Michael was halfway into the back kitchen dumbwaiter shaft when Nikita breathlessly skidded to a stop. He held up a hand, motioning for quiet before she could even speak, and tightened his grip on a climbing cable with the other.
The shaft bottomed out in the wine cellar, presumably built for the long gone Dupres family's convenience. However, it was anything but convenient now if Angelus had it rigged...or if several vampires were at the other end, guarding Birkhoff. The mission van's sensors and comm had been off-line for several minutes. Which, in itself, worried her, but it also meant they were going in completely blind.
"Stay," Michael whispered, eyes remote. "I'll go in alone."
"The Hell you will." She instinctively grabbed his free hand, shaking her head. His secrets...his betrayal...none of it mattered in this instance. Not when so much more was at stake.
"*Michael*," she returned firmly, drawing out every syllable of his name.
They locked gazes for a long series of seconds. Precious seconds going wasted. And when he broke contact first, she knew she'd won. She also knew that all was forgiven.
"I'll go first," he murmured with a slight smile, daring her to protest.
"Age before beauty," she cracked, releasing his fingers.
He didn't smile again, didn't laugh...just checked the cable...and began climbing down into the depths of the narrow shaft. Business as usual. The Michael she would love no matter what else happened in the world around them.
Growing up with the Birkhoffs, he'd often wished he was adopted. He'd used to dream that his real family would come and save him from Dad's beatings, from Mom's drunken neglect, from the sound of Lauren throwing up after a bad trip. Section had been close enough to the dream and much easier to take than the reality that had knocked him out on the way to Eartha's last night.
Blood was drying on his skin...and it smelled...appetizing. *He* wanted to throw up. His whole life was one bad trip, one big lie. Vampires?
He laughed weakly, hearing his own hysteria in the sound. His grandfather was a tall, handsome, creature who didn't look more than 25. His grandfather wanted to kill him. Both of the worlds he came from thrived on killing their own kind. And he wanted to live. For the first time in a long time, he knew he wanted to live.
"Help." He forced the word out through dry, cracked, lips. It sounded like a puppy's yelp. "Help!" He tried again and this time it echoed through the wine cellar. Oddly enough, he wasn't afraid that the wrong ears would hear. Something told him that, on the other side of the thick, locked, door, Angelus was about to have other concerns. "Help!"
When the dumbwaiter door in the other wall answered with a small burst of smoke and fire, he was the happiest man...vampire...hybrid thing on the planet. A foot appeared through the smoke, then a leg and a torso, then the other leg. Michael. Next, in the same order, came Nikita. Angels with dirty faces. And weapons. Their eyes swept the room, checking for hostiles hiding among the empty wine racks.
"Miss us?" Nikita asked, holstering her gun and looking as relieved as he felt.
"Terribly," he managed as Michael moved behind the chair and began working on the chains that had numbed and chafed his wrists. The flare of heat signaled one of Walter's mini lasers.
Nikita gently touched areas on his bloodstained face, his shirt. She found his bent glasses somewhere on the floor and did her best to straighten them before she placed them on the bridge of his nose. "Did they hurt you?"
Bites. Scratches. A hot iron or two. Broken things. But he wasn't in any pain. Not anymore. Everything that had shattered seemed to have... healed. "I'm okay," he whispered, shuddering. "As okay as I can be."
The chains clanked as they hit the floor and his freed hands felt like they could float up to the ceiling. Michael was there to help him stand. No judgments and certainly no comments. Nikita came around to his other side, draping his arm around her. He let his head fall onto her shoulder and stared at the door. The door that Angelus had shut on his screams.
"Can we blow that up?"
There was a trail of ashes leading from the upper floors of the mansion all the way down the basement stairs. He'd gone through at least sixteen minions in a berserker rage of staking, shooting, and neck-snapping. None of them had seen Buffy, but he was certain she still lived. If things were any different, he would've felt it. That much he was sure of. But, now, he stood at a heavy, double-locked door. There was an ornate knocker and he wondered, idly, if this dungeon-like entry led the way to way where old Jean-Louis had brought Madaleine for the weekly rape. Or had the old bugger just used her bedroom like he had in Washington?
He swallowed risen blood, hearing on his comm unit that Maddy and Operations were securing the perimeter...that Michael and Nikita were just yards away with Birkhoff. His son's voice was weak on their units, but it gave him enough strength to rap the brass knocker.
"Little Pig, Little Pig. Let. Me. In."
The bolts slid back and the door opened almost instantly, revealing the murderous vision of beauty that had seduced him into this existence... damning him to eternity and blessing him with the likes of Buffy Summers.
"Aw, Spike, don't you know *I'm* the Big Bad Wolf?" Angelus purred, gesturing for him to come in.
It took less than a second for him to vamp out. And less than two to tackle his sire and send them both flying into the depths of the basement. No elegance. No sense. Just two snarling, black-clad beasts rolling around on cold stone. His head slammed against the rock and he saw stars, but then he tangled his hands in Angel's prided locks and gave as good as he'd gotten. But, Angelus was bigger, older, and infinitely more insane--the pain was nothing. He used his legs to push up, lifting Spike off of him and then drew back and hit him consecutively like a boxer. Spike tumbled to the floor, instinctively curling up to protect his chest as he shook his head and tried to get back his second wind.
