I Know You, II

banner by Always_jbj

 

 

 

 

Title:  I Know You, II   a Sequel to Prologue to Life/I Know You

Author: Slaymesoftly

Rating: NC17 eventually

Word count:

Disclaimer:  The characters belong to Joss Whedon; the story is all mine.

Summary:  A sequel to another fic that took Post Chosen/NFA in a very different direction, almost all of which took place in an alternate Season II; this fic follows the Season II Buffy and Spike into the dimension to which the Powers sent them when they put “our” Spike and Buffy into the Season II world/dimension.  Confused yet? LOL There will be appearances by the original Spike and Buffy, as well as Dawn and others, but the primary emphasis will be on the Spike and Buffy who were removed from their own world and their adventures in the one in which they have found themselves.  Naturally, there will be a growing relationship between the two strangers when they find themselves thrown together.  We begin with the last scene from Prologue to Life/I Know You as a prologue to this story:

 

Prologue [from the last scene in I Know You]

 

 

….All she knew was that this felt like her Spike, and the emotions that it was bringing to the surface threatened to overwhelm her.  Squeezing her eyes closed, she surrendered to pure sensation and let the sentiment pulse through her, taking her someplace safe and wonderful.

 

She felt Spike begin to quiver as her muscles tightened around him and knew he was about to join her in a mutually explosive release. Reaching up with her mouth, she fastened her small little teeth on the skin of his throat and bit down as waves of pleasure washed over her.  She heard Spike shout, “Buffy!” as he plunged into her.  Then his fangs were on her neck and he sent her spiraling into another orgasm as he pulled long draughts of her rich blood into his mouth.

 

He soon stopped drinking, but remained inside her, cock still buried in her warmth and teeth still embedded in the skin of her throat.  Slowly withdrawing his fangs and fading back into his human face, he whispered, “Mine,” as he laved the wounds closed.

 

“Yours,” she agreed, licking the droplets of blood coming from where she’d bitten his neck. “And you are mine.”

 

“That I am, love,” he said softly, raising his head and smiling down into her shocked eyes.

 

“I love you...” she ventured as she held his gaze and prepared herself for his denial of any reciprocal feelings.

 

“Not as much as I love you,” was the totally unexpected answer.

 

“Wha-?”  Buffy stared at him, taking in the softness of his gaze and the… soul?… she could see in there.

 

“Sp…Spike?”

 

 Hope battled with hard-won experience as she watched his eyes grow moist. He began to slowly rock his hips, never taking his glistening eyes from hers and the slow comprehension growing there.

 

“It’s me, Buffy.  I’m here.  An’ I’m not leavin’.  Not for Dru, or the poof, or the soddin’ Powers That Like to Mess With People. I’ll never leave you again.  Be here till we’re both dust in the wind.”

 

“Did I die again?  Am I back in Heaven?” she whispered in genuine bewilderment.  “Aren’t you already dust?  Or ashes? Or something?”

 

“If I’ve got it figured out right – this is about as close to Heaven as either one of us is getting’ for awhile.  Seems our talents are needed in this world and the PTB thought we’d do a better job if we were together.”

 

“You’re real?  You’re really here and you’re my Spike?” 

 

She ran her hands over his face, stroking the scar on his eyebrow, running her fingers down his cheekbone and touching his full lower lip.  He pulled her finger into his mouth and sucked on it as he assured her,  “‘M as real as somebody who keeps not dyin’ can be, love.  And I’m definitely your Spike. Always was, always will be.”

 

He gently licked the claim he’d placed on her neck.  “And you’re mine, Slayer.  No half-arsed marks this time.  Want the whole world to see those.”

 

Throughout their conversation, he’d never stopped the gentle rocking of his hips and that small bit of friction had set up the inevitable urge for more.  Suddenly Buffy flexed her muscles and flipped them over so that she was straddling him and squeezing her Slayer muscles around his cock.

 

“Oh, god, pet, I love it when you do that,” he gasped, thrusting up into her.

 

“I know you do,” she whispered back, as she slid up and down on him. 

 

When he reached his hands forward and began kneading her breasts while she rode him, she moaned and leaned toward him.

 

“I missed you so much,” she breathed.  “I missed your hands on me, missed the way you kiss me, the way you love me…”

 

“‘M here now, love.  I’ll always be here; holdin’ you, touchin’ you, lovin’ you.  Never let you go…”

 

His hands on her waist held her down while he pushed up with his hips, watching her face as she gasped and whimpered her way to her climax.  When she collapsed on his chest, her ragged breathing signaling her inability to continue just then, he wrapped his legs around hers and pinned her to his body while he continued to thrust in to her. 

 

The angle of his hips put more friction on her clit and she moaned in his ear as he whispered to her, “Come with me, love.  One more time.  Come with me, sweetheart.”

 

“Oh, Spike I can’t… I.…”

 

“Yes, you can, love.  I know you can. Come for me, love.  Come with me, Buffy.”

 

“No… I… can’t… couldn’t… possibly… mmmmm… ooooh… Spike!”

 

His answering shout as he found his release in her, sent another small thrill through her exhausted body before she went limp on top of him.  He held her boneless body cradled in his arms, his breathing as fast and ragged as her own.  When he could move again, he shifted her off to the side where she stayed, one leg thrown over his and her head resting on his chest.

 

For long minutes they were silent, lost in all the possible ramifications of where they were and how they got there.  The vampire was immersed in the scent and feel of his Slayer.  The physical closeness they’d just begun to work their way back to, when he’d had to use the power of his soul and the amulet to close the hellmouth, had in no way prepared either of them for such a reunion.

 

“If the PTB are expecting us to save this world, they’re going to have to give me some time.  I don’t think I could stop Xander from eating a doughnut right now.”

 

The deep chuckle that shook his chest sent a bolt of joy through her heart.  She closed her eyes and gave silent thanks to the PTB for allowing them this second chance.

 

“I’m serious,” she said, with as much energy as she could summon. “I couldn’t stop a minor traffic accident right now, never mind an apocalypse.”

 

“Yes, you could, love.  If you had to, you could.” He spoke with absolute certainty.

 

“Oh yeah?  How do you know that?  I might just be limp little Buffy for weeks.”

 

He chuckled again and pulled her up so that he could plant light kisses on her face and mouth.

 

“Because I know you, my love.  I know you.”

 

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

Spike stretched and opened his eyes, momentarily confused as he would have sworn that he had just been shagging Buffy, and yet her scent was nowhere around him, and the hard, cold ground beneath his back told him that he was no longer in her soft, warm bed.  “What the bloody hell….?”   He sat up slowly and took in his surroundings.  “If that was just a wet dream, it was a….”  His voice trailed off as he took deep inhalations of the air around him.  Along with the familiar scents that he associated with cemeteries – which is where he seemed to have found himself – there was something in the air that seemed alien.  Just a bit… off.  He growled and came quickly to his feet, all senses on alert as he tried to wrap his mind around what might have happened.

 

Was back in Sunnydale, shaggin’ the Slayer… know I didn’t dream that.  It was as real as….  He slumped back to the ground, resting his back against a handy tombstone and letting his head fall back in sudden understanding.  I’ve been hi-jacked.  Just like Buffy said she’d been pulled from her life in the future or some other dimension – I’ve been….  “Bloody buggering fuck!”  His angry roar as the reality of what had probably happened to him sank in, echoed among the headstones and crypts surrounding him.

 

On his feet again, he looked around angrily, seeking something upon which to vent his fury over being taken from his own world and the girl with which he was sure he could have easily fallen in love.  The unmistakable sounds of fighting drew his attention and he began stalking towards the noise, not caring who or what he might find there as long as he could take out his frustration in his favorite fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

“Buffy!”  The shouted warning caused Buffy to duck, even as she wondered who or what that wandered in graveyards at night would have wanted to warn her about the sword currently swooshing over her head.  She came up from her crouch and drove her own sword into the heart of the demon that had been behind her, smiling with satisfaction when he crumpled to the ground.  A quick glance showed her that the area was now clear – with the exception of a smiling man with shockingly blond hair. Vampire! That’s a vampire smiling at me like… like… we know each other? He had obviously been the one to call her name.

 

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

 

  She fell back into a fighting stance, sword poised; remaining like that long enough to begin feeling foolish as the vampire stayed well out of reach and just continued to smile.  From a safe distance, he began to walk around her, his eyes running up and down her body, making note of the missing baby fat that had given “his” Buffy so many curves while at the same time admiring the obvious fitness and strength in the body in front of him.  Buffy narrowed her eyes suspiciously as she turned to keep her face to him.  Although the circling and staring screamed, “killer sizing up his prey”, the expressions flitting across his face were anything but frightening.  Ignoring everything she knew about never turning her back on a danger, she paused and allowed him continue to circle her like the predator that he clearly was.

 

There was something eerily familiar about the way he prowled around the edges of her vision, his eyes devouring her even as a trace of disappointment flickered across his face.   With a sudden flash of memory, she remembered dancing in the Bronze shortly before finding herself in this place.  There had been a blond man prowling the edges of the dance floor, staring at her while she danced, and sending her senses into overload.  She had no real memory of what had happened after that – only that she hadn’t noticed his disappearance.   Probably because it was at that very moment that she had been yanked from her familiar world and deposited into the very different one in which she’d been living ever since.

 

With a cry of rage, she crossed the distance between them, intent on removing his head from his shoulders in revenge for what she assumed was his culpability in the spell that had taken her from her home and friends.  To her surprise, he easily evaded her sword, laughing with delight as he kicked it out of her hand.

           

“Now that’s more like it, Slayer!” he crowed.  “Come on, luv. Show me what you’ve got.”

 

More than willing to wipe the cocky smirk off his face, Buffy threw a punch at his face, following it with a leg sweep.  When he easily slipped the punch and jumped over her leg, she frowned and slowed her attack.  Letting out her senses, she realized that there was more power in this vampire’s signature than in any of the fledglings or would-be masters that she’d come up against so far in this world.

 

She pulled the stake from her waistband and began a more cautious and calculated approach, almost growling in frustration when the vampire smiled again and purred, “Ah, that’s my clever girl.  ‘s nice to know that you’re already on your way to bein’ one of the best slayers I’ve ever faced.”

 

Her anger at his cocky attitude and at the open desire in his eyes overcame the common sense that was trying to tell her to assess the situation more thoroughly before charging in.  With an angry glare, she said coldly, “I’m not your girl – and I’m about to be the last slayer you ever face.”  She flew at him again, using her patented feint and stab technique, only to find herself spun around, stake hand immobilized and her back pressed against a muscular chest while his soft chuckle rumbled in her ear.

 

“Can feel the strength in this body, pet, but you don’t have the moves yet.  You’re not ready to take me on.”

 

Flexing the much stronger muscles she had found herself with in this place, Buffy tore her stake hand out of his grip and swung it over her head, aiming for his eyes.  A “Bloody hell” exploded from the vampire as his last second shift left him with a jagged gash down the side of his face rather than missing an eye.

 

Spinning away from him, Buffy immediately attempted to follow up her advantage by driving the bloody stake through his chest.  The uppercut that rocked her back on her heels, and the quick flurry of angry punches that followed it quickly turned the momentum and once again she found herself being held immobile by the vampire – this time with the hard ground at her back and his weight pinning her down. A frisson of fear crept up her spine when she gazed into his true face for the first time.  Blood dripped from the wound on his forehead as he snarled at her, his fangs scant inches from her throat. His legs had hers tightly pinned while his full weight pinned her to the ground helplessly.  His hands held her clenched fists over her head, the stake now lying uselessly several feet away. She tried throwing him off, but even her superior strength wasn’t enough to move the furious demon away from her throat.

 

Glaring defiantly, she hissed, “Why did you save me from the demon if you’re just going to kill me now?”

 

“I’m not going to kill you; much as you deserve it, you bloody stupid bint.  I’m just trying to stay undusted until I can figure out what’s going on.”

 

“You were about to try to bite me – that’s what’s going on,” she growled back, forcing herself to relax a little in hopes that he would be lured into easing his hold on her hands. As she realized that he really didn’t seem to be planning to kill her just then, she relaxed enough to notice other things – like the way his body was molded to hers in a way that was disturbingly pleasant.  Until she noticed the hard bulge pressing against her thigh and realized what it was.

 

“Ewwww! Get off me, you pervert!”  Her sudden squirming did nothing to disperse the erection that had appeared while they were fighting.  If anything, it became harder and the vampire uttered a barely muffled groan before responding.

 

“You don’t want that touchin’ your not-so-virginal little body, you’re gonna want to stop all the wriggling aroun’, pet.”

 

He emphasized his words with a hard thrust against her leg, sending her into another panicked series of twists and wriggles.

 

“Goddammit, Slayer!  Stop that, before I forget that you think you’re a sixteen-year-old virgin.”

 

Panting from the exertions that had so far done nothing but increase the heat in the vampire’s glare, Buffy stopped struggling and stared up at him, her lip coming out in a pout.

 

“What do you mean, ‘think I’m a sixteen-year-old virgin’? I know what I am.  I am sixteen- well, seventeen now, I guess – and I am a… why am I having this conversation with a demon?”

 

“Because I know you, love,” he whispered, his face sliding back into its attractive human features.  “This demon knows you in ways that you can’t even imagine yet.”

 

For long minutes her eyes bored into his, noting the complete lack of any threat in his gaze, even as the wound she’d given him stopped bleeding.  The soft expression on his face, combined with the fact that she was still alive and without new fang marks on her neck had her relaxing even more.  As he felt her muscles loosen under him, Spike smiled tentatively and asked, “If I let you go, will you promise not to try to stake me until we’ve sussed this out?  I don’t want to hurt you, Slayer, but I don’t want to blow away on the next breeze either.”

 

He watched carefully as her deeply engrained distrust of his kind warred with the desire to know more about where she was and how she got there.  And she wanted to know why this vampire that she remembered seeing only briefly once before in her life said that he knew her.  She gave a cautious nod and answered, “Okay, we have a truce. For now.”

 

“Do I have your promise, pet?”

 

“Fine!” She rolled her eyes. “I promise.  No staking until you explain what’s going on and what you had to do with it.”

 

After another hard look into her guileless eyes, he nodded and reluctantly moved off the body that was calling to him in ways that he knew she would never understand.   He stood up and adjusted himself, smiling slightly when she quickly looked away and blushed.

 

No hand jobs under the stairs from this one, he told himself ruefully.  This isn’t the slayer that you know, mate, and you’d best be remembering that if you want to stay undusted.

 

“Let’s find somewhere more comfortable, Slayer, and I’ll tell you all I know and you tell me what you know. Deal?”

 

“Deal,” she said dubiously.  “Where do you want to go?”

 

“You’ve been here longer than I have, pet. Lead on.”

 

Keeping the vampire where she could see him with her peripheral vision, the young slayer began walking out of the cemetery and towards the diner where she normally stopped to eat after her patrols.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Buffy stopped chewing her mouthful of hamburger and gaped at her undead companion who had just popped a french-fry into his mouth.  She tried to speak, almost choking when she inhaled, forgetting that she had a mouth full of unchewed food.  Swallowing quickly, she tried again. 

 

            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she insisted as though he was already arguing with her.  “You’re telling me that I’m – that some older me is living in my body back in my house with my mother while I’m stuck here in this weird place because Willow – my Willow? – did a spell?”

 

            “As near as we could figure out, pet.  That’s what you… she...  says must have happened.  Seems like you were pretty unhappy, and the witch probably thought that she could magic you back into being your perky little self.”

 

            “What could have made me so unhappy that Willow would do a spell without my permission?”

 

            He rolled his eyes, remembering some of the things Buffy had told him about future Willow and her power trips.  Then he remembered all the things that could bring tears to “his” Buffy’s eyes so easily and his face softened.

 

            “I don’t think you really need to know all that just now, luv.  Could be that none of it’s gonna happen here, and no sense your getting all teary-eyed over nothin’”

 

            “How old am – was I?  In your world.  How old did you say that Buffy said she was?”

 

            “Said she was twenty-three. But she was in another body when I saw her, so she didn’t look it.  Not ‘less you looked into her eyes…” He gazed off into the distance for a few seconds, remembering the slayer who had defeated him so often.

 

            “My body,” Buffy said flatly.  “She was in my body.”

 

            He nodded, his attention brought back to the girl across from him.

 

            “Would guess so, luv.  The one you’re wearin’ definitely belongs to someone older and stronger… Not that there’s anything wrong with it!” he hastened to assure her when he noticed the disappointed flash of her eyes.

 

            “Spare me,” she snapped.  “I’ve got scars I don’t know anything about, I’ve got lines on my face, and I don’t even look in the mirror any more because I don’t know the girl looking back at me.”

 

            Risking a broken hand, he touched her cheek gently and said, “It’s a woman you see lookin’ back at you, luv.  One hell of a woman.  Strong and smart and just as beautiful as that little girl you left behind.”

 

            His hand dropped before she could complain, and Buffy studied her plate intently – not sure what to make of this unusual vampire and his tale of having met her older self, but more than aware of the intensity in his gaze.  Gathering her courage, she raised her eyes to his and asked softly, “Were you… did you… love her?  The other Buffy?”

 

            His expression told her that she’d caught him by surprise and she smiled at the panicky look on his face.  

 

            “Cat got your tongue?” she asked with a smile.

 

            “My tongue’s right where it belongs, Slayer,” he growled, then smirked and curled it up behind his teeth.  “Any time you want to check that out, pet, you jus’ let me know, yeah?”

 

            Her blush was a quick reminder of her real age, and he dropped the leer to laugh at her mortified expression.  He knew she hadn’t intended any sexual innuendo with her remark, but he was enjoying her embarrassed concern that he might think she was flirting with him.

 

            He grinned with admiration when her chin came up and she challenged him with “You didn’t answer my question, Spike.”

 

            Biting back an automatic “Bloody hell, no!” he gave her serious question the consideration it deserved.  After a few seconds of thought he sighed and shook his head.

 

            “I ‘spect I was workin’ on it.  You – she’s a pretty amazing woman.  I won’t deny that there was somethin’ there.  But I wasn’t ‘her’ Spike, anymore than you are ‘my’ Buffy.  And from what she said, he loved her more than I can even imagine.  So, the honest answer is no, I didn’t love her – not yet.”

 

            “Not yet?”  She struggled to cope with the idea of two Spikes – one falling in love with her and one that had already fallen.  “I’m not her,” she said suddenly, fixing him with a hard stare.  “I don’t even know you.”

 

            She blinked in bewildered annoyance as he roared with hearty laughter that eventually tapered off to deep chuckles.

 

            “I had that comin’, didn’t I?” he gasped, still chortling. 

 

            “Care to share?” The Slayer tapped her fingers on the formica tabletop in a steadily increasing rhythm.

 

            “You’re not her, love.  I know that.  But you will be.  Someday you will be.” His expression shifted to one of perfect seriousness.  “An’ as much as it disturbs me to have to say this, I know you, Slayer.”

 

            “You need to stop saying that.” Buffy’s lip was coming out into a pout that riveted his attention to her mouth.  With an effort, he tore his gaze away from the lips he knew so well.

 

            “Oh I don’t think so, love.  I owe you some of those.”

 

            “You’re not telling me everything,” she muttered, her lip still in a pout and her brow furrowed.  “What aren’t you telling me?”

 

            “There’s nothing else I might have to tell you that you’re gonna want to hear just now.  You’ll just have to trust me, pet.  Something or somebody has sent us both here – in your case at least, we know it was to make space for an older version of you in whatever dimension we came from.  It’s gonna be up to us to suss out what we can do about it.”

 

            He watched as she tried to smother a yawn, smiling at her angry glare when he finished off her fries and stood up.  “Come on, luv.  I’ll walk you home and you can tell me what you know about this place.  Where do the demons hang out?   Where’s the nearest vamp bar? I need to find a place to bunk down for the day without catchin’ fire and I might need to follow some other vampires home....”

 

            “Oh, like I’m going to tell you where you can find minions,” she scoffed.  “And I don’t know where the bars are because, Hello? Too young to drink?” She waved her hand around for emphasis, but found herself standing up to join him at the door.   When he went to put money on the table for her food, he was surprised to find the man behind the cash register waving him off.

 

            “The Slayer’s money is no good in here,” he said cheerfully.  “If you want to pay for the fries that you ate, you can catch it the next time.” 

 

The man gave no sign that he had any idea that Spike was not the twenty-something punk that he appeared to be, and the vampire nodded his thanks as he held the door for Buffy. She gave him a suspicious look, but ducked under his arm and exited the building.  She began walking down the street rapidly enough so as not to seem to be waiting for him, but not so quickly that he couldn’t catch up with a few long strides.

 

“So,” he began when she didn’t say anything, “he knows what you are?”

 

Buffy nodded once.  “He does.  Things are a lot more open here than they are back in Sunnydale.  There’s no hellmouth to worry about, but there are a lot more vampires and demons and nobody tries to pretend that they don’t exist.” She gave Spike a sideways look.  “I’m surprised he didn’t figure you out.  He’s usually a lot more savvy than that.”

 

“It’s my charm and good looks,” Spike said smugly.  “Fools ‘em every bloody time.”

 

Buffy shrugged. “Maybe he just figured if you were with me, you were harmless,” she said, giggling at his outraged, “Not harmless! Master vampire here, you disrespectful bint!”

 

She was still smiling as she stopped in front of a small house, set in between two apartment buildings.  The small bungalow was dwarfed by the several-story high buildings on either side, and it appeared to be abandoned.

 

This is where you live?” he asked incredulously, comparing the run down building with the modest, but attractive Summers’ home in Sunnydale.

 

“Hey! It was free,” she said defensively.  “I’d fix it up, but I keep thinking that this is all a dream and I’ll wake up pretty soon; or, if it’s a spell, that Giles will find a way to bring me back.”  Her shoulders slumped almost imperceptibly as she finished softly, “I guess that’s not going to happen…”

 

He shook his head in agreement.  “I’m gonna guess it isn’t, pet.  For me either, I ‘spect.  That’s why I need to spend the rest of the night getting’ my feet on the ground here.  Need to figure out what’s what before I make any mistakes that could get me dead.”

 

Buffy’s skeptical snort made him frown; then he shrugged and admitted, “Deader than I already am, anyway.”

 

The Slayer’s innate fear and distrust of vampires warred silently with the seventeen-year-old’s desire to cling to someone who knew who she was and who knew her family and friends.   She studied the vampire’s open face briefly, remembering that he could have killed at least twice already that evening, before mumbling, “I have a basement.”

 

He gaped at her.  “Are you sayin’ what I think you are, Slayer?”

 

“I’m saying I have a basement. That’s all.  If you want… if you don’t find a safe place to stay, you could come back here and spend the day down there.  I’ll have to go to work around ten, but you could sleep here.”

 

“You don’t know me, Buffy. What would possess you to make that kind of an offer to a vamp?” His voice was soft, with just the slightest hint of disapproval in it.

 

She shrugged, embarrassed that he was telling her what she already should know.  “I don’t know.  Because you say you know me – and it seems like you do.  And because older me didn’t stake you for some reason… and… I don’t know!  Look, do you want it or not?  I’ll unlock the outside door and lock the one at the top of the stairs, so it’s not like you’ll actually be in my house.  Just kinda like… under it.”

 

He cocked his head at her, waiting until she looked him in the eye to say softly, “You’ll still have to give me an invite, luv.  You sure you want to do that?”

 

“No.”  Her lip came out in the familiar pout. “I’m not sure.  But I sleep with a stake under my pillow, so if you….”

 

“Wouldn’t.” His voice was flat and hard.  “Would never betray your trust like that, Slayer.”

 

“Well, okay then.  It’s settled.  You’ll go do… whatever vampires do when they’re new in town, and when you need to come in, the basement door will be open for you.”

 

She turned and walked up to her front door, inserting her key and turning the knob.  She looked over her shoulder at the still-unbelieving vampire and said quietly, “Come in, Spike.”  She stepped inside and waited while he tentatively put one foot over the threshold.  As soon as he was sure the barrier was gone, he pulled his foot back and nodded.

 

“I appreciate it, luv.  You go get some sleep – I’ll be back in a few hours, but I’ll be quiet-like so I don’t wake you.  Good night, Slay–Buffy.”

 

“Good night, Spike.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

            Making a quick mental note of the address of the house, as well as taking a good look at the tall buildings on each side so that he would have landmarks, Spike began walking briskly in the direction of the lights that would indicate the area of town where he could find some nightlife.  He briefly wondered if there had been an alternate Spike in this world, but shrugged it off as irrelevant to anything. I’m here now and I’ll need to make a quick adjustment if I’m to make the best of it.  Finding Buffy right off was a stroke of good luck, but—Bloody hell!

 

            The sudden realization that there was very little chance it was a coincidence he’d landed in the same cemetery that Buffy was working, had him kicking trash cans and punching street signs as he cursed the PTB and their meddling in the lives of others.   For the first time, it occurred to him to wonder what had happened to the Buffy that he’d just left. His first thought when he’d awakened, completely dressed and with no Slayer moving under him, was to wonder if he had dreamed the whole thing.  The idea that Buffy could have abruptly found herself clutching empty air made him physically sick for a second.

 

You know I wouldn’t have left you like that if I’d been the one in control, don’t you, Buffy? Would never leave you like that, love.  Don’t hate me, sweetheart, it wasn’t my doin’ that took me outta there…

 

            He tried to shrug off the sudden fear that he’d left “his” Buffy alone in her suddenly empty bed, reminding himself of what he’d told this Buffy about being kicked out to make room for some other version. Vowing to find a way to let Sunnydale Buffy know where he was as soon as he could, he headed for what his senses told him was the seedier part of town and the nearest demon bar.

 

Quickly finding what he was searching for, he entered the dimly lit room and sent his senses out, assessing the customers. The place reminded him of Willy’s bar in Sunnydale – mostly demons and a few vampires, but with the occasional human low-life here and there around the room.  He heard the heartbeats accelerate as he paused inside the door and he reveled in the sudden lull in conversation as the customers sized up the newcomer. 

 

            He met the gazes of all the demons that seemed willing to meet his eyes and stared them all down, ignoring the humans as not worthy of intimidating.  When he felt that he’d made the point about his dominance, he relaxed and walked to an empty table near the bar.  He bestowed his most charming smile on the pretty vampire that came over to wait on him, running his eyes appreciatively over her body as he asked her for a bottle of Jack Daniels and a glass of O neg; then he settled back to assess the other vampires and demons in the room.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy walked through her nightly routine in zombie-like fashion, her brain whirling with possible explanations for the appearance of the blond vampire and his apparently lack of interest in killing her.

 

He says he was falling in love with me–the other Buffy.  Does that mean we’re dating? How could I be dating him?  What about Angel?  I love Angel.  I would never dump him for some other vampire….

 

Thinking back over their conversations, she realized that Spike had never once mentioned the souled vampire that, up until now, had been her only non-violent contact with the creatures meant to be her prey.  Her heart rate increased as she began to imagine all the reasons why he would not have told her about Angel while he was bringing her up to date on her mother and friends. 

 

Is Angel dust?  Or did he break up with me?  Is that why I’m with Spike?  Because Angel left me?  He wouldn’t do that, would he? He loves me. And I love him.  I wouldn’t be dating another vampire.  He must be making that part up. He’s jealous of Angel.  That’s got to be it.

 

Vowing to get Spike to tell her about Angel tomorrow reminded her that she needed to unlock the basement door for the vampire that she was so inexplicably trusting not to creep upstairs and murder her in her sleep. She grabbed an extra pillow and blanket off the bed and padded barefoot down to the dank basement.  The lone bulb in the ceiling gave off just enough light to show her the door, the corners of the room remaining shadowed and too dark to identify objects.  With her hand on the lock, she stopped and sucked in a deep breath.

 

Okay, I’m about to unlock my house and let a vampire, a very strong vampire that I don’t really know, come in whenever he wants to and live down here right under my room.  I must be losing my mind.

 

A sudden thought caused her heart to speed up as she unlocked the deadbolt and twisted the knob until the door lock clicked open.

 

Maybe Spike has his soul too.  That must be why I’m trusting him.  He didn’t tell me because he assumed I would know that he wasn’t killing me because he has a soul.  That’s got to be it. I’ll ask him tomorrow. He’s probably just like Angel.

 

She tossed the pillow and blanket onto the middle of the floor where Spike would have no trouble finding them, and hastened back up to the main floor of the house.  She hesitated briefly, then firmly shut and locked the door between the stairs and the small, shabby kitchen.  At the last second, she took one of the two old wooden chairs that had come with the house and propped it against the doorknob. If she realized the futility of using a flimsy chair and a locked door to keep a powerful master vampire from entering the house whenever and wherever he wanted to, she resolutely pushed it to the back of her mind as she walked the short distance to the bedroom.

 

 She slid into her narrow bed and huddled under the heavy blanket which had been one of her only extravagant purchases since she’d suddenly found herself having to buy all her own food, clothing and necessities.  The small wages that she earned working in the kitchen of a nearby bar/restaurant barely covered her meals and a minimal amount of clothing. She was being only partially honest with Spike when she said that she hadn’t tried to fix the house up because she wasn’t planning to stay there.  The unhappy discovery that wherever she was now had a much cooler climate than sunny southern California meant that much of her first several paychecks had gone to purchase warm, slaying-friendly clothing rather than amenities for the house.

 

Buffy awoke briefly, just before dawn, her slayer senses screaming that there was a vampire nearby.  She was already on her feet, stake in hand, when she realized that someone had just shut the outside door to the basement.  After several minutes in which she absorbed the vampire’s signature and recognized it as Spike’s, she got back into bed and tried to get back to sleep.  Unconsciously listening for any small sound that would indicate that the vampire was not staying downstairs, she was a long time relaxing enough to fall back into a fitful sleep, her hand still clutching the stake.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three 

 

“I want to try it.”  Dawn’s voice and stubborn expression were eerily reminiscent of her older sister and Giles sighed in defeat. 

 

“Very well, if the coven agrees that it is safe for you to do so, you may try opening a small portal to the dimension in which they located Buffy. But you may not go through the portal until we have discussed all the ramifications and all the possible ways that it could go wrong.”

 

As Dawn’s eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to argue, he added softly, “Please. I couldn’t bear to lose both of you.”

 

With an abashed flush, Dawn realized what she was asking of the man who had been like a father to them for years, and she nodded her head in resignation.

 

“All right, Giles.  I’ll be careful. And I won’t do anything until you guys tell me it’s okay.  But I can do it.  I know I can do it.”

 

After working with the coven whenever she could spare the time from school, Dawn had begun to explore the latent abilities provided by her former existence as a key.  There was general agreement that, with proper supervision and control, it should be possible for the rapidly maturing girl to move back and forth freely between dimensions and Dawn was anxious to try it out by popping in on Buffy and trying to talk her into coming back with her.

 

If I can get her to stop boinking evil Spike long enough to listen, that is.

 

Constant nagging had finally wormed a G-rated explanation from the Coven’s seers as to who else seemed to be present in the Sunnydale her sister was now inhabiting, and Dawn had no trouble understanding why Buffy might be reluctant to leave a dimension in which Spike was still alive. 

 

As the Council’s strongest witches gathered to supervise, Dawn took a deep breath, stroking the soft fur of the pet rat she was holding to calm herself. She picked the rat up and rubbed her nose against it as she murmured, “I wouldn’t do this if I thought anything bad was going to happen to you, Sukie. You know that, right?”  There was no reply from Sukie, but Dawn chose to believe that her bright little eyes indicated a willingness to participate.  Opening the door of the cage and checking that the note she had put there was properly taped to the outside of the door where Sukie couldn’t munch on it, she carefully placed the little creature in the cage, gave her a final pat and shut the door.

 

“Okay. I’m ready.”

 

She placed the cage inside the space marked out on the floor and stepped back outside the carefully drawn circle.  At a nod from one of the seers, she pricked her finger with a sharp bladed knife and squeezing a few drops of blood onto the cage, she began to read the words the coven had given her.  For a heart-wrenching second, nothing happened; then the cage and Sukie winked out of existence and everyone gasped.

 

“How long?” Dawn’s voice shook with emotion as she stared at the empty space.

 

“It was a very small amount of blood,” Gwyneth replied kindly.  “I should think no more than an hour, perhaps less.”

 

Giles tapped Dawn on the shoulder and suggested, “You could go wash out that cut and rest for a bit, Dawn.  I’ll call you if – when – it comes back.”

 

She stared at him blankly.  “You’re joking, right? I’m not going anywhere until Sukie comes back with my note.”  She walked over to a nearby chair and sat down firmly, never taking her gaze off the empty space.  “I don’t need to rest. I didn’t do anything.”

 

 

Just over an hour had passed and Dawn was now pacing rapidly back and forth across the room, shooting anxious glances at the still-empty circle every time she made a turn.  The coven members had drifted back into the room, their faces just beginning to show a trace of anxiety when, with a small ‘pop’ the cage reappeared, rat and all.  Dawn was there almost immediately, ripping the note off the front and scanning the page.  Her wide smile and happy squeal made it unnecessary to ask if the note had been answered.

 

“Okay, ladies,” she said happily. “I’m going to Sunnydale!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy was eating her breakfast, happily crunching her cereal and laughing at the vampire as he theatrically stirred some corn flakes into his mug of blood.  Joyce’s shudder and exaggerated sick face just made her laugh all the more.

 

“Sorry, Mom,” she giggled finally.  “I promise the vampire and his disgusting eating habits will be out of your hair by the weekend.  We found a nice underground apartment not too far from the school, and as soon as we get some furniture in there—”

 

            “You don’t have to leave, you know.” Joyce’s voice was suddenly serious as she renewed an old argument. “I don’t mind having you here – either one of you.” 

 

            Buffy sighed and exchanged a look with Spike.  He moved around the island to stand behind her, his nearness offering silent support, even as he smiled gratefully at the woman watching them.

 

            “We really do, Mom.  I know this is still hard for you, but I’ve been on my own for a long time and I just feel… weird… living here like I was still a kid. It’s not like you aren’t going to see us all the time.  We’ll come for dinner—” She paused when she felt Spike’s eager nodding behind her back. “You can even teach me to cook – so that this jerk…” she sent her elbow back into the laughing vampire’s stomach. “…will stop complaining about my cooking.  Dumb ass doesn’t need to eat real food anyway,” she grumbled, as the still-chuckling man put his arms around her and nuzzled her neck apologetically.

 

            The easy familiarity of Spike’s physical attention to her daughter reminded Joyce of the primary reason the couple had decided to find their own place to live and she blushed as she agreed with them. 

 

            “You’re right. Of course, you are.  You two are not children and you definitely need to have your privacy….” Her voice trailed off as she recalled being awakened once too often by the sounds coming from her daughter’s room.  Even their move to the basement hadn’t completely muffled the occasional scream or shout from their bedroom and she sighed with the truth of her words.

 

            Any reply Buffy may have been planning was interrupted by a popping noise and a flash of light.  Three heads swiveled to find a small cage sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. Inside the cage was a very bewildered-looking rat.

 

            “Okaaaay…. I’m thinking, Willow again?”  Buffy leaned towards the cage and said, “Amy? Is that you?”  There was no reply except a wrinkling of the rat’s nose and Spike reached over Buffy’s shoulder to pull the note off the front of the cage.

 

            He opened it and, after a quick glance, he silently handed it to Buffy, who read it through, then reread it, a broad smile spreading over her face.  She turned to look at the equally happy vampire.

 

            “They know where I am,” she said.  “She can find us.”

 

            Joyce’s anxious, “Who knows?  Who can find you?  What are you—oh, my god. Are you going to leave?”

 

            Buffy and Spike exchanged a look and he gently touched her back as he said, “I think you need to tell her about Dawn, love.  Before she pops up in the sink or something and scares your mum to death.”

 

            “Dawn?”

 

            “You’d better sit down for this one, Mom.”  As Buffy suited actions to words and sat on her stool, she took the pen Spike handed her and began to hastily scribble on the back of the note from her sister.  She handed the completed message to the vampire and while he refastened it to the cage and stuck his fingers in to stroke the nervous rat, Buffy began trying to explain Dawn to the woman who had no idea that she was about to have another daughter.

 

            They all jumped when the cage and rat winked back out of existence. As Spike went to stand near Buffy, he gave that area of the kitchen a wide berth in anticipation of another, much larger, arrival.

 

            Joyce rubbed her temples and squeezed her eyes shut for several seconds.

 

            “Okay, let’s see if I’ve got this.  You have a sister.  A real, live, human sister who didn’t exist until a few years ago and yet, who is your biological sister.”  She fixed Buffy with a steely eye.  “And this sister’s name is ‘Dawn’?  Whose idea was that?”

 

            “Um, I’m gonna guess…yours? Or Dad’s, maybe?”

 

            At her mother’s incredulous look, Buffy muttered, “Well, you named me Buffy, you know.  It’s not like that’s a classic.”

 

            “She’s got a point, Joyce,” Spike chimed in.  “Bloody silly name for a Slayer, if you ask me.” He quickly closed his mouth when Joyce’s glare left her daughter’s face and focused on the smirking vampire.

 

            “I know this is going to be hard, Mom.  The monks haven’t given you any memories – not yet, anyway.  But, please, when she gets here….” Buffy stopped, remembering her own clingy behavior when she’d first arrived and found that her mother was still alive.  “Just remember – she’s going to be seeing her mother for the first time in several years.”

 

            “The mother that she thinks is dead,” Joyce said dryly.

 

            Buffy nodded silently.  They hadn’t really discussed Joyce’s possible future illness in detail, but the woman knew that in Buffy’s world she had succumbed to whatever problem her daughter was so determined to prevent this time around.

 

            “Yeah,” Buffy said softly. “She’s going to be pretty surprised and… and… probably kinda… excited.  I just don’t want you to hurt her feelings.”

 

            “Of course I wouldn’t—but… another teen-age daughter?” Buffy and Spike laughed at the woman’s obvious dismay and reassured her somewhat.

 

            “It’ll be all right, Mom.  I’m not really a teenager anymore, and Dawn has grown up a lot in the last couple of years.  I’m just remembering how I felt when I realized that in this dimension I still had… had you.  I had some time to get used to the idea before I actually saw you, but Dawn’s just going to pop up in the kitchen here, and I don’t know if she will have even thought about all the things that might be different.”

 

            Before there could be any more discussion, a much louder pop – one that made Spike’s more sensitive ears ring – signified the arrival of a larger visitor.  For just a second, the people in the room remained frozen in place, their minds struggling to absorb the reality of what had just happened in the ordinary suburban kitchen.   The ones with the most experience in adjusting to sudden disruption recovered first and with a happy squeal, Buffy threw herself at her much taller younger sister.

 

            While the two girls hugged and jumped up and down emitting high-pitched squeals that had the vampire covering his ears, their mother stared at them with a bemused smile.  Although the tall young woman currently clinging to her “real” daughter was a stranger to her, it was easy to pick out some family traits that were familiar to Joyce if not to Buffy.  Dawn’s height, of course, was the easy one, as Joyce herself was several inches taller than her older daughter.  Dawn’s slender build and dark chestnut hair were eerily reminiscent of Joyce’s own mother and she smiled at the resemblance.

 

            As Buffy and Dawn calmed down, the taller girl’s eyes went to the woman staring at her with bemusement.

 

            “M… Mommy?”

 

            “Hello, Dawn. It’s nice to meet you.” Joyce watched the girl’s expression fade from joyful disbelief to pained resignation.

 

            “You don’t know me.”

 

            She didn’t know her – she hadn’t known until a short time ago that the girl even existed; but Joyce’s maternal instincts would not allow her to leave a child with such visibly crushed hopes standing in her kitchen.  She held out her arms and said with a smile, “But I’d like to.…”

 

            With a tremulous smile, Dawn released Buffy and stepped into the waiting embrace.  She clutched Buffy’s mother, her eyes squeezed tightly shut until she felt that she could let go without crying.

 

            “Thank you,” she whispered as she stepped back.  “I needed that.”

 

            “Any time, honey.” 

 

            Dawn turned her tremulous smile back to her sister and then noticed the           

grinning vampire still holding his mug of blood and shaking his head to clear his ears.

 

            “Bloody hell, Bit, I think you hit notes that shouldn’t even be possible.”

 

His happy grin took the sting out of his words and he set his mug down just in time to prevent her hug from knocking it out of his hand.  He hugged her back, smiling past her shoulder at Buffy as he waited for it.  He could tell the instant it hit her – she stiffened in his arms and pulled away slowly.

 

“Spike?  I thought… how?  When?”  She turned to Buffy, her confusion evident.  “I thought this was evil, unsouled Spike. How does he know me?”

 

“He’s our Spike, Dawn.  The Powers sent him back to me.  Isn’t that wonderful?  We’re supposed to fix stuff in this dimension so that all the awful things don’t happen.”

 

“Oh.  Then you… you won’t want to come… well, of course you wouldn’t….” Dawn’s voice trailed off as she noted the way her sister was clinging to Spike’s hand.  There was silence as each person understood the expectations with which Dawn had come through the portal.  Buffy reached a hesitant hand out, her apologetic “Dawn—” cut off as Joyce stepped in.

 

“You are welcome to stay here, Dawn,” her mother said softly.  “Or, to visit as often as you’d like.  You can have your own room – Buffy and Spike are moving out soon, and there will be lots of space.”

 

The tall teenager bit her lip, then gave them a watery smile. “Thanks, Mom,” she said, giving the older woman a hug.  “I think visits will be all I can handle. I’m starting college next year and I really can’t see myself going through all that again.”

 

“Bit..." Spike’s voice was warm and understanding. “The Powers put us here for a reason. There are things we need to do.  Your world doesn’t need us anymore; got all those bitty slayers to handle whatever comes up, yeah?  Think about all the good we can do here…”

 

“It’s okay, Spike.  I get it.  I just wasn’t expecting to find you you and I thought all I’d have to do was convince Buffy to stop boinking evil you long enough to come home with me.”  She ignored her sister’s threatening glare and continued, “But she isn’t going to leave the real you. I know that.  And, hey, this is what Willow wanted for her.  For Buffy to be happy.”

 

At Joyce’s suggestion, they all moved to the living room and Dawn caught Buffy up on what had been going on while she was away.  Spike let his attention wander, perking up only when Dawn mentioned that Xander appeared to have met someone in his journeying around the world collecting new slayers.

 

“The whelp’s found someone to help him move on, has he? Good on him, then.”  He raised an eyebrow at Buffy and said gruffly, “Prob’ly what you should have done, love.  Found yourself another man, yeah?”

 

“I didn’t want ‘another man’,” she responded quietly.  “I wanted you – and you weren’t around.”  Her deadly glare reminded him that she was still furious that he had been back and solid for several months without letting her know before he died again, and he immediately regretted bringing it up.  When he had told her about the amulet and where he’d been while she was mourning him, and how the PTB had given him the choice of joining her or remaining dead, only the fact that he’d chosen her over the version of Heaven they were offering kept her from staking him on the spot.  It was only recently that Buffy had forgiven him for not letting her know about his return, and he had no desire to go back to the strained relations that had followed his confession.

 

“Right then, Bit. What else do you have to tell us?”  Dawn curled her lip at his obvious plea for help in distracting her sister.

 

“Not much.  Now that we know that I can do this portal thing, I guess I’ll be practicing and learning more about how to control it.  They’re going to make me an honorary coven member –it’s kinda cool, except that I think it’s just so they can keep an eye on me.”

 

“I can’t imagine why they think they’d have to do that,” he replied dryly, earning himself another glare.  “Jus’ kidding, Bit.  Know you’re all grown up and talented now, don’t I?”

 

Buffy broke into their bantering, her tone suddenly serious. “Do you – does the coven know anything about the Buffy and Spike that used to be here?  If they didn’t pop up in your dimension, then where did they go when we came here?”

 

“If they sent the other me somewhere, I hope they gave him time to get his kit on,” Spike said with a grin.  “Don’t fancy the idea of waking up in some other dimension all starkers and—”

 

A hard kick from a blushing Buffy stopped him before he could paint a more explicit picture of what non-souled Spike might have been doing when he was replaced.

 

“Ewwwww, Spike!”  Dawn’s expression left little doubt that she understood what he had been about to say, but then she surprised him by bursting into laughter.  “It’s a good thing I’ve grown up a lot in past couple of years, isn’t it?” she joked.  “Otherwise, I might have been embarrassed by that.”

 

“Exactly how grown up are you, Bit?” he growled, eyes narrowing.  “And who might I have to kill for it?”

 

“Back off, big brother,” she said affectionately.  “I can take care of myself now.  I don’t need a fangy chaperone to keep my dates in line.”

 

“Back to my question,” Buffy interrupted, both because she wanted an answer and because she could see her mother struggling to control herself.

 

 Joyce had gone from the mother of a sixteen-year-old to the mother of an adult woman within a very short span of time; now she was presented with another daughter who obviously was also accustomed to living on her own and making her own decisions.  While she was proud of the self-sufficient young women that her daughters – already she had accepted Dawn as another daughter – had grown into, the mother in her was mourning the fact that she had not been able to watch them develop into these two laughing young women.  She gave Buffy a grateful smile as she settled back to hear more about Dawn’s abilities to see into other dimensions.

 

Dawn’s eyes grew big.  “I never thought about it!  I was so focused on getting back to you and bringing you home…. We can do it, though. I’m sure we can.  They should be able to find you guys – the other you guys – I’ll just need something to use…”

 

“I wonder if they’re together?”  Buffy mused, almost to herself.

 

“If they are, I hope she doesn’t stake him – me before she has a chance to find out what a charming bloke I am.”  He waggled his eyebrows at Buffy, pouting when she rolled her eyes with a “sheeeyah”.

 

“Can you give me something of Buffy’s – that Buffy – to take back with me?  We can use it to focus the seers.  And something of Spike’s if you still have anything.”  She looked at Buffy expectantly.

 

“I’ll go get something from my closet,” Buffy said, standing up. “But I don’t think I have anything of Spike’s…. Oh, wait!”  She ran upstairs, coming down within a few minutes, an old black tee shirt in one hand and a green blouse in the other.

 

“Here you go,” she said, handing them both to Dawn.  “The shirt’s been washed, but it was his.  And I’ve never worn this blouse, so it should be all good.”

 

“Okay.  I guess I’d better go stand in the portal space,” Dawn said reluctantly.  “We’re still fine-tuning how long I can stay places and how often I can do this.  I’m pretty sure I can do it as often as I want to.  The next thing is to figure out what’s the smallest amount of blood it takes and to maybe save some so that all I need to do is sprinkle some stored blood and decide where I want to go.”

 

Buffy watched as her mother’s face blanched at hearing Dawn calmly discussing using her blood to open the portals.  Spike was nodding in agreement, and Buffy knew that her own face showed no surprise at hearing what it took to open the portals. She reminded herself that Joyce had no knowledge of how Glory had used Dawn to open the gateway between dimensions, nor of how Buffy’s sacrifice had closed it.

 

 “It’s okay,” she whispered, giving the frowning woman a light hug. “It’s not as big a deal as you think.”

 

Joyce gave her a patented “skeptical mom” look, but smiled gratefully anyway.

 

“I’m sure it isn’t,” she said bravely.  “You can explain it to me later.”

 

They followed Dawn and Spike into the kitchen, arriving in time to see them exchange another hug and to hear the vampire ask, “So, we’re good, then? You and me?”

 

“Yeah,” she responded. “We’re good. Buffy explained things to me and… not that I think it was okay….” She gave him a serious glare. “But I understand what happened and I forgive you.”

 

“Thanks, Bit.  ‘preciate it.”

 

Joyce reached cautiously into the portal area, staring suspiciously at the shimmering sides before giving Dawn a brief hug.  “Come back any time, Dawn,” she said sincerely.

 

Dawn smiled her thanks, then reached out to hug Buffy tightly.  “I’ll be back,” she promised. “And I’ll try to find out what’s up with the other you – the other yous,” she corrected herself when Spike raised an eyebrow at her. 

 

She squeaked, “Oops! Here I go!”  waved once, and with another loud pop, disappeared leaving no trace of herself or the portal.

 

Spike put his arms around Buffy, and squeezed her gently.  “You alright, pet?” he asked when she didn’t respond right away.  She shook her head abruptly, then leaned into his chest.  “I’m okay.  I just… I miss them all, you know?  I mean, everyone’s here – well, except for Dawn – but they’re different.  They aren’t my friends.  Not yet.”

 

“They’ll grow into it, love. Just like the other ones did.”

 

When she didn’t answer, he asked with quiet concern, “Are you sorry you didn’t go back with her?”

 

“Wha—?  Oh. No.  God, no.  I wouldn’t give you up for anything.  I didn’t mean…”  She searched his face until she was sure that he believed her, then relaxed again.  “I’m fine.  I’m just glad we got to see her again.”

 

 

Chapter Four

 

There was no sound from the basement as Buffy threw some cereal in a bowl and sat down at her small table.  As she spooned the Cheerios into her mouth, her eyes kept darting to the locked door and to the chair still braced against it.  When she finished eating, she gave a sigh and put her bowl in the sink before removing the chair and unlocking the door.

 

Seems kinda stupid to try to keep him out when I’m not here – it’s not like he couldn’t just walk around and break in a window or something. I hope older me knew what she was doing when she decided to trust him even though he wasn’t her Spike.  I hope I know what I’m doing….

 

Shrugging off the worry about Spike and his intentions to think about later, she left the house and began the short walk to her job at the local mall.  Malls in this dimension were nothing like those in the California she had come from, but they were still a good place for an underage girl to find a minimum wage job without too many questions being asked.

 

The entire dimension seemed to be a bit less structured than what Buffy was used to.  In addition to the open acknowledgement of the existence of vampires and demons, no one seemed concerned that she was not in school, nor that she didn’t own the house in which she was living.  Which worked out nicely in terms of her ability to blend in quickly and make a place for herself.  She was a bit puzzled by the fact that everyone who knew what she was had accepted her status as the Slayer without giving any indication that there had been one around before she found herself here. 

 

It’s not like I go around advertising it, but a lot more people seem to know about me than they did in Sunnydale.  It’s really strange, in a relaxing kind of way…

 

Until she no longer had to do it, she hadn’t realized exactly how much energy she had expended in her own dimension just maintaining the fiction that she was a normal high school junior. The fact that her mother hadn’t even known what she was, and would have freaked if she did, had pulled on her in ways she’d not really admitted; and, as much as she missed her home and her mother, she was finding it a relief to be living in a place and time that didn’t require her to pretend to be anything but what she was.

 

She gave the restaurant manager a cheerful wave as she walked in and headed directly for the kitchen. Greeting the chef, a man whom she suspected of being a demon but who was such a wonderful cook that she couldn’t bring herself to challenge him on it, she pulled on her hairnet and apron and got to work lining up the table settings for the lunch crowd.  She carefully wrapped each set of clean silverware in a clean napkin and laid it upon the cart that the waiters would use to make the tables ready for the anticipated lunch crowd.

 

While she continued the mindless task, she thought back over the previous evening’s events and marveled again at her own easy acceptance of Spike’s story and her curiosity about his soul. 

 

 I’ve got to remember to ask him about that – if he has his soul, like Angel does.  And why he hasn’t talked about Angel.

