Things to Do:
1. Get groceries (tea, popcorn, paper towels, light bulbs, chocolate, marshmallows, veggies, apples, tissues, bagels -- stop at butcher's for more blood for Spike)
2. Pay rent - check account balance with bank after
3. Pick up dry-cleaning
4. Get items from inventory -- make sure Anya keeps it off the books
5. Talk Willow into staying overnight with Dawn
6. Check that Giles is busy... maybe ask for research help on something?
7. Ask Spike to come along tonight
8. Ritual cleansing

I have to do it tonight, at moonrise, and if I mess up the preparations, there isn't going to be another good chance for a month. Willow would want to help, I know she would. I shouldn't keep secrets from her. I shouldn't leave her out of this.

But she's hurting so much, and I can't stand hurting her any more. Not this soon after the funeral. And... it's selfish, but I want to do this alone. It's not that difficult and I don't need the help, the ritual doesn't require a lot of power, just precision. Caution. Concentration.

Assuming I'm *able* to concentrate....

Eleven times eleven is one hundred and twenty-one; one hundred and twenty one times one hundred and twenty-one is ... umm... fourteen thousand five hundred and forty-one. The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1783. I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, on October 2, 1980. Willow's favorite color is sky-blue, her favorite flavor is cinnamon, she talks in her sleep (mostly when she's over-tired) and she was friends with Buffy from the first day they met, in the middle of their high school sophomore year.

My brain works again. I'm not crazy any more. I remembered the ritual, right? I *can* do this. Someone has to do it. And I think it has to be me.


"Are you sure you want to stay at our place tonight?" Willow's hugging a pillow to her tummy, and stroking Miss Kitty between her ears, her eyes big and uncertain. "Dawnie wouldn't mind if you just studied here. None of us would."

"I know. But I really need to finish this paper... Maybe I'll come by l-late, after I get it all typed, I just, this is the last thing, the last one, and...." I'm so bad at this. I'm stuttering again, I can't even look at her face, I have to watch Miss Kitty bat at Willow's fingers. "I'm sorry. I want to be with all of you, I do..." It's for a good cause. It's the right thing to do. Lying to Willow to protect her does not make me a bad person.

"No, no! Don't be sorry! It's good that you're on the last paper!" Willow's enthusiasm almost makes me spill the whole story right then, but her next words seal the secret up inside me before I can take a breath. "I wish I still had exams left to study for...." She clutches the pillow closer, and looks down at Miss Kitty, her hair falling in her face. "Nothing more for the rest of the summer, though."

After the funeral, Willow had four finals and two term papers due within a week. In the few hours when she wasn't staying with Dawn and Giles, she was at the library cramming for her tests with me, her face screwed up in the kind of concentration she used to bring to researching Slayer-type crises. She color-coded her index cards with little plastic tabs on their own ring binder. She recited the details of the Thirty Years' War to me for two hours straight before her take-home exam, in her quietest, steadiest voice, never looking at me once. When all the tests were over, and she'd turned in both of her papers (with ten pages of endnotes and references), she cried herself to sleep for the first time since the funeral. All I could do was hold her, and stroke her hair, and wish that she'd signed up for summer classes. It would be something still left for her that she loves.

Something besides patrolling. She doesn't love that. But she's doing it more and more often.

She's trying so hard to be strong. For Giles, for Dawn, for Xander. Xander's the same way. Working at his job and at the shop, keeping track of things that need to be done around the Summers house, patrolling with Willow. He still won't go out in the cemeteries with Spike, but Willow does that on some of the nights she's not over at the Summers', or at the Magic Shop.

And it's so clear that their hearts are broken. Giles and Dawn are in too much pain to pretend. But Willow and Xander think they have to handle it the way they handled all the other times Buffy needed them: just steel themselves and keep going, not even thinking about being scared, or how much it hurts. I want to tell them they don't have to. I want to tell them they can break down, that it's safe to collapse now. It's over.

But they're not ready to hear that yet, and that's why I can't tell either of them what I'm doing tonight. Just thinking about the possibilities would tear them up inside. I can't do that to them.

"Why don't you rent some movies tonight, and I'll bring ice cream when I'm done?" Her face brightens at my suggestion, and I can feel my insides tensing in anticipation of tonight as she accepts the lie.

I'll get through this. It's nothing in comparison to broken bones and dark shapes hiding in corners of my mind. No matter how much I hate lying to Willow, it's worth it.


12 white candles, beeswax
Rock salt
2 silver athames, never used
attar of roses
one jar each of frankincense, myrrh, mandrake, orris root, ambergris
60 feet of silk thread, white
Assorted clear rose quartz crystals

Anya looks up from the list at me and wrinkles her forehead. ""So, *why* is it you don't want Giles to know what you're doing?"

