This is not my beautiful house!
You may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
You may ask yourself
Am I right?... Am I wrong?
You may say to yourself
MY GOD!...WHAT HAVE I DONE?
The wind from the dragon's fiery breath hurled the tails of Spike's leather up over his head, blinding him as he swung out hard with the sword, but he felt it connect, felt it slice through hard plate and muscle as the air went hotter than hell and he couldn't feel anything else, not the hilt in his fists, not his feet on the ground, not the ringing in his ears, nothing.
Then he came downphwoom!on his back, jerking and struggling, and sat straight up with a cry. He'd lost hold of the sword, he'd lost hold of
He wasn't in the alley.
No dragon, no demon hordes, no driving rain, no Old Blue, no Charlie, no Angel.
He was in a bed.
"Talk about bloody abrupt transitions," Spike muttered. "This's straight outta that 2001 flick."
He was in a bed in a room that felt strangely familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Suburban silence reigned. A lot of votive candles flickered all around, and the windows were made of dark stained glass. He could feel the afternoon sun hitting their outsides. He smelled ... smells that confused him.
The bed was large. Large enough for two. Beside him, the covers were thrown back, the pillow dented. Someone else had risen firstsome hours agoand left the room.
Before he could begin to suss out what the fuck was going on, footsteps clattered outside the door, which burst open with a bang, and something crashed onto his chest hard enough to knock the speaking air from his lungs.
"Papapapapapa! Mamma says get up now so you can watch me!"
The kidkid!was all smiles. He was halfway to wrestling free of the covers so he could throw her off when she leaned in and planted a big wet one right on his cheek. She was all warm and glowing with life, and she smelled likeagain he shied from knowing what the smells here meant. "Horsie, Papa?"
Spike sat up. More gently than he would've done a moment before, he pushed the little girl awayand dismissed the fleeting thought of how succulent she'd be, as a lick of hunger awoke in his belly.
Was he parked in some Wolfram & Hart holding dimension? Right next door to Angel's pal Lindsey in the Subdivision of You Are So Very Fucked? Was the kiddie sent in to summon him down to the cellar to get his heart carved out?
Looked that way, didn't it?
The kid screamed. "I wanna horsie! Horsie!"
"No bloody horsie. Quiet."
He started to get out of bed, then realized he was naked.
"Trot yourself on out of here. Give a bloke some privacy."
The girl looked disappointed, but she scrambled down obediently enough. At the door, she glanced over her shoulder, clearly expecting him to relent and summon her back for a romp.
"Go on. Shoo."
When he heard her clattering downstairs, calling out "Maaamaaa, Papa won't play with me!", Spike got up, and found his clothesat least, some clothes, which might've been his except they weren't exactly what he'd been wearing a little while ago, in the alley. But the jeans and boots were his brand, and they fit him. He found tee shirts in a drawer that fit him too. And on the dresser he saw his silver Zippo, and beside it, a thin black leather wallet. Inside, some money, a single credit card, and a California drivers' license with his picture, identifying him as Mr William Grieves of Revello Drive, Sunnydale. Licensed to drive a motorcycle, but not an organ donor.
He looked more closely at the room. Bloody hell. No wonder it felt familiar.
The furnishings were different, the window glass, everything. But it was Joyce Summer's room. Buffy's room, those last few months of his residence in the basement, not that he was ever inside it then.
Those Wolfram & Hart bastards sure knew how to stick it to you. They knew, they knew fucking everything, and used it.
Dressed, he looked out into the upstairs hall. It wasn't much different than he remembered it, though again the smells weren't what he recalled from those crowded, anxious days. This house wasn't filled to the rafters with teen girls on the rag; the air didn't smell like constantly-refreshed worry. As he hesitated, the door to Buffy's old room opened. A woman, wearing a bathrobe, a towel draped over her shoulder, came out.
Seeing him, she looked up and beamed. "Hey, Spike. Sleep well? Are youare youare you about to go into the bathroom?"
Tara. It was Tara, who was more than two years dead.
God, she was so beautiful. All serene and majestic and ... he wanted to reach for her. The goodness shone off her like a radiance.
Was she supposed to be the kiddie's mum, then? Was he supposed to be?
The kid reappeared then, at a run, and dashed herself against Tara's legs. "AuntieTaracanIwatchyoutakeabath?"
"I'm not going to take a bath. I'm in a hurry today, I have to go to an interview, and then I have a date." For some reason Spike couldn't fathom, Tara winked at him. "I thought you were going to hang out with your Papa for a little."
"Papa won't play horsie."
Tara smoothed the girl's hair, and threw him a laughing glance. "You'll have to negotiate that for yourself, Jemmie. I can't be late today."
"Can't be late today. Can't be late today. Auntie Tara can't be late today." Singing, the kid began to march around them, in and out in a figure eight, stamping down hard with each step, waving her arms.
"Spike, excuse me," Tara said, moving towards the bathroom door. A new fear gripped himwhat if she was The First? What if all that was begun over again?
Feigning awkwardness, he seized her arm.
She glanced up. "What?"
"N-nuthin', love. Your towel was slipping."
She was solid. Real, then, as anything here was. So, nix on The First Evil, back to the Holding Dimension Hypothesis.
Kid was a noisy little bit. Now that Tara was disappeared behind the bathroom door, the girl was butting up against his legs, bouncing like a nutter. Without thinking, Spike showed her some fang to get her to shut up.
She only threw her head back and laughed, reaching up for him with starfishing hands. "Pick me up, Papa!"
Why was he here? What did it mean? Was Angel dead, and the others? Was the battle over? Or on hold? Or still raging on while he was diverted on this loopy detour? The kid was practically climbing his jeans now. "Funny face again!"
"No more funny face. Where's your mother?" Who's your mother? He tried to put her off; she clung. Didn't like touching her. All his prior experience with picking up little girls ended in dropping their drained corpses.
The child was oblivious to his mood, and resumed her purposeful purposeless marching. "Kitching. Getting ready to go out."
He wanted to sprint, to catch her. See who she wassee ... see if it was Buffy. Must be, because that would be the worst thing they could set up in this Fun House of Sentimental Horrors.
But Spike found he couldn't move. Nothing supernatural holding him back; just garden-variety fear and a surge of some terrible longing and regret and desire that came up out of his still heart and for a moment, swamped him. His vision darkened; he couldn't feel his body.
It was the sound of the back door slamming, a car starting up, that brought him back to himself.
Kiddie's mum, whoever she was, had left the building.
For a moment he stood listening to the shower, and the little girl's chanting. Then the water went off; he heard Tara moving around in the bathroom. His throat was a knot. He was losing time here. He didn't know if he'd really slain the dragon, or if slaying it had turned the tide of battle. Angel and the others needed him, if they weren't already dead. He had to get back. He had to tell Tara he didn't belong here, that he must be sent back into the melee. Maybe Tara and Willow could work it. Willow must be around the place somewhere, if Tara was. They could return him to his rightful apocalypse.
The bathroom door opened. She started, finding him in the same place where she'd left him.
"Spike? Everything okay?"
He could feel her hurry. She crossed back to her room, friendly eyes on him, but clearly not wanting to pause.
