I last updated this story in early 2009, and even before that my writing had slowed to a trickle, just a chapter a year for several years. But I never quite admitted to myself that I had abandoned this story; I kept thinking "someday, maybe, I'll finish it."
I have finally admitted to myself that I'm not going to finish it.
And having done that, in some sense, I finished it.
Here's what I'm posting tonight:
First, what I'm calling chapter 14, which was originally meant to be the first half of chapter 14 and which has actually been sitting on my hard drive for the past five years.
Second, a summary of what would have happened in the rest of the story, and indeed in the rest of the Fragments-verse, had I ever managed to write it. I wrote this summary in the last two days, based on my notes from 2005-2009 and on the version of the story which has lived only in my head for the past five years. This summary ... well, it turned out to be 4000 words long. It is not a story, but in the end it took on some story-like qualities. You'll see.
I'll start with my "previously" bit, which might be helpful if you haven't looked at this story in five years.
Previously in the Fragments-verse....
In Not The End, Angel defeated Wolfram & Hart's army, and got fired. Er, 'downsized'. And Spike got flambéed by a dragon, but was immediately reincarnated as a human. Weird! Wonder how that happened?
In Human Frailty, we skipped ahead six months and saw Spike and Xander living together as a couple in Rome. Unfortunately it would seem that Spike's reincarnation had left him a bit fucked up. Xander was looking a bit worse for the wear, too. At least they had each other!
In Late Night Porn Store Blues, we zipped back in time to watch Xander meet human-Spike, who was living with Illyria and working in a sex shop at the time. And yet there was no sex!
In How the Light Gets In, the gap between the previous two stories was bridged. Xander found out about Spike's fragile health, and Spike found out why Xander was so haunted by events in Africa. They helped each other, a bit. And finally there was sex!
In Before the Time of Dawn, Spike and Xander travelled back in time to Sunnydale circa Xander's senior year to save the tragically misunderstood Sisterhood of Jhe. They hoped to avoid contact with the Scoobies of 1999. Hah! But everything turned out okay in the end.
In That Good Night, so far: Xander, Spike and Buffy are all in Sao Paulo, visiting Willow and Kennedy and their new baby, Tara. Xander and Buffy (but not Spike) were surprised to learn, sequentially, that Oz was also in town, that he was the biological father of the baby, and that he and Willow and Kennedy were now in a three-way relationship. Also, this is the first time that Spike and Buffy have met since Spike burned up in the Hellmouth two years previously, so that's been a bit awkward. And as if Xander didn't have enough to worry about, Spike's been seeing Drusilla around town and in his dreams, and Oz thinks Spike may be sicker than they realize. Meanwhile, an army of child-vampires is amassing in a nearby favela. Our heroes had better do something about that!
And now, the conclusion!
Title: That Good Night (parts 14 and 15 of 15, more or less)
Rating: NC-17 overall (barely)
Pairing: Spike/Xander, ensemble
Summary: A couple of years post-NFA, Spike is human, and it isn’t working out so well. He and Xander are currently in Sao Paulo, where Willow has just had a baby and a new vampire problem is looming.
Warnings: For earlier parts, I warned: "This story will get dark at times. Definitely angsty, h/c with lots of hurt. Character death will most definitely be threatened, and I'd rather not say what comes of it (though if you're terribly worried, ask me privately)." To this part, I append the warning that the author stopped writing this story before it was finished, and then five years later sort of summarized how the story would have ended if she'd ever finished writing it.
Length: 1000 words for chapter fourteen. 4000 words for the ending summary. 49,000 words for the whole story from the beginning.
Disclaimer: They're not mine, and I'm not making any money.
Oz woke up to the smell of coffee and sausages. He was in his own bed. The angle of the light shining through his window told him he’d slept later than usual. That was a good sign -- if there’d been any emergencies overnight, someone would have woken him up.
He stood up carefully, checking how it felt. Stiffer than yesterday. About what he’d expected.
He knelt in front of the low altar under the window. Held a flame to the edge of a charcoal disc until it caught, put it in the small ceramic bowl. Lit an incense stick, stuck it upright in the jar of sand. Crumbled a few pinches of dried herbs over the slowly-burning charcoal.
