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05/18/17 04:16 am
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Author's Note : Hi. I'm new to this site, so bear with me. I wrote this story quite a while ago, obviously. Post-Chosen, but pre-Conviction. So some things aren't very canon, specifically Spike. Please forgive me, and thanks for clicking!


Buffy sat down on the bench, third seat from the back of the yellow school bus, and stretched out. Finally, all was quiet, and she was alone. She could not remember when things had last been quiet like this for her, except when she was dead. She took a moment to enjoy the salty smell of the ocean through the school bus windows. It was a beautiful day-- and how long had it been since she'd had time to admire the weather? This moment was wonderful. Calm. Lovely.

And absolutely, perfectly silent.

Most of the mob that had crowded her home and life for the past few months was gone. This dusty school bus had carried her and the survivors miraculously out of Sunnydale and unloaded in San Diego, where the others went their separate ways. The potentials had all gone home, at last, except for Kennedy, who for better or for worse had remained with Willow. Faith and Wood had headed off together to Cleveland, to fight the new hellmouth they said, but everyone knew better. Giles, tired and worn, had caught a flight back to England. This left only Dawn, Willow and Kennedy, Xander, Andrew, and Buffy, their old hometown a giant sinkhole, with a dusty yellow schoolbus their only home.

At that blessed moment, the rest of the Scoobies were at the zoo. They had gone to see a baby tiger that was newly born, about which Buffy could care less. But she did love that little tiger now, because it had afforded her this wonderful, magical, empty moment. No one to ask her about money or their future. No one to bicker about whom was going to drive or what they were going to eat, and no one to check in every five minutes to see if she was alright.

Which she was. Alright. Yes, many of them had died, and she grieved for them. But how could she truly mourn when they were so lucky that most of them had survived? And she could hardly grieve for Spike. He had become her friend, a little, but he was hundreds of years old, and he had died well. All was well; Spike had known. She hadn't loved him. She had maybe wanted to. But in the end-- and it was the end-- she had felt for him and cared for him and longed for him, oh yes, but nothing more. There was no future with him, just as there had been no future with Angel, and in her heart she knew that. She felt peaceful; perhaps she would take a nap. She lay down on the bench, closed her eyes, and cracked a smile. She was alright.

"Are you alright?"

She sighed and opened her left eye. Xander. She opened the other eye. Of all people, Xander was asking her if she was alright. Xander was not alright. His former fiance had been sliced in half-- well, Xander didn't know that detail, as Andrew had been told not to tell him-- but he was still acting as though nothing had changed. Maybe it was his lack of perspective. Er.

"I'm fine," she grumbled. "Why do you ask?"

He shrugged. "You looked sad."

Buffy stared back at him. "I was smiling."

"Yes, well," he stammered, scratching his head. "It was a sad smile. Do you want to see a postcard of the baby tiger?"

"Xander," Buffy said. "Any time you want to talk, I'm here for you, one-hundred percent, I am support-o gal. But I'm fine. Look at me. Happy smile."

Xander scowled. "Are you speaking pointedly again?"

"Yes. I was implying that you are asking me if I am okay to compensate for the fact that you are not okay. Which you are not, by the way. You loved Anya, and now she is dead. And you lost an eye."

He stared at her and said, "Anya made a choice," as he had said to her many times, these past few days. "I'm proud of her. Anyway, we weren't together anymore. And I'm over it."

"Me too." Buffy nodded, as was her usual response. Also, "Hmmf."

Xander sat down on the other side of the bus, pulled out his postcard of the baby tiger, which Buffy admitted was fairly cute, and began to write on it.

Buffy sat up and looked over his shoulder. "Who are you writing to?"

"Your subconscious," Xander said. "I'm telling it that if it keeps suppressing your pain, it's going to crack... you."

A car drove by, going fast, shaking the bus. Buffy didn't know whether to laugh or scream. Xander looked back at his postcard and continued writing. He was writing a lot. Buffy hoped he wasn't actually writing to her subconscious.

"Isn't this a little out of character?" Buffy said, shoving him gently. "Aren't you the one who's supposed to be waving the Buffy's-demon-lover-is-dead banner, screaming 'Hurray'?"

"Eh," Xander said, shrugging his big comfortable shoulders. He took a deep breath. "That's gotten old. I guess I am feeling extra understanding, lately."

"And I'm sure that has nothing to do with your own loss," she said, trying to be gentle. "It must have everything to do with how much you loved Spike and admired my loveless non-relationship with him."

He caught his breath and stared at her silently.

Buffy put her hands on her hips. "What?" she snapped. "What did I say now?"

"Do you really still believe that?" Xander said. "Honestly? I mean, five years ago when you were pretending you didn't love Angel after he came back from Hell, that was absurd, but at least then you were a teenager. Now it sounds like you just aren't coping."

Buffy threw up her hands. "Is that all? Where are Kennedy and Willow and Dawn, huh? Don't they want to psychoanalyze me too?"

"No," he said. "They're looking at baby zebras."

She turned away from him, and he went back to his postcard. It must be to family, Buffy decided. Xander had warned them to leave weeks ago, and they were safe with friends in Santa Barbara. She smiled. That would be like Xander, to write a hi-how-are-ya postcard to his family just after the end of the world was narrowly avoided and all of Sunnydale was destroyed. He was probably offering to build them a new house. She turned back to him. "Xander," she said.

He looked up. "Yes?"

"Maybe I'm not okay," she said. "Maybe we're all repressing. But you know something? Everything is going to be fine, from now on. Because I love all you guys. Okay, I don't love Andrew or Kennedy... but I love you, and Willow, and Dawn, and you're all I need. And everything is going to be okay for everyone, from now on."

"Wow," Xander said, blinking. "Gosh, I should tell Dawn you don't need Chicken Soup for the Slayer's Soul anymore. She was going to get it for your birthday."

Buffy stared at him blankly.

"Joking," he explained, shrugging, then added, "badly."

"Well, I'm not," she said. "Something incredible has happened. We won. The balance of good and evil has been tipped in our favor, permanently. I may not be alright, but that's okay. Because everything else has been taken care of."

Xander nodded. "And how."

But it was true, and she really did mean it. After all, she had defeated the first Evil, and the Hellmouth was gone - the one in Sunnydale, anyway. Xander smiled back at her. He was starting to see the beauty of it. Life had never been so simple. They were all alright.

Buffy nodded, and returned to her nap.

* * *

He feels his soul burning, yellow and terrible. It floods him with light and fire, and it is clear that he is going to die. After living so long, it hardly surprises him. His vision blurs and fades, but he can still see shapes around him. His hearing is dulled, and he can hear only himself, crying her name. "Buffy!" He hopes one of the shapes around him is her, still here, still alive.