"Sure, pet. Everythin's fine. You go on. Can't be late." He wasn't sure why he hesitated to speak up.
"Can't be late. And I know how much you need the place to yourselves this evening." She flashed him a smile. At the same time the child grabbed his hand, started tugging him to the stairs. "Paaaapaaaa. Let's goooo."
He didn't get it. What kind of a holding dimension scenario was this for him? The old beloved's house, yeah, fine, they'd rummaged in his past, maybe in his brain itself, and come up with that easy. But the little one, climbing him and kissing him? He'd never remotely thought of such a thing, let alone wished for it. Never wished for Glinda, sweet as she was, to be apparently lodging in the spare bedroom either. The whole set-up was just bloody odd. How'd those sick fucks imagine this, when he never did?
Downstairs was much the same too. Things were freshernice furniture in good repair, clean paint on the walls, rugs on the floor. Lots of toys scattered aroundthe little puss was clearly spoilt. No signs of imminent foreclosure and doom.
Pictures on the mantlepiece. He didn't want to look, but having once noticed them from across the room, he couldn't stop himself from drifting closer.
There was Joyce. There was Dawn, stunning in a cap and gown, having apparently survived Sunnydale High, which seemed to have survived too.
There was the little Jemmieand there, and there, and there and there. Most photographed kid in Sunnydale, looked like.
Here she was with her Mum. A sunshine pose, outdoors so Buffy's golden hair and skin glowed as she twinkled at the camera. Her face substantially reproduced in the child'sthey had the same smile. Spike stared. Buffy with a kid of her own. Never had pictured it. Couldn't believe it.
And there he was too. Holding an infant wrapped in pinka toddler wearing a birthday crown. And in another shot, holding Buffy, clinch-style, who looked up into his face with an expression of such absorbed satisfaction that he knew this whole thing was a total sham.
When he dashed the framed photo into the hearth, Jemmie cried out as it shattered.
"Shut yer yap, you little beast! I'm onto you! I'm onto this whole bloody head trip!" Sweeping all the pictures down, he bellowed at the room, the house, the Senior Partners who must be monitoring this, controlling this. "I know what you're doing! So just fucking have at meturn me inside out, rip out my soul, lop off my head, whatever it isbut do it straight out!"
Tara was there, Jemmie cowering in her skirts. She gawped at the broken frames and shattered glass.
"Whatwhatwhat happened? Who were you shouting at?"
A voice from the kitchen interrupted before he could begin. "Hey Spike! You here, buddy? Got something to show you."
Tara glanced around. "Xander will help you clean this up. I'm sorry, I really can't stay right now." Telling the little girl to be good and not to touch the broken things, Tara detached her and faded away, just as goddamn Harris came striding in.
Goddamn Harris, but equipped with two eyes, and about thirty pounds less than the one he'd last seen on the morning of his glorious but alas unfinal death.
This one, like the other one, entered talking. "Of course you're here, where else would you be in the middle of the afternoon? Hey Jemmie-girl. Uhwhat happened here?"
"I'll say. Shit." Xander squatted to survey the damage. "Did Jemmie do this? She didn't miss a single one! How'd she reach? Better clean it up before Buffy sees it anyway. I can pick you up some new frames before I go back to the site if you want."
"... uh, yeah. Yeah, that'd be right nice of you."
Xander didn't seem to notice anything amiss about Spike; he motored out to the kitchen on his own, bringing back broom and paper towels and everything else needed to clean up the broken glass, and he didn't seem to notice that Spike wasn't helping him, or that the little girl was hovering on the far side of the room in a skittish way, because she was still freaked out by how he'd roared at her. The whole time he was sweeping up, Xander talked about the job he was working on, building some mini-mall out on the edge of town. Spike didn't listen because he didn't care. Even not listening though, he had the sense that Xander was babbling because there was something else he was building up to.
It emerged when the broken glass was cleared away and they'd moved into the kitchen. Spike, ever hungrier, prowled around for a few moments before it occurred to him to check the freezer. It was half filled with blood bags (the other half was taken up with partially-eaten pints of Cherry Garcia, and neon-colored popsicles that must've been for the kiddie). Xander poured coffee as Spike heated the blood, and then all of a sudden he was at Spike's elbow, prodding him to turn and look at something in his hand.
"I've been getting nowhere just talking to her about it, like we were two sane adults, so finally I decided it was time to dazzle her. What d'you think?"
The blue box in Xander's callused hand held a diamond engagement ring of admirable size and lustre. Spike glanced at it, and then at Xander, who was eyeing himand Spike was surprised by how weird it was, the two-eyed thingwith an expression thirsting for approval.
Xander never had wanted his approval, or sought his advice, before. Even though this was bizarro-world, he couldn't quite bring himself to take this at face value.
"What cereal box you fish that out of?"
"You may well ask. I went to LA to buy this baby."
The mention of LA, where he was supposed to be in the middle of hacking ogres to death on his way to his own dusting, brought Spike up short. Was this a clue? A hint?
"LA? An' how did you find it?"
"How I always find it. A traffic jam. I got lost three times on my way to breakfast at Tiffany's, but I got what I went for. So what do you think? Is she going to laugh in my face? I always think she's going to laugh in my face."
You nearly killed me when I fucked her, an' now you're askin' me 'bout rings for your demon bird? This was getting more surreal by the second. Spike shrugged. "Doubt any girl would laugh at that rock."
"Yeah, but you know she's not just any girl. She's"
The microwave dinged. The sound reminded Spike again of the time. The elapsed time. He had no idea if time here was contiguous with time there, but the great thing was that he wasn't supposed to be here. He needed to get the fuck away from this place and get back to Angel's side where the action was.
"Hey Spike, I know. I know you think I'm being stupid about this, but you don't know her. Under all thatthat unhshe's this little girl that thinks nobody loves her."
"Anya's gonna bloody well know you're serious when she sees that. She's all about the dosh."
Xander blinked. "Anya? ... Spike ... what are you talking about?"
"Talking about" Uh oh. Was there no Anya in this world? Then who was under discussion here?
This was the perfect opening to say his piece about being the Vamp Out Of Time. Except that Jemmie chose that moment to begin howling.
Xander, barely missing a beat, pocketed the ring box, swung Jemmie up onto a stool, and went to the fridge. "Is it okay to give her a glass of milk?"
Spike almost snapped out How should I know? before recalling who he was supposed to be. "Yeah. 'Spect that'll quiet her down."
"You thirsty, toots?" Xander smiled at the little girl with such tenderness that Spike was again distracted. This was all just so flat out weird.
When he'd given her the milk, Xander settled on his own stool and stared into his coffee. "I want to give her the ring tonight, but what if she won't take it? I mean, if she refuses this, isn't that going to mean?"
Spike glanced up,. Had to be careful now. "Can't imagine she would."
Xander took the ring out again and studied it. "Who am I kidding? Faith doesn't even wear earrings, for Chrissakes. That pair I gave her last year, they're covered in dust an inch thick."
This place was giving him whiplash. Had to be a different Faith. Lots of women named Faith. Must be someone else. The Senior Partners would never expect him to believe that Faith The Vampire Slayer would look twice at Xander, in any possible world.