"What do you mean?" I try to be casual, but I can't help but drop my eyes at her snort of disbelief. "I, I just thought... I don't want to bother him with a routine little spell, not right now, and, you know...."

"It's a good idea, of course. And tonight's perfect for it. But you know he'd want to do the invocation himself."

Trust Anya to recognize a ritual from a shopping list. I should have put more items on it, tried to hide what I wanted in the middle of normal magic supplies. Why didn't I think of that? Because I'm no good at sneaky, that's why. Hiding, yes. Lying, no. Willow would laugh, if I dared to tell her about it.

"I don't think he should have to think about it. Or Willow either."

Anya stares at me, hard, for a long minute, and her fingers clench around the list. "Or Xander."

"Definitely not Xander," I agree quickly.

Her grip on the paper loosens, and the tightness around her eyes fades before she nods sharply at me and turns to walk to the back store room. "I can hide the missing stuff in the middle of the next inventory. Giles will never notice. He's lucky I'm honest, because if I weren't, I could rob him blind right now...." Her voice trails off, partly muffled by the thick walls, but partly, I think, because thinking about Giles makes her uncomfortable.

She's one that's trying hard too. She's almost tentative around Giles, fumbling for words or gestures, her eyes sad whenever she looks at him. Xander she can comfort with hugs and food and words. Anya tries to cook for her, chatters about anything she sees on TV, and I think Anya's watching *Passions* so she'll have something to talk about with Dawn.

But I don't think she knows what to do for Giles, except keep the shop open and find new books for him on-line and have food around if he wants it. I don't know what to do for him either, except ask him if I can help, and hope that he has something small for me to do. Make coffee. Pick up doughnuts. Anything. Anya volunteered to go patrolling with Xander and Willow a couple days ago, but Xander almost had a meltdown. I think he's afraid she'll get hurt again.

She'll get her own way eventually. But right now she's like me, tiptoeing around the four of them, waiting for them to break down. We miss Buffy, but not like they do. It can't be the same.

"Silk, salt, ambergris, the spices... Do you have enough holy water?"

"Uh-huh. I bought extra, last time I was in here."

"Smart." Anya stuffs my purchases in a large paper bag, then adds tufts of filmy tissue on top to hide what's inside before handing it to me. Her forehead wrinkles up again as she scowls suddenly. "Wait. Are you going to be safe doing this by yourself? Willow would freak if anything happened to you, and she'd blame me for not stopping it. Maybe I should go with you."

"No, that's okay." She raises both eyebrows at me, obviously unconvinced. I take a deep breath. "I'm going to ask S-Spike to go along. He'll look out for me."

Anya stares at me for a second, then blinks her eyes very wide. "You know, that's either a very stupid or a very good idea, and I don't think you'll be able to tell which until it's too late."

"Spike can't hurt me." Scare me, intimidate me, humiliate me, maybe. But I don't think he'll do that, either; he's been so quiet the last week. Except for the... scene? argument? fight?... with Angel before the funeral, he's almost been an echo of himself. Plus, there's no reason for him to object to this ritual. I think. "And it has to be done."

"True." Anya tilts her head, and for a second, her eyes get sad. "Buffy would make fun of the ritual if she were here. She'd say something about witchy-wicca-woo-woo and why can't all our problems be solved with a crossbow. Something dumb like that."

"Yes." I clutch the bag to me, feeling my shoulders hunch in sadness. "She would."

"I never thought I'd miss her." Anya looks me straight in the eye, not defensive, just telling it like she sees it. "I mean, I just didn't think about that. If I liked her or not. She was Xander's friend first, and she always liked him best. But...." She looks around the shop, like she expects Buffy to walk in and catch her confession. "But I do. It's all different now. Not just everyone being sad, but... I liked watching her and Giles argue. It was funny. I liked it when she teased Xander, because it made him feel good. I liked it when she beat up Spike, because that was always amusing. And she took me seriously about magic, and how I felt about Xander. I liked that." Her shoulders slump as she sighs raggedly. "It's stupid. Missing people is stupid."

"Uh-hunh," I whisper again, then duck my head. "It gets better, though. Honest."

"Hmph." Anya shakes herself, her voice becoming brisk. "Make sure to light the candles in order, and put the ambergris on the headstone. It loses a lot of its effectiveness if you don't use a stone to anchor the spell."

"Thanks. I will."

"Tara?" I turn at the door, and Anya's face is serious again. "Do it right."

I nod, and duck out into the bright sunlight, pushing my sunglasses up on my nose as I shift the bag in my arms.


"The new Stanley Kubrick movie is opening at the Sunnydale Cinema next weekend. Do you think you'll want to see it, Dawn?"

She shrugs, not looking away from the TV set, but she takes the glass of milk I'm holding out for her. "Maybe."

"We don't have to, but I was just thinking... You could go with me and Willow. Maybe get a jumbo extra-size popcorn and Jujubes, it's supposed to be a long movie."