The velvet-lined chair that Angelus must have been sprawled in before he'd knocked sounded like it was shattering. "This was over much, much, too quickly. You still can't satisfy me, can you, Spike? I'll bet the Slayer calls out *my* name when you're with her. Buffy's had the best, how could you ever compare?"
"She's forgotten your name," he assured, coldly, rubbing his head and getting up gingerly. "She's forgotten it a thousand times for me."
Angel's foot planted itself firmly beneath his ribcage, forcing him back down again. "Think she'll remember yours when I've turned her? When I've turned all of your little friends? And your kin?"
"Fuck you, Peaches."
Angelus' fist didn't take that well. Consequently, neither did *his* face.
When he awoke from the brief blackness, a chair leg was poised above his heart, accompanied by his sire's smug smirk. Spike closed his eyes, not wanting the sight of it to be the last thing he ever saw. "Baywatch" was a more pleasant pre-death vision...or Richard Simmons. Or, if he was really lucky, his son's wedding...maybe his first grandchild ...luckier still--Buffy's body, wet and glistening, fresh from the bath.
Just as the splintered tip of the makeshift stake edged past his torn shirt ends, two things made his eyes reopen and his destiny change.
A bullet and an explosion.
In the entryway, stood Buffy. Across the room, with the wine cellar door behind them, was Section's finest plus one very, very, cherished computer genius. "Cavalry's here," murmured his lover, warmth in her voice and ice in her eyes as she leveled her much-used semi-automatic. The interruption was enough surprise for him to kick the chair leg from Angelus' hands and scramble to his feet.
"Well," Angel chuckled, circling him. "All we need is Mommy and the gang's all here." The older vampire looked completely at ease--insufferably cocky and uncaring that he was outnumbered.
"I think Maddy's upstairs puttin' Dru in a Dustbuster," he assured, clenching his fists. Any grief or regret he might've had for his first love and former obsession was gone, replaced by the single-minded urge to end this horrorshow once and for all.
"Really?" Angelus clicked his tongue, as if he'd received news of a rose bush dying instead of his favorite childe. "What a shame. I was hoping they could mud wrestle." He glanced sideways at the Slayer and then at Nikita--causing Michael to heft up his machine gun and step forward just slightly. "I guess my traitorous slut ex' and this gorgeous Amazon are out of the question, too, huh?"
"You shut your hole." Spike threw three punches, splitting Angelus' lip, his eyebrow, and his classic nose. The potency of sire's blood made his mouth water but he didn't, *wouldn't*, lick his knuckles. Instead he punched again, this time driving his fist into Angel's gut and laying him flat.
A wheezing chuckle arose from the ground. "N-not fair, Will. N-not sporting at all. I'm surrounded."
The accusation made him pause...made him lower his foot before it could crush his sire's windpipe. But then a hand came down on each of his shoulders. "Do it," Buffy whispered softly, lips brushing a cut on his chin. There was no love in her tone for anyone except him.
The fallen chair leg was pressed into his open right hand. He looked into young, familiar but still alien, eyes and found a smile. "Hello, Son."
"Hi." Birkhoff smiled back shyly, leveling a vicious kick to his grand-sire's ribs.
Spike gripped the end of the wooden leg, moment of indecision over. "Don't complain, Angelus," he drawled, silkily. "Every patriarch should die surrounded by family."
Three hands brought the stake down, at the last second joined by a fourth.
"Sorry I'm late," murmured Madaleine, etiquette and grace personified.
Angelus carried the apology straight to Hell.
There was silence after the stake fell. And ash on the floor. On some level, Buffy knew that Operations and Madaleine were there. And Michael. And Nikita. And Birky. But all she could do was turn and bury herself in Spike's arms. And he held her so tightly that she couldn't breathe. Which was fine, because she didn't want to. She inhaled the smell of cigarettes and mint that always clung to him and closed her eyes. She rubbed her cheek against the soft cotton of his black t-shirt.
*Angel's eyes. The dark brown eyes of her first real love. "This isn't some fairy tale. When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily after." All the joy. All the agony. "No, when you kiss me, I wanna die."*
Lips brushed the top of her head...and the touch seemed to last for minutes. For hours inside of a few seconds. She felt like she *was* waking. From a deep, sluggish, sleep. "Spike?" she murmured, listening to the place where his heart didn't beat.
"Yes, Love?" "When you kiss me...I wanna live."
He didn't question where the declaration came from. . .he didn't question anything. Instead he just rubbed her back underneath her leather jacket, kissed her hair again. "Me, too, Buffy...me, too."
It was Operations clearing his throat that made her finally pull away, although she kept one hand tightly wrapped around Spike's. But there was no judgment in her boss's eyes. He had his arm around the woman *he* loved. "The detonators have been set," he said, quietly authoritative--but the professional words echoed. "We have two minutes."