"I don't know what she's afraid of. I mean, I do know. But I also know she wants it, what we've built together. So why can't she justwhy can't she just trust, and take that final step?"
Spike buried his nose in the cup of hot blood. Why was this happening? Why was he in a place that was destroyed, among people he didn't know anymore, giving relationship advice to one of his least-liked acquaintances when he was supposed to be in a rain-swept alley battling to preserve the precious balance between good and evil?
"I mean, how difficult can it be for her to trust me? You got Buffy to trust you. You got all of us to trust you. If that's possible, anything should be!"
"Reckon so," Spike muttered.
"I'm supposed to be the Faith whisperer in our crowd, right? But she'll only come so far and noand maybe she's thinking what's up with him that he's got to pin me down into being Mrs Harris? And yeah, I get that too. But I want her to be abso-fucking-lutely sure that I'm always hers, that I'm always there. The whole marriage thing ... I dunno ... even though my parents' marriage sucks. Marriage just seems really romantic to me."
"You're a bloody romantic guy," Spike mumbled, wondering whether he should bring up how Xander walked out on Anya at the altar. Probably not. If he just kept making encouraging noises, Xander would go away soon.
"I don't think it's the slayer thing, really. Especially now she sees how Buffy and you make it work. And I haven't breathed a word about kids. I know she's not going to want kids."
Crikey. He was talking about that Faith.
If this was a Wolfram & Hart holding dimension, why was it like this? Why'd he wake up to an afternoon of child-wrangling and coffee klatsching when the thing they ought to have done was put Buffy in bed with him straight away. That would've made him forget the battle in no time flat.
None of this made any sense.
It was time to speak up. If this was some kind of prison, saying so out loud wouldn't make any difference, and if it wasn't, they could get going on figuring out how to send him back to his rightful placeand find the Spike who presumably got to live this existence as his rightful one, mind-blowing as that was.
He was about to interrupt Xander, who was still wittering on about his love troubles, when his eye fell on some photos stuck to the fridge with magnets.
Four shots of him and Buffy. They were in a photo booth strip, like you found at a fun fair. She was clearly sitting on his lap in the booth. Kissing him, and laughing. Laughing not in derision or contempt, but with delight. She looked radiantly beautiful, in some kind of off the shoulder top, her hair loose, and he was beautiful too, mussed by her fingers, eyes shining. Looking at those little black and white squares, he almost experienced the slipping weight of her giggling body on his, the moist warmth of her nibbling mouth, the sensation of her hands caressing his neck and face. She'd smell like sweat and shampoo and taste of whatever seaside junk she'd been eatingcaramel corn, hot dogs. He'd never known her happy the way she so obviously was in these images. Never knew her to look at him like that.
His eye fell on something else. A folded piece of memo paper with an 'S' scrawled on it, tacked with a magnet near the photo strip. He couldn't think why he hadn't spotted it sooner.
The note said:
Happy anniversary, lover. Jemmie gets picked up at 5:00 and I'll be back by six. Be in bed. B.
Spike stared, his eyes bobbling back and forth between lover and bed. It was her writing, though he couldn't imagine Buffy scribbling those words with him in her mind. Not unless she was under some kind of seriously heavy spell. He was hard instantly, aching for her.
He wanted to see her. The Buffy in those pictures, the Buffy who'd written this note, he had to wait here until she returned. All the love he held for her, in no way diminished though he'd firmly put it aside, took him over again as entirely as it ever had. He wanted her like blood, like sleep, like poetry and beauty. She was all those things. She was his soul.
Even though it would be a million times harder afterwards to announce that he was misplaced.
This was wicked, he knew that. His hard-won conscience blazed up at the idea of tricking her for his pleasure. But even reformed he was still Spike, his mind still ran as ever to what he could get away with, what would gratify him.
Even as he knew he must return to the battle, he wanted this one impossible chance to hold a completely willing Buffy in his arms. To kiss her ... tohis mind ran aheadto undress her and have her, slowly and every which way, upstairs in that big bed, with no shame on her part, no reserve haunting her tired eyes.
Oh bloody fucking hell yes. Couldn't he wait around for that? How likely was it, even if he spoke up now, that they could return him to the alley? Or that time there was running the same way? For one thing, it was daytime when he awoke here, but the battle he'd left was going on at night. If they could get him back there, maybe they could put him down right where he'd left. Or sooner. Maybe they could put him somewhere where he could make a strategic difference.
Yeah. Like that. So what harm if he waited a bit, to see her? If he raised the Scooby alarm now, he'd have no chance with Buffy.
"Papa, down!" Jemmie cried.
Absently, still focused on his fantasy, Spike lifted the girl down off the high stool. She scampered out of the room. Xander rose then too, put his coffee cup in the dishwasher. "I'd better go if I'm going to pick up those frames. I'll be back in an hour, okay? Get here before Buffy does."
"Yeah, okay," Spike said. "Uh, thanks." Watching Xander go to the door, he wondered how it possibly could've come about that any version of himself, any version of Xander, could be friends. Leaving aside that Xander loathed him, he'd always loathed Xander. The kid was a witless fuck-up, and despite his tendency to attract demon girls, a hopeless mundane. Why would Wolfram & Hart think he'd believe in this friendship he never sought? Though they apparently expected him to believe that Buffy left him little mash-notes in the kitchen.
Fucking hell. Gonna believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Yet when Xander paused to smile and wave as he went out, Spike's heart lifted.
No one in his LA life ever did anything like that.
"Papa, I have to go potty."
He was rifling Buffy's desk when the tug came on his jeans leg.
"Bloody hell. So go on then, Bit. Go."
She frowned. "You have to take me."
"I have towhat?"
"Paaaa-pa. Stop fooling." She danced a little, holding her crotch.
"All right then." Scooping her up, taking the stairs in threes, he wondered: how was this possible? What Buffy in her right mind would try to raise a kid while cohabiting with him? And how did she get pregnant anyhow? Couldn't be his. Sperm donor? He couldn't get his mind around it.
At least the girl didn't expect him to pull her pants down. He had to lift her onto the toilet though, and then didn't know whether to turn his back or not. In all his decades of experience, this had never come up.
He wanted to get back to the desk; he'd just found a diary in one of the drawers, and had high hopes there'd be some useful information in it.
But now she was on the can, young Jemmie seemed more interested in singing and kicking her little red-shoed feet than in doing her business.
Finally she produced the necessary. Spike carried her back down to the desk. The diary was intriguingly scrawled in the same handwriting as the note. But it only went back to the beginning of the yearfive months.
The diary read like an outline for one of those chick novels Harmony used to read listlessly during off momentsShopping and Fucking books, they were called. The accounts of slaying were perfunctoryshe seemed to have a system of symbols to indicate the various spots and what she'd killed there, but the new clothes and their apparently constant screwing were outlined with relish. They did it, as far as he could tell, every day, and everywhere, and everyhow. And while they did, he sometimes said things to her that she saw fit to jot down afterwardsendearments, bawdy compliments. Their lovemaking, daily as it was, didn't jade her; she recorded it happily just as she wrote about Jemmie's cute sayings, the sale at 9 West, the new TV shows she liked, how she'd cut herself wittling stakes, the recipe she'd tried ... it was, Spike realized, as he turned over page after page, actually supremely dull. A day-to-day record of a contented life. If there was a Big Bad brewing, she didn't mention it.