 

Absence had done little to diminish Buffy’s schoolgirl crush on the souled vampire and she missed him just as much as she missed her mother and her friends.  Although, she did find herself forgetting occasionally exactly what it felt like to be held and kissed by him, and now had the memory of how Spike’s body had felt the night before to muddle her memories even further.

 

 Just because the other Buffy loves him, doesn’t mean that I have to.  He didn’t actually say she loves him, did he?  He said that the other Spike loves her, but he didn’t say that she loved him back.  Maybe she’s just dating him because Angel… where would Angel go?  He wouldn’t leave me. Would he? He loves me.  He said so.  Angel is my boyfriend. I don’t care what this vampire says, or how good-looking he is; he isn’t Angel and he isn’t going to get me to cheat on my boyfriend by telling me that the other Buffy—

 

Her internal rant was interrupted when the rather tall stack of tableware and napkins began to slide toward the edge of the cart and only her slayer speed prevented the destruction of the previous half-hour’s work.  With a guilty look around to see if anyone had noticed her lack of attention, she spread the table-ready packets out more evenly and pushed the cart out into the main part of the restaurant.

 

For the rest of the afternoon and early evening, she resolutely kept her mind on her job and off the vampire currently occupying the basement of her house.  As soon as her shift was over, and she had eaten one of the chef’s excellent dinners, she took off her work clothes, grabbed the bag that contained her stakes and left the restaurant via the back door – a route which allowed her to check out the alley for lurking vampires before turning toward home.  Since Buffy had begun leaving by the back door, incidents of mall employees disappearing while emptying trash had almost completely stopped. Most nights Buffy took another quick swing down the alley before going home and the unpredictability of her patrols had made the former vampire buffet a place to avoid if at all possible. 

 

Buffy reached the end of the alley and turned her steps in the direction of her home. She had decided to check on Spike before going out for her nightly patrol and she hastened through the darkness, anxious to catch him before he might leave for the night.  She used her key to open the front door, noticing that the light was on in kitchen and that there were wet footprints in the hallway. She called out as she followed the footprints down the hall and into the kitchen, noting that they led to the now-open basement door.

 

“Spike?  Are you still here?”

 

“Yes, pet.”  The vampire’s head appeared at the top of the stairs, followed quickly by his body as he entered the kitchen somewhat timidly.  “I hope you don’t mind; I took a shower and borrowed one of your towels.  I’ll put it back soon’s it dries off.

 

“Uh… no, that’s fine.”  Buffy stammered briefly, not having thought far enough ahead when offering the vampire her basement to think about things like extra towels, soaps and other everyday items.  If asked, she probably would have admitted that she had no idea that vampires even took showers, although common sense told her that Angel must have done so.

 

Spike cocked his head and looked at her curiously.  “Are you alright, Slayer?  Havin’ second thoughts about sharin’ your home with a vamp?”

 

“No!  Yes… maybe?”  She scrunched her face up apologetically.  “I’m not used to having anybody else around and I just didn’t think about—it’s nothing,” she concluded with her best fake smile.  “It just takes a little getting used to – sharing my shower with a… a guy.”

 

“Well, technically, pet, we didn’t share the shower but if you’d like to try that sometime.…” His gentle laugh at her indignant “Not even!” made her color that much harder as she realized that he’d been deliberately trying to make her blush.

 

“Very funny,” she muttered, doing her best to pretend that she exchanged sexual innuendos with men all the time and was just bored with it.

 

“So, Slayer,” he said briskly, changing the subject abruptly, “what’s the plan for the evening? Spot of violence, maybe?”

 

She gaped at him, noting the way he was almost bouncing on his toes with barely controlled energy.

 

            “I’m going to patrol,” she responded stiffly.  “You know, slay vampires, stuff like that?”

 

            “Well, yeah.  That’s what I meant.  I could help.  Bu – the other Buffy and I worked pretty well together.”

 

“You want to help me? To slay other vampires?”

 

“Well, was thinkin’ more about watchin’ your back while you take out the vamps, actually,” he admitted sheepishly.  “But you never know when you might run into a gang of Fyarl demons or something…. Come on, Slayer.  Let me go with. Please?”

 

With his lower lip poking out and the hopeful expression in his eyes, he looked more like a little boy than he did a master vampire and Buffy shook her head in bewilderment.

 

“I don’t understand you.”

 

“What’s to understand?  There’s got to be a reason I got dumped here. You, I understand.  Somebody wanted the other you to have a chance to change some… events… that would have happened in that dimension or time, and they kicked you out.   Don’t know why I didn’t get left there, but since I woke up within screaming distance of you taking apart a nest of demons, I’ve got to figure there’s a reason I’m here.”

 

“What’s that got to do with helping me?”

 

“Well—” He looked at her uncertainly. “Don’t you want me to?”  He suddenly appeared embarrassed, and turned his back on her saying gruffly, “I’m sorry, luv. I jus’…” He turned back and smiled at her apologetically.  “I guess I’m not quite used to you not bein’ the one who knows me.  I didn’t mean to force myself on you, Slayer.”

 

She gawked at him, her mouth hanging open as she tried to absorb what had just happened. A master vampire, older than dirt, has come here from my world and he thinks he’s supposed to help me.  And he’s hurt when he thinks I don’t want him – vampires have feelings? Who knew?  And he has manners, too. None of this was in my non-existent Slayer handbook. When she didn’t respond, but continued to stare into space with her mouth still open, he stepped closer to her and gently touched her chin, pushing her mouth closed.

 

“Slayer?  Buffy?”

 

“Wha–?”  She blinked and tried to focus on his face and ignore the way her chin tingled where his finger had touched it so briefly.

 

“Where’d you go, Slayer?”

 

She flushed and shook herself.  “I’m sorry, Spike.  It’s just… you… I… Giles never…. I’ve never met a vampire like you,” she admitted in a rush.  “I don’t know what to do or say.”

 

“ ‘s alright pet.  I understand.  Never would have thought I’d end up offering to help a slayer do anything but have a glorious de–”  At the shocked expression on her face, he quickly back-tracked. “If you think I need remindin’ that I’m a stranger to you, you jus’ let me know, yeah?  I don’t mean to act like we should set up house together – I’m just… it’s hard sometimes to remember that you…. Nevermind, pet.  Jus’ tell me to back off when you think you need to, yeah?”

 

He was still standing where he’d stepped when he touched her chin and she couldn’t control the way her heart pounded at his proximity.

 

“B… back off,” she whispered, not moving herself.

 

He frowned and she thought she saw a flash of pain in his eyes before he shrugged and closed down his face.

 

“Right, Slayer.  Was in your space.  Sorry.”

 

In spite of his words of apology and understanding, his stiff posture as he moved towards the basement door told her that she had somehow offended him. Before she could decide what, if anything, she wanted to do about it, he disappeared down the stairs, his voice drifting back up to her.

 

“I’ll jus’ grab my boots and be with you straight away.”

 

She shrugged, reminding herself that he was a vampire and probably got offended by all sorts of things that she would never understand.  While she waited for him to come back up, she collected her stakes, hiding them around her body everywhere that she could tuck something that size.  She hefted her sword tentatively, then put it down.  If the fact that she was going to have an old vampire watching her back had anything to do with her decision to leave it behind, she carefully ignored the thought.

 

 

 

 

AN: In the interest of heading off any questions or misconceptions and to avoid answering the same questions over and over, I thought I’d best say a few words about the new dimension.  It is similar to the other two dimensions, in that there are vampires and demons, there are/have been slayers, people speak English in the country in which Buffy found herself, and in many other ways.  However, it is not a duplicate of the first two dimensions; which, if you recall from the first story were identical in pretty much every way except the time frame and those events that Buffy’s presence was changing. This new dimension is much different in several key ways: it is colder, there is no Sunnydale as such, there are no doppelgangers for every character in the old Sunnydale; and those that do appear may or may not be like their counterparts. In other words, it has had a very different history, which has made it very unlike the other two dimensions/worlds in many ways. I’m asking that you have a bit of patience as this world slowly unfolds and trust me to explain the things that might seem puzzling.

 

 

Chapter Five

 

 

As they walked slowly toward the cemeteries that Buffy had planned to patrol that night, she suddenly remembered the questions she was going to ask him.  She glanced at his expressionless face and wondered if this might not be a bad time to ask him anything.  Although he had quickly returned to the kitchen, shrugging on his coat and nodding towards the door, which he then held open for her, he had been uncharacteristically silent while they walked and Buffy was sure that he was still angry or hurt by her words.

 

He must have his soul. How else could his feelings get hurt? Vampires don’t have feelings… do they?

 

“Um…Spike?”

 

He turned his face towards her and cocked an inquisitive eyebrow, but said nothing.

 

“Do you—I mean, if you helped me—her, and if you think you were falling in… in love with her, does that mean you have a soul? Like Angel does?”

 

She’d traveled several more steps before she realized that Spike was no longer beside her, and she stopped to look over her shoulder.  She froze, one hand reaching involuntarily for the stake in her waistband, as she watched the silent snarling her question had evoked.  She backed away cautiously, the stake clutched tightly in her fist as she watched the vampire that she hardly knew struggling to control his demon.  Only when he had gone back to his human face, did she let out the breath she had been holding; but she kept her grip on the stake when she looked into the cold blue chips that were his eyes.

 

“Listen up, Slayer,” he said slowly. “I’m only going to say this once.  I am nothing like that miserable pillock that you had the misfortune to meet first.  I do not have a soul, and I don’t think I need one – in spite of what the other me may hav—”  He stopped himself abruptly and began walking again, his steps forceful and rapid.

 

Trying to digest what he’d said – both about Angel and about his other self, Buffy remained standing where she was, watching him disappear down the street. When he gave no sign of slowing down and didn’t look back in her direction, she gave herself a little shake and began to jog after him.  By the time she caught up, he was already inside the cemetery gates and had thrown himself into small group of vampires that were clustered around a new grave.

 

Instead of joining in, Buffy watched as he punched and kicked his way through the vamps, his motions fluid and graceful even as his angry words drifted to her ears.

 

“Don’t need a bloody soul to love her or anybody else.  And if I had one, it wouldn’t be so loose that the first good shag would knock it out of me.  Don’t care what the other me did to make him want to get one – there’s not a woman in the world worth that kind of pain.”

 

As he finished speaking, he was twisting the head off the remaining vampire and stood, surrounded by dust and breathing heavily.  Buffy was just opening her mouth to ask him why he was breathing so hard – something that Angel never did – when the soil over the grave erupted and a bewildered fledgling began to crawl out.

 

“I’ll get this one!” she said eagerly, then hesitated. “If it’s okay with you… I mean,” she added slowly.

 

“Help yourself, pet,” he said with a small smile. “I think I worked off most of my temper tantrum.”

 

She returned his smile tentatively, then leaned over the snarling vampire that was still struggling to emerge from the heavy clay soil.

 

“Are you stuck?” she asked cheerfully.  “Here, let me help you.”

 

She yanked the confused fledgling out with one hand and pushed the stake through his chest with the other.  As soon as the dust settled, she smiled up at Spike.

 

“I’ve got to say, there’s something to be said for being this strong – even if I am kinda banged up.”  She ruefully fingered the bite marks on her neck and remembered the big scar on her belly.  She glanced at the ropy flesh on her left palm and made a face.

 

“They’re just scars, luv. Hard-earned and honestly come by. Try to think of them more as badges of honor.”

 

“Easy for you to say – you’re a guy. Your scar is sexy.  Mine are just… scars.”

 

As she realized what she’d said, she felt the heat flood her face and hoped that it was too dark for him to see her blush.  His rich chuckle told her it was a vain hope and she sighed as she waited for him to say something that would make her blush even more.  To her surprise, he just continued to laugh softly, finally saying quietly, “To another warrior, yours are sexy too, pet.  Trust me.”

 

She tipped her head to one side and looked at him speculatively.

 

“Wot?”

 

“You just keep surprising me,” she admitted.  “I was expecting something more… innuendoish.”

 

He shrugged.  “I’m trying to remember that you aren’t the girl I left behind – much as you might look and sound and smell like her.”

 

 Smell like her?  Ewwww, Spike!”

 

He cocked his head at her.  “Vampires have a very highly developed sense of smell, pet.  Surely your watcher – or the bloody great poof – has told you that?”

 

It was his first voluntary mention of Angel and Buffy seized on it immediately, ignoring the little voice that was asking how she knew he was referring to her vampire boyfriend.

 

“Angel would never smell me!  That’s just… just… gross!”

 

“Whatever you say, Slayer.”  He turned away, refusing to discuss his grandsire with the girl who clearly still thought she knew him well.  He began walking farther into the cemetery, hoping to come across something else upon which to take out the emotions that Buffy continued, so innocently, to provoke.  She trotted after him, tugging on his sleeve when he didn’t turn around right away, then dropping her hand immediately when he did stop.

 

“Wait, Spike,” she said softly. “I wanted to talk to you tonight.”

 

“About?”

 

“About Angel – and why… why you didn’t say anything about him when you were telling me about Sunnydale.  Where—did something happen to him?” The fear in her eyes and voice caused him to soften his automatic growl and he shook his head slowly.

 

“Got nothing to say ‘bout him, pet.  We had a bit of run-in, the Slayer put him in his place, and not too long after that, I got yanked out of Sunnyhell. I guess he’s still there.”  His face darkened as he realized that he’d left Buffy in the same town as his grandsire who was not likely to give her up easily.  His long string of curses went on until he noticed this Buffy fingering her stake again and he stopped with a sigh.  “Sorry, luv.  I just realized that if I’m not there, she’s going to have to face that big git by herself.”

 

“What do you mean ‘face him’?  It’s Angel! He loves me… doesn’t he?” Her voice got small as she took in the sympathetic expression on the vampire’s face.  “He does!” she insisted, stepping closer to him and thumping on his chest with her fist.  “He does.  He said so… he loves me….”

 

Suddenly, she was pounding on his chest and crying as the accumulated emotions of the past year overwhelmed her iron control.  Hesitantly, he put his arms around her slender body and began rubbing soothing circles on her back as he murmured insincere but calming platitudes about how it was all going to be all right.  He made no attempt to hold her any tighter, nor did he give in to the impulse to drop kisses on her head as the familiar scent filled his nostrils.

 

Not my Buffy.  This one doesn’t love any version of me. She’s in love with Angelus, and nothing I can say or do is gonna change that.  Know her too well to think she’s gonna give him up that easily.

 

“Oh, god,” she sniffled, pulling away until he dropped his arms. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I’ve been here all this time and I never cried. Not once.”

 

“ ‘s alright, pet. Bit much to take in, innit? Knowing that you might not be gettin’ back like you’d been thinkin’.  I’m getting right used to having the Slayer snottin’ all over me.”  He smiled to assure her that he wasn’t complaining and was gratified to see her face clear up.

 

“Did she – the other Buffy – does she cry a lot?”

 

“Some,” he admitted.  “Seemed like everything I said or did for a while there set her off.  Was starting to get a complex....”

 

“And now here I am crying all over you, too,” she said, flushing with embarrassment – both for herself and the other Buffy. Trying to change the subject, she asked,  “What did she cry about?”

 

“Um... me, mostly.  I mean, not me, but the me that she... that she was in love with. I kept remindin’ her of him and she... it made her sad.”

 

“You couldn’t make her happy?” she asked in all innocence, frowning when he laughed heartily before answering.

 

“Did m’ best. luv.  I did my best. I think I was....” He shook himself. “Doesn’t matter, does it? I’m not there any more either. I just hope... I hope she doesn’t think I left because I didn’t want to be there – with her.”

 

“I’m sure she knows you didn’t, Spike. Didn’t you tell me you were with her when you got yanked?”

 

He nodded, unwilling to trust himself not to tell her just how much he had been with Buffy when he’d disappeared.

 

“Well, then, she knows you didn’t leave on purpose.  I guess she’ll miss you – just like I miss Angel, but she’ll know it wasn’t your fault.”

 

Something about her innocent confidence and the way she calmly talked about missing Angel wrenched at him and he had to force a smile as he agreed with her.

 

“I’m sure you’re right, pet.  It’s not like she doesn’t already know what it’s like to be one place one minute and somewhere else the next.”

 

The lengthy discussion and Buffy’s tears had taken their toll on any urge either of them had to do more slaying, and, without discussion, they turned and began to walk out of the cemetery.  Buffy avoided any mention of Angel for the rest of the night, instead grilling Spike all through her usual after-slaying meal about Willow and Xander and anyone else he could remember meeting.  He did his best to fill her in, not having really paid that much attention to the other teenagers around her and struggling to remember their names and to find something to tell her about each of them.

 

He did remember that Buffy had blamed Willow for doing a spell that sent her back into her sixteen-year-old body and he talked a bit about Willow’s growing magical abilities, surprised when Buffy rolled her eyes at hearing that Willow was getting more into magic.

 

“What’s wrong, pet? I haven’t even begun to tell some of the things she did....”

 

“I don’t want to know.” She put her hands over her ears.  “After that mess with Amy’s mother last year, I can’t believe she would want to do anything magical. Willow’s smart! She’s going to be President some day.  She doesn’t need magic.”

 

She lowered her hands and stared at him intently.  “But, if I did want to know, what could you tell me?  Do you know everything that’s going to happen in Sunnydale?  Am I... is Angel... will we...?” Her voice trailed off as she remembered how he always reacted to hearing Angel’s name.

 

“I couldn’t tell you much, Slayer.”  Already she knew him well enough to know that calling her ‘Slayer’ meant that he was angry, but his face showed only a quiet resignation.  “And I don’t think I should, even if I could. Buffy – the other Buffy—”

 

“Your Buffy,” she put in quietly, surprised when he shook his head.

 

“No, luv.  She’s not mine – think the soddin’ Powers-that-like-to-bugger-people have made that pretty clear by yanking me away jus’ when we were...” He stopped to regroup, then continued, “She’s the one I know best, yeah; but we really didn’t have that much time together, and she spent most of it drivin’ me crazy with all her “I know you” bollocks.”  He grinned faintly at the memory of all the times she’d teased him by knowing things about him that even Dru hadn’t known.

 

“She didn’t really tell me very much about what had happened to her. And she’s doin’ her best to keep some of it from happenin’ this time around, so I don’t think I should tell you the things I do know.  Not unless I have to for some reason,” he added, seeing the glare building on her face.  He thought about Joyce and the fact that it was very possible she was going to be dead within a few years and shook his head again.  “Some things you don’t need to know – they aren’t gonna happen here, in this world; and they aren’t gonna happen in that one if the Slayer can prevent them.  No point in making yourself unhappy... or... or worried for no reason.”

 

She made no response, her face tight and closed as she focused on finishing her food.  Spike watched carefully as her expression softened, breathing an unnecessary sigh of relief when her shoulders relaxed and she looked up at him with a small smile.  Cleary she had come to some sort of decision as she took up the thread of the conversation with no acknowledgment of her lengthy silence.

 

“So, tell me about the other you, then.  The one that old me is in love with. Where do you think he is?”

 

“Hell,” he replied shortly, then relented. “Maybe not Hell, if what the slayer tells me I – he – did for her.”

 

She frowned in confusion and he realized that he had only told her that the future him was dust – not how or why he got that way.  With an embarrassed shrug, he said quickly, “He wore some sort of amulet for her – to be her ‘champion’ and it allowed him to help her defeat the First Evil and its army. Burned me – him – to a crisp in the process.  Bet that stung like a bitch,” he added, muttering more to himself than to her.

 

“You helped save the world?”

 

The big-eyed admiration on her face was making him warm inside until she followed it with, “Future you must have a soul then! Just like An—” She caught herself as his face hardened again.

 

“Yeah,” he gritted out. “But I went and got mine – earned it for her. Didn’t get it shoved into me like your precious Angel – and mine didn’t go anywhere.  It wasn’t a curse that could be broken by a—” He broke off at the confused horror on her face.

 

“A-Angel lost his soul?  It isn’t permanent?”

 

“It’s over and done, Slayer.  Don’t worry yourself about it.  Your little red-headed witch friend put it back before he could do too much damage.  He’s all back to his broody self now.”

 

“How...” Ignoring the way Spike’s face had shut down, Buffy persisted, “...how did he lose it? What happened?”

 

“Seems like there’s a little escape clause – if the bloody bastard gets too happy, the soul pops right out. Just like that.  Bit of an oversight on the part of the gypsies, innit?”

 

“How awful for him!” Sympathetic tears filled Buffy’s eyes as she thought about what it meant.  “He can never be happy?  Poor Angel!”

 

            “Yeah, well, it’s not all that wonderful for the people around him either, pet. Don’t waste too many tears on it.  Last thing in the world you or anyone else wants is for that nasty bugger to get real happy.  Trust me,” he added as she frowned dubiously.

 

            “What made him so happy that he lost his soul?  Didn’t the other Buffy know how to keep it from happening?”

 

            “She thought she did,” he responded gruffly.  “Turns out she’s not the only—” He stopped himself with a visible effort.  “You know what, Slayer? I think I’ve had about all the reminiscin’ about my grandsire that I can handle for one night.  What say we go get some ice cream for you before we go home?”

 

            Still mulling over the things he’d said, as well as the things he just as clearly hadn’t said, she nodded dumbly and followed him to the door. This time, when Spike left some money on the table, the proprietor just nodded his thanks and waved them out the door.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Six.

 

            Buffy lapped at her ice cream cone, peering at Spike out of the corner of her eye as he wrapped his tongue around the one he had bought for himself. What a strange vampire. He eats fries and ice cream cones... and.. .oh my god! People.  He eats people! How could I forget what he is?  Just because he isn’t killing me, doesn’t mean he... oh my god....

 

            Spike heard her heart rate increase and the small gasp she gave as she remembered that the man walking at her side was a creature that lived on the blood of living humans.  He cocked his head at her, then took a quick glance around to see if she had somehow sensed a danger that he hadn’t noticed.  When he saw nothing to blame for her obvious distress, he sighed and stopped.

 

            “What is it now, pet?”

 

            “Wha – what do you mean?”  Her voice was barely a squeak and her eyes flew open even wider.

 

            “I mean, Slayer, what the bleedin’ hell has suddenly got your knickers in a twist? Your heart’s poundin’ like a trip hammer an’ you’re looking at me like I just grew curly horns out of the front of my head.  What happened?”

 

            Instead of answering his question, she responded with one of her own.

 

            “Where did you get the money you spent tonight?” she asked tightly. “Where’d you get it, Spike?”

 

            “From a poker game last night. What’s wrong with you?  Got something against gamblin’?  Cause if you do, we’re gonna have some prob—”

 

            “You didn’t kill somebody for it?”  The relief and desire to believe him quivered in her voice and he was once again reminded that this Buffy was, unlike the other, much younger than she appeared to the eye.  He shook his head in sudden understanding.

 

            “I haven’t killed anybody, luv,” he said softly.  “Know better than that, don’t I? Not saying I wouldn’t if I had to, but got better sense than to start snackin’ on the neighbors while I’m livin’ in the Slayer’s cellar.”

 

            “What are you eating, then?”  Suspicion was still visible in her gaze.  Even though she’d gotten past her initial shock at finding a vampire who wasn’t trying to kill her and who now claimed not to have killed anyone lately, her deeply engrained beliefs about vampires still colored her every reaction to his actions.

 

            “Haven’t really addressed that issue yet,” he mumbled, quickly filling his mouth with ice cream.

 

            “We’re addressing it NOW,” she said firmly, planting her feet and sticking her lip out stubbornly.  “Before you go another step.”

 

            He waved a hand at his full mouth and tried to look apologetic, but she just glared at him and tapped her foot impatiently.  With a sigh, he swallowed the melted ice cream and tried to answer her truthfully.

 

            “Last night wasn’t a problem – the bar where I found the poker game was havin’ a special on O neg....” His voice trailed off as he watched her eyes narrow.  “More than you needed to know, I guess,” he admitted with a small smile.

 

            “And tonight?”

 

            “Like a dog with a bone,” he muttered under his breath, as he started walking again, leaving her to chase after him.

 

            “What?  What did you say?”

 

            “I said, ‘I forgot what a stubborn bint you are’,” he growled, tossing the rest of his ice cream cone into the street and whirling to face her.

 

            “Look, Slayer. I am what I am.  I have to have blood to live, so unless you’re volunteering to be my midnight snack every night....” He tried hard not to look as if he were excited by that prospect, but the look on her face told him he was failing miserably.   “I won’t kill, alright?  I’ll look for some evil-doer of some sort and just put the fear of... fear of Spike into him, alright?  And I’ll ask around. Place as open about vamps as this one is has to have places you can buy blood. I’ll find out where they are and you can stock the fridge, yeah?”

 

            “Angel drinks pigs’ blood from the butcher,” she said more meekly than she’d intended, already flinching away when the anticipated snarl ripped through the air between them.

 

            The vampire turned away and began walking in the opposite direction without a backward glance.

 

            “Where are you going?”

 

            “Out.”

 

            “When will you... will you... should I Ieave the door unlocked?”

 

            There was no response from the rapidly disappearing vampire, and she yelled after him, “If you don’t answer me, I’m locking you out!”

 

            “Go ahead!” he yelled back.

 

            “Fine! I will!”

 

            “Good!”

 

            “Fine!”

 

            She had only stomped a few more steps towards her home when she heard him call her name so softly she barely heard it. She stopped, but didn’t turn around to face him.

 

            “Just go home, Slayer.  Go to bed.” His voice sounded more tired than angry now, and she nodded in reply before beginning to walk again.  When she got to her front walk, she finally turned and looked, but there was no sign of the blond head she’d half-expected to see.

 

            Nor did she see the two humans hiding in the shadows of the alley next to the office building on one side of her house.  Pulling out her key, she opened the door, automatically locking it behind her after she stepped into the house.  She stood in the kitchen for a long minute, staring at the door to the basement and wondering if she should go down to check that door.  Finally she gave a good imitation of a growl and yanked open the door at the top of the stairs, muttering about ‘stupid vampires’ as she stomped down the stairs and over to the outside door.  She noticed that Spike had made himself a bed near one wall of the room and cringed when she thought about his trying to sleep on cold concrete while she had a perfectly good couch in the living room.  Then she shrugged and reminded herself that he was a vampire.

 

            He probably sleeps in a crypt or something.  He doesn’t need a bed.

 

            She saw that he had locked the outside door, and, after a moment’s hesitation, she quietly unlocked the door and went back upstairs.  Within ten minutes she was in bed and well on her way to being asleep.  Outside, two sets of eyes noted the location of the last light to go out, as well as the location of all the windows and doors.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

            Spike’s anger took him swiftly back to the area of town where he’d found the demon bar and he slammed his way in, snarling his order to the bartender and throwing himself into a booth that became empty as soon as it was clear that he was planning to sit there.  When the waitress reluctantly approached with his O neg and a bottle of Jack Daniels, he forced himself to smile at her.

 

            “Sorry, luv, didn’t mean to frighten you.  You know I’d never hurt anything as pretty as you are.”  He gave her a wink and watched as she relaxed and smiled back at him

 

            “You didn’t scare me,” she said quickly.  “I like forceful men.” 

 

            “You don’t say,” he drawled, looking her up and down again.  He toyed briefly with allowing the obviously willing vampire to provide him with an evening’s entertainment, as well as a place to sleep away the next day, then sighed in disgust.

 

            Didn’t take much to turn me into a nancy-boy again, did it? Couple of shags with the Slayer’s warm body and suddenly another vamp just doesn’t do it for me. No sense not keepin’ my options open, though.

 

            “I’ll keep that in mind, pet,” he responded with a leer.  “Maybe one of these evenin’s we’ll see just how forceful you like it...”

 

            Hope and disappointment flitted across her face as she gave him his drink, leaning forward to be sure that he got a good look at her cleavage and he licked his lips appreciatively before tucking a bill between her ample breasts. He allowed his finger to trail up to her neck, smiling when she shivered.

 

            Oh yeah.  Got a place to stay now, if I need one. The Big Bad is still in the house.

 

            That thought reminded him that he’d left Buffy unsure if she should expect him or not, and instead of following up on the open invitation in the vampire’s eyes, he turned her around and smacked her on her ass as he said, not unkindly, “I believe you’ve got some other customers over there, luv.  Best see to them, yeah?”

 

            He quickly mixed the blood with a substantial amount of the whiskey and gulped it down. The immediate improvement in the way he felt made it clear that he was going to have to find a good meal soon or risk becoming weak.  He had no idea what Buffy thought he was doing while he was out, but no matter how angry it made her, he knew that he was going to need a steady source of blood – and it wasn’t going to be from a pig. ‘Not if I have anything to say about it,’ he grumbled to himself, ignoring the little voice that was telling him that he’d probably do whatever Buffy wanted.

 

            After checking his wallet, he decided it wasn’t going to be necessary to find another poker game just yet, and he relaxed back into his seat to survey the room.  He got a quick smile and a nod from a demon that he remembered from the card game the night before. One that he knew was from a peaceful and friendly species.  So peaceful and friendly that he recalled Buffy had known and liked one of them back in Sunnydale.  He nodded back, reluctant to give up his image by smiling, even though it would be very useful to have an acquaintance who could fill him in on this world. 

 

            The decision was taken out of his hands as the friendly, loose-skinned demon took his nod as permission to join him.  Carrying his drink with him, he walked over to Spike’s booth and sat down with a cheerful, “Nice to see you again. Did you come back to give us a chance to win back our money?”

 

            Spike gave a lazy smile and replied, “You sure you’re ready for another round of ‘let’s make Spike rich?’”  He studied the demon’s friendly face and tried to remember his name.

 

            “I’m Clem.”  The other demon took care of the problem, extending his large, scaly hand and waiting expectantly for Spike to respond.

 

            “Yeah, Clem. I remembered,” he muttered, giving the proffered hand a quick shake before anyone could catch him being civil.

 

            “No, you didn’t,” Clem responded cheerfully. “But that’s okay.  I’m used to it.  It’s just as well, sometimes.  Keeps me off the radar.”  At Spike’s inquisitive look, he added, “You do know we have a slayer here now, don’t you?  Do you know what a slayer is?”

 

            “Do I–?” Spike sputtered and growled, before subsiding into a, “Yeah, ‘course I know what a slayer is.  Killed two of ‘em, haven’t I?”

 

            The demon just blinked at him, subtle disappointment flickering across his features as he thought about what Spike had said.

 

            “You must be older than you look,” Clem said carefully. “What with there not having been any slayers around for hundreds of years...”

 

            Bollocks! How do I get out of this one? Spike looked back, having no trouble meeting Clem’s eyes firmly.

 

            “I’m not from around here,” he admitted honestly. “Things are a bit different where I come from.”

 

            “There are slayers?  I thought they were extinct! No one that I know of has seen or heard of one.”

 

            “Well, there’s not but one at a time,” Spike explained quickly.  “But as soon as you off one of the little bints, another pops up somewhere else in the world to take her place.”

 

            “Oh.” Clem’s expression said that he was giving Spike the benefit of the doubt, but still had his suspicions.  “I guess that explains why we have one now, then, huh?”

 

            “Probably.” Spike shrugged nonchalantly.  “Guess the Powers That Be felt there was need here.” He paused to take another drink, then, just as casually he asked, “What can you tell me about this one?  Is she anything special?”

 

            “Oh my, yes!” Clem’s face lit up before he remembered that he was speaking about the sworn enemy of all vampires and demons.  “I mean, she’s really made a difference in this town.  Nobody’s been able to defeat her yet.”

 

            “That good, huh?” Spike tried to look mildly interested.  “Maybe I’ll have to look the bint up – see if she’s up to a bit of a scrap with me.”

 

            “She’s very, very good,” Clem said, quickly adding, as Spike’s face darkened, “Not that I’m saying you couldn’t kill her, mind you.  Just that she...”

 

            “She...?”

 

            The demon shrugged uncomfortably.  “It’s actually a lot nicer here than it used to be.  With the Slayer living here.  Things are quieter, you know?  A guy doesn’t have to worry about being robbed if he has a good night at poker, or that a bunch of stupid vampires – no offense! – will kick him out of his rightfully owned cave....”

 

            Spike cocked his head at the embarrassed demon. “So, you like the chit, then?”

 

            “I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like her,” Clem said quickly.  “But she seems... nice. In a ‘she hasn’t tried to kill me’, kinda way.  And, she got me my cave back,” he mumbled into his glass.

 

            Signaling for another round of drinks for them both, Spike leaned back in his seat and said, with his first genuine smile, “So, what else can you tell me about this place, Clem?”

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

            Restored by several glasses of less-than-fresh but still tasty blood, Jack Daniels and a head full of information about the town and country in which he’d found himself, Spike was in a pretty good mood as he wended his way back to the slayer’s house.  His good mood lasted only until he got to the basement door and saw that it was standing ajar. 

 

            Entering cautiously, he extended his senses and quickly picked up on the extra heartbeats coming from the floor above.  He could hear Buffy’s calm resting heart rate that told him she was still asleep.  The rapid pounding of the other two hearts was all he needed to know that they had too much adrenaline pumping through their systems to be on any kind of legitimate errand.  He was making his stealthy way up the stairs to the also ajar kitchen door, when there was a crash and Buffy’s heart rate sped up.

 

            Forgoing stealth, he took the rest of the stairs in one leap, making it to the hallway just in time to see a man come flying out of the Slayer’s bedroom, his body making a satisfying thump as it hit the wall.  Stepping over the semi-conscious man, he followed the sound of Buffy’s voice to where she just rising from the floor, the look on her face promising immediate retribution to the stoutly built young man staring from the blackjack in his hand to the still-conscious slayer in bewilderment.

 

            “You are in big trouble, Mister,” she hissed, dodging another swipe of his arm and kicking him in the stomach.  “I can’t believe you hit me with that thing.  I am so going to kick your ass....”

 

            Her voice trailed off as Spike burst through the doorway, his amber gaze going from her to the assailant and back to her.

 

            “You alright, luv? Can I help?”

 

“Are you hungry?”

 

            “I could eat” He smiled around his fangs, enjoying the scent of fear now rolling off the man just struggling to his feet.  Buffy had turned on the bedside lamp and Spike’s vampire features were clearly visible. She waved her hand towards the hallway and said casually, “I’ve got this one – help yourself.”

 

            She yanked the unfortunate man to his feet, and began to punch him, punctuating her efforts with comments about how lucky he was to be on the receiving end of her anger and not Spike’s.

 

            “Cause, I like, you know, don’t usually kill humans?  But, Spike, he’s awful mean – pure evil, you know?  I’ll bet your friend is really sorry he jumped into my bed....”

 

            A guttural snarl from the hallway told her that Spike had heard the comment and correctly guessed what the intruder’s intentions had been.  A muffled shriek from the hall was evidence that the vampire was more than willing to mete out the punishment deserved.

 

            Dragging the now unconscious, and much larger, man behind her, Buffy stepped into the hall – intending to stop Spike before he completely drained her other assailant.  To her surprise, he had already stopped feeding, holding the terrified man in one hand and wiping his mouth with the other.

 

            Buffy gave him a small smile of acknowledgment and asked brightly, “What do you think, Spike? Throw them out the front door – or drop them out the bedroom window?”

 

            He gave an appreciative chuckle and nodded towards the front door.

 

            “Let’s put ‘em in the street, Slayer.  With a bit of luck, something big will run over them before they get up.”

 

            Leaving Spike to drag the two semi-conscious men out to the curb, Buffy opened the front door and gestured gracefully, stepping aside so that the vampire could move past her with his burdens.  She followed him to the end of the sidewalk and watched dispassionately as he tossed first one, then the other, into the middle of the street.

 

            He walked after the groaning men and bent over them as they lay sprawled on the asphalt.  “If I ever see either one of you wankers anywhere near here, you are going to suffer very slow and excruciatingly painful deaths. Is that clear?”  His whispered threat was hissed through his fangs and both men nodded in a suitably terrified fashion.

 

            Without waiting for more of an answer, he turned his back and joined Buffy, following her now-shivering body back to the house.  He closed the door behind him and hesitated when she went directly to her room, only to sigh with relief when she immediately came back out, now wrapped in a blanket.

 

            “Let me see that,” he said gruffly when her hand went to her head and she winced in pain.  He parted the hair and found a small cut on her head, sitting atop a rapidly growing lump.  Leading her into the kitchen, he gently pushed her toward one of the chairs, then got a wet paper towel and began carefully blotting up the small amount of blood that had soaked into her hair. 

 

            The scent of her blood, so identical to the other Buffy’s, went straight to his cock, and he had to turn aside quickly before she could notice.

 

             After an attempted rape, I doubt she wants any reminders that I’m just as male as those wankers are.

 

            He pulled some ice cubes from the refrigerator, wrapped them in another paper towel and carefully set the make-shift cold pack on the back of her head.  He used his own now cold hand to calm his cock, pressing against it until the icy temperature had made it relax.  When he felt comfortable facing Buffy, he sat down in the other chair and raised his eyebrows at her.

 

            “How’d those gits get the drop on you, Slayer?”

 

            She grimaced and said with a growl in her voice, “My spidey senses only work for vampires – humans don’t set anything off.  Usually I would hear somebody breaking—” 

 

            He interrupted her with a vicious snarl that she quickly realized was aimed at himself.

 

            “You didn’t hear them because the basement door was unlocked,” he said slowly when he had gotten himself under control.  “This was my fault.  I wasn’t here and you had to leave a door unlocked.” 

 

            She studied his face for minute, then reached forward and touched his hand lightly.

 

            “It’s no biggie, Spike. I’ll get another key made tomorrow and you can just use the front door like I do.  I can go back to keeping the basement door locked – we can even put one of the shelves in front of it or something.  It isn’t going to happen again.”

 

            “Bloody right, it isn’t!” he said with another growl.  He didn’t move, waiting for her to notice that she had left her hand resting upon his. When she did, pulling it back quickly and blushing, he stood up and put the hand in his pocket, as though protecting the warm spot on it.   “That’s the last time I’m leavin’ you alone here,” he went on, ignoring her frown.  “Was a bloody stupid thing to do – what help can I be if I’m off drinkin’ and—”

 

            “Spike!”  The Slayer’s voice interrupted his self-flagellation.  When she had his attention, she spoke firmly.  “I’ve been living here by myself for over a year.   This is NOT your fault, and it’s not your job to babysit me. I’m the Slayer, for cripe’s sake. You know – superpowers, stuff like that?”

 

            “The Slayer doesn’t kill humans,” he grumbled, trying to look suitably chastened even while he argued. “I’m just sayin’, it could be helpful to have somebody around what doesn’t have those reservations....”

 

            Buffy sighed and shook her head, wincing when the ice pack slid off her cut. The vampire’s hand shot out, catching the bundle before it could hit the floor and handing it back to her.  She smiled her thanks, putting it back on her head and holding it still with one hand.  Then she sighed again and went back to what she’d been about to say.

 

            “I’m not going to let you kill people just because you don’t like them – or because they’ve tried to hurt me – so just get over that idea.” She glared at him to emphasize her words, then frowned delicately. “Come to think of it, you didn’t even try to kill that guy, did you?  I thought I’d have to pull you off him, but I didn’t.”

 

            “I’m not totally stupid, pet,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I knew you didn’t mean it when you said I could eat him. Got to tell you, though, when you said he’d been on top of you, his life did flash before my eyes....”

 

            She smiled in spite of herself. Sounding very much like her older self for a minute, she said with sudden insight, “I’m never going to have a boyfriend, am I?”

 

            He looked at her with a puzzled expression, then realized what she was implying and laughed, shrugging with embarrassment.

 

            “If it comes up... and I hope it does, luv,” he hastened to assure her.  “If it does, I promise not to bare m’fangs at anybody you bring home.  Not unless they give me reason to, anyway,” he added almost under his breath.

 

            If either of them noticed their casual assumption that the vampire was going to be part of her life from now on, they didn’t mention it.

 

            “Somehow, I don’t find that nearly as reassuring as you meant it to be,” she huffed at him.  The good humor went out of her expression as she remembered that she had a boyfriend who was now free to begin dating another her, while she was trapped in a dimension that had yet to provide anything in the way of a social life.  “Not that it probably matters,” she sighed. “I don’t even know how to meet boys in this world.  It’s not like I can go back to school somewhere.”

 

            Spike studied her defeated face, torn between sympathy for the young woman who had been ripped out of her as-close-to-normal as a slayer could expect life, and gratitude that she was away from his grandsire’s influence. The other Buffy had told him enough about her life, and her relationship with his other self, that he could guess how much of their troubled past could be laid at the door of Angel’s twisted information about vampires and souls.  Perhaps, without that confirmation of the Council’s teachings, this Buffy would be able to look at him with a less prejudiced eye.  Already, the fact that she trusted him indicated that she was not as heavily indoctrinated in humans/good, demons/bad, as her older self had been for years. 

 

            He shook off visions of a very unlikely life of domestic bliss with a somewhat older Buffy, and, instead, tried to come up with a way to give her more of a life.

 

            “Tell you what, pet,” he said casually.  “You try to find out where young people go for fun around here, and I’ll take you there one night, yeah?  Give you a chance to mingle and maybe meet some people your age?  Would you like that?”

 

            Her face lit up in a way that he hadn’t seen yet.  One look at it, and he was lost. 

 

             Bloody hell! I could become addicted to that look.  Would do just about anything to make it happen again. 

 

            He came back to himself when he realized that Buffy was talking, the excitement in her voice was contagious as she rattled on about going shopping for something to wear and which of the clubs that she already knew about would be the easiest to get in to.  Her face fell again when she remembered that she had no ID – fake or otherwise.

 

            “I’m too young,” she almost wailed.  “They won’t let me in!”

 

            Spike laughed at her, then stepped closer again, tipping her chin up and trying not to stare at the plump lower lip that was creeping out in the pout with which he was already so familiar.

 

            “Listen to me, luv, and don’t take this the wrong way, alright?” He waited for her curious nod before continuing. “You’re not wearin’ the face and body of a little girl any more.  Not that there’s anything wrong with this one—” he hastened to reassure her, “but it’s obviously an adult.  You show up dressed like a grown up, with an escort who is clearly not a kid, and nobody’s gonna ask to see ID – they’re jus’ gonna wave you on through ‘cause they’ll know that you’ll be lighting up the whole room.”

 

            “R... really?”  Once again, as it had the day before, her skin tingled where his finger lingered on her chin.

 

            “Really,” he answered firmly, dropping his hand and moving away. “I promise you.”

 

            Smothering the bolt of disappointment when he was no longer touching her, Buffy nodded her head.  “Ok, then. I’m going to hold you to that promise.  And I’m going to go shopping with my next paycheck!”

 

            “That’s the spirit, luv.  Now take those pretty eyes off to get some more sleep. It’s going to be morning before you know it.”

 

            Buffy looked at the clock on the stove and groaned.  “Oh, you’re right.  I’m going to be dead today!”

 

            “Not if I have anything to say about it.” He smiled as he watched her walk out of the kitchen.  “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

 

 His voice was only a whisper as he repeated his vow to himself while descending the stairs to his own bed. He closed and locked the basement door – sliding the remains of an old work bench in front of it to ensure that anyone coming in that way in the future would have to make enough noise to wake Buffy up.  He wrapped himself in his blanket and stretched out, allowing the approaching dawn to send him into a deep sleep.

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

             

            Within the week, they had settled into a routine of sorts – Buffy rising in time to go to work until early evening – Spike meeting her at the restaurant or at the mall entrance and accompanying her on her patrol rounds.  They always stopped to eat at the same diner where the owner now nodded to Spike as cheerfully as he greeted Buffy. 

 

            It took a full month of being escorted everywhere she went, before Buffy lost her temper and stopped outside her house, stamping her foot for emphasis as she told the vampire to “Go do something with yourself!  You’re driving me crazy!”

 

            She regretted her words immediately when she caught the pain flashing across his face – pain that was immediately replaced with righteous anger.

 

            “I’m just tryin’ to keep you safe, you bloody ungrateful bint!” he snarled.  He’d been enjoying his evenings with her – either watching her fight if she was facing vampires, or joining in to help if she ran into more than one demon. Their quiet talks while she ate her evening meal, and the leisurely walks home had gone a long way to ease his anger at the PTB for pulling him away from the Buffy that he’d come to care so much about.  That they apparently weren’t as enjoyable for this Buffy as they were for him had never occurred to him, and he hated the way that thought made his chest ache.

 

            Even as she rued her harsh words, Buffy reacted to his anger and snapped back at him.

 

            “We’ve already had this conversation!  I’m the Slayer.  I don’t need to be protected. I am the protector, you moron.  I swear, you’re worse than Angel—”

 

            His grandsire’s name had no sooner left her mouth than she knew that she had just made things worse.  His eyes first darkened, then shone with an amber light as his demon came to the fore.  Without another word to her, he whirled, coat flaring, and began to stride rapidly in the direction of the demon part of town.  He was out of sight before she could even begin to get out the words of apology that trembled on her lips.  She stared down the empty street – wondering if she should go after him – before setting her mouth firmly and marching up to her front door.

 

            She unlocked and opened it, slamming it firmly behind her when she was in.  Dropping her jacket on the floor and ignoring the stakes that clattered out of the pockets, she walked into the small living room and threw herself onto the couch, glaring at the old TV that stared silently back at her – a mute reminder that, after a year of loneliness, she had actually been enjoying the vampire’s company every night and hadn’t really meant what she said. Spike had “liberated” the television set from a vampire gang that, after looting a victim’s home, had the misfortune to run into him and the Slayer.  At his insistence that they had no way of knowing where it came from, and that its former owner was undoubtedly now dead, she gave in, allowing him to bring the television back to the house and set it up in the living room.  She had even allowed him to rearrange the meager furniture in the room so that he could watch television in the daytime without fear of the sun’s rays that slanted through the room’s windows.

 

            She liked the hyperactive vampire, and, if she was being honest with herself, she could easily see why her older version might have fallen in love with him.  Aside from the fact that he clearly admired her more than either of them was willing to admit to, and that he was both a good storyteller and a good listener, she couldn’t deny the way her pulse sped up whenever he was close enough to touch. 

 

            I can see that if I wasn’t in love with Angel – which I am! Totally. – that it would be easy to fall for a hottie like Spike.  I mean besides the eyes and those cheekbones, and that body....  But, I am. In love with Angel.  Just because I haven’t seen him in a long time, doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten him.  Spike’s just going to have to get over this getting pissed off every time I say Angel’s name.

 

            She resolutely ignored the fact that it wasn’t so much that she had said Angel’s name, as that she had been comparing Spike to him that had set the vampire off.  Telling herself that she had done nothing wrong, and ignoring the sneering little voice in her head that was saying “Oh, yeah?”, she locked the front door, picked up her stakes and her jacket and went to get ready for bed.

 

            When she emerged from the bathroom after brushing her teeth, she stared irresolutely at the front door, before sighing and putting a chair in front of it.  The chair would in no way impede someone’s entry, but it would make a clatter when it was pushed away.  She then got into bed, promising herself that she would not spend the night listening for the sound of a key in the lock, or of the chair being slid out of the way.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The vampire raged through the streets, only his speed preventing him from destroying everything in his path.  For a full month he had been subsisting almost entirely on the pigs blood with which Buffy had stocked the refrigerator; he’d had nothing alcoholic to drink, had done no fighting except what was needed to help her, hadn’t played a single hand of poker, nor had he been able to follow up on any of the things Clem had told him about life in this dimension.  Not to mention, with his last sight most nights being Buffy’s lithe body disappearing into her bedroom, he had become much better acquainted with his left hand that he would have liked.

 

If he hadn’t have found the TV, he was sure he would have been going crazy himself – and only that realization allowed him to slow down and analyze what Buffy had said.

 

If he was being honest with himself, he could admit that he’d probably been smothering her.  After being on her own for almost a year, the fact that she’d had no time to herself and not much privacy, had undoubtedly been more of a strain on her than he’d realized.  In his zeal to prevent another incident like the one he’d interrupted a month ago – an event that he had to admit was unlikely – he had given neither one of them any room to breathe – or to just be alone.

 

Only the pain he still felt at the way she had rejected his company, and the comparison to his hated grandsire, kept him from turning around and going back – an apology on his lips.  In spite of being more understanding about her feelings, he couldn’t overlook her harsh words. He walked into the demon bar with a scowl on his face that sent lesser vampires and demons scurrying out of his way.

 

Undeterred by Spike’s thunderous expression, Clem quickly joined him, expressing regret that the vampire had missed the last poker game and telling him about the tournament coming up on the weekend.  When Spike raised his eyebrows at the idea of demons waiting for a weekend, Clem explained that many demons in this dimension held jobs and they couldn’t afford to spend all night gambling when they had to go to work the next morning.

 

As he looked around the room, he noticed the chef from the restaurant where Buffy worked, and they exchanged stares – each obviously wondering what the other was doing there.  Spike was distracted from asking Clem what kind of demon the human-looking man was by the arrival of his glass of blood and the Jack Daniels bottle.  He grinned his appreciation at the waitress.

 

“Thank you, luv,” he purred. “It’s nice to know that you remembered me.”

 

“I did,” she responded with a mock pout.  “But I thought you’d forgotten me.  Where have you been?”

 

His eyes hardened and she involuntarily flinched as he growled, “That would be none of your business, pet.”  He forced himself to relax and smile at her until she was confident again.  “Didn’t stay away, now, did I?”

 

“You stayed away too long.” The pout was back and he found himself comparing it unfavorably with Buffy’s soft, pink lower lip.  With a mental growl, he pushed the Slayer out of his mind and leered at the hovering vampire.

 

“Maybe I needed a good reason to come... back.  You think I might find one around here?”  The innuendo was clear and she preened as she responded.

 

“I think I can give you some good reasons to come... back here a whole lot.”

 

“We’ll talk about that later, pet.  Say, after you get off?”

 

With a happy giggle, she went back to work and Spike turned to smirk at an admiring Clem.

 

“Wow, that was smooth,” he flattered.  “I guess you’ve got yourself all settled in then? A place to stay and all?”

 

At that question, Spike’s face darkened and he growled.  “Had one. Not sure where it stands jus’ now – but I’m not goin’ hom— there tonight,” he quickly corrected himself, “come hell or holy water.”

 

“Oh.  Well, if you need a place to crash... My cave’s not fancy, but it’s warm and dry and sun-free.”

 

“Thanks, mate.  I think I have a place for now.”  He leered at the giggling waitress again and blew her a kiss.

 

As he turned back to Clem, he caught a glimpse of the suspicious look on the chef’s face and realized that the man or demon – whatever he was – had recognized him from the times he’d picked Buffy up at the restaurant. Spike sent him his best “sod off” glare, and went back to his conversation. 

 

Slayer doesn’t give a rap what I do, or who I do it with.  No bloody reason why he should.

 

He sat at the table, drinking with his new friend, and getting more information about the weekend poker tournament.  Periodically the waitress would come by the table and lean over to give him another good look at the reasons why he should continue to hang around until she was free, and he would dutifully ogle and leer at her until she was reassured that he hadn’t lost interest.

 

Which he had. In spite of his still-simmering anger at Buffy, and his need for the release he could expect from a good shag, he couldn’t help comparing the vampire’s overblown charms with the two slayers who occupied so much of his thoughts. 

 

Even Dru’s got more class than this bimbo.  Wonder if there’s any way to get out of this without losing my image?