One is. Buffy grabs his hand, and he knows it is her. He catches her cool scent. She is wounded, badly, but she will survive this. She will survive him.

Her voice floats towards him, calm but sad. He responds automatically, understanding little. Three words jump out at him clearly. "I love you," she says, sad, determined. She must know he is dying, or she would never say it.

He shakes his head. Her voice is caring, apologetic, even a little grateful, but it is not loving. Perhaps she does love him, a little, or would some day, but not yet, and there is no point wondering now. Best to let her go, to be with Angel, or whoever she is meant to be with, than to wonder about him. He is dead. "No you don't," he assures her, smiling, "but thanks for saying it."

She nods and leaves. That is all. Thick-skinned, he tells himself, trying to forget that she never would have left Angel, that she had picked him to die over the old poof. It doesn't matter. His own love is eternal, and that will have to be enough. The light suffuses everything, more glorious than the sun. There is no footwear this time, no nothing. Spike bursts into flames, and dies. Again.

A familiar nothingness surrounds him. The whiteness presses in on him, and pulls back slowly as his soul forms its consciousness. Thousand of voices echo through his head, and then a gentle noise, humming. And finally, a clarity, as though he is just waking up. He nods, looking around. Here I am again, he muses silently. Heaven. His soul remembers it. It has only been a heartbeat since it was ripped from this place. "Gabriel? Peter? Hello! I'm back!"

"Hello again, William." A silhouette approaches him, a shape forming. "You're taking it much better this time. You must have died like a champion."

"Spot on!" Spike says, smiling. "Nice to see you again, Pete."

"And you, as well," Saint Peter says, emerging from the whiteness whole, his white hair and sublime features oddly familiar. "We have been worried about you, since you left. There are a lot of new temptations down there, you know."

Spike agrees, smiling pleasantly. "Always evil to fight and find redemption." This is much different than the last time. Spike feels no fear. He remembers everything, and he knows how much time has past since he died. About eight hours. And something else, too. A deep sense of loss. Oh, he felt cheated the last time, when Drusilla sunk her teeth into his neck and tore his soul from his body. But this time he feels more than that. Unfinished.

Another shape emerges, this one larger, brighter. "So our prodigal son has come back whole?" says a deep, lovely voice. "You didn't last very long down there, did you, William?"

"I go by Spike now," he tells the archangel. "That's what the Scoobs called me, anyway. Might as well keep it. And how are you then, Gabriel? Was it a good year for you too?"

"Each year is as another for us," Gabriel says. He seems even more familiar than the saint, yet somehow, less reassuring. And again, that feeling of being unfinished. Gabriel stands straighter and grander, if that is even possible, and says, "I bring important news. The Almighty requests a personal audience with you, William. That is... Spike."

"Oh yes? Little old me?" Spike's eyes widen. "Did the Old Wanker seem chummy, or smiting?"

Gabriel's brows furrow, and he exchanges a glance with Peter. "Well," he says. "It sounds like someone has spent too much time in his demon body and gotten a little punchy. Even champions have to show respect, Spike. At least to the Powers That Be."

"Sorry, mate. It slipped." Spike shrugs. "Besides, it strikes me the fellow has a good sense of humor. He invented platypuses, after all."

Peter looks at Gabriel and coughs. "I believe it's 'platypi.'"

Gabriel snaps. "Enough! William, or Spike... whoever you are. Come with me. God wants you."

Spike nods, and obliges.

* * *

"Wow," Buffy said, waking. "That was some dream."

"What did you dream about?" she heard Andrew's thin voice inquire.

Andrew was leaning over her, squinting. Buffy did have nightmares about Andrew, sometimes, his nasal voice chasing her through the dark, wailing about Boba Fett. Not this time. This was a dream of fire and heaven. It all seemed very familiar... and there had been something about Spike. She didn't want to think about that part; she certainly didn't want to talk about it with Andrew. "None of your business," she said, sitting up.

He sneered at her, hiding his hurt. She realized suddenly that everyone was watching. Xander was glaring; she should be nicer to Andrew, she realized. He had been evil for a time, but he had proved himself in the end. Buffy did basically forgive him, as she had forgiven the long list of people in her life who had done her wrong and then repented. She just wished he was as readily likeable as Willow, Angel, and Spike had been.

"I was thinking I might call Angel," Buffy said, after a moment of silence. "I mean, I'm sure he's figured out by now that the world hasn't ended, but it would be nice to let him know how things went."

"Oh, he'll just feel left out," Xander chided. "You know, he'll be like, 'Buff, you mean my amulet saved the world without me? No fair.'"

"You know, he probably will wish he had the opportunity to burn to a crisp," Buffy said. "That's our Angel."

She found herself smiling deeply at the thought of him; she felt euphoric. She considered it before the feeling passed. At the sound of voices, she looked out the window.

Dawn, Kennedy and Willow were traipsing back to the bus, looking sweaty and tired. Willow and Kennedy were involved in each other, and Buffy's little sister looked left out. She had her arms crossed and was glaring at Kennedy. Buffy knew exactly what Dawn was thinking, and secretly agreed.

She was thinking, "I miss Tara."

Kennedy and Willow were talking heatedly, under their breath. Buffy couldn't hear them, but she hoped Willow was telling Kennedy to stop being an enormous bully. Which she was. Ever since she had been raised slayer, the already bossy know-it-all had turned into a ferocious twit. She wanted to be in charge of what they were doing and where they were going at all times. In fact, it was on her insistence that they had all gone to the zoo. It was perhaps why Buffy had stayed in the bus.

Buffy threw Xander a glance, which he refused to acknowledge. Kennedy reached the door of the bus and threw it open with a crash. Xander and Buffy stared at her silently as she walked in.

"What?" she demanded.

Willow walked in, newly composed and cool. "Hmm?" she said innocently, looking at Buffy as though she had just said something. "What are we talking about?"

"Oh," Buffy said, obliging. "I was just saying I should call Angel and let him know how things went."

"Oooh!" Dawn squealed, jumping into the bus. "Call Angel. Ask him if we can come visit."

"We are not going to Los Angeles," Kennedy said suddenly, crossing her arms. "It's too far away."

"Too far away from what?" Buffy asked. "We don't even know where we are going yet."

Kennedy glared at her, and Dawn interrupted the silence quickly. "I haven't been to L.A. in so long. Can we please go Buffy? Please?"

"Angel does have that big hotel," Willow said. "And it has been a long time since we've visited."