She nodded, noticing that Nikita, too, was wrapped in the circle of Michael's arms. Angelus-killage had brought them all to it. Only Birkhoff stood alone. And she reached out...caught his hand with her free one. "Okay." She tugged him to her side. "Let's go home."
To the underground complex with its shining white walls and floors. To a place that had kidnapped her less than a year ago and given her a life-or-death ultimatum. To a place that had given her a basement full of people that cared enough to save the world and each other. Home away from Sunnydale home. For now.
She watched her family home explode from under the shade of an old magnolia tree as the others congregated near the mission van. The smell of the blossoms seemed to hang in the air. Seemed to cleanse away the smell of battle that clung to her hands and her clothes, but it was a cloying scent. Not like her orchids. Not like the sterility of her office.
The Slayer was laughing with Nikita as both women poked at Michael and made him smile. Paul...Paul had yet to leave her side and his warmth was comforting against her back.
"Are you all right?" he whispered against her ear.
Such a simple question for a bevy of complexities that had occurred in that last 24 hours. "I will be."
"Are *we* all right?" he wondered as two more joined them under the tree.
"Section will survive this...and so will we," she assured, and she reached out, caught a slight, bloodied, young man in her arms before he could say a single word.
"M-madaleine?" he wondered with typical Birkhoffian panic.
She found the strength to laugh, released him from the sudden hug, and fondly rubbed his head. And Spike's hand joined hers there. "Don't worry, Mate," he said roughly, with something like tears in his hoarse voice. "You don't have to be calling us Mum and Da quite yet. Give it time."
"But you can still call me Operations." Paul's eyes were wet and no one would mistake his gruffness for an order of any kind.
Birkhoff ducked his head, grinning despite all the revelations and his ordeal. "Good to know some things never change, Sir."
"And good to know some things do," she said lightly, gesturing at the half-filled van and then at the first vampire ever to wear government issue mission gear.
The Dupres mansion burned in front of them, her father's ghost and her son's near-murderer with it. But it didn't seem to matter beyond a split second. Her lover. Her ex-lover. And the son they *all* shared. It was enough. It was more than enough.
Until the next crisis.
Section One never truly slept.
One year to the day that had changed all their lives forever. Everyone else had left the cemetery. Bouquets of flowers littered the grassy grave. And Cordelia had even left a small bottle of vanilla perfume. The girl really was becoming more thoughtful all the time.
It had been no small task to look into all their faces and lie. To nod and whisper that Buffy was at peace and that they would stop feeling the pain with every passing year. But it was somehow easier than telling them the truths he didn't even know completely. That she was out there...that she was leading another life...that Angelus was dead...and that she was content.
A single rose and a small pile of ash lay on top of her headstone. No one else had remarked upon the oddity, but Joyce and Xander and Willow had been too caught up in grief. It was too much to hope that the pile of ash was Spike. The vampire had called him to tell him of their victory over Angelus--but nothing more.
Giles knew that the ash and the rose were Buffy's way. Her way to say that she'd avenged Jenny and Teresa and so many others, that she'd finally done what her destiny required. And her way to say she missed them as much as they missed her.
He searched the trees with his eyes...every shadow...the crypts...but there was no sign of her. Perhaps Spike held her back as she struggled, whispering to her that it would endanger everyone if she sprang out and showed herself. For once, it seemed, the bloody pillock was in the right.
Whatever forces had chosen Buffy to join them were forces neither of them could question. Much like the calling that had changed her from a careless high school student to a dedicated slayer. This was just one more phase, one more incarnation.
He knelt down and traced the words at the bottom of the marker that bore her name. *Once in every generation...*
"Good-bye, Buffy," he murmured, hoping the breeze would carry the words to wherever she was hidden. "I know we'll meet again some day. In a better place."
"We will, Giles," she whispered against the soft flesh of Spike's palm, as he cradled her and muffled her words. "We'll meet again. I promise."
He pulled her deeper into the shadows of the crypt and he knew just when she was okay to be let go. "Buffy?"
She nodded firmly, adjusting her comm unit and turning the feed back on. "I'm ready," she assured.
He traced his thumb across her bottom lip. . .a habit she was growing to love like everything else about him. "That you are, Love. That you are."
And they left one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries as covertly as they had arrived. Down time was over. A legion of demons in Oslo needed her special brand of Section slaying.
"Spike?" she asked sometime later, somewhere over the ocean, as Birkhoff's voice buzzed in her ear and fed her intel.
"Mhmmm?" He looked up from a tactical map that he obviously could make no sense of.
"Giles understood, right?"
His fingers smoothed hair away from her cheek. "Yeah. Yeah, he did."
And she hunched down her seat, listening to her sort-of stepson give her orders. She could deal now. She could deal with her new life. She'd gone from being the Slayer to being a killer...to being the Slayer again. And she wasn't alone.
"Is this soddin' map in Norwegian? Do we have any blood on this flying tin can? Its Section after all...I bet they keep some for Maddy. Hey, can I get a flight attendant? I want a bloody Mary. Slayer...Slayer, why are you laughing?"
She shook her head and threw a clip at him, beaning him on the shoulder. Yeah, she could definitely deal.