 

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a couple of rough-looking, but human, patrons.   The men made a point of greeting the waitress by name, and, as they conversed with her, Spike began to realize what they were doing in the demon bar. 

 

She’s a bloody vamp whore!  The stupid bint was probably expectin’ me to pay her for shagging me.  No way is William the Bloody paying for it! 

 

As Clem said his good-night and stood up to go, Spike interrupted him.

 

“Is that offer to stay at your place still good?”

 

The wrinkled demon blinked in surprise, flicking a quick look at the vamp girl now giving Spike a worried look, but nodded his head.

 

“Sure, it is.  No problem.  I’ve got to leave now, though.  Have some stuff to do in the morning.”

 

“That’s fine,” Spike said, standing and tossing some bills on the table. “I’m ready to go now.”  He ignored the angry glare the waitress was giving him, even as she leaned forward so that the men could stuff money into her bra.  As Spike went to brush past her, she stepped in front of him and demanded, “Where are you going already?” 

 

“Changed my mind,” he said tersely.  “William the Bloody doesn’t pay for it, and he doesn’t share with humans.” He gave her a contemptuous sneer and followed Clem out of the bar, exchanging a guarded nod with Buffy’s boss as he passed that booth.

 

He followed Clem to the outer edge of the town and into a surprisingly warm and cozy cave.  He gazed around at the over stuffed furniture, TV set and rugs.

 

“So, this is what the Slayer got back for you, huh?  Got to say it’s a right nice place.”

 

“Yeah, I had to get new rugs. Those stupid vampires – no offense – got blood all over my old ones.  But it was okay, I just rolled their dust right up in the ruined rugs and threw them out in the woods.”

 

“Slayer came here to dust them?”

 

Clem’s eyes took on a deer-in-the-headlights expression.

 

“Well... yeah... she... Buffy... I mean, the Slayer... she....” He stopped and sighed.  “I work in the same mall that she does.  I kinda... asked her to help me out.  And she did.”  He looked at Spike anxiously.  “She’s a nice girl, this Slayer. I know you said that you’ve killed them before, but....”

 

“Relax,” Spike growled.  “Got no plans to kill this one.  If I haven’t done it by now, I....  Never mind, where do you want me to sleep?”

 

“Oh, here you go – that little alcove there is the guest room.  Sun doesn’t come in that far and there’s an old bed in there.  It’s not much, but it’s clean.”

 

“It’ll be fine,” Spike said gruffly.  “I appreciate it.  You do know, I’ll be stuck here till dark, right?”

 

“Oh yeah. No problem.  Help yourself to the Cheetos and the TV.  Got no blood, of course, but—”

 

“I’ll be fine,” Spike muttered, embarrassed at having to depend on someone he’d just met, but grateful for the place to stay.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

When Buffy awoke to find the chair still firmly in place in front of the door, she smothered her disappointment with indignation.

 

Who does he think he is?  Not coming home when he knows I’ll worry. He is so going to get his ass kicked when he shows up...

 

Blissfully ignoring the contradiction between her words to Spike that he stop hovering, and her anger that he hadn’t come back to the house, she stepped into the shower, still grumbling to herself about what a jerk he was and what she was going to do to him when she saw him again.  If, under the righteous indignation there was a shiver of genuine fear that the vampire who had so quickly become such a part of her life might not be coming back, she smothered it, clinging to her anger throughout the day, right up until the point where she left the restaurant and found no sexy blond vampire waiting for her at the door.  Nor did she find him when she made her usual pass through the alley behind the stores, or hanging out at the mall entrance, throwing his finished cigarette butts onto the pavement, just to annoy the rent-a-cop glaring at him.

 

Telling herself that she was just expanding her patrol area, she ventured into the demon part of town – a place she had tried to avoid after Clem had explained to her that most of the demons in this dimension were contributing members of society in one form or another, and that they stuck to their own area because they needed a respite from being around humans all day long.  Although Buffy’s arrival in this dimension had been unheralded, it had only taken a few months for the word to spread that one of those mythical beings – a Slayer – had taken up residence in Winterset.  She had learned to recognize the sidelong glances that meant she was making those around her uncomfortable and she did her best to stay away from places where keeping up with her sacred duty might mean accidentally killing her non-human neighbors and co-workers.

 

She walked along the street, doing her best to appear harmless and uninterested in the passers-by, waiting for the telltale tingle that would indicate the presence of a vampire.  When she felt the familiar itching on the back of her neck as she peered through the window of a seedy-looking bar, she chewed on her lip, debating what to do.   She was still staring in the window – mentally counting the vampires inside and searching for a bleached blond head – when she felt more tingles coming from behind.  She whirled, stake at the ready, to find Clem and Spike standing some distance away, gaping at her.

 

“Buffy! What are you doing here?”  Clem’s welcoming smile was somewhat hampered by his concern that she would feel the need to stake his new friend.  In an attempt to forestall any slaying, he began, “Buffy, this is—”

 

“Spike.”

 

“Slayer.”

 

His eyes bounced back and forth between the two people, who were wearing identically wary expressions.

 

“You know each other?”  

 

Neither one answered him. The vampire continuing to stare impassively as the slayer put her stake back into her waistband.  Buffy’s face was a study in confusion as she looked back and forth between Spike and the demon she knew as a friend.

 

“Where were you?” she blurted before she could stop herself. 

 

“What do you care?” Spike’s stubborn expression allowed no room for the apology she had been framing the night before, and she reacted accordingly.

 

“I don’t care!” she snapped.  “But if there’s going to be a dangerous vampire running around my town, I need to keep track of him.”

 

“So, that’s what the hospitality’s been about? Keeping tabs on me in case I start munching on the locals?”  His voice was tight and controlled, giving no sign of the pain her words were causing.

 

“What else would it be?” she muttered, cringing even as the words left her mouth.  Spike whirled, obviously intending to disappear in a swirl of leather just as he had after their last conversation.  He’d gone only a few strides when her raised voice came to him, only the slight tremble in it causing him to halt.

 

“Did it occur to you that I might be worried?”

 

He stopped, but remained with his back to her.  “Thought you didn’t want me around?” he said coldly.  “You were pretty clear on that.”

 

“I said I didn’t need you to hover over me 24/7,” she growled back.  “I didn’t say you shouldn’t come home!”  In spite of the anger in her voice, there was an undercurrent of fear and insecurity, and he was reminded once again of her actual age. With a sigh, he turned around to face her, kicking himself when he caught the expression on her face.

 

Clem was still staring back and forth between the vampire who had told him he came from a dimension where he killed slayers, and the slayer who had shown up so suddenly in their world and whose ability to slay vampires in large numbers had made it safer for humans and law-abiding demons to go about their business. 

 

“Okay,” he said into the sudden silence, “it sounds like you two have some issues to work out, so I’m just going to....” He gestured at the bar and began to sidle toward the door.  Neither one actually watched him leave, Buffy’s “See you tomorrow,” barely audible over Spike’s “Thanks for the bed, mate.”  He nodded and ducked into the bar, his dislike for strife overcoming his curiosity about what exactly was the relationship between the two powerful people on the sidewalk.

 

There was an awkward silence while Buffy tried to keep her lower lip from trembling and Spike fought the urge to put his arms around her and comfort her the way he had the other Buffy.  When it was beginning to stretch to uncomfortable lengths, he turned and gestured for her to accompany him.  They began walking rapidly toward the human section of the town, still silent, but gradually slowing their steps as they relaxed.  When they were finally walking at a normal pace, he looked at her from the corners of his eyes and asked quietly, “You were worried about me?”

 

“You didn’t come home,” she said softly, as if that explained everything.

 

“It’s your home, luv,” he reminded her gently.

 

“You live there, too.”  Her lower lip began to protrude to match the stubborn tone of her voice.

 

They walked a few more blocks in silence, until, with some mental swearing bloody ponce! Spike broke the standoff.

 

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.  “I was a git.  I’m worried about leavin’ the other Buffy with the poof and I took it out on you.” Gritting his teeth, he continued, “I know you... love... him, and I’ve got no right to get my knickers in a twist every time I hear his name.  It’s just that—”

 

“It’s just that I was comparing you to him,” she said, surprising him with her insight.

 

“Uh, yeah,” was all he could manage by way of reply.

 

“I’m sorry, too,” she admitted softly.  “I should have said something a long time ago about needing some space – not let it build up until I turned into bitchy-Buffy. And I know you’re not... not like him.  Not really.”

 

“Too bloody right,” he mumbled, temporarily at a loss for words.

 

“So,” her voice was tentative and much meeker than he would have expected, “are we okay?”

 

“Yeah, luv. We’re alright.  Or we will be as soon as I get something cold and sweet into you.”  His leer wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, but she blushed obligingly at the innuendo as she followed him into the ice cream shop. 

 

There was a line in the shop, and it soon became obvious that the college jock behind the counter was intending to ignore Spike for as long as he possibly could.  The vampire did his best to appear to be an ordinary customer, but his always-in-short-supply patience was quickly exhausted.

 

“’ey, mate. Could you hurry it up a bit? The little lady wants some ice cream.”

 

The much larger and more muscular man wielding the ice cream scoop looked down on the blond punk and shrugged dismissively.

 

            “I’ll get to you when I get to you. You’ll just have to wait your turn like everybody else.”

 

            Spike smiled slightly and stepped closer to the counter, leaning forward and letting his true face show.

 

            “I’m not like everybody else, mate,” he said with deceptive mildness, then grinned to be sure that the other man saw his fangs.

 

            Before Buffy could react, the now-ashen server had fixed her cone and waved off Spike’s money with a “No charge – sorry for the wait.”

 

            She waited until they were well away from the shop, then punched a laughing Spike on the arm. 

 

            “You flashed some fang at him, didn’t you?” She glared at him, but couldn’t keep her lips from twitching and he smirked back at her.

 

            “Jus’ gave him a little incentive to be more respectful, is all, Slayer.  Next time he won’t be so quick to think he can lord it over customers he doesn’t like the look of.”

 

            “So, that was all in the interest of improving his manners,” she said primly.

 

            “Exactly.”  His self-satisfied air sent her into giggles and they finished the walk home exchanging bites from her ice cream and falling back into their normal comfortable routine.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

            “What do you see?”  Dawn’s impatient voice brought a shushing motion from the seer who was bent over the pool of liquid in which she could see Spike and Buffy as they walked through town, eating ice cream and laughing.  “Is Buffy okay?  Is Spike there too?  Are they unhappy?”

 

            “Not at the moment,” the witch said dryly, stepping aside so that Dawn could watch the laughing slayer and vampire enter the small house.

 

            “Cool! But where are they? That doesn’t look like Sunnydale.”

 

            “It isn’t.  It seems to be yet another dimension, albeit one that also contains vampires and demons.  Unfortunately, we can’t see anything about it except what is right in front of them, so I can’t tell you where it is.  We can try again tomorrow night and perhaps they will take us somewhere that will allow us to get a better idea of where or when they are.”

 

            “But they’re okay, aren’t they?” Dawn asked anxiously.  “And they’re together – that’s got to be good.”

 

            The scene in the pool drifted into the house and she was able to watch as the two younger versions of her sister and surrogate brother settled onto an old couch to watch television.  She winced as a close-up of Buffy’s face showed her that she was now looking at the body of the sister who had disappeared from her world.  It was strange to see the hard, worn lines of her sister’s face wearing the laughing innocence of a teenager.  She switched her gaze to the vampire, taking in the angular face and dancing eyes that she hadn’t seen much of in Sunnydale.

 

            With a start, she realized that all her memories of Spike before he fell in love with her sister were invented ones; she had never actually seen him when he wasn’t mooning over her sister, mourning her death, or hiding a violent affair with her.  She watched, fascinated, as his eyes danced with mischief and he teased a blushing Buffy with ribald explanations for what was happening on the TV screen.

 

            Feeling much comforted by the small scene of domestic happiness in front of her, she agreed to wait until they had scanned the new dimension several more times before attempting to enter it and make contact with Buffy and Spike.

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

 

            With their latest fight, or “bloody fuck up”, as Spike preferred to call it, out of the way, they tried to settle into a new routine that would allow Spike the freedom to hang out with other demons, play poker and still be around enough that he could keep an eye on Buffy; and one that relieved her of worry about what he might be doing while he was gone. She couldn’t have explained why she trusted the vampire so much – her only excuse was that she believed him when he said, ”I cheat at poker, I drink, I drive fast, I steal, I like my spot of violence, and I’m a killer... but I’m not a liar. If I’m going to start eating my way through the populace of this colder version of Sunnyhell, I’ll tell you first.   And we’ll have a go about it and one of us will win and that will be that.”

 

            “Just like that?”

 

            “Just like that.  If I win, you let me find my meals on my own; if you win, it’s bagged pig swill.”

 

            “What if one of us kills the other?”

 

            “Not gonna happen, luv.  I’m not goin’ to kill you, and you can’t kill me.  Not yet.  But we’re goin’ to fix that....”

 

            Torn between indignation at his confident assessment of her skill level, and curiosity about what he meant by “fixing it”, she settled for glaring at him and twirling her stake.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

            “What do you think’s going to happen to them?” 

 

Buffy’s question, murmured into Spike’s bare chest as she curled next to him, broke into his thoughts; thoughts that had been following the same path as hers.         He stroked her arm absently as he thought about it.

 

“Don’t rightly know, love.  I don’t think we can even guess until the Bit has visited them and found out a bit more about where they are.  And won’t that be an interestin’ conversation....”

 

“Oh yeah, I can see me – her – now when Dawn pops out of the air and says, “Hi, I’m your little sister, but I’m older than you are right now and I didn’t exist until a few years ago, but it’s all good and I’m not evil...  Yeah, that’s going to be fun.  Not!”

 

She frowned with genuine concern, remembering how suspicious of anything unfamiliar she used to be – and still was, to a great extent.

 

“You don’t think I’ll hurt her, do you?”

 

“No, love,” he said soothingly.  “You’re not that much of a judgmental bitch.  I’m sure you’ll give her time to explain before you start threatening to stake her.” 

 

“Oh, okay, if you don’t think I—What do you mean ‘not that much of a judgmental bitch?’”  As his actual words penetrated her thoughts, she glared at the laughing vampire and grabbed him by curly brown hairs on his lower abdomen.  “You take that back, you... you... jerk!”

 

“Ow!  Ow!”  He managed to speak between gasps of laughter.  “Stop that, you—”

 

His words stopped when she moved her hand from his hair to his rapidly swelling cock.  He pushed up into her hand, groaning, “If you’re tryin’ to punish me, pet, I think it’s only fair to tell you—”

 

He was interrupted again when she lowered her head to blow across his now rigid shaft.

 

“Take it back,” she murmured, her warm breath tantalizing him with promise.  “Take it back, or this is all you get....” She deliberately exhaled again, smiling when his cock twitched in front of her.

 

“And they say I’m evil,” he growled, pushing fruitlessly toward the mouth hovering just over him.

 

“Take it back,” she ordered.

 

“Take what back?”  He did his best to cling to some dignity, even as his hips kept pushing off the bed in a vain attempt to make contact with the smiling lips just out of reach.

 

“You know what – take it back or I’m going get dressed and go over to Mom’s.”

 

“And leave me here?  Like this?  You wouldn’t do that to me, would you, Buffy?” His voice lowered to the purring rumble that made her knees go weak, and he turned his head to nip at the plump cheek that her position over his cock was presenting to him. 

 

“Yes,” she gasped, smothering a surprised squeak. “Yes, I would.  You called me a bitch... a judgmental bitch,” she continued, her voice losing its forcefulness as he grabbed her legs and swung her over his face.  “You can’t... oooh!... I’m not a bitch!  Not anymore... I’m all... ahhh... understanding Buffy....”

 

“You are,” he agreed readily, his tongue wriggling its way into her suddenly damp folds.  “You are so understanding, and sweet, and... delicious....”

 

Deciding that was as close to an apology as she was likely to get, Buffy surrendered and dropped her head until she had taken him into her mouth.  She swirled her tongue around briefly, then set up a vigorous sucking that had the vampire arching up into her and growling around the little piece of needy flesh that he had sucked into his own mouth.

 

In a very short period of time, she was gasping for air as they simultaneously collapsed in completion. Buffy’s head was resting on Spike’s muscular thigh, while he left soft kisses across the silky skin of her stomach.  With a small moan, she rolled off and squirmed around until she was curled back into his side.  They lay quietly for several minutes, basking in the afterglow and enjoying the complete relaxation that always followed their lovemaking.

 

“So,” she continued as though there had been no interruption.  “You think they’re going to be all right?”

 

He chuckled and squeezed her reassuringly. “They’re us, love.  They’re going to fight and yell at each other, and kick the arse of anything that needs kickin’.  An’ if they’re very lucky....” He dropped his head and placed a long, sweet kiss on her waiting lips. Buffy finished his sentence for him.

 

“If they’re very lucky, they’ll fall in love and have wonderful make-up sex every time they fight.”

 

“Exactly,” he said smugly.  “They’re going to be jus’ fine.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

With Spike going off to play cards with Clem at least one night a week – verified by the wrinkled demon when Buffy casually commented on it – and his picking her up after work becoming a more hit or miss thing, Buffy no longer felt that he was watching her every move, and Spike relaxed enough to make a place for himself in the demon community.  For whatever reason, the local demons who knew of his living arrangements and his friendship with the Slayer did not share that information with the vampire population of Winterset, so he was able to mingle freely with the other vampires in the town without fear of being labeled a traitor.

 

            Not that the small population of vampires left in the city were likely to want to anger the new master who had so inexplicably decided to move there.  Those who had remained untouched by the Slayer’s stakes were not particularly violent vamps, and they had no interest in challenging Spike about anything. There were quite a few like the waitresses at the Devil’s Rest that got their daily blood from willing human donors who enjoyed the extra rush that accompanied sex with a bloodsucker. And there were also, he found to his surprise, quite a few who were happy to exist on pigs’ blood from the several local butchers. In reality, the vampire population in the city was quite small, consisting either of fledglings that never made it out of the cemetery, or non-violent vampires that remained below the slayer’s radar.

 

            Just as Buffy, through meeting Clem and working in the mall, had found that not all demons were evil or dangerous, Spike was discovering that it was not uncommon in this world for vampires to co-exist with humans without feeling it necessary to kill them all.  Still, he maintained his Big Bad image – never letting on that he himself wasn’t draining someone every night.  By default, he seemed to slip into the vacant place in the demon hierarchy that should have been occupied by the Master of the city.

 

The gang from which Spike and Buffy had obtained their TV set was actually one of the few remaining vampire clans left in Winterset, and Buffy soon found herself with little or nothing to do most evenings on patrol.  So, it was with a jolt of surprise and no little excitement that she found herself facing three clearly older and more experienced vamps as she entered the last cemetery on her rounds.

 

“Hi, guys! Looking for someone?” she asked cheerfully, twirling her stake and balancing on the balls of her feet.

 

The three vamps that had just been leaving in disgust, after having not found any new minions to take back to their master, stopped and snarled at the foolish blonde girl.

 

“You’re a bit on the small side,” the leader remarked, gesturing for the other two to flank him.  “But, you’ll do.”  He leapt at her, fully expecting to carry her to the ground, only to find that she was no longer in front of him, but had flipped over his charging form, managing to stake the slower moving of his companions as she did so.  He stopped and shook his head in bewilderment and frustration.

 

“What the hell...?”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry!  I didn’t introduce myself, did I?  I’m Buffy?  The Vampire Slayer?” 

 

As she spoke, Buffy swept the legs out from under the remaining minion, planting a small foot on his face to hold him down while she watched the leader circling her warily.  When he didn’t attack immediately, she took the opportunity to bend down and stake the still-stunned vamp at her feet, rising just in time to meet another charge. Without the advantage of surprise this time, and in an off-balance position, Buffy found that the much larger vampire was able to pin her to the ground. She was able to hold him away from her neck with one powerful, slender arm, but she couldn’t free up the hand that was holding the stake. They remained at an impasse – the vampire snarling at her throat, the Slayer struggling to get her stake into position to use it.

 

It was the loud snarling and snapping that alerted Spike as he was strolling into the cemetery, following Buffy’s trail with the intention of joining her after her patrol.  He sped up, following the sounds of a struggle and quickly reaching the two combatants. He circled the two straining figures, staying close enough to step in if it looked like Buffy might need help, but far enough away that he wasn’t interfering.  The other vamp didn’t spare him a glance, just snarling, “Get lost, this one’s mine.”

 

“That true, Slayer?  Are you his? Old Granddaddy’s likely to take that amiss, you know.  He’s possessive that way.”  He sat down on a nearby tombstone and continued in a conversational tone of voice.  “O’ course, if there’s no Angelus in this world, then I guess this wanker won’t be too worried about brassing him off, will he?”

 

“Spike,” Buffy gritted out, still struggling to free the hand that was trapped between her body and the snarling vampire’s, “Are you going to do anything or just sit there all night?”

 

“I’m thinkin’ I’ll just sit, luv.  See how you get yourself out of this.”

 

“What?” The attacking vampire blinked as the tiny girl who was holding him off with one hand actually seemed to snarl back at Spike.

 

“You don’t want me followin’ around like I don’t think you can handle yourself, I guess you’re going to have to show me that you can.” He leaned back and took out his cigarettes, tapping one out of the pack and grinning at the outraged expression on her face. “Let’s see what you’ve got, Slayer.”

 

“You son of a bitch!” 

 

Fueled by her fury at Spike’s laughing teasing, Buffy bucked the vampire off far enough to get a knee into his chest and shove him to the side. As soon as her stake hand was free, she drove the point into the surprised vampire’s chest, coughing as the dust drifted down around her face.  She leapt to her feet, stake still clenched in her fist, and glared at his smiling face.

 

“Nicely done, pet,” he said mildly, rising to his feet.  “Now the question is, how the bleedin’ hell did he get you into that position in the first place!” As he continued with his question, his voice rose until he was practically shouting at her.  Buffy flinched back, then stepped into his space to snap back at him.

 

“There were three of them, you asshole! And they weren’t fledglings – I could feel it.  They were older and smarter.”

 

“Then you have to be smarter – or you won’t get any older,” he growled back, already moving as her fist came flying toward his face.  “Atta girl,” he encouraged when she followed it up with a flurry of punches, a few of which connected. 

 

Before she realized it, Buffy was in a full-out fight with the vampire she had thought was her friend.  Spike pulled no punches, although he never went into game face and made no attempt to follow through those few times that he was able to knock her down.  She soon dropped the stake that she already knew she wasn’t going to use on him, and concentrated on trying to wipe the confident look off his face. The closer she came to actually beating him, the wider his grin grew until he finally held up his hand and laughed with delight.

 

“That’s enough for tonight, Slayer.”

 

“I haven’t kicked your ass yet,” she grumbled, more than willing to allow her rapidly-tiring arms to drop to her sides.

 

“No,” he agreed with a soft smile, “you haven’t. But you came closer than I thought you would.”

 

They began walking home, the Slayer keeping a small distance between them as she mulled over the night’s events.  Suddenly, she stopped and grabbed his arm.

 

“You made me mad on purpose, didn’t you?”

 

“Ah,” he chuckled. “There are brain cells in there.”  He moved easily away from the half-hearted punch she threw at his bicep; her hand barely brushed the leather as she expressed her annoyance the only way she knew how.

 

“You’re still doing it,” she muttered, fingering her stake meaningfully.

 

“I’m sorry, pet,” he said his grin fading to a soft smile.  “I wanted you to save yourself back there and I figured getting you mad at me was they best way to see that it happened. I knew you’d have to take care of that pillock before you could try to pound on me the way you wanted to.”

 

“Humph!” was the only thing she could think of on short notice, so she just began walking again, this time close enough that their shoulders brushed occasionally.  Spike happily accepted this sign that she was no longer really angry with him and he enjoyed the rest of the walk home – even if his cock did twitch a little every time the Slayer’s shoulder came into contact with his.

 

Happy to have figured out what the vampire had been trying to do, and grateful that he hadn’t come riding to the rescue, Buffy was lost in her own thoughts and it took her a while to notice the tingle she got every time her shoulder came into contact with his arm.  Once she did notice it, she also had to acknowledge the little flutter in her lower abdomen that accompanied the tingle. She gave a guilty start at the thought that she might be getting turned on by Angel’s grandchilde, and she reluctantly moved just far enough away that the accidental contact was no longer happening.

 

Spike did his best to smother his disappointment until they reached the sidewalk in front of the house.  He was just opening his mouth to say something when there was a loud “pop” right in front of them.  He shook his head to clear the ringing in his ears and fell into a fighting stance beside the already-poised Slayer. 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Facing them was a tall, slender girl with dark chestnut hair.  She waved and stepped out of the glowing portal in which she’d arrived.  She studied their suspicious stares and tense body posture, looking momentarily unsure of herself.

 

“Hi, guys,” she said, smiling weakly. “There is a really, really good and totally non-evil explanation for this. I swear!”

 

Spike cocked his head, frowning and sniffing the air before relaxing his shoulders and giving Buffy a nudge.

 

“I think it’s okay, pet.”

 

“Who are you?” she demanded, ignoring the vampire’s reassurance and glaring at the girl standing in her front yard.

 

“Okay, now, see, this is gonna be the whole ‘really good and non-evil explanation part,” Dawn said carefully.  “So just bear with me, here, ‘K?”

 

“WHO are you?” Buffy repeated.

 

“I’m Dawn.  Your... sister,” the girl responded.  “I mean, not in this dimension – cause you don’t have one here; and not in the one you came from, cause you don’t have me there – yet.  But in my dimension, I’m your sister.  The monks gave me to you.”

 

“Monks? Sister?”

 

“I think she’s telling the truth, luv.  She smells like you.”

 

Buffy turned her glare on Spike.  “There’s that ‘ewwww’ thing we’ve talked about,” she grumbled, but relaxing at his verification that the stranger facing them on the dark sidewalk was related to her.  She studied Dawn again, then nodded her head and started around her.  “Okay, come on in the house and explain this to me – us.”

 

With a happy smile, Dawn quickly followed Buffy up the steps and through the now-open door.  Spike came in right behind her, pulling the door closed behind him.

 

Buffy prowled around the strange girl standing in her living room, looking her up and down and seeking some sign that they were related. Something other than Spike’s nose....   Suddenly it struck her.  “You can’t be my sister,” she said, using her best “aha!” tone of voice.  “You look like you’re the same age I am!”

 

Dawn rolled her eyes in a gesture that was so similar to what Spike had seen from Buffy that he barely managed to choke out, “Oh, she’s your sis, alright, Slayer.  I’d know that look anywhere.”

 

“Shut up, Spike.” Buffy spared a glare in his direction, before confronting Dawn again.  “I don’t have a sister – and certainly not a twin.  Try again.”

 

“Which part of ‘alternate dimensions’ are you too feeble-minded to get?”

 

“Who are you calling ‘feeble-minded’, you dork?”

 

“If the shoe fits...”

 

“Your shoes won’t fit – because you’re not my sister! I don’t have a sister! Not in this dimension, and not in the one I came from.”

 

“I’m not FROM the one you came from!” Dawn’s voice had risen to a screech that had the vampire putting his hands over his ears. 

 

“Oh.”  There was a pregnant pause.  “Why didn’t you say so?”

 

Dawn’s only response was another eye roll and a loud huff.

 

Spike stepped into the silence, beckoning the two girls to the couch and suggesting in a placating manner, “You sure fight like you’re sisters.  I’ll give you that.”

 

The two girls sat on opposite ends of the couch glaring at each other until their lips began to twitch and Buffy mumbled, “We kinda were, weren’t we?”

 

“Well, yeah. I mean that’s what sisters do – sometimes.”

 

They sat for a few more minutes in abashed silence, then Dawn sighed and said, “I guess I’d better do what I came to do before I get yanked back to my dimension.”

 

“An’ what would that be, pet?”

 

“I promised my Buffy and Spike that I would try to find you guys and make sure that you’re all right.”

 

Your  Buffy?”

 

“Yeah, the one that took your place in Sunnydale?  She’s my sister – from my dimension.  She got sent there cause it’s earlier there than it is in my dimension and she has a chance to fix some things that went waaaay wrong for us.”

 

“What did you mean, ‘your Spike’?” The vampires voice was quiet, but the look on his face was intent and Dawn blinked as though she had forgotten he was there.

 

“The reason you got kicked out is because my Spike – the one that...”

 

“That got his soul and died to save the world. Already got that scary story,” he said, smiling at her to show it was all right to talk about it.

 

“Yeah, that one.  Well, he came back and then he did it again—”

 

“Bloody hell!”

 

Dawn grinned and continued as though he hadn’t spoken.  “The last time, the Powers that Be gave him a choice of going to Heaven” –  she ignored Spike’s choking noises – “or joining Buffy in the other dimension’s Sunnydale.  He picked Buffy.”

 

“ ‘Course he did,” he said absently, half-falling into the room’s only chair.  “So, he’s with my Buffy and I got kicked here to keep this one from getting into trouble until we can sort out why we’re here...” He paid no attention to Buffy’s indignant “Keep me out of trouble?” but continued softly, “So, she’s got her vamp back, then.  All souled up and everythin’.”

 

Dawn and Buffy exchanged anxious looks as they watched his face while he digested the news that the Sunnydale Buffy had her own Spike back in her life.  While he had assured this Buffy that he was not yet in love with her older doppelganger, it was very clear from his behavior and treatment of her that he had feelings for the other slayer, and she wasn’t sure how he was going to handle the news that Sunnydale Buffy was with someone else – even if the someone else was a version of him.

 

She breathed a sigh of relief when his face softened into a smile and he said, “So, she’s got what she wanted. The real thing, this time. I hope I – he makes her happy.”

 

“She looked pretty happy when I saw them,” Dawn said with a smile.  “They both did.”

 

“Well, good on them, then.”  He cleared his throat and sat up straighter. “So what can you tell us about this world?  And what makes you able to flit back and forth?”

 

“Um, that’s kind of a long story... which I’ll tell you!” she hastened to add when Buffy’s eyes began to narrow suspiciously.  “But I’ll have to do it on some other trip, ‘cause I think this one’s about up.”

 

Buffy squirmed uncomfortably before blurting out, “How is Angel? Did you see him?  Does he miss me?”

 

Panic swept over Dawn’s face as she remembered that in her dimension, Angel had dusted in the same battle as Spike.  One look at Buffy’s face told her that secret was one she didn’t need to share just now.  She stumbled on her words as she said, “He... I didn’t actually see him when I was in Sunnydale – and I didn’t think to ask about him.  I suppose he’s still around – I mean, he would have been at that time in my world....” Her voice trailed off as the disappointment on Buffy’s face registered.  “Tell you what,” she said brightly. “The next time I go there, I’ll ask about Angel. Okay?”

 

“Okay, sure,” Buffy said dully, not even trying to hide her disappointment.  Dawn studied her for a second and then volunteered, “I’m sure he does miss you.  I mean it’s not like my Buffy is still in love with him – she’s got her Spike back and... well, anyway, I’ll bet he really misses you.”

 

Over Buffy’s lowered head, she exchanged a look with the vampire who was torn between sympathy for the slayer and anger that she would still be so worried about his grandsire.  Vowing to find a way to tell her more about Angelus and his past, he stood up and moved closer to the two girls, trailing them out the door. He rested a hand briefly on Buffy’s shoulder, giving it a little squeeze and saying, “I’m sure the big poof misses you, pet.  The older you was a bit too much her own woman to suit him.  He probably wouldn’t like her even if she did still want him.”

 

“That’s not as reassuring as you might think,” Buffy muttered. “I grow up to be such a bitch that my boyfriend doesn’t love me anymore?  How is that supposed to make me feel better?”

 

Dawn paused at the spot where she had originally appeared and smiled as the sides of the portal began to glow.  “I think I’m getting better and better at this,” she said happily.  “The next thing I have to learn to do is to make it appear wherever I want it to, instead of wherever I landed.”

 

“Can... will you... I mean, if you go back....”  Buffy straightened up and said firmly, “Will you tell Mom that I love her? And I miss her?  And say ‘Hi” to Willow and Xander and Giles and Angel and...” Her face crumbled and she barely managed to get out  “and everyone...” before a sob burst from her throat and she ran back into the house.

 

“I guess this has been kind of hard on her, huh?” Dawn said sympathetically. 

 

“It has,” he responded simply.  “It’s a lot for anyone to handle, never mind a young girl.”

 

“Good thing she’s got you, then, isn’t it?”  Dawn looked at him with shrewd confidence.

 

He shook his head, trying to hide the smile on his face.  “I’m not the Spike you know, pet.  I’ll do what I can to help her, but I don’t love her....  an’ I can’t replace the poof.”

 

“I’ve got faith in you,” Dawn said cheerfully as the glowing walls surrounded her.  “Bye!”

 

With another loud ‘pop”, she vanished, leaving him standing on the sidewalk, staring at the front door.  His vampire hearing allowed him to pick up the sounds of Buffy’s muffled sobs as he sighed and walked up the steps.  After closing the door behind him, he looked longingly at the basement steps before growling and going into the living room.  He shrugged off his coat and sat down to wait out the crying coming from the slayer’s bedroom.  Not until her sobs had tapered off and her even breathing told him that she was asleep did he get up and, after turning off the lights and checking the doors, make his way downstairs to his bedroom.

 

He sat on the edge of the small bed that he had found in a used furniture store and put his head in his hands.  It wasn’t that hard to imagine how Buffy was feeling when he thought back to his own world and the things he’d left behind.  Buffy herself played a bigger role than he wanted to admit; as did Dru who, in spite of her behavior, was still his sire and the woman he had loved for over one hundred years.  To the best of his knowledge, he had no family in this world, nor any friends other than Clem.  With a start he realized that the only thing anchoring him here was the young blonde girl upstairs and his growing attraction to her.

 

“This can’t possibly end well,” he muttered to himself as he closed his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

            In spite of Buffy’s indignant complaints and insistence that she was “doing just fine”, Spike made a point of working out with her every night.  If they weren’t sparring, they were running or stretching or practicing with swords.  She jokingly began to call him “Giles, Jr.” until he growled that he was at least three times the watcher’s age and “bloody tired of being compared to him”. 

 

            “Well, if you’re going to act like my watcher, I’m going to treat you like one!”

 

            “Does that mean you’ll do whatever I tell you to?” he asked with more interest than he’d shown in the rest of the conversation.

 

            Buffy gave him her best ‘as if!’ stare until he looked away.

 

            “Guess not,” he mumbled, kicking at a tombstone.

 

            “Don’t feel bad, Spike,” Buffy said, almost kindly.  “I didn’t do what Giles told me to, either.”

 

            “Thanks, pet. That makes me feel ever so much better....”

 

            “You know,” she continued, “you do sound a lot like Giles sometimes – all with the British speak and stuff.  Sometimes you even sound like you—”

 

            “Oi!  Watch your mouth, Slayer.  I am nothing like your ponce of a watcher, and don’t you forget it!”

 

            “Oh right.  Big Bad, evil vampire.  Silly me.”  She crinkled her nose at him and grinned until, in spite of himself, he was grinning back at her.

 

            “Watch it, missy,” he growled around his smile.  “I think somebody needs a reminder of just how big and bad I am.”

 

            “Oh, oh!  Somebody help me, the vampire is going to hurt me!”  Giggling and sticking her tongue out at him, she took off running through the cemetery, enjoying the air moving past her face and the strength in her body as she sped past trees and tombstones, dodging things with an agility that she knew was due to the vigorous training that Spike had forced upon her. She could hear the pounding of his boots on the turf as he laughingly chased her, making no real attempt to catch up but enjoying the thrill of the chase and the sound of her happy laughter.

 

            Been a while since she laughed like that, I’ll wager. If I’ve done nothing else here, I’ve been able to make the slayer happy for a bit.  If, somewhere inside him, a demon was sputtering indignantly at the idea of making a slayer happy, Spike cheerfully ignored it and continued to chase the slender girl in front of him.

             

            He was still smiling at the thought of how happy she sounded, when he rounded a large mausoleum just as her laughter choked off to a gurgle.  He sped up as he caught sight of the dark-haired vampire that had Buffy pinned to the ground, grinding his pelvis into her and slavering at her throat.  Spike’s charge knocked the vamp off the Slayer, and she sat up, her eyes wide and staring.

 

            “X... Xander?” she whimpered.  A quick glance at the demon he was holding down explained to Spike why she had been lying so passively under the vampire’s attack.  With a complete lack of recognition, the young vampire snarled at Spike.

 

            “She’s mine,” he growled, baring his fangs and ducking the punch Spike had thrown at his face.  “You can’t catch her, you lose her.  Back off.”

 

            Ignoring the other vampire, except to backhand him away, Spike growled over his shoulder, “It’s not him, Slayer.  It’s just another vamp what needs slaying. Now get up here and do your job!”

 

            Buffy’s face registered nothing but shock and the faintest trace of hope.

 

            “It’s Xander. He wouldn’t hurt me. He—” She was cut off as a slender but very strong arm went around her neck and a familiar voice purred in her ear.

 

            “Aren’t you a pretty thing?” said the red-haired female vampire holding Buffy against her chest.  “And you know Alec’s name. Isn’t that interesting...?”

 

            While she trembled with horror, a vampire wearing Willow’s face ran her tongue up the side of Buffy’s neck.  She didn’t flinch when the vamp’s teeth grazed her throat; only the feel of the other girl’s hand on her breast and Spike’s terrified shout snapped her out of her daze.  At the last second, she twisted away, feeling Willow’s fangs slide harmlessly against her skin.  She whirled to face one of her worst nightmares, her lip trembling as she whispered, “Willow? Don’t you know me? It’s me – Buffy.”

 

            The red-haired vampire cocked her head and frowned, moving to join Alec/Xander now that Spike had thrown him to the ground and rushed to Buffy’s side. She studied the teary-eyed girl in front of her, then asked her companion, “Wasn’t there a Buffy in our high school? Annoyingly perky cheerleader type?”

 

            “Yeah, there was.  I remember her.  Wouldn’t give me the time of day,” the dark-haired boy snarled.

 

            “Didn’t we kill her?”  Willow sounded genuinely confused.  “I thought we did.”

 

            While the two vampires tried to puzzle out who Buffy was, and why she knew them, Spike was whispering to her urgently.

 

            “It’s not them, Slayer.  Look at them.  They don’t know you and you don’t know them.  They are just vampires who look like your Scooby pals.  Snap out of it!”

 

            The devastation on the slayer’s face told him that she was not going to be able to slay the two demons in front of them, and he quickly placed himself between Buffy and the steadily more puzzled vampires.  He frowned himself when he caught the unmistakable itch that spelled ‘family’.  Pushing Buffy behind him, he began backing away cautiously, his senses alert for anything that might indicate the presence of any other Aurelian vampires.  There was no question that a run-in with Angelus would be the final blow to the slayer’s heart.  And he, himself, was not eager to find that Drusilla was present in this dimension, either. Nor was he sure that he could protect Buffy from his entire family without her willing cooperation.

 

            The dark-haired demon began to move in their direction, but Willow’s hand on his arm stopped him.

 

            “No,” she said clearly.  “We know where to find them.  We should go back and tell the Master about this.”

 

            “Let’s just kill them and tell him later,” Xander argued, unaware that the blond vampire that had pushed him away from his dinner had not really been trying very hard when he hit him.

 

            “Did you hear what he called her?”

 

            “No, I wasn’t paying attention. Didn’t she say her name was Muffy or Fluffy or something like that?”

 

            “No, jackass!” Suddenly it was very obvious who was in charge as Willow slapped Alec’s face.  “He called her ‘Slayer’.  We need to tell the Master about this.”

 

            Without another word, she whirled and ran, the other vampire reluctantly trailing after her. 

 

            “I will have you, Muffy, or whatever your name is,” he threw over his shoulder.  “We’ll be back.”

 

            Buffy didn’t speak a word all the way back to the house, allowing Spike to set the pace and blindly following him.  There was no stopping at the diner or the ice cream shop, just a steady, fast pace to the relative safety of her home.  He opened the door, pushed her toward the couch and went down to his room, returning quickly with a bottle of amber liquid and a glass.  He poured two fingers of what passed for scotch in this world and silently handed it to the slayer.

 

            “Here,” he said gruffly. “Drink it.”

 

            “I’m not old enough to drink,” she mumbled, automatically taking the proffered glass from him.

 

            “Not askin’ you to go on a toot, pet,” he said with a gentle smile.  “It’s purely medicinal.  You’ve had a shock and you need somethin’ to settle your nerves.”

 

            Giving him a suspicious glare, she tipped the glass up and swallowed the whole amount at one time.

 

            “Bleagh!” she said with a shudder.  “You actually like that stuff?”

 

            “It’s an acquired taste,” he responded, grinning at her.  “Feel better?”

 

            As the warmth spread through her stomach and body, and the taste left her mouth, she realized that she did, in fact, feel somewhat better and she held her glass out imperiously.

 

            “More, please.”

 

            “One more,” he warned. “I want you relaxed, not unconscious.”

 

            “I’m a slayer. I’m sure I can hold my likker,” she huffed, taking another big swallow and repeating the face and sounds she’d made the first time.

 

            “I’m sure you’re right, luv, but let’s not test that theory right now, yeah? We’ve got a situation here.”

 

            The reminder of why she’d been so upset in the first place wiped the contented look off Buffy’s face, and she slumped back against the cushions, closing her eyes as if to block out the vision of her two best friends as vampires.

She moaned softly and opened one eye.

 

            “I don’t suppose there’s any chance that I’m just having a particularly bad dream, is there?”

 

            “Not unless I’m having the same dream, luv.”

 

            “Crap.”

 

            “Right there with you, pet.  It’s crap, but it’s here and we’ve got to deal with it.”  His voice softened and he sat down beside her and stroked her head lightly. “Are you gonna be alright?”

 

            “No,” she grumbled.  “I’m not gonna be all right.  My two best friends are evil vampires in this dimension and they keep talking about somebody called ‘the Master’, and I just can’t wait to find out who he is.”  She put the glass up to her mouth and finished the liquid in it, shuddering immediately.

 

            “Who do you think he is?”  Spike wondered if she was expecting Angelus, then remembered that this Buffy had never met his unsouled grandsire.  With a sudden cramp in his stomach, he remembered that the Master in Sunnydale had been Darla’s sire.  ‘Old Bat Face’, as Spike and Angelus had referred to him out of Darla’s hearing, had apparently been killed by the Slayer the spring before he arrived in Sunnydale.  He studied her worried face, then asked again, more softly, “Who do you think he is, pet?”

 

            “With my luck, it’s that ugly old creep that lived on the Hellmouth in Sunnydale.  The one that killed me.”

 

            “He what?”

 

            “Just for a few seconds.  He was so happy to be getting out of there that he didn’t drain me; he just threw me into a puddle of water to drown, but Xander and Angel found me, and Xander did CPR and I was okay, except that I was really pissed and I went and found him and threw him through a glass roof and he dusted.”  She paused to gasp for breath, having blurted that all out in one long sentence.

 

            “Well, then,” Spike said, smiling at her attempts to breathe normally, “it’s not a problem, is it?  Just hold that thought about how brassed off you were, and you’ll dust him again.  Assumin’ we even see him,” he added.  “Maybe he’s been locked up somewhere in this dimension too, and that’s why your little Scooby friends are runnin’ his errands.”

 

            “Do you think?” She sounded so hopeful that he put on an air of confidence that he didn’t completely feel. 

 

            “I do, pet.  If the old bugger was able to get out and about, he’d have been here by now to check you out.  Those two minions didn’t even recognize what you were until they heard me call you ‘Slayer’. If he knew there was one around, he would have taught them better.”

 

            “He would?”

 

            “Oh, yeah. He’s a right pain in the arse with all his rules of this and codes of that, but he makes sure that his favorites know everything they need to know to grow old with him.”

 

            “What did he teach you?”

 

            “Um... I didn’t... I don’t... wasn’t exactly one of his favorites,” he growled.  “He jus’ tolerated Angelus and me so that he could have the girls aroun’ sometimes.”

 

            “I wonder if there’s a you in this dimension?”

 

            “If there is, I can guarantee you he’s staying as far away from his great, great grandsire as he can get.”  He thought for a minute, then touched her cheek to get her to look at him.  “Just in case, though, I want you to be bloody careful if you think I’m actin’ strange, or if you see me somewhere you don’t expect to. You hear me, Buffy?  You keep that stake handy and you use it if you need to.”

 

            His use of her name and the urgency in his voice as he stared into her startled eyes gave evidence of how serious he was and she nodded slowly.  He let his fingers trail down the side of her face as he dropped his hand, fighting the urge to cup her chin. He heard her heart rate go up as his fingertips skated over her smooth skin and he groaned mentally.

 

            “Promise me, pet?” he continued, stepping away from her.  “Do you promise?  Don’t believe it’s me until you’re sure.”

 

            “May—maybe we should have a code word or something.  Something that you could say that another you wouldn’t know about.”

 

            “Secret handshake?” he grinned, laughing aloud when she flushed and stamped her foot.

 

            “I’m serious!  You’re the one who brought it up,” she continued, still glaring at him.  “I’m just offering a possible solution.”

 

            “And a good one it is, luv,” he soothed.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to laugh at you.  You’re absolutely right – we need to have something I can say so that you’ll know it’s the real me.”   He thought for a minute, then said, “How about I tell you I know you?”

 

            “You say that all the time,” she grumbled.

 

            “That’s why it will be good.  It will be in character and you’ll know when it fits the situation.  Even if someone else tried to use it, he wouldn’t know why I say it or when it would make sense.”

 

            “Okay.  You know me. Got it.”  She sighed and put her empty glass down. “I guess I might as well get to bed – I’m really sleepy for some reason...” Her eyes drifted shut and he shot out his arm to stop her from swaying again.  She opened one eye and peered at him.  “Am I drunk?  Did you get me drunk?”

 

            He laughed richly, even as he was steadying her and helping her walk toward the bathroom.

 

            “I don’t think so, pet.  I think you’ve just had a shock and then more alcohol than you’re used to.  You might be a bit tipsy, but not drunk.  Trust me, love, I know drunk.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her and she giggled before mumbling, “I just bet you do.” She tottered into the bathroom and closed the door.  She peed quickly, and then splashed cold water on her face until her head felt clear. After carelessly brushing her teeth, she opened the door and peered around it to see where Spike was. She smothered the little jolt of happiness when she saw him straighten up from the wall.

 

            “You alright, pet?”

 

            She smiled and nodded. “I think so.”

 

            “Alright, then.  Let’s get you to bed so that you can sleep off your first taste of the good stuff.”

 

            He didn’t touch her again, but watched as she walked to her bedroom, placing each foot carefully and deliberately.  When she had made it to her bed and fallen face down upon it, he couldn’t hide a snort of laughter, and she opened one eye to glare at him. 

 

            “I meant to do that.”

 

            “Of course you did, pet.  Now give me those feet and I’ll tuck you in.” 

 

            Without waiting for a reply, he pulled her shoes and socks off and pushed her legs onto the bed. He tugged the covers out from under her inert body and pulled them up to her shoulders, tucking them in around her arms.  Without opening her eyes, she mumbled, “I still have my clothes on.”

 

            “You do,” he said without inflection. “And I suspect it’s in my best interest to see that you stay that way.  Good night, Slayer.”

 

He passed a hand lightly over her head and walked to the entrance, turning the light out and pulling the door closed behind him.  He walked into the living room and turned the lights out before heading for the basement and his own part of the house.  He threw himself on the bed and, not for the first time, wondered what the powers had been thinking, sending him to live with a teenage Buffy after he’d known the adult version.

 

She’s beautiful, yeah. And brave. And she’s workin’ on being that amazin’ fighter I met back in Sunnyhell.  But she’s so young! And still hung up on my bloody, souled grandsire.  I don’t think she has any idea what she does to me. She’s so innocent – that body might know mine, but the little girl inhabiting it thinks she’s a virgin. Wants hugs and kisses and romantic speeches – not what I want. Not the passion I know is in there.

 

            He groaned and surrendered to the need inspired by seeing her curled in her bed and talking about taking off her clothes.  The sounds of his zipper sliding down, and the sigh of relief as his erection burst out into his waiting hand were all that could be heard in the dark room until the vampire’s growl of release indicated he’d reached the only satisfaction he was going to.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

            In another small city, far enough away from Winterset that travel back and forth was not all that common, a very old and angry vampire was questioning his favorite minion.

 

            “You say he called her ‘Slayer’?  This vampire that protected a human?  It’s not possible.  I killed the last slayer hundreds of years ago.  Before I killed her, I found and destroyed all the possible replacements – ripped their throats out.  Killed them, killed their watchers and their families. Before I feasted on the last one, I made sure that there was no way for another slayer to be called.”

 

            “I’m just telling you,” Vamp Willow said stubbornly, “He called her ‘Slayer’ and told her to do her job.”

 

            “And did she?”

 

            “No... she was... she acted like she knew us. Like she thought we were friends or something.”

 

            “But you weren’t?”  He gestured for the red-haired childe who had become his favorite to come closer, smiling when she eagerly crouched at his feet and leaned against his bony leg.

 

            Alex spoke up for the first time. He knew he wasn’t a favorite, that the Master only kept him around because Willow had pleaded for him to be turned with her.  He generally tried to keep a low profile around their sire, only approaching when he thought he had brought something that the old vampire would like.  Like delicate, pretty blondes.

 

            “There was a girl that looked like her in our high school,” he volunteered.  “And I think she had the same name.  But that was years ago, and Willow and I killed her when we went back for Prom night.  I know we did – I made her pay for ignoring me before we drank from her.  She cried,” he finished with great satisfaction.

 

            “And yet, here, close enough to be of concern to us, she appears to have come back to life as a Slayer....” With a final stroke to the top of Willow’s head, the Master rose to his feet and began issuing orders.  He sent a small group of his oldest minions to Winterset, ordering them to find out what they could about the would-be slayer and the vampire that protected her from his own kind.

 

            When they had left to make preparations for the drive to the other city, he walked to the large table in the middle of the room and studied the plans spread out upon it. 

 

            “Explain to me again how this is going to work, my little genius,” he purred, pulling Willow close and pinching her firm little rear.  She giggled appreciatively, while Alex rolled his eyes and walked out of the room. Rubbing against her sire, Willow showed him how the process would work when they had rounded up enough humans to make it worthwhile, and begun feeding them into the machinery that would drain their blood into storage tanks. 

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

           

            When Buffy left the restaurant the following night and found Spike waiting for her just outside the back door, she was somehow not at all surprised.  She was surprised to see him chatting casually with the chef, laughing and slapping him on the back. She hadn’t been aware that they knew each other, although she realized that Spike had probably made some friends and acquaintances among Winterset’s demon population during his nights out.  As she walked up, she heard the other man say, “Your luck’s going to change one of these days, Spike, and then you’ll have to get a real job – just like the rest of us.”

 

            “Never happen, mate.”

 

            “What will never happen?” Buffy asked, smiling at the chef as she walked up and poked Spike in the back. “That you won’t stop treating me like a little girl who needs a big bad protector?”

 

            “What?  I can’t meet you after work for a quick spot of violence before I go off to do evil things? Has nothin’ to do with... I just felt like comin’ by and talkin’ to my mate, Harry here. ”

 

            She rolled her eyes and gave him a “we’ll have this conversation later” look, before turning to Harry to explain, “He thinks taking care of me is his job or something.  Like I wasn’t doing just fine all by myself before he got here,” she huffed.