There was one thing that Buffy was not admitting, and that was the emptiness she felt in her gut. Not because of Spike; not really. But he had filled a hole that had been in her since she had come back from the dead two years ago. Before his death, she had decided it was because he had loved her constantly and unconditionally, and as corny as it sounded, that was a little bit of how it had been in heaven. She knew he was a fool, and a poser, and terribly flawed, but somehow he made what she had lost more bearable. Now he was gone, and she would have to find another way to fill that hole.

Maybe it was Angel.

"Dawn's right," Buffy said suddenly. "It's summer. We need to stop worrying and have a little fun. I for one have done enough worrying this year to last a lifetime. Well, worrying's over. We beat the Big Bad. The Biggest, even. And now there are thousands of brand new slayers running around, ready to handle the little bads. No more arguing. No more planning. Let's just go where we wanna go, do what we wanna do. You know what? Let's just go, right now."

They all stared at her. Dawn began to grin.

"Should we... call, first?"

"Calling ahead be damned!" Buffy declared. "Xander, you're nominated. Get in the chair and start driving."

The euphoric feeling began to flood her senses again. Maybe it was Angel. Maybe she would be happy, for keeps, very soon. She hugged herself giddily.

"Living dangerously, aren't we, Buffy?" Willow suggested.

"What's dangerous?" Buffy said. "The First Evil has been defeated. There are more slayers than you can shake a stick at. It's a bright sunny day in Southern California. What could possibly go wrong?"

They shrugged, and agreed. Xander started the bus, and they were off. Inside, Buffy ached. But everything would be better, soon. And there would be nothing more to fear.

* * *

Drusilla awoke from her reverie feeling new and exciting. Her crypt felt smaller and the world seemed brighter. There was a power coursing through her lifeless veins that she had never felt before. Perhaps her worship of the dark lord Aterarmak had finally paid off.

She looked into a glowing orb lying out on her table. It was a strange trinket she had stolen from a villager in Peru; it contained the essence of an ancient God. "What say you, Aterarmak?" she asked the orb. "Have you finally given me fancy treasures?"

The light of the ball began to seethe and darken, as if in rage. It spoke. "No, you crazy git. I told you to leave me alone. I give power to kings and pharoahs, not lunatic vampires bent on ending the world. Now let me go!"

"Now, now," she scolded, pouting. She tapped the ball with her finger. "Play nice and tell me why I feel so big and strong."

The glow of the ball dulled. It quieted, said only, "I don't want to tell you."

Drusilla's eyes lit up, and she grabbed the ball in her long fingers. "You will be a good dark lord, and tell me," she threatened, slipping into her viperous game face, "or I will smash you into little glowing bits, and use your sparkling shards as stones in my garden."

The glow died in the ball, and it fell silent. Drusilla's dark eyes lit up, and she grabbed the ball, held it over her head, eager to smash it into shiny pieces. The ball relented. "Alright," the ball said. "I will tell you. Your power comes from the good guys, amazingly enough."

Drusilla's eyes narrowed. "You are a bad liar, little bauble."

"No really, it's true," the ball said quickly. "Although you are an evil thing now, your original host was pure and good. So good, in fact, that she was a potential slayer. Well, the white hats in Sunnydale just used their magicks to raise every potential slayer in the world to full Slayerhood."

"Speak English, precious."

"You're a Vampire Slayer."

Drusilla sat down. This was too much. "Do I have to be a hero?" she asked sadly. "I don't like heroes. They make me feel crawly."

"Oh, no," the ball assured. "The Slayer's power comes from the demons. Their power is as old and as dark as the first vampire. You're still perfectly evil, Drusilla... but now you're really, really strong. Oh, and you'll no longer be bothered by holy water or crosses or direct sunlight."

"And everything seems clearer," she whispered.

"Yes," the ball agreed, "you will probably find that the slayer's power has made you a smidge less... bonkers. A slayer is given the gift of strategy. Which, given your previous mental state, probably just means you'll now be able to form cohesive sentences."

Drusilla smiled slowly, then began to laugh. "Oh, I can do much more than that," she said. She walked to the door of the crypt and opened it suddenly. Sunlight poured in, and she flinched momentarily, but there was no pain, and she felt even stronger. She smiled to herself. "The world is glittering with possibilities."

"I suppose you'll be letting me go, then? I mean, you don't really need me anymore and we never got along as it was..."

Drusilla laughed. A plan was forming in her head; it was a fantastic plan, full of terror and delicious irony. She would have to start moving soon, though, to get to Cleveland in time. Casually, she picked up the ball, about the size of a honeydew melon, and crushed it in her hand. There was screaming and pulsing and then nothing. She stood up and flexed.

"Well," she said happily. "Time to patrol."

* * *

The Cadillac was not bad, Angel mused, as he sped down the highway with the windows down. He did miss his old black convertible; it had style, and it suited him. But this car that Wolfram and Hart had given him was nice. The glass was treated to keep out the sunlight without blocking his vision, allowing him to drive easily during all hours. And at night he could roll down the windows, turn up the tunes, and zip along down the coast at an easy buck-five. Well, since the speeding ticket he was keeping it closer to seventy, but on the open road this kitten could purr.

He looked at his watch and smiled. The world had not ended. It had been days since Buffy had said she was entering the Hellmouth, and the world was still here, stinky and vast and not altogether evil. He hadn't gone very far, driving slowly, if at all. Something wouldn't let him get far from her until he was sure things were... alright. He expected that she had won; perhaps it was time to stop touring the coast in his new ride, and head back to LA. Maybe there would be a cheerful message on his machine when he got home. "Hello, Angel, dearest. We won."

Angel flinched. He hadn't helped much, it turned out. If they had won at all, it had been because of her. Her and Spike, he supposed. He flinched again.

The years had changed them both. They both still loved each other, he was sure. But they had both been involved, in love, and in bed with other people since then. He wondered why his skin still crawled when he thought about someone else's hands on her. He shook his head. Not just anyone else. Spike. His underling, the wicked thing he had grandsired, had been with Buffy in ways that Angel could never be with anyone.

He shivered. Bad enough Spike had taken Dru, who was merely an obsession. Now he had to spoil his first love, his most perfect and most innocent.

Oh well. It did not matter. He was over her; he had moved on. Perhaps she had called, he thought. Maybe she left a nice message on the machine. He pushed harder on the gas pedal.

Twenty minutes later, the gas light came on, reminding Angel that this car was a luxury, not a practicality. Not that the convertible had boasted good fuel economy, but it hadn't been so fun to drive that he had ever taken it this far out of the way. He sighed and pulled into the next rest stop he saw.

