary aplomb. "Hallie!"

With the pain rasping in her voice Halfrek asks, "Why do you keep doing this to me?"

"'Why go for the death when you can go for the pain?' You know that's what D'Hoffryn always says. And you've provided such great entertainment for the Lower Beings. All those lovely deaths, marrying him. You're very popular with them, and with the war and invention of film that's quite an achievement. You should be very proud." Anyanka smiles at her friend-former colleague.

"So why do they keep refusing to give me back my powers. By Mighty Gathros, I've tried hard enough to ask, to show myself worthy, and failing that to replace my power centre." Halfrek's wrinkled hands claw at her throat never finding the right necklace amidst the chokers and cameos that ornament it.

"That's it. You lost it. Necklace crushed under the wheels of a train, you know D'Hoffryn would never forgive such carelessness. Putting your power centre on a child annoyed at its widowed mother spending more time mooning after William, of all people, rather than with her, and then letting her get knocked under a moving train at Paddington Station. Really, Hallie, you know that's far too embarrassing for D'Hoffryn ever to let you come back from." Anyanka says, a tad bored at having to repeat this each time Halfrek loses a child. Anyanka's sure she should have got the message by now. She knows she would, if she was stupid enough to be in the other woman's shoes.

"But was it really necessary to curse all my children to die?"

"I was just doing my job, when you married the object of the annoyingly flattened offspring's widowed mother's affections, you know that. She'd been scorned, she was owed a wish, and the one she came up with fitted the bill for D'Hoffryn. It was that or the assassins. Hey, at least you got to live this way! She just wished you to know the pain of losing all your children: your everything, the way she did. She was very vehement on that point. So I did the curse. If he'd noticed her, I couldn't have done it." Anyanka's eyes fix on the portrait of William and Cecily on the wall. "Why you did marry him? I've never really known, even if I did help you by immolating the real Cecily you were impersonating. And let me tell you, I got in trouble for helping you that much. I couldn't teleport for anything other than work for a month!" Anyanka won't be making that mistake again: not even for Halfrek.

"I couldn't stay as Cecily in her house for long, they'd have noticed the difference. Besides, William was rich, his mother wasn't long for the world - especially when I helped her out of it - and well, he had potential. But mostly I needed out of that house, he was convenient."

"Not for long. He's all you have now, isn't he?" Anyanka enquires for form's sake, though she knows the answer.

"Yes..."

"Lloyd's running a tontine on when you lose him too. I've got June 1923. It's one of the later dates, so I doubt I'll win, but hey, a girl can't win 'em all! You haven't. Sorry, I can't stay, have to be in Brazil. Have a good funeral! Bye, Hallie."

At which Anyanka disappears leaving Halfrek to go back to her facade as Cecily, in the full knowledge she hasn't seen the last of her losses. So she pulls the bell for another brandy. William will be back soon and he's not much, but he's all she has left, and she might as well get the most out of him, if he's next.

Ashes

It's the wrong blonde hair he's buried his face in. It's the wrong thin, powerful body he's buried to the hilt in. It's the wrong nails tearing into his back. Everything's wrong. It's not supposed to be this way. He's supposed to be inside Buffy; that's where he belongs. It's where he left his heart, but she's blown it to ashes as surely as she did his home. He loved her and she's destroyed him with a smile on her face. It just hurts so bloody much. He's an ever-bleeding wound from Buffy and he just wants it to stop.

So does she. Spike sees the same agony in Anya's face, the same weeping wounds. The same why didn't they want me? What was wrong with me? He needs an answer to most painful word in the language, next to 'love' - why? He wants to cry, to rend, to tear, to wail, to shred, to weep, to kill. He wants to end it all, shake some sense into the bitch, throw himself at her feet begging, to destroy this feeling. He wants to make a run for it before everything that was him is consumed by the ice-furnace that is Buffy Summers and his own desperate need for her - but most of all, Spike just wants it to stop.

Fucking Anya's helping. The whiskey's helping. The agony's still there. He can feel it's still there for Anya too, but as they're driving each other closer to orgasm the pains twisting into pleasure and he can actually stop thinking. Spike wants nothing more than that, so he concentrates on doing what he's good at, what he's been trained at, the only thing he's ever had any value to others for, and he makes his partner come, and follows along in his own escape.

It works.