He brought the book up to his face and inhaled hard. It smelled like her ... but more and more he couldn't bring himself to believe in this so-called reality. A scenario of Buffy-and-Spike-Livin'-La-Vida-Doméstica was far far wackier than if he'd been asked to believe that she was a whore and he was her pimp, or ... or even the other way around.
He knew about alternate universes, every demon did. But this ... this one was just too damn improbable.
A knock came at the front door.
He opened it to Faith.
"Hey," she said, shuffling in, her hands in her pockets. She looked pretty much as he remembered her. Same style, same stance, though she was curiously subdued at the moment. Looked worried. "B here?"
Jemmie came thundering up; Faith lifted and swung her towards the ceiling, which produced a shriek of delight from the child. "Hey girlfren, whatcha doin'?"
"Papa an' me are hanging out."
"How's that going?"
"Papa's in a bad mood."
Faith looked towards him, an eyebrow raised. "You're in a bad mood? That makes two of us," she said. "You got any coffee?"
"If Xander didn't drink it all."
"He was here?" She started towards the kitchen. This was starting to feel like a soap opera.
"Yeah, an' he'll be back soon."
"Shit." She was frowning now like she had a migraine coming on. "This is so fucked up."
"What's fucked up?"
She studied him for a moment, then shrugged. "I was gonna ask B, but what the hell. You'll do. I happen to know Xander went and blew some very large bills on buying me a fucking ring. A diamond! Now how in the hell am I going to fend that off?"
"Why fend it off at all."
"Fuck that noise."
"He loves you."
"Why can'tthings are good like they are. Hell, they're better by about a million percent than I ever thought my piss poor life would be. So why's he got to fuck it up by shoving marriage proposals at me?"
A soap opera. That's what this was. They'd taken all the people he used to know, and stuck them into this insanely absurd scenario, starring himself as a desperate housewife confined inside 1630 while the sun was out and forced to field endless visits from lovelorn walk-ons. Maybe the sun was always out. Maybe that was where it turned into hellthe sun always out, the doorbell always ringing, Buffy always gone, the kidlet always needing the toilet. Forever.
Faith was sitting now on Xander's stool, similarly staring into a coffee mug.
"I can't do this. I can't take the ring, can't get fuckin' hitched. But if I don't ... Spike, I can't lose him. I can't."
"So don't. Why's it got to be so complicated? Wear the ring, say the words, go on bein' yourself."
Her face twisted in exasperation. Looking at her, shooting anxiety like sparks in the bright kitchen, Spike remembered when he was in a similar stateback before he gave up on Buffy, gave up on romantic love. No one had loved him for a long time, and he'd stopped expecting that to change. Getting a soul made him less lovable, he felt, not more. In the last year he hadn't stopped wanting and revering Buffy, he'd just stopped maintaining even the thinnest glimmer of hope that she'd ever want him, or that she even should. He didn't wish to see her, or for her to know he still existed. He liked thinking that by staying behind in the hellmouth, he'd made her nice new Spike-free life possible, but mostly he didn't even think about that.
It was easier in a lot of ways, but ... but there was still something to be said for what Faith was fighting so shy of.
"Sometimes greater part of valour is capitulatin'."
"Just sayin', pet. Know it's nuthin' a vampire or a slayer wants to hear."
"I don't know how to" Suddenly she punched the countertop. The tiled surface cracked like ice beneath her fist; Jemmie let out a wail and grabbed his leg.
Faith stared, and wrung her hand. "Shit, man. Sorry."
"Better that than Xander's face. You be nice to him when he gives you that rock, all right? Least you can do."
"Least I can do," Faith echoed, sounding dazed. "Shit. I'd better go."
He was glad to see the back of her; was in no mood to field her and Xander in the same place at the same time.
As it turned out, Xander drove up five minutes after Faith drove off.
"S'like Bloody King's Cross Terminal in here," Spike muttered.
Xander with the picture frames was like Xander at work. He quickly sorted frames and photos by size, matched them up; his hands were deft as he removed the backs, fitted the pictures into the frames, adjusted the glass, replaced the backs. He handed them one by one to Spike, to replace on the mantlepiece.
He couldn't recall the order they were in, and anyway, Buffy was bound to notice sometime that they weren't exactly the same frames. He really didn't want to handle these pictures anymore. The life they depicted wasn't his, and shouldn't be. He was being fooled about, tricked and tempted. He was quite possibly going to betray his comrades and his own conscience by staying here longer than he might have to, because even now he was still weak and susceptible. A perfect pawn for whatever game the Partners were playing with him.
Buffy would be back in less than ninety minutes, and the thought of being able to take her in his arms made Spike feel weak and desperate and lit up with anticipation. Even if she was a hoax, or just a substitute like the Buffybot, he was still fool enough to desire that toy consolation.
His task finished, Xander, suddenly solemn, offered Spike a hand. He hesitated for a moment, then put his own out to accept Xander's clasp. "Congratulations, man."
"You did all the work."
"Not about the pictures, you dummy. Congratulations on the anniversary. Never thought I'd say it, let alone as often as I do, but you're good for the Buffster. So, many happy returns and all that."
"Ah ... yeah. Thanks."
"I'd better go get started if I'm ever going to have an anniversary of my own."
"Good luck with that," Spike said, thinking Xander certainly wasn't in for a pleasant evening. For a second Spike considered warning him, but quickly decided it was none of his business. Even if he was the Spike who belonged in this place, better to keep quiet. But he wasn't, and since when did he give a tinker's about Xander? Let him suffer.
When the door closed, the house felt curiously still. Spike stood in the foyer for a few moments, listening, inhaling. The whole house smelled like Buffy, and like the little girl, whose aroma was similar to her mother's, but sweeter, with that sweetness of preadolescence, before the pores got bunged up and the sweat turned rank. The scent of little girl children had always roused his appetite; now it just made him uneasy.
Where was she, anyhow? He recalled with a start that he was supposed to be in charge of her. Sick joke that that was. And she was being entirely too quiet.
He found Jemmie stretched out under a table in the back room, asleep on her belly with a toy truck clutched in her hand. Might be just as well to leave her there; he wanted to reconnoiter a bit more while he had the place to himself, so he returned to the bedroom he'd awakened in.
The candles had burned down some; he could see that they were kept more or less perpetually burning, but he couldn't sense any magic about them. Just for the crypt-y atmosphere, then. Right. Anyway, their flickering glow was plenty bright enough for him to see everything in the place.
In her jewelry box, amidst huge jumbles of costume stuff, some of which he was startled to find familiar, he saw the big silver skull ring he'd used to engage himself to her under Willow's spell. Odd enough that she'd hung onto it, he was gobsmacked to realize that it was strung on a chain, which suggested she sometimes wore it around her neck. How much more of this were they going to expect him to swallow?
The big closet was almost entirely full of her clothes. The Eau De Slayer they gave off when he flung open the doors was overpowering; he was engulfed by nostalgia, and hard again in his jeans.