The sign said full service, but there was no one there. Angel got out of the car and followed his nose. He smelled blood. The smell led him to the back of the convenience store, where one of the station's attendants lay dead, and the other sat next to him, bawling, barely alive.

Angel approached him slowly, but the man didn't seem to notice him. He was an average looking fellow, and Angel didn't know him but he was sure he hadn't deserved this. There were neck wounds, but even without seeing them Angel could tell it had been a vampire. He knew which vampire it was, too. Drusilla... he could smell her. But why had she left one of them alive?

"Angel?" the man called out.

Angel jumped, and edged closer to him. "Yes," he said, then asked carefully, "How do you know my name?"

"She knew you were coming," the man said, speaking suddenly, still sobbing. "She said she could smell your... your soul, she said... from miles away. She wanted me to tell you something."

Of course. She must have had one of her visions. "Don't speak," Angel said. He reached out to calm him. "We need to get you to a hospital."

"I'm already dead," the man said. "We all are. She is too..."

Angel realized the man was right about one thing. He was dying. Angel sighed and asked, "Where did she go?"

"Cleveland," the man said. "She said there was power.... And... argh..."

Angel nodded and watched the man die. Calling Buffy would have to wait. There was a crazy vampire to be stopped, and a new Hellmouth to be protected. Angel got in his Cadillac and started driving.

* * *

"This looks like as good a place as any," Xander said, pulling the bus off the road into a turnaround. They had passed Angel's place several minutes ago, but it was a narrow street near downtown Los Angeles, and there had been no place to park.

Cities, thought Buffy, rolling her eyes. "Why didn't you warn us it was such a bitch to park here, Will?" she asked her friend. "I would have worn more sensible shoes."

After a glance at Buffy's trademark platforms, Willow smiled. "I wasn't exactly driving a bus the last time I came here," she replied.

"Yeah, Buffy," Andrew said quickly. "You don't have to park a broomstick."

Willow turned to stare at him. "Andrew? I came in a taxi."

He winked back at her. "Like you could fit a cauldron in a taxi."

"You know, if I weren't so tempted to turn you into a toad right now, I might say you were stereotyping."

Xander stepped up beside Buffy and took a deep breath. They stopped. "I don't mean to interrupt the diversity fair," he said, "but where's Dawn?"

They looked around. It was very dark, but they counted heads and there was one missing. Buffy strained her eyes, peering into the trees by the side of the wood. Then she heard a scream, trailing away, small and needy. "Right," she said. "We have arrived at the scene where Dawn requires rescuing."

"We'll be right with you," Xander said, digging in his bag for a stake.

"No," she said, stopping him. "Go for help. Get Angel."

Xander nodded and grabbed Willow. Together they ran down the road. Andrew stood blankly watching her, then said, "I'll wait here, in case Dawn comes back."

Buffy shrugged and ran off. Smog made the night dark here, and there were no street lamps to guide her. She felt blind, and a part of her wanted to call Spike, to let the scent of blood guide them. No, he was dead; she wanted to call Angel. She ran.


That was Dawn, closer now. Buffy spun around and started off into the woods. It was darker here and uneven. She tripped and fell, and as she was getting up, and heavy foot collided with her spine and stole her breath. Her face pressed into the dirt. The vampire -- it was a vampire, Buffy was sure -- grabbed her hair and pulled her up, threw her against a tree. She glimpsed Dawn from the corner of her eye before she crashed into the wood. Another vamp held her, watching, laughing.

Her head spun, and the first vampire descended on her before she could gather herself. "Well, well," he said, "Two for one, huh Frank?" He pushed her against the tree and bared his fangs. Buffy kneed him in the groin and ran for Dawn, but the vampire recovered too quickly and grabbed her arm, wrenching it behind her back. Dawn screamed again while the vampire closed in on Buffy's neck and bit.

Suddenly, a loud crash, and the vampire pulled away before he could draw blood. Buffy turned quickly to see Andrew holding a suitcase dangerously. There was a stunned silence, and Buffy took the opportunity to snap a tree branch with one hand, grab the vamp with the other, and pull him onto her makeshift stake.

The vampire pulled apart to dust. Andrew drew back and sneezed.

Buffy looked back at Dawn, who was quivering. The other vampire had fled during the fight. Dawn ran to Buffy, and threw her arms around her sister. Andrew wheezed. Buffy looked up, scratched and beat up, her face covered in mud, and said, "Not a word."

"I know," Andrew said. "I get it. Like, I shouldn't say anything about how you're off your game and I had to save you and your sister. Right?"

Dawn's body stiffened, and she pulled away from Buffy to glare at Andrew. "Don't you dare talk about my sister like that. Not ever."

Andrew backed off, cowed, and Buffy smiled at her sister appreciatively. Dawn smiled back. Deep down, though, they both knew. She was off her game. Just because there were hundreds of new slayers in the world didn't mean she could stop fighting. Somehow she had thought she would never see another vampire again; but there was no rest for the wicked, she realized.

"Let's just find Angel," she said, and they trudged back to the hotel.

The place looked old and dirty from the street, and Buffy took a deep breath. She hoped they had running water. Vampires might not sweat, but she was pretty sure Cordelia did. The rest of the gang had already arrived. She hoped it was where they were supposed to be.

She jumped out of the bus and walked to the door. The others followed her carefully. Everything was so quiet. She knocked on the door but there was no answer. Behind her, Dawn sighed and sat down by the fountain, which seemed to have gone dry.

A thin, pretty girl with long dark hair walked daintily up behind them, clutching a pile of books. "He's not home," she said, pushing her glasses up her nose. "Are you clients?"

"No," Willow said. "We're friends."

The girl turned around and smiled at Willow. "You should have called, Willow," the girl said. "He hasn't even gotten back yet. Did something happen?"

"Well, the world didn't end," Willow said, "for a start."

"You guys know each other?" Buffy asked, blinking.

"Oh, of course, we met when Willow came to reinsoul Angel," the girl said, nodding. Buffy stared back at her, mouth open. Willow signaled cryptically to Fred, who suddenly looked embarrassed. "Oh, I guess I wasn't supposed to tell you that. Yes. Hi, I'm Fred. You must be Buffy. I imagined you... cleaner."

The girl with the boyish name seemed to laugh at a private joke, then reached out to try and shake Buffy's hand. But Buffy was frozen, her heart pounding. "I can't believe Angel lost his soul again," she said, shaking her head. Her hands were shaking. She looked at Willow and frowned. "And I can't believe you didn't tell me." She glared back at Fred. "When? How? Did he... do I even want to know?"

