The early weeks of September always wrought many changes in Sunnydale. The last of the summer tourists finally trickled out of town, while the rest of the locals bustled around trying to reclaim stolen beaches, or flocked to the shopping malls to take advantage of new fall inventory or last-minute back-to-school shopping. Unofficially, the early weeks of September also saw a return of activity from the resident demon population.

Buffy sighed and rolled her head as she shrugged her shoulders in an attempt to loosen muscles tightened by long days working at the Magic Box and even longer nights of patrolling. As she walked quietly through the graveyard, trusty stake in hand, she wasn’t entirely certain if the return to nightly patrols was a good thing or simply an annoyance added to her already-busy schedule.

Semi-frequent summer patrols meant she had a few nights a week of free time, often spent with her sister. But nightly, active patrols meant she had less time to think.

To make matters seemingly worse, she’d lost another member of her motley crew. Sometime in late August – the days seemed to blur together lately, and she was never entirely certain of a precise date anymore – her Watcher had sat her down on the couch in her living room and discussed the current state of affairs.

Buffy had to give him begrudging credit – Giles certainly had presented an ever-eloquent and infuriatingly-sensible argument. He had told her that, after being in touch numerous times with the Watchers Council centralized in England that he would be of better use across the pond, attempting to reorganize the structure and politics of the arcane group. He’d also said something about the possibility of potential slayers, but at that point in time, Buffy had effectively checked-out of the conversation.

Giles – her Watcher, the one who had stuck around – was leaving.

Just like Merrick. Dad. Angel. Riley. They’d all left.

Her mind would never include a certain peroxide vampire in her list while she still had something left.

The night Giles had informed her of his imminent departure was the first night Buffy had taken the beaten leather duster to her bed. Drawing it from the closet like a sacred object, Buffy had allowed herself to slip her arms through the sleeves, pulling the lapels of the too-long duster around her – a habit she’d begun to indulge a few weeks prior. However, Giles’ news had broken an unrealized thread somewhere within her being, and after allowing herself a weak moment, alone, surrounded by the trace of Spike she still had left, she’d slept with the duster draped over her blankets.

The following morning, she’d moved to hang the duster back up in her closet and noticed that his smell wasn’t as prominent as it once had been. She was losing Spike. He would desert her as well, leaving her with only an anonymous, worn and beaten leather duster.

Upon this realization, she finally crumbled and spoke to Tara of her musings and fears she’d developed since the passing of Glory, and admitted – in an entirely roundabout way – her suspicions that she loved the martyred vampire. Tara had simply smiled supportively and offered a friendly ear.

At the farewell party the small group had thrown for the departing Watcher, Giles had pulled his slayer aside in a final attempt to talk business that she had wanted to avoid. Ownership of the shop went primarily to the ex-vengeance demon, but Buffy retained a small amount. Giles had furthermore insisted that Anya add his salary to Buffy’s paycheck – a decree which earned her a glare from the ex-demon at every payday – adding that such actions would certainly keep the social workers away from Dawn, as long as Buffy held up her own responsibilities.

She had tried, and she knew she would always continue to do so. But she had recently begun to feel the strain. Which was why she was almost relieved when Sunnydale began to show signs of increasing lesser-demon activity; for the few hours that she patrolled in the role of Slayer, she didn’t have to think about the messy life-stuff awaiting her at home, or work. All she had to do was concentrate on saving the town. Simple.

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As she walked back towards Revello Drive, Buffy wryly thought, not for the first time, that she should keep a slaying scoreboard somewhere in her room, allowing her to tally the number of her victories in comparison to Sunnydale’s resident evil. The few fledglings she’d taken down over the evening – that she’d held back on slaying immediately, simply so she could revel in the fight -- had provided just enough exercise and stress-relief that she had successfully been able to take her mind off of the looming responsibilities awaiting her upon her return home.

The only other thing that could provide such solace rested on a hanger in the back of her closet.

Locking the front door behind her, Buffy trudged up the staircase and into her room, throwing open the closet door and rustling around her clothing, pulling out the familiar duster. She held it tightly against her small frame and closed her eyes, feeling her muscles begin to relax at the mere anticipation of being surrounded by the calm that only this action seemed to provide.

She felt nothing.

Her eyes flying open in realization, Buffy pulled the duster directly under her nose and inhaled deeply. She smelled nothing other than laundry detergent and the floral of her shampoo. Leaning into the closet, she attempted to chase out his scent from there, to no avail.

As she held it between trembling fingers, she realized that the duster had never felt so cold.

Crying out in dismay, Buffy wadded the duster into a haphazard ball and threw it back into her closet before flying down the stairs and out the front door – barely sparing a thought to pull it shut behind her – before she began to sprint across town towards the only place she had left.

Despite the fact that she’d steadfastly avoided it since the battle with Glory, Buffy did not hesitate to burst through the door as though she’d been there only yesterday. She did pause at the steps as she realized that it was dark – none of the trustworthy candles had been lit. She fumbled around awkwardly in her pockets, knowing somewhere in the back of her mind that she had no matches – never carried them – but irrationality dictated that she check, regardless.

The moon poured a small amount of light through the door, but she had been in the small crypt enough to know the hazards to watch out for – she skimmed a palm over the top of the television, feeling her flesh pass through a thin layer of dust – as she headed for her goal: the trapdoor.

Crouching, and feeling around on the ground for the small chain, Buffy finally located it and pulled it with her as she stood before taking her time descending the ladder. Gone was the moonlight, and she found herself cast into pitch darkness as she leaned against the ladder, biting at her lower lip. However, she didn’t need light, and most of her was thankful that she did not have it.