There were some more photos, too, hanging on the wall. But these weren't of her and hers; they were old, sepia-toned. He had to stare at them for a bit before the faces, in unfamiliar circumstances, swam up to greet his comprehension.
His sisters. Sisters? A sick feeling gripped his temples; he blinked, tried to gather his thoughts. Sisters. Yes, of course he'd had sisters. Hadn't he ...? When he tried to place them, with him, in their old home, everything went foggy. He couldn't see it. Yet as the three solemn faces in the stiffly posed portrait wavered in and out of familiarity, he knew it was true.
He couldn't find their names. The confusion burned at him, like acid in the gut. He remembered his mother, remembered coming home to her with Drusilla, remembered what had happened that night. Didn't he? Because they'd brought all that back to him with that worm in the stone spell. But now he couldn't bring to mind anything else about his human life. All those things he'd left behind when he was turnedit never occurred to him that he'd forgotten, because he just wasn't in the habit of reflecting back on them. So that now, as he looked at the three still young ladies, with their arms clasped about each other's waistsand at the little girl in the pinafore, who was a younger version of the youngest one, serious and intelligent looking like Tenniel's Aliceand at the wedding daguerrotype of the clergyman and his young wife who must be his parentsSpike's mind twirled and heaved, trying to fight off what was flooding in. Memories so far blotted out he wasn't even aware of their loss.
He looked and looked, and the more he did, the less sure he was of anything from the human past.
What were their names? If he could get the bloody names, then maybe ... backing away, he sat down hard on the unmade bed. Why were they messing him about like this? This wasn't in the brochure. Hadn't he done his duty? Got his soul, made his sacrifice, come back against his will and yet gone right back into the good fight? So why this?
Why was it so painful, seeing those faces that had come so unstuck from him?
They'd died ahead of him. He knew that muchknew it all at once from scratch, with the sudden awful blow of a telegram delivered on a wintery afternoon. He'd loved those girls, and lost them before he ever stumbled out and lost himself. What were their blasted names?
Bloody fucking hell! Spike leapt up, went back to the pictures. Jemimathat was the little girl in the pinafore. His favorite sister, his particular darling. The other two were older than him, but she was younger. She was the last, the family's treasure.
When she died, everything was ruined.
Buffy had named her daughter Jemima.
The voice shrilled out again. "Where is your father? Where are you? Jemima!" It was followed by steps, and a moment later Anya loomed in the doorwayamazing how such a slip of a woman could loom. In one arm she held the Cuisinart he'd noticed in Buffy's kitchen. "Here you are! Well? Where's the kid?"
"You were supposed to have her ready, Spike. We're in a hurry too, you know."
"Where're you goin' with that?"
"You know this is mine. Buffy needs to learn to return things when she borrows them. How am I supposed to make that ratatouille Rupert likes when my Cuisinart is at your house?"
"Oh. Yeah. Well. Kiddie was havin' her nap downstairs, little while ago. 'Spect your bellowin's roused her."
Wait a tickRupert?
He was about to open his mouth when Jemmie entered at her habitual shot-from-canons trajectory, a towel trailing behind her.
"You certainly are. Are you ready to go?"
"Anya, you cook for Rupert ... uh, often?"
Her look could have burned through titanium. "What are you implying? I take very good care of my husband! Ask anyone! Ask him!"
Her husband? It was all Spike could do not to burst out laughing. Giles and Anya!
Soap Opera World really was the Land Of The Mismatched Couples, wasn't it? Too right. Next thing would be Tara coming back in hand in hand with Warren.
"Not implyin' anything, love."
"Well, good. You don't want to alienate me when you expect me to babysit so often." Seizing Jemima's hand, Anya turned. "I can't stand here chatting, Rupert is waiting in the car. Come along, sweetheart."
Giles was outside. Giles, who ought to be told, if he told anyone, that something was wonky in Wonkland. Giles, who'd know how to rally the mind and muscle that might be able to get him back to his own place.
Giles, who'd set him up to be killed by Wood.
Giles, who wouldn't send help when Angel called up and asked for it.
Well, fuck Giles. Didn't want to see him now. Wanted to just stay here and wait for what was going to happen next, what the decks were so clearly being cleared for. The return of the fake Buffy of this fake world ... this fake beautiful world where they were all friends and all getting on with things. He'd wait for that Buffy to come home and smile at him.
After that, maybe, the abyss. But he'd have it first.
He reread the note. Be in bed.
That would mean, presumably, being naked.
The way he was when he first found himself here.
On reflection, Spike decided that wasn't such a good idea. He didn't know who or what was going to come through the door next, and even if it was only Buffysome version of Buffywell, she was a slayer, wasn't she? Best to be careful if he wanted to go on not-breathing and see this through.
Anyway, he was too restless to just lie down and look pretty. Pacing the room, he went on poking into things, opening drawers, peering under the bed.
There was a chest there, like the one Buffy had once used to keep weapons in.
This one was full of toys, not the kind for Jemima. Restraintschains, ropes, silk scarves, cuffs of various typesvibratorshe wondered when she found the time to need those, what with the pace they supposedly kept upclamps and blindfolds and ... a hefty strap-on. Crikey, Spike thought, does she go at me with that? All at once he was revved up again, even more than he'd been when he opened the closet door to that perfumed forest of Buffywear. A sniff at the article in question confirmed that, yes indeed, she wore itit was clean but still smelled plainly enough to his keen senses of her cunny. That aroma, long-lost and mourned, set him into a tremble of anticipation. He couldn't keep from handling himself through his jeanswould've unzipped and tossed off right there, except for wanting to be vigilant.
Instead, he shoved the chest back where he'd found it, and circled the room again, rubbing his crotch even as he willed his cock to relax. For the first time it occurred to him to wonder: how? If this was realas real in its place as his experience was in his ownhow had it come about? What was different to make Buffy want to cozy up with him like this? Back when they'd had their thing, she'd never let him have her in the house, let alone in her bed. And when she came to his crypt, she'd almost never just get into bed there either. Never wanted anything they did to be the least bit tender or romantic. Her every touch was rough and hard ... and exquisite for it, but still not ... not what he could never teach himself to stop yearning for. Even at the end, when she'd spent those couple of nights lying beside him. She'd let him hold her. But she hadn't held him.
He couldn't imagine a Buffy who'd live with him like a wife, noting anniversaries, leaving lovey notes. Which seemed to prove what he'd suspected all along: this was a construct. He'd been put here by some power greater than himselfit was just like when he'd awakened in that white cell in the Initiative. He was being manipulated, that was all.
It was his heart and head, not his cock, that hardened now. Yeah. He'd do a little manipulating in return. He'd get what he wanted out of her, and then he'd find out just what the hell the game was, and how to get out.
Just as he reached this decision, he heard the kitchen door open and close. He recognized her step; she crossed the kitchen, the dining room. He heard her on the stairs. This was it. Taking up a position at the far side of the room, the bed between him and the door, he braced himself. Ready.
She reached the top of the stairs, and stopped. He could hear her heart beatit was going pretty fast. She only paused for a moment, but he wondered about that moment. What was she doing?
She muttered something he couldn't catch. A soft sound, something sifting to the floor, followed by a stifled clinking. Imagining what weapon might make a sound like that, Spike brought up his fangs.