Dawn blinks at the TV set, takes a sip of her milk, and thinks for a second. "I don't know."

"You don't have to make up your mind now. Just think about it."

"Okay. Whatever." She's not being rude. I remember what that was like, after my mom died; thinking was too hard, and there was nothing I wanted to do. I went anywhere my family told me to, for the first few weeks... then I had to get away from them, just *away*, because nothing was right, nothing was what I wanted, and since I couldn't have who or what I wanted, I couldn't bear to be around the people who couldn't give her back to me.

I don't think Dawn's going to do that. I hope not, anyway.

I heat up a mug of blood in the microwave for Spike, then take it downstairs to the basement.

Spike's always scared me. Willow constantly reassured me that he was 'safe' the first time she explained what he was, but it isn't the vampire part that scares me. It's the expression in his eyes; the amusement at everyone else's expense in his voice, that said, "I know something you don't know... and won't you be sorry when I tell you." Like Donnie was, sometimes. But at least Donnie wasn't... well, he was never as smart as Spike. Not too many people are, really. If there were anyone else I could take with me to the cemetery, I would. But Anya's the next-best choice, and if both she and I disappeared this evening, Willow and Xander might get worried and look for us. So I'm stuck with the vampire who's mourning a woman that didn't love him, and only cares about Dawn. Which makes talking to Giles about Buffy seem almost easy.


"What?" Snappish. Cold. He's curled up in a corner in an old armchair, reading in the dark. I don't try to see what the book is, or catch his eye. If it's hard to touch Giles and give him comfort, it's impossible to hint that Spike needs it. We all know it, and I think even Xander feels a little spark of sympathy for him, but there's no way to approach him.

The basement is as chilly as a crypt, and I shiver. "I-I brought you a mug, and, um..."

He cocks an eyebrow at me as he sets the book aside and gets up from the chair, then crosses the room to the stairs. "Right... Thank you." He takes the cup out of my hands and turns his back on me, and for just a second I can see how thin he looks in the light slanting from the staircase light bulb. New scars decorate the backs of his knuckles, and there's a bruise on one temple. There are a lot of demons out there from the short time when the walls between worlds dissolved, and I think he wants to kill all of them. Xander and Giles have similar goals. And Willow... It scares me to think of those demons when I think about Willow.

"Um, Spike?"

"You still here?" He's not annoyed, but he's barely registering my presence. "Thought you'd left, witch."

"I just... I need some help. Tonight." I can see the gleam of his eyes in the shadows, and I curl the fingers of my left hand around the cast on my arm, needing something to hold onto. "In the graveyard."

He puts the mug back down on the floor, and slowly walks back over to me, bracing himself on the railings on either side of the staircase. His face is completely blank, lacking all expression as he leans forward to study me.

"Why would you be in the graveyard tonight? You're hardly half-healed up from the last go-round. Has Red got you doing a chant for the full moon? Or do you need to go looking for dew-drop daisies or some other rot under the stars?"

"To perform a protective r-ritual." I swallow hard, and blurt, "For Buffy."

Spike almost flinches. His voice is harsh when he speaks, and I force myself not to look away as he repeats my words. "For Buffy."

"Her grave. People, bad people -- wizards and some kinds of demons, they c-could dig her up, and, and, use the dirt, or, or... h-her body, in spells...." I haven't stuttered this much in months, not since my birthday, and the last time I saw my family.

"Ah. Right. There is that, isn't there." Not a muscle is moving in his face, but his eyes... it hurts to look at them. "Fine, then. What time?"

"Could you be at our place, mine and Willow's, just after sunset?" He nods expressionlessly at me, and I can't help but nod helplessly back at him. "Um. Okay. And, and, you mustn't, you can't tell anyone, it just... Willow would be so... and Xander---"

"Don't worry, witch. I'm not going to upset the troops with rumors and dark imaginings." Spike takes a step backward, fading into the shadows again, and I want to call him back. Apologize. If the idea of Buffy's grave being desecrated would make Willow sick to think of it, or send Xander into a rage, then Spike.... He's probably done things like this in his life. Before the chip, it's the kind of thing he might have found funny, if Giles' books are right.

I can't think about this hurting him; I can't help it. And the alternative is so much worse.

"Thanks, Spike." I walk back up the stairs, wishing it were already night, wishing the ritual was already over, wishing everyone didn't hurt so much that there's no way to avoid bruising someone with words, or a touch, or a just a thought.


We don't talk as we walk through the cemetery, and I read off the headstones to myself as we go by: Michael Jasperson, Reva Alvarez, Glenn Urrutia, Laura Concannon... It's an older part of Westview; no new vampires are rising here, but it's not old enough to interest anyone with occult leanings. No reason for anyone to be here, no monsters to be chased across her resting place. Giles looked for the perfect place to bury Buffy; I don't know how much he paid for it, to get this plot in a supposedly closed cemetery, but when Willow saw the spot he picked she hugged him, hard.