It works for Anya too. He can see it in the softened lines of her sharp, tear-stained face as she manages a small smile. In her own inimitable style, she tells him, "That helped." But as he rolls off her, and she takes a look at the debris he swept off the table, her face falls. "The orgasm did help, and the alcohol, but, it's all coming back now. The pain in my chest, the rejection, the ruin of the wedding, and the why didn't he want me, and why am I doing this with you when I should be in a very expensive hotel on honeymoon with the man that tore out my still beating heart? It stopped hurting for a minute, and it's started up again. Why? It doesn't make sense, Spike?"

"Dunno, pet. Maybe we're sobering up? Always a bad idea, I reckon."

She looks at him, in a more commanding way that should be possible for a woman currently hunting for her shirt, "You're right." And, more forcefully, "We clearly need more alcohol, and possibly also more sex. It worked before, so it will work again. We need more liquor." But the confidence and self-assurance in her voice is a rice-paper thin veneer that's already cracking. "But Giles only left one bottle, and I don't want to do any more damage to my shop. It's all I have left."

He can't help caressing her cheek free of the tear. And he can face anything but going back to the ruins of his crypt, and the ashes of his life right now, so he tries hard to smile at her. "Sounds a workable plan, pet. Liquor store block down from the back door, should still be open. How 'bout we get us some bottles, get somewhere else, get pissed, take it from there and see if it works."

She tries bravely to smile back at him. "I like this plan. And no more damage to my shop."

He kisses her as she picks up her purse. "No more damage."

They go out of the back door of the Magic Box. Entering the liquor store, Spike hears what sounds like metal hitting wood, but he's got Anya's fingers gripping his arm like a lifeline while she pays for the booze, and that feels good, feels needed, stops him thinking, stops the pain for a moment, so he ignores it. The hurt's to his heart and all he wants to do is to stop it. Slayer can sort out any naughty demons trashing Sunnydale. She's made it abundantly clear she doesn't want help from the likes of him. Doesn't stop the pain in his heart for knowing it, but the promise of more alcohol to cleanse the wounds, and more of those seconds of oblivion inside Anya helps. Doesn't help a lot, but it does help.

They're half way to Anya's, when she starts crying about not wanting to be anywhere that she thought Xander loved her. That she wants to be away, somewhere that's not Sunnydale, anywhere that doesn't have Xander not wanting her. Spike knows the feeling exactly, and right now, it seems as bloody brilliant an idea as getting pissed and burying himself in Anya to forget the smoke and rubble that were his hopes and dreams. So he kisses her tears away, puts the bottles in her arms, and picks her up and carries her to the motorbike.

They blast past the Leaving Sunnydale sign, and don't stop until the road signs for Sunnydale are long behind them and the bike needs gas. The Gas, Food, Lodging turn-off offers little but a gas station, a waffle house, Mickey D's, and a Motel 6. But with the alcohol they've already had almost all consumed on the way, it has to do. Anya books them in with her acceptable human ID and credit card, while Spike gets to feel as pathetic, broke, and not a man as ever. But, as ever, he buries it and dives headlong into a bottle of Jack on the bed with Anya.

Buried balls-deep in Anya with half of Kentucky's finest down his throat, he's almost happy.

So's she. She shows it when they run out of bottles and face the appalling idea of leaving the bed and having to think again. They've just finished a round and he's still in her when he raises the need to leave to get more booze.

Her face falls. "It's me again, isn't it? You want to leave me, like everyone's always left me. You want to be with her." He can't hide that he does, but he soothes her into orgasm anyway. She comes back from it and decides their main problem is the need to be further away from Sunnydale in particular, California generally, and the US of A to cover all the bases.

Next thing he knows, he's in a totally different hotel room somewhere a lot hotter with the tang of the sea in the air, and he's still buried in Anya. She grins at him and says, "Teleportation. It's very useful, and you were inside me. We were linked, so you came along for the ride." He's seen and experienced pretty much everything over the years, but this one, this is a real turn up for the books.

Turns out they're in a resort outside Cancun owned by some Telnap demons who owe her a favour for eviscerating an unfaithful son-in-law. Room service is excellent. Over the coming hours, days, he's not sure, he and Anya bury themselves into Jack, Jose, Ron, and each other. Every time they stop the pain comes back. Both of their lives are devastated shells, the rejection and exclusion still burn like acid, so they don't stop. They drink, fuck, and sleep. Rinse and Repeat as needed, and they need so bloody badly its agony.