Fred shook her head, then began to chew on her lower lip and mumble. "It's complicated. But Willow fixed it pretty fast, and he didn't do... much damage." She scanned the group quickly, ready to change the subject. "You must be Dawn?"

Buffy's sister nodded, eager to oblige, and stepped forward to shake Fred's hand. "And are you... Xander?" she said to Andrew. Andrew stepped back and pointed to Xander, standing beside Dawn. "Oh," Fred said, startled. She pointed at his covered eye. "Willow didn't mention the patch thingy."

"It's new," Xander said.

Fred nodded and looked at the other two people blankly. "Andrew," Buffy said, pointing. "And Kennedy. And I'm Buffy. I guess it's nice to meet you." The girl offered Buffy a delicate hand. This time Buffy noticed, but she frowned at Willow before reluctantly shaking it.

"But everything is alright?" Fred asked, after a moment. "Angel is alive? He hasn't called. Not that it's unusual, but we were worried, what with it being the final battle and all that."

"He was fine, the last I saw him," Buffy said. She smiled at the thought of him, before frowning again. "But that was hours ago. Maybe he's lost his soul again. It's not like I would know." Buffy turned and glared again at Willow.

"Oh, I don't think that's possible," Fred said quickly. "Anyway, he keeps to himself a lot. He's been upset about Cordelia and Connor, you know. He might not be back for days. You should have called."

"Told you," Kennedy chimed in, before even Willow glared at her, and she retreated.

"Too late now," Fred said, shrugging. "You probably want to get washed up, after whatever you were doing. Come on inside. Not that I have to invite you, seeing as you're alive and all... nevermind."

Buffy couldn't help but notice how Willow-like this girl Fred was. Well, how Willow was two years ago, anyway. She was bookish, easily flustered, and very cute in an irritating sort of way. They followed her inside.

"Ooh," Fred said, cooing, "Message."

She went to the answering machine, which was blinking, and pressed the button. Angel's smooth monotone played back, even and cool. Buffy felt herself melt a little at the sound of it. "Hey, guys. I'm going to be late coming home, but everything is okay. If anybody is looking for me, I'll be in Cleveland. Take care." Click.

"Cleveland?" Buffy said.

"They do have a Hellmouth there," Fred and Willow said in unison. They looked at each other and giggled. Kennedy glared stonily, and the giggling stopped.

"But, can we still stay in L.A. and shop?" Dawn asked weakly. "I mean, we don't have to go to Cleveland, right?"

Everyone looked expectantly at Buffy.

Buffy shrugged. "I... don't know."

"He didn't say he needed any help," Xander suggested. "And it is an awful long way. Even if he did need help, Faith is there. And I am so, so tired of that schoolbus. Who's with me?"

The gang agreed, and looked to Buffy again. She nodded, even though she felt herself dying inside. There was a gaping hole inside of her now, Spike-sized, and she needed Angel more than ever.

"You can stay here, of course," Fred said. "Wesley will be back later. He's at the office."

Buffy nodded. She was strong; she could wait. After all, there was no hurry. Not for anything, not anymore.

* * *

Stupid apocalypse, thought Amy Madison, as she curled her hair around her finger. It was blond now, and straight; she considered casting a curling spell. But there didn't seem to be any point. The almost-apocalypse had ruined everything. Now Sunnydale was gone, and she had had to move to Cleveland to get her dose of Hellmouth energy. The town was terribly dull and her apartment was wretched. To make matters worse, there were super-powered pre-teens running around everywhere, ready to foil any minor mayhem that she might cook up. There was no more fun in this life for her. And to top it all off, it had been Willow's fault. Willow, with all her powers and smarts and important friends. Amy couldn't hate her enough.

Amy reclined in her new blue velvet chair, which she had supernaturally fashioned from a metal barstool the week before. And next week it might be a chaise lounge. Amy was not above using magicks for trivial ends, unlike her sometime sister Willow, who had once run wild with her power but now restrained herself only to clever apocalypse-stopping spells and other annoyances. Amy squinted angrily and spontaneously conjured a chocolate fudge sundae. She had earned a little pouting time.

She was about to dig into the chocolate indulgence, when a strange harmonic noise caught her ear. She went to the window and listened. It was someone singing, absently, in an accent she didn't quite recognize. At first she could not understand, but then the words came to her, familiar.

"Round and round the mulberry bush," the strange voice sang; Amy decided it was a female, "the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought it all in good fun..."

The voice trailed off, and Amy could not see the woman. She ran to the door and threw it open. A tall woman, pale and oddly beautiful, stood darkly in the doorway. She was wearing a blood-red gown and holding a small bag in front of her.

"Pop," she said, "goes the weasel."

Amy looked her up and down and then rolled her eyes. "Vampire," she said. The woman, who definitely seemed crazy, bit her lip and nodded. Amy was about to close the door before she did a double take. "Vampire? But it's two o'clock. Direct sunlight... you should be a pile of dust!"

The vampire began to grin and nod giddily. "Oh, yes, it does make me feel all warm. It seems that some of your old friends have let me play with their toys."

She then began to clap and grin some more. Amy glowered at her. "I have no idea what you are talking about or why you are here. I could kill you where you stand, right now. Go away."

The vampire wagged an elegant finger at Amy. "If you don't play nice," she scolded, "you won't be getting any supper. And we could make beautiful music, dear wiccan."

Amy put her hands on her hips. "So you know who I am?"

"There is much that I know that you do not know," the vampire said. "Your name has been swimming in my head these past days. I am Drusilla. We could share a cup of tea, and talk, but it just won't do with me out here and you all snug inside..."

"You want me to invite you in?" Amy asked, laughing. "I've heard of you, Drusilla. How do I know you won't bite me?"

The vampire shrugged. "You can't. But I plan to give you an army if you give me what I want, and you'll fancy the things that I want. Our destiny's have mingled in the dark."

"Alright," Amy said. "Come in, Drusilla. But I'm watching you."

Drusilla stepped inside, and instantly her face changed into her viper-like game face. Amy frowned and held up a cross she had ready, but Drusilla batted it away without blinking. "Oh, darling, you can watch me as much as you like. But I cannot be stopped." She grabbed Amy by the jaw, and the witch gasped as the vampire's fangs dug into her veins. "Don't worry; I won't take it all," Drusilla assured, and Amy whimpered. Drusilla smiled and said, "Amy? How do you feel about eternal life? It's pretty."

Amy was already unconscious. Drusilla made the choice for her, and granted it.

* * *

Drusilla licked the blood off her fingers. It was going to be a while before Amy woke up again, so Drusilla had stepped out for a snack. It was so much easier to hunt in the daylight. She could see everything so clearly, and no one was on their guard. She picked them like tomatoes, fresh off the vine. It took some of the fun out of it... but she could hardly complain.