He settled back, took a few breaths. Smoke rose from the herbs in thin wisps; it made his nose itch and his eyes prickle. Wolfsbane, Devil’s Bit, Himalayan Mandrake. The sandalwood incense could only go so far in masking the smell.
He settled into himself; felt what there was to feel. The knife wound, still healing. The wolf, coiled inside. It was resting now, not fighting him.
That was a metaphor. The wolf was him. He just didn’t feel it so strongly this morning.
He stayed in place, breathed some more, let thoughts and emotions float to the surface of his mind. He felt awe at how beautiful Tara was. Fear at how tiny and vulnerable she was. Concern about Kennedy and Buffy’s coming battle with the vampire children. Envy that Kennedy had spent the night in bed with Willow and Tara while he’d slept apart. The wolf stirred a little at that last thought, briefly bared its metaphorical teeth. He soothed it back down with a firm hand, and continued his meditation.
The girls were in the kitchen having breakfast. Tara wasn’t with them, but the baby monitor’s receiver sat in the middle of the table, hissing a low static. Willow, who was tearing into a plate of scrambled eggs, was the first to notice Oz. "G’morni-g," she greeted him with her mouth full. She waved a hand at the stove, and swallowed. “Have some food. There’s lots left. Xander and Spike aren’t up yet.”
Oz helped himself to a couple of sausages, a few scoops of eggs, and a cup of coffee. "How was the night?" he asked.
"We were up four times," Kennedy said. She was clutching a coffee mug with both hands. "Did you seriously not hear us?"
"Yeah," Oz shrugged. He ignored her cranky tone -- Kennedy was not a morning person at the best of times. "Thanks for letting me sleep. It helped -- I’m feeling better."
"That’s good!" Buffy said. "Because I think we’re gonna need you after all."
"Battle plans?" Oz nodded at the piece of paper in front of Buffy, which was covered in boxes and arrows and frustrated scribbles.
Buffy grimaced. "Yeah, well, it’s a bit hard to come up with a game plan when we don’t even know what the field looks like."
"We know there’s a front door" Kennedy said. "We go through it, we start dusting the minivamps. Easy."
"Until they surround us and cut us off from each other and kill us with a zillion teensy-tiny bites," Buffy countered. "We need a better plan than that."
"The sun ball's effects will be optimized if you can set it off in the middle of a big room full of vampires," Willow said.
"Which, if it doesn’t work, leaves us stranded in the middle of a big room full of vampires," Kennedy pointed out.
Buffy frowned. "Wait, this plan feels familiar somehow. What does it remind me of?"
"Hellmouth," Spike said from the kitchen door. "First Evil. Ubervamps. Me in the middle of it, making like a solar flare."
"Oh, right." Buffy winced.
"But we won that one!" Willow said brightly.
"Well, there is that." Spike took a seat at the table and accepted the cup of coffee that Oz silently handed him.
"What if we go in through the roof?" Buffy suggested. "They wouldn’t expect that, and we’d start with the high ground."
"You said you might need me," Oz reminded her.
"The sun ball spell." Willow had that feverish glint in her eyes that she got whenever she was working on serious magic. It always reminded Oz of that night she’d put Angel’s soul back in. "It works, Oz, it really works! This’ll make so much difference to the way we fight vampires. There’s just, well, one little catch. It takes about forty-five seconds to cast."
"Someone’s gonna have to sit down in a room full of vampires and do some nice, leisurely chanting," Kennedy said, giving Willow a serious I don’t like this plan kind of look.
Oz nodded. "That’ll have to be me, then."
Kennedy shook her head. "You’ll be vulnerable."
"So you’ll protect me."
"Okay," Buffy said, like it was settled already. She was used to leading.
Kennedy, who was not so used to following, looked like she wanted to keep arguing about it, but Oz pressed his knee against hers under the table and she let it go with just a grimace of protest. She had to know, really, that this was as good a plan as they were going to come up with.
"So we just need to figure out what to do about any live kids we find in there," Buffy continued.
"Xander could wait outside, lead them away," Willow suggested.