He's still trying to neutralise the pain in one-half-rum one-half-Anya when the room changes again. Gone is the earth tones and jewel embroidery of bottle-strewn Mexico; it's pitch black, and the demon part of him feels so much stronger it's a frightening joy. He shifts into vamp-face to see better, and slips out of Anya as she looks freaked and gets off him. She clutches the pendant that's all she's got on, and which she hasn't taken off anywhere they've done it. She's shaking her head, denying having anything to do with their sudden change of locale, when a woman just appears and looks at them.

"Anyanka! Sweetie! So much better than the last one."

"Hallie?" Anya sounds scared, which is just wrong to Spike's ears.

"What the bloody hell's going on? We were a bit busy. Not looking for a bit of interruption, if you know what I mean." Spike can't help his voice rising as Anya's look gets ever more panicked.

"It's not there. Why can't I feel it? Where is it, Hallie?"

"What's not there, Anya? And why you clutching that bloody amulet?"

In a small voice, Anya answers. "The Earth. I can't feel it. I can't teleport to it. It's gone."

Now Spike's getting panicked himself. "Can't be gone. Was just there. Must have hit the necklace a bit hard there, pet, sorry. Can't be anything else."

Hallie laughs. "Of course it's gone, silly. You know what that was. You've felt it before. It was the automatic recall for all vengeance demons in a world about to be destroyed, bringing us all back to Arashmahar."

His mind and voice seem to have divorced; it's the only thing he can think of to account for the calm of his voice saying, "Buffy, the Bit, Dru?" while inside he's dissolving. He can hear Anya crying out for Xander, but it's like hearing through cotton wool, nothing's real, it can't be happening.

But it is, the woman's all smiles about how proud D'Hoffryn is of Miss Rosenberg. The pleasure of the Lower Beings at the destruction of the Earth dimension before the First could start its move against them. Spike's hearing the words on how Willow killed Buffy and Xander before draining Giles of his borrowed magic, burning the world to a cinder for Tara's funeral pyre, but he can't take it in. It's too much, and none of it makes sense. Not to the girl, the people Spike knows, knew, loves, lost.

There's a scream inside him building up strong enough to destroy the walls of reality itself, let alone his sanity. But it's still choking him, as Hallie kisses Anya on the forehead before her parting words of praise, for her not being there to stop, "That unfriendly but obviously very powerful red-head from the wedding." There's a frankly jealous look at him before she continues, "D'Hoffryn is so much happier you're with a vampire now, so much more fitting for a Vengeance Demon of your standing, Anyanka. He's sending you both to the World without Shrimp. Next time - burlap and blood larvae."

Bang a Gong

Spike smears the glitter across Dawn's cheek as she applies his eyeliner, tongue sticking out in concentration. She grins up at him. "I bet this takes you right back, huh."

"Someone won't get her belated eighteenth birthday prezzie if she's not careful. No T-Rex tribute band for you, missy. Told you about Dru and the feather boa in confidence like."

No Slayer of Slayers should ever have to shake a glitter-covered finger at, well, anyone - let alone a delectable little piece like this one unless he was planning on having her for dessert. But then no Slayer of Slayers ever promised a Slayer to take care of said delectable piece of Nibblet until the end of the world. Spike hadn't thought at the time he'd survive the night, let alone what would happen when she got older, so he continues to try to resolutely ignore thinking about it, about her being all grown up, or as near as dammit. It's a policy that's kept him going for years. It's hard, and it's frequently not the only thing that has been, but it's what's kept him his girl. Kept him in this house and not a dustbuster, so he concentrates on marking her third eye with glitter and not on how very soft her skin feels.

"I bet you looked good, all glam-rock boy though." She sprinkles golden glitter in the curls she's insisted he leave un-gelled for the evening, and distributes it, fingers dancing through his hair.

Its feels far, far too good, and he's being good, for Her, and for his bit, doing what he has to for Dawn - be what he promised. So he tries to distract her and himself with disclaimers. "Was all Dru's idea. She liked all the elves and pixies bits. Made her feel right at home. Well until the whole visions bit about leaping lamp-posts anyway. Moved on at that point. Could get some juicy meals with good guitar at Bowie concerts. 'sides, a bloke had to listen to something before punk came along."