 

            The human/demon hybrid that she now knew Harry to be gave her a benevolent smile and said, “You may have been doing all right by yourself, but you never smiled the way you have since this card sharp started showing up to walk you home.”

 

            Buffy blushed to the roots of her hair, and only the fact that Spike seemed as embarrassed as she was kept her from wanting to sink into the dirty pavement. She mumbled something about it just being nice to find somebody from her home to talk to sometimes, ignoring Harry’s knowing grin as she waved and began to walk down the alley.   With a quick “See you later, mate” Spike jogged after her. In their embarrassment, neither one of them noticed the vampire standing across the alley in the shadows.  He watched until they had reached the end of the alley, then slowly began walking in that direction.

 

            Completely unaware of their onlooker, Buffy and Spike began a silent patrol, staking a few newly-risen fledglings and then pausing to relax on top of large marble tomb.  Buffy lay on her back and looked at the sky overhead.

 

            “There are more stars here than there are in Sunnydale,” she said abruptly.

 

            “Not more, pet, just more visible.  There’s a lot less light in this world than in ours.  The stars are the same, we can just see them better.”

 

            “How do you know they’re the same?”

 

            He lowered himself beside her, taking great care to be far enough away that he wasn’t touching her.

 

            “Because when I was a lad, we didn’t have all those lights in the cities – and none at all in the countryside – so I could see the stars almost every night if it was clear.”

 

            “Oh. So you were one of those ass...astro...starwatching people, huh?”

 

            “Among other things,” he replied.

 

            “What other things?” She turned her head to look at him and there was a long silence while their eyes met and held.  She was suddenly very aware that the vampire was lying only a few inches away, and she swallowed hard at the expression on his face.  For a second she thought he was going to kiss her, but instead, he sat up and said, “Nothing that you need to hear about, Slayer. Now get your lazy arse up and let’s find some demons to beat on.”

 

            Grumbling about vampires that think they’re the boss, she rolled off the tomb and led the way toward the cemetery’s gate.  “Fine,” she sniffed, “don’t tell me about what else you know.  I’ll just go find some other annoying vampire to talk to.  I’ll pretend he’s you, and when he won’t tell me what I want to know, I’ll—Oh, look! Here one comes now!”

 

            “Here comes more than one, luv,” he growled, stepping up beside her as four of the master’s minions spread out around them.  He watched their nostrils flare as they caught his scent and recognized the faint trace of family.  

 

            “The Master wants to know what you are doing with her,” the tallest one demanded.  “Why aren’t you where you belong?”  He frowned as both Spike and Buffy laughed heartily and the vampire answered, “Don’t we wish we were!”

 

            “I don’t belong with you lot,” Spike continued.  “Don’t know what old Bat Face has done in this world, but you might want to tell him that where we come from the Slayer dusted him when she was just a little chit.”

 

            “Blasphemy!”

 

            Spike rolled his eyes.  “Have at it, pet.  I reckon they need to learn the hard way.”  To the surprise of the other vampires, he just pushed the one in front of him out of his way, then, rather than join the fight, he jumped gracefully onto another tomb and sat down to light a cigarette.

 

            “I thought you were helping her?” a husky minion who had just been kicked by the Slayer gasped as he doubled over.

 

            “Oh, I doubt she’ll need it.  There are only four of you.”

 

Spike took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew a stream of smoke in the direction of the deadly whirlwind that was the Slayer.  She had already staked two of the minions, leaving only the one stocky man and a nervous-looking woman to continue the fight.  With the grace and athleticism that he loved to watch, Buffy kicked and spun until there was nothing left but the dust coating the grass and her boots.

 

            Spike applauded briefly, then his head snapped up at the same time that Buffy fell into a fighting crouch and spun around, her eyes searching the shadows.  The minion that had been following them had remained out of sight while the others attacked the Slayer, and he was now running away with the tale of Buffy’s effortless decimation of four of their strongest fighters. With his enhanced vision, Spike could just make out the vamp’s outline as he ran for the gate.  He looked at Buffy questioningly and she shrugged.

 

            “Let him go back and tell them what he saw.  Maybe they won’t come back any more.”  The trace of hopefulness in her voice made him ache for her and he said gently, “They’ll be back, pet; but probably not for a while.  My great, great grandsire doesn’t go looking for trouble – he’s going to stay away from a city with a Slayer livin’ in it.”

 

            Buffy frowned at him.  “If he doesn’t live here, where does he live?  There aren’t a lot of cities in this world. Not on this continent, anyway.  I checked out all the ones in this country when I first got stuck here – looking for Sunnydale, but it doesn’t exist.”

 

            “Well, wherever it is, it has to be close enough for him to send minions to check you out a day after he finds out about you.” He gently nudged her elbow and guided her toward the gate.  “We’ll try to find some maps or somebody who knows the area and see where the nearest city might be that’s big enough for a family of old vamps to hide out without being noticed.”

 

            “I wish I knew more about this place,” she grumbled.  “Maybe I should have tried to get into school somehow – at least I would have learned some history or some geography.”

 

            “Considerin’ that by the time you got to high school, you would have been expected to know some of both of those things, I don’t think that would have been in your best interest, pet.”

 

            “Probably not,” she sighed. “Everybody’s pretty cool about most stuff here – like letting me work without a birth certificate or a social security number – I wonder if they have social security?” she segued.  “Do you think they do?”

 

            He snorted a laugh at her ability to switch subjects so quickly and shook his head. “Wouldn’t know, love.  Not something demons and vamps spend a lot of time worryin’ about.”

 

            “Well, they should... I mean the ones I’m not going to slay, anyway....”

 

            He gave her a friendly nudge and said with a smile,  “You know, Summers, you’ve come a long way, livin’ here.”

 

            “Huh?”

 

            “Older you?  She didn’t get that not all vamps and demons are alike until she was several years older than you are.  She told me about it – how she was all about the fightin’ evil and no exceptions – except the bloody poof, of course.  Thought that soul meant the world....”

 

            “Well it does!” Buffy quickly rose to Angel’s defense.

 

            “Then how do you explain all the peaceful vamps and demons in this world? The ones you see every day and don’t slay because you know they aren’t up to anything more evil than playin’ poker on the weekends?”

 

            “It’s.. .it’s a different world. That’s all.  They’re different because the whole weird world is different – so, it just makes sense that the vamps and demons would be different too!  Maybe they all have souls or something,” she muttered at his skeptical look.

 

            “An’ me?  How do you explain me, pet?  Not from this world, am I? Got no soul to keep me righteous – jus’....” His voice trailed off as he realized how close he had come to admitting having feelings that he was still fighting.

 

            “If I tried to explain you, I’d go nuts,” she muttered, laughing when he growled.  “It’s true!” she argued.  “You don’t have a soul, but you didn’t kill other me when she said she knew you, and then you... you started to like her....”

 

            His lips twitched at her youthful way of talking about his feelings for the slayer he’d left back in Sunnydale. Different dimensions or not, this one was so like what Buffy must have been like at that age that he had to constantly remind himself that she wasn’t her.

 

            “Had other things I was interested in doin’ with her, pet,” he said, waggling his eyebrows at her.

 

            She gave him the obligatory glare and “ewww”, then looked more thoughtful.  “Why don’t you want to do those things with me?” she asked innocently.  “Is it because I’m not pretty anymore?”

 

            He was rendered completely speechless – stopping in the middle of the street and staring at her as though she’d grown another head.  He wasn’t sure which had astonished him the most – that she didn’t realize the effect she had on him, or that she didn’t know how beautiful she was.  He stammered incoherently as he tried to decide which misconception to address first.

 

            “Spike?  Did you hear me?  Why did you stop?”  Buffy turned around when she realized he wasn’t with her and put her hands on her hips.  “What’s wrong with you?”

 

            He shook his head and gave a nervous laugh as he walked toward her again.

 

            “Just a bit gobsmacked, love. And don’t know which of those comments is the more wrong-headed.”

 

            “Huh?”

 

            He pushed a strand of hair off her face and touched her chin, smiling to himself when he heard her heart-rate go up.  Ah, love, if you only knew how badly I want to do those things with you.  Choosing to go with the safer question, he said with perfect sincerity, “I told you that first night that you were a beautiful woman, and I meant it. Do you look like the curvy little thing that’s pretendin’ to be you back in Sunnydale?  No. You look like the woman she grew into.  You’re strong, you’re beautiful and if you would go get that pretty dress you told me you were gonna get a dozen paychecks ago, I’d take you out to that club like I promised and prove it to you.  I can guarantee you’ll be the most beautiful woman in the place.”

 

            As he’d hoped, his effusive praise of her looks and the reminder that they were due a night out on the town distracted her from her first question and she blushed and stammered as she finished walking up to the front door.   Before she could get her key out, Spike was beside her opening the door and holding it for her.  She smiled her thanks and ducked under his arm, heading immediately for the living room and the TV.  After a minute of good natured arguing over which old movie to watch, they settled on one that sounded like it would have enough violence for Spike and enough romance for Buffy. 

 

One of the drawbacks of this world’s being so different from what they were used to, was that very little of what was on the few television stations available was familiar to either of them.  The different history, much smaller population of humans world-wide, and the tacit acceptance of the peaceful demons that lived and worked with humans meant some major differences in the entertainment world, just as it did in many other areas.  Spike, who had spent over a hundred years watching his world change around him, had adjusted much faster than Buffy had been able to when she first arrived.  It had taken her several months of making what she now knew to be stupid mistakes before she had learned to watch and wait before opening her mouth or jumping into a conversation. Now, with Spike’s easy mingling with the demon population and her own hard-won knowledge of how this world was and was not like the one she came from, they were becoming more and more comfortable in their new environment.

 

Buffy told herself that watching TV and movies was an important way for them to learn more about their world, and she happily spent a couple of hours most nights sitting on the couch with Spike and arguing with him about whether or not what they were watching was “real” or a made up story that they shouldn’t take as a genuine look at their new home.

 

 

Chapter Fourteen 

 

            The next night, without saying a word to anyone, Buffy rushed out the door of the restaurant as soon as her shift was over, and, clutching her paycheck, headed immediately for the bank branch where she cashed her checks.   She smiled her thanks at the young man who handed her the money and stuck it in the pocket of her jeans while she strolled through the small mall looking for a shop that might have a dress that she could both afford and look pretty in.

 

            An hour later, she was walking home swinging the bag that contained her new, and only, dress and the shoes she’d had to buy to wear with it.  Hidden in the bottom of the bag was a lacy push-up bra and matching panties in the same pale green color as the dress.  For the first time since she had landed in Winterset – confused, angry and frightened – she felt like herself.

 

            Shopping therapy – nothing like it!  She smiled to herself as she walked into the house and began calling for Spike.  She quickly realized that he was still in the shower, the sound of the water not quite drowning out the song he was singing in a surprisingly pleasant baritone voice.

 

            Young girl, get out of my mind... My love for you is way out of line... Better run, girl, You're much too young, girl... With all the charms of a woman, you've kept the...”

 

            Okay, I’ve never heard that song – I wonder if he made it up?  Of course, he’s older than dirt, so it’s probably just some oldie that—

 

            The sound of running water cut off and, still humming under his breath, Spike emerged from the bathroom, a towel hanging precariously from his hips while he used both hands to rub his hair with another one. Buffy’s strangled “Spike!” got his attention just in time for him to make a one-handed grab at the rapidly slipping towel around his waist.  He froze, not sure what to do as Buffy stood staring at him, her eyes wide and still focused on his flat abdomen and the line of soft curls disappearing beneath the towel that he was clutching tightly. 

 

            She’d never seen a naked man, let alone from a distance of less than six feet away and, while Spike was not completely naked, it was more than obvious that the only thing between her eyes and that part about which she couldn’t help but be curious, was a not particularly large, cheap, thin bath towel.  She could feel her face redden, even as she was unable to tear her eyes away from the body in front of her. 

 

            Stop staring, Buffy!  What is wrong with you? Stop looking at him!  He’s going to notice... oh, god, he noticed....

 

            Spike kept a firm hand on the towel that protected what little modesty he had, but he couldn’t prevent a grin from breaking out when Buffy’s breathing and heart rate continued to climb even as her face grew more and more colorful.  He leaned back against the wall and waited until she was able to drag her eyes up to his amused face.

 

            See anything you like, pet?” he drawled, laughing out loud when she sputtered incoherently.

 

            “What?  No! No liking.... I mean not that I... that you... I mean... you... naked... shower... towel... There is no liking here – no seeing and liking.  No seeing.  I’m not seeing – I’m going to my room now,” she finished with as much dignity as she could muster in the face of having to walk past an almost naked vampire to get to her room.  It didn’t help that his shoulders kept shaking with barely contained laughter as she marched past, eyes carefully averted.

 

            While Spike, still chuckling to himself, went through the kitchen and back downstairs to get dressed, Buffy lingered in her bedroom as long as she could – hanging up her new dress, putting the shoes into the closet next to her sneakers and boots, and scolding herself for being such a baby.

 

            I’m the MTV generation.  “R” rated movies and Playgirl magazine.  That sooo did not bother me the way he thinks it did.  And I was sooo NOT ogling his body.  I love Angel. I love Angel.  I love Angel...

.

            Eventually she had to emerge, carefully stuffing stakes into her pockets and avoiding eye contact with the now completely dressed vampire.  He was uncharacteristically silent as they left the house and headed for the nearest cemetery.  They walked along in uncomfortable silence for several blocks before Buffy could stand it no longer.

 

 “I love Angel!” she blurted out, turning away quickly when she saw that he had completely read the guilty thoughts that brought on that non-sequitur.  He cocked his head at her and waited until she stopped and faced him, her face flaming. When she refused to meet his eyes, darting hers from the sky to the ground, to a very interesting, if imaginary, something over his shoulder, he sighed and shook his head.

 

He rested his hands on her shoulders, waiting until she reluctantly raised her eyes to his before he said carefully, “I know you do, pet.  Or, I know that you think you do; just like you think you know him.  You’re not doing him any harm by ogling my naked body – and it doesn’t make you a bad girlfriend, or a loose woman.  It makes you a perfectly normal, healthy girl.  I didn’t credit that look for anything but it what it was.”

 

Her shoulders relaxed in relief. “What was it?”

 

“Jus’ a curious little chit tryin’ to get a look at my goodies,” he said, leaping back with a laugh as she swung her fist at him. 

 

“I wasn’t... I didn’t... oh, you are sooo full of yourself!”

 

Still laughing, he ran toward the cemetery, calling over his shoulder, “Com’on, Slayer. Take that temper out on some vamps that might actually need pummelin’.”

 

Clutching her stake in a threatening manner, Buffy chased the laughing vampire until he ran past a grave that erupted with a pair of dirt-encrusted arms.  She stopped, waiting until the newly-risen vampire had pulled himself most of the way out of the grave before she chirped, “Hi there. Welcome to the rest of your... death,” as she ran her stake through his heart and watched the dust settle back onto the soil.  She looked up at Spike with a satisfied smile, forgetting about her earlier embarrassment.   “I feel much better now,” she grinned.  “There’s nothing like watching a vamp go ‘poof’ to make a girl’s night.”

 

Shaking his head at her, he responded with a rueful smile, “Nice to know that you’re so easily pleased, Slayer.  I’ll keep that in mind.”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Uh oh,” Dawn’s voice caught the attention of the red-haired witch working in the corner and Willow looked up.

 

“What’s ‘uh oh’?  Uh oh’s are never good, in my experience.”

 

Dawn gestured to the scrying bowl and said, “You need to see this for yourself.”

 

Willow walked over to the large bowl that Dawn had learned to use so well, peering into it and blanching at what she saw.

 

“Oh, Goddess,” she whispered, watching a vamped out version of herself as she held a teary-eyed Buffy with one arm and fondled her with the other.  She watched as Buffy tore herself away and Spike stepped between the slayer and the two vampires.  She gave a little moan when she saw who the other vampire was.

 

“They’ve gone to the world where the master is still alive,” she said, shaking her head in denial even as she watched demon Willow and Xander run off together.  Dawn kept the bowl focused on her sister and the vampire who was protecting her – noting how he got Buffy out of the cemetery and on the way home while the young slayer remained in a state of shock.  Once they were safely in their house, she waved her hand over the bowl and allowed the picture to fade.

 

“What do you think is going on?”

 

“Well, it can’t be exactly like the alternate dimension that Anyanka put us all in when Cordelia wished that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, but it must be very similar.  Of course, the Buffy that finally showed up there didn’t know us, and the Master was killing her just as Giles smashed the pendant – so we don’t know what would have happened.  But that Buffy didn’t have Spike on her side – and Angel wasn’t really much help, I think he got himself staked or something..”

 

“I have to get back there – I have to warn them—”

 

“Warn them about what?  They’ve already seen us – them – they know what they are.  And Spike isn’t a captive like Angel was, so he should be able to help her.”

 

“They know about you guys, but they might not know about the Master.  I guess I should talk to our Buffy first and see if she has any ideas....” Dawn wandered off to the room she now used for her portal-opening experiments, muttering to herself about vampire witches and dumb-ass carpenters.  Willow watched, her brows knitted in a little frown as she tried to think of anything useful to tell young Buffy about her vampire self.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“You saw what?!”

 

“Vamp Willow and Xander.  They attacked Buffy, but she got away and Spike was there, so—”

 

“Tore the whelp’s head off, I hope.”

 

Dawn rolled her eyes at the vampire’s less than useful contribution to the conversation.

 

“He was busy trying to keep Buffy 2.0 from getting too close to them.  I don’t think she realized for a second or two that they were vamps – or that being vamps meant that they didn’t know who she was.” She frowned. “I don’t think Xander was a very important vampire – vamp Willow smacked him across the face. That’s got to be good, right?” she added brightly.

 

“It’ll have to do,” he grumbled, subsiding while Dawn and Buffy compared notes about what they could remember of that dimension. Dawn wasn’t much help, as in that world she hadn’t even existed and neither had Joyce.  Buffy tried to fill Spike in on one of the few Sunnydale experiences for which he hadn’t been present.

 

            “Willow was a vampire – a gay vampire – and so was Xander, only not gay – I don’t think. And the Master was still alive, and they kept Angel in a cage, and....” Her eyes flew to his. “They kept Angel in a cage – and they were setting up some kind of machine for the Master that was going to drain people for him. What if that’s... that’s the dimension they’re in?  The one where the Master’s alive?”

 

            “Easy, pet,” he said quickly, putting a steadying hand on her arm and speaking soothingly.  “Even if it is that same dimension, you don’t know what the situation is now.  Clearly it’s different from what happened to you, or they wouldn’t be around, would they?  And they would have recognized you as the Slayer – which Dawn says they didn’t.”

 

            “In... in that dimension... they–he... won,” she whispered softly.  “They would be still walking around, because the Master killed me – or, he was about to anyway.  Giles broke Anya’s pendant and that dimension just... vanished.”

She looked at Spike sadly.  “What if it didn’t vanish?  What if we just got sent back to our own dimension – me, Angel – but what if the Master and vamp Willow and vamp Xander stayed wherever they were?  What if this is where they’ve been all the time?”

 

            “Think, Slayer.  Didn’t you say that you went back to your own dimension just as old bat-face was trying to off you? And that the witch and the whelp came back with you? If it is another version of them, they don’t know you. They’ve got no idea what they’re up against.”  He smiled at her dubious expression and gently pushed her hair off her face.  “No idea at all.”

 

            “I guess that’s why there’s no Mom or me in that one,” Dawn said thoughtfully.  “Must have something to do with the Master not being trapped in the Hellmouth.... or maybe it’s just a completely different dimension and nothing’s the same except a few people or vamps.  We don’t know if what Anya did actually sent us all to another dimension, if it changed the one we were in, or if we were all having the same bad dream that ended when Giles broke the pendant. And it’s not like we can ask her....” Dawn’s voice trailed off and Spike and Buffy exchanged looks over her bowed head.

 

“What are you thinkin’, Bit?”

 

“Well, in my world – your old world – Anya died; but in this one, as far as we know, she’s still a vengeance demon, right?  Maybe you can summon her and just... ask?”

 

“Ask a Vengeance Demon to tell the Slayer what happens when she grants a wish?  Oh yeah, that should go over well!”

 

“But, it’s Anya....”

 

“She’s still Anyanka here, Bit.”  Spike’s voice was gentle as he reminded her that the demon they would summon was not their Anya and would not know them.  “Got no reason to help us out; and might be a bit brassed off at being summoned for somethin’ like that.”

 

“Fine!” Dawn’s tone and her rolling eyes indicated that she wasn’t giving up on the idea, but she agreed for the time being. “So, what should we – I do?  I need to tell them about the Master, at least.”

 

“I think you should tell them,” Buffy said suddenly.  “And maybe...” she gave Spike an apologetic smile, “maybe you should tell them to look for Angel?  Just in case he’s got his soul in that dimension and the Master is torturing him again?”  She ignored his growling and continued. “They could probably use all the help they can get and having Angel on their side would—”

 

“Would bollix up any chance of anything developin’ between me and you,” Spike interrupted.  “Is that what you want for them?  For you? To waste all those years mooning after my grandsire when she could be--”

 

“Spike, we can’t make them fall in love with each other.  They’re us... but they’re not us, too.  Maybe he won’t even want me – her. I was able to coax him into bed, sure, but he wasn’t in love with me and he didn’t want to be in love with me.  I’m glad he found her, and that he’s helping her, but we have no idea how they feel about each other.  For all we know, he has a vampire girl friend and just sees Buffy when he patrols with her.” 

 

Buffy looked at Dawn for verification, but saw that she wasn’t going to get any help there.

 

“I think he likes her, Buffy.  He doesn’t want to admit it out loud, but I can see the way he looks at her.  I think he’s afraid to say anything because she’s so young – and because she’s still—”

 

“Still hung up on Angel,” Buffy sighed in agreement.  “Yeah, even if he is interested, I don’t know if teen-aged me is ready for Spike.  That’s a lot of...”

 

“A lot of....?”  Spike’s eyebrows were raised as he waited to hear what she thought it might be too much of.  When there was no response, he filled in, “Passion? Incredible sex? Violence?  Stop me when I get to something you haven’t thought of, pet.”

 

Glaring at him with angry eyes and lips that were trying not to smile, she said, “I was going to say ‘That’s a lot of pretty intense emotion for a teenager to handle. It might scare her off.’ ”

 

“Too bad we can’t talk to them then, isn’t it, love?” he said, pulling her into an embrace that she only pretended to fight.  “You could tell her what a wonderful lover I am and what a wanker Peaches really is.”

 

“Or, you could tell him to take it easy and not scare her off by doing something stupid.”

 

“Stupid?  What have I ever done that might have been scary to a slayer?  Aside from tryin’ to kill you,” he added as an afterthought.

 

“Chains, offers to kill crazy ex, and then threats to feed me to crazy ex – let me know when I get to something that might be scary to somebody who—”

 

“Oh,” he muttered, hiding his face in her neck.  That stupid stuff.  Well, he probably won’t think about doing anything like that.”

 

“We can only hope not,” she said.  “Who knows if she’s as easy going and forgiving as I am...” She felt him shaking with laughter that he tried to hide by nibbling on her neck, and she bit down on his shoulder with her own teeth, giving a very credible growl.

 

“Um... if you two could stop with the wildly inappropriate PDA’s for just a few more minutes, I’d like to come up with a plan about what I should tell them.”

 

The two growling blonds reluctantly disentangled themselves and sighed simultaneously.  “I’m leavin’ this up to you, pet.  I don’t really know anything about what happened – all I know is old Bat Face was already gone by the time I got here, and you’d pretty much cleaned out most of his minions, too. Nothing left for me but the Annoying One and a couple of wannabes.”

 

Buffy looked at Dawn and said thoughtfully, “Maybe I should just write it out for her – you could take a note or letter with you, couldn’t you?”

 

“Yeah, sure.  If I couldn’t take things with me, I’d be showing up naked all the time—and you sooo did not leer at me, Spike!  Ewwww! That’s like...like...ewww!”

 

“Sorry, Bit.  Force of habit – I am a man, you know.  Pretty girl says the word ‘naked’ I just naturally perk up. Even if she is more of a sister-type.”

 

“Men are disgusting,” she huffed, turning her back so he wouldn’t see the smile on her face.

 

“Pigs,” Buffy agreed primly, pinching Spike’s ass while her sister wasn’t looking.  “All of them.” 

 

“I know when I’m in a conversation that’s not going to go well for me,” he laughed.  “I’ll be in the other room.”  He pinched Buffy back, and before she could retaliate, he was already at the doorway and going into their bedroom.  As soon as he got out of sight, he went to the desk and pulled out a sheet of paper, quickly scribbling out a note and folding it into a small packet.

 

Buffy was also writing, filling a page of notebook paper with as much as she could recall about the demon dimension to which Anyanka had converted Sunnydale.  She made sure to point out that she didn’t know for sure if that’s where they were, but that she was giving them some things to watch out for.  She finished the letter, reread quickly – adding some more facts about Angel and the fact that he hadn’t known her, but had been willing to help – then folded it and handed it to Dawn.  She chewed her lip for a minute, then ripped off another sheet of paper and scribbled a much shorter note, folding it into a much smaller packet and giving it to her sister too.

 

“Do me a favor,” she whispered, looking around to be sure that Spike hadn’t come back into the room, “give this to Buffy when Spike isn’t around to see it. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” Dawn agreed readily, tucking the folded paper into her pocket.  “What did you do, tell her to forget about Angel and grab Spike while the grabbing was good?”

 

“Something like that,” Buffy mumbled.  “But don’t tell my Spike I did it.”

 

“Don’t tell me you did what?”  His sudden, silent appearance behind her was a reminder of just who and what she was living with.

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Right.  Cause it’s always important that you not tell me nothing – never know what I might do with information like that.” 

 

“It’s nothing,” she repeated stubbornly.  “Just girl stuff.”

 

He gave her one of his “I see right through you, Slayer” looks, but dropped the subject, instead walking up to Dawn and giving her a hug.  “It was good to see you again, Bit.  Give our regards to our other selves.”  As he released her, he slipped the folded note into her hand, whispering, “Give this to Spike – just don’t let the Slayer see it, yeah?”

 

Dawn rolled her eyes at both of them – inspiring mutually suspicious looks from them both – then stepped into her portal area and closed her eyes to concentrate.  While Spike and Buffy watched in admiration, the walls of the portal swirled up around her and she waved as the usual loud “pop” carried her back to her own world.

 

Moving closer together, they stared at the empty space for a few seconds before Spike put his arms around Buffy and pulled her into his chest.  He nuzzled the side of her neck, smiling when she tipped her head to the side so that he could lick his mark.  She put her hands over his crossed arms and held them in place as she enjoyed the sense of belonging and serenity that she got from his attention to his mark.  Finally, she gave his arms a little squeeze and moved away, turning to face him as she did so.

 

“Do you think they’ll be able to handle him?  He did kill me the first time I faced him.  Of course that was all about that stupid prophecy that Giles and Angel had me thinking meant I was going to die no matter what I did....”

 

“Wankers!”

 

She heaved a sigh and nodded sadly.  “Got to say, it wasn’t one of their finest moments... but the other Buffy has already kicked his ass once, so she should know she can handle it—”

 

 

“She’ll be fine, love.  She’s you, isn’t she? Old Bat Face isn’t gonna know what hit him.”

 

“What about evil Willow and Xander?  You heard what Dawn said about what she saw – what if she’s so lonely there, that she can’t kill demons wearing the faces of her friends?”

 

“I’m pretty sure soulless Spike isn’t gonna be bothered by that, pet.  If he had time to meet Harris while he was here....” he waited for Buffy’s reluctant nod, “then he isn’t going to have any problem at all with it.  Trust me,” he growled, half-seriously.

 

Buffy laughed at his growl.  Even though they had explained and explained about Spike and his soul and his world-saving, Xander refused to see him as anything but the slayer killer that had appeared in Sunnydale the year before, Drusilla in tow.  His reaction to the news that not only had the vampire returned to Sunnydale for Buffy’s birthday, but that his body was now inhabited by the Spike that this Buffy knew and loved had been sufficiently ugly to create a rift between the two friends that had yet to heal. 

 

Giles, on the other hand, couldn’t resist the appeal of recording as much as he could get Spike to tell him about a vampire who loved a woman enough to get his soul for her.  The vampire’s confirmation that the Powers were responsible for his presence, as well as Buffy’s, went a long way to gaining some acceptance for the situation.  Buffy and Spike were still treading a fine line between feeding the Watcher’s curiosity and not revealing too much about a future that very well might not happen in this dimension.  They were all agreed that they should limit their interference with the possible course of events to those things that they could be sure were necessary.

 

Buffy’s disappointment that she couldn’t arrange to beat Cordy for Prom Queen was only partially put on – that little taste of semi-normal high school life being one of the few she could remember from her own high school days.  She huffed angrily when Giles said that he was “quite sure that the Powers That Be did not bring you back here in order to watch you cheat your way into a tiara”; and she threatened Spike with spending a lonely night on the couch if he couldn’t stop laughing at her disappointment.

 

Even though she had stomped out in a fit of temper, she was secretly delighted that the two Brits seemed to be bonding this time around, and that she would not have to worry about her surrogate father trying to kill the man she loved.  Her best male friend was another matter, and she smiled ruefully at Spike at his reminder that Xander was not as accepting of his presence in her life.

 

She nodded her head.  “I don’t suppose he will,” she agreed.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with Xander – I know he’s a better person than this—”

 

“He’s jealous, love.  There isn’t going to be much we can do about it until he outgrows it or finds somebody else. There may not be an Anyanka this time around, so who knows what it’ll take.  The cheerleader doesn’t seem to be doing it for him and he’s lost his chance with Willow.  Now, can we talk about something else besides the bloody whelp? Gives me indigestion, it does.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

            Buffy’s much-improved mood lasted until they had cleaned out the three cemeteries on their list for the night.  Instead of their usual ice cream treat on the way home, they both agreed that it was getting too cold for ice cream and they stopped at a coffee shop for hot chocolates.  Spike told her how much he’d liked her mother’s hot chocolate and she smiled sadly as she agreed that it was the “best ever”. 

 

            The reminder of what she was missing sent Buffy into a melancholy silence and he fumbled around for some way to bring back her happy mood. Remembering the bags she’d been carrying when she came home, he asked quickly, “What was in those fancy bags you were carrying when you stopped to ogle me, pet?  Did you get that dress I told you to?”

 

            Making a face at his ogling comment, she nodded, regaining her enthusiasm as she spoke.

 

            “Yep! Got a dress and shoes and matching underwear... and I sooo did not just tell you that!”

 

            Grinning at her flaming face, he waited for her to stop sputtering before he purred, “So, matching underwear? ‘s that right, Slayer?  Plannin’ on havin’ yourself a big night, are you?”

 

            “Hmmmph!” she huffed.  “Like that’s likely with you watching my every move and flashing your fangs at anybody you don’t like.”

 

            Smothering the pang her comment gave him, he said mildly, “Wouldn’t get in your way, luv.  You know that. Promised you a night on the town and that’s what you’ll get.  I promise.”

 

            Crap!  I hurt his feelings again.  Damn vampire and his feelings – and those eyes that show everything he’s feeling.

 

            “I... I’m sorry, Spike.  I didn’t mean that the way—”

 

            “’s alright, pet.  You’re likely right. Without that reminder, I’d probably be prowlin’ behind you promisin’ to eat anybody who had the wrong look in his eye.  Won’t do it, I promise you.  I’ll jus’ get you in the door and dancin’ and then watch from a safe distance.”

 

            “You aren’t going to dance with me?”

 

            “Thought I was takin’ you there to meet people your own age and have some fun?  You don’t want to be spendin’ your time with an old vamp what hasn’t danced since the waltz was considered daring.”

 

            “Way to remind me that you’re older than dirt, Spike,” she grimaced.

 

            “Didn’t know you needed remindin’, Slayer,” he said gruffly as he stood up.  “Let’s get goin’ – I want to watch that show where the demons compete with humans to see who can answer the most questions.”

 

            “That almost-but-not-quite-Jeopardy show?”

 

            “Yeah, that’s the one.  Like to get the answers before they do.”

 

            “So you can yell at the TV and feel superior to somebody.”

 

            “I AM superior, pet. An’ don’t you forget it.”  He waggled his eyebrows at her and she giggled in spite of herself, following him out the door.

 

            The walk home was quicker than usual, Buffy’s steps hastened by the fact that she hadn’t worn a winter coat and Spike’s by his urge to see his show.

 

            I need to get that parka out of the back of the closet.  I forgot how cold it gets here in the winter.

 

            “Penny for your thoughts, pet?”

 

            “I was just thinking about how much I miss southern California and the sun – especially at this time of the year.  Do you know how much money I had to spend when I first got here – just buying stuff to keep me from freezing to death?  You’d think the powers might have sent us someplace warm,” she grumbled, wrapping her arms around herself and shivering.

 

            Spike eyed her heavy sweatshirt and long pants and nodded his head.  “Got to admit, the outfits you wear here aren’t nearly as easy on the eyes as those short skirts and skimpy tops that you filled your closet with back home.”

 

            “Are you saying I don’t dress well?”  Dismay and disappointment flew across her face.  In spite of her small salary, Buffy had done her best to continue to dress nicely – making allowances for the fact that this world was much cooler than what she was used to and short skirts and thin tops just weren’t practical.  With a limited budget and the potential damage caused by her slaying duties, she’d been forced to stick with easily washed, long sleeve tops in warm fabrics, but she prided herself on coordinating things as much as possible. Even the thermal underwear that she wore in the winter was in pretty colors.

 

            “I’m just saying, luv,” he said quickly, reading her unhappy expression and wishing he’d kept his mouth shut, “that I got used to seein’ a lot more of Buffy than what I get to look at now.  Not that you don’t look nice – it’s just that I’d rather be lookin’ at skin than corduroy.  Watching you kickin’ in pants just isn’t the same as watchin’ you kick wearing a mini-skirt...” His eyes unfocused for a minute as his mind wandered back to watching Buffy spinning and kicking in her short skirts.

 

            “You’re a pig, Spike!”  The response was automatic, but she couldn’t hide the relief in her voice.

 

Once again he was reminded that, in spite of her physical appearance, she was only approaching her eighteenth birthday and still very much a teenager when it came to worrying about her clothes.  She did dress very differently from the way she had back in Sunnydale – and not just because it was cold.  Without being in school and having to worry that she wasn’t fitting in, she hadn’t wanted to waste too much of her limited money on clothes that she was planning to leave behind as soon as she was yanked back to her own world.  The dress to wear out dancing was her first real venture into shopping for pretty clothes since she had become resigned to living in this colder, less stylish world and she had forgotten how much she enjoyed shopping until she went looking for it.

 

Vowing mentally to have more shopping therapy in her future, she shoved Spike and began to run, calling back, “Last one home is a—”

 

She got no further before he was running easily beside her, so busy admiring the way her cheeks reddened and her eyes sparkled in the cold air that he almost ran into the little fence around the house’s bare excuse for a front yard. At the last second, he realized where he was and leaped it effortlessly, landing beside her at the foot of the steps and shoving her aside.

 

“Hah! I win, Slayer,” he crowed as he took the steps in one bound and put his key in the door.  Before he could open it far enough to get inside, a giggling Buffy had slipped under his arm.  She turned to face him triumphantly, pointing at him.

 

“Hah, yourself! I won.  You’re a... a... Rats! I forgot what I was going make the loser be.”

 

“Well, you think on it for a while, pet. This loser is going to watch his show.”  He went into the living room, dropping his duster on the chair and flipping on the TV. He tried very hard to concentrate on the picture in front of him and not so much on the now-warmed up slayer in the hallway. In a very short time, Buffy joined him on the couch to listen to him shout answers and mock the stupidity of the contestants when they didn’t know them.  The camera shifted from the emcee to the contestants, and suddenly they were both focused on the screen.  Standing in the middle box, wearing a low-cut blouse, tight pants and knee-high boots was Vamp Willow. She licked her lips slowly, causing the human contestant on her left to cast her a nervous glance.

 

“So, Ms Rosenburg,” the emcee tried to keep her attention on him, all the time wondering what had possessed the producers to allow what was clearly a less than tame vampire onto the show.  “What are your qualifications for being on ‘Stump the Experts?’  You seem quite... young... to be an expert on anything.”

 

“Oh,” she purred, licking her lips.  “I’m older than I look.  And, I’m an expert on quite a few things....” 

 

She ran her eyes up and down the announcer’s body, then did the same to an off-camera female assistant producer.   The man cleared his throat and attempted to continue his show, indicating that the first question was up for grabs.  Before the human contestant next to her could even move, Willow’s hand had smashed down upon the large round ball on her desk, causing it to collapse.  Both men blinked at the speed with which she’d moved, and their growing suspicion was clearly evident in their faces.

 

“Ooopsie!  Did I break your buzzer?  Shame on me.”  Willow’s grin made it obvious that she wasn’t sorry at all.

 

“N-no, that’s quite all right,” he stammered.  “We’ll just—”

 

“I think we’ll just say I won and let it go at that.  How’s that sound, huh?”

 

Once again moving too fast for the eye to follow, she grabbed the man now edging away from the contestant area and ripped his throat out, flashing her blood-covered fangs at the camera.  They watched in horror as the camera moved backward, away from the stage, but still recording.  The wider angle allowed Buffy to watch as Xander stepped up behind the emcee and buried his teeth in the man’s neck.  She moaned softly and without thinking, Spike put his arm around her shoulders and gave her trembling body a sympathetic squeeze.

 

“’s not them, Buffy,” he murmured as she continued to watch in horror while minions swarmed onto the set and into the audience, ripping and tearing as they followed the directions of the red-head now holding the microphone.  Spike swallowed hard, fighting back his demon, which was being called to in a way that he hadn’t worried about in months.  He relaxed his comforting grip on Buffy’s shoulder, suddenly very aware of the nearness of her throat and the blood pounding there.  He eased himself away from her and fought to remain in his human face, even as every molecule in his body was crying for some of the red liquid so visible on the small screen.

 

Missing his comforting presence, Buffy tore her gaze away from the sickening sights still being broadcast in living color, and glanced over at the vampire.  She watched in fascination as his eyes flickered between their usual soft blue and amber; his fangs had dropped far enough that she could just see the tips of them protruding below his upper lip.  Sudden understanding had her reaching for the remote so as to change the channel, but he stopped her with a claw-tipped hand.

 

“No, love,” he growled around his fangs.  “Leave it. We need to know what’s goin’ on there.  It isn’t like old Bat Face to go public like this.”

 

“But—” she began.  “You...isn’t it...?” She fumbled for a way to say that she hated to see him struggling so hard to hide what was his nature.  A small part of her, that remembered her Watcher’s teachings, was screaming that she was sitting next to a dangerous vampire and that he would not be able to control himself in face of so much blood – even if it was only on a television screen.

 

“It’s alright, Slayer.  I’ll be alright.  It’s just been a long time, and I—”

 

“And you miss it,” she said flatly.

 

“I do.”  His admission was equally uninflected, but he took a deep breath and then his normal blue eyes were staring at her – no trace of the monster within visible any longer.  “I do, but I can control it.  I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said more softly. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

 

“The only thing that scared me,” she said, tossing her hair, “was wondering if I was going to have to stake you.”  She lowered her eyes and said more softly, “I don’t want to do that.”

 

He nodded and sighed.  “Got to say, I’m not too excited about that idea myself, pet.  Doin’ my best to see that it never happens.”

 

“I know you are,” she whispered. “But what if it happens?  What if I have to stake you?  I don’t know if I could do that, Spike.  I don’t know if I’m that kind of Slayer.”

 

Remembering what the older Buffy had told him about Angel’s regaining his soul just before she had to send him to hell, he smiled and lifted her chin with a gentle finger.

 

“You are that kind of Slayer, Buffy.  I know you are.”

 

Their eyes met and locked, hers worried, his warm and encouraging. Spike’s finger was still on her chin, his need to reassure her that she was stronger than she thought overcoming his usual reluctance to touch her in any way other than strictly platonically.  His face moved towards hers, which remained where it was, only her widened eyes and increased heart rate indicating that she was aware of his proximity.

 

Ohmygod! Is he going to kiss me?  Why aren’t I moving away?  Do I want him to kiss me?

 

Suddenly, screams from the television interrupted the moment and they whirled to watch as vamp-Willow, still holding the microphone, talked directly into the camera.

 

“That’s right,” she purred at the camera. “We’re not hiding in the dark any more.  This is our town...and soon it’s going to be our world.”

 

The camera, now being operated by one of the minions, panned over the audience, which was being herded into long lines, the people being held together by loops of rope around their necks.   When the only untied humans were the ones lying dead on floor, Willow pointed to the exit and said clearly, “Get them out of here and into the trucks.  We have more pick-ups to make tonight.”  She turned back to the camera and gave a toothy grin.  “Maybe one of them will be you!” she said, pointing at the screen, which then went blank.

 

Spike could feel Buffy quivering beside him and, forgetting the just-passed moment of tension, he pulled her in with both arms, rubbing soothing circles on her back until she stopped trembling.  He felt her stiffen and without looking, he felt her transform from unhappy girl to angry Slayer.  Her head came up and her voice was cold as she spoke.

 

“That’s not my Willow.”

 

“Told you that, pet,” he soothed, unwilling to give up holding her warm body until he had to.

 

“No. I mean, that wasn’t my Willow.  Not the one I know or that I wouldn’t want to slay.  My Willow is shy. She would never grab a microphone like that, or talk into a camera.  I can slay that vampire,” she concluded firmly.  “And I will as soon as I track them down to their lair.”

 

As she spoke, she pulled away from Spike’s no longer needed comfort, and stood up to pace around the room, muttering to herself.

 

“If I can borrow a car, you can drive me to that city and I can find their lair.  I’ll stake her and that stupid Xander look-alike, and then I’ll kick that old guy’s butt—”

 

“Slayer?  Buffy?”  Spike stepped in front of her, bringing her ranting pacing to a halt as he did so.

 

“What?”

 

“You can’t go charging in there like John Wayne, love.  We need to find out what’s what in that place – preferably from a distance – before we plan how to take them down.  I don’t think we’re looking at a bunch of fledglings that just got too big for their britches; this smacks of some plannin’ and a lot of confidence.”

 

“There you go,” she pouted. “Sounding like Giles again.”

 

“Jus’ sayin’, luv.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  They aren’t going anywhere.”

 

“But, Spike! Those people!  I can’t just let them—”

 

She was interrupted by one of the loud popping notices that preceded Dawn’s arrival and they both turned to watch the younger Summers sister step out of the portal now visible in their living room.

 

“Hi, guys!” Dawn waved and then hugged Buffy and smiled at Spike.  “I have some information for you from Sunnydale.”  She took the letter her Buffy had written out of her pocket and handed it to the Buffy in front of her, then turned to Spike.  “Have you got something to drink?  I’ve been traveling all day and I’m really thirsty.”

 

Frowning curiously, he left Buffy reading the letter from her older self and led Dawn into the kitchen.  Quickly reaching into her pocket again, she handed him the folded note from her Spike, whispering, “He said to give this to you when Buffy wasn’t watching.”

 

“Okay, thank you, Dawn,” he said with a smile that faded when her face fell a little.  “What wrong?”

 

“Nothing,” she mumbled. “It’s silly... it’s just that you – the other you – has always called me Bit or Niblet or Bite-size or something.  It just seems strange for you to be calling me Dawn.”

 

He laughed softly.  “Well, can see where someone who’d known you since you were bite-sized would have given you a nickname like that; but you’re all grown up and as tall as me now, aren’t you?  Doesn’t seem appropriate, somehow.”

 

“Oh, I know,” she sighed.  “It’s just strange to hear you call me Dawn – unless you’re yelling at me for something.”

 

“Tell you what, pet. Between now and the next time I see you, I’ll come up with something, yeah?”

 

“Okay, I’m holding you to that,” she smiled back at him, turning to greet Buffy as she walked into the kitchen asking, “Holding him to what?”

 

“He’s going to come up with a nickname for me so I won’t feel so weird when he calls me ‘Dawn’.”

 

Buffy shrugged at the idea of Dawn needing a nickname and held up the letter.

 

“Well, if the Master they were talking about is the one that is described in here, then he’s planning to take over that city and maybe the world.  Making humans just livestock to be used for food.”

 

“Well, given that they just went very public – I’m guessing they’re working on the city now.”  He shook his head in dismay.  “I guess you’re right, Slayer. We’re gonna need to pay that town a visit and try to suss out what’s goin’ on.”

 

Dawn looked back forth between their grim faces and wrinkled her brow.

“What happened?” she asked quickly.  “Did they attack you again?”

 

Buffy shook her head and quickly recapped what they had just seen on the TV.  Her voice was calm and controlled as she described how Willow had clearly been in charge of the gang of vampires that took over the television station. 

 

“I have to stop them,” Buffy explained unnecessarily.  “I can’t allow the Master to take over this world and turn all the humans into livestock.

 

“Of course you can’t!” Dawn agreed immediately.  “But will you do me a favor?”

 

They both looked at her curiously, Spike’s head was cocked to one side as he waited.

 

“Will you just find out what you can about them, but wait until I talk to my Spike and Buffy before you do anything?  Please?”

 

Buffy stiffened noticeably as she replied, “Why?  Your Buffy is back there in my world – where I’ve already killed this creep once.  This is my world now; it’s my job to prevent the apocalypses here. I don’t need her help.”

 

“Of course, you don’t, pet,” Spike immediately soothed before she could start yelling at Dawn.  “But it can’t hurt to find out what else older you knows, can it?  She has managed to stave off a few more world-ending events than you have, luv.  Seems to me it would make sense to make use of that experience, wouldn’t it?”

 

He watched as the familiar pout began to develop, and mentally prepared himself for her refusal.  However, she surprised him by nodding reluctantly and suggesting, “Okay. How about if we just go to their city and look around?  Find out where the lair is, maybe? “

 

Dawn nodded eagerly.  “That sounds like a good idea.  Meanwhile, I’ll go back and talk to Buffy and see if she has any other ideas.”

 

“Can you keep hoppin’ around like that without hurting yourself?” Spike asked dubiously.  “Seems like it might be a bit of drain – all that blood-lettin’ and transporting.”

 

Dawn nodded in agreement.  “Yeah, that’s what Giles keeps saying; but so far, I’ve been fine.  It’s not like I keep bouncing back and forth between dimensions all the time. And the better I get at it, the less blood it takes.  But, I don’t have to come right back,” she said quickly.  “I can just send a note – and I can see what you’re doing—“

 

“What?”

 

“Um... I... we... I mean how do you think I found you?  We have a scrying bowl in the Coven House and I can peek in when I need to.  That’s how we knew about Vamp-Willow – I saw her grab you.”

 

“You can see us? You’re watching us?”  Buffy’s voice was dangerously calm and Spike involuntarily stepped between them as he asked his own worried question.

 

“Exactly how much watching have you been doing, pet?” he growled.  “I’d hate to give up my only source of amusement jus’ because some nosey bint might be peeking in at me....”

 

“Oh, I... oh!... and ewwwww – I was thinking about something more interesting than... Never mind.  I’ve got no desire to be scarred for life by catching you doing... whatever.  Although,” she added with twinkle, “I’ll bet if I charged admission to watch you in the shower, I could make a lot of money from some of the slayers....”

 

“There will be no long-distance ogling of Spike!”  Buffy’s outburst caught herself as much by surprise as it did them; she blushed when she caught Dawn’s knowing grin, and shot Spike a quick glance to see if he was going to laugh at her; but his expression was one she had never seen on him before.  Instead of the cocky amusement that she expected, he was looking at her with eyes that held genuine warmth and more than a trace of hopeful speculation.  She blushed even redder and immediately changed the subject.

 

“So,” she said briskly, “you’re going to talk to the other Buffy and then leave us a note if you have anything else to say?  If I write back to you, will you be able to get my note?”

 

“I don’t see why not.  It doesn’t take much energy at all to send tiny inanimate things back and forth.  I just open the portal and toss them in.  I could, like, check the kitchen every day and if you need to talk to me, you could leave a note on the table.  Or, if I need to talk to you, I can just leave a note there for you to answer.  That’s what I usually do with my Spike and Buffy unless it’s an emergency.”

 

“Do you spy on them, too?” Spike ignored the glare Buffy sent him for reopening the touchy subject of being watched.

 

“Oh my god, no!  I know better than to look in on those two unless they’re expecting it!  Speaking of being scarred for life....” She shuddered, and Spike had to smother a laugh when Buffy turned bright red again.

 

“Nice to know she’s not missin’ me,” he said with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. 

 

“Can we talk about something else besides watching people doing... things,” Buffy said desperately.   She was sure she wouldn’t be able to look Spike in the eye for a week if the conversation continued much longer.

 

“It’s okay,” Dawn soothed.  “I have to get back anyway.  I do have a life, you know.  I’ll check in every day to see if you’ve left a note for me.”

 

They nodded and Spike went to the refrigerator to get himself some blood.  He waved his good-bye to Dawn as he waited for it to heat up in the old microwave Clem had given Buffy.  Dawn and Buffy walked into the living room and Dawn quickly pressed the folded note into her sister’s hand.

 

“She said not to let Spike see it,” she whispered, glancing towards the kitchen and hoping the vampire’s hearing hadn’t picked up her whisper.

 

Buffy shoved the note into her pocket and gave Dawn a quick hug goodbye as the other girl pulled her portal around her and popped into her own dimension.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Spike strolled into the living room, mug of blood in hand, and asked casually, “What did who say I wasn’t supposed to see, luv?”

 

She gave a guilty start and glared.  “You listened!”

 

“Vampire,” he said simply, pointing to his ear with his free hand.

 

“Stupid vampire hearing.”

 

“You gonna answer my question or just insult my ancestry?”

 

Buffy sighed and pulled the note from her pocket.  “She gave me a note from the other me – one I’m not supposed to let you see.”

 

He titled his head at her and then pulled his own note out. “Sounds a lot like the one I sent to myself – also not for sharing.”

 

“I guess....”

 

Spike put his back in his pocket and turned away. “I’ll look at it later and if I think it’s something you need to know, I’ll tell you about it. You alright with that?”

 

Buffy nodded, putting her own note into her back pocket.   “Sounds like a plan.  And if I think you need to know what mine says...”

 

“Exactly. Need to know basis.”

 

“Right. Need to know.”

 

They stood around for a few minutes, eyes darting around the room, feet shuffling and hands twitching before the vampire finally said, “Sod this!” and pulled the note back out of his pocket.  He set his mug down on the top of the television set and carefully unfolded his note. 

 

Buffy gave a sigh of relief and removed her own letter, quickly opening it and running her eyes over the words there.  Her brow creased as she read what her older self had written, confusion plain upon her face.  She looked up at Spike and saw that he was staring at her – the speculative expression back on his face.

 

When he noticed her looking, he cleared his throat and folded the note back up until it was very small.

 

“Well, nothing there worth sharing,” he said briskly. “Just vamp to vamp stuff.”

 

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed with relief.  “Me too.  Just Slayer stuff; nothing for you to worry about.“

 

“Well, that’s that, then.”