Amy began to stir and moan. "Damn," she said. "I have never been so hungry in my entire life."

"It burns like fire, does it, my pet?" Drusilla asked. She grabbed hold of a rope, at the other end of which a girl was tied, and threw it at Amy. Amy pulled on the rope, discovering her new vampire strength, and fed on the girl. When she was done, she threw the girl away and glared at Drusilla. "You bit me," she accused.

"Mommy doesn't trust mortals," Drusilla explained. "Do you mind?"

Amy flexed and considered, then replied, "No, this will do. What's the plan?"

"You are going to help me find the new slayers," Drusilla said. "You will magic our way to them, and then I will use my fantastic new strength to overpower and eat them. Yum. Then we will make them like us, and the world will be overrun with darkness. We shall dance under the stars in the blood of centuries. It will be a lark."

Amy reflected on her new situation. She was much stronger now, and more focused, and when she thought about it, she could feel that her hatred of Willow and Buffy had only grown stronger. They thought they had found the perfect solution, turning all the world's potentials into full slayers. Well, Amy and this crazy vampire were going to teach her a thing or two about perfection.

"Yes," Amy agreed. "It does sound fun. But I'll need a few things for the--"

"Oh, I almost forgot," Dru interrupted, smiling. She opened up the bag she had come with and said, "I've brought candy and treats for everyone."

It was filled with various oddities and nasty magical objects. "Supplies," Amy said, nodding. It looked like enough; Drusilla had done her homework. She looked back at Drusilla, her lovely dam. The woman was out of her mind, but she did have style. Amy took a moment to admire her before standing up and brushing off.

"Well, let's go," she said, smiling at Drusilla. "It's never too late to end the world."

* * *

Spike enters a bright room that sings softly to itself. He is filled with calm, even knowing he is about to conference with a Power That Is. It is coming back to him slowly, memories from the last time he was here, back when he was William. The order of things defied description, he recalled. It is force and light and goodness, and it rules the universe. And he is about to meet with it.

A door opens in time, and a woman enters. Spike's eyes pop. "Drusilla!" he gasps.

She blinks at him, surprised, before she replies. "How do you know my name?" she asks at last.

"Oh," he says, remembering. This is Drusilla's soul, pure and good, with no memory of her vampire self. Just as he had been, a year ago. "I know you as a demon, Drusilla. My name is Spike. We were vampires together... we were lovers."

She sighs and looks away. "So you really are William, the one they call Spike," she says, her profile a mask. "I will have you know, I am not the Drusilla you know. I am not crazy and I am not evil." She pauses, then says, "No one thought you would make it back. To inhabit such a vessel is a dangerous thing."

"I was lucky," he says. "There was a girl... she believed in me. It's not a big thing. I did what anyone would do. Anyway, are you here to talk to God, too, or whatever? Because I'll have you know, I was here first."

"You are very gracious, to say it is no big thing," she says, "but it was a great thing you did. There is great poetry in your love for the slayer, Spike, because your sacrifice was as great as hers."

This is startling for Spike, and he loses his train of thought. "How do you know so much about me?" he asks curiously.

"It is of small consequence," she says. "I must tell you, though, that this is not heaven. Not yet. We will not play games with you, the way the witch played games with her."

"Is this why I feel unfinished?" Spike asks.

Drusilla nods. "You are offered a choice. You are the vampire with a soul, prophesized for centuries to save the world. You may proceed onward, to heaven, and exist in bliss as a hero. Or, you may sanshu, and return to earth, to live out your mortal life. You are a champion, and it is your choice."

Spike stares open-mouthed. "I can san-what?"

"Do you want to go back, Spike?"

Spike swallows hard. It is no easy choice. In truth, what man would give up paradise? But he is filled with a nagging sense of incompleteness. And in spite of everything, he worries about her, and misses her presence, and even though she does not love him he wants to be near her. But to return mortal? Is that what he wants? It is a strange choice. But he knows there is only one answer he can give. "Yes," he says.

She spreads her arms. "Then back you go," she says.

He feels his body being pulled in all directions. "But Dru!" he cries. "Where's the Big Cheese? I thought I was supposed to meet with him!"

Everything goes gray and dark and the air begins to rush by him. He hears her voice whispering to him before the glimpse of heaven fades away. Her voice fades, and then he hears only laughter, and then silence.

* * *

"Spike has got to get out of my dreams," Buffy said, waking. She rolled out of bed and grabbed a robe. It was dark purple and feminine, and Buffy supposed it belonged to Cordelia.

"Was it a slayer dream?" Fred asked.

Buffy jumped. She had not noticed that the slender girl had slipped into her room. "Don't you knock?" she demanded. "Were you watching me sleep?"

"I'm sorry," Fred squeaked, backing away. "But you cried out, and everyone else was asleep, so I came in to check on you. I brought you some water."

Fred offered Buffy a glass, which Buffy took and drank quickly. It felt good, and she realized she had been sweating. "I guess it was a nightmare," she said. Her pulse was racing, and she felt uneasy all over.

"You don't remember?"

Buffy shook her head. "There was something about a choice, and death..." but that was all that she rememberred.

"And Spike was in it?"

Buffy glared at her. "How do you know about Spike?"

"You said his name when you woke up," Fred said, shrugging. "I've been reading about him. That's why I was up, actually. Angel called and asked me to do some research on Drusilla. He says she's planning something."

"And you're the research slave?"

Fred smiled. "That's me. I couldn't sleep, anyway. This Spike, though, he was a nasty vamp. Not as nasty as Drusilla, of course, but he killed two slayers. Even Angel didn't do that."

Buffy looked down at her bare feet on the floor.

"I guess that's why you had a nightmare about him, huh?"

"No," Buffy said, looking back at Fred. "He wasn't like that anymore. I guess your books aren't up to date." Fred waited for her to explain, so Buffy took a deep breath and continued. "See, there was this government project and they put a chip in his head, and then... anyway, he went to Africa and asked for his soul back because, um, he loved me. He's been on our side for a while... and a week ago he died, to save the world. And I have been having nightmares about him ever since."

"Oh dear," Fred said. "You and souled vampires, hmm?"

Buffy glared at her. "You don't know me," she said. "And I just told you, he had a thing for me, not the other way around. It's not like he was some kind of great guy, like Angel is. One time, he tried to rape me, you know."

"That was pre-soul, though, I'm guessing?"

Buffy took a deep breath.

Fred shrugged. "It's not my business," she said. "Like you said, I don't know you. It might be nice to start, though. Come downstairs and eat with me. We have eggs?"