He loves her laugh. It took them both a long time to laugh again when they got here, back to Bath, back to throwing himself - and his charge - on the mercy of the Watcher again.

Giles tolerates his presence, gave him the basement bedroom because he got Dawn out of Sunnyhell when the demon bikers tore it up, and because she wouldn't let him leave when he got her safe back to the Watcher and the Mother Country. Took him in with the bit; despite it being bleeding obvious that being a father to Dawn is just about the last thing Giles wants, and that having him there as well as an un-living reminder of all that Giles has lost is an equally unwanted pain. As constant a pain, in fact, as the duty the man throws himself into in an attempt to deal, and equally un-shirked.

Spike and Dawn see Giles when he's not throwing himself into Council business in London, or with the witchy birds down in Devon. Giles never leaves Dawn solely in Spike's charge for long, but more often than not, he's the one to pick her up from school on dark winter afternoons, and drag her home from the pub and her mates in the long summer nights. She loves the English drinking laws, and their flexible implementation, and has settled down fairly well. She screams in nightmares less and less, and never after a few ciders with her little friends, so Spike lets her, and often joins them with his own pint of bitter before bringing her home. The fact that those little friends act like flies around a honey-pot when he's there, and that Dawn gets major cool points for his presence, all leather, smoke and attitude, is a bonus for both of them.

Though Spike is convinced that Giles used Council connections to get her into the only Catholic school in the area purely to wind him up with all the crucifixes at parent teacher night. Spike would laugh at the perfection of the payback for his crashing into the Summers' lives if the memories didn't hurt so bloody much. The only thing that really makes the pain bearable is being there for his little girl, being needed, wanted, loved, being everything to his bit.

He's tolerated for an occasional drink. There's moments when there might be more, like when he told Giles about going back for the others, once he'd got Dawn stashed all safe like, told him about the sight of Buffy's little friends, torn apart. He's one man to another over a bottle of scotch. Just as he'd been when the two of them had gone back to Buffy's grave after the original ceremony, to pour concrete over the coffin, make her all safe like from desecration, while avoid hurting the others with that possibility. He's grateful he managed to slip that rose into the concrete while Giles wasn't watching though. The thought that it's still there with his lost love, that she at least was safe from the desecration of her town, slaughter of her mates, and from seeing the bloodbath he made of the killers, helps a little, but it's still like laying rose petals across a gut wound.

So Spike does what he always does. He throws himself into the now, into the music, the booze, the smoke, and the one he loves. He takes his bit to the club and it's going back to the glory days of the seventies. It's not his favourite bit of the seventies, but the memories of blood and glitter are still sweet, and it's so good to have his girl in his arms to dance with - even if it's another one he can't have. But he can teach her the right moves for the music - that's all acceptable like. All approved, above board, kosher, cushtie, meeting the 'what would Buffy do' that he uses in place of the much vaunted soul crap.

He's doing well until the line about the 'universe reclining in your hair'. It does, and he can't help stroking it. There's fine red glitter and silk slipping through his fingers, and it's blood, and the tower, and its her and the ages old child/woman in his arms sighing with pleasure from him stroking her hair. There's a chance he could pass it off as another example of the need to touch each other that they've had since the slaughter in Sunnydale, and he tries. He really does.

But it's the wrong song, it's 'Bang a Gong', and he is a vampire for her love. When he tries for playful, to shift the mood, save them both with a mock bite - well nibble, no fangs - to her neck she melts. And he can't help getting it on. She can't help it either. She doesn't look back; she pulls his head up to her mouth and the world stops.

Her kiss, it's everything he's ever wanted. It's love, its being wanted, being needed, being loved absolutely and by one person he wants to be loved by. Her acceptance is her tongue in his mouth, and not recoiling from him like he's toxic waste. Her fingers caressing his hair make the gold mingle with the red glitter in cloud of blood red light in the club lights, and it could look beyond tacky, but it doesn't, it's shining, its perfect. As is the taste of her, her body in his arms, where she so clearly feels she belongs, and isn't going anywhere that doesn't involve closer contact with his skin.