"Not Xander," Buffy said with a worried glance in Spike’s direction.
"It’d be safe, he could stay in the sunlight," Kennedy said. "Hey, where is Xander?"
"Shower," Spike said. "And it’s not a question of safe, he’d be no use to you -- doesn’t speak Portuguese, remember? I can do it -- get the kiddies away, if you find any alive, which I doubt."
Oz raised an eyebrow. "You need to take it easy. That does not qualify."
"What about Elena?" Willow suggested.
Buffy blinked. "Your housekeeper?"
"She’s the one who told us kids were disappearing in the favela," Willow said. "I bet she’d want to help."
"Does she know about..." Buffy made a one-handed fangy gesture. "Grr, argh?"
"A little," Kennedy said. "She saw a vampire once. And she saw me slay it. We talked about it a bit after that. I never told her about Oz being a werewolf, though. Or about Willow being a witch."
"Okay, we’ll ask her to help. Kennedy, you’ll take care of that?" Buffy put her hands flat on the table and took a deep breath. "Okay then, people. I think we have a plan."
Huge thanks to yourlibrarian, who beta-read this part back in 2009, who over the course of the beta-reading became a friend, and who still to this very day says encouraging things about my prospects for writing more Buffyverse fic!
And now ... the end. Such as it is. This 'verse began in fragments and it will end in fragments. Here's what would have happened, plot thread by plot thread.
The plan would have worked. Buffy, Kennedy and Oz would have made it to the heart of Hotel Inferno, where they would have found Carlos (the leader of the mini-vamps) and probably engaged in a bit of witty banter before all hell broke loose. The battle would have been exhilarating: Buffy and Kennedy in a whirlwind of kicks and punches and thrusting stakes guarding Oz, who in the eye of the storm would quietly and with great self-control have put together the delicate spell Willow had devised, and then the room would have been flooded with cold bright sunlight.
The sun ball spell would have destroyed Carlos and all of his best fighters; after that, Buffy and Kennedy would have had no difficulty going through the rest of the hotel and mopping up the remainder of the child-vampire army.
Elena would have waited outside in vain; no living children would have emerged.
Afterwards, Willow would have been upset about how they had dealt with the problem by slaying, like they always do, without doing anything to actually help the street kids who were so desperate that joining a vampire army seemed like a good idea. Kennedy would have been dismissive, pointing out the huge and intractable nature of poverty, probably using the words "just the way the world works" at some point along the way. Oz would have mediated between them, helping each to understand the other's point of view, and eventually the three of them would probably have agreed to try to find some real and meaningful way to make things better. How that would have proceeded in the long term is unclear, and this story was never going to be mainly about that; but the three of them live in Sao Paulo, and they are superheroes. They would have managed something.
Buffy would have brought Gabriel back to Rome, like she'd planned. And he would have run away, like Kennedy had warned her. And she would have found him, and he would have run away again, and she would have found him again ... and it would have been rough. Much harder than raising Dawn after their mother died. But eventually, Gabriel would have started to warm up to her. He would have made friends with some of the younger Slayers. He would have found a place for himself at the new Council. In the end he probably would have grown up to be a vampire hunter. But this story was never going to be mainly about that, either.
Finding out that Spike and Angel used to be lovers was difficult for Xander. Seeing Spike and Buffy together, knowing their history, was difficult for Xander. Xander's own capacity for jealous rage is a thing that scares him. It scared him into leaving Anya at the altar; it scared him after he attacked Spike at the Hyperion (at the end of the Fragments-verse story Before the Time of Dawn).
Oz and Xander would have had a really good talk about all that at some point. Oz would have had some pretty helpful insights for Xander, speaking from his own experience of sharing Willow with Kennedy, and of taming his inner werewolf. And afterwards, Xander's jealousy would have been less. His ability to be calm when Spike was with Buffy would have been greater. He wouldn't have gone to Spike and suggested having an open relationship or anything, but that particular tension which stemmed from Xander's jealous possessiveness would have been greatly eased. It is also true that Spike, at this point, honestly doesn't want to be with anyone but Xander.
Spike would have received a diagnosis, and it would have been leukemia—cancer of the blood.