The moonlight is shining through the branches of the guardian willow tree, sending ribbons of light twisting down over her grave. Spike parts the branches like curtains, and I duck beneath them to stand at the foot of her grave. It feels so safe here; a place between this world and the next, with time stopped at the moment her headstone was carved. Spike is nearly motionless next to me, the smoke of his cigarette spiraling around us for a second, then drifting away as he drops it and crushes it out with the heel of his boot. There are new flowers draped over the headstone: dandelions, columbines, violets, clovers, ones you can find growing around the edges of graveyards and parks. They could have been left by little kids with no money, or offered by demons who want her to stay in her grave. There's no way to know which.

I put the bag with my preparations down on the ground and kneel at the foot of her grave. If Spike weren't here I would say hello, tell her what's going on with Willow, maybe what Anya admitted to me about missing her. But I can't say anything in front of him; my tongue gets tied by fear and embarrassment. So I silently begin unpacking the materials for the ritual.

"Do you need me to do anything?" he asks me suddenly, pacing alongside her grave, his eyes scanning the night around us for demons or vampires.

"No. I can't stop this once I've started, that's the important thing. If anything comes by, you can't let it interrupt me."

"Not a problem." I can't see his face; it's in a shadow cast by the tree trunk. He's watching me, stalking back and forth, as I put the ambergris-and-rose mixture on the headstone, and place five candles around her grave. It's awkward with my arm still encased in fiberglass and plaster, but I finished everything I could before we got here; all the ingredients are mixed, and I rolled up the thread so it would be easy to unravel. I'm just about to string the silk through the wicks of the candles when he crouches down next to me, putting his hand over mine. I choke off a squeak.

"Hold up a sec." I'm shivering, shudders traveling up my arm from his hand. His face is bright white in the darkness, and far too close. "I've got another idea." I don't want to hear this, I can already tell, because his voice is much too controlled, his eyes too intent on mine. "That resurrection spell Dawn biffed. You could do that instead of this one, couldn't you?"

"What?" I shake my head, my mouth working uselessly for a second. "No. I... Spike, no." Please, no. Please don't ask me this.

"Why not?" His hand closes around mine, and he isn't hurting me, but I'm still shaking. And he sounds so reasonable, so rational, and it's all wrong. "You're a real witch, not like Niblet. Not that I'm blaming her for the balls-up with the spell for Joyce, you understand. She's young, she got spooked. It was her first try. Bound to mess it up. You, though... you could do this right. Bring her back. Fix it."

"No, Spike. I can't."

"I can get you the demon egg, that's not a problem -- we'd just need a picture, and maybe one of her sweaters---"

"Spike -- no." I'm whispering now, and shaking my head frantically. His expression hardens as he watches me, and for a second I think I see his face shift into the demon's, then back. Before he can say anything more, I'm stumbling over my words, trying to stop him from sounding so hopeful in that cold and level tone. "It wouldn't work. That spell -- it isn't a good spell, it's just, just... a re-animation spell. Not a real resurrection."

"What's the difference? She'd be alive, wouldn't she?" He sounds impatient and irritated, but he's begging me to tell him what he wants to hear without any pleading at all, and I want to cry. The first time he asks for something after she dies, and it has to be this, and I can't give him what he wants, what he thinks he needs....

"She-- It... It wouldn't be Buffy." The wind shifts, and the leaves whisper secrets around us. I'm trembling, wishing Willow or Giles were here, someone smarter, someone who isn't scared of him. His face is frozen, icy pale, like one of the marble seraphim on the headstones. "It would just be her body, Spike. I can't -- there's no way to bring her back. Not the real her."

"That curse of Angel's. You could give the body a soul---"

I'm going to be sick, I know I am. "No! That would be worse!"

"Why? 'Fraid to break a few rules? Think the Goddess is going to smack you down for playing with fire, is that it? Some friend you are, witch." He stands up, steps away from me, his face twisting with contempt, and I'm shaking my head again, trying not to choke on the tears that are welling up. "Forget it. Do the damn ritual on your own. If you muff it, I'll be back with someone who can do what needs doing. In fact, I think I'll make sure of it---" He draws back his foot to kick over the candles, and I shriek.

"She'd still be hurting! It would hurt her, Spike! You can bring back the body and you can give it a soul, but you c-can't make it so she didn't die!"

"What?" He's standing on one foot, blinking at me, his brows drawn down, rattled for the first time since this awful conversation started. "I don't---"

"Spike..." I swallow the stone lodged in my throat, and close my eyes so I can get it all out at once. "Her body would still be injured. She'd still remember dying. She wouldn't heal. She'd be in so much pain... You can't... you can't make a dead body alive again, not like it was. Not unless you're - something more than human. God. Goddess. Holy." I open my eyes, stare down at the preparations I placed around her grave, and give up the fight. "I wish I could do it. I wish..."