He's kept her on the edge of the crowd, kept her safe from being battered by the dancers. But now he can't keep her safe from him anymore, and from the way she's moving her hands down his back, holding on to him like she's never going to let him go, letting him keep her safe from him is the absolute last thing she does want. They've gone backwards towards a dark alcove in the wall. It's not a bed of roses. He knows he'll have to get her out of here, that it's not right, that her first time deserves something better than this, but the lipstick's smeared across her face and he can taste it. He can taste all of her, and it's too much, yet nothing's never ever going to be enough. It's driving him wild. His hands and legs enclose her so tightly it's got to hurt her delicate skin, but they're dancing on the right side of the cracks of pain/pleasure doom, so his chip's not firing. But even if it did, right now, he doesn't know if it could stop him. He's got her tight little arse in his hands, her moans are music to his ears, and it's all going straight to his cock.

He knows that Rupert will know from looking at them what's happened. He knows it'll be the stake for him. He knows that if there's no other reason in the world that he's going to hell, and there are thousands upon delicious thousands of them, this will. He's going to burn in hell for this, but he can't help it - it's a bloody incredible way to burn.

God only knows he knows that he shouldn't want his little bit like this. But he does. He's wanted her for so bloody long. Tried to deny it to himself and her. Tried to ignore it when he couldn't. Tried to make himself think of her as the little girl in his crypt that loved a monster's stories, loved him. Used her succulent little friends to take the edge off and keep her up on that pedestal. Keep her his bit on that sodding Tower, his responsibility; the beloved failure he can never make it up to. It'd been ok to use the tempting little tarts that hang around Dawn to drool after him; he's home, back in the land of sweet sixteen being legal, socially approved an all. He looked it up and everything. Buffy would be proud of him, looking up what he's supposed to do, trying to do what's best for the bit.

But she'd never approve of this. And he can't help that that's no longer enough.

Dawn's hand's cupping him through his jeans and that'd stop most men's thought process, and there's nothing right now in the world that he wants and needs more than to have her right now. And there's nothing in him to stop it. His brain's shutting up shop. His cock and his demon are in charge; it's 'take, want, have' and it feels so fucking good! Dust to dust if it has to be. At least he'll go out loved and wanted.

Second left from Valhalla

He's spent over a hundred and twenty years avoiding going into the light. Danced with it - sure. Drawn by its fire - utterly. Warmed himself on the wildfire of love - big time. But now there's nothing but light and fire. He's often expected to go out in fire. He never expected the light.

He's always thought the whole 'going into the light' thing was a cliché; certainly not something for vampires, even ones that chose to get their souls back. After all he's done, he was expecting something a little blacker, with a distinct whiff of brimstone. But it's not, it's glowing, gleaming - it's purest gold. He knows now he was wrong about where he's going, and he laughs. He can feel the light in every fibre of his being. He can feel the light surround him and call him.

It's ending, and he knows it. He's going down the way all of him always wanted. William's become something truly effulgent - and it's still a perfectly perfect word. The One's said she loved him, even if he doesn't need that anymore. The Slayer of Slayers has beaten the crap out of the biggest baddest there is. He's won. He's gone down fighting, winning, and he's given the one he loves a chance to really live. So he goes into the light with a smile.

And finds he's not alone.

Anya grabs his left hand for dear life. Amanda holds his right for a moment, until she sees an old couple beckoning to her, and her face lights up as she shouts, "Grandma! Grandpa!" and runs into their welcoming arms. The other children are soon scooped up in loving arms, leaving them alone.

He says, "Guess we're both a bit past our expected check-in dates, huh?"

Anya only has time to give him a rueful grin before a familiar girl with purple streaks in her blonde hair emerges from the white light. She smiles up at him and says, "Thanks. You know, the whole helping try to save me thing, and the fighting the First, sealing the Hellmouth deal. Sorry, you both get me, but, hey, no one expected you guys, not demon/former demon guys. They're still doing the decide-y thing on what to do with you both. While they do, wanna get a drink?"

Spike could kill for a nice cold beer, though the English real beer snob in him would never admit it, but figures killing for an ice cold in Heaven - or wherever this white light place is - would be a bad start. So he follows as a door opens, Cassie beckons them to enter, and he and Anya pass through it.

Straight into his mother's parlour.

It's a good job Anya's still gripping his hand for dear death or he'd think it was all a hallucination as his brain boiled. It's not. His mother's right there, sitting on the couch with Joyce, and they're both smiling at him.