After finding out what treatment would be like, and what the chances of success were, Spike would have decided that he would rather not seek treatment.
Xander would have been pretty upset.
Spike would have insisted. He's lived so long, and done so much, and experienced and caused so much pain, and he is tired, so very tired. He is ready to rest.
They would have returned to Rome with this thing hanging between them, huge and awful. At an impasse. Xander unable to convince Spike to keep fighting; Spike unable to get Xander to understand why he won't. The long flight back would have been terribly tense, the two of them barely speaking. And then to top it off, after the plane landed they would have been stuck on the tarmac for more than an hour due to some "situation" their pilot would decline to explain in detail. They would have seen from the window an ambulance pulling up to the plane, but no paramedics would have entered the passenger compartment. It would have been puzzling.
The next day, it would have been Dawn who came running into the Council to show everyone the gruesome story in a local tabloid: the frozen corpse of a woman found in the landing gear of a plane. There would have been a photo, and it would have been Drusilla's face.
Drusilla was in Sao Paulo. Spike was not imagining things. She was stalking him in the city. She was lurking near the house at night; his nightmares about her were triggered by her actual presence and the faint psychic link that they share.
Drusilla was the one who had vamped Carlos; she had encouraged him to build his army of vampire children, although she had stayed well back in the shadows and most of the mini-vamps had been unaware of her.
When Spike and Xander left Sao Paulo, she would have stowed away on the landing gear. When she thawed out after arrival, she would have walked out of the morgue. And then, not long before Dawn spotted her picture in the paper, Dru would have tracked down Spike, who would have been alone—and she would have kidnapped him.
When Spike disappeared right after it was discovered that Dru was in town, everyone would have assumed correctly that she had him. Xander would have totally freaked out, but Giles would have been on hand to cast a locator spell and Buffy would have been ready to knock down any necessary doors, stake in hand.
Meanwhile, a very awkward what-if conversation would have taken place: what if Drusilla re-vamps Spike? Xander would have insisted, emphatically, that in that case Spike should be safely contained but not harmed, and that if he didn't have a soul—and after all nobody was really sure whether he would or not, considering his unique circumstances—then Willow should re-ensoul him ASAP. Other parties, such as Giles, would have been rather skeptical about this plan. Xander would have secretly, meanwhile, started to think that a re-vamped, re-ensouled Spike might be better than a dying Spike. He would have voiced this thought to no one.
As it happens, after having a painful and revealing conversation with Dru about the current state of his life, Spike would have managed to stake her with a pencil. When Buffy burst through the door, he would have been kneeling in the dust, tears in his eyes.
Later, after some awkwardness between the two of them, Xander would have confessed to Spike the thoughts he'd had about the merits of re-vamping. Spike would have been horrified, initially, and there would have been a giant fight. But later, having had the chance to think about it (and maybe after talking it over with Buffy, or perhaps Illyria, or maybe both of them) Spike would have come to realize that Xander must be feeling very lost and scared and desperate indeed, to have thought such a thing. And finally Spike would have realized that Xander still needed him—really needed him. And so Spike would have agreed to seek treatment for his leukemia after all. To fight, one more time. To not go gently into that good night.
And that would have been the end of that story.
There would have been one more story.
The Truth about the Shanshu
This story would have picked up several months later—maybe half a year. It would have started with a small, sad party. Spike would be just home from the hospital, and the party would have been for him, but it soon would have become clear that the context was that Spike was dying. The treatment hadn't worked, and the side-effects and complications had come close to killing him, and the time had come to stop. He would be in a relatively good state for the moment, but there would be the understanding that he had, at most, a few months left. Xander would have been discussing the plans for palliative care with Willow and Oz, quietly, in a corner of the room. Xander would have been wishing he could go back to being a guy who didn't know what palliative care was.
Angel would have been conspicuously absent from the party. Dawn would have wondered out loud where he was. It would have been revealed to the reader that Spike and Angel had come to some kind of truce in recent weeks. Spike, facing the end of his life, was ready to be forgiving and forgiven.