Then she was in the doorway, leaning shoulder against the jamb. Her hair was loose; she was clad in nothing but strappy high-heeled sandals, and pale green lingerie so wispy that he could see her nipples and the dark shadow of her cunny hair through the silk. The sight literally defanged him. He stared, rooted to the spot. A big bottle of Krug was insufficiently concealed behind her back. The pair of champagne flutes in her right hand scraped together again as she held them up; she was trembling. "Lover, I brought you something for our" Seeing the empty tossled bed, and him standing on the far side of it, her smile, brilliant for a moment, died. Suddenly she looked as deflated as her daughter when he'd frightened her. "God, I totally suck at this. What is it? What's the matter?" Dropping the glasses and bottle amidst the sheets, she came to him, tottering a little as if her ankles were watery.
Spike was startled by his own voice, saying "Nothin', nothin's the matter," and by his arms, which were around her in a moment. She pressed against him, circling his neck with her own delicious arms. Her scent overwhelmed himthe Buffybot, who did like to throw herself against him this way, hadn't smelled like the real Buffy. But thisthis was her, in every way his senses could determine. Oh God, it was Buffy.
Except it wasn't, because never in his wildest dreams had she behaved this way.
"Why are you wearing so many clothes? Didn't you see my note? I wanted, you know ... for this to be romantic. Like what people do on anniversaries."
"Saw your note, sure I did. Justlost track of the time a bit. You're beautiful." He put her back to look at her, and to try to pull himself together. All his resolve, about being hard and playing the players' game back at them, was dissolving into nothingness in the face of this woman looking at him with such uncertainty andyearning. When had Buffy ever yearned at him?
Never. Never never, and why should it affect him like this? This whole thing was false.
Christ, this was confusing. This was doing his head in.
Now at his words, she glanced down at herself. "You don't like my outfit? I went out to get it special, because I saw it in a magazine and I thought, you know ... I thought ... I was even planning to do a little dance ...." At this she blushed, magnificently, bright red that spread up from her breasts, blotching up her neck and into her already bright cheeks. "I thought"
Head spinning, Spike went to sit on the bed. What was he doing? He couldn'tshouldn'tmustn'tgo through with this.
But how could he not? How, when she followed him, nestling onto his lap, nuzzling his neckand this was like that time they were under a spell, but it wasn't either, because she'd been strange then, they both were, like they were reading a silly script. He could feel that this was real to her, she was het up and ready for him. A ticklish thought crossed his mindwas this really what Buffy was like, when she was in love? Had she been like this with Angel? All girlish and confiding and wanting and unsure of herself? He felt like a peeping Tom, watching under false pretenses. She was some fellow's girl, that was for sure, but not his. Not his.
Her fingers strayed beneath the waistband of his jeans, beneath his shirt, tugging it undone as her lips did amazing things to his neck. Her voice, all breathy and languid, whispered in his ear. "Happy anniversary, Spike."
Remembering the champagne, he reached back for it. Opening it would provide a diversion.
"This was thoughtful of you, pet. You thirsty?"
"I'll open it. Why don't you get naked?"
Getting naked was just what he didn't want to do. Getting naked would lead to fucking her, and
He could just tell her the truth. Right now, just stand up and announce himself. And then that would be that; she'd put some clothes on. She'd probably beat him up too, which would have the ring of familiarity, at least.
She'd taken the bottle from his hand, and slid off his lap to sit beside him while she wrestled with the foil covering the cork. She was so bloody earnest. As she worked, she started to babble, "Can you believe five years? I mean, us! Five years! I looked up what the 5-year anniverary gift is, and it's wood. Isn't that funny? I figured that would send the wrong message, you know, if I gave youbut then I figured you'd get wood if I went to La Perla and wore ... right?" She glanced around at him, tipping him a wink with her play on words. The cork sounded with the harsh suddenness of gunfire; Spike felt like he'd been hit.
To his surprise, Buffy ignored the glasses; took a swig straight from the bottle, and handed it to him.
This was like being trapped inside a kaleidoscope. One moment she was Buffy, and the next she was some stranger wearing her skinand what skin!who sounded like her but didn't act like her. Except that as soon as he managed to convince himself of that, he'd ricochet back to feeling her, wanting her, not caring whether this was true or not. Taking the bottle, he sipped slowly, drinking her in, trying to decide what to do.
With a sigh he couldn't quite interpret, she crawled higher up on the bed, stretched out. Raised a bent leg lazily, and touched the thin strip of silk that ran beneath. "This is getting pretty moist," she murmured thoughtfully, as if it was a problem, like a leaky sink, she wanted to prompt some help with.
"You look ... you look like bloody heaven." As stalling tactics went, he felt, this was lame.
But she smiled, a smile that scorched his poor heart like sunrise.
He swallowed some more. The surreality of this was off the charts.
"Let's take a bit of inventory, shall we pet?"
There were things he wanted to know. Even though this was all an illusion, he wanted to know what the story of it was. It would kill him, but he was going to ask.
"Of our year, yeah? Seein' as it's our fifth anniversary."
"Okay." She sat up readily, crossed her legs. The sandals were very strappy, and very high. They were gold. Her toenails were freshly painted a sparkly pink. The sight of them about did him in.
"Have I made you happy, then, this year?"
Her eyelashes dipped; she looked at her hands, then up at him in a way reminiscent of one made famous by Lauren Bacall. "What do you think?"
"Want you to tell me."
She reached out. "I'd rather show you. Why aren't you naked yet?"
"I'm gonna take an inventory of you." Seizing the stuff of his teeshirt in both hands, she yanked it up and off before he could stop her. "I've been thinking about this for weeks. We're gonna go nice, and slow, and thorough, and did I mention slow? Because this is special."
"Special, yeah, cause usually"
"Usually," she supplied, "we go fast. And rough."
This was starting to sound like that old Ike and Tina record.
"You always liked fast and rough," he said. You wouldn't have me any other way.
"I do like it. But it isn't all I like, right?" She'd eased him onto his back, was hovering over himnot straddling, but kneeling beside, and her fingers were in his hair, smoothing it gently back from his forehead in a way that made him shiver. "Remember how we were doing it that night I first told you? Remember that?"
Told me what? "How could I forget?"
"I was thinking it would be good if we could do it like that. So slow and tender I thought I'd explode. You did it for me that night but now I'm gonna do it for you."
This at least was a relief, as he had no clue what it consisted of, and was sure to get it wrong.
"I think about that every year. You know. What we celebrate as our anniversaryand it's just as good an anniversary thing as any, isn't it? And the bad thing Willow did to you after, now it's over, that just makes it mean more anyway, right?"
"Right," Spike breathed. He was running his hands softly up and down her arms, a touch he'd always craved and only rarely been permitted. Buffy smiled at him, a smile that went all through him, that made him hard and incandescent with desire. His hand was on her shoulder; she nuzzled it with her cheek, and kissed it.
"I'm talking too much, but I want you to know. I want you to know, Spike. I don't take any of this for granted. What you give me. What we are together. I love you so much."
"An' I love you. Love you, Buffy, always have, always will. With all my mind an' my heart an' my soul."