 

“Yep. Nothing to see here.”

 

Looking for a change of subject, Buffy asked, “How long do you think it will take us to get a car to use?”

 

He raised an eyebrow, growling when she rolled her eyes and elaborated.

 

“How long do you think it will take us to get a car without stealing one?”

 

“Spoil sport,” he grumbled.

 

“Spike...”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I got it, Slayer.  How about one that I win in a poker game or take off some lesser vamp?”

 

“Just don’t tell me about it,” she surprised him by saying tiredly.  “Just find one so we can get there and find out what’s going on.”

 

“Alright, pet.  Why don’t you get some sleep while I go see if some really unlucky demon wants to bet his ride that he can beat an inside straight?”  He pulled his coat back on and gave her a gentle push towards her bedroom. “Go on, Slayer.  There’s nothing we can do now.  You may as well get your rest while you can.”

 

Leaving Buffy in the hallway, he left the house, carefully closing the door behind him and waiting for the sound of the lock clicking into place before jumping from the small porch to the ground in one bound.  He began walking towards the demon section of town, checking his pocket to be sure he had his note as he strode down the street.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Buffy walked through her nightly rituals, trying to ignore the small piece of paper in her back pocket as she brushed her teeth and washed her face.  When she had changed into her warm, flannel pajamas and fuzzy socks, she slipped into her bed and unfolded the note again.  She studied the words written there in what was very clearly her own handwriting.

 

All it said was: “Give him a chance.  He’s more than worth it.” She had no doubt who the note referred to and she frowned at it.

 

 Is she saying that even without his soul, he’s worth loving?  Do I want to love him?  What about Angel.  Why doesn’t she say anything about Angel? Why doesn’t she love him anymore? How did she fall in love with Spike?

 

With a sigh, she put the note under her pillow and turned out the light, snuggling under the heavy blankets and closing her eyes.  She tried to picture Angel’s face, but all she could see behind her eyelids were soft blue eyes and knife-like cheekbones over a sinfully full mouth and a wicked smile.

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

It didn’t take Spike long to find a card game, but word had spread about his skills at poker, and he couldn’t find anyone willing to bet anything more substantial than a litter of kittens.  He played just long enough to win some spending money, even losing a few hands so that he’d be welcome to come back, then said his ‘good-night’ and went back out into the night. His hand went to his back pocket and he pulled out the folded paper there, going into vamp face in order to read it in the dim light.

 

 Take your time. Don’t be a bloody git about the poof.  She’s worth the wait.”

 

“Speakin’ of bloody gits,” he grumbled.  “How stupid does he think I am? Already know she’s worth it, don’t I? Question is, does she think I’m worth it?”

 

He wondered idly what Dawn had seen between Buffy and himself, and what she might have told their older selves about it. Which reminded him that Buffy had received a note of her own and he tried to imagine what the older Buffy might have said about him.  He had no doubt that it was about him – the heightened color on Buffy’s face had made that clear.  With a shrug, he shoved the paper back into his pocket and headed for the club Buffy had mentioned.

 

It wasn’t that far from the demon section of Winterset, which brought Spike’s eyebrows up a bit; then he recognized the logic in putting a hot club close to a good source of employees.  There was nothing like have a couple of seven-foot tall Yeti demons as bouncers to keep things peaceful and sedate. 

 

Spike leaned against a wall across the street and smoked while he observed the patrons going in and out. He narrowed his eyes at the doorman, finally recognizing him as one of Clem’s buddies who sometimes joined their weekly card games.  Quickly, he racked his brain to remember if he’d ever cheated that particular player and concluded that he hadn’t.  He might even have lost a hand or two to the very human-looking demon with the power to decide who did and did not get into the club.

 

Spike snorted at the idea that there were enough people willing to go out after dark in this town for the club to be in a position to turn prospective customers away, but acknowledged that the chance that they might not get in seemed to be a draw, if the length of the line of hopefuls could be used as a ruler. He finished his cigarette and tossed it away before strolling across the street to catch the eye of the doorman.

 

The other demon cocked his head at the door and raised a questioning eyebrow, but Spike shook his head and waited for a break in the line before saying, “No – thanks, mate. Not tonight.  Gonna be back one night soon with a lady, though, and I’d appreciate it if we didn’t have to stand in line.”

 

“No problem,” the other said with a nod. “Just come up to the front and find me.”

 

Nodding his thanks, Spike walked away, winking at two young women in the line who were clearly trying to catch his eye. 

 

“ ’nother time, pet,” he purred as he walked past them, smiling to himself at how much he’d changed since meeting Buffy in that Sunnydale alley.  Less than two years ago, he would have quickly taken the two girls up on their open invitation and left them both drained and dead. But maybe with smiles on their faces, he thought with a chuckle as he ran his eyes over their nubile bodies.  Ah, how the mighty have fallen...

 

He almost considered it a sign from the Powers when he came upon two vampires that had just pulled a man from his large, black luxury car and were taking turns drinking from him.  Spike sauntered up to them, dusting the one holding the man before turning to the other with a toothy grin.

 

“Guess you haven’t heard that there’s a Slayer in town, then?” he said conversationally, catching the victim and lowering him to the ground more or less gently.

 

“You’re no fuckin’ slayer,” the other vamp snarled, eyeing the stake in Spike’s hand even as he prepared to lunge.

 

“It’s all in your perspective, mate.”  Spike waited for the lunge, sidestepped and plunged his stake into the other vamp’s back as he went by.

 

He put the stake back in his pocket and leaned down to help the intended victim climb back into the driver’s seat.

 

“Are you gonna be alright?”

 

“Yes... I... I think so.” The man grabbed a sweater off the seat and held it to his bleeding neck.”  I don’t know how to thank you!  You saved my life!  If there’s ever anything that I can do—”

 

Spike eyed the big car with the dealer plates on it and smiled.

 

“Well, now that you mention it...”

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

An hour later, he pulled into the small driveway running beside the house in a nondescript, but very functional sedan with dealer tags and a full tank of gas. He smiled all the way into the house; more than pleased with his night’s work.  His smile vanished as he walked through the living room and saw the now-dark television set.  The memory of what they’d seen there, and the effect it had had on his demon was enough to destroy his good mood.  He knew that he hadn’t come as far as he thought he had when his fangs began to itch thinking about the mayhem and bloodshed he’d witnessed earlier.

 

With an angry snarl, he threw his coat on the chair and continued through the room to the kitchen, reaching for bag of cold blood and drinking it straight from the container to the accompaniment of low growls.

 

You’d think if I was gonna lose it, it would have been while that wanker was sittin’ there bleedin’ – not over some long-distance rippin’ and tearin’ from a bunch of distant relatives.

 

“Spike?  Is that you?”

 

Buffy’s voice startled him out of his thoughts and he raised his head, blood still coating his lips, and fangs still exposed.  She recoiled, then caught herself and came into the kitchen, head up and shoulders back. She walked right up him, grabbing a towel as she went by the sink and using it to wipe the corners of his mouth.

 

“Didn’t you mother ever teach you to use a napkin?” she teased gently, as she continued to wipe the blood off his lips.  Without conscious effort on his part, his human face came back the instant she touched him and he almost dropped his blood as realization jolted through him.

 

Bloody hell, I love this girl. This one – not the one I Ieft behind, but this brave, beautiful, deadly almost-a-woman. I love the way she accepts me as I am, and....

 

“Spike?”  As he stared at her, his eyes barely focused and his mind obviously somewhere else, she slowed her motions and started to drop her hand.  He startled back into awareness and grabbed her hand, bringing it back to his lips and kissing her fingers before releasing it.

 

“Sorry, love,” he said, smiling at her softly. “My brain went somewhere else for a second there.  Thanks for the clean-up.”

 

“Yeah, okay... sure.”

 

Her fingers felt warm where he’d pressed them to his lips so briefly and she tried to tell herself it was impossible.

 

He’s drinking cold blood and he’s only room temperature himself.  There’s no way his lips could feel warm. And what was that all about, anyway?  He doesn’t kiss me.  We’re just slaying partners; roommates – that’s all.  He’s like my big brother.

 

“Why aren’t you asleep, Slayer?” he asked gruffly.  “I told you to go to bed.”

 

“I couldn’t sleep,” she admitted.  “I kept seeing those people and—”

 

“We’re going to get them, love,” he said, grazing his knuckles over her cheek.  “I promise you.  Even got the car already,” he added with a smile.  When she raised a suspicious eyebrow he quickly explained about the would-be victim and the gratitude he’d shown.  “It’s not like he gave it to us,” Spike explained, “But he said I could keep as long as we needed it.”

 

“When can we go?  Tomorrow?  The next night?”  The Slayer was fully in hunting mode and the demon in him had to admire the bloodthirsty look in her eye, even as he shook his head.

 

“Promised you a night out and we’re gonna do that first.  You don’t want to go chargin’ in there right after a public massacre like that.  For all we know, that whole thing was staged jus’ to get you into their town.”

 

“Well it’s gonna work,” she growled.  “If they wanted a pissed off slayer, they’re going to get one.”

 

“Right there with you, love, but I think it can wait a day or so – give them time to wonder if you heard about it and if you’re Slayer enough to come after them.”

 

Buffy sighed, dropping her angry Slayer persona and yawning. “Okay. If you say so....”  She yawned again and wrapped her arms around herself, unable to hide a shiver.

 

“You cold, Slayer?”

 

His eyes went over her heavy pajamas and the fuzzy socks on her feet and he had to smother a smile. She nodded, unaware that her outfit made her look even younger than she was.

 

“Yeah, I am.  I think it’s time to break out the down comforter that I paid most of a paycheck for last winter.“  She glanced up at Spike anxiously.  “Are you going to be warm enough? I mean, I know the cold can’t hurt you, but—”

 

“I’ll be fine, pet.  Yeah, it’s a bit on the chilly side down there,” he nodded towards the basement door,  “but I’ll be alright.”

 

“Why don’t you sleep up here?” she asked, not meeting his eyes.  “It’s not exactly toasty, but it’s got to be warmer than that basement...” She looked up quickly.  “You could sleep on the couch and I can give you my extra blanket. I won’t need it when I get the quilt out.”

 

He thought about the likelihood of his getting any sleep with Buffy’s warm breath more than audible from the bedroom and smiled gratefully.

 

“That’s alright, Slayer. I ‘preciate the thought, but I’ll be fine.  Jus’ give me that extra blanket and I’ll let you get back to sleep.  Got to get your beauty sleep so you do me proud tomorrow night, yeah?”

 

She frowned at him dubiously, but his warm smile convinced her that he was really all right with sleeping in the very cold basement that he had made his own.  She nodded and went to the extra bedroom, opening a big cardboard box and pulling out a large down-filled quilt.  She carried into her room, setting it on the floor while she pulled the top blanket off the bed and handed it to the vampire.

 

“Okay, if you’re sure,” she said with a small frown that he decided was adorable.  He took the blanket from her, just barely resisting the urge to bury his nose in it while she was watching.

 

“Thank you, love.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  Good night, Buffy.”

 

“Good night, Spike,” she responded softly.  Before she could think about it and talk herself out of it, she stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek, blushing furiously as she immediately jumped into bed and pulled the covers over her head.

 

One hand on his cheek where he was sure the imprint of her lips was going to remain warm all night, he stared at the mound in the middle of the bed, then shook his head and left the room, sighing to himself.

 

Bloody hell.  If she has any idea what she’s doin’ to me...

 

            He checked the doors and windows, then headed for the basement and his cold narrow bed.  He carefully put the blanket down and shed his clothes, slipping into the bed and giving in to the urge to inhale the familiar scent that was all over the blanket she’d given him.  As Buffy’s scent surrounded him, his cock had its usual reaction and it wasn’t long before he was stroking himself vigorously, doing his best to imagine that his cool, rough hand was much smaller and warmer.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

            Buffy ran out of the restaurant as soon as her shift was over the following evening, running all the way home without even bothering to check the alley behind the mall.  Despite her anger and despair over the massacre she’d witnessed the night before, she had reluctantly realized that both Spike and Dawn were right about the importance of knowing as much as possible about the Master and his clan before charging in blindly. In spite of herself, she remembered how easily the old vampire had enthralled her the first time she faced him and the thought of facing him again made her shiver slightly.

 

            I did it once, I can do it again.  And I’ve got good backup this time. Spike wouldn’t let some stupid prophecy keep him from helping me like Angel did.

 

            She stopped so abruptly that she stumbled and almost fell, horrified at the disloyal thought that she’d just had about the vampire she was sure she was in love with. 

 

            Why DID Angel not try to help me?  If he really loved me, how he could stand back and just say “Oh, it’s a prophecy. Too bad.” Spike would never do that if somebody he loved was in trouble.

 

            During their quiet evenings of ice cream and television, Spike had told Buffy a lot about his former existence, including the fact that he’d killed two slayers.  The fallout from that little confession had lasted for several days until the night that Buffy had to stake two vampires that couldn’t have been more than eight or nine when they were turned.  The child-vamps were not fledglings and Spike had to admire the way they worked together to get Buffy to follow them into the nearby alley where they intended to make her their next meal.  He watched from the entrance as Buffy waited until they changed to their true faces before staking them.  She stared at the dust in front of her, then raised her head to meet his eyes.

 

            “I had to do that. They were vampires. They kill people.”

 

            He nodded, waiting, but she didn’t say anything else until they were half-way down the block towards the diner.  He almost didn’t hear her when she whispered, “Slayers kill vampires.”

 

            “They do,” he replied, equally quietly.

 

            “So, if a vampire kills a slayer, it’s almost like... self-defense?”  There was an undercurrent of hope in her voice that almost unmanned him.  It would be so easy to let her think that he had killed her sister slayers while defending his own life....

 

            “In a way, I suppose it is, Buffy.  But that’s not why I went lookin’ for them.  You know that it isn’t true, an’ I can’t let you think that it is.”

 

            “Yes, you could,” she muttered petulantly. “I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here, Spike.”

 

            He stopped and waited for her to turn around.  Oblivious to the few people passing by and her own wide-eyed surprise, he put his hands on her shoulders and placed their foreheads together so that she couldn’t look away from his intent gaze.

 

            “An’ I appreciate that you’re willin’ to do that, love.  I can’t tell you how much. But it wouldn’t be fair to you an’ it wouldn’t be honest of me to even pretend that it’s true.  I sought those girls out for the joy of the fight and the glory of killin’ a slayer.  Not gonna tell you I’m sorry I did it – they were two of the best fights of my life, and I gave them a warrior’s death – but it’s nothing to do with you an’ how I feel about you.”

 

            “How you feel about me?” Buffy’s voice was much squeakier than she wanted it to be.  Somehow, his last words completely destroyed the firm scolding tone she had planned to take when he began insisting that she acknowledge the vampire that he used to be.

 

            Bollocks!

 

            He was so obviously terror-stricken that she had to laugh, even as she reminded herself firmly, He doesn’t mean me, me; he means that other me – the one he made love to.  Smothering her laugh with a cough, she said kindly, “It’s okay, Spike.  I know you didn’t mean that the way it sounded.  I know you don’t want to kill me... most of the time....”  The twinkle in her eye that accompanied his own reluctant nod and shamefaced grin was sufficient reminder that they were still capable of having very loud and occasionally physical disagreements about his behavior. 

 

            Their mutual relief at having survived another of the tense moments that seemed to be part and parcel of a Slayer and a vampire attempting to share a house, allowed them both to relax and move on to enjoy their usual post-slaying meal.  However, the knowledge of how hard it had been to get past those tense days and nights was never far from Spike’s mind, and the next time he shared events from his life he'd talked about Drusilla and the way he’d felt about her for over a hundred years. 

 

            As he talked about his “dark princess” and the way he had cared for and protected her for so many years; about meeting the other Buffy and learning about his future, souled self and the things he had done for her, Buffy was able to put together a pretty good picture of a man who loved completely and totally. A man vampire! who would stop at nothing to protect and be worthy of the woman he loved.  Whether it was to become one of the fiercest fighters in the world, or someone who would turn his entire life around for the love of girl who wouldn’t love him back until it was too late, it was more than clear that Spike could no more let someone he cared about walk out to meet certain death by herself than he could become a vegetarian.  It just wasn’t in his nature not to fight tooth and nail at her side, if needed, or to protect her if that was what was required.

 

            Buffy’s steps slowed as she tried to reconcile what she knew about Spike’s past behaviors and the few times that Angel had tried to help her out.  Aside from killing Darla –which, thanks to Spike’s evening ramblings, Buffy now knew, had been a pretty big deal – his contributions to keeping her alive seemed to be mostly cryptic warnings.  She tried to smother a disloyal comparison of him and Spike in which he came out as the lesser vampire, soul or no; but she came into the house and met his curious gaze with newly wise eyes.

 

            “Buffy?”  Spike’s question jolted her out of her speculative reverie, and she quickly put her attention on the clothes that he was obviously waiting for her to notice.  Instead of his usual jeans and tee shirt, he was wearing a pair of wool dress pants and a white sweater that brought out his blue eyes and bright hair. 

 

            “Wow”

 

            “I’ll take that to mean you approve, Slayer. Now get your luscious little bum in there and get yourself dressed. We’ve got a club to visit.”

 

            It took Buffy only a few minutes to get into her all-new clothing and shoes; it took her twenty minutes to put on her make-up and get her hair to hang in soft waves that spilled over her shoulders and down her back.  When she appeared, somewhat shyly, in the living room, Spike raised his eyes from the television set that he’d been watching as he waited for her, and gaped at her speechlessly.

 

            A pretty girl had walked into the bedroom; the young woman who had emerged took his unneeded breath away. Since Spike’s arrival, Buffy had been coaxed into better eating habits and that, plus the companionship the vampire offered had softened the hard, thin look she’d had when he arrived. The dress clung to new curves and swirled gently around her knees; the soft green shade brought out the color in her eyes.  The high-heeled sandals she’d bought to go with it set off her nylon-clad legs and made them appear even longer and more shapely than they already were.

 

            “Spike?” The uncertainty in her voice broke into his open-mouthed absorption in the beautiful woman standing in front of him.  “This is the part where you tell me I Iook pretty... although, I’m willing to settle for ‘okay’ if—”

 

            Shutting his mouth with a snap, he was off the couch and in front of her before she was even aware that he’d moved.   He walked around her slowly, not with his normal predatory prowl but with the awed admiration of a man who had never seen her in anything but pajamas or slaying clothes.  He circled her twice before stopping in front and whispering, “You look drop-dead gorgeous, Buffy.  I’m sorry I didn’t say it right away – was too gobsmacked to think straight.”

 

            She giggled with embarrassment at the open admiration in his eyes, asking, “Is ‘gobsmacked’ a good thing?”

 

            “It’s a good thing, pet.  Means you were such a beautiful vision that I couldn’t think or talk.”

 

            “Oh,” she colored lightly. “Well, that’s good then.  So, you think they’ll let me in?”

 

            He just shook his head at her naivety and picked up his duster.  He put it on, then quickly took Buffy’s coat out of her hands and held it open for her.

 

            “Allow me, milady.”

 

            “Thank you, sir.”

 

            The ride to the club on the other side of the small town took only a few minutes in their newly-acquired car and Spike was soon skillfully backing into a parking space less than a block from the club.  Side-by-side, they walked towards the entrance; bypassing the long line outside to Buffy’s surprise and going directly to the door.  The doorman blinked once, then recognized Spike and nodded them in, holding up the rope and giving Buffy an appreciative look.

 

            “Thanks, mate,” Spike said with a flash of amber eyes that told the doorman that his beautiful companion was more than off limits.

 

            “Just appreciating,” the half-demon said with a smile in Buffy’s direction.  “It’s not often we get something this gorgeous in here.”

 

            Buffy colored at his open ogling, but couldn’t prevent a happy smile from breaking out on her face, and Spike laughed as he nudged her inside the club.

 

            “You see, pet?  I told you.  You’ll be fightin’ ‘em off all night.”

 

            “Where are you going to be while I’m doing all this fighting?” she asked as he took her coat and handed it to the attendant at the cloakroom. 

 

            He put the check stub in his pocket and steered her towards a booth along a back wall; one that allowed him to sit in relative obscurity and see almost the entire club, as well as the door. 

 

            “I’m gonna be sittin’ here drinking my beer and watching the prettiest girl in the room while she dances.”

 

            “What if nobody wants to dance with me?”  Her anxiety was so ridiculous that he couldn’t resist teasing her.

 

            “Then I’ll stop watchin’ that other bint and make somebody dance with you, Slayer,” he said, only the twinkle in his eye giving away his teasing.  He ordered a beer for himself and soft drink for Buffy, then settled back and waved her out on to the floor.  “Go on, pet,” he encouraged.  “Doesn’t look like havin’ a partner is important in this world.  Jus’ go and enjoy yourself.”

 

            Buffy watched dubiously for a few songs, finally agreeing that most of the young people dancing in the open space in the middle of the club did not seem to be partnered up with anyone in particular.  Girls danced wherever they wanted, and the men moved closer to dance near them for a while, then moved away when someone else wanted to get close enough to talk.  Buffy stood up and took a few timid steps towards the floor, her body already unconsciously moving to the music.  She heard her own name, and with a relieved smile she saw the young man who worked at mall’s bank branch waving her onto the floor.  She quickly joined him, nodding and smiling as he shouted introductions to the group of people dancing in his vicinity.

 

            For the next half hour she was able to put the Master, his minions and her enforced immigration to this world out of her mind as she bounced and twirled and allowed the music and the friendly company to take her away for a while.  When the band took a break, her new friends headed for a large table on the edge of the floor inviting her to join them.  Buffy looked back and forth between Spike and the crowd of laughing young people, her face a study in dismay and confusion.

 

            Rising gracefully to his feet, the vampire picked Buffy’s drink up and walked towards her, neither of them aware of the way the other women in the club were watching the way the good-looking blond man moved.  He handed Buffy her drink and gave her a little shove in the direction of the table.

 

            “Go on, pet. ‘s what you’re here for, innit?  Meet some people your age, have a good time.... You’ll know were to find me when you’re ready to leave.”

 

            “But... but....” Torn between her desire to join the group that appeared to be having such a good time and abandoning the man who had brought her, she hesitated until he turned her around and gave her a firmer push.

 

            “Go. Have fun. I’m fine.”

 

            With a final glance back over her shoulder, she obediently walked over to the chair that was being held for her and sat down.  In the relative quiet that marked the band’s short break, she quickly asked for reintroductions, now that she could actually hear the names of her new acquaintances.  The boy from the bank was apparently ‘Mark’ and he shocked her by announcing, “Buffy is the Slayer. Did you guys know that?”

 

            Her discomfort at having her status announced like that quickly faded as a girl who’d been introduced as ‘Suzie’ nodded and said, “Yeah, working at the mall has been a lot safer since Buffy came to work there.  I don’t mind taking out the empty boxes anymore – now that I know that there aren’t any vamps lurking in the alley.”  She explained to a puzzled Buffy that she worked in one of the dress shops that Buffy had determined was too expensive for her to bother with, and she encouraged the slayer to come in the next time she was looking for something special to wear.  “I get a discount, and we’re about the same size, so you could pick something out and I could get it for you.  When we have sales I get some really nice things for cheap and you could too.”

 

            Buffy stammered her thanks, asking, “Won’t you get in trouble for that?”

 

            “Are you kidding? Why do you think the owner always made me be the one to take the boxes outside?  She’d be happy to see you in the store and as long as you’re paying something for the clothes, that’ll be good enough for her.”

 

            Buffy quickly discovered that most of the girls in the group worked at the mall either full or part time.  A couple of the girls and several of the boys also attended the local junior college and they were soon discussing up coming parties and the mid-winter exams they would be having soon.  While the talk drifted into areas that Buffy couldn’t contribute to, she let her gaze wander over to the corner where Spike was working on his second beer.

 

            When the fourth young woman had taken the long way to the ladies’ room so as to walk past his booth and smile at the grinning vampire, Buffy found that she had to pry her fingernails out of the chair in which she was sitting.  Her grip had tightened with every new stroller and when one especially bold girl slid into the seat opposite Spike, she felt a piece of the chair break off in her hand.  She surreptitiously dropped the broken piece of wood onto the floor under the table as Suzie asked innocently, “Do you think your boyfriend wants to come over here with you?”

 

            “My wha-? Oh, Spike!  Spike’s not my boyfriend – he’s....”

 

            “Is he your brother?” a girl whose name Buffy hadn’t caught asked eagerly, almost licking her lips as she watched Spike flirting with the dark-haired girl who had sat down with him.

 

            “No,” Buffy said tersely.  “He’s not my brother.  But he kinda acts like one sometimes.”

 

            “Well, what is he?”  Suzie refused to give up the subject.  “I know he picks you up some nights, and he brought you here tonight.  If he’s not your boyfriend and not your brother, why is he around all the time?”

 

            “I... he’s... we... he comes from the same place I did, and since neither one of us knew anybody here, we just sorta....”

 

            “You just stuck together because you knew each other,” Mark came to her rescue with a kind smile.

 

            “Yes!” Buffy agreed with relief.  “We’ve stuck together because we already knew each other.  And he needed a place to stay, so I let him live in my basement.”

 

            “In the basement?”  The astonishment with which everyone looked at her told Buffy that she’d made another statement that didn’t fit someone who had been born and raised in this world.

 

            “Um... yeah... he... he likes it there,” she finished lamely.  “It’s all dark, and... stuff.”

 

            Suzie’s eyes widened suddenly.  “Is he a vampire, Buffy?”

 

            Buffy was wearing her deer-in-the-headlights expression when one of the other girls came to her rescue.

 

            “Well, of course he is, you dummy.  Who else would live in the basement?” She turned to Buffy.  “So, he’s not a dangerous one, then?”

 

            “Guess that depends on who you are and how mad you make him,” Buffy said grudgingly.  “But, no, mostly he’s a pussycat.”

 

            “He doesn’t look like a pussycat...” The girl who had been so anxious to know if Spike was Buffy’s brother eyed him speculatively, slowly licking her lips as she did so.

 

            The look Buffy gave her was such pure Slayer that everyone at the table unconsciously flinched back from her for a second.  “Pussycat’s have teeth and claws,” she ground out.  “Don’t forget that.”

 

            Disregarding the warning in Buffy’s voice, the girl got up and made her own hip-swinging walk to the ladies’ room, pausing at Spike’s booth to offer her hand and introduce herself as “a friend of Buffy’s”.   She exchanged glares with the woman already sitting with the vampire and then, after suggesting that Spike might want to join them at the “fun table”, she continued on her way to the rest room.

 

            Mark leaned towards Buffy and whispered, “Do I need to remind her that he’s your vampire?”

 

            Buffy shook her head.  “He’s not mine – not in that way.” She glanced up with a wicked gleam in her eye. “You might want to remind her, though, that slayers have super strength and a violent streak.” 

 

            He laughed, along with those sitting close enough to have heard the exchange and the tension at the table relaxed just in time for the band to come back.  Buffy was soon up and dancing, temporarily forgetting that Spike was attracting as much attention from the women in the club as she was from the men.  Now that her introductions to other patrons had broken the ice, she danced with abandon – moving from one man to another as she worked her way around the floor.  Periodically, her new acquaintances would work themselves back into the center and reform the original group of dancers – of which Buffy was now a member. 

 

            Spike sat and nursed his latest beer while he watched Buffy dancing, laughing and seemingly having a wonderful time.  If he’d noticed her glares when the other girls were so obviously trying to get his attention, he didn’t allow it to affect his behavior.  He flirted and charmed everyone who came by, even as he shook his head and denied having any interest in dancing.  When the brunette who had sat with him for quite a while finally realized that he wasn’t going to give her any more or less attention than any one of the other girls vying for his time, she left and went back to her original table on the other side of the room.

 

            Stupid bints.  If they can’t see that I came with the most beautiful woman in the place....

 

            Eventually, the band went into its last songs of the night and the tempo slowed.  Buffy found herself surrounded by young men, all wanting to be the one that she chose to share the last dance with.  She was trying to decide what to do when she saw the determined brunette walking purposefully towards Spike and she rose to her feet quickly.  “I’m sorry, guys,” she said as she moved away.  “This dance is already taken.”

 

            She got to the booth at almost the same moment as Spike’s determined admirer and they exchanged glares.  The other woman had not seen them come in, and didn’t realize that Buffy had arrived on Spike’s arm.

 

            “Get lost, blondie,” she said dismissively.  “I’ve got this one.”

 

            “I don’t think so,” Buffy said, doing her best imitation of Cordelia Chase speaking to an underling. “Go away.”  She held out her hand to Spike and waited calmly.

 

            “What’s this about, pet?” he asked quietly, waving the other girl away without even looking at her.

 

            “I want to dance with the guy who brought me,” she said equally quietly.  “Please?” she added when he still hadn’t moved.

 

            Shaking his head gently and telling himself what a really bad idea this was, he rose to his feet and took her hand, leading her onto the floor and pulling her into his arms.  For the first few seconds they were stiff and uncomfortable with each other – keeping a chaste distance between their bodies and stumbling as they tried to decide who was going to lead. Eventually, Buffy gave a soft sigh and rested her head on his chest.  Immediately, he gave a matching sigh and pulled her in so that their bodies were touching and he could begin to guide their steps.

 

            Somehow she was not surprised to find that the vampire who had claimed not to have danced ‘since the waltz was considered daring’ was actually quite a good dancer. They moved gracefully around the floor, their bright heads catching the lights occasionally as they slowly circled the room.  As the song ended and the band went right into another one, their steps slowed until they were standing together and barely moving.  Buffy’s arms were around Spike’s neck and his arms were now around her waist as they swayed in time to the music.  None of the patrons still in the club had any illusions left about who either one of the good-looking newcomers was going home with, and they quickly began searching for alternate choices.

 

            Even as Buffy relaxed into Spike’s body and allowed him to move her around the floor while she rested her head on his shoulder, her conscience was trying to tell her that she was perilously close to cheating on Angel. I’m enjoying this too much.  It feels so.. .right.  He feels right. He fits me perfectly.  Is it cheating to think that I’d rather dance with Spike than with my boyfriend?  With a sudden flash of total honesty, she admitted that she hadn’t seen her so-called boyfriend in almost a year and a half, and that their relationship hadn’t amounted to much more than a few kisses at the end of an evening’s patrol.

 

            I’ve been mooning over a man I barely know and haven’t seen in forever.  No wonder the other Buffy thought she needed to tell me to give Spike a chance.  I haven’t.  All I’ve done is worry about cheating on a man – vampire that has probably forgotten all about me.

 

            As the song came to an end and the lights began to come up, she raised her head and stood on her toes, kissing Spike chastely on his lips.

 

            “Thank you,” she whispered as she dropped back to her feet.

 

            “Not that I’m complain’, love,” he said, resisting the urge to dip his head and show her a real kiss, “but, what was that for?”

 

            “For giving me the best night out of my life.”

 

            “The best, huh?”

 

            “The very best.” 

 

She nodded firmly, sliding her hands down his arms as she let go of his neck.  Taking the hint, he reluctantly released her and turned to follow her to the coat check where he picked up their coats and held hers for her. They smiled their good-night’s at the doorman, who invited Buffy to come back “anytime you want to – you don’t need to have him with you” to the accompaniment of Spike’s throaty growls.  Laughing and poking the vampire in his side, she thanked the man/demon and promised to come back soon.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

“You know you can’t get there without me,” Spike grumbled as various other male admirers waved to Buffy while walking to their cars.

 

“Why can’t I?”

 

“You can’t drive,” he said triumphantly.  “And it’s too far to walk in those shoes”

 

“Speaking of these shoes...” she mumbled, stumbling a little.

 

“What’s wrong, pet?”

 

“I’m not used to wearing heels, and I’ve been dancing all night.  Even Slayer feet have their limits and I think mine just reached them.”  She groaned and stopped to rub one foot, holding on to his arm as she did so.  He frowned, then gave a shrug and with a “no problem, Slayer”, he scooped her up and began to stride down the street with her in his arms.

 

 After her initial “oh!” of surprise, Buffy smiled and put her arms around his neck, enjoying the way he carried her so effortlessly.  She buried her face in the soft leather of his coat and inhaled the scents that had become so familiar to her. Mingled with the old leather was the smell of tobacco, a trace of whiskey and a unique earthy scent that she associated only with Spike.

 

They reached the car more quickly than either one of them would have preferred, and he stood beside the door irresolutely before finally setting her on her feet, holding on until he was sure that she was balanced before letting go and opening the door for her.

 

The ride home seemed to take no time at all, and they were soon walking up to the front door, Spike’s hand under Buffy’s elbow to steady her on her now aching feet.   The minute the door was open, she kicked her shoes down the hallway towards her bedroom and sighed with relief.  Spike closed and locked the door, shrugging off his own coat before turning Buffy around to take hers. He dropped both coats on a chair and then just stood looking at her as she stared back at him expectantly.  He wanted nothing more than to pick her up again and carry her into her bedroom.  Unsure of his own self-control, he remained where he was, waiting for her to say something.

 

“What is it, pet?” he finally asked when she just stood there in her stocking feet, staring at him.

 

“I... nothing, I guess.  I just thought... maybe... never mind.” Her shoulders slumped and she began to turn to go to her room.

 

“Buffy? I thought you had a good time tonight.  What’s wrong, love?”

 

“I did have a good time; didn’t you?”

 

“Yeah, I did, ‘s matter of fact.  But that wasn’t the point of it, was it?  We got you out for evening, you met some people – maybe acquired some mates your own age – danced till your toes were sore... what’s missing?”

 

She stared at him, her lower lip creeping out in the barest beginning of a pout.

 

“Don’t you know what’s missing? Don’t you know how a date is supposed to end?”

 

He shook his head slowly, wondering if he knew what she was talking about, but afraid to find out that he was wrong.

“Vampires don’t do a lot of ‘dating’, Slayer.  You want to give me a hint here?”

 

“No.  If you wanted to do it, you’d just do it.  I’m not going to beg for a good-night kiss.  If you didn’t have a good time and don’t want to ki—”

 

Note to self: vampires can move very, very fast.

 

Spike hadn’t bothered to answer her words, he had just appeared in front of her and fastened his mouth on hers before she could finish complaining.  Buffy’s initial surprised gasp as his surprisingly soft and mobile lips began to move around on hers, opened her mouth just enough to allow him to touch his tongue gently to her lips and trace around them lightly before reluctantly ending the kiss and stepping back just far enough that he wasn’t touching her.

 

She gazed at him with wide eyes, one hand touching her lips where his tongue had brushed them so lightly.  “Oh,” she said softly. 

 

“Don’t ever think I don’t want to kiss you, Slayer,” he growled.  “But don’t be askin’ me for it if you don’t really want it.”

 

“I... I do want it... a kiss, I mean.” She blushed as she realized how “I want it” might sound to the vampire. 

 

He surprised her by laughing and pulling her gently into his arms, dipping his head and murmuring against her mouth, “I know that’s what you meant, love.  I might be hopeful, but I’m not delusional.”

 

As he stopped speaking, he began another kiss that soon had her heart rate going up and her knees weakening.  With a strong arm holding her to him, Spike continued the kiss until she parted her lips enough for him to slip his tongue in again.  He probed lightly until her tongue timidly met his and they gave matching sighs.  Spike tightened his arms, holding her against his body and groaning when he felt her melt into him.  He deepened the kiss, forgetting now that this wasn’t the Buffy he was used to, and demanding more from her.  With growing enthusiasm, Buffy met his demands with her own, running her tongue around his teeth and probing the recesses where his fangs were just barely contained.  She felt him shudder and enjoyed a sudden burst of feminine pride at the thought that she could have such an affect on the man who made her heart race just by touching her cheek. 

 

She was enjoying the kissing and the hard body pressing against hers so much that she didn’t even notice the object persistently nudging her hip or the way his hands were roaming her body until he slid one hand under her skirt and ran it up her thigh.  With a little squeal, she pulled away, staring at him with horrified eyes.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

Spike stared back at her with amber-tinged eyes, panting heavily for unneeded breath.  While he struggled to bring himself under control, he watched her expression change from shock to embarrassment.

 

“I’m sorry.”  “I’m sorry.”

 

They spoke at the same time, then laughed softly at themselves.  Buffy tried again.

 

“I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to say.  I’m not that dumb – not really. I just... you just... I wasn’t expecting....” She lost her ability to articulate as she contemplated how completely into the kissing she had been and how wantonly she had been pressing against his body. 

 

“No, pet. I’m sorry.  I’ve been wantin’ to do that for so long that I let my dick get ahead of my brain.  All you wanted was a good-night kiss, you didn’t ask for—”

 

“I asked you to kiss me – and I meant it.  But I don’t... I can’t....” She blushed again as she tried to say that she hadn’t meant to allow her body to promise more than she was willing to give.

 

“’s alright, love.  Know you didn’t mean for it to go that far.  I know your body was writin’ checks you’re not willing to cash.“ He ran his hand lightly down her cheek.  “Jus’ couldn’t help myself, is all. Havin’ you so close...” He shook himself slightly and turned to go into the living room.

 

“Does that mean we can’t kiss any more?”  Buffy’s voice was soft and unsure. “’cause I really, really liked it, and—”

 

Once again, he moved faster than she could speak, picking her up and striding to the couch where he sat down with Buffy draped across his lap. Her skirt had slid up her thighs, exposing the lacy elastic that was holding up her nylons.  She primly pulled the hem of her dress down as far as she could make it go and snuggled into his chest, holding her face up to his.

 

“More kisses?”

 

With a happy chuckle, he dipped his head and began to kiss her again, taking care to keep his hands still where they rested on her arm and thigh.  In very little time, she was breathing heavily and whimpering in her throat as his talented lips and tongue aroused desires long suppressed under her allegiance to Angel.  Buffy began squirming on his lap, not sure of what she was trying to do, but only too aware that her body wanted more.  This time, when Spike began to stroke her thigh, she didn’t object; she just stopped moving around and tried to concentrate on the kisses that were continuing to fuel the throbbing between her legs.

 

When his hand slid higher and his fingertips brushed lightly against her underwear, she whimpered again as she involuntarily arched into his hand.  By the time his fingers had slipped beneath the elastic of her panties to begin spreading the moisture that had soaked them through, she was close to fainting from the sensations he was creating.  Tearing his lips away from hers briefly, he pulled her earlobe into his mouth, sucking on it and whispering, “Let me make you come, love.  Won’t ask you for anything you don’t want to give – jus’ let me show you how good I can make it for you.”

 

Too wrapped up in the wonderful shivers he was causing just by stroking her folds gently, she could only nod shyly and bury her face in his neck.  As soon as he felt her timid nod, his hand became bolder, dipping one finger and then two into her and pumping them gently.  He soon had his fingers far enough inside that he could curl them up to tickle a spot that had her hips jumping off his lap to the accompaniment of inarticulate moaning.  While his talented fingers continued to move in and out, reaching for the same spot each time, his thumb began to rub her clit with steadily increasing pressure.  In a very short period of time, she had uttered a muffled shriek and convulsed around his hand as he encouraged her verbally to “Come for me, love...there’s a good girl...ah, that’s the way, sweetheart...you feel so good....”

 

As she gradually recovered her senses enough to pay attention to what he was doing, she realized that the hand he had used to bring her so much pleasure was now gently stroking the outside of her thigh in a surprisingly soothing manner.  Buffy kept her flaming face hidden in his chest until she felt it vibrating under her cheek.  Surprise outweighing embarrassment, she jerking it upward to ask, “Are you purring?”

 

“Prob’ly,” he replied, brushing his lips softly across hers.

 

“But you didn’t... I...i t was.... Why are you purring?  You didn’t get anything from... from that.”

 

“Oh, Buffy, love.  I got to touch you, got to taste you—” He brought his fingers to his mouth and licked them, grinning when she made a face.  “Got to watch you get off... and to know it was because of me.  Could listen to you makin’ those little sounds all night long and never get tired of it. Trust me, love, I got just as much out of that as you did.”

 

The idea that a man could enjoy giving a woman pleasure was so counter to what she knew of high school boys and their expectations from their girlfriends that she had trouble believing him.  Only the purring that she could still feel rumbling through his body worked to convince her that he was telling the truth.

 

“But don’t you want... I should....”

 

“You shouldn’t do anything that you don’t want to do, love. I did what I wanted to do, and you let me do it. You don’t owe me anything.”

 

“You don’t want me to... to touch you?” she asked, blushing furiously.

 

“Want it? Bloody hell, yes!  Need it or think you owe it to me for letting me pleasure you? No.”

 

“What if... what if I want to?” she said very softly.  “Would you let me?

He studied her determined face for a minute, then said just as softly, “I’d let you do anything you wanted to me, pet.  I jus’ don’t want you thinkin’ it’s some kind of obligation.”

 

Buffy sat up straighter, smiling at his muffled groan when she slid her ass across the bulge straining against his pants. She moved off to the side and put a tentative hand on the bulge, smiling when his hips jerked up to press it against her palm.  She stroked him with growing confidence, then squeezed him several times before stopping to study his face intently.

 

“What are you doing, pet?” he managed to say through his clenched teeth.

 

“I’m trying to decide what feels better to you – when I do this...” She stroked him again. “Or when I do this.”  She squeezed him a few times and cocked her head curiously.  “What do you think?”

 

“I think you’re killin’ me, here,” he growled, even as he slid down a little farther on the couch and canted his hips forward into her hand.  She bit her lip, then with a small smile, she grabbed his zipper with one hand and pulled it down while the other hand popped the button at his waist.  Free of the confinement of his pants, his cock burst out, causing her to give a tiny “oh!” of surprise.

 

Once again she began to stroke him, this time responding to the words falling from his mouth as he murmured, “Oh, like that, love.  Right there, Do it harder, pet, harder than that... oh, bloody hell, yes, love... yes... pull and squeeze... ah, I’m going to... Buffy!”

 

He grabbed her hand and pulled it away, tugging his sweater down to catch the milky fluid spurting from his cock.  He flashed back to the hand job the other Buffy had given him when he first met her and a smile of contentment crossed his face.

 

“Ah, that was lovely, Buffy.  Made me feel like a new man, it did.”

 

She beamed with satisfaction, then blushed again and lowered her eyes.

 

“So,” she spoke with studied casualness as she stared at her own hand, which was toying with the sleeve of his sweater. “Do you think we could do that again some time?  Like maybe, tomorrow night?”

 

“Tomorrow night, tomorrow morning, the day after, the day after that...” He laughed as he pulled her into another kiss.  “As often as you want to, love.  Say the word and I’m yours.”

 

“I think we should do it every night,” she said firmly. 

 

“Every night it is,” he agreed. “You can count on it.”

 

“ ‘kay,then.” She snuggled into his chest again and curled up with her legs across his.  “We’ll do it again tomorrow.”  Her voice trailed off as she spoke, and he soon realized that she had gone to sleep in his arms, a contented smile curling her lips up lightly.

 

“Every night, my love,” he whispered into her hair.  “Every night.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

When Buffy awoke, the TV was going; but Spike was asleep, his head against the back of the couch and his arms fixed firmly around her.  She studied his face, amazed by how young he seemed when he slept.  His lashes lay against the skin beneath his eyes and his sharply defined cheekbones were softened; as was the mouth that she now knew was just as soft and strong as it looked. It took a minute for her to register that he was breathing as he slept and she smiled at this sign of how human this particular vampire could be. As she tried to move, his arms tightened around her almost imperceptibly, then relaxed.  She carefully slid his hands off her body and put them at his sides, before leaning forward and brushing her lips against his.

 

“Good-night, Spike,” she whispered as she stood up.  He squirmed around on the couch, sliding into a more horizontal position and burying his face into the cushion.  She gently picked up his feet and put them on the couch, then carefully took off his shoes and tucked the old afghan around him.  With a final caress to the back of his head, she tiptoed to the bathroom and got ready for a few more hours of sleep before she had to get up and go to work again.

 

When she got up, groaning when she saw how late it was, there was no sign of the vampire in the living room, although the afghan was folded and once again in its place on the back of the couch.  She quickly dressed and ate, blowing a kiss at the closed door of the basement before hastening off to work.

 

Now that she had met so many of the people who worked in the mall, she realized that she saw many of them every day, but just hadn’t paid much attention. Their friendly waves and calls of “Hi, Buffy” made her feel a bit guilty for not having made an attempt on her own to get to know anyone other than the people in her restaurant.  With a start, she realized that the inhabitants of this world that she knew the best – Harry and Clem – were both demons.

 

If I didn’t already know I was in bizarro world before, that would do it, she thought ruefully as she returned the waves.

 

When her shift was over, she wasn’t surprised to find Spike waiting for her outside the back door.  With Harry beaming at them as if he were entirely responsible for their newly happy faces, they left the restaurant and made a quick pass through the alley before walking towards home.  When Buffy shyly slipped her hand into his, Spike almost gasped before he linked his fingers with hers.  He was grateful that he had no reflection because he was sure that he was wearing a stupid-looking grin on his face as they strolled down the street.

 

When they got to the house, Spike gave her a little nudge towards the door, saying, “Go get changed into somethin’ warm, pet.  I think if we hurry we should have several hours to prowl around Petersburg before we have to get back.”

 

“To do what, where?”

 

“Had a long talk with some mates while I was waitin’ for you to get off work.  Think I know where those wankers are.  Clem says it’s only a couple of hours away in a good car, so we can be there well before midnight.  Give us time to look around, maybe sniff out where they’re holed up.”

 

She nodded and immediately headed for the front door while Spike went to get the car from behind the house.  She was back quickly, hair pulled back into a businesslike ponytail and holding her hat and gloves.  Rather than wear her bulky winter coat, she had layered her sweaters and sweatshirts for efficiency of movement.  Over her shoulder was her weapon bag containing the stakes that she hadn’t already distributed around her body.

 

Spike nodded approvingly and held the door open for her once again, just as he had the night before.  Buffy’s face twisted in a wry smile at the reminder of the previous night’s adventure.

 

“Why do I think tonight isn’t going to be as much fun as last night?” she grumbled, pulling her legs in so that he could close the door.

 

“Sure it will, pet,” he grinned as he slid behind the wheel and began to back out.  “Jus’ different kind of fun, is all.”

 

“You sound almost like you’re looking forward to fighting,” she accused.

 

“I am lookin’ forward to it,” he said happily.  “There’s not near enough excitement in this town.”  He looked at her bright eyes and said shrewdly, “An’ you need to stop pretendin’ you’re not excited about it too, Slayer.  You know you love a good fight just as much as I do – and you don’t often get one here.”

 

“Spike, nobody likes a fight as much as you do,” she insisted, but she was smiling as she said it and she had to admit that the idea of getting a chance to slay some challenging vampires had her feeling more alive than anything else had lately. Than anything else except what he did to me last night... I think I’d be willing to pass up a good fight for more of that.

 

As though reading her mind, he said slyly, “There’s things I like better than fightin’, Slayer.  Might have a bit of time for some of that too, before the night’s over....”

 

Buffy blushed and stared out the window at the passing darkness.  This was the first time that she had been very far outside the town limits and she wished that she could actually see what they were driving past.  A denser darkness seemed to indicate a lot of trees, maybe even a forest, but she wasn’t sure.  The road was narrow, but smooth and fairly straight and Spike pushed the car to what he felt were its limits until he could see the gradual lightening in the sky ahead that indicated a city.

 

“There it is, Slayer,” Spike’s voice interrupted her intent peering into the darkness; she sat up straighter and looked at the growing glow on the horizon.  It wasn’t long before they were entering the city’s outskirts, which contained the usual assortment of warehouse, light industry and strip malls.  The smattering of lights on the higher ground indicating the presence of residential areas that appeared to look down upon the main part of the city. Kinda like a small LA, I guess, Buffy thought idly as they moved into the downtown area.

 

For an hour or so, Spike just drove randomly, pausing occasionally to consult a crudely-drawn map that a former resident of the city had given him. It wasn’t detailed enough to use for finding a specific place, but it allowed him to have some idea what part of the city he was in and in what direction he needed to go to get to another.  When he felt he understood the layout fairly well, and could find his way back to the road they had come in on, he pulled into a parking place on the surprisingly empty street and turned to Buffy.

 

“Ready to go, pet?  The only way we’re going to get a feel for what’s going on here is to get out and talk to people.”

 

Buffy nodded, checking her pockets for her stakes before stepping out of the car.  It wasn’t really cold yet, so she left her hat, gloves and her top layer of sweaters in the car.  There were other pedestrians on the street, although there didn’t seem to be much activity in terms of nightlife.  Spike had parked in what was clearly an entertainment district, but as they looked around it was obvious that very few of the bars, clubs, or theatres were actually open.  The lights were on, but there was no one going in and out, with the exception of one or two places that Buffy could identify as demon bars even without prompting from Spike.

 

As they walked down the street, they seemed to be drawing more attention than they would have expected for a young couple going out for the evening.  Even as Buffy began to say something about it, Spike pulled her into a darkened alley and pushed her against the wall, his hand over her mouth. She twisted her head away, but whispered, “What’s going on?  I’m getting vamp vibes like crazy, but I didn’t see anybody that looked like they were hunting.”

 

Spike put his lips right beside her ear, smiling briefly as he felt her shiver. “I don’t hear any heartbeats out there, Slayer. Only yours.  I don’t think there’s another human on that whole block.”

 

“Guess that explains the funny looks we were getting, huh?” she muttered under her breath.  “Now what?”

 

He shook his head.  “I dunno, pet.  Don’t dare leave you here while I check it out – somebody would hear or smell you eventually – but we can’t just stroll down the street with every vamp out there knowin’ that only one of us has a heartbeat.”

 

The question of what to do was temporarily put aside when the alley entrance was darkened by several shadows.  Spike lifted his head and snarled at three young vampires, now staring hungrily at Buffy.  While he glared at the interlopers, she pulled a stake out of her pocket and slipped it up her sleeve.

 

“What do you lot want?” Spike growled, holding Buffy so as to appear to be restraining her.

 

The biggest of the three vamps swaggered towards them, his two friends following closely behind.

 

“We think you ought to share with us – or we’ll turn you in.  You know it’s against the new rules to keep anything for yourself.”

 

“Sod the bloody rules!”  Spike’s snarled defiance was all the more convincing for it being his normal response to being told about rules, whether he knew what they were or not.  “But,” he said in a sudden change in demeanor, “if you want some of this, help yourselves, mates.”

 

He pushed Buffy into the center of the alley where she would have more room, and leaned against the wall casually.  Confident that they had driven the smaller vampire off his prey, they converged on Buffy.  If they noticed that she wasn’t screaming, but was, in fact, bouncing on her toes and wearing a predatory smile, they were too hungry to wonder about it; instead, they elbowed each other to be first to sink their teeth into the fresh, warm blood they could hear pounding in her veins.

 

“Have at it, love,” Spike said with a smirk as he moved to block the alley’s entrance.  He lit a cigarette and watched as Buffy efficiently pummeled all three of the vamps into unconsciousness.  She quickly dusted two of them, and when the surviving fledgling woke up it was to find a perky human perched on his chest and holding a stake to his heart.

 

“Hi there! We’re new in town and we have a few questions for you.  You don’t mind, do you?”  She pushed the point of the stake in far enough to break the skin and smiled in what would have been a friendly fashion had her eyes not been so hard and cold.