Then Angel would have arrived after all—with an uninvited guest held firmly by the arm. Eve, last seen fleeing Wolfram & Hart the night it all fell apart. Angel would have tracked her down after seeing her on TV in the background of some glitzy charity ball (Angel watching TV alone, awake late at night, brooding).
The mood of the party would have shifted immediately, because Eve, it would be revealed, knows something about what happened to Spike.
Eve, flustered and scared and angry, would have practically spat it out. There had been a plan. It had been Lindsey's plan. It had been a plan to destroy Angel, and Lindsey had brought it to the Circle of the Black Thorn. They had taken his plan but discarded him. Eve would still have been furious about this.
The plan was inspired by Angel's obsession with the Shanshu, and by Lindsey's participation in the resurrection of Darla. Lindsey knew how to do the spell. He told the Circle about it, and he told Eve too. The plan was to use the spell to resurrect Spike, the other vampire-with-a-soul, as a human, and let Angel conclude that Spike had been the subject of the Shanshu prophecy all along. This, it was thought, would be a terrible blow to Angel.
At this point in Eve's explanation, Spike and Angel would have looked at each other with matching expressions of horror. "So, wait," Spike would have said then, "the reason I'm back on this earth is actually just to piss off Angel? Well, bugger me." And then he would have laughed and laughed.
Willow, meanwhile, would have stepped up to say that she knew the spell that Eve was talking about. She had researched resurrection spells extensively a few years ago (guilty look in Buffy's direction). The spell that had been used on Darla and Spike would only work on a being whose body had been completely destroyed—as by a thorough cremation, or the dusting of a vampire. If the spell was cast while the body was still intact, it would maintain itself, inert, in a sort of mystical holding pattern until the body was actually destroyed. If the Circle of the Black Thorn had cast the spell around the same time they got Angel to sign away his Shanshu, then it had been in a holding pattern for days before Spike got dusted in the fight with the dragon. The spell wasn't meant to work that way. There would be signal degradation.
Put simply, Spike had come back wrong because he'd been the victim of a botched resurrection spell.
Unfortunately, knowing what went wrong isn't the same thing as being able to fix it. The cancer had a mystical cause but it wasn't mystical cancer, and Willow would have told Spike, with regret, that she couldn't fix it with a spell. Xander would have pointed out that she had once magically healed a gunshot wound, and Willow would have explained that that had actually been a whole lot simpler than cancer, not to mention she'd been totally hopped up on dark magic at the time, to world-destroying levels.
In conclusion: Spike was still going to die.
The Problem in Borneo
You probably don't remember, but back in chapter one of That Good Night, when Buffy and Xander were catching up on news, Buffy said "Looks like we might have a problem next fall in Borneo, but Angel's on it."
Now that problem was finally going to hit the crisis point. Angel would have called an emergency session of the new Council. Even Spike would have been there, perhaps in a wheelchair. Angel would have explained what he had discovered: this was one of the loose ends left behind by the departure of Wolfram & Hart. In a cave deep in the jungle of Borneo, there is some kind of monster. Every thirteen years, on the day of the fall equinox, this monster requires a human sacrifice. Wolfram & Hart have been providing said sacrifice, every thirteen years on the dot, for as far back as their records go—which is actually farther back than the historical invention of writing. They sent in murderers, torturers, sociopaths, lawyers. Each one walked into the cave—generally under duress—and no one ever walked out. Wolfram & Hart's records, as related by one surviving clerk, warn that if the sacrifice is ever missed, the monster will leave the cave and Apocalypse will follow.
At the time of this meeting, the autumn equinox would be two weeks away.
Possibilities for slaying the monster would have been discussed, but a lack of specific information about the monster would have hampered the planning. Illyria, wandering into the boardroom to have a word with the potted ferns, would have suggested that the monster may actually be one of the elder gods, one who never made it into the Deeper Well. If that's the case, then slaying is really not an option.
Finally, Spike—who would have been rather quiet up to this point—would have spoken up and said that he was willing to be the sacrifice. It wouldn't solve the problem, but it would buy them thirteen years to come up with something better.
Xander, needless to say, would not have been in favour of this plan. Nobody else would really have hopped right on board either. Spike would have made a pretty convincing case, though—he's going to die very soon anyway, and he'd rather have it matter.