She frowned, and for a moment he thought she was going to pull away, but then her brow cleared and she came in close for a kiss; his arms went around her, and the separate things they'd been doing and saying sped up and blended together into the one thing, no more talking, just kissing. He kept expecting her to sit on him, to wrench his head up, bite his mouth, the way she used to, but Buffy still seemed intent on her promise of going slow. She permitted him to kiss her in the way he'd always wanted but never hadwithout hurry or escalation, with time to taste her and feel the softness of her mouth, the flavor of her tongue. She made kittenish noises, caressed his face with unbruising fingers.
This was so good. Too damn good. Any second now, he thought, they'll do it. Whatever it is they've brought me here for, they've got me good and pinned and now it'll happen.
Maybe she was going to suck his soul out through his mouth, and send him to hell. That would be about right.
This idea was suddenly so strong in him that he shuddered. Put her aside and sat up.
"Spikewhat's the matter?"
He cried out to the ceiling, to the room, to the Senior Partners. "Just do it, all right? Just bloody do it, or else put me back an' let your filthy army trample mewhateverbut no more of this!"
Nothing happened, no thunderbolt, no rumbling voice, no sudden transposition to the White Room.
Just Buffy in her pretty lingerie, awash in alarm, reaching for him. "Spike, what is it, what's going on?" She glanced around, then lunged for the nightstand, where she pulled a stake out of the top drawer. "Who's in here? What do you see?"
He was on his feet now. Glad he still had his jeans, and relieved that she'd armed herself. That was the proper way for them to talk.
"Thing is ... I'm Spike, yeah, but I'm not your Spike. Think we've been switched. Leastways, I belong somewhere else."
He expected her to rush him, but she stayed where she was, kneeling in the center of the bed, blinking, bewildered.
"A few hours ago. Right before you left the house. I came to myself here in this bed. But before thatI was in LA, fightin' 'longside Angel and his peopleapocalypse situation. An' I hadn't seen you in a year. We weren't ... we aren't ... Something happened. Dimensions were intersectingghoul armies on the marchyou can imagine. Guess I got sidetracked somehow."
"Oh my God."
"You believe me, yeah?"
She shook her head, but it wasn't a negation.
"Should've spoken up sooner, I know. ButI wanted to see you. Wanted to see Buffy who loved her Spike, because ... because ... it's not like this where I"
Buffy held up a hand; he stopped talking. Slowly, fiercely, she stood up. Here was the girl he knew. He found himself exhaling, and suddenly wanted a cigarette, as if they'd just finished something heavy together.
"Sowhat? You're from the world without shrimp?"
"Got shrimp, all right, I suppose." He'd never much cared for shellfish. "What it hasn't got is you an' me bein'"
She interrupted. "Why didn't you tell someone sooner? You've been here for hours, I know Xander was here, Anya was here"
"Saw Faith too," he admitted.
"And you kept quiet."
"Told you why," Spike mumbled. "You know ... even you ought to know ... how I am about you." She was advancing on him, the stake in her fist. He raised his hands, palms open. "Not here to do anything to you an' yours, Buffy. Seem to be victim of circumstance, or ... thought I'd been bunged into a Wolfram an' Hart holdin' dimension. Didn't know who to trust."
"What does that mean? Wolfram and Hart Holding Dimension?"
"Look, it's a long story."
She flashed him the old stink eye, that he knew so well. "Weirdly enough, I buy that you really are alterna!Spike, because you're just self-centered and dumb enough to forget that if you're here, my Spike must be there. Didn't that occur to you? Or did you just not care? Because that would be like you too."
"And that I might really really be anxious about getting him back? Seeing as how I'm used to him, and he's the father of my kid? Shit. I find out there's a you in every dimension, and apparently you all think with your cocks."
"Shut up. I could so stake you right now, you stupid vampire."
She went to the phone.
As he listened to her talking to Giles, Spike was swamped with a stunning nostalgia, and loneliness. He'd had no idea how much he missed even this, the intimacy of her contemptstupid vampirethe comradery of the Scoobies, the house itself, small and warm and humannot like the outsize glass and steel environs of the law firm or the dingy basement flat he'd occupied the last few months, alone. When he'd been here, he was part of something in a way he wasn't in LA. Sure, they let him play his role, but none of them was fond of him, none of them really gave a shit. Buffy might not have loved him at all, she might've lied to his face in his last moment, but in those final harrowing weeks, she'd taken care of him. Demonstrated in unforgettable ways that he had value, was part of what she defended, her world.
It wasn't what this Buffy's Spike hadher heart and body and lovingkindness, evidence of which poured forth as she excitedly explained the situation to Giles and urged him to do something about it prontobut it was more than he'd ever had in all his undead days. And he knew he'd never have it again, even if he walked out of that alley.
Buffy hung up the phone. "They're on their way. Get out so I can dress."
Somethingnot relief?made him want to give her a hard time, now it was all out in the open. "Nothin' I haven't seen before, love. Wouldn't mind getting another peek before you put the goods away."
"I'm not goods. Anyway, I thought you said"
"Said there's no you-an'-me where I'm from. Didn't say there never was." He waggled a brow at her.
"I can't believe I kissed you and told you all that mush stuff!" she wailed. "How do I even know you're telling the truth? You're probably evil."
"You think so? Stake me, then."
She stepped closer, brandishing the stake, but though there was no hint of humor about her at that moment, he wasn't worried.
Instead of attacking him, she looked straight into his eyes. Searching. Wondering.
"It's only me, pet. You'd know me anywhere, wouldn't you? We've always known each other, yeah?"
"You are so full of shit, William The Bloody. Get out. Out."
Cheated of lovemaking, he could at least console himself with a snack. While the blood heated in the microwave, Spike looked out the kitchen window. It was getting dark now. The neat houses across the street were same as they ever werehe'd never paid much attention to them.
The First Evil must not have come to this Sunnydale, or if it did, she'd stopped it a lot quicker and neater than they had. The people here had never packed up their cars and abandoned this town.
The microwave dinged. He took a fresh mug from the cabinet.
"I see you've made yourself right at home."
Buffy sailed into the kitchen, looking very soccer mom in a light long-sleeved turtleneck sweater and sweatpants, her hair pulled into a neat ponytail. The look said: no more nonsense, sexy or otherwise.
"An' why not?"
"But it isn't your home. You said"
"Knew this place right well. Was in an' out all the time, an' stayed in your basement for weeks before the big battle with The First. But everythin's different," he sniffed. "Just that it all still stands, to start with. Somewhere 'long the way, things diverged big time."
"Well, for one thing, you an' me don't live together in wedded bliss."
She blushed. "We're not actually mar"
"I haven't even seen you in a year. Less you wanna count spottin' the back of your head in that dive in Rome. Which I don't wanna count."
"Sunnyhell is gone. All this" he swooped an arm "is a crater with a heap of rubble at the bottom."
Buffy's eyes widened. She glanced around, as if the house was about to collapse.
"I died at the bottom of that crater. Burned up."
"You look pretty un-burn-y to me."
"Yeah, well, it got better. Didn't want you to know, but it turned out to be less simple than that, on account of an amulet I wore that did a big part of the heavy liftin' during the fight."