I'm sobbing so hard I can't see, and everything that made Buffy my friend flashes through my mind: hugs and joking, standing up to my dad for me, giggling herself breathless over some silly joke of Xander's, how she used to obsess over nail polish and then switch to talking about knives in the next minute, chocolate ice cream and romantic movies and how she wanted me and Willow to be together forever. Acceptance and bravery and caring, all gone.

I don't know how long I cry before Spike is kneeling next to me, one of his arms going around me, stroking my hair out of my face. It takes me a while to stop, to get my breathing under control and finally look at him. I still can't tell what he's thinking, not really. But there's something that could be defeat on his face, and it's almost as bad as the sight of him breaking down was, last week.

"I'm sorry," I whisper. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I would if I could..."

"I know." He stands up, steps away, and walks around her grave, looking back out at the night again, his body relaxed and ready. "Do what you have to, witch. No one's going to stop you."

I wipe the tears off my face with my good hand, my face hot in the cold air. And wish there was anything left to fix, that really could go back to the way it was.


"... For the power. For the body. For the soul. For the heart. For mercy. For the balance of the world of flesh, and the world of spirit... I ask you this, Lord and Lady, for the sake of the departed, and those still living. Protect. Preserve. Prevent. Ward. Warn. By my will, by that of the departed, by thine.... Consecrate."

As the glow around Buffy's grave fades, I can feel the wards settle into position around her earthly resting place and I give a soft sigh of relief. Then I whisper thanks to God and Goddess and blow out the candle in my hand. The ones around her grave I leave to burn down to the ground -- they'll be consumed by sunrise and moonset, fixing the magic for a long, long time.

"Thrilling special effects," Spike comments from behind me. I stumble to my feet without looking at him, then bend down to retrieve the athame, before kissing it and wrapping it up in the tissue paper from the bag, carefully putting it in the pocket of my jacket for cleansing later. "That it?"

"Uh-hunh." I study her headstone for a minute, reading the inscription again, and remember the eulogy Wesley gave when we buried her. "You save a world every time you save a life," he'd said. "Buffy Summers saved a thousand worlds, and those worlds went on to save others, in a chain whose links can not be counted: so that in a way, she became immortal long before she died. We can only hope to make the worlds she saved shine as brightly as her own."

I should have something to say, a farewell, a thank-you, a prayer. But I think I said everything I wanted to with the ritual. And Buffy knew how much I hated to talk sometimes. I settle for a simple, "Good-bye, Buffy."

Spike is smoking again, his eyes half-lidded, and I bite my lip as a thought occurs to me. "I can wait, over by the fence... if you want some time alone here...."

It takes a second for my meaning to sink in, and he gives me the strangest look, then glances away. "No. She's not here, is she?" His voice is rough. "No point."

"Oh." I turn away and duck through the willow branches, and after a second I can hear him following me across the grass. I wait until we reach the entrance to Westview before I stop, my hand on the iron gate as Spike catches up. "Spike?"

"Yeah, witch?"

"Will you walk me over to Pinecrest Cemetery?"

He flicks open the catch on the gate, then narrows his eyes as he takes the cigarette out of his mouth. "What's over there?"

"Something else I have to do." I drop my gaze, old habits taking over again when I know I'm about to do something that someone else won't approve of.

"What are you up to?" He steps closer to me, and I fiddle with the handles of the bag as I try to figure out what to tell him. "Witch?"

I lose my nerve. I can't ask him to do this. "You don't have to go with me, it's... I can just take a cab. I can do this bit alone, I don't need---"

"Hold up, no need to have another nervous breakdown," he interrupts me, and I flinch. He laughs a little, but it isn't mean; exasperated, maybe. "I swear, you and Red are the trickiest pair of mice I've ever met. Mice with teeth. Always with the shyness and the secrets and the spells. Red's turned into such a wildcat since I first met her, too-- makes me wonder what you'll turn into." I sneak a look at him from under my lashes, and he's grinning at me. "'Fess up. It's not like I'll rat you out to the Watcher for bad voudoun."

"No, I know that." I straighten a little, and let out a breath, thinking of Willow. She's my hero. Not in a she-saved-me way -- even though sometimes I still think she did -- but in a want-to-be-her-someday way. Not all the time, not when she's angry, or pushing herself into the magic too far -- but because she's never let being afraid stop her. This is such a stupid thing to be afraid of, Spike being angry, Spike being harsh when he finds out what I want to do.... He can't hurt me. I can stand anything else.

"I'll tell you when we get there, okay?" He cocks an eyebrow at me again, and even to me it sounds like I'm apologizing. "It's easier to show than tell."