Buffy would have supported him in the end. She sacrificed herself to save the world once, too.
For lack of any better ideas, Spike's offer would have been accepted. He would have set off for Borneo with Xander and Buffy at his side. The journey would have been harrowing, especially the last twenty miles through trackless jungle, considering Spike's state and what waited for him at the end.
They would have found the cave. A human-sized figure would have emerged: hunched over, wearing a mossy robe, face hidden by its folds. It would have hissed a few words in an ancient demon language, but everyone would have understood them as though they were in English: "Identify the sacrifissse," it would have said.
Spike would have taken a moment to kiss Xander good-bye, a moment to bury his fingers in Xander's hair and hold him tight, and then he would have given Buffy a hug and whispered "Take care of him for me," and he would have followed the figure into the cave.
Buffy and Xander would have tried to follow, but they would have been repelled by an invisible barrier.
After a long and steep descent, the figure would have stopped, turned towards Spike, lowered its hood. The cave would have been strangely bright, with glossy glimmering walls that curved inwards rather than out. The face of the guide would have been creepy in a Bringer sort of way, eyes similarly sewn shut, but not actually a Bringer. Something similar. A minion of the elder god.
The walls of the cave would have shifted slightly, and a portal would have yawned open, bottom-to-top. Through the portal Spike would have glimpsed brightness, blue sky, green grass. Supersaturated colors. But taking in the shape of the portal, and the two smooth pointy stalactites hanging from its upper lip, Spike would swiftly have recognized it as the mouth of a giant serpent; the walls of the cave were its coiled body, which Spike and the guide had passed over and climbed down to arrive here, in the middle.
Spike would have commented that as far as being eaten by a giant snake went, this didn't look like it would be so bad.
The minion would have agreed. The minion would have promised Spike that when he entered the mouth of the serpentine god, he would pass into Paradise.
Spike, who after all has been around the block a few times, would then have asked just what would happen if he didn't go in there.
Rather than answering, the minion would have said with great confidence that of course Spike would go in. The serpent could smell the deaths on Spike—more deaths than anyone the Wolf, Ram and Hart had sent in the past thousand years. Of course Spike would enter the serpent's mouth and pass into the paradise beyond.
Spike would have insisted: what would happen if he didn't?
The minion would have explained—sounding just a mite cranky now in its creepy hissing demon tongue and its telepathic English—that according to the terms of the agreement between the gods of the Primordium and the Wolf, Ram & Hart, if a timely willing sacrifice was not provided then the serpent god would cease providing dark energy to fuel the ongoing apocalypse, and would depart immediately from this plane of existence. And as for Spike, he would just have to go back out into the world.
Spike would have noticed that the word for "go back," in this sibilant demon tongue, was shanshu.
And Spike would have begun to laugh.
The minion would have gotten rather irate at this point. The minion would have pointed out that this was a one-time-only offer. The minion would then have pointed a gnarled, greenish finger at Spike and hissed "Ssssee for yoursssself."
The cave would have vanished. Spike's own body would have vanished. There would have been nothing but soft white light and a sense of peace. Wholeness. No pain.
And then Spike would have crashed back into himself, on his knees on the rough damp stone, in his weak and hurting body, trying not to vomit.
And he would have thought back to the white light, the memory of which would have already been fading, and he would have remembered Buffy talking about remembering remembering Heaven.
"Or," the minion would have gone on, "would you choossse a lifffe of sssorrow?"
Again the minion would have pointed at Spike, and again he would have fallen into a vision—but this time it would have been more like flashes of those dreams that you have the night before a day that you're anxious about. Running for a bus, and missing it. Getting caught in the rain. Losing a button, seeing it roll away and down a sewer grate. And then: Buffy, collapsing under the fangs of a vampire. Dawn, crushed by falling rocks. Illyria, screaming as she is consumed by ten thousand glittering scarab beetles. Drusilla turning to dust. Angel on fire. Xander ... old. Lying in a hospital bed. His hair gone thin and white, his one eye clouded over, his skin wrinkled and loose. Lifting a shaking hand toward Spike, then letting it fall. The sigh of a last breath, and then stillness.