The crypt felt empty. Abandoned. Cold and unwelcoming, as it had never been before. Spike was truly gone.

Somewhere in the recesses of her mind was a list of men which had all summer, until this point, eluded revision. On it, she added Spike, the name of the one who was supposed to have stayed.

As she felt the first tear – denied for so long – slide down her cheek, Buffy made no attempt to stop it.

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A descent, and wide eyes and complete silence and scars, both visible and hidden beneath the surface. A hesitant touch, and nothing. The shattering of glass against stone and the faint aroma of a night devoted to drinking that had been halted before it began. Aimless wandering, white and lost, and fuzzy, static mind-noises fading back into melodic sense. Wood and brick splintering and crumbling in an explosion of dust. A warm catharsis of light and sound just out of reach of the dark and silence and cold. The smell of sweat and dueling leather and the feel of trickling blood sliding to land on cold concrete. Fear, and pain, and a firm and unwelcome knowledge of an altered – and unalterable – world. Filth, and fire and pain and tears and a warmth like nothing else had ever been.

He was born to never remember these things, these images of a future in the making, or perhaps a harbinger of worse times long past, though he would forever be burdened by the weight of them.

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The night continued and slowly the streets of Sunnydale became quiet. The last of the late-night clubbers had gone home, and the forest’s nocturnal creatures readied to rest, sated after their evening’s activities. It was in this moment of silence that a brilliant light flashed in downtown Sunnydale.

The rickety tower groaned in complaint as it tried to hold up against the violent winds that trailed after the light, but the metal could not withstand such force and began to break and tumble to the ground, beam by beam, landing amidst the stone and brick and dust.

The silence returned, and for several moments there was nothing but the still of the late evening, before a hand pushed its way through the debris and flailed, trying to find solid purchase on the ground below. Once anchored, the hand was soon joined by another, and two arms, hoisting a pale and blonde body into the moonlight.

Silently, he surveyed his surroundings in confusion, running long fingers over one of the collapsed metal beams before staring up into the sky, as though expecting the tower to rematerialize, leaving him with something familiar. As it was, his mind was nothing more than a blurred fog, though he somehow inherently knew it would return in time.

For now, however, his hands wandered amidst the wreckage, searching for something he did not know. His fingers settled upon a tarp, and while he frowned, knowing somehow that it was not the desired object, he wrapped it around his naked form and carefully pushed himself to his feet. He swayed, and caught himself, and took a cautious step, pausing in assessment before taking another.

Left foot, then right. Walking. If nothing else, he could do this.

He shuffled through the fallen debris and padded onto the street, his eyes flickering around at every streetlamp, his body tensing with every sporadic sound of a city settling in on itself. Drawing the tarp more tightly around his body, he dared to quicken his pace, his feet headed for a destination his mind did not know.

His nose soon picked up the sharp aroma of iron, and he felt the muscles of his face move. Everything in front of him blurred slightly before sharpening, clearer than anything he’d ever seen. Raising one hand to his eyes, he skated his touch over his brow, disconcerted by the ridges he found there. His exploration continued down his nose to trace the length of his lips before pricking his finger on an elongated tooth. In his mind’s eye, he could see the red welling up from the tiny injury, and he swallowed convulsively in an attempt to wet his throat while waiting for the blood to flow. Instead, he watched as the wound quickly healed itself over.

Shaking his head and continuing to push forward, he felt the muscles of his face relax, though he felt oddly familiar churnings of hunger pangs deep within his stomach.

He kept walking, for a seeming eternity, blue eyes taking in all of his surroundings but processing nothing. The place was known to him, yet he hadn’t the slightest idea where he was. There had been light, and an impending tempest; he knew that much. And, closing his eyes, he could remember a woman, faceless, with long, flowing, colorless hair. Yes, there had been a woman, he was sure of that, but she had not awoken with him.

His brow furrowed as he tried desperately to regain himself as he walked, yet he was presented with nothing more. He would not find out tonight, and he resigned himself to the path his feet had set for him.

His wanderings brought him to a house he knew, yet could not remember, and the uncertainty and apprehension which had coiled in his stomach began to loosen as he caught sight of it. Frowning at the closed door, he looked around before settling on a large tree next to the house. Abandoning the tarp, he scaled the tree and slipped into the unlocked window that greeted him at the top.

The room was strange, but the scent was familiar, and there was still a light on next to the bed he found. There was an open closet next to him, and his nose picked up on a barely-there trace of blood. Reaching into the closet, he came back with a bundle of black leather, which he slipped into without so much as a question.

Exhaustion flowed over him in heavy waves, and he stumbled back into the corner opposite the bed, sliding down the wall and wrapping his arms around his drawn-in legs. He rested his head on his forearms and allowed his eyes to slip shut.

Completely lost, yet somehow knowing he was safe, Spike allowed himself to sleep.


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A/N: ::grin:: As if there was any doubt? I actually really like the way it turned out here. I’m sorry to bombard you all with back-story these past two chapters, but the stage needed to be set so we could get to this point.

And before anyone asks…it’s not amnesia. I’m not that horrid. Just…remember what Buffy was like when she first came back.

::bounces with excitement:: Someone made a banner for Chirality! To be more specific, Mandi made this beautiful and awesome banner! I will envy her Photoshop skills until the end of days, I really will. ::hugs:: Thank you so much!

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