 

“Wha-?”  The vampire looked at Spike for some kind of clarification.  “Was this a trap?  To see if we were cheating?  Cause we weren’t, you know. We wouldn’t have touched her if you hadn’t pulled her in here.  That’s entrapment! That’s what it is....” His voice trailed off as Spike knelt down beside him and grabbed him by the balls.  Spike gave a small twist of his wrist and the other vampire tried to scream, only to find Buffy’s hand over his mouth.

 

“Ah, ah,” she said.  “No noise except to answer our questions.  Got it?”

 

He nodded quickly, his eyes darting back and forth from the human holding the stake to his heart and the vampire who was clutching his testicles in an impersonal, but very powerful hand.

 

“’kay, then.  Why aren’t there any people on the streets? Huh?  And how come you didn’t think Spike should be eating me?  Or that you would be in trouble if you did?”

 

She lifted her hand cautiously, while Spike gave a little squeeze to remind the vamp that he was only a muscle twitch away from serious pain.  With a whimper, the nervous vampire began to speak.

 

“There isn’t any food on the street because nobody human goes out at night anymore.  We thought you were taking her to the Master until you ducked in here.  Nobody is allowed to catch their own food anymore.  You have to take any humans you can find to the Master and he gives you blood.  He controls all the blood in the city – except for those people who are still alive and hiding in their houses.”

 

Buffy’s face went white.  “It’s just like the alternate Sunnydale,” she whispered. “Just like Buffy said in her letter – people are livestock here.”

 

“Where do we find old Batface?” Spike growled, twisting his wrist again and bringing a muffled shriek from the vamp underneath the Slayer.  Although the frightened demon’s eyes widened to humorous proportions at Spike’s disrespectful description of the Master, he had no problem knowing to whom they were referring.

 

“He’s – they’re in an abandoned factory in an industrial park on the edge of town.  You can’t miss it – it’s all lit up and there’s a lot of activity all night long.”

 

“Address,” Buffy snapped.  “Give us an address.”

 

As soon as the vampire had complied, Buffy drove the stake through his chest and stood up before the dust had even settled onto the filthy pavement.  She brushed herself off and turned towards the street, only to be stopped by Spike’s hand on her arm.

 

“We’re just gonna keep runnin’ into this kind of thing, pet. I suggest we get back to the car and see if we can find the lair.  We’ll work out what to do next when we have a better idea what’s what, yeah?”

 

Buffy nodded her agreement and they left the alley, the Slayer hanging onto Spike as though too weakened to stand up by herself.  Although many of the vampires that they passed gazed longingly at what seemed to be an already bitten human, most of them looked away quickly when Spike snarled at them.  They had just reached the car when he heard the footsteps approaching rapidly from behind and whispered, “Ready, pet?”  He ducked just as a bottle whistled past his head to break on his shoulder.  In full game face, he whirled on the bottle-wielder and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off his feet and throwing him into a near-by wall. 

 

Buffy waited calmly as she was “captured” by two female vamps that stared hungrily at her throat but limited themselves to inhaling the scent coming off her warm body.  She watched as Spike quickly twisted the head off another would-be enforcer, before turning back to face the first attacker.  When he had turned their leader to dust and transferred his amber glare to the remaining male vampire, the girls holding Buffy began to shuffle their feet nervously.  They pulled her away, growling and insisting that she come with them to join the rest of the “food.”

 

Spike looked at her and cocked one eyebrow inquisitively.  At her tiny nod, he nodded back and allowed the demon he was fighting to think he was winning, long enough for Buffy to be dragged to a nearby van. As soon as the door had shut behind her, Spike dispatched his opponent without even bothering to let him know that the fight was over; then jumped into the car and followed the van through the mostly empty streets of the city.

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

Inside the van, Buffy remained quiet – doing her best to appear too frightened and weak to struggle.  She sneered mentally at the stupidity of the minions who had not realized that she had no bite marks on her. The vampire holding her licked her lips and leaned in hesitantly as though unable to resist the warm blood pounding so close.   A sharp “Lucy!” from the driver made her retreat with a growl and a longing look at her captive’s neck, and Buffy slipped the stake back into her sleeve.

 

When the van rolled to a stop, the driver jumped out and ran around to open the back door.  To her surprise, there was no sign of either her fellow food gatherer or their prize for the evening.  She put her head into the dark interior, giving a surprised gurgle when she was grabbed by the throat and yanked all the way inside. She barely had time to register that the only thing in the van was the girl they had thought so harmless, before her dust was joining Lucy’s.

 

Buffy peered out cautiously, noting that they seemed to be parked some distance from the building into which were going a steady stream of hungry-looking vampires.  Periodically, another door would open and vamps would come out, looking much less hungry, if a bit disgruntled.   Suddenly one of the vamps acting as a doorman began walking towards the van, frowning as no one got out or approached the building. 

 

“Lucy?  John?  Where are you? What did you find? Was there really a rogue vamp trying to keep food for himself?”

 

He stuck his head into the open back of the van and found Buffy crouching just inside the door. 

 

“Hi!” She gave a little wave.  “Rogue vamp, huh?  I think Spike’ll like that.”

 

“Who the hell are you?” 

 

“Oh. I’m Buffy.”

 

Sudden recognition crossed his face as he remembered overhearing the story with which Willow and Alex had returned from Winterset.

 

“You’re...you’re the....”

 

“The word you’re looking for is ‘Slayer’,” Buffy agreed cheerfully, as she plunged her stake into his heart.  She looked around for Spike, sure that she’d felt his familiar signature among all the others filling the atmosphere around her. She spotted him in the line shuffling into the building and settled back against the wall of the van to watch.  She partially closed the doors so as to be less easily observed herself as she watched Spike disappear into the building. 

 

Her patience with waiting lasted only until she noticed that there were ground-level windows along the back of the building and that there did not appear to be any guards.

 

I guess if you’re the bad guys and everybody else is food, you don’t need much in the way of guards.  You’d think they might be just a little bit worried about me, though... Feeling somewhat annoyed that the Master hadn’t appeared to take her presence in the neighboring city very seriously, she slipped out of the van and, keeping other vehicles between herself and the line of hungry vampires, she made her way to the end of the parking lot.  She was just getting ready to sprint for the wall of the building when she heard a commotion from the exit door.

 

 

            Snarling and snapping, an angry vampire was being forcibly removed from the building.  In spite of his shouted protests that he was hungry and entitled to eat, he was forced into the open area in front of the parking lot.  Standing behind the bouncers was a smug-looking vamp Xander, arms folded and face twisted in disgust.

 

            “You know the rules – you either bring in a contribution to the food bank, or you bring something to pay with.  You can’t just walk in here and demand blood.  You have to pay for it.”

 

            Snarling and muttering under his breath, the ejected vamp stumbled across the parking lot and into one of the cars.  He opened the door, got in and raced the engine before screaming out of the parking area – hitting two other vampires on the way out.

 

            Buffy crouched behind the last car, watching from underneath the bumper as Alex/Xander spoke to the vamps that had thrown the other one out.

 

            “He’s going to be trouble.  I don’t see any reason why he needs to be around anymore.  Handle it.”

 

            “Yes sir.”

 

            She could see Alex swell with pride as the respect they had for the Master was reflected in their behavior towards him. 

 

            “What do we know about the pick-up from downtown?  Are they back yet?”

 

            They all looked around the parking lot, frowning.  “The van’s back. I guess they already took her inside.  If there really was a human girl on the street.  Coulda just been somebody getting hungry for fresh blood and hallucinating.”

 

            “I guess.  Okay, guys. Get back inside, I’m going to take a look around.”

 

            They nodded and went into the building leaving Alex/Xander sniffing the air and staring around suspiciously.  He narrowed his eyes at the van Buffy had arrived in and began walking towards it just as Buffy made her break for the back of the building.  He spun around, not quite sure if he had caught movement behind him or not.  When he didn’t see anything, he shrugged and walked towards his original destination, looking inside and taking deep sniffs of the interior.

 

            Buffy, meanwhile, had made her way to the first window and scraped away some of the dirt and paint that covered it.  She looked down into a cavernous area that must have once been used for manufacturing whatever the factory had produced.  She felt her blood run cold when she saw the aged vampire that was sitting on a throne-like chair at the end of the room.

 

            It’s him!  The Master.  Just like the other Buffy said – he isn’t trapped and he is setting himself up to rule this world.  Starting with this city.

 

            Fighting the urge to run away from the vampire whose thrall she could remember so well, she forced herself to continue watching the activity in what was clearly his private space. She could see vamp Willow hovering around the Master’s chair and cringed when he slid his hand up to cup her ass, making the redheaded vampire giggle and rub against him.

 

            Ewwwwww!

 

            She was so wrapped up in being grossed out by Willow’s obvious enjoyment of the Master’s attentions that she didn’t notice that her vamp tingles had gotten stronger until she heard a chillingly familiar voice behind her.

 

            “I knew I smelled something familiar.”

 

            She straightened slowly, allowed the stake in her sleeve to slip down to her wrist as she turned to face the demon wearing the grinning face of one of her best friends.

 

            He sneered at her, walking slowly forward with no fear at all.  “You know, I kind of expected a slayer to be a little smarter than this – coming to my home town, walking right into my lair, leaving her scent all over one of—”

 

            Buffy stared at him, her mouth hanging open as she took in his words and the attitude behind them.

 

            “Your home town?  Your lair? Oh, I’ll bet old Bat Face would love to hear that.”

 

            Ignoring Buffy’s disbelief, he continued to swagger towards her, growling, “Maybe you just couldn’t stay away from me.  We must be something to each other where you come from – the way you got all teary-eyed and wouldn’t stake me... You want me, don’t you, Muffy? You find me attractive....”

 

            “Find you attractive? You’re a bloodsucker – like, oh, I don’t know – fleas, ticks, leeches... stop me when I get to something that sounds like I might find it remotely attractive.”

 

            “You hang out with a vampire!” he snarled.  “You must like them.”

 

            “I like A vampire.  A very unusual vampire – you’re just a run of the mill demon. The kind I stake every night.”

 

            “But you couldn’t stake me—”

 

            Behind the now angry vampire’s back she caught sight of a familiar shock of blond hair.  Spike was gesturing to her urgently and she put an end to the bantering with the vampire now reaching for her.

 

            “Uh, yeah. About that – I got over it.”  She ducked under his outstretched arm and kicked him in the knee, sending him to the ground with a howl of pain.  The howl cut off abruptly when she ran her stake into his chest, watching impassively as the dust drifted to the ground.  Giving herself a little shake, she walked through the dust to join Spike at the corner of the building.

 

            “You alright, love?”  In spite of his obvious impatience, Spike touched her face tenderly as he asked his question.

 

            Buffy nodded shortly. “I’m fine.  It wasn’t my Xander – he was having a little trouble figuring that out.”

 

            “Think he’s got the picture now, Slayer.”  Spike’s tone held only admiration as he smiled at her.  Then he straightened up and looked over his shoulder.  “Can you get to the car from here?” he asked abruptly.  “Think we need to get out of here before our luck runs out tonight.  I just missed gettin’ caught by that red-haired bitch, and now you’ve done for her buddy here – somebody’s got to miss him eventually.”

 

            “But we haven’t done anything yet!”

 

            “This wasn’t about doin’ something, Buffy. It was about learnin’ what we could about them.  And we’ve done that – we know where to find ‘em, you’ve taken out one of his top minions, and I’ve seen the inside of the place.  Time to get out of Dodge while we still can.”

 

            Her “hmmph” of disappointment wasn’t a serious objection as she realized the truth of what he was saying.  With a nod of agreement, she pointed to the cars behind which she had worked her way to the building.  “I have to get to those cars and then I can sneak back to the other end of the lot.”

 

            “Right then; off with you.  I’ll meet you at the car – you see where it is?  I’m gonna pull it out onto the road and you can just pop out of those bushes. If you run into anything you can’t handle, you holler, yeah?”

 

            With a nod, Buffy watched him step back out into the open area and look around – at his quick gesture, she sprinted to the first car and crouched behind it.  As soon as he saw that she was safely across the open area, Spike began walking quickly towards the far end of the lot where he had left their car.  Buffy darted from car to car, pausing once when her senses told her there were vampires nearby.  She waited behind an old station wagon until the vamp couple getting in the next car could get out of her way.  Instead of getting into the car, however, the man in the remains of a business suit started towards the rear of the car, saying over his shoulder, “Let me just find something to wear that doesn’t look like I was buried in it—”

 

            He was cut off as Buffy rose in front of him and dusted him without a word of banter.  Behind the dust that was slowly falling to the ground, his companion was opening her mouth. Her confusion about whether she should attack the small blonde girl waving dust out of her eyes, or scream for help gave Buffy all the time she needed to knock her unconscious and drag her body behind the wagon where she could drive a stake through the vamp’s heart.

 

            “Hey! What are you—?”

 

            “Shit!”  Without looking to see who or what had seen her, Buffy sprinted for the end of the row of cars, yelling for Spike.  Suddenly the waiting car was spinning around in the driveway and roaring back towards the running slayer, who was now being pursued by a rapidly growing group of vampires.  Spike drove right through the oncoming crowd, not even slowing down until he had done another 180 degree spin and was moving alongside the Slayer.  He leaned over and opened the door, slowing down only enough to allow Buffy to dive through it before putting his foot to the floor and flinging gravel all over the angry demons behind him.  The force of their forward motion was enough to slam the door shut, and Buffy quickly squirmed around until she could see out the rear window. 

 

            Spike’s “Yee haw!” as the car swerved and skidded to the end of the driveway and slid sideways into the deserted street brought her head around in disbelief.

 

            “Did you just say ‘Yee Haw!’?”

 

            “Might have,” he mumbled, risking a quick sideways glance at her shocked face.  “ ‘s fun, you know.  Can’t remember the last time I got to drive like this – not sober, anyway.”

 

            She just shook her head and took a tighter grip on the seat.  Suddenly the fact that seat belts had never made it big in this world was beginning to seem like a very large oversight on the part of the Powers That Be.  Spike continued to grin manically as he sped through the city, paying no heed to pedestrian safety, now that they knew that only vampires would be out and about in the dark.  Not until they had left the city limits far behind and could see no signs of pursuit, did Buffy unclench her fingers and relax a little, suggesting to Spike that he might want to slow down before they got to Winterset.

 

            “I suppose you’re right,” he grumbled, giving an exaggerated sigh as he allowed the car to slow to a more reasonable sixty miles per hour.  “Come on now, Slayer. Admit it. That was fun, wasn’t it?”

 

            She allowed a small smile to play around her lips.

 

            “In an ‘I-could-die-any-second’ kind of way, I guess,” she finally allowed.

 

            “Well, there you go!  Nothing like a near-death experience to get the old heart pumping.”  He looked so proud of himself that she had to laugh as she relaxed back into the comfortable seat. 

 

            “I get enough of those every night, thank you very much,” she said primly, trying not to giggle.  “I don’t need to go looking for more.”

 

            “Bollocks, pet.  Most of the vamps and demons that you put away in this world don’t even make you break a sweat.  When was the last time you were in fear for your life – really in fear?”

 

            Buffy mumbled something even his vampire hearing couldn’t catch, repeating it a bit louder when he demanded to know what she was saying.  “I said, the last time was when you showed up and had me pinned,” she growled, hating to be reminded of how easily he had beaten her that first night.

 

            “Ah,” he said softly; then – “You know I wouldn’t have hurt you, don’t you, love? Not much, anyway.”

 

            “Well, I know that now; but not then, I didn’t.  I thought you were going to kill me.”

 

            “Still might,” he said.  “You never know.”

 

            “Oh, I know,” she responded, waving her hand around dismissively.  “I know you, Spike.”

 

            “Hey! That’s my line!  You don’t get to use that, you... you....” The more outraged Spike became, the more Buffy giggled, until he finally finished sputtering and shook his head.  “Don’t know why I bother.  You’ve got me just as much by the short hairs as your other self did.  Might as well just wrap me up and consider it Christmas,” he grumbled good-naturedly.

 

            “Wrap you up? You mean like a present?  But then I’d have to unwrap you if I wanted to play with you,” she teased, miming taking a ribbon off his torso.

 

            Spike’s cock jumped to attention at Buffy’s surprisingly suggestive remark. Another sidelong look at her face and the way she was biting her lip to keep from laughing and it began to push against the denim in his jeans.

 

            “You sassy bint,” he growled.  “Do you have any idea what you just did to me?”

 

            “Um, no; not really. I just—eep!”

 

            Before she finished speaking, he had taken her hand and placed it on his erection, pushing down enough to be sure that she didn’t miss how hard he was. He released her immediately so that she could move her arm, but to his surprise she just blushed and slid over closer to him, leaving her warm hand right where he’d placed it and squeezing him gently.

 

            The car moved even slower as he sighed and slid down in his seat, taking his free hand and putting it around Buffy’s shoulders.  His hand was dangling in front of her, his fingers just barely touching the fuzzy sweater over her suddenly erect nipple.  It wasn’t long before Buffy’s breath was getting ragged and her rhythmic squeezing of his cock was getting harder as he teased her nipple until it was almost painfully hard.

 

            By the time he pulled the car into the driveway and around behind the small house, they were both breathing hard and fast.  As he yanked the key from the ignition, he turned to meet the lips that were already pursed for the kiss Buffy had been waiting for. For long minutes their lips and tongues battled as though unable to get enough of each other.  His hand was now under her layers of sweaters, cupping her beast while he ran his thumb over the nipple and used the arm around her shoulders to pull her closer to him.

 

            When Buffy went to reach for his zipper, he tore his mouth off hers long enough to say, “Let’s take this inside, love. Don’t fancy watching you get all goosebumps when I rip all those layers off you.”

 

            With an agreeable whimper, she nodded her head and pushed away from his chest.  Without speaking, she got out and reached into the back seat for her weapons bag and extra clothes.  Spike took the bag from her with one hand, and holding onto her hand with the other, he led her around the house to the front door.  The visions of naked Buffy that were going through his head dissolved abruptly as they rounded the house to find an angry and shivering Dawn sitting on the top step.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

 

            “It’s about time you two got home,” she grumbled, standing up and wrapping her arms around herself.  “Where have you been?”

 

            Instead of answering, Buffy put one hand on her hip and asked with some asperity, “Why didn’t you just land in the kitchen?  Nobody asked you to wait for us out here.”

 

            Dawn looked around for a minute, before finally dropping her head and admitting, “I did land in the kitchen. But I got bored and I came outside to look for you and the door locked behind me.”

 

            “Brilliant,” Spike muttered, not trying to hide his disgust at having his plans interrupted.  Buffy poked him in the side and released his hand so that she could get out her key and open the door.

 

            “Hey! Were you two holding hands?  Have you been out on a date?”  Dawn’s excitement was palpable and even Spike broke into a reluctant smile at her enthusiasm.

 

            “Not tonight, Little Sis.  Tonight was all business.”  He held up the weapons bag and shook it at her.

 

            “Last night?”

 

            Buffy blushed and mumbled under her breath.  Dawn turned away from the embarrassed girl and continued to badger Spike.  “So, did you go out last night?  How long have you been dating?  Are you having sex yet?  Are you in love?  What are—”     

 

            “Whoa!”  Spike’s voice was a mixture of pride, embarrassment, and anger. “Not really sure that what we’re doin’ or not doin’ is any of your business, Dawn.”

 

            “But, my Spike and Buffy will want to know!”  She blithely ignored the yellow flashes in his eyes as she pursued the answer she wanted to hear. 

 

            “Not any of their business either,” he growled, slinging the bag of weapons into a corner and taking off his coat.  “Now, what are you doin’ here?” he asked pointedly.

 

            “Fine,” she grumbled. ”Don’t tell me. But I saw you holding hands. You can’t deny that.”

 

            “What do you want, Dawn?”  Buffy’s no-nonsense tone reminded Dawn that to these two people, she was just someone who knew their other selves – not someone that either one of them knew well.

 

            “Willow is worried that her vamp self might also be a witch and she wanted me to give you these.”  Dawn held out her hand and allowed the two amulets in it to dangle from their strings.  “She says they should ward off any magics that vamp Willow might try to throw at you, and also block the Master’s thrall.  Have you seen him yet?  Is it the Master that you killed last year?”

 

            Buffy nodded, taking the amulet and examining it curiously.  “Yes, we’ve seen him. Or, I have anyway.  I haven’t even had a chance to ask Spike about what he saw while he was inside.”

 

            “Inside? Inside what?”

 

            “Oh, we went to the city where the master has his lair.  I guess you’d better sit down. This could take a while...”

 

            Buffy described what she’d seen; then Spike added his experiences when he’d gone through the line to get blood, including what he’d had to pay for it. He told about seeing Willow about to enter the room and how he’d ducked out quickly before she could recognize him.  They described what the master was doing to cement his control over both the human and demon populations and shrugged when Dawn asked if they had a plan.

 

            “For tonight, the plan was to get out of there in one piece,” Spike growled.

 

            “Well, be sure to let me – us know when you decide what you want to do.  Everybody wants to help if they can.”

 

            “ ‘less the Slayer can toss stakes through portals and hit her target, don’t see what any of you lot can do.  My slayer will think of somethin’ and then we’ll send old Bat Face to his reward.”

 

            Buffy blushed and stared at Spike as she realized that he meant her, not the older Buffy, and that he was saying that he had perfect confidence in her ability to win. He gazed back at her with an expression that made Buffy’s stomach flutter, and she colored even more as she found herself unable to look away.  Dawn watched the locked stares and suddenly decided that she’d been there long enough.

 

            “Just don’t do anything without letting us know, ok?” she said, edging towards the kitchen.  Neither one actually turned to watch her leave, just waving their hands absently as they edged closer together on the couch.

 

            “Right,” Dawn muttered as she pulled her portal up around herself. “None of my business.”  With her usual loud pop, she disappeared back to her own dimension leaving Buffy and Spike alone in the empty house.

 

            Your slayer?” she asked in a whisper, her irises were big pools of emerald as she held his gaze.

 

            He raised his hand and ghosted his knuckles over her cheek as he responded.  “Was a figure of speech, love.  Know you’re not mine – not really. But had to say something to let her know which slayer I meant, didn’t I?”

 

            “Oh,” Buffy’s face clouded with disappointment.  She sat up straighter, and he let his hand drop to his lap. “Sure.  I knew that’s what you meant.”

 

            They sat there uncomfortably for several seconds –  the erotic high they had both been on after the escape from the Master’s lair having dissipated during their lengthy discussion with Dawn, and their usual miscommunication about their feelings left them both feeling too insecure to pursue it.

 

            With a yawn, Buffy finally rose to her feet.  “I didn’t get much sleep last night – and it’s already 3:00 now.  I guess I’d better get to bed or I’ll be too tired to work tomorrow...”

 

            He flowed to his feet with her, nodding his head, eyes shuttered to hide the disappointment there.

 

            “Right you are, pet. No tellin’ what we’re gonna run up against tomorrow night – you’ll need to be on your toes.”

 

            “Yep.  Toes on Buffy, that’s me,” she said in what she hoped was a casual manner.  “I guess I’ll just....” Moving very slowly, she turned away from the vampire. When he didn’t touch her or call her back, she sighed and began walking towards the bathroom. “Good night, Spike.”

 

            Spike watched her walk away, disappointment in every line of her body.  He watched stoically as she entered the bathroom and shut the door without looking at him again.  He replayed the entire night in his head, right up to the point where she’d released his hand in order to open the door.  He walked slowly towards the bathroom, stopping just outside the door and leaning against the wall in his familiar slouch.  He could hear her moving around inside and could picture her brushing her teeth and washing her face.  The rustle of cloth told him that she was taking off the layers of heavy clothing, and he growled softly as he envisioned her standing naked only feet away from him.

 

            When Buffy left the bathroom, she was surprised to find Spike right outside. He quickly straightened, stepping closer to her, as he asked, “No good-night kiss, then, pet? I thought we had an arrangement. Were you going to send old Spike off to bed without his nightly snog?”

 

            “N... no.  But I thought you didn’t want—”

 

            “Told you last night – don’t ever think I don’t want to kiss you.   Jus’ figured your little sis’s arrival had pretty much killed the mood for now.”

 

            “For now?” Her lips twitched in a small smile.

 

            “Oh yeah. Wasn’t givin’ up on you – jus’ figured I’d have to go find us another good fight tomorrow night if old Bat Face lets me down and doesn’t send some minions for us to beat up on.”  He was grinning, his posture much more relaxed as he saw that she was now smiling happily and moving closer to him.

 

            “So, what are you saying?  That I’m only going to be interested in you if I’ve staked a bunch of vampires first?  Or been scared to death in a car?”

 

            “I’m sayin’ I think it helps my case a lot,” he whispered, dipping his head toward her face.

 

            “I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit,” she whispered back as their lips met.  “I don’t need a fight to want to kiss you... or whatever.”

 

            With her “whatever” ringing in his ears, Spike put his arms around her pajama-clad body and pulled her to him as he deepened the kiss.  She smelled of soap and toothpaste and he thought it was the sexiest thing he’d ever inhaled – until the scent of her arousal drifted to his nostrils.  Growls were rumbling deep in his chest as he pulled her against him, rubbing his erection into her hip.  When Buffy gave a little whimper and wrapped one leg around his, he put his hands under her ass and boosted her up until she could wrap both legs around him and grind her pelvis against him.  The extra friction had her moaning and whimpering as she used her powerful legs to pull him even closer. 

 

            Without releasing his hold on her churning butt, Spike took two long strides to the doorway of her bedroom and kicked the door open.  Two more strides had him at the edge of the bed, where he hesitated just long enough for Buffy to begin to worry that he was changing his mind.  She flung herself away from him – falling backwards onto the bed, pulling the surprised vampire down on top of her and clamping her legs around him again as soon as he landed.  Practically growling herself, she continued to rub against him, his groans and muttered “bloody hell”s only urging her on. 

 

            With a supreme effort of will, Spike tore his mouth away and pushed himself up on his arms.  Buffy’s “nooooo...” of dismay gave him a burst of masculine pride, even as he fought her attempts to pull him back down.

 

            “Easy, love,” he murmured.  ‘Want this as much as you do – I just wanna make it good for you.”

 

            “It was feeling pretty damn good to me,” she gasped, glaring at him.  “Why are you stopping?”

 

            “Not stoppin’, love.  I jus’... let me... ” He used one hand to push her pajama bottoms down to her knees, and then dropped his head and began to kiss his way down her torso, pausing to push her top over her face and to suck on each nipple until they were standing in little peaks and Buffy was arching into his mouth.  As he worked his way down her body, she kicked her pants the rest of the way off and yanked her top off her face, smiling at his rumble of approval.

 

            “Ah, love, you are so beautiful.  Like a flower you are – and you smell delicious... ” He ran his tongue through her folds, sending her hips arching off the bed and bringing a small scream to her lips.  “Taste delicious, too,” he mumbled as he pulled the swollen and needy bit of flesh into his mouth.  He’d barely begun to suck on it when Buffy uttered another shriek and shuddered around him, her thighs clutching his head so tightly he was briefly worried that he wouldn’t survive to enjoy his reward.  Then, her legs went limp, as did the entire body under him and he looked up to meet her half-closed eyes.

 

            “Kinda thought I might get to do that a bit longer,” he said ruefully.

 

            Buffy gave an embarrassed laugh.  “I think I was already almost there,” she replied, blushing lightly. “Did you know that you give the best good-night kisses of anybody in the whole world?”

 

            “The whole world, huh? Jus’ how many good-night kisses have you had, Slayer?”

 

            “Enough to know that nobody else can do it like you can,” she said with a smile.  “I don’t have to try them out to know that.”

 

            “Better not be tryin’ them out,” he growled, smothering the surge of jealousy that went through him.

 

            She tilted her head to look at him where he was lying between her legs, his chin resting on her bare stomach.  “I wasn’t planning to,” she said softly.  “I didn’t mean to make you mad.”

 

            “I’m not mad, love.”  He wormed his way up the bed until he was lying beside her where he could drop kisses on her neck and shoulder.  “Jus’ brings out the demon in me to hear you talk about kissin’ anyone else... Not my place, I know, but—”

 

            “Why isn’t it your place?”  Her question startled him and he flashed back to how she’d looked at him when he called her ‘his’ Slayer.

 

            “Not mine, are you?”  His suddenly intent eyes bored into hers, the fierceness there causing her to look away briefly.  She felt him sigh when she turned away and she barely heard his whispered, “Didn’t think so.”

 

            She whipped her head back to glare at him.  “I could be,” she said angrily.  “If you would just tell me you really want me.  That I’m not just a substitute for the other Buffy.”

 

            “Oh, love,” he breathed, cupping her face.  “You could never be a substitute for anybody.  You’re you, and anything else is just a cheap copy.  Want you more than anythin’, Buffy.  Want you to be mine in every way there is – but—”

 

            “Don’t ‘but’ me.  If you want me to be yours, then say so.  Do something about it.”

 

            “Nothing the demon’d like more,” he said cryptically, rising up on one elbow, “but we’re not there.  One day, though, maybe....”

 

            “Okay, I don’t know what the demon has to do with anything – and I’m not sure I want to – but if you want me... I... I kinda want that too,” she finished with another blush, her voice trailing off as she finished.

 

            “Do you mean what I think you mean?”  Hope battled with uncertainly as he tried to read her flushed face.

 

            “I mean,” she raised her chin and met his gaze firmly, “that I know I don’t look like a little girl anymore; I know that I’ve had to live like an adult and take care of myself for a long time, and... and I think I’m ready to have an adult relationship.  With you,” she added, in case there was any doubt.

 

            “Oh, Buffy....” The vampire’s soft whisper almost sounded as though he was fighting tears, although her common sense told her that wasn’t possible.  He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her still-naked body against his.  “Want you so bad, love.  Want to hold you and love you and....”

 

            His still-hard cock pushing against her hip reminded them both that only one of them had actually had a relaxing good-night “kiss” and she said coyly, “Wouldn’t that be easier to do if you took your clothes off too?”

 

            “That it would, love,” he agreed with a grin.  “Don’t go away, I’ll be right back.”

 

            He rolled away from her, already pulling his tee shirt over his head and reaching down to untie his boots.   Suddenly Buffy grabbed the sheets and pulled them up to her chest, her heart rate accelerating.

 

            “What’s wrong, pet? Haven’t even got to the good parts yet,” he said with a leer as he began to unfasten his jeans.

 

            “Do you think she’s watching?”

 

            “She, who? Watching what?”

 

            “Dawn! She said they can watch us.  What if she’s – they’re watching now?  What if Willow’s watching?  Oh my god! What if Giles is watching?”

 

            “Then I hope they get an eyeful,” he said with a grin, pushing his jeans down and kicking them off.  In the light coming in from the living room lamps, he looked like a marble statue come to life as he stood, unashamed and unconcerned beside the bed.  When he realized that Buffy was close to hyperventilating, he stopped laughing and got back on the bed, sliding under the covers and running a reassuring hand over her shoulder.

 

            “I doubt they’re watching, Slayer. You know what she said about never peekin’ in at the other two without warning.  Now that she knows we’ve got something going, she’ll be just as afraid to surprise us.”

 

            “I hope you’re right,” she said dubiously. “She seemed kinda nosy to me.” She allowed him to pull her down beside him, but kept the blankets pulled up to her chin.  He nuzzled the side of her neck, reminding her that she was now lying stark naked next to an also naked and still very hard vampire.  As she felt their flesh meet – smooth coolness contrasting with silky warmth – she forgot all about any possible onlookers as she gasped into his mouth.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two

 

            The sensation of being skin to skin from head to toe with the vampire that she had finally admitted made her heart race like no one before him was sending Buffy into sensory overload.  Spike’s lips were caressing the skin on her throat while his hands were sweeping over her bare flanks.  His whispered praise for her body’s response to him was as embarrassing as it was exciting; his crooning comments about how wet she was and how tight had her both confused and whimpering for more.  In a very short period of time, his dancing fingers and bone-melting kisses had her straining towards him, trying to press every square inch of her skin to his while at the same time, parting her legs so that his hand could work its magic.

 

            He pushed her gently onto her back, holding most of his weight on his elbows as he settled between her legs. He took time to suck on her breasts again, humming against the nipples as they rose to meet his tongue before sliding up to kiss her mouth and murmur against it.  She could feel his cock just nudging at her entrance as he rubbed himself against her, setting up an urge that she couldn’t deny.

 

            “Is it going to hurt?”  Her tentative question, gasped out even as her hips tipped up to give him better access, was a reminder that, although the body writhing under his was experienced in ways this Buffy couldn’t even imagine yet, the girl inhabiting it was still a virgin. 

 

            “Don’t know, love,” he said honestly.  “If the other one told me the truth, this body knows mine like we were born doin’ this.  Unless the powers that like to fuck with people thought it would be funny to give you a new cherry when they stuck your virginal little self into it, it shouldn’t hurt at all.   Should feel like....”

 

            He stopped, too embarrassed to say what he was thinking – that it should fell like coming home for her.

 

            “Should feel like what?” she whispered, sliding her legs around his hips and biting her lip as she felt him begin to slide into her.

 

            “Like someone who’s loved you a thousand times before is doing it one more time,” he breathed, sheathing himself inside her and groaning with relief as he felt her walls around him.  He found himself fighting for control as she unconsciously squeezed him and brought her arms around his back, holding him against her as though afraid to let him go.

 

            “Ah, love, you feel so good – like warm silk you are.  My sweet slayer.”

 

            He began to rock his hips in a timeless rhythm, smiling as she seemed to intuitively know how to move with him.  Their bodies moved together, almost independently of the people inhabiting them, quickly building towards a release that had Buffy grabbing his shoulder with her teeth to muffle a scream while she shook and trembled beneath him.  As soon as he felt her teeth on him, Spike’s demon burst out and he exploded within her, sinking his teeth into his own arm to protect the throat now exposed to him.

 

            When his hips had stopped jerking and he felt as though he was once again in control, he raised his head and lifted his upper body off the girl now staring at him with wide eyes.

 

            “You vamped out,” she said quietly.

 

            “I did.  I’m sorry – wasn’t expecting it.”

 

            “Why not?”

 

            “What?”

 

            “Why weren’t you expecting it? Didn’t you do that with the other Buffy?”

 

            “Sometimes,” he admitted.  “But she knew what she was gettin’ into – you don’t.  Didn’t want to scare you.”

 

            She glared at him suspiciously, then noticed his bleeding arm.  “You bit yourself?  What’s that all about?”

 

            He sighed and sat up.  “Let me fix this, pet, then I’ll explain it to you. Alright?”

 

            She nodded reluctantly and waited while he got a towel and wrapped it around his arm.  The bite marks were already closing and she realized that the bruise that her own teeth had left on his shoulder would probably be visible far longer than the mark he’d given himself.  He slid back into the bed and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her next to him as he leaned back against the pillows.

 

            “What do you know about claiming, love?” he began. “Did your watcher ever tell you about it?”

 

            She nodded, a troubled frown on her face.  “He told me it was very important that I never let Angel bite me – even in... in an affectionate way. That I would be in thrall to him if I did.”

 

            “Ignorant wanker,” he growled. “That’s Council bollocks, pet.  But it’s not somethin’ to be taken lightly.  He was right about that.”  He shifted so as to be able to see her face.  “My demon – he wants to mark you as mine.  Wants to put a claim on you.  Most of the time, it’s not a problem, but when you bit me....”

 

            “It was my fault?”

 

            “No, love. Not your fault. Never your fault.  Biting is... I ... I like it.  Trust me,” he said wryly.  “You’ll never hear me complain about you putting your little teeth on me while we’re makin’ love—”

 

            “Is that what we were doing?  Making love?”

 

            “I’d like to think so, Buffy,” he said softly. “I’d very much like to think so.  Can’t speak for you, but one of us was – you can count on it.”

 

            Her quiet “oh” told him that she’d read between the lines and understood what he was not saying.  Before she could break his heart by telling him that she didn’t feel the same way about him, he rushed on with his explanation of claiming.

 

            “A claim is a... like a vampire marriage.  A mutual claim can be forever if it’s renewed every once in a while. It’s pretty rare, actually. Most vamps aren’t monogamous and they’re not interested in making commitments that could last until they dust.  A claim a vamp puts on a human marks that human as someone who is precious or otherwise important to him. Other vamps should honor it and leave that human alone.  It’s for protection, not for control.  Your watcher had that wrong – or he lied to you so you wouldn’t let it happen....”

 

            “When do you get to the part about biting the other Buffy?”

 

            He sighed and kissed the top of her head.  “She bit me first, actually. Knows a bit about claiming, she does, and put her mark on me to try to make sure I would come back to Sunnyhell. Got a little carried away myself and bit her back.  Wasn’t a really strong claim – just enough to keep other vamps’ teeth off her neck long enough for her to stake ‘em.  I s’pect by now the other Spike has done it up right and they’re mated forever.”

 

            “So you’re... mated... to her?”

 

            He shook his head.  “No, love.  We didn’t go that far.  I marked her and she did her best to mark me, but neither one of us was really in the right place for a claim to set up that kind of mystical connection.  She was in love with the souled version of me that’s living with her now – and I still thought I was in love with Drusilla.  We had a connection, but it wouldn’t have lasted, and it didn’t come through the portal with me.  I can’t feel her anymore.”

 

            “So, you bit your own arm because the demon wanted to bite me.”  It wasn’t a question, and he didn’t bother to confirm it for her, he just looked at the bite that was no longer bleeding and threw the towel on the floor.

 

            Buffy snuggled into the arms he wrapped around her and tried to sort out all the events of the evening.

 

            I think he was saying he loves me.  But if he loves me, why didn’t he want to claim me like he did the other Buffy?  Is it because he thinks I don’t love him?  Do I love him?  What did Buffy say - ‘give him a chance?’ I guess that’s what I’m doing.  I’m giving him a chance.  So far I think—

 

            “Penny for your thoughts, love,” he said, nuzzling her neck and noticeably inhaling her scent.

 

            Hope I didn’t scare her. I didn’t actually come right out and tell her I love her, but she’s got to know what I meant.  Don’t want her worrying that I’m going try to throw a claim on her without her permission...

 

            “I was just... thinking,” she answered softly, kissing the inside of his bicep.

 

            “About...?”

 

            “You... us... the way things are changing so fast.  I’m just... I need to think about what we’re doing and what it means.”

 

            “Havin’ second thoughts, are you?”  His voice was tight and controlled, but she could feel the slight tremor that went through his body and the almost imperceptible tightening of the arms that cradled her so gently.  “If I pushed you too fast, Buffy, I’m sorry.  I’ve wanted you so much, for such a long time – didn’t mean to—”

 

            “I didn’t say I was regretting it,” she said quickly.  “I’m not. I don’t.  And you didn’t push me into anything I wasn’t already thinking about doing; I just didn’t know about all the other... stuff.”

 

            “You mean, like the biting?  I’m always gonna want to do that, pet. It’s a big part of being a vamp.  But I would never do it without askin’ you first.  And I wouldn’t put a claim on you.”

 

            She squirmed around to face him and glanced up at his earnest face, frowning slightly.

 

            “Why wouldn’t you?” she asked innocently.  “Don’t you think I could use a little protection once in a while?”

 

            “Were you paying attention when I told you why it wasn’t very strong between me and the other Buffy?”

 

            “Yeah, you said she didn’t really love you and that you—” She stopped as her brain caught up with her mouth and she remembered why he’d said it didn’t follow him into the new dimension.  For long seconds they stared into each other’s eyes – Spike allowing everything he felt for her to show in his soft gaze, Buffy’s confusion equally visible in hers.  He gently stroked her cheek as he put what she’d already guessed into words.

 

            “If I put a claim on you, pet, I’d mean it. In every way.  When – if – I say you’re mine, I want it to be true. For both of us.  Would never force you into that kind of binding relationship unless you wanted me to.  I don’t need it to love you, to want to protect you and to be with you forever.  And, except for old Bat Face, I’d be surprised if there’s any vamp in this world that could get close enough to you to put his teeth on your throat.  ‘s long as you don’t get careless, that is,” he added as he remembered finding the other Buffy pinned under a vampire that had taken advantage of her distraction. My fault, that was. Running out on her –letting the damn poof play me like that.  Not gonna happen again. Not this time.

 

            Rather than answering his words, which warmed her heart even as they made her worry that she wouldn’t be able to return his feelings, Buffy just kissed him gently and rolled back to her side, letting him pull her back against his chest.  As she drifted off to sleep, she mumbled, “I guess this means we need to get a bigger bed... and another chest of drawers... and heavier drapes for this room...”

 

            Her voice trailed off as she allowed sleep to overcome her, so she never saw the smile that spread over the vampire’s face as she calmly talked about moving him into her bedroom permanently.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Get out!”  Buffy grinned as Dawn reported on her visit to the Master’s dimension. “They were holding hands?  That’s great!”

 

“Holdin’ hands is great?  Oh yeah, I’m sure he was excited about that,” Spike grumbled, sticking his hands in his pockets.  “Nothin’ to get a vamp’s blood pumpin’ quicker than holding hands with some chit.”

 

Buffy smacked him on the shoulder and glared.  “Your blood doesn’t pump, asshole.  And holding hands means they’ve started dating... or something.  It does, doesn’t it?” She turned back to Dawn, leaving Spike rubbing his arm and laughing quietly.

 

“I think so,” she answered with a smirk at Spike.  “He kinda said they’d been on a date the night before, but she didn’t want to talk about it.  She’s kinda scary sometimes....”

 

“Still not acceptin’ you as her sis, huh?” Spike asked sympathetically.

 

“I guess being stuck there by herself all that time... she probably felt pretty alone in the world.  And now she’s got Spike – I think they’re pretty dependent on each other.  I got that feeling even before they started holding hands.”

 

“I guess they feel like all they have is each other,” Buffy mused.  “I wish there was some way for us to talk to them....”

 

“Oh! I forgot!  I talked to the coven and we’re going to see if I can take somebody with me when I teleport somewhere!  Wouldn’t that be cool?  If I take an army of slayers through with me, the Master is history!”

 

“That would do it,” Buffy agreed slowly.  “But if it’s that easy to move people around, why didn’t the powers just drop Spike into my bed in London and tell you to bring us here to help out?”

 

Dawn’s face fell.  “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s not as easy as I think... I said something about you guys wanting to help and Spike said unless you could throw stakes through a portal and hit something, he didn’t see how you could help them.  That’s what gave me the idea – that I could bring slayers with me.”

 

“It’s a good idea, Bit.  Jus’ might not be part of the Powers’ over all scheme, you know?  But let us know what you find out.  Could do with a bit more exercise myself.”

 

“If we don’t do something about the mayor before next month, you’re going to get more exercise than you want,” Buffy grumbled.  “It’s not like we need to go looking for trouble – we’ve got our own right here.”

 

Dawn looked back and forth between them in surprise.  “I thought it would be easy this time.  You know what he wants to do and you know when he’s planning to do it.  Don’t you think you can stop him?”

 

“He’s a pretty wily old demon,” Spike said diplomatically. “So far, the Slayer hasn’t been able to do much except plan to blow up the school again if it goes that far.”  His eyes lit up.  “Which, is alright with me.  I’m sorry I missed that the first time – sounds like a lot of fun.  I want to be the one who sets the explosives off this time.  No sense letting the watcher have all the fun.”

 

“Well, he doesn’t have Faith this time – at least I don’t think he does....” Buffy’s lack of confidence in Faith’s loyalty was evident in the disappointment on her face.  In spite of her best efforts, the younger slayer remained somewhat alienated from her and from the other Scoobies.  At this point, they were counting on Angel to keep her on their side in the coming battle. 

 

“Oh, the big poof will talk her around,” Spike said, rubbing her back reassuringly.  “Don’t know what went down that first time, but I think she’s feelin’ a bit better about herself than she prob’ly did then.  Hearing you talk about her coming back to help out against the First seems to have perked up her interest in playin’ on the right side.  And she likes Joyce a whole lot more than she lets on – I can see it when she looks at her.  A lot of that big bad stuff is just a front she puts on to keep from gettin’ hurt.”

 

 Buffy and Dawn looked at the vampire with identical smiles and then giggled softly.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing,” Buffy said soothingly.  Dawn was less willing to pretend and grinned at him as she said, “Well, you’d be the expert on that, wouldn’t you?”

 

While Spike growled with feigned anger, the two sisters hugged each other and said “good-bye”. “Be sure to keep us in the loop,” Buffy urged.  “Even if you do end up taking some slayers with you – I want to know what’s going on.”

 

Dawn waved her agreement and summoned her portal, stepping into it and disappearing with one of her loud ‘pops’.

 

“Bloody hell, that hurts!” Spike grumbled, rubbing his ears. “What d’you suppose chances are that she can learn to do that without sucking all the air out the room?”

 

Buffy laughed softly and began tugging him towards the door.  “Come on,” she said, “you can rub your poor ears while we walk to Giles’ apartment for the Scooby meeting.”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-three

 

Buffy awoke from a dream in which Spike was showing her why he’d been disappointed that she’d come so quickly the night before; only to find that it was not a dream.  The vampire was kneeling on the bed, his hands under her hips, holding her to his face while his tongue swirled and probed her open sex.  It briefly occurred to her that she should be embarrassed about being exposed like that, but she couldn’t hold the thought while he was doing wickedly wonderful things with his tongue and lips.

 

“Guh!”

 

“Ah!” He raised his head for a second to grin at her.  “Good morning, love.  I thought you were going to sleep forever.”

 

“I... I was... having... a... really... nice... dream,” she managed to gasp out as he went back to licking her.  She found that the position in which he was holding her made her completely dependent upon him.  She had no leverage by which to increase the pressure and she could see that he was taking great delight in her whimpers and attempts to raise her pelvis higher.

 

When her whimpers began to sound more like sobs, he took pity on her and pulled the needy piece of flesh into his mouth where he began to suck on it while continuing to tease it with his tongue.  Her sobs soon turned to gasps and shrieks as she trembled in his grip, arching her back almost into a bow until nothing but her neck and head were left on the mattress.

 

Instead of letting her go, he lowered her hips until they were just over his thighs, then slid his hands up to her shoulders.  He pulled her up and forward until she was sitting on his lap, his cock having slid easily into her well-lubricated body.  Her legs automatically went around his waist and she sighed when he pulled her close and nibbled on her neck.

 

Clenching muscles that she hadn’t realized she had, Buffy smiled to herself when she pulled a heartfelt groan from the cocky vampire.  Without moving, she continued to squeeze and release him until he was involuntarily pushing into her and babbling in her ear.

 

“Oh, yes, pet – god, yes, love. Oh, so strong, so warm and wonderful, Ah! Going to make me... Buffy!”

 

He managed not to vamp out this time as he clutched her tightly and let himself find his release in her quivering depths.  His actions as he approached his orgasm provided stimulation to a whole new set of nerves that set Buffy off into another shrieking spasm that matched his in intensity. 

 

When their bodies had finally stopped trembling and jerking, they remained wrapped together, clinging to each other as though to a life preserver.  When Buffy’s breathing had begun to drop back to a manageable level, she raised her head from its place on his chest.

 

“Wow,” she managed to gasp.  “Wowie, wow, wow.”

 

Trying not to appear as shaken as he felt, Spike could only echo her.

 

“Wow works for me. Don’t think my brain is capable of comin’ up with anything more complicated just now.”

 

Buffy remained happily cradled in his arms, still intimately connected while she waited for her heart rate and breathing to approach a normal rhythm.  She noted idly that, although he seemed as shaken and sated as she felt, he was still hard and she squeezed him experimentally.

 

“You’re kidding, right?” she asked when she felt an answering twitch.

 

His chuckle vibrated against her cheek and he hugged her tightly before releasing her and pushing her slightly away from his body.

 

“Vampire stamina, love.  What can I say?”

 

“You could say, ‘Wow, Buffy, that was so awesome I don’t think I can move for the rest of the day,” she grumbled, a bit put out that he could be wanting more so soon.

 

“’s not a reflection on how satisfied I am,” he explained quickly.  “I’m every bit as knocked out by what just happened here as you are.  It’s just that being in you like this is... Never want to leave here, love. Could stay in you till I dust and be perfectly happy about it.”

 

Not sure how to respond to his remarks, she chose to ignore the implication behind them and reply to the actual words.

 

“Well, you can’t do that – cause I have to go to work now and I’m pretty sure there’s, like, a health regulation or something that says we can’t walk around a restaurant like this.”

 

“More’s the pity,” he laughed as he lifted her off his cock and set her gently on the bed.  “But you’re right, love. You’re runnin’ a bit late this morning.  Best get yourself all showered off and out the door.”

 

“Oh, now you can’t wait to get rid of me.  I see how it is,” she said, sticking her tongue out at him.  “Got what you wanted and now you’re sending me away.”

 

He grabbed her arm almost hard enough to hurt and met her eyes firmly. “You know that’s not what I’m doing.”  It wasn’t a question, but a flat statement and she immediately dropped her teasing.

 

“I know,” she whispered, leaning in to brush her lips across his.  “Don’t be so touchy.”

 

Trying to salvage something of his image, he threw himself back on the bed and closed his eyes.  “Not touchy, just tired.  Tryin’ to get rid of you so I can get some kip before tonight.”

 

“Sheeyah, right.”  She stood up and grabbed some clothes as she headed for the bathroom and a hot shower.  The hot water felt good on her achy body and she luxuriated in it until she was afraid that she was going to be late for work.  Drying off and dressing quickly, she grabbed a couple of pieces of bread from the kitchen, put on her coat and, after peeking into the bedroom to be sure that the sun wasn’t going to reach the sleeping vampire on the bed, she went out the door, feeling very much like the adult she that told herself she now was.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

After an uneventful day at work -- where she blushed every time someone looked at her too long, sure that they could tell how she’d spent the morning – she walked out into the alley, surprised to find that Spike was not there waiting for her.  She frowned and absently staked a vampire that clearly didn’t know he was seeking food in the Slayer’s alley, before she started towards her home.

 

She was almost to her street when a familiar-looking black van came roaring past her, going so fast she almost missed the strong vamp signatures coming from it.  Fear such as she’d never felt before seized her, turning her stomach into a hard knot as she ran towards her little house.  She froze as she entered the front yard and saw the signs of a massive struggle.  The fence had been knocked down, there was vamp dust everywhere, and a stake lay on the ground.

 

With a moan of fear, Buffy knelt down beside the biggest dust piles and lifted the fine powder in her hands.  She tried to control the hysterical urge to chase after the long-gone van, and force herself to think clearly.  She could hear Spike’s voice in her head saying, “You’re stronger than they are, pet, but you have to be smarter too.”

 

She got to her feet and stumbled to the door, operating on automatic pilot as she unlocked it and entered the house that she had left in such a happy mood only hours before. 

 

            Think, Buffy!  Think!  If they killed Spike, why would they be in such a hurry to leave?  Wouldn’t they stay here and try to take me out too? So, he has to be alive.  They’ve taken him away for some reason.

 

            Once again, she could hear Spike’s voice in her head.  “Don’t do anything stupid, Slayer.  It’s a trap.  You know it’s a trap.  Don’t fall for it.”

 

Out loud, to herself, Buffy growled, “If they wanted to get the Slayer to come back – they’re going to get their wish.  I’m going to take that place apart brick by brick until I find Spike – and he’d better be in good shape when I find him, or...”