Spike sizes me up, then shrugs and gestures me through the gate. "After you, then."

We start the mile and a half walk to Pinecrest in silence, but run into trouble halfway there. A bunch of vampires are strutting down the middle of the street, which never would have happened even a week ago. Overconfident. Until one of the vampires in the group recognizes Spike. She stops, then flees in the other direction after yelling "Spike!" to the others, and they all freeze for a second, then break and scatter like startled birds. Spike stands next to me on the sidewalk and just smirks.

"Good to be bad," he purrs, rocking on his heels. I might be wrong, but he doesn't seem to enjoy their fear that much. At least, not as much as he used to, before... well, before. "Thought it was a touch too quiet."

"It's the full moon. Lots of monsters don't like this much light," I explain as we start walking again. He gives me an amused smile, and I mentally slap myself, feeling a blush creep up my neck. "Well, you probably know that. Of course."

"Mmm.... Dru always loved full moon nights," he says, sounding reflective. "She'd dance outside in it -- said the moon made better music than the stars. Louder, like the trumpets of doom." He gets quiet again, and I'm wondering if he's missing her. If he wants to go back to her, now that Buffy's gone. I'll never be able to ask.

He changes the subject abruptly. "What exactly is all the mojo supposed to do? And why didn't the Watcher do this before?"

"Um, well, it's better to do it on full moon nights, because of the light, so this was the best night for it.... And Giles maybe didn't think of it because most funerals and burial rites are done to protect bodies anyway. But a funeral wouldn't stop human sorcerers, or really, really strong demons, so... " My words trail off for a little bit, and then I speak again, thinking out loud more than anything else. "I'm not even sure that it needed to be done. Except that I, I wanted... It seemed like a good idea. Just in case."

"Better safe than accursed, that it?"

"Something like that." An evil warlock or wizard could have done all sorts of horrible things with Buffy's body, or just the dirt from her grave, or water that had flown across it. That can't happen now. The wards I put up will stop anyone of evil intent, at least anyone who isn't so powerful that they'd hardly need her body to do something harmful. And even if those wards are broken, at least I'll know. We'll be warned.

Willow could break them, maybe. She's getting so strong. I used to be afraid to be around her when she worked magic-- she was right about that, even though it made me so ashamed to hear her say it out loud. It was like standing next to a tornado: it's not malicious, or evil, but the power inside can make everything it touches fly apart. I'm not scared of that anymore-- I'm more afraid that Willow herself will spiral out of control, and the magic will rip her to pieces. I have to be her ground now, the thing she can touch and not break, the place she can rest. It has to get better soon. When her grief is less. When the new monsters are gone. Soon. It has to.

When we reach Pinecrest, I stop for a second, not sure where to go. Then I spot the newest row, and we slowly walk down it as I scan for the name I want on the sharply cut headstones. Avery, Isito, Parsons.... I find the right one and stop in front of it, hardly daring to breathe. I feel Spike stiffen next to me as he reads the name on the headstone as I rummage in my bag.

"What the...." He sees the candle in my hand, a twin to the one I used in the ritual for Buffy, and the second athame. I don't look away from him, just meet his eyes with all the courage I have.

"Abso-bloody-lutely no fucking way," he says, and it's worse because his voice is so pleasant, and he's smiling. I cringe momentarily, then lift my chin.

"It has to be done."

"I'm not going to let you." He lights another cigarette, then very deliberately steps onto the fresh grave and does a small time-step. "If you think I'm going to stand by while you give this sonuvabitch the same magic protection spell you just gave Buffy, you're out of your bleeding mind, love."

I look away from him, and read the headstone again.

Benedict Samuel Coleman 1975-2001 Beloved Son When I am gone, dream me some happiness....

"He deserves to rest in pieces, witch, not in peace. The only ritual I'd let you do here is that reanimation thing, so I can beat the living crap out of him. Many, many, *many* times." Spike looks thoughtful, and it's the most expression I've seen on him in days. Which makes it all the creepier. "Actually...."

"No," I tell him, and my voice is firmer than I thought it could be. He glares at me and I'm quaking inside, but it's almost reflex, just the feeling of me hating conflict and confrontation again. I know I'm right. He can't scare me or insult me into doing something like that.

"It wouldn't help, anyway," I point out, my voice softer. "He'd still be human, sort of. You couldn't--"

"Don't tell me what I *couldn't*, witch," Spike says dangerously. "You think it wouldn't be worth a little pain to give this bastard what he had coming to him?" He kicks the gravestone and snarls. "He got off too easy. A million damned times too bloody easy. If anyone deserves to rot in hell, it's him."

"Maybe," I whisper.

He turns back to me, examining my face too carefully for comfort again. "So why the hell are we here, then? You know it, I know it... You don't have to do this." He's right in front of me, now, and he's taking the candle out of my hands, his voice almost kind. "You're tired from the last one, witch. No kind of shape to be mucking about with more magic. Let it go."