Buffy smiled. "Eggs are good," she said.

* * *

"The thing I hate most about them," Amy said, looking up from her spellbook, "is that they have so much power, especially Willow, but they refuse to use it for anything except for 'the good fight.'" For this last, Amy made air quotes. "I mean, what does that mean, anyway? Who are they to judge right and wrong?"

Drusilla looked up from the small plaid loveseat she was sitting on, and stared at Amy miserably. It had been a leather sofa earlier, but Amy had switched it on a whim. Drusilla considered ripping it to shreds. "How comes the spell?" she asked. "Are they getting closer? The slayers?"

"Oh, almost," Amy replied. "It turns out that the slayers are naturally drawn to the Hellmouth, and all we have to do is amplify their attraction. Before long, Willow and Buffy will wish they had never been born."

That second name unlatched Drusilla from reality. She stared off into space and began to think about Spike, as she did often lately. It was hard not to smile, remembering how tough he tried to be, and how soft he was inside. For a hundred years, they had been a team, ravaging the streets by night and each other by day. He was hers, to tickle and to torture for eternity, but she had lost him without warning to that wretched girl. True, Dru had left him for Angel, and then a chaos demon, but she never meant to let anyone else have him, least of all Buffy the vampire slayer. Buffy had stolen him without flourish, and that was that. And now he was dead. She knew because she had felt it in her marrow, like a chill on the breeze. "Kisses to you, my heart," she said softly.


"None of your concern," Drusilla hissed. She gapped the curtains and peered out through the window at an innocent couple walking by on the sidewalk, then looked back at Amy to smile cruelly as rays of sunlight poured into the room. "I'm getting peckish," she said.

"Hey, can you close that window already? I'm sizzling," Amy said, pulling back. For all her malice, she was naive, this one. The small amount of sunlight that had touched her arm had left several blisters. "Some of us are still allergic to sunlight, remember?"

Drusilla rolled her eyes and stretched out on the awful couch-- it smelled faintly of cat piss. Drusilla looked up at the ceiling and began to count the ways she could kill Amy.

"There," Amy said, putting down her book. She grabbed a handful of herbs and various organs from the bag Drusilla had brought, and dropped them in the pentagram she had drawn on the floor. "I need you here with me, Drusilla, to complete the circle."

Drusilla smiled very convincing and joined Amy at the pentagram. "It has been a long time since I touched the dark arts," she admitted. "I feel quite tingly."

"Now grab my hand," Amy instructed. Drusilla obliged. Amy took a moment to admire how cold and elegant Drusilla's hands were before she began to chant. "Diana," she said, "Goddess of the hunt and the moon, I beseech you. By the powers of good and the powers of evil, bring the hunters to the battle and let my will be done. Blessed be, the battle has begun."

A brilliant glow rose up from the pentagram, shattered, and burst away in every direction. There was a great boom, and then it was done. Drusilla looked suspiciously at Amy. "Is that all there is?" she asked. "Because it repulsed me. It sounded like church music."

"Oh, it is," she admitted. "It's a call for help. But it will bring the Slayers here... all of them."

"So many little girls," Drusilla said absently. "All untrained, and ripe for the picking. And so very strong. I will rule this Hellmouth, Amy, and its power will be mine."

"Excuse me?" Amy said, standing up. "Yours?"

"Oh, right," Drusilla said. She stood up and smoothed her skirts, then looked back to Amy, her face in vamp. "We've come to the part where I kill you. Be a sport and say cheers."

Amy's blood boiled. "You crazy bitch!" she shouted, before gathering herself. "Goddess Hecate I beseech you..." she began to chant, her best spell, but Drusilla was too fast. She grabbed Amy's mouth and began to pull her towards the door. The raised vampire was unbelievably strong, and Amy struggled, but she could not break free or even open her mouth.

"One of us forgot their parasol," Drusilla said, humming lightly, and she reached out to open the door.

Amy would be dust in moments. She managed to wriggle her head free now that Dru's left hand was on the door. "Wait," she cried. "You need me."

Dru looked at her, waiting, eyes wide.

"The slayers are on their way here," Amy explained. If her heart could beat, it would be pounding. "My spell worked. But without me, how will you recognize them? You need me to cast a locator spell, because you need to find them quickly, before Buffy or Willow does. They'll be here too, you know."

"Wicked child!" Dru said, throwing Amy back into the apartment. She began to shake with rage. "How dare you call that horrible girl here? This is my day, and I have no use for a real slayer."

"They are all real slayers, now," Amy said, cowering. She was not out of danger yet, as Dru looked ready to spit venom. "It's just that... Buffy is... well, there is no distinction between them, magically, anymore. That's all. If I call any, I call them all."

Drusilla threw up her hands. "Very well," she said. "I suppose you are needed, because we will have to move quickly. Please forgive me; I won't try to kill you again." Amy nodded nervously. Her dam's rage faded, and Dru began to smile almost lovingly, humming again. "Oh, and you will love slayer blood, my little princess. I remember it from China; it's power sustained me for weeks... we will have such parties, and the blood will run like wine."

Amy stood up straight and stepped towards Drusilla. This was a dangerous path she walked, but if she survived even for a little while it would all be worth it. "And once we have an invincible army," she said, "then we can kill the slayer and her friends?"

Drusilla looked menacingly at Amy. Poor Spike had died like a dog, docile and housebroken, but she would avenge him soon. "Buffy's friends are yours, child," she said darkly, "but the slayer is mine. She took something precious from me that can never be returned, and I will have vengeance."

Amy nodded, rubbing her hands together. When the slayer came, she would bring her friends. She would bring Willow; Amy could taste her blood already. And when Amy fed, she would take it all.

* * *

Fred might be nosy, but she cooked a mean egg. Buffy dug into a second poached masterpiece, scooping up the gooey insides with a perfect piece of toast. How long has it been since she had eaten decent food? Fred stood at the stove, making pancakes for the rest of the gang, who were still asleep. The pan sizzled, and Buffy would have been excited about them if Fred weren't being so quiet.

"I miss Angel," Buffy said suddenly, trying to make conversation between bites. "I was really hoping he would be here."

Coughing, Fred turned from the stove and looked at Buffy. "He does as he will, coming and going as he pleases." Fred coughed again. "If you don't mind me saying so, though... This guy, Spike. He loved you, and died for you, and you're dreaming about him because, what? You miss Angel?"

"Now, hold it right there," Buffy snapped back, and frowned. "This is hardly your concern... and I am not dreaming about him. I am having slayer-style prophecy-slash-nightmares about him." Fred waited, a gentler expression on her face. After staring at her for a moment, Buffy looked down at her hands and took a deep breath.