 

            She walked into the kitchen and yelled, “Dawn!  Where the hell are you? Why weren’t you watching?  Dawn! I need you!”

 

            Her shoulders slumped in defeat as she realized the futility of trying to reach someone who was in another dimension by screaming at her.  She changed her clothes quickly, gathered her weapon bag and extra stakes.  She picked up the key to the car and stared at it, saying firmly, “I can do this. How hard can it be? I turn the car on, step on the gas and it goes.  I can do this.”

 

            She tore apart a paper bag and scribbled a large note to Dawn, propping it up on the kitchen table where she would be sure to see it if she looked in.

 

            “They have Spike.  I’m going to get him back.”

 

            Carrying her weapons bag and a sword, she went out the door and around the house to the car.  She threw her things on the passenger seat and sat behind the wheel, staring uncertainly at the dials in front of her. 

 

            “I can do this,” she muttered again, putting the key in the ignition and turning it until she heard the motor catch.  Then she realized that she couldn’t reach the gas pedal, and growled in frustration as she pulled the seat forward until she could reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel.  Taking a deep breath, she moved the gearshift lever to “R” and began to back up.  Which went well until she found the tree growing on the side of the yard. 

 

            “Okay, not a problem.  Now I go forward until I can’t go any farther and then I back up again – I’ll just keep that up until I’ve turned around. Damn! It looks so easy when Spike does it...”

 

            The car shot forward as she changed gears, bumping into the side of the house so hard that she hit her nose on the steering wheel.  Tears of frustration were filling her eyes as she continued to try to wrestle the big car around far enough that she could pull into the street.  When she had finally mastered the art of turning around without sending the car leaping in one direction or another, she breathed a sigh of relief and edged down the driveway. 

 

            She stared at the other cars moving smoothly down the street and gripped the steering wheel with clenched fists.

 

            “I can do this,” she muttered, over and over.  “I can do this.  I’m the Slayer and I have superpowers – how hard can it be to drive a stupid car?”

 

            Just as she was about to take the plunge into the, fortunately, fairly light traffic, she thought she heard her name.  She glanced around quickly, saw no one, and focused her eyes on the road again.  Slayer reflexes allowed her to catch the movement behind her, and she glanced in the rearview mirror to see Dawn standing in the driveway behind the car, screaming at her and waving frantically.

 

            With a grateful prayer to the Powers that Be, she turned the car off and remembered to put the hand brake on before opening the door.  Her wariness of the sister she didn’t really know evaporated in the face of their mutual fear for Spike’s safety, and she allowed Dawn to hold her shivering body as she tried to explain what she’d found when she got home.

 

            “They’ve got him.  I know they do.  They want me to come running in there to rescue him, and....”

 

            “And you were about to do just that,” Dawn said wryly, as she released Buffy.  “Weren’t you?”

 

            “Well... yeah.  I mean, that was my plan....” Buffy stared dubiously from the parked car to the still-busy street.  “I was working up my courage to take the car out where there are, like... other cars... moving.”

 

            Dawn shook her head.  “I knew you didn’t know how to drive yet.  Okay, here’s my plan.  Wanna hear it?”

 

            “Is it better than my plan?”

 

            “Well, it’s a lot safer for the poor citizens of this world who are out and about,” Dawn said with a small smile. 

 

            “Ha, ha.”

 

            “Okay, here’s the sitch – I can drive. I have a license and everything – not that I guess that’s going to matter to the cops here, but....”  She shook herself. “Doesn’t matter. The point is, I can get you there, which will also help me know where it is.  Then we can reconnoiter—”

 

            “Reconnoiter?   What the—?”

 

            “Souvenir word from one of your exes – never mind, it’s not important – the point is, we can see what’s going on, maybe figure out where they’re keeping Spike and then I can go back for help—”

 

            “Help?  What kind of help?”

 

            “Well... I haven’t actually gotten that far with the plan yet.  But I know we can do something!  I just have to know where the place is so I can get back there; and you have to promise not to get killed until I figure out what to do.”

 

            Buffy shook her head in disbelief.  “Except for the whole knowing how to drive part – which, yay – you aren’t going to be any help at all.”

 

            “We’ll see.  Get in.” 

 

Dawn walked around to the driver’s side, let the seat back until she could fit her long legs into the car and turned the engine on.  Buffy meekly climbed into the passenger seat.  As soon as she was in, the car shot out into a break in traffic and Dawn was heading in the direction Buffy had pointed.

 

Buffy watched silently for a while as Dawn weaved skillfully in and out of traffic until they reached the road to Petersburg. As the car rocketed forward, Buffy ventured, “Let me guess. Spike taught you to drive?”

 

Dawn took her eyes off the road long enough to flash a grin.  “Yeah. He didn’t want to, but when you were dead—”

 

“When I was what?!”

 

“Oops?  Another one of those stories for another day.” She rushed on.  “Anyway, he needed to distract me – to distract both of us, really; and teaching me to drive before I was old enough for a license was how he did it.  Did a good job, too.  I aced my test when I was old enough – and I’ve driven in Rome!”

 

“So, it just feels like we might crash any second – we’re not really going to?”

 

“Of course not!” Dawn sounded hurt.  “I thought you’d be in a hurry.  Just because they took him alive doesn’t mean they aren’t torturing him or something.”

 

“I am in a hurry,” Buffy sighed.  “And I do appreciate this. Really.  I just—There’s so much you know about me and my future, and I—”

 

“It’s not really your future,” Dawn said kindly.  “Not anymore.  It would have happened if the Powers hadn’t sent my Buffy back there, but now, who knows what’s going to happen in Sunnydale?  Or here.  This is your future now.”

 

“Oh joy,” Buffy muttered.

 

“Hey, on the plus side, it took the other Buffy and Spike years to fall in love with each other – or to admit it, anyway.  And look at you two already.  All hand-holdy and dating and... stuff.”

 

“Yeah,” Buffy said.  “And look what it got Spike – captured and probably tortured by some old vamp that he hates.”

 

“Spike’s tough. He’ll hang in there.” 

 

Dawn spoke with more confidence than she felt, the miles rolling by so quickly not really bringing her any closer to a real idea about how to help Buffy save Spike.  Her experiments with taking Suki with her on trips had convinced the coven that, while she could bring other living beings into a portal with her, they could not step out of it without causing disruption to the dimensional walls.   So, her plan of bringing a small army of slayers back with her wasn’t going to work.

 

After a lengthy silence, Buffy spoke softly.

 

“It’s all right, Dawn.  This has been a big help.  If you can’t bring any help back – and who would you bring, anyway?  We—I’ll be all right.  I’ll find Spike, cut him loose and, if we have to, we’ll run away again.”  She was quiet for a minute, then growled, “But I really, really want to turn that ugly old vamp to dust for the last time...”        

 

She gestured to Dawn to go past the driveway to the Master’s lair.  Once again, the building was well-lit and a small but steady stream of vamps seemed to be going in and out.  They turned off the lights and coasted to a stop where they could watch the entrance through a gap in the trees.  Buffy studied the building for any sign of additional guards, but saw nothing but the one vamp at the door to the blood dispensing area.

 

“I know they have to be expecting me.  I don’t understand why they don’t have guards.”

 

“Maybe they thought that you’d be afraid to come without Spike,” Dawn ventured in a whisper.  “Or maybe they think you can’t get here by yourself.  They probably don’t expect you to show up this soon.”

 

“Good point.” Buffy nodded. “Maybe I can catch them by surprise before they get ready for me.  Well,” she said briskly, reaching over the seat for her weapons bag,” Thanks for the ride.  I’ll let you know what happens.”

 

“I’m going to think of something,” Dawn said firmly.  “I’ll be back – and I’ll have some kind of help with me.”

 

“It’s okay, Dawn,” Buffy insisted.  “This is what the Slayer does.  I don’t think we’re meant to have help.”

 

“Can’t you just wait here for a little while?” Dawn pleaded. 

 

Buffy shook her head stubbornly.  “No.  I think you’re probably right; they aren’t expecting me this soon. It’s probably my best chance to get inside and find Spike before they....” She bit her lip.  “To find Spike,” she finished firmly.  “Thanks for the ride.”

 

Throwing her bag over her shoulder, Buffy slipped into the bushes and trees that separated the factory’s parking lot from the main road.  Dawn watched her go, a frown creasing her brow as she tried to think what to do.  With a determined clenching of her teeth, she pulled a portal up around herself and disappeared into the night.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-four

 

Buffy, in the meantime, was doing her best to sneak quietly through the woods and make her way around the parking lot so as to approach the factory from the back.  Her bag full of extra stakes, cross bows, and holy water kept catching on bushes and yanking her backwards to the accompaniment of muttered curses.  When she realized that she was making enough noise for a normal human to hear her, never mind a creature with super-hearing, she stopped and set the bag down with a sigh.  She glared at it, as though she could intimidate it into being smaller and less unwieldy, but the bag just sat there looking large, heavy and lumpy.  With another sigh, she opened the recalcitrant bag and pondered what she really needed.  Her favorite sword was already hanging over her shoulder, so she reluctantly decided to abandon the cross bow and it’s quiver of wooden arrows.  She tucked a few more stakes in and around her clothing and put a water pistol filled with holy water in her front pocket before patting the bag fondly and saying, “Wait here. I might need you again.”

 

Now relieved of the bulky object that had been impeding her progress, she resumed a much more stealthy path through the trees and around the building.  The closer she got, the stronger the vamp vibes became, until she felt like she was immersed in a sea of vampires. And yet, she saw nothing as she crept up to a closed door that had a small window in it.  Grumbling, not for the first time lately, about her lack of height, she jumped up and down, trying to see through the window and into the lighted interior.

 

Giving that up as a bad job, she walked along past the windows, noting with interest that none of them were darkened the way they were on the side that overlooked the Master’s ‘throne room’.  She crouched down and peered into one window, flinching back when she found a room full of people. A second, more cautious, peek showed her what appeared to be humans in various stages of illness.  A closer look at the listless people lying around below her revealed that they all had bite marks and makeshift bandages scattered around their bodies, as well as bruised and bloody arms and wrists.

 

As she watched, the door to the room opened; two vampires came in, looked around, and pointed at two young women who appeared to be slightly less anemic than most of the others.  Crying softly, the two girls obediently followed the two vamps out the door and into what Buffy presumed must be the area where the draining took place.  Every slayer instinct that she had was insisting that she crash through the window and rescue the two girls from what she was sure was going to happen to them.  However, she was able to smother the urge to charge in, stakes flying, and she moved down the row of windows, searching for more information.  The last window was covered with dirt, and clearly did not look into a frequently used area.  She knelt down and scraped some of the dirt away, catching her breath with a gasp as she stared into the small cinderblock room below.  Hanging from manacles that were bolted to the wall, was a bloody and seemingly unconscious, blond vampire. 

 

If Buffy had thought it was hard to resist charging in to the room full of partially drained humans, she was literally digging holes in the windowsill with her fingernails as she stared at Spike’s abused body.  Just as she was about to throw caution to the winds and break the glass, the door opened and Vamp- Willow slinked her way into the room.

 

“Wakey, wakey,” the red-haired vampire said cheerfully.  “I want to play some more.”

 

“Sod off,” Spike croaked out, raising his head just enough to be sure that she heard him. 

 

“Oh, now see, that’s not cooperative.  I know I explained to you how important it is that you be cooperative.”

 

There was no response from the chained vampire, and Buffy clenched her teeth as Vamp-Willow walked back to the door and shut it tightly.  She strolled back to Spike and purred, “We don’t want to be disturbed, now, do we?”

 

When he didn’t respond, she grabbed his hair and yanked his head up until he was eye to eye with her.

 

“What happened to Alex?” Willow snarled, her fangs only inches from his face.  “And where is that slutty little cheerleader?”

 

Spike remained silent, only the snarl that escaped his lips when Willow slashed his already bloody chest with her nails indicating that he even knew she was there.  When her hand went to his belt and she began to unbuckle it, saying “Let’s see what you’ve got in here – and how attached to it you might be....” Buffy gave her own silent snarl and sat on the ground, her legs drawn up and feet facing the window.  As Willow continued her taunting, taking Spike’s balls in her sharply taloned hands and holding them loosely, Buffy took a last look around to be sure that she was alone on the back side of the building.

 

“Now,” Willow said with deceptive mildness, “why don’t you tell me what the deal is with you and that bottle-blonde wannabe slayer?  Huh?” Her tone changed as she dug her nails into Spike’s scrotum, wringing a strangled howl from him. “Where can I find her? I don’t want to wait for her to show up here. I want her now!”

 

“Be careful what you wish for, Red,” Spike gasped, having spotted Buffy from the corner of his eye.  The sound of breaking glass accompanied the Slayer’s feet-first entrance to the room. She landed lightly in a shower of glass and fell into a fighting stance.

 

“Were you looking for me?” Buffy cocked her head and gave a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

 

“Oh, isn’t that cute?” The surprised vampire tried not to look as shocked as she actually was.  “She’s come to rescue her pet vampire.”  She released Spike and took an unafraid step towards the small angry woman facing her.  “You know,” she said conversationally, “you might be taking that whole ‘slayer’ thing a little too far, coming here like this.  Even a real slayer couldn’t get out of here alive – and you’re not a real slayer, are you, Muffy?”

 

“It’s Buffy, and, news flash – I am a 'real' slayer.  All Chosen and everything.  I put your Master out of our misery a couple of years ago, and I’ll do it again.” 

 

A moment of doubt crossed the vampire’s face, before she drew herself up and said haughtily, “Well, you’ll have to get past me to do that, won’t you?”

 

“Oh, I’m counting on it,” Buffy growled, risking a meaningful glance at Spike.  “That’s going to be the fun part.”

 

“I don’t see a stake in your hand,” Willow hissed, crouching for an attack.

 

“Did you miss the part where I said getting around you was going to be the fun part?  I’m not ready to stake you, yet.  You’re not getting off as easy as your horny friend did.”

 

“You staked Alex?” With a roar, Willow launched herself at the Slayer, only to find that Buffy had side-stepped at the last second.  As Willow flew by, Buffy’s foot caught her in the stomach, the force of the kick multiplied by the vampire’s momentum.  Before the gasping vamp could straighten up, Buffy was on her, an uppercut to Willow’s jaw bringing her to an upright position again.  Willow hadn’t even registered that she’d been hit twice already without drawing any blood from the slayer, before she found herself on the receiving end of a flurry of punches that drove her back until she was pressed up against the very vampire that she had been torturing.  Immediately, Spike struck, holding the snarling vampire in place with his fangs, which were buried in the muscle on the side of her neck.

 

Buffy walked up to the now frightened vamp that looked so much like her best friend and took a stake from her pocket.  “That stake you didn’t see?”  She held it up in front of Vamp-Willow’s face.  “Here it is.”  She drove the stake in, being careful not to strike so hard that she accidentally drove it into Spike also.  They stared at each other as Vamp-Willow’s dust drifted to the floor, Spike in awe, Buffy with great relief at finding him alive and relatively uninjured. After a few seconds, Buffy turned away to search for the key to the manacles.

 

“You shouldn’t have come here, love,” he growled as she picked the key up from a table by the door.  “It’s a trap. “

 

“Of course it is,” Buffy said blithely. “Do you think I’m stupid?  How do you feel?  Can you fight?”

 

 “Buffy, old Bat Face wants a chance to see if you’re really a slayer before he kills you. He’s got half the vamps in the city on their way here to give you a welcoming party.”

 

“Only half?  Against the two of us?  Pffft!” She waved her hand with more confidence than she actually felt.  “I almost feel sorry for them.“

 

As Buffy released his arms, he brought them down around her, pulling her into his bloody chest.

 

“Sweetheart, I love that you came for me. You have no idea what that means to me.  But I really wish you hadn’t done it.  If something happens to you because of me—”

 

“If something happens to me,” she interrupted, putting a gentle finger against his lips, “It will be because I’m the Slayer and things happen to slayers.  It won’t be your fault. It will be because that ugly old bat out there is evil.”

 

“He’s not touchin’ you.”  Spike’s snarled promise would have been more impressive if he hadn’t been leaning heavily on her for support.  Although he had no serious injuries, he had lost a great deal of blood and was weak.  Buffy frowned when she felt him swaying, then lowered him gently to the floor.

 

“What’s wrong? Did I kill that bitch too fast?  What did she do to you?”

 

“Jus’ lost a lot of blood, pet.  If I can get to their supply...” He stopped and shook his head.  “Not much chance of that, I guess.”  His head dropped between his knees as he growled, “Can’t be much help to you like this – got to think of somethin’.  I’m not sendin’ you out there alone...”

 

While Spike was talking, Buffy had been absently tugging on her sleeve where the shattered glass had ripped it as she came through the window.  With a gasp, she realized that she was bleeding from a small cut on her arm – a cut that she hadn’t noticed in her eagerness to kill Vamp-Willow and free Spike.  She quickly ripped off the sleeve and held out her arm, waving it under Spike’s face until he looked up.

 

“Here!  No sense in wasting this on a ruined sweater.”  She continued to hold her arm out and waited patiently for him to notice.

 

Without conscious effort on his part, his fangs dropped and his tongue snaked out to lick the cut.  He looked up at Buffy, his adoration plain, as he carefully licked every trace of blood off her arm.

 

“That’s not enough,” she said firmly, shoving her arm at him.  “Go ahead and take some.”

 

“Buffy...”

 

“Don’t argue with me.  How are you going to watch my back if you can’t stand up?  Now, come on. We’ve got evil vampire butt to kick. Start sucking.”

 

Never taking his eyes off her face, he put his lips over the cut and began to suck as gently as he could.  He immediately stopped when Buffy unconsciously winced, but began again when she glared at him.  The elixir that was the blood of a slayer more than made up for the pig’s blood that Willow’s attentions had caused to drain from his many wounds and he soon felt his strength coming back.  He took his mouth off the cut, kissing it softly and licking it closed.

 

“Thank you, love.”

 

“Are you okay?  Cause you still look kinda—”

 

“We heal from the inside out, pet.  Might take a while for all these cuts to heal up, but they won’t bleed any more.”

 

“So, are you strong enough to fight?” She looked at his ravaged body dubiously.

 

“Feel like I could take on a whole army of slayers – that’s how strong I am,” he said with a smirk.

 

“Yeah, well, army of slayers probably not happening... So I guess it’s just you and me.”

 

“Buffy...” He put a hand on her arm as she went to stand up.  “We could just leave, pet.  Go back out that window and slip off into the woods.  Even if they come lookin’ for us, we’d be able to pick ‘em off a few at a time.”  His eyes pleaded with her to take the safe option, even as his heart told him that it wasn’t going to happen.  She didn’t disappoint.

 

“There are people here, Spike.  People being bled every day so that your ugly old cousin—”  “Great, great grandpa,” he interrupted.  “...so that your grandpa – and ewwww – can act like... like some kind of evil, famous person,” she finished lamely.  “We have to help them. I have to help them, Spike. It’s what I do. It’s what I am.”  Her eyes pleaded with him to understand.

 

“Know that, love,” he soothed.  “Jus’ wanted to be sure you knew there was another option.”

 

“Not for me, there isn’t.”

 

Instead of answering her, he pulled her closer and kissed her, holding the kiss until she melted into him and sighed contentedly.  When the kiss ended, he stood up and pulled her to her feet. 

 

“Alright, Slayer.  I’ve got your back. Let’s see what you’ve got.”

 

“I think you’ve already seen everything I’ve got,” she muttered, earning a muffled laugh from the vampire as he put his ear to the door and tried to figure out if there were any minions close by.

 

“Alright, pet.  I think it’s pretty clear. How do you want to do this?”

 

“Um – find the old guy and kill him?”

 

“Not bad as plans go, love.  Bit more specific?”

 

“I don’t know. You’re the one who’s been inside this place.  Where are we?”

 

“Wasn’t really conscious when they brought me in,” he growled.  “I know we went through the blood dispensing area.  Think it’s on the other side of the hallway out here.”  He nodded to the still-closed door.  “Don’t know where old Bat Face is, though.”

 

“I do,” Buffy said grimly.  She pointed to the west end of the building. “The victims are in a big room right next door to us.  And he’s in another big room at that end of the building.”

 

She chewed her lip for a minute, then said, “If we release all the prisoners first, and I tell them where to find my bag with the extra stakes and holy water, that will create a lot of confusion.  But I don’t want to get them killed,” she worried. “Right now, they’re pretty safe...”

 

“Once you take out the Master and some more of his minions, they aren’t gonna be all that safe.  All those vamps that are already brassed off about having to buy blood from the old fart are gonna head right for that holding area for an easy meal.  If we let ‘em out, at least they’ll have a chance.”

 

She nodded her agreement.  “Okay, let’s go.  That room first.”

 

Before Spike could open the door, a sound from outside froze him in place, and he held his hand up for silence.  They watched as the knob turned far enough for the hand outside to realize that it was locked.

 

“Willow? Are you in there?  The Master wants you.  He says to leave your new toy and come back to his quarters.”  When there was no response, the minion outside rattled the doorknob again, repeating, “Are you in there?  Willow? Open the door.”

 

With a nod at Buffy, Spike yanked the door open and pulled the minion inside before he could yell.  Buffy’s stake was in his back before it even registered that Spike was free; his dust was still floating to the floor as they stepped silently into the hallway.  In just a few long strides, they were at the unguarded door of the holding area and one kick from Buffy’s foot pushed it open.

 

They slipped inside, closing the door behind them and holding up fingers to their lips for silence. Buffy pointed to the window and made a shooing gesture, huffing with irritation when most of the people in the room just stared at her apathetically. 

 

            “Okay, people,” she said to the few that seemed to have enough energy to appear interested. “We’re breaking you out of here.”  She gestured for some of the more alert-looking people to come closer and explained in a whisper, “You can get out that window and run into the woods.  There’s a bag out there, near the road, with weapons – crossbows, holy water, stakes, stuff like that.”

 

A large man with bite marks on both sides of his neck and one crudely bandaged wrist, asked, casting a suspicious eye at Spike.  “And why are you helping us?”

 

“It’s my job,” Buffy said shortly.  “I save people.” 

 

A sound behind them and the frightened expressions that flew across the faces of her audience had her spinning just in time to see Spike pulling a surprised vampire guard into the room.  Moving with inhuman speed, he snapped the minion’s neck, then grabbed the one still outside the door and threw him towards Buffy, who calmly impaled him on her stake before she turned back to the astonished humans watching. 

 

“Oh yeah,” she added cheerfully, “and I slay vampires.”

 

She bent over the one with the broken neck and quickly added his dust to that from the unfortunate second guard.  Spike pushed the door closed again, leaning against it while he waited for Buffy to finish explaining.

 

“How did he do that?”   The people who had begun to cluster around Buffy began backing away as Spike’s pale skin and obvious strength gave away his non-human status.  “You’re not here to help us!” a woman whimpered.  “He’s just another vampire.”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes.  “I don’t have time for this,” she snapped.  “He is not ‘just another vampire’.  He’s my vampire; and he’s going to help me get you out and take down the demons that put you here.”

 

“I don’t trust you,” another man spoke up.  “We’re safe here.  They need our blood, they won’t kill us.”  There were nods of agreement and muttered assents as many of the victims moved back to their places on the floor.

 

Spike’s roar and shift into game face changed the complacent looks to expressions of terror as he snarled at them.

 

“You bloody idiots!  You are dying. You’re just doing it a bit at a time.  And if you don’t think they’re goin’ to kill you once they can’t bleed you any more, you’re even stupider than you look.”  He strode through the cringing humans to the window, grabbing the frame and ripping the entire window out. “Now get off your arses and get out of here.  Find the slayer’s bag of tricks and get some of your own back, or just run away.  Don’t much care what you do, but you’re not stayin’ in here to distract my girl while she’s tryin’ to fight!”

 

Days and weeks of obedience to their captors had programmed even the most anemic of the victims to do whatever they were told by vampires, and Spike’s snarling orders reached them in a way that Buffy’s pleading had not.  They shuffled towards the window staring up longingly at the sky visible outside. Taking advantage of their fear, Spike continued to snap orders while Buffy went around the room assisting the weaker people to their feet and urging them towards freedom.

 

Spike stopped one of the more vigorous-appearing men and pushed him under the window.  “You first,” he barked.  “You can help pull people out.  And you,” he continued, grabbing another muscular young man, “You take this and keep watch.”  He handed the bewildered man one of Buffy’s stakes, then turned back to the first man, picking him up effortlessly and pushing him through the now-gaping hole in the wall.  Before the other man’s feet had even disappeared, he was throwing the stake-holder up to the exit, nodding in approval as the first man rolled over and grabbed the other one’s arms. 

 

As soon as the first two were free, the others began to crowd around the wall where Spike and Buffy took turns lifting them up to where the people outside could pull them to safety.  Spike nodded in approval as two men wearing the remnants of police uniforms moved to the back of the line and began to assist weaker prisoners.  When they were the last two left in the room, Buffy described as best she could, where she had left the weapons bag.  They nodded and waited for the small blond woman and her vampire to help them reach the opening to the outside world.

 

“Crossbow’s gonna be your best bet from a distance,” Spike growled as he pushed the last of the prisoners out the window opening. “Give the women the holy water and give the stakes to the strongest men. Takes a bit of force to drive a stake home if you’re not a slayer.” 

 

The man bent down and looked in at their two small, but incredibly strong rescuers. “What are you going to do?” he asked, looking back and forth between them.  Spike looked at Buffy and shrugged.

 

“Whatever the Slayer wants me to,” he replied easily, “It’s her show.”

 

The brawny cop turned his curious gaze on Buffy, who said flatly, “I’m going to slay vampires.”

 

With a final wave, they turned away and began walking towards the door that led to the rest of the facility, moving with a grace and athleticism that was clearly more than human.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-five

 

They stopped at the broken door to give Spike a chance to listen for other minions and to try to sense where the Master was.  Buffy’s vamp senses, which she had been ignoring since she arrived, were now telling her that there were a large number of vampires close by, including at least one very old and powerful one.  She clutched the amulet that Dawn had given her, shivering as she remembered how easily the Master had enthralled her the first time she faced him.  Spike saw her hesitation and the way she touched her protection.

 

“You’re not that girl, love,” he said softly.  “You took him out when you were just a baby slayer; he won’t know what hit him this time.”

 

“I know,” she said with a small smile.  “And, anyway, this time my vampire boyfriend isn’t sitting at home waiting for me to be killed; he has my back.”

 

“Always,” Spike replied, trying not to give her words about Angel more importance than they deserved.   He pulled her in for a quick hug and repeated, “I will always have your back, Slayer.  Count on it.”

 

“I am,” she whispered, brushing her lips across his briefly before stepping into the hallway and beginning a determined march towards the door to the blood delivery area.  She hesitated as she reached the entrance, ducking back when she saw the number of hungry vamps that filled the room.  The minions were pumping blood from what looked like a large beer keg, parceling it out in one-pint containers as the vamps moved through the line.

 

“Step up,” one of them said loudly.  “As soon as the Slayer shows up and we’ve captured her, there will be Slayer blood for everyone.”

 

Buffy gave a credible growl under her breath, earning an appreciative smile from Spike.  Before they could decide how to approach the coming battle, one of the female minions ordered a tall, skinny one that she called Ralph to “check on those idiots that we sent to get more blood.  Tell them to get their asses out here with some fresh food.”

 

As the minion came through the doorway, Buffy tapped him on the shoulder, staking him efficiently when he turned around.  They were able to do that several more times before the remaining minion halted the line, saying, “You’ll have to wait while I get some more help.  I’ll be right back.”

 

She cast a look in the direction of the prisoner holding area, then changed her mind and hustled to the door to the Master’s throne room.  She knocked, then stuck her head in. 

 

“It’s me, Terry. Are Ralph and Alice in here?  What about Michael?”

 

“No,” her master said with a snarl.  “Nor is the underling I sent to find my Willow.  What is going on out there?”

 

“I don’t know,” Terry whimpered, cringing in the face of her master’s wrath. “Nobody that’s gone into the hall has come back.  It’s just me and a lot of hungry customers.”

 

The Master raised his head and sniffed the air, his face taking on a truly terrifying expression.

 

“Slayer,” he growled quietly.

 

“The Slayer?  She’s here?”  Terry’s eyes darted around as though looking for an exit that wouldn’t send her into the hall from which no one had returned.  Before she could retreat to the blood dispensing area, the Master ordered her through another door and into the hallway where Buffy and Spike were preparing to attack the Master’s private quarters.  Obeying her master very reluctantly, Terry slinked through the door, whirling when she heard it slam behind her.  She reached for the doorknob, but found that it had been locked behind her.

 

She turned slowly, her vamp hearing telling her that there was a human heartbeat close by.  When she saw, not the fearsome amazon that she expected the Slayer to be, but a petite blond girl and the grinning man behind her, she was temporarily nonplussed.  This was the infamous Slayer that had the Master in such a tizzy?  This rather ordinary-looking little girl?  Terry narrowed her eyes at the man standing behind the Slayer and realized that there was no heartbeat coming from his body.

 

“So,” she said, stalling for time and hoping for reinforcements, “she claims to be the Slayer and you do her killing for her? Is that how it is?”

 

“You wish, pet,” he said amiably, leaning against a wall and lighting a cigarette. 

 

Refusing to give up her misconceptions yet, Terry scoffed.  “Yeah, and I suppose you don’t expect to take over from the Master?  Why else would you be here?”

 

“I’m here ‘cause your ‘Master’ thought kidnappin’ me was the fastest way to get the Slayer.  Turns out he was right.  Girl got here a bit faster than anybody expected, yeah?”

 

“You don’t want to be the Master?” Terry was still struggling to understand what was going on.  Buffy, in the meantime, was bouncing impatiently, tossing her stake from hand to hand.

 

“Spike, the longer we stand here talking to this ho-bag, the more old Bat Mouth has time to get ready for us.”

 

“You can’t kill him,” Terry said with great finality.  “He’s the Master.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what everybody said the last time.”  Tired of the conversation, Buffy didn’t wait for Terry’s “Huh?” to finish before driving her stake into the vampire’s chest.

 

Spike pushed himself off the wall, tossing the cigarette behind him carelessly.

 

“Alright, pet.  I guess it’s show-time.”  

 

As Buffy preceded him to the entrance of the large area full of expectant vampires, Spike leaned in to whisper in her ear, “You know I love you, yeah?”

 

Buffy nodded silently, turning her head to meet his eyes.  “I know”, she responded, hesitating just long enough that he nuzzled her neck and rumbled, “Wasn’t askin’ for a reply, love.  Don’t worry yourself. Jus’ needed to say it.”

 

She smiled gratefully, then turned to take in the crowd now staring at them in confusion.

 

“Hi, guys!” she said, waving cheerfully with one hand while she pulled her sword off her back with the other.  “There’s been a little change of plans. All the meals have gone home.  Guess there’s nothing for you to hang around for now.”

 

“You’re still here,” a familiar-looking vamp growled.  “You look like a meal to me.”

 

While Spike went into game face and snarled at him, Buffy just nodded.  “Good point.  Kinda like the one on my sword.  Which is gonna make eating me kinda tricky, doncha think?”

 

The one that had spoken, which Buffy now recognized as one of the bouncers from her first visit, gestured to a few others to spread out.  He narrowed his eyes at Spike, who was still snarling at him and moving into position on Buffy’s left.  None of the vampires in the room had ever seen a real Slayer – in fact, most of them had assumed that she was a myth.

 

Several minutes after the first coordinated attack, the remaining vampires were clustered on one side of the room, their faces reflecting a new understanding of just what it meant for a girl to be called a Slayer.  Those who were merely injured, rather than dust, crawled away glaring at the impossibly strong and fast girl and the traitorous vampire who was watching her back.

 

Although Buffy had made a serious dent in the number of vampires facing them, those that were left were not only wiser, but angrier.  As she and Spike worked their way towards the entrance to the Master’s quarters, they could see the remaining vampires gathering their courage for another attack.  Quickly, they kicked the door open and slammed it behind them, locking it and shoving a heavy table in front of it.

 

While Spike looked for more heavy furniture to pile in front of the door, Buffy turned to face several of the Master’s bodyguards who obediently followed his order to “Get her – but get her alive.”  It took Buffy several minutes and an assist from Spike before she had turned all of the Master’s favorites to dust that coated the floor. From the other side of the door they could hear the snarls and roars of the other vamps, and they could feel the door shiver as they pounded on it.  The remaining bodyguards looked to their Master for instructions, none of them being very interested in testing their own luck against the deadly girl in front of them.

 

The very old vampire waved them back and arose from his throne, walking slowly to the edge of the dais upon which it sat.  He studied the girl in front of him, his eyes narrowed and his mouth twitching.

 

“There are no slayers in this world, he said finally.  “I made sure of that a hundred years ago.”

 

‘There is now,” Buffy said cheerfully.  “And this one has already kicked your ass once.  Second time should be a breeze.”

 

Instead of answering her, he held out his taloned hand, curving it into a macabre gesture of welcome.  As he drew it back towards his chest he frowned when Buffy just stood there, grinning at him.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I was supposed to do something there, wasn’t I?  Like walk over and let you bite me?  Sorry, BatFace, not this time.”  She touched the amulet around her neck and shook her head.  “It’s just you and me – no thrall, no magic tricks.”

 

The old vamp shifted his gaze to Spike and frowned again.  “Do I know you?  Why do you feel like family?  Surely no one from the Aurelian line would stoop to helping a slayer against the head of his family?”

 

“Always been a bit of a black sheep,” Spike replied. “Even Angelus couldn’t beat the disobedience out of me – not likely you’re gonna be able to talk it out of me.”

 

“Angelus...He was your sire?” 

 

Buffy was getting impatient as the Master seemed more interested in discussing Spike’s ancestry than in fighting, but the mention of Angel’s name got her attention.  She listened with interest as Spike nonchalantly replied.

 

“Grandsire, actually. Guess that makes you my great, great granddaddy.” He grinned wolfishly and continued, “I’ll try to make you proud.”

 

He whirled just in time to intercept one of the bodyguards that had been trying to get behind Buffy, taking a minimum amount of time to dispense with what the Master had considered one of his smartest and strongest minions.  The Master gestured with his clawed hand, and the other bodyguard minions attacked, two of them going for Spike and the other three leaping at Buffy.  The old vampire watched with interest as the two intruders moved so that their backs were to the outside wall and Spike was on Buffy’s left where he wouldn’t interfere with her sword arm. 

 

Buffy quickly took the head off one minion, ignoring his dust as she spun out of reach of the other two.  The vampires she and Spike were facing now were older and smarter than the others they had disposed of so easily. Now well aware of what they were facing, they were appropriately careful as they worked to separate the two warriors.   While the door to the outside room continued to hold against the onslaught of hungry vampires left behind, Spike and Buffy tried to dust the remaining bodyguards before the door could give way and allow those overwhelming numbers to pour in at their backs.

 

When Spike threw one of his assailants towards Buffy with a “catch, Slayer”, she staked the vampire with her left hand without even looking in his direction or interrupting her swordplay.  When one swing hit a pole in the center of the room, breaking the blade, she threw the remaining stub at the Master before switching the stake to her right hand and glaring at the suddenly more-confident vampires facing her.  An angry snarl from the dais told her that her throw had reached its target and she grinned at the minions in front of her.

 

“Oops?” she chirped.  “My bad!” 

 

With only one vamp left to fight, Spike let his demon take full control, and he was soon holding the head that he had wrenched off his last opponent, watching it crumble to dust in his hands.  Carefully positioning himself between Buffy and the still non-participating master, he watched as she spun and kicked, jumped and ducked, and flowed around the two snarling vampires until she could plunge her stake into the taller one’s chest.  Spike was already moving as the tiny interruption in Buffy’s constant motion gave the remaining vampire the opening for which he’d been waiting. 

 

Suddenly Buffy was being held against a powerful chest, her arms pinned to her sides and her feet dangling off the floor.  Spike was behind the vampire that was holding her before his fangs could reach Buffy’s throat, grabbing the vampire’s head with his hands and twisting it completely around as he snarled a guttural “Mine” into the vamp’s ear.  As soon as she felt her arms released, Buffy turned and drove her stake into the vamp’s chest so hard that Spike had to flinch back to avoid being staked himself.

 

They looked at each other for a second, sharing a triumphant grin before turning as one to glare at the ancient vampire now frowning at them from his raised platform.  Appearing more angry than frightened, he gave them a toothy grin as he said, “I believe you will find me a more difficult kill than you did my soldiers.”

 

Buffy shrugged.  “Yeah, that’s what you said the last time.  Right before I dropped you three stories onto a really big stake.”

 

Taking his eyes off the slayer, he addressed himself to Spike.

 

“I can see that you are a fighter worthy of being called an Aurelian.  If you deliver your pet slayer to me, I will seat you at my right hand and you will rule with me.  I will even permit you to turn her, if you desire to keep her. She can continue to be yours.”

 

“Think you’re a mite confused about who belongs to who here, Grandpop.” Spike moved closer to Buffy and touched her arm lightly. 

 

“I heard you claim her as yours. Your demon spoke.”

 

“Figure of speech. I jus’ meant I wasn’t lettin’ any other demon’s teeth anywhere near her neck.    I’m hers – for as long as she wants me – and I won’t let you put your fangs anywhere near her.  Or,” he continued with a sideways glance at Buffy, “I wouldn’t allow it if I thought I had any reason to get in her way. But I think the girl can take of herself.  I’m just here to keep the fight honest.”

 

“Nice save,” Buffy muttered, letting go of the righteous indignation she’d been building up as he and the older vampire discussed her as if she wasn’t even there.

 

“I’m not completely stupid,” he smirked. “But, just so you know, l if I think you’re losin’, I’m in and you can yell at me after.”

 

“If I’m losing, I expect to find you with a mouthful of ugly before I have time to yell for help,” she admitted with a small smile.

 

“You’ve got it, love.”  He grinned and gestured towards the Master who was still staring at them with curiosity.  “Show him what it means to face a real Slayer.”

 

Spike began to move away, giving Buffy room to fight the older vampire.  The Master seemed to have resigned himself to having to kill Buffy himself, and had just gathered himself to leap at her when the door finally burst open.  For a few brief seconds, the press of bodies attempting to get inside kept the horde of hungry vampires trapped behind a dam of snarling minions; but it quickly dissolved and the vampires fell into the room.  With a quick shove, Spike propelled Buffy towards the dais, saying, “Do what you need to do, pet.  I’ll deal with the riff-raff.”

 

With a nod, Buffy left her feet, flipping herself up and over the Master’s head and landing behind him.  She swung at him with her stake, hoping for a quick kill, but his speed made that impossible and she settled down for a prolonged battle.

 

Spike rolled his shoulders and snarled at the hesitant vampires in front of him.  “Alright, then, who wants to be first to go to hell?”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

 

By the time she had countered a surprisingly agile and potentially deadly attack from the deceivingly ancient-seeming vampire facing her, Buffy was more than grateful for Spike’s more vigorous training sessions.  Only the stamina he’d forced her to develop kept her muscles fresh and her reflexes sharp enough to prevent the fight from having a short, fatal ending.  The Master’s lips parted in a parody of a smile.

 

“It’s been a while since I was truly challenged,” he purred.  “This might be more fun than I expected.”

 

“This might be more terminal than you expected,” she muttered, attacking with a ferocity that surprised both of them.  Visions of being bitten and left to drown in a puddle mixed with scenes of waking from nightmares that he had returned from the grave.  Nightmares that she remembered didn’t end until she had destroyed his minions and turned his bones into a fine powder.  Fueled by a combination of fear and fury, she pressed her attack, ignoring the blows that she couldn’t dodge and striking the snarling vampire over and over again.

 

Behind her she could hear the snarling and snapping of the horde of vamps that Spike was attempting to keep away from the dais, and for the first time she worried that she might have doomed them both by refusing to leave when they had a chance.  She saw the Master’s eyes light up and risked a glance over her shoulder to find that Spike was being pushed closer and closer to the stage upon which she was facing only one vampire while he was fighting a dozen at a time.  Only the lack of space in the long narrow room and his own uncanny ability to sense the direction from which the next attack was going to come kept him from being completely surrounded.

 

Spike’s ability to keep the outraged and hungry vamps at bay was gradually succumbing to the sheer numbers that kept him constantly facing newer, fresher opponents, even as he dusted the ones closest to him.  He was forced back, his arms dripping blood from newly opened wounds, and one eye swollen almost shut from a kick that had got past his usual defense. 

 

When he was forced to use the last of his energy to jump onto the stage where he could use his booted feet to temporarily form a barricade of unconscious bodies, he could feel Buffy behind him.

 

“Might be time to re-think leaving, love,” he grunted, grabbing the Master’s throne and swinging it like a large, unwieldy mace.  “I can hold them off long enough for you to get back to the window.”

 

“I’m not leaving you here!”  Her shocked reply warmed his heart even while it brought a groan from his throat.

 

“Buffy, I can’t hold them much longer.  Either dust that ugly old bugger, or get your sweet little arse out of here while you can.”

 

She risked another quick look at the exhausted vampire, seeing the truth of his words. He was wielding the chair by sheer force of will; blood flowed freely from wounds both large and small as he tried to remain strong. The moment’s inattention gave the Master the opening for which he’d been waiting and suddenly Buffy was clutched against his chest, her arms pinned, her stake clenched uselessly in her hand.  The old vampire’s fetid breath made her gag as he laughed in her ear.

 

Buffy struggled vainly, the Master’s superior strength making it easy for him to keep her immobile while he gloated loud enough to be heard by the other vampires in the room.

 

“Look at this.  It turns out Slayers are just little girls, with soft skin and warm blood – just like any other piece of food.”

 

Spike whirled, trying in vain to avoid the hands clawing at him from behind as his deadly feet and fists were no longer facing the crowd.  Buffy moaned as she watched him get dragged onto the floor where, still screaming her name, he disappeared under a pile of snarling, snapping vampires. 

 

“Spike!” Her terrified scream had barely left her throat when there was an ear-splitting shockwave that left every vampire in the room clutching his ears and shaking his head.  Before they could recover, they began exploding into dust, the survivors spinning around in confusion as they tried to identify their new enemy. 

 

Filling the space behind the Master, who was trying to maintain his grip on Buffy even as he shook his own head in an attempt to clear his ringing ears, was a large, glowing portal out of which came a rain of crossbow bolts and stakes.  As Buffy tore herself free of the Master’s deadly embrace, she whirled and drove her stake through his heart in one smooth move. 

 

Not even waiting for his dust to settle, she dove off the dais and pulled the few remaining vamps off Spike, flinging them aside without even bothering to stake them.  She fell to her knees beside the unconscious man on the floor, holding his head in her lap and begging him to open his eyes and tell her he was going to be okay.   Tears fell freely onto his battered face, washing weak pink trickles of blood down his cheeks and onto her lap.

 

Over her head, the barrage of crossbow bolts was taking its toll on the remaining vampires still trying to get into the room.  Those closer to Spike and Buffy were rapidly disappearing as a duplicate Spike and Buffy threw stakes with unerring accuracy and force.  Safely behind that Spike and Buffy, as well as Angel and Faith who were continuing the deadly and systematic fusillade of wooden crossbow bolts, Dawn was cheering and shouting.

 

“See!  I told you I’d come up with something!”

 

None of the attacking vampires had noticed that the reinforcements had not stepped outside the portal’s walls, and, as their numbers dwindled, those that could began to slip away.  They retreated through the ruined doorway into what had been the blood disbursing room, only to be met by a group of angry humans wielding holy water, more crossbows, and stakes.  Those that successfully ran the gauntlet of vengeful humans quickly disappeared into the woods, vowing to find real jobs and to buy their blood from butchers in the future.

 

Buffy had paid little attention to the activity around her, raising her head only when she heard Dawn’s triumphant shout.  She stared in amazement as her own face stared back at her briefly before the Buffy who was now living in her body returned to methodically dusting the vampires left in the room.  To that Buffy’s left, another, somehow softer-appearing version of Spike, winked at her while still throwing his own stakes with competent and joyful accuracy. 

 

Buffy frowned in confusion at the dark-haired girl who was loading and firing a crossbow with calm expertise and a fluid motion that should have been impossible for a mere human.  Beside her was a much larger man, his face achingly familiar.

 

“Angel,” she breathed. He faltered for a second, looking at her and the unconscious vampire that she was holding so tenderly, then turned back to his skillful shooting.  On her lap she felt Spike tremble and she glanced down happily, only to find him forcing his abused body off her lap.  His face, what could be seen of it, was as closed and unreadable as she’d ever seen it and she recoiled involuntarily from the coldness there.

 

When she flinched, Spike pulled himself completely away from her and struggled to sit up, leaning his back against the stage and watching dispassionately as the four new arrivals decimated the mob that had been attacking him.  Buffy stared at him in confusion, not yet realizing that she had spoken Angel’s name aloud.   When he resolutely continued to face away from her, she got slowly to her feet and stepped up on the stage to hug Dawn.  The dimension-jumping Key had stepped out from the shelter of the portal as soon as it became clear that she would be in no danger and she was now looking back and forth between Buffy and Spike with a frown on her face.

 

“What’s with him?” she asked.  “It seems to me he should be thanking me for saving his butt, not pouting.”

 

“I’m not pouting,” came the growl from the floor. The first words he had spoken since awakening on Buffy’s lap to find her staring at his grandsire with her mouth open and Angel’s name still on her lips.

 

“So, then, you’re just brooding?” The other Spike’s voice carried just a slight edge to it as he recognized immediately what was wrong with his unsouled self.

 

There was no response but a murderous glare from the battered vampire now struggling to pull himself to his feet.  Without thinking, Buffy rushed to his side and put his arm over her shoulders.  He stiffened when he felt her touch, but was too unsteady on his feet to pull away. 

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked, not bothering to lower her voice.

 

“What’s wrong is the stupid wanker has forgotten what I said in the note I sent him and he’s about to do something bloody stupid.  And probably for no good reason,” he added, taking a look at Buffy’s anxious face and making a shrewd guess about her feelings for his younger self.

 

Once Spike had reached the stage again, he sat down heavily and removed his arm from Buffy’s shoulders, giving her a little shove and saying with forced calmness, “Guess you’ll be wantin’ to say some ‘hellos’ then, won’t you?’”

 

Before she could respond, Angel had walked to the very edge of the portal to stare at the unfamiliar Buffy now frowning at the Spike he assumed was the one he had fought with in Sunnydale.  The Spike who had been replaced by the souled version standing closely beside “his” Buffy, now lost to him.  He drank in the mature face and body of the woman outside the portal, searching for some sign of the innocent little girl that he’d known before. 

 

Buffy smiled back at him tremulously, her heart rate going up as she finally realized what was wrong with Spike.  Her eyes darted back and forth between the two vampires, one waiting quietly for her to speak to him, the other staring intently at the ruined doorway at the other end of the room.  Biting her lip, she smiled at Angel again and whispered, “Hi, Angel.  Thanks for coming.”

 

Warm brown eyes peered into hers until he saw what he was looking for; then he nodded as if to himself and said with a sad smile, “You’re welcome, Buffy.  I’m glad we could help. And I’m glad to see that you’ve survived here... and that you aren’t alone.”

 

Spike’s whole body twitched at his grandsire’s words, but he stubbornly refused to turn around.  While everyone else in the room could see that Buffy’s attention was completely focused on his stiff back, he continued to believe that she was staring at Angel with adoring eyes and a wistful smile. 

 

Angel turned to the Spike within the portal and grinned.  “I see he’s not any smarter than you are,” he said with great satisfaction.  “Too busy feeling inferior to see what’s right in front of his face.”

 

With a growl at his grandsire, Spike shouted at the blood-soaked version of himself, “Oi! Quit behaving like a bloody wanker and talk to the girl.”

 

With a silencing glare at both vampires, Buffy moved closer to her younger doppleganger and said softly, “Just tell him.  He needs to hear it.”  She had been watching the younger Buffy’s face constantly since the fighting had tapered off, and she knew herself well enough to understand what she was seeing.  She also knew that there was no way that Spike was going to believe that she would choose him over Angel unless Buffy made it very clear. And she knew herself well enough to know that it was only a question of time before the vampire’s behavior caused the younger Buffy to lose her own temper and make things worse.

 

“What if he doesn’t believe me?” Buffy asked the mirror image frowning at her from within the glowing walls.  “All I’ve done the whole time he’s known me is talk about Angel.”  She saw the dark-haired vampire start to preen and sent him an apologetic smile as she added, “Well, not so much lately, I guess.  I’ve kinda... moved on.”

 

A satisfied, “Ha!” from the older Spike and a growl from Angel had Faith stepping between the two Sunnydale vampires and holding up her hands.

 

“Easy there, guys.  Let B handle this.  It’s not like either one of you is in a position to do anything about it anyway.”

 

The reminder that they could not step outside the portal’s walls without risking serious damage to the fabric between dimensions was all it took to defuse the building tension.  Angel’s gradual acceptance of Spike’s soul and his place in Buffy’s life had gone a long way towards reconciling the differences between the two vampires and they no longer looked for reasons to try to kill each other.  Most of the time they managed to co-exist relatively peacefully, even though Spike’s soul wasn’t a sufficient hindrance to his constant needling of the older vampire. And Angel’s acceptance of Spike’s place on the side of Good wasn’t enough to prevent him from finding the younger vampire a constant source of annoyance.

 

Ignoring the conversation going on behind her, Buffy continued to prod her younger self to cross the few feet between her and the still-pouting vampire.  “Just tell him,” she urged.  “He heard you say Angel’s name and he thinks that’s who you were worried about.”

 

With sudden understanding, Buffy remembered her gasp of recognition when she’d first realized who was holding the other crossbow.  She nodded silently and walked the few steps to where Spike was sitting.  She knelt down behind him and put her arms around him gently.  When he didn’t push her away, she moved closer and put her mouth close to his ear.

 

“I don’t love him anymore,” she whispered.  “I was just surprised to see him.  I have a new boyfriend now, and I... I think I love him more than I ever did Angel.  Even if he is kind of a stubborn poophead sometimes,” she added when he didn’t respond to her except to take a sudden surprised breath.

 

With a snort of laughter, he finally relaxed against her and turned his face to hers.

 

“I’m makin’ a right arse of myself, aren’t I?” he admitted, gazing into her eyes with a mixture of awe and embarrassment.

 

“You are,” she agreed.  “But it’s okay, cause you just helped me dust the Master and his minions so you get a free pass for being a hero.”

 

“You love me?” he asked, abruptly changing the subject.  “Did you mean that?” His eyes searched hers with an intensity that was almost frightening.

 

She nodded, forcing herself to maintain eye contact.  “I meant it.  When I thought you were going to be dust, I wanted to die too.  I couldn’t be here without you, Spike.  I wouldn’t want to live without you.”

 

“I’m sorry I’m such an insecure wanker,” he whispered, brushing his lips against hers.  “I just love you so bloody much, and...”

 

“You can show me later,” she smiled against his mouth before moving back and standing up.  “Now we’ve got people to thank and then I have to get you home and start taking care of you.”

 

She extended her hand and, with more effort than he cared to admit to, he got to his feet and stood beside her to face the curious group in the portal.  Dawn ran over to him and hugged first him and then Buffy, exclaiming, “I was so afraid we wouldn’t get here in time; and when I saw you go down....”