Once again Spike would have felt the cave floor under his hands and knees.
"Choossse, murderer," the minion would have said. "Pain, or Paradissse."
"That last show you put on for me," Spike would have croaked. "Might have been some possible futures in there, but it sure wasn't my real one. Dru's already gone, and I'd never live long enough to see the rest. Tell your giant snake-god-thing it can sod off. I'm crawling on out of here."
The minion would have turned to the mouth of the snake and bowed, shaking. "He is dying, massster," the minion would have said. "He doesss not fear the future, for he hasss none."
The coils of the giant snake would have shifted, slightly, and then all the air in the cave would have seemed to contract suddenly and then expand. Spike would have gasped.
The nausea would have been gone. His body would have felt strong, energized. His breath would have come easily, unlaboured. The deep, constant pain would have been just ... gone. Spike would have looked up in confusion, and the minion and the mouth/portal would have appeared blurry—until he took off his glasses, at which point his vision would have been crisp and clear.
"Now," the minion would have said, "you might live sssixty years. Will you ssstill refussse to walk ten ssstepsss into Paradissse?"
"It bloody healed me!" Spike would have exclaimed, to nobody in particular, and then almost fallen over with the force of his laughter.
"CHOOSSSE!" the minion would have demanded, furious now, and it would have jabbed its finger at Spike one more time.
The soft white light. Floating. Stillness, wholeness, peace.
The cave again. Spike wouldn't have been laughing anymore. Compared to the flash of heaven—if that's what it was supposed to be—even his newly-healed body would have felt heavy, awkward, dull.
And he would have considered it. For a few seconds, he really would have. To leave behind a hundred and forty-odd years of life and unlife, most of those spent doing unspeakably terrible things—to simply step into the light, and apparently let the world go on exactly as it had been anyway.
And then he would have thought of Xander in the vision. Xander, so many years in the future, his face deeply lined and his hair gone to white. And Spike would have realized that his deepest wish was to live those years by Xander's side.
"Sorry," Spike would have said to the snake. "I choose life."
"My massster will depart!" the minion would have screamed. "The demonic energiesss will fade in Her absenssse! The vampiresss' numbers will ssslowly diminish! The contractsss of the damned will be undone! The Wolf, Ram and Hart will loossse their grip on this world! They will eat ashes!"
"Forgot to tell you earlier," Spike would have said. "Earth's already under new management."
At that, the minion would have puffed itself up, shaking with indignity, and thrown Spike an incongruous but keenly felt talk-to-the-hand gesture. It would have stalked away, straight into the mouth/portal. It would have been visible through the portal for a few moments longer, walking away on the soft green grass. And then, in a movement that probably would have involved more than three spatial dimensions and which would have given Spike a bit of a headache just to see, the great snake-god would have swallowed itself and disappeared.
With the snake gone, Spike would have been at the bottom of a pitch-black pit, but luckily the sides wouldn't have been too steep, and with his newly-recovered strength it wouldn't have been too hard for him to climb back out. He would have emerged from the cave less than half an hour after he'd gone in. Xander and Buffy would still have been near the entrance, sitting on a flat rock, Xander's head on Buffy's shoulder, tears on both their faces. They would have stood up in shock upon seeing Spike.
"What happened in there?" Buffy would have asked as Xander dashed forward and embraced Spike.
"Well," Spike would have replied, hugging Xander back, "Far as I understand it, this time I saved the world by not dying."
And then, to the extent that such a thing is possible in this world, they would have lived happily ever after.
And that's how the story would have ended. If I'd ever written it.
So, wow, now that that's over ... I'd like to thank everyone who ever sent me encouraging feedback over all these years. And I'd like to apologize to everyone who read the story in hopes that it would have a proper ending sometime in their, or my, lifetime. I really am sorry! I hope that if you're still around, and still care about this story, at least this ending-ish thing will give you some closure.
ETA: I've now uploaded this story, in all its quasi-finished imperfection, to AO3. So, if that's a more comfortable place for you to read, feel free to go there! That Good Night on AO3
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