"I can't."

"Can't means won't, this time." He steps back, away from me and off the grave, and he puts the cigarette back in his mouth, taking a long drag from it as his face becomes an expressionless ivory mask again. "Explain it in simple English, will you? Unless you can't, and all of this just shows that Red didn't get bits of your brain back from that hellbitch. What's worth protecting here?"

"Dawn." I let out a breath, and speak a little louder. "Willow. Giles. Xander. Anya." I look at him a second. "You."

Spike's face shows actual shock, and I kneel down next to the grave, suddenly too tired to remain standing and arguing with him. "He was Glory's avatar. Maybe all her people are dead, but maybe..." I'm struggling for words again, and I wish I'd asked Anya to do this, or for one traitorous moment, Willow. "It's like with Buffy's grave: I just don't know. It might not stop anything that's both evil and extremely strong, maybe it doesn't need to be done, but... if nothing else, it'll let us know. We'll get some warning."

I stare at Ben's grave thinking that no one deserves what happened to him, trapped as Glory's mortal prison. But part of me agrees with Spike, too. Because of the pain in Dawn's voice when she talks about Ben, and the haunted look in Giles' eyes when he listens. Because Ben pretended to be our friend, at least a little. Because Buffy liked him, and he's part of the reason she's dead. Willow fixed my brain, putting back everything Glory stole, but my hand still hurts, it's hurting now, and I don't believe in revenge. I don't. But I have to be able to sleep again, and this... this might help.

Selfish reasons, which make the ritual less than pure. I'm going to have to concentrate so hard, so strong, on peace and rest and pity and compassion if I'm going to get through this and make it work for Ben. If I go into a trance and remember the way his body looked when we found him, how he saved Giles' life when the Knights hurt him, that none of this could have been what he wanted... I can do this. I'll think of protecting Dawn, and the world -- those are good reasons too. I won't think about how scared I am sometimes that I'm still losing parts of my mind, or the sound of Willow sobbing until she couldn't breathe.

"Alright, then." I jump a little. I almost forgot Spike was here, I got so caught up in thinking about Ben. I look at him, and whatever conclusions he came to while I was caught in my own thoughts, I can't read them from his face. He stares at the headstone for a long moment, then hands me the candle and grins bitterly. "If she can't come back... same goes here. Do the ritual."

He turns away, and I can barely hear him whisper, "Don't want to have it that she died for nothing, do we."


When I finish the ceremony this time, I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open. It worked, though. The light around Ben's grave isn't as bright as that at Buffy's, maybe because I couldn't put as much effort into it. But the power's there, sinking into the soil and fading away before my eyes like the afterimage from a camera flash. I blow out the candle in my hand, then pick up the second athame with fingers that jitter across the grass.

"Did it work?" Spike keeps his back to me as he paces to the headstone, and it's all I can do to mumble confirmation. He turns on his heel and scrutinizes me with hard eyes, then grudgingly comes back and holds out a hand to help me stand. I'm swaying as I put everything in the bag and into my jacket pockets, and my fingers dig into Spike's as I climb to my feet. When I'm standing, he lets go of my hand, then drops his cigarette onto Ben's grave and stamps it out. Grinding his heel into the freshly-laid sod, Spike gives me a sullen look like he expects to be scolded, and hopes I'll give him an excuse to snarl. I gaze back at him, deadpan.

If Willow were here, she'd be torn between being glad that Ben's grave was protected from tampering and wanting to call down vengeance curses on him for his next ten lives, with Anya helping. Xander would have done a little dance awfully similar to Spike's, only he might have added jumping up and down on the headstone if he'd let himself. Just because I want to protect the people I love doesn't mean I'm going to tell them to forgive. I know they can't forget. Neither can I.

"Let's go."

After three blocks, Spike has to steer me by my elbow down the street, because I'm walking into mailboxes and parking meters. "Bloody sodding *stupid* thing to do. You just better tell Red I tried to talk you out of this, because I was right, wasn't I? You weren't up to it, not with the broken bones and magicking the Slayer's grave, and now you're paying for it. Can't blame me for this one, she can't...."

"We're not going to tell her, remember?" I stop in the middle of the sidewalk in front of Ben&Jerry's. "Mint chocolate chip."

"What?" He squints at me like he thinks I'm still crazy, then notices the shop, and rolls his eyes. "We have to have a serious talk about your priorities, witch."

"I told Willow I'd bring ice cream after I was done typing my paper. Mint chocolate chip for Willow, Cherry Garcia for Xander, Chunky Monkey for Dawn, Vanilla Caramel Fudge for Giles---"

"All right, all right, all right... we'll get the bloody ice cream already. Hell's bells, you're worse than Dru when she gets an idea in her head," he grumbles, pushing open the door.