 

“Ah, I’m tougher than that, Little Sis. But thank you for bringing in reinforcements.  Came in right handy, they did,” he said with a nod at the two slayers and older vampires facing them with grins on their faces. 

 

He studied the Buffy inside the portal, recognizing the more rounded body and wiser eyes that he’d first seen what seemed so long ago. 

 

“You’re lookin’ good, love,” he said softly.  “Bein’ with a vamp what has his soul seems to be agreein’ with you.”

 

“You look good, too, Spike,” she responded with a warm smile.  “Or, well, you look happy anyway.  Good probably isn’t the right word for the way you look right now, but... I’m stopping now.  It’s nice to see you again,” she finished with a flustered laugh.

 

He laughed too, and pulled his Buffy into his side.  “Nothin’ like the love of a good woman to make a man – or a vamp - feel like he could take on the world.”

 

“You look like you did take on the world,” Dawn said dryly.  “I think I need to get you guys home so you can lick your wounds.  I’ll just return the reinforcements to Sunnydale and be right back.”

 

“Why don’t you take everybody back to our house?” Buffy asked, smiling as Spike squeezed her hand.  “Then I can patch Spike up while you explain who she is,” she said, pointing to Faith, “and how you did this.”

 

Dawn shook her head.  “How are you going to get back without me?  He can’t drive in that condition.”

 

“I bloody well can,” Spike growled indignantly, his bravado not quite making up for the fact that he was swaying on his feet and leaning heavily on the Slayer.

 

“You can not. You can barely stand.”  Dawn dismissed him with a wave of her hand and turned to the others waiting in the portal.  “How about if I take you guys to their house and then come back and get them?  It’ll only take an hour or so to drive them home.”

 

“Why doesn’t one of them drive us?” Buffy scrunched her face up, wondering why, with four other adults present, Dawn felt she needed to drive them home.

 

“They can’t step outside the portal,” she explained.  “I can, for some reason, but if anything else bigger than say a rat or a maybe cat does it, bad things can happen.”  She shuddered and didn’t elaborate on what those ‘bad things’ might be.

 

“Oh.” 

 

“Yeah, big ‘Oh’.  Okay, you guys ready to go?”

 

Without waiting for an answer, she stepped into the portal and pulled it around herself and her four companions, disappearing with another louder than normal clap of thunder.  Buffy felt Spike wince and she began rubbing his ears while he groaned at the additional insult to his already battered body.  He leaned on her briefly, then forced himself upright.

 

“Let’s go then, love.  Where did you leave the car?  Do you think Little Sis will be able to find it if we wait for her there?”

 

“I’m sure she will. She’s the one who drove it here.  But we need to find some blood for you first.  Stay here.”

 

She lowered him to the floor of the stage again, smiling at his attempt to look disgruntled about being babied.  She brushed her lips across his and said, “I’m going to go see if there’s any blood left in those vats out there.  Okay?”

 

He nodded, closing his eyes and resting his head on his knees.

 

“Go on, pet.  I’ll be fine here.  I’ll jus’ rest a minute...” He slumped forward and Buffy grabbed him just in time to lower his head to the floor and turn him so that he was lying on his side.

 

“You do that,” she whispered, kissing his forehead.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-seven

 

With a last touch on his shoulder, she got up and walked through the gaping doorway into the room where the Master’s minions had dispensed the blood drained from their captives.  She halted, reaching automatically for her stake and then relaxed as she realized she was looking at a rag-tag army of former blood donors.   They faced each other silently, the small blonde slayer and the humans who had been held captive while their life’s blood was taken from them.  They were still clutching the crossbows, stakes and now-empty water pistols that they had found in Buffy’s bag.

 

Buffy looked at the piles of dust covering the floor of the big room and smiled.  “Good job, guys.  You can keep those bows if you want.  You never know when you might need them again.”

 

One of the men who had been among the last to leave nodded his gratitude, then asked, “Where’s your vampire?”

 

Buffy gestured to the other room.  “He’s in there, but he’s hurt pretty bad. I came out here to find him some blo—”  She stopped, embarrassed to say that she was looking for blood – probably theirs – to feed Spike.  Instead of being angry, the man nodded again.

 

“Whatever he needs,” he said.  “You two saved us.  If blood we’ve already lost can help one of you, you’re welcome to it.”

 

Breathing a sigh of relief, Buffy quickly went to the dispensing area and found the containers that were waiting to be filled.  It took her three tries to find a vat that still had blood in it, but she finally was able to fill several containers with the not-yet-congealing blood.   As she tried to juggle all the containers, she found people stepping up to help.  She reentered the Master’s lair followed by several of the released prisoners, each one holding a container of blood for their vampire savior.

 

They all halted, gasping, as they saw Spike’s bloody and battered body lying on the stage, looking exactly like a corpse.

 

“He... he looks dead,” an older woman whispered.

 

“He is dead,” Buffy said quietly.  “Has been for over a hundred years.  But if we can get some of this blood into him, his demon will be okay.”

 

The humans who weren’t familiar with vampire physiology frowned, although the cop nodded again as though he understood all about animated corpses.  Buffy knelt beside Spike and tried to raise his shoulders and head so that she could pour blood into his slack mouth, but she had trouble doing it with one hand.  Suddenly the other woman was beside her, taking the blood from her hand and holding it ready as Buffy pulled Spike into a slumped sitting position and tilted his head back.  The woman gasped at the damage to Spike’s formerly handsome face, but bravely held out the container as Buffy reached for it.

 

“Come on, baby,” she murmured.  “Drink this for me.  I know it’s not the good stuff, but that will have to wait until we get home.  Come on, Spike, swallow.  Please?”

 

With a sigh of relief, she saw his throat working and the blood that she had watched pool in his mouth disappeared.  She quickly tipped the container up and poured more in, smiling as he began swallowing in earnest.  When the container was empty, she set it down and smiled gratefully as another one was placed in her hand.  By the time Spike had finished the new one, his eyes were open and he was blinking in confusion at the concerned human faces staring at him.

 

He glanced up at Buffy and managed to say “Wha-?”

 

“You’ve got fans,” she said with a grin.  “They wanted to help.  Here, have some more.”  She put another container to his lips, smiling when he raised his hand and held it himself while he gulped the contents.  With a groan, he managed to put the empty container down and draw himself up to a more erect position. 

 

“Feeling better?”  The concern on the faces of the watching humans caused an unfamiliar sensation in his unbeating heart.  A sensation he hadn’t felt around a strange human in over a hundred years.

 

He nodded, afraid for a moment to trust his voice.  When he thought he had control, he cleared his throat and said, “Much better.  Appreciate the help.”

 

“No sweat, dude.  You saved our lives.”  There were nods of agreement from the small group surrounding them.

 

Buffy jumped to her feet when Spike pushed himself up and tried to stand. “I don’t think you can do that yet,” she scolded.  “You’re going to wait here until Dawn comes back with the car.”

 

“I’m fine,” he insisted, leaning on her for support.  “Ready to go again.”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes and exchanged a look of feminine solidarity with the other woman.

 

“Fine, let’s try walking into another room first and then we’ll see about anything else. ‘K?”

 

He nodded and began limping towards the doorway, more grateful than he let on for the strong support under his arm.  When he faltered, the other woman was suddenly on his other side, smiling timidly as she offered her own shoulder as another crutch.  Spike gave her one of his patented smiles, and was rewarded by her blush and giggle.  Buffy’s soft growl and pinch on his ass reminded him that flirting openly with another woman when you were involved with a Slayer probably wasn’t a good idea, and he turned his head back to her.

 

“So, Little Sis is comin’ back for us?”

 

“That’s what she said.  She’s going to drive us home.”

 

“Where’s home?”  The man’s voice contained nothing but curiosity and Buffy answered readily.

 

“We live in Winterset. And I need to get home.  I have to be at work tomorrow.”

 

Before anyone could express their surprise that heroes had jobs just like everyone else, they reached the bigger room.  As Spike and Buffy walked slowly into the room, a smattering of applause greeted their arrival; a smattering that grew into a genuine ovation as the humans took in the battered condition of the two people who had engineered their escape, provided them with weapons, and apparently defeated the Master and all his minions.

 

Buffy blushed, hiding her head in Spike’s shoulder as he shook with gentle laughter. 

 

“This is embarrassing,” she whispered.

 

“Nothing more than you deserve, pet,” he whispered back.  “Enjoy it while you’ve got it.”

 

The applause tapered off and they were all able to hear the sound of a car horn coming from right outside the front door.

 

“That’s our ride,” Spike said as he and Buffy walked slowly out the door to the accompaniment of offers of hospitality and suggestions that they come back soon.   Waiting right outside the door was their car, a grinning Dawn at the wheel.

 

“Let’s go home, Spike,” Buffy said, opening the back door and helping him into the car.  As soon as she saw him lying comfortably on the seat, she got into the front with Dawn and gestured expansively.  “Home, Jeeves.  And step on it.”

 

Yes ‘m,” Dawn nodded.  “Home it is.”

 

The ride home was swift and uneventful.  Buffy turned around several times to see how Spike was doing, reassured when he smiled at her every time.  Although his eyes were inevitably closed when she turned around, they always opened immediately and sought hers.  As soon as they had exchanged soft smiles, he closed them again and she turned back to the front.

 

When they got home, Dawn parked as close to the front door as she could and waited while Buffy opened the door and helped Spike out of the back seat.  The several pints of blood, as well as the enforced rest of the ride home seemed to have done wonders for the vampire’s condition and he managed to walk up the front steps with a minimum of assistance from Buffy.

 

They entered the house and stood awkwardly in the front hall while Dawn and the portal full of people all stared at them curiously.  When no one spoke, Dawn finally asked, “Would you rather do the visit thing tomorrow? You guys look pretty wiped out.”

 

Buffy smiled at her in relief.

 

“I really would,” she said, grateful that Dawn had picked up on what was wrong.  “I need to get cleaned up and try to get some sleep before I have to go to work tomorrow – and Spike needs more blood and some more rest.”

 

“And a shower,” he put in, plucking at his tattered and blood soaked clothes. 

 

“That too,” Buffy agreed with a small smile.  “I don’t want to be washing blood out of everything in the house.”  She pushed him towards the bathroom, saying, “Go on. You can be first.”

 

He nodded and headed for the bathroom, stopping once to turn and look at Dawn with eyes that looked more like “her” Spike than she’d yet seen from him.

 

“Thank you, Little Sis,” he said simply.  “We owe you.”  He glanced towards the two slayers and two vampires standing within the portal and smiled at that Buffy. “Thanks to you too, love, and your friends there.”  He nodded at the vampires and winked at Faith before limping into the bathroom.

 

“You’re welcome, Spike.”  Dawn smiled at his use of the nickname he had obviously settled on for her.  “You’re very welcome.”

 

When the door had closed behind him, Buffy let the tiredness show as she slumped against the wall.  She looked at her own blood-covered clothes ruefully. 

 

“I guess I can’t touch anything either,” she said. “Most of it’s Spike’s blood, but I seem to have a lot of it on me too.”

 

“The Spike inside the portal raised his eyebrows and wiggled them at her.
“Maybe you should join him in the shower, pet.  You could wash each other off and—”

 

He stopped abruptly when his Buffy punched him in the stomach.  From outside the portal, Buffy shook her head.  “Still a pig, huh? Even with the soul?”

 

“Still a pig,” her older self agreed.  “Some things just don’t change.”

 

 “I guess that’s a good thing, then.”

 

“It can be.”

 

The two blondes smiled at each other.

 

“Okay,” Dawn said briskly.  “We’re going back to Sunnydale and let you two get some rest.  Leave me a note when you want us to come back ... or... nevermind.”  Without elaborating, she stepped into the portal and waved her “good-bye.” 

 

Buffy’s “Thanks, guys.  We really appreciate the save-age,” echoed into the empty space left in the wake of the loud noise.  She blinked at the now-empty hallway for a few seconds, then shook herself and walked towards her bedroom.  She was almost to the door when she stopped, biting her lip with indecision, then spun around and followed the sounds of running water.

 

Spike was standing in the tub, his eyes shut as he let the hot water pouring over his head wash away the dried blood and weariness.  Only his vampire hearing allowed him to hear the whisper of Buffy’s clothing as it joined his on the floor.   He smiled, eyes still closed and waited for her timid hand on the shower curtain.  When she just stood there, hand clutching the plastic and heart rate increasing, he opened his eyes and met hers, smiling warmly.

 

“Come on in, love. There’s plenty of room for two of us. Or were you just planning to stand there and ogle me all night?”

 

Blushing, she slipped inside the curtain and stepped into the tub. Without speaking again, Spike moved her under the running water and let it rinse the blood out of her hair and off her face.  When her hair was thoroughly wet, he took the shampoo out of her hand and poured a liberal amount onto her wet scalp.  His gentle massage as he worked the shampoo into her hair had Buffy closing her eyes in bliss.  She relaxed and allowed him to move her limp body around as he rinsed her hair, applied conditioner, massaged that through and then rinsed again.

 

He picked up the bath gel and put some in his hands, which he then began to run over her body, spreading the gel and massaging her tired muscles.  For long minutes, Buffy allowed herself to drift into a sensual haze as his hands traveled around her body, soothing and stimulating at the same time. 

 

With a guilty start, she came to her senses, remembering which one of them had been the more seriously injured that night. She pulled herself out of her Spike-induced lethargy and reached for the gel and the sponge.

 

“My turn,” she whispered, beginning to stroke the sponge over his smooth skin, taking care to clean the wounds gently so as not to irritate them.  He obediently stood still while she washed his body, closing his own eyes and enjoying the soft slide of the sponge and Buffy’s hands.  When she had done all she could, including reaching around him to do his back, bringing their naked bodies into contact and temporarily interrupting her ministrations while the vampire took advantage of the position to kiss her breathless, she dropped the sponge and used her hands to gently stroke the suds over his rapidly hardening cock. 

 

When she realized the effect she was having on him, she glanced up apologetically and began, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for that to happen – I know you’re probably too—”

 

“I’ll never be too anything to not react to those magic little hands, love,” he growled, placing her hands, which she had dropped to her sides, back where they’d been. 

 

“Oh, okay,” she giggled. “That’s good, cause I think I might have missed a spot...right here...”

 

Her rapid rubbing of the imaginary spot of blood was rewarded with a heartfelt groan and a hard push into her hand.  Her rubbing became slower, her strokes firmer as she watched his face contort with passion.  When he suddenly pulled her against his body, she felt his release spurt onto the skin of her stomach while he held her in place.  He continued to hold her after his hips had ceased jerking, his hands stroking her back while he buried his face in her herbal-scented hair.

 

Buffy was feeling very pleased with herself.  Instead of the vampire leaving her a quivering, limp heap, she had reduced him to gasps and purrs.  She allowed him to turn her around so that the warm water could wash down her stomach, rinsing off the evidence of his release and sending it swirling down the drain.  He pulled her back against his chest and ran his hands down her body, cupping her mound and murmuring in her ear.

 

“How about you, love.  Are you too tired for...”

 

 He didn’t finish his sentence, but simply parted her folds and began to stroke her with strong talented fingers.  When she was whimpering and her hips were moving with his hand, he changed his motion and began rubbing in small circles until she squealed and shuddered against him.  He held her firmly as her weakened knees gave way, smiling at her sigh of completion. He held her loosely until the water began to cool, then reluctantly let go.

 

While Buffy leaned down to turn the water off, he pushed the curtain back and picked up a towel, wrapping her in it as she stepped out.   His plan to take his time drying her off evaporated when he saw her shiver and realized how cold it was in the poorly insulated house.  Instead, he pulled the towel off and rubbed her briskly until she was dry, then pushed her towards the bedroom saying, “Go get one of those fuzzy nighties on, pet. Don’t want that pretty body to catch a cold.”

 

While Buffy ran to find her flannel pajamas, Spike quickly dried himself off and followed her into the bedroom, sliding between the cool sheets and waiting for her to join him.   Which she did immediately, curling up into his waiting arms and nuzzling his bare chest. Her flannel-clad body soon had the space comfortably warm, and they drifted off to sleep as thought they had been sharing a bed for years.

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-eight

 

Buffy was dreaming that she and Spike were lolling on a beach, the vampire under the protective shade of a very large umbrella while she baked in the rays of a late afternoon sun.  For some reason, the waves were particularly loud at this beach, sounding almost like they were literally pounding against the shore.  They got louder and louder, until, with a start, she woke up.  The sun was streaming in through a gap in the curtains and the pounding was continuing.

 

Buffy groaned and lifted Spike’s arm off her waist so that she could get up. She stumbled to the front door and opened it, giving the apologetic-looking young man standing there a bleary stare.  She blinked, then recognized him as one of the waiters in the restaurant.

 

“Wha-?”

 

“Henry says you don’t have to come in today.  He said to tell you that he knows you probably need a rest after last night and it’s okay to take the day off.”

 

“Wha-?”  Buffy’s mouth had not yet caught up to her brain, which was just beginning to function.

 

“Problem, pet?”  Spike’s guttural growl from the safety of the shadowed hallway caused the waiting boy to jump, before he realized who had spoken.  Eyes shining with hero-worship, he asked, “Is it true that you dusted two hundred vampires all by yourself?  Cause, if you did, that would just be... awesome.”

 

“I wasn’t countin’,” Spike responded, standing a bit taller and sticking out his chest.  He could see the boy’s eyes drifting from his chest down to his tight abs, which were well set off by his barely zipped jeans.

 

Rolling her eyes at his preening, Buffy asked, “ Andrew... is it?  How did you know....”

 

“Um..,” He tore his gaze off the grinning vampire’s bare chest.  “Oh, yeah.  There’s this thing... called a telephone?  You should look into it, by the way, then I wouldn’t have had to wake you up to tell you that could sleep in.  Anyway, turns out Henry’s brother lives in Petersburg and he called him early this morning to tell him about the big excitement there last night.  His wife’s brother was one of the captives and when he started describing the two people that freed them and said they were from Winterset, he knew it had to be you guys.  His brother said no way should you have to worry about coming to work today – that you should stay home and rest and take care of....”

 

His gaze drifted back to the vampire now lounging against the wall, well away from the sunlight that slanted through the open door.  Spike straightened up and somehow managed to look sexy even as he edged his way closer to the doorway and the deadly rays warming the area rug.

 

“I’m Spike,” he offered with a lascivious smile that held just a trace of tongue.  “And if we’re done here, the Slayer and I are going back to bed now. ‘ppreciate you bringing the message.”

 

Andrew’s eyes darted back and forth between the leering vampire and the blushing girl, his voice failing him as he got an immediate mental image of the two of them in bed.

 

“Uh... guh... whu... I mean, you’re welcome. Anytime. Really.  I could come by any....”

 

“Thank you, Andrew,” Buffy said kindly, beginning to close the door.  “I think I’ll look into that phone you mentioned.  Good idea.  See you tomorrow.”

 

She closed the door firmly and turned around to smack the laughing vampire on his bare chest.

 

“You are such a slut!” she giggled. “That poor boy didn’t know if he wanted to shake your hand or kiss you.”

 

“Can’t help it if I’m irresistible, love,” he murmured, pulling her against his chest.  “You do think I’m irresistible, don’t you?”

 

Against her will, she found herself pressing against him, seeking closer contact with the body she was just beginning to know.  She dropped her hands from his bare back to his denim-covered ass and squeezed both cheeks. Struck by sudden inspiration, she ignored his question, pushing him towards the bedroom and saying, “Go back to bed.  I’ll be right there.”

 

When she pointed to the bathroom, he dropped the automatic objection he’d been about to make and walked into the bedroom, unzipping his jeans as he did so. He dropped them on the floor and got back into the still-warm bed, putting his hands behind his head and waiting for Buffy to come out of the bathroom.

 

She paused when she entered the room, gazing at the smiling vampire who was stretched out under the quilt, his muscular biceps and shoulders on display above the covers.  It had occurred to her that her careful washing of his wounded body the night before was the closest she had come to the kind of exploring that he done to her.  His hands, eyes and lips had mapped her body over and over again that first night, whereas Buffy had been a mostly passive if willing subject for the vampire’s lustful explorations.

 

“Just stay like that,” she ordered, feeling a burst of pride as he nodded in agreement and wriggled his body down lower in the bed. 

 

Buffy stalked towards him, licking her lips as she said, “You’ve been all over my body – with all your body parts, but I haven’t had a chance to really look at you.”

 

She flicked the covers back and stared at the lean, muscular body spread out in front of her.  All of his wounds had closed; angry red lines, which would soon be gone, were the only signs of the fight less than twenty-four hours ago. Beginning at his head, she traced the sharp planes of his face with her eyes and then her fingertips.  She lingered over his full mouth, losing focus briefly when he sucked a finger into his mouth and caressed it with his tongue.  Before she could forget what she was about, she pulled it out and traced a damp trail down the side of his neck, pausing at the bite scar from Drusilla.

 

The growl that erupted from her throat surprised them both, although not as much as the sudden application of her lips and teeth to the scar.  Kissing, licking, sucking and biting gently, she muttered over and over, “My vampire. Mine.  Not hers.  Mine.”  She could feel Spike’s body trembling and his breath rasping in his throat as he struggled to control his demon.  With a gasp, he pulled her from his neck and held her away from his body with arms that were shaking.

 

“Buffy... love... I can’t... you shouldn’t... Bloody hell, Slayer, have you forgotten everything I told you the other night?”

 

She blinked, momentarily distracted, then with a blush she remembered what he’d said about claiming rituals.

 

“I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes cast down.  “I didn’t mean to—I’m sorry, Spike.”

 

“ ‘S alright, pet,” he said in a still-shaky voice.  “I’m chuffed that you feel that way – an’ trust me when I tell you that I’m yours in a way that I never was hers.  But with both the man and the demon wantin’ you... I’m just not that strong, love.  I wish I could be for you, but I’m not.”

 

“I didn’t mean to...” she stopped, her lip trembling as she spoke. “I just hate looking at that mark!”

 

She gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth, amazed not only that she knew it to be true, but that she had said it aloud.  For long minutes their eyes remained locked, his intent and fierce, Buffy’s embarrassed, but defiant.  Spike continued to stare into her eyes until he was satisfied that he wasn’t reading any more into her remark than its face value.

 

“’S alright, pet.  You didn’t know what you were doin’.  Now you know what to be careful of.”  When she still didn’t move, he gently lowered her back into the kneeling position she’d been in when she attacked his neck.  “Now, weren’t there other parts of my body that you were interested in?”  He gave her his best leer and she giggled.

 

Putting aside the thoughts swirling through her head at her own reaction to a bite that Spike had never indicated meant anything more than the death of his human self, she dropped her gaze from his neck to his chest and licked her lips at the pebbled nipples standing up on his marble-smooth skin.  Her fingers skimmed over the brown peaks, bringing a hiss from the vampire.  She laid her hands flat on his chest and began to run them over the smooth muscles there, smiling when he would twitch or hiss.

 

When she had touched every inch of exposed skin between his chin and his navel, she then began to kiss her way around his upper body, nibbling lightly on his nipples and basking in the low growl it brought from him. She licked her way down his torso, pausing to stick her tongue in his belly button and wriggle it until he gave a very unmanly giggle.  She glanced up at him with twinkling eyes, then continued her hands-on exploration of his body.

 

Ignoring the eager cock begging for her attention, she ran her hands over his taut stomach and prominent hip bones, sliding them around to stroke his flanks and then down his muscular thighs.  She pretended a great interest in his knees and calves, even taking time to count his toes and play “this little piggy” with one foot.

 

She watched his face as she slid both hands up his legs until they reached his lower abdomen. She rested them there, her hands framing his cock, her fingers playing with the curly hairs surrounding it.  Still not touching him, she traced the light brown hairs down his stomach with one finger while she studied the rigid shaft in front of her with curious eyes.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that Spike’s hands were clenched on the sheet, his fingers digging into the mattress in an attempt to remain still.  She cupped his balls, rolling them experimentally in her hand and smiling when he couldn’t smother a groan.  She began to kiss her way around his lower abdomen, nuzzling through the hair with her nose and continuing to roll his balls with her free hand. 

 

When she felt that she had tortured him enough, she ran her tongue up the side of his cock, laughing with delight when he yelped in surprise. She continued to lick her way around it as though it were one of the ice cream cones that he bought her every night during the summer.  Her hair spread across the clenched muscles of his stomach as she finally lowered her head and took him in her mouth.  Not quite sure what to do next, but encouraged by the barely articulate sounds coming from the vampire, she experimentally swirled her tongue around the head of his cock, nudging the foreskin and poking it into the little slit on the end.

 

At Spike’s whimpered urging, she moved her head up and down, trying to get as much of his thick length into her mouth as she could without gagging.  As he began to involuntarily move his hips, pushing into her mouth even as he apologized for his actions, she petted him on his tightly clenched thigh and hummed around him. 

 

“Oh, Buffy... love... my darlin’ girl...I ’m sorry, love.  Don’t want to... but your mouth is like heaven.   Could bring me to my knees with it, you could.  Can’t help... need to stop, love, or I’m goin’ to....”

 

Shaking her head, Buffy stepped up her motions, taking her cue from the way his hips were jerking and the way he was gasping her name and begging her to stop.  With a final guttural cry, he arched into her mouth and shuddered his release.  Buffy swallowed as fast as she could, but had to give up and pull away before she choked on the thick, milky liquid coating the roof of her mouth.

 

She dropped her head onto his now-still body and licked at the remains of his spendings coating the skin of his abdomen.

 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.  “I thought I’d be able to do it better.”

 

“Bloody hell, love!” The disbelief in his tone was palpable as he pulled her up beside him and tipped her chin so that he could meet her disappointed eyes. “You damn near made my heart start beatin’.  I’m not sure that you could do it better than that. Not without causin’ me to spontaneously combust, anyway.”

 

“Really? It was okay, then?”

 

“It was more than okay, love. It was bloody magic, is what it was.  Don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you, but whatever it was, I hope I don’t ever stop doin’ it.”

 

She giggled with relief and snuggled into his side.  “I hope you don’t, too. I think I’d miss you if you weren’t here.”

 

His arms tightened around her as he said with an intensity that belied his casual words, “Well, can’t have my girl being unhappy, can I?  Guess I’d better plan to stay around.”

 

“Your girl, huh?  Is that what I am?”

 

“I hope so, love. If you want to be.  ‘S up to you.”

 

“I think I’d like that,” she said, tracing small patterns on his chest with her fingernail.  “I want to be yours.  Are you mine?”

 

“Always will be, love.  Whether you want me or not.”

 

“I want,” she said firmly.  “And you know what else I want?”  She squirmed around until she was lying on top of him.  “I want kisses.”

 

With a happy chuckle, he met her eager lips with his own, letting her set the pace as the kisses ranged from light and playful to deeper and more fraught with meaning.  As they continued to explore each other’s mouth with lips and tongue, Buffy could feel Spike’s response pressing against her thigh.  His hands slid into her pajama bottoms, cupping the globes of her ass and pulling her against his body.  She opened her thighs, allowing his erection to slip between her legs and press against her increasingly damp sex.

 

With an impatient whimper, she sat up abruptly, her crotch now pressing down on his cock while she shrugged out of her pajama top.  She remained where she was for a minute, rotating her hips against him and whimpering in need before he grabbed her waist and held her still.

 

“Would be a lot more fun if we got rid of these fuzzy knickers, love,” he growled, pushing the waistband of her pajama bottoms down as far as it would go in her straddled position.  Light brown curls were just visible above the tightly stretched fabric; he brushed his knuckles over the skin of her stomach, then dipped into her hidden folds.  Pulling away from his hand and standing up on the bed, Buffy allowed the pants to fall to her ankles, stepping out of them one leg at a time.  She paused, still straddling the vampire who was staring up at her glistening curls and licking his lips.

 

She tried not to blush at the expression on his face as he continued to stare. 

 

“Are you drooling?”

 

“I might be,” he responded with a smirk.  “Looking at one of my favorite things right now – if I wasn’t drooling, I’d think something was wrong with me.”

 

“Something is wrong with you, you perv,” she giggled, torn between embarrassment and pride.

 

Instead of responding, he spread his arms suddenly, knocking her legs apart even farther and causing her drop down onto him. 

 

“Ah, that’s much better,” he purred, letting his cock rub against her wet flesh and smiling at her gasps.  Buffy rubbed herself against him until she felt herself teetering on the edge.  Spike grabbed her hips again, holding her tightly while she ground her clit against him.  When she was shuddering with her orgasm, he lifted her slightly and slipped into her spasming walls.

 

“Heaven,” he gasped, arching his hips up into the powerful muscles clenching around him.  “Being inside you is as close to heaven as this vampire ever wants to get.” 

 

Buffy didn’t respond, being too busy shaking with another small orgasm brought on by the sudden pressure now coming from both sides of her clit.  She threw her head back and began to ride his cock as though they had been making love in that position for years.  With his vocal encouragement, she experimented with moving up and down until she was almost lifting herself off his cock, then shifted to rotating her hips around it while grinding down onto his pubic bone.

 

With a quick twist of his body, Spike flipped them over so that he was looking down into her startled eyes.

 

“Much as I love seein’ you like that, sweetheart, want to feel your arms and legs around me when we come.  Want to know that you’re lovin’ me with your whole body.”

 

Buffy nodded dumbly.  She understood what he was saying.  With Spike on top, her arms and legs automatically came around his body, holding him to her while her face pressed into his neck.  He rained kisses on her face and head, coaxing her to raise her head so the he could reach her mouth.  He lavished surprisingly gentle, if breath-taking, kisses on her, pausing only to whisper in her ear.

 

“Love you more than anything, Buffy.  Will love you forever, if you let me. Never want to leave you.  Tell me you’re mine, love.  Tell me...”

 

Buffy tightened her arms around his tense back, her grip so strong that even his vampire strength would have been challenged if he’d tried to move.  Unable to meet his intense gaze, she buried her face in his neck again, inhaling his scent and reveling in the sense of security it gave her.

 

“I’m yours,” she murmured.  “I don’t think I could—”    She stopped and forced herself to raise her head and meet his eyes.  “I love you, Spike,” she said clearly.

 

The look on his face immediately wiped out any lingering sense of embarrassment she may have felt at saying those words to an unsouled vampire.  With awe, love, and perhaps a glimmer of a tear in his eyes, he silently begged her for the final proof his demon was craving.

 

Rather than give him a verbal response to his unspoken request, Buffy kissed her way down his throat until her mouth was once again positioned over Drusilla’s siring bite.  Tightening her arms again, she grabbed the scar in her blunt human teeth and bit down until she felt the skin give and a trickle of blood flow into her mouth.

 

“Mine,” she said.  “You are mine, Spike.”

 

“Yours,” he gasped, his face shifting.  “Yours forever.”

 

He slid his sharp canines into the soft skin on her throat, on the side opposite from the barely-visible marks where other vampires had put their teeth into this body at one time or another.  With infinite care, he allowed her blood to flow into his mouth, swallowing slowly and savoring the power he could feel there.  His body shaking with the orgasm brought on by Buffy’s own cry of release and her clenching vaginal walls, he quickly growled, “Mine.  You are mine, Buffy. Forever.”

 

“Forever,” she gasped.  “I’m yours forever.”

 

For long minutes, their bodies shook together, the magic of the ritual adding to the physical effects of the massive orgasms that continued to sweep through them.  When the sensations became too much, they both lost consciousness briefly, coming back to themselves slowly.

 

Spike licked the tiny wounds on her neck, knowing that those particular scars wouldn’t fade with time the way the others had.  His whole body vibrated with the purring that he couldn’t control. 

 

Fuck.  It’s a good thing I don’t have a soul to lose.  If I got any happier I think I might just...

 

Oh my god.  Ohmigod, ohmigod. Oh. My. God. The other Buffy waited how many years for this?  Is she stupid?  Oh my god.

 

“You alright, love?”

 

She nodded mutely, then managed to say, “I’d ask if you were all right, but I’m guessing the non-stop purry pretty much answers that question.”

 

Laughter rumbled in his chest, setting up counterpoint vibrations and causing her to give a responsive giggle.  They were soon laughing together, rolling over and over on the bed until they reached the edge and fell to the floor with a ‘thump’.

 

“Ow,” Buffy said, an elated smile on her face even as she complained of being the cushion for the still-laughing vampire.  They lay on the floor, still laughing softly until Buffy shivered as the cold air in the room finally made itself known.  Immediately, Spike was apologizing, leaping to his feet and scooping her up.  He put her on the bed and pulled the down comforter up, tucking it around her shoulders before sliding in beside her.

 

“Better, love?”

 

“Mmmmm, much better.  Warm covers, sexy vampire mate, what more could a girl want?”

 

“Few more hours of sleep?” he asked, trying to suppress a yawn.

 

“Good idea,” she mumbled, already being lulled into slumber by the exhaustion from the emotional and physical highs they had just experienced.  “Few more hours.  Good plan, Spike...”

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-nine Epilogue

 

By the time the two sated and exhausted heroes woke up, it was late afternoon and Buffy insisted that they get dressed before Dawn showed up with the entire Sunnydale crew in tow.  She was eating a bowl of cereal while Spike sipped at his second cup of blood when the usual ‘pop’ signaled the arrival of the Key.

 

Looking disappointed, Buffy said, “I thought you were going to bring everybody back for a visit.  Where are they?”

 

“I had a better idea – I thought maybe I could take you to them. Then you could see Mom, too.”

 

“Oh, that would be so... Isn’t that a great idea, Spike? Spike? What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing, Slayer.  I know how much you want to see your mum.” His quiet voice and turned back were her only clues that he wasn’t as happy about the trip as she was.  “It’s a good idea,” he added, turning around a forcing a smile.  “Little Sis is thinkin’, as usual.”

 

Walking up to him, Buffy slipped her arms around his waist and asked softly, “What’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing, love.  I’m just being a selfish wanker.  Let me get my boots on and we’re out of here.”  He dropped a kiss on her dubious face and excused himself to go get his boots.

 

“What’s going on with him?” Buffy muttered almost to herself.

 

“I think he’s afraid,” Dawn replied, looking in direction of the bedroom.  “He’s afraid you’re going to want to stay there.”

 

“Could I do that?” Buffy’s eagerness caused Dawn to frown.  In the bedroom, Spike froze with one boot in his hand, holding unnecessary breath as he heard the eagerness with which she’d asked the question.

 

“Would you want to?”

 

“Well, of course! It’s my home. My mom is there, Willow and Xander, Giles, Angel...” She trailed off as she realized what she was saying.  “Spike.  He... he would come with me.  Wouldn’t he?”

 

“Why would he want to?” Dawn asked coldly.  “Those are your friends – not his.”

 

Buffy bit her lip, remembering her initial excitement about going to Sunnydale and Spike’s reaction to it.  When he came back into the room, boots on and duster in place, she went up to him immediately.

 

“I wouldn’t leave you here, you know,” she said, staring up at him with glistening eyes.  “I wouldn’t.  If I could go back, I’d want you to come with me.  We could be mated there too.”

 

He cocked his head and raised one hand to her cheek. “My beautiful, innocent little Slayer.”  He shook his head and dropped his hand.  “I’m not all souled up like that other git.  And if I understand what I heard from Buffy, even the soul didn’t make him anybody’s idea of a fit companion for her.  They would never accept me with you – even your mum.  She wants more for her daughter than another vampire.  If you go back to your old life, there isn’t going to be room in it for me.”  He shrugged and turned away, striving for nonchalance, “’sides, I like it here. Got some mates, nice little house, people who think I’m a hero...”

 

“I won’t go without you! You said we were forever. That’s what you said it meant to....”  The tears that had only been threatening now trickled down her cheeks as she flung herself around him.  “I won’t go without you. You can’t make me!”

 

“Bloody hell, love,” he rasped, his own voice choked, “I don’t want to make you go anywhere.  I love you, Buffy. Never want to be without you by me side.  Never.  I thought you wanted to go.  Was jus’ trying to make it easier on you, that’s all.”

 

They clung together, completely forgetting the other person in the room as whispered promises and words of endearment flowed back and forth.  Buffy kissed the mark on his neck, sighing when he licked the tiny wounds on her throat.  When their mutual reassurances and petting didn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, Dawn cleared her throat, over and over, getting louder each time, until they looked up as if surprised to find her there.

 

Embarrassed, Buffy disentangled herself from the vampire and stood up straight as she said politely, “I’m sorry Dawn, but I can’t go back to Sunnydale. I won’t leave my mate.”

 

“Glad to hear it,” Dawn replied wryly.  “Since I wasn’t offering to leave you there.  I just asked if you’d want to; I didn’t say that you could.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Dawn sighed and tried not to sound exasperated.  “You know how everybody except me had to stay in the portal?  Well, that’s still true.  I can take you there and let you say “hi” to everybody, but you can’t step out into their dimension.  Only I can do that.”

 

“I knew that,” Spike muttered, embarrassed by his knee-jerk reaction.

 

“Sure you did.” Dawn rolled her eyes.  “So, are we going to do this or not?  Everybody is at Buffy’s mom’s house waiting for me to bring you two there.”

 

“At my mom’s house?  I don’t... doesn’t Buffy live there anymore?”

 

“No, she and Spike have their own place.  She’s older than you, you know. And she’s been on her own for a long time.  She wasn’t really happy living with Mom like she was still a kid.”

 

“Oh,” Buffy said dubiously.  “I guess I can see that.  I’m pretty used to being on my own too. I guess it would be hard to go back to curfews and chores and....”

 

            “Exactly,” Dawn said surprisingly tersely. “You get used to taking care of yourself.”  Buffy frowned at her, but Spike, who knew that Joyce had died in Dawn’s dimension, shook his head slightly in warning. Dawn nodded once, then gestured for them to step into her portal.  “Let’s go, guys.  It’s not like I don’t have a life somewhere else, you know.”

 

            As soon as they stepped into her space, Dawn pulled the portal walls around them and with the now-familiar ‘pop’, they appeared in the Summers’ living room. Buffy unconsciously reached for her mother, only Spike’s quick grab preventing her from crossing the glowing limit to her safe area.  Joyce smiled sadly and stepped closer to the portal, studying the unfamiliar face before her.

 

            “Buffy?  My Buffy?” She turned to the blonde teenager standing behind her and asked, “Is this what you look like now?  This is you at twenty-five?”

 

            “No, Mom,” Buffy said softly.  This is what I look like now.  That’s what I used to look like...” She paused and moved closer, focusing on younger Buffy’s neck. “Except I never had any bite marks on that side of my neck.” She stared at her younger self with wide eyes.  “You’ve done it already?”

 

            “Good on you!” Spike said, moving up to put his arms around his Buffy.  “Made her yours, did you?”

 

            “I’m not stupid, you know.”

 

            The two Spikes exchanged looks, then gave identical smirks. The Spike holding Sunnydale Buffy studied the one standing in the portal.

 

            “She’s put a bit of weight on those skinny bones, love, but that’s your body, for sure.”  He continued to gaze affectionately at the Buffy inside the portal while his counterpart looked with unabashed admiration at the Buffy that he’d known first. There was no way of knowing how long they would have stared at the bodies belonging to the girls they loved, had not both Buffys simultaneously elbowed their Spikes in the stomach with matching, “Stop staring at her!”

 

            While laughing apologies and explanations were offered to indignant slayers, Angel, who had been standing quietly in a corner of the room, stepped closer to the softly glowing portal and stared intently at Buffy’s neck.  Even with the barrier of the portal walls, his demon could feel the claim between the two blonds. 

 

            Ignoring the soft growls coming from the vampire with his arms around her, Angel said plaintively, “Buffy?  How could you?  Do you know what you’ve done?”

 

            Sunnydale Buffy stepped up beside him and put a sympathetic hand on his arm.

 

            “She knows, Angel.”  She squeezed his arm with easy affection. “Let it go.  This what the Powers want – for both of us.”

 

            “I’m sorry, Angel,” ‘his’ Buffy said softly, clinging to Spike’s arm where it circled her waist. “It’s good to see you again, but I belong with Spike.  I love him.”

 

            The old vampire nodded sadly and walked back to his corner, finding to his surprise that Faith had joined him.  A blatant offer of public sympathy was out of the dark-haired slayer’s comfort zone, but she stood close enough that her arm was pressed against his, and he smiled at her gratefully.  She gave him a wink and whispered something in his ear that brought a reluctant smile to his face.

 

            Shaking her head at the romantic entanglement her daughters had with the souled vampire, Joyce took over the conversation, grilling Buffy about where she was living, how she was doing for money, what she planned to do about her education and a myriad of other motherly concerns.  Buffy did her best to provide answers, counting on Spike to fill in with reassurance every time the responses caused Joyce’s mouth to tighten with worry.  When Buffy began getting visibly upset at her mother’s growing concern, Spike tightened his arms around her protectively and said, “I know you’re worried, Joyce. But you have to believe me when I tell you that I’m going to take the best care of her that I possibly can.  Your daughter is an amazing woman – gets it from her mum,” he added with a smile.  “An’ she was already doin’ alright for herself when I got there.  Now she’s got someone in her life who would die before he’d let her be unhappy or needin’ for anything.  She’s gonna be fine.  And if Little Sis is willin’, she’ll be coming back to visit every once in a while so you can see that for yourself.”

 

            “He’s right, Mom,” the older Buffy said, hugging her mother the way she knew the woman was wishing the younger girl could.  “You know how Spike is.  He took care of a crazy woman for over a hundred years; taking care of me should be a breeze.  They’re going to be fine.”

 

            Trying to change the subject, now that her mother seemed to be temporarily mollified, Winterset’s Buffy pointed to Faith and asked, “Who is she? And why does she act like a Slayer?”

 

            “Nice to meet you too, B, jr,” Faith snarked.

 

            A quick explanation of the way Buffy’s short period of deadness had brought on the calling of another slayer, brought an understanding nod from Buffy and a speculative look from Spike.  Noticing the way the notorious killer of slayers was sizing her up, Faith mouthed, “Anytime, William the Bloody,” at him.  He gave an appreciative laugh and turned back to listen to the explanation of Faith’s appearance in Sunnydale.  Buffy glossed over the reappearance of Angelus, just saying that Kendra had been killed in the line of duty and Faith had come to take her place.

 

            Any more elaborate explanations were interrupted by the arrival of Glies, Willow and a very reluctant Xander.  Willow had to be cautioned as she ran at the portal, thinking to hug the girl waving at her from inside it.  She stopped just outside and began a rambling monologue about Sunnydale High School and everything Buffy had missed since she left.  When she finally paused for lack of breath, everyone sighed in relief, even though Buffy began to ask questions about many of the people that Willow had mentioned.

 

            The gossip session ended when Giles stepped closer, saying with barely contained emotion, “Hello, Buffy.  I am so pleased to see that you are well and... well, and alive. We were quite concerned for awhile there.”

 

            “Yep, all alive and well,” she answered cheerily.  “But I miss having a watcher,” she added with a soft smile. “It’s just me and Spike, and I don’t think either one of us is very thinky.”

 

            Spike’s indignant “Hey!” was quickly forgotten as the older Brit fixed a hard eye on him.

 

            “Then I propose that the one with the years of experience had best put that knowledge to work and fill the roll of watcher.  Do something with that expensive education, Mr Pratt.”

 

            While Buffy looked at Spike with a question in her eyes, the vampire was glaring at his souled counterpart, his anger battling with his disbelief that Spike would have given the watcher that much information about his human self.  His only response was a shrug and an apologetic grin from the older vampire. He turned his attention back to the watcher, saying, “I’ll do what I can, but don’t be referrin’ to me as a bloody ‘watcher’!”

 

            “Xander?”  Buffy’s tentative smile at her oldest male friend interrupted the laughter that followed Spike’s indignant agreement. She waited for the boy to respond to her greeting.

 

            “Hello, Buffy,” he finally said, his cold glare saying more than words could about what he thought of finding her holding hands with the vampire he’d tried to kill the last time he saw him.  He had just barely begun to make his peace with the souled version of Spike with whom the older version of Buffy was openly living. Finding that “his” Buffy was also living with the blond vampire was a blow to which he was still adjusting.  “It’s good to see you – even if you did have to bring Deadboy, Jr. there with you.”

 

            “I love him, Xander,” she said, a plea in her voice. “Can’t you try to be happy for me?”

 

            “Don’t be a stupid git,” Spike growled in his ear, pushing him closer to the portal.  “Tell the girl you love her enough to want her to be happy.  Even the big poof managed to do that,” he added, knowing that the boy wouldn’t want to be outdone by the vampire that he really hated.

 

            Pushing Spike away, Xander smiled and said with as much grace as he could muster, “I’m only kidding.  You know me; I’m a kidder.  I’m glad you’re happy there in wherever it is.  We miss you,” he added, with an apologetic glance at the older Buffy.  “She’s not as much fun as you are.”

 

            “I miss you guys, too,” Buffy said sadly.  “Every day.  But, it’s not too bad there – and hey, big plus – no algebra!”

 

            “They don’t have algebra there?  Can I come back with you?”

 

            Xander’s semi-serious request broke whatever tension had been left in the room and soon he and Willow were chatting with Buffy as though it hadn’t been over a year and half since they last talked to her.

 

            It what seemed like a very short time, Dawn was waving her hands, interrupting to insist that she had a life and “a very nice boyfriend who hasn’t seen me for a while” and that she had to return Winterset’s Spike and Buffy so that she could go home.  She hugged Buffy, Spike and Joyce, smiled at everyone else and stepped inside the portal.

 

            Joyce reached a tentative hand towards the glowing wall, smiling when Buffy extended her own hand to meet it.  Separated only by a softly glowing energy barrier, they promised to stay in touch – giving Dawn letters to send back and forth when she didn’t have the time or energy to transport herself or anyone else.

 

            With final “good-bye’s”, waves and promises to write, the walls closed around the three dimensional travelers and they vanished into the air, leaving Spike and Angel shaking their heads and rubbing their ears.  A much sobered, if relieved group sat down to talk about what they’d seen and to share thoughts about how Buffy seemed to be doing.

 

            Leaning back against Spike’s chest, Buffy said softly, “I think they’re going to be just fine.  It doesn’t sound like a bad world, now that the Master is out of it. And they have each other.”

 

            “That they do,” Spike murmured. “An’ that’s really all they need.”

 

            The tender moment was interrupted by Faith, who came up to peer into Spike’s face and ask, “Pratt?  Your name is really Pratt?  No wonder you changed it to “the Bloody”.”  Roaring at her own wit, she led Angel out of the house to the accompaniment of Spike’s snarled threats to make her his third slayer.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

            Dawn didn’t even step out of the portal when she dropped them in their kitchen, saying, “I wasn’t kidding about having a boyfriend.  Fortunately, he’s studying to be a watcher, so he understands this stuff; but he’s getting a little testy about me being gone all night two nights in a row.”

 

            With final hugs and another “thank you”, Spike and Buffy stepped out of the portal and waved their good-byes to the dimension traveling Key.  Buffy put her hands over Spike’s ears just before the portal disappeared, holding them there until he smiled his gratitude and covered her hands with his own. He turned her hands over, bringing them to his lips one at a time and planting light kisses on each palm.

 

            “She’s a bit of alright, your little sister,” he said. “Those monks knew what they were doin’.”

 

            “It’s all so weird.  I don’t have a sister – but I do. And pretty soon there’s going to be another Dawn in Sunnydale.  I wonder if she’ll be able to travel back and forth too?”

 

            “Don’t see why not; but she’s not going to be very old when she gets there. Kinda think she’ll need to work her way up to something like dimension-hopping.  Don’t forget, ‘our’ Dawn has a coven of witches and seers to work with and help her figure things out.”

 

            Buffy nodded. “Well, I guess if I have to have a sister, she’s a pretty good one to have.  I wonder if I’ll get one in this world?”

 

            “We won’t know till it happens, love.  This is a whole different place – I don’t think we can go by what’s happenin’ or has happened in Sunnydale. We’re on our own here. Got our own big bads to worry about.  Which reminds me,” he said with a grimace, “If I’m gonna take the place of your watcher, I need to start findin’ some books to research this world’s demons and what not.”

 

            “What did Giles mean by “putting that expensive education to use”? Have you been to college?”

 

            The vampire shuffled his feet with embarrassment.  “Bloody wanker – can’t believe the other me told him that stuff.”

 

            “So, you have been to college?  And your last name is Pratt? What kind of a name is that?”

 

            “Hey, it’s a perfectly respectable English name, I’ll have you know!”

 

            “Uh huh,” she said dubiously. “Well, I’m just glad being mated isn’t like getting married.  I like Summers a whole lot more than Pratt, thank you very much.”

 

            “So, you wouldn’t become Mrs. William Pratt if I asked you to?” he asked, pulling her into his arms and nibbling on his marks. “Not even if I asked really, really nicely?”

 

            She shivered at the sensation of his mouth on his marks and whispered, “Maybe, if you asked really, really, really nicely.”

 

            “I just might do that someday,” he whispered back. “Might surprise you with a diamond ring and go down on bended knee to ask you to marry me.”

 

            She snorted, wriggling against him as his hands began to roam her body.

 

            “Like you would ever bend a knee to me,” she scoffed. 

 

            “What makes you think I wouldn’t?”  His deft fingers were unfastening her jeans while his lips continued to worry his healed bite marks.

 

            “I know you, Spike.”

 

            “Not as well as you think you do, pet,” he laughed, dropping to one knee and pulling her jeans down at the same time.  “I’d bend both knees on a regular basis if it puts me here.”  He buried his nose in her curls, his rich chuckle at her surprised squeal stirring the hair and causing her to gasp and tremble.

 

            “See, pet,” he murmured as his tongue coaxed more gasps and whimpers from her. “I know you, too.“

 

            He stood up effortlessly, lifting her as he did and carrying her into the bedroom.  “An’ we’re gonna know each other even better before I’m done with you.”

 

            “You’re going to be done with me?”

 

            “Figure of speech, love. I’ll never be done with lovin’ you, wantin’ you. We’re forever, Buffy.”

 

            “Forever,” she echoed, sinking onto the bed and shedding the rest of her clothes. He joined her before she had completely taken off her shirt, skimming it over her head and wrapping his arms around her neck.  He pressed his forehead to hers and gazed into her eyes.

 

            “Forever’s a long time, love. You think you’re up for that?”

 

            “Anything you can do, I can do too.”  She frowned, her wrinkled brow tickling his forehead.  “Except for the whole immortality thing, anyway.”  Her eyes flew open and her breathing increased suddenly.  “What if you don’t want me any more when I get old?  What if I still love you and you don’t love me any more when I’m old and ugly?  What will I do?”

ah

            “You will never be ugly to me, Buffy. I don’t care how old you get. I will always love you, and I will always think you are the most beautiful woman in the world.”

 

            “How do you know I’ll be beautiful?” She refused to give up her worrying, now that it had occurred to her.

 

            “Because I know you, my pet.  I know you.”

 

THE END

 

Back to Main Fics List: http://spuffystuff.org/Fics.html

Back to Prologue/I Know You: http://spuffystuff.org/Prologue.html

Forward to Knowing and Watching:

http://spuffystuff.org/knowingwatching.htm

 

Feedback/reviews: pattific@hotmail.com