Mother stands easily, clearly free of the consumption that was draining her far more cruelly than he ever did any of his victims, and embraces him. For the first time he can remember, he feels absolutely and totally loved. He lets himself relax, and he feels boneless in his relief. An entire solar system could be born and die before he comes back from this, and it would still feel too short. But the fact that she's here, and it's real, makes it more than enough. But he still remembers his duties. The manners she and Nanny Mary instilled in him come back like he'd never tried to turn his back on them. "Mother, Anya - Anya, my mother. Anya's a friend."

"I saw, dear," the well-bred drawl makes the blush reach the tips of his ears, but his mother ruffles his hair free of gel and continues to Anya, "Call me Anne. I know that customs have become somewhat informal nowadays. Joyce here's been telling me over the last couple of years. Welcome to my home."

Anya says, "Thank you. You have a beautiful home with many valuable antiques."

Joyce stands up and joins them. Looks at Anne and says, "We've had many happy hours looking at the paintings. You never told me you had so many lovely things, Spike."

Spike hangs his head. "Couldn't face thinking about it, Joyce." He lets go of Anne and says, "Sorry for burning the house, you know, after... Just couldn't face seeing it again, not after..."

She hugs him and says, "It's all right, darling. I forgive you, all of it. I did years ago." He cries in her warm arms as the sense of absolution suffuses him.

Anya suddenly hugs Joyce and says, "I missed you. It all went badly when you died, and it was never right again. I tried to help, I did. And there was that time Buffy tried to kill me, and shouted at me in front of everyone, but I did try to be her friend, mostly, but we all needed you, and you were dead, like I am now, I suppose. It's not so bad so far; I'm agreeably surprised. But I'd still rather be alive, even though it was all so hard."

Joyce rubs her back soothingly as she has her own girls so often. "I know, dear. We've been watching. Passions is a poor substitute for keeping an eye on my girls, on all my children. I saw you all. Everything - the tears, the flowers, the funeral, having Buffy back for a while even if she doesn't remember too well, and what came later. So many times I wanted to hug or hit you all."

He looks up. "You saw? All of it?" He dips his head in shame.

Anya stands back as Joyce turns to Spike. "This time last year I'd have found an axe from somewhere. Now, I'm proud of you, Spike. I really am. I did see everything, you know. The whole trying to help, to be there for Buffy without asking for anything, choosing to get your soul back. And isn't that supposed to be impossible?"

Anne grins something eerily close to Spike's own, "Not for my boy!"

Joyce continues, "And we do see and know everything up here. I know you'd never hurt her again. I saw you heal the wound that Angel left in her. I never liked Angel, you know? I saw you set her free. I'd forgive you for that alone. But I don't have to. I forgive you for you. Come here."

So he does, and she gives him a hug, rubbing soothing circles on his back too. After what seems an age, he stands back and sniffs, before smiling his thanks.

Joyce smiles. "Besides, you gave me my new best friend up here. Way more fun than book clubbing with Pat."

Anne smiles back at her. "You're much more entertaining than my older friends. Besides, we're almost family. If there'd been longer, we might have been."

"We are." Joyce takes her hand and points to some comfortably overstuffed chairs.

"Tea?" Anne asks, and they all sit.

Spike sups, and joy and guilt war in his face. "Tea like Bessie used to make. I'm sorry Dru and me ate her. Sorry about all of them."

Anne takes his hand and looks at him. "She knows. We all know. And you are forgiven. Know that." She swallows hard and continues, "You have to know that. You aren't going to be here very long. And I don't know to be happy or sad about that, darling. I don't want to be selfish, and I've missed you very much, but it seems you have a destiny - something about a prophecy."

"Bloody prophecies. Never liked them! Sorry, Mother; about the language, I mean. Been a long time."

"I know, dear. No biggie. Is that the right modern term, Joyce?"

Joyce grins. "Big yes."

Anya looks worried. "So, if Spike's going back, what about me? Where's Hallie? My parents? Not that I remember my mother very well since she died when I was a very small child."

Joyce passes her a scone with jam and clotted cream. "Try this, dear, no calories here for us. But, sorry, Hallie's somewhere 'warmer'. You father, I'm told, is in Valhalla - something about going down fighting while off on a 'viking', or something like that - sorry, not my period of expertise. Since you never knew your mother very well, you get me to talk to, not that I didn't also want to see Spike again before he goes. And eat up, Spike, you're too thin!" Spike dives into the scones and cakes before Joyce turns back to Anya.