It makes me think of what I was wondering about before as we pick out the pints of ice cream from the freezer -- if Spike will go back to Dru now that Buffy's gone. If he's going to leave. He doesn't have any reason to stay now, besides Dawn. Maybe he wants to go but also wants to make sure all the monsters from the rift are gone first. The Initiative is gone, along with any hope of him getting the chip out of his brain. Drusilla won't come back here any time soon. Why would he stay?

Which makes me wonder how much longer any of us will be here. If Dawn's dad will show up and take her back to L.A. If Xander and Anya will leave in a few years, when they want to have kids; I can't see them raising children on the Hellmouth. If Giles will leave to train the next Slayer, or go back to England soon. If Willow will want to stay, or if the memories will get to be too much, and she'll want to transfer to another school, and what will I do if she does? And what will I do if she doesn't, and this just keeps happening, over and over again? What if the next time it *is* Willow? What would I do then?

"Penny for 'em, witch."

I blink at Spike stupidly for a moment, then shake my head. "Nothing. Just thinking."

"Bad habit. Nothing good comes of it, trust me on that. Just look at the Watcher. You want to end up like him?" It would be funny, except that Spike's delivery is flat, and Giles... Giles still isn't himself yet. So it isn't a joke.

I frown down at the pavement, counting the cracks as they go by, stepping over them carefully. "I just... was thinking about the future."

"Don't you know we don't have one?"

I glance at him in the light of the street-lamps, and his eyes are bleak, as distant as they were when I asked him to come with me to the graveyard. I hadn't realized he was starting to wake up and act like Spike. Just a little bit. But now the spark is dimming again, and I can't help but blurt out, "You're wrong. You don't know that."

He shifts the bag of ice cream under his arm and steps in front of me, forcing me to stop. "Yes, I do." His gaze is hard-edged and focused, a blasting search-light on a cloudy night, and I want to back away from him. But I'm so tired that I know I'd trip and fall over my own heels if I did.

"You are going to die, Red is going to die, the sodding Watcher and the whelp are going to die, and even that annoying ex-immortal ex-demon is going to snuff it, because you're mortal. And that's what mortals do. They die. It's right there in the name: mortal. It's only a question of when."

I stare at him, crossing my arms, trying to wrap my brain around this and knowing he's missing something, but I'm not sure what. "But...."

"So unless you're going to call up D'Hoffryn and talk him into re-vengeancing Anya, or give Willow her job, and then make a lot of stupid immortality wishes -- or unless you let some vamp stick his fangs in your neck -- it's going to happen. You got that, witch?" he snarls. I never wanted this much attention from Spike, and all I can do is stand here and take it.

"Can you get over this idea that any of it matters? Can you grasp that there's no bloody *point* to saving the world? Like any of you are going to get a big prize and a million-dollar check and a trip to Disneyland out of this. You stay here, it's a death sentence. And a lot shorter one than most are. You probably won't get any kind of last supper before you get killed some way loads nastier than a fatal injection. So *don't* think about the future, *don't* tell me there's a a good reason, and *do not* claim that any of this moronic 'good fight' is worth it," he finishes off, his voice getting quieter. "'Cause it's not."

He's talking about Buffy. I know it, he knows it, and he'd break my jaw if I said it, chip or not. "Then why are you still here?" I whisper.

Spike opens his mouth, then closes it, and I uncross my arms, something loosening inside me as his expression changes from angry and intense to who-gives-a-crap. "No place better to be."

And that's enough for me to know that he's not going to leave first. It might be because of Dawn, or it might be revenge on the demons that came through, or respect for Buffy's memory, or even liking the rest of us just a little bit, but he's not going away. Which is a relief for a lot of reasons, most of them too complicated to list out in my head. None of them anything Spike wants to hear. So I just nod understandingly. "Oh."

He glares at me for several long seconds, then turns to stalk back down the street, muttering under his breath. "Bloody witches and their bleeding questions and their *stupid* rituals and their goddamned ice cream and their sodding spells and their crazy excursions and I could be in Rio, I could, if it weren't too hot to stand this time of year...."

I smother a smile at his ranting, but I don't say anything more as I follow him back to Dawn's house, and it strikes me that I'm not afraid of Spike now. Not really. And I'm not quite as afraid of what's ahead for all of us.

Spike will do what he wants. Willow will do what she needs to do. I'll do what I have to, whatever that is. Ice cream with Dawn, or spells with Willow, or just talking to whoever needs it. Even Spike.

There's still a lot to be careful of here, and so much that needs someone to take care. So I guess I'm not going anywhere either.



Ben's epitaph is a line taken from John Donne's Elegy XVII - On His Mistress.



Feedback: C.L. Kamnikar

The Darkest Dawn  


Back to SunS Fanfic | Back to Angel Annex Fanfic