It was true that when Buffy allowed herself, she had pleasant memories of Spike. She remembered how tender he had been their last night together, just lying next to her, so gracious even though he deserved to be jealous. She had never expected him to be so caring and supportive after knowing him as passionate and destructive. When she was alone, sometimes, she even allowed herself to enjoy the memory their secret nights together. Their sex had been wild and consuming, a drug for her, loveless but powerful, and even after a year the memory could still make her blood run hot. Closing her eyes, Buffy took a deep breath and savored that feeling.

Willow and Xander probably assumed that she had started up with him again when they began sharing a bed again, but she had not. They had shared no more than emotional intimacy. No doubt they had wanted more; it had been a long time for both of them, and when he spoke so kindly to her she almost believed she loved him. In the end, though, Buffy had been unable to reconcile the man he had been with the man he was, and she had kept her distance. Now he was gone, and she knew it was the right choice. It had to be.

She opened her eyes and realized Fred was waiting for her, staring. "I think the dream meant something important," Buffy said quickly, and sighed. Fred blinked and decided to let it go. "I can't remember enough of it to make sense, though."

"Nothing specific?"

Buffy shook her head. "Some power I have."

Fred shrugged. Her hair had fallen out of its ponytail for the third time, and after a roll of her eyes she tied it back again. "They still sound nicer than Cordy's visions," she said. "Those hurt like a bitch."

"Wow, Cordelia has visions now?" Buffy said, perking up. She could always talk about old friends, or whatever Cordelia was to her. "That Cordelia. I haven't talked to her in eons. How is she?"

Fred paused for a moment, and bit her lip. "Comatose," she said finally. "It's awful. There have been some nasty suprises for you this visit. She was possessed by a demon, and she may never wake up. I'm so sorry."

"Oh." Buffy looked away, then looked back at Fred. "This is... confusing."

A scuffling noise behind her made Buffy turn, and she saw Willow step into the kitchen, wearing pajamas. "Cordelia gave birth to some sort of demon goddess that briefly controlled California. We didn't hear about it because we were so involved with the First." Buffy stared at Willow, then back at Fred, who shrugged. Willow shook her head. "You don't really need to understand. It's over."

"Ah," Buffy said, brushing it off. "Well, good morning, Willow. Did you sleep well?"

"Let's not get into that," Willow suggested, sitting down. That meant she had slept very poorly. "Did you have slayer nightmares last night?"

Buffy glowered. "Why, were you watching me sleep, too?"

"No," Willow said, glowering back. "Because I was watching Kennedy sleep. Due to the fact that I couldn't sleep, with her tossing and turning, slayer style."

"Does she remember any of it?" Fred asked.

"Just that it was scary," she said, frowning. "Apocalyptic."

Buffy looked down at her eggs and hunched her shoulders. It was as she had feared. "I don't suppose that there's any chance it was a late dream... I mean, she couldn't be dreaming about the apocalypse we just stopped... could she?"

"No, I think it was a brand new apocalypse," the witch replied sadly.

"Not really an apocalypse," Kennedy chimed in, entering the kitchen. She was wearing short boxers and a spaghetti strap top, and she pranced in front of Willow and kissed her before sitting down beside her. Understanding spread quickly across Fred's face. "More like a war."

"Actually, an apocalypse can be a... a war," Fred explained, flustered, gesturing with her spatula. She must not have known that Willow and Kennedy were lovers, and she began to stammer again. "You know... with the four horsemen, and that stuff."

Kennedy paused before nodding. She hadn't known. Fred turned back to the stove, flipped the pancakes onto a plate and carried them to the table. Before Buffy could grab one, Kennedy had taken three. Willow looked at Buffy warningly, and Buffy let it pass.

"So, your dream?" Buffy said. "It didn't, by any chance, involve... Spike?"

Kennedy sat up in her chair, so that she could look down at Buffy before replying. "No, hon," she said archly, "my dreams are strictly girl-on-girl."

Buffy threw up her hands. "It wasn't that kind of dream!" she said. "It was about power and death and... do you... does anyone else feel that?"

A sudden stab of power had taken hold of Buffy, and she looked around the room. Willow shook her head, as did Fred, but Kennedy blinked before replying. "Yes," she said, her hand on her chest. She nodded vigorously. "I feel it. I've never felt anything so powerful. It's like a siren turned on in my stomach. Is it a portent?"

Buffy shrugged and looked at Willow.

"What do you feel?" Willow asked, looking at Kennedy.

Kennedy gulped down the pancake in her mouth before replying. She looked at Buffy and said, "We have to go. Now. We are needed."

"I don't know," Buffy said. "I feel it pulling at me, too, but I don't know what it means."

"It means we're slayers," Kennedy snapped. "We are needed. We have to go to Cleveland, now. Don't pussy out on me, Buffy. You feel it, too. We have to go, now."

"Cleveland?" Willow asked, confused.

"Just like Angel," Fred said.

Buffy looked at Fred, who turned back to the stove and waited. "You are right," she said. "We need to go. But won't it wait? We just got here, and Fred's made us breakfast. I want some pancakes."

"No!" Kennedy shouted, rising out of her chair. She began to pace. "We need to leave now. The forces of darkness won't wait. We have to go. I feel it! Now! We have to go."

"Kennedy, calm down," Willow said, frowning, tugging on her girlfriend's arm.

Buffy looked at Fred, who was holding a bowl full of batter. As much as she wanted to stay, Buffy felt it too, tugging at her heart, begging her to leave. She could not explain how she knew they had to go to Cleveland, or why, but she did know they had to leave soon, somehow. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, Fred smiled kindly and said, "If you have to go, you have to go. Oh, and take care of Angel. He gets over his head sometimes."

Buffy nodded. There was a plus side; they would soon see Angel. It might be a minor apocalypse, and afterwards, maybe smoochies. Her summer might not be a total wash. "Xander's the best driver, so I'll go get him," she said, sounding cheery, "but Dawn and Andrew should stay here." The others agreed. Then, looking at Kennedy, Buffy added, "Back to the grind. How's about we kick some apocalyptic ass?"

Kennedy nodded, and within an hour the four of them were back on the bus and on the road. Dawn and Andrew would be upset when they woke up, but it was for the best. The road ahead was dangerous, and Buffy, Xander, Willow and Kennedy knew they would face death. They had no what force had called for them, but still they went, blindly following a cause.

"Oh, yes," whispered Drusilla, on the wind, into the dark. She clapped her hands. "And they fall for it, every time."

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