"You're a problem for them. Your body count would normally send you off to be with Hallie, but you've helped save the world more than once. But you died sword in hand, fighting the bad guys. Valhalla is an option. If that appeals, we're second left from Valhalla when you go out of the door."

"Sound good, Anya? Lots of beer, fighting and song," Spike asks.

"Sounds more of a you thing," she replies.

"Those, yeah. The armour thing, nah. Not exactly a knight in shining armour, luv. The Black Knight from Python, maybe."

Anya glares. "No mentioning of That Movie. I'm still emotionally scarred!"

"I thought, before you got here, that you looked like one of those Grail knight paintings you used to like so much, darling," Anne says, putting down a delicate sandwich.

Spike blushes and covers it by turning to back to Anya. "March of the Valkyries then, pet? Nice steel breastplates, horned helmets, and booming music?"

Anya smiles. "Xander would have liked that. We should have tried it. I'm not sure it's the right choice though"

Joyce grins. "Only if she wants it. She's going to get the choice. As the other options come up we'll know, and I'll tell her. Anya can choose where she wants to go. In the meantime, she's welcome to stay here with us. We'll take care of her."

Second Sight

The sight of his lost love sitting on Angel's desk rips at Spike. All those years of loving her against the sure knowledge that, as he is now, he can never be with her ever again. It hurts worse than the acid mist that has burnt out his and Angel's sense of smell for, according to Fred, the next three hours twenty-five minutes. But at least all they've suffered is a temporary loss of one sense, his black darling has lost hers for a hundred and forty years, and that old need to take care of her, to love her, to coddle her and just dance through life together just won't go away. Spike doesn't think he could face it if it ever did, even as that bloody soul nags that they are over, which he'd known even before the soul, when he'd fallen for Buffy and the forces of good - in that order. It doesn't help, he can feel every conflicting emotion, every exposed nerve play out across his face, as surely as if his skin had melted away with the acid.

Dru's face falls, and she sniffles. "My sweet, aren't you pleased to see me?"

"How did you get in, Dru?" Angel asks. Only decades of practice in deciphering Angel-face, and some recent post-training talking sessions over some of Wolfram and Hart's finest whiskeys, make it possible for Spike to read the overwhelming guilt in the other vampire's face at the sight of his embodiment of his worst sins.

"I told the nice man at the desk I was his master's daughter. He got a pretty lady to bring me here. I was good, daddy, I was. I saved some for you. I know you're hungry."

Angel moves round the other side of the desk. Sure enough, there's an unconscious girl with blood staining her white Agnes B shirt. He presses the button to call the medical division as Spike moves towards Dru.

His fingers reach out to stroke her hair, a century of love and nurture in the gesture. The need not to have to do the unthinkable out-screaming the soul, he hears himself say, "We don't hurt the humans here, pet. They help us, see?"

He can see her fractured mind try to understand, and feels the old heartbreaking joy as she smiles at him and nods. "I'll be good."

He also gets the accompanying fury boil up inside as she beams at Angel. "I'm always good for daddy. If I'm good he'll hurt me again. And I've been very good; the moon told me. You will hurt me, won't you, daddy?"

Angel's grimace at the sweet voice makes Spike really want a tire-iron back in his fist. "Why did you come back, Dru. You know what I have to do," Angel says sadly.

"There'll be a party, with such pretty screams, the bells all ringing, and the bad sun. I brought presents for everyone. Presents for Grandmummy, caught between the clocks. Presents for my little Spike, burnt in Hell by that nasty Slayer." she murmurs, running a sharp nail along his cheek. "I couldn't help you then, the stars wouldn't let me. I can now, my darling. It's all right. It'll be perfect. You'll be safe. Mummy's made it all better." She licks the blood off and Spike can't help shivering. "And you, my Angel."

"What have you done, Dru?" Angel orders.

"Drusilla -" Spike croons.

"I saved you. I saved both my beautiful boys from the bad Slayer. She was coming back to hurt you. The pixies told me." Dru smiles with the shattered innocence that tears at both vampires in such different ways. She opens up a bag beside her, takes out a severed blonde head, and holds it out to Angel, "She thought I was you, daddy. It was so easy. But you're safe now. We're all safe from the nasty Slayer."

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