"That's not important. Important thing was"
"That you went into it knowing you'd die, and you did it anyway."
"Yeah. 'Spect you find that familiar?"
She nodded, looking solemn.
"Only my quietus wasn't quite yet, so now I'm on round two of my unlife, hooked up with Angel in LA. Leastwaysnot hooked up hooked up"
He couldn't quite read her expression.
"So how did it diverge?" she said. "You're just like my Spike. You know all of us, this house, the town"
"You died, we just established that."
"Yeah. That was a while ago now."
"Right, the Glory thing. An' they brought you back, Willow an' the others. That wasn't a pretty year."
"What happened for you? Want to know how you got into this life with me. Last thing that should ever have happened."
Buffy shrugged, but a little smile played around her lips. "You know. Getting pulled out heaven ... it was bad, I was sad and mad and uh, behaved like a cad, but you were sweet to me, you made things bearable, and after a while we got to be a thing and now we're a thing with our own little kid. Every year we save the world. The family that slays together, et cetera."
You were sweet to me, you made things bearable. That's what he tried to do, only it hadn't worked for them. Because a soulless demon couldn't really be kind; he could love, but his love would always lack the power to heal. He was sure of that. "Family. Whose kid is she?"
"Ours. Yours and mine."
"I mean who got her on you?"
"How the buggerin' hell did I give you a kid?"
Now she hesitated, blinked. "Time travel was involved. It was another thing."
"Time travel. When was this?"
"Is that a trick question? Nine months before Jemmie was born."
"No, I mean ... after Willow brought you back from the dead."
"Not long. I came back, I was miserable, we ... took up with each other."
"Was there singing?"
"Just for that one day."
"Right. I remember that." Thought he preferred not to.
"Okay. And then a few days after the singing, you and I ... got together."
"Brought the house down." He knew his grin was lewd, but that was a memory he never got tired of, even with all that happened later overlaid on it.
"We did." Her smile too, contained layers of association.
"And then Giles left, an' you had no money, you got that McJob, an' we had our escalatin' series of squalid assignations which you"
"Giles didn't stay away long. What McJob?"
"Dunno how you could forget the bloody Doublemeat Palace, love."
"You're saying I worked there? I've never even set foot intooh. I think this might be where our notes stop comparing."
"And the squalid assignations? What does that mean?"
"If it doesn't mean anything to you, pet, I'd as soon keep it that way. What about the trio?"
"Nerds. What, Warren, Jonathan, andI can never remember that other kid's name. Them? They were a pain in my ass. But they all left town a while ago now."
"They were after takin' over. The spring after you were brought back, they murdered a girl, made you think you'd done it, an' when I tried to stop you martyrin' yourself for it, you beat my face to a bloody pulp. An' later that Warren shit put a bullet in you an' killed Tara."
"Yeah, yeah, an' that made Willow go off the deep end, Full Metal Magic, an' she came this close to ending the world."
"This close? How close?"
"Dunno exactly. After what went down between you an' me in this house, I left town. When I got back, was crazier than a shithouse rat on account of gettin' my soul, and then"
"Whoa whoa whoa! Soul?"
She'd grabbed his arm. Her eyes were the size of cake plates.
"You must know"
"I don't. I don't know. What are you talking about?"
"What're you talking about? Don't tell me he doesn't? You'd never live with him, love him, without his having"
"Of course he doesn't have a soul. How could he?"
They were equally blindsided. She still gripped his arm, and it was like 50,000 volts arced between them.
Of all that was astonishing and incredible here, this was the apex. It had never occurred to Spike that the one whose reality this was hadn't also returned successful from a harrowing soul quest.
Because how could she be Buffy, and accept him as he used to be? It made no sense.
Since she'd returned to the house, he'd relaxed into believing that all this really was what it seemed. But now his suspicion came piling back. The Buffy he knew wouldn't love a soulless demon whose only restraint was a chip in his head. In what way was she the ever-righteous slayer he adored if she could do that?
Before either of them could speak, Giles walked in the kitchen door. Buffy yanked her hand back, and spun around, gesturing big and loud.
"Giles! I'm so glad to see you! I hope you've got an assortment of solutions to this problem in that bag of yours."
The bag, which he swung up onto the counter island, was a leather knapsack bulging with books.
"Perhaps. I've been on to the Devon witches, who were already aware of an anomaly in space-time occurring at the hour that" He focused now on Spike, did a double-take, and seemed unsure how to go on. "That Spike hereif he is Spikeclaims to have come on the scene."
"Not claimin'. Telling the truth."
"We'll proceed on that assumption, yes."
Seeing Giles againeven this other versionreminded Spike of how much he didn't like the man. Instinctually didn't want to trust him. Though it was a mistake to trust anything herepseudo!Buffy was right, he'd been thinking with his dick far too long, wasting time.
Now it was dark out, maybe he should get out of this house, and go find solutions on his own. Maybe the right place to go was Los Angeles. Seek out Angel and his people. He was supposed to be with them anyway.
Giles' cell phone rang. Buffy took advantage of this diversion to pluck at his sleeve. He followed her into the living room.
"About the ... is it really true?"
"Sure it's true. Vampire wouldn't joke about a thing like that."
She squinted at him like she could see it if she focused hard enough. "How did you get a soul, anyway? I thought Angel was supposed to be the only one, and his is a curse on him. I thought that was the way it worked."
"There's nothin' in this world or any on 'em that only works one way, Slayer. There's places in Africa, ancient places, where you can get what you're willin' to fight for."
"But why? What made you want ..."
He could see that the whole concept of Spike-with-a-soul made her writhe with discomfort. Was it because her old beau Angel was supposed to be sole proprietor? Or did it make her feel dirty, that she'd put herself in the hands of a Spike without one? That made senseit made his Buffy feel plenty dirty enough.
Well, he wouldn't spare her. "Tried to rape you. Right here in this house."
She flinched at the word rape, but the revulsion he expected to see wasn't there; she looked more confused than anything.
"... just ... that's so out of character for you."
This response was mind-reeling. Who was this woman? "S'not like you to pretend you don't know what I am."
"I know. Spike, I know. What you were. Before. I also know what you're like with me. Since you started to love me, you've never come remotely close"
There was something in this, and the way she said it, and how her eyes shone, that mortified him. He didn't want to look at her; her confidence in him felt like an abomination. "Yeah, well, guess this is what separates the real Spike from the milquetoast knock-off you've got in your bed. Big Bad, here! Mad bad an' dangerous to know. Every bit of it. Out of control. Needed to be fixed. No other way."
She put a hand to her mouth. Was she laughing at him? "I didn't mean to embarrass you."
He couldn't think of anything to say. The clock on the desk was very interesting. He studied its face.
When she spoke again, there was no hint of laughter in her voice. "I don't know what the circumstances were, for you and her. But it's funnynot funny ha-ha, thoughbecause I assaulted you too. Not a beating, like you said the other me did," she winced, "II raped you. After they brought me back, while I was sort of crazy. I hurt you badly, and humiliated yourepeatedlyand ... and you forgave me."
His mind's eye snapped back to that trunkful of toys upstairsthe well-used strap-on he'd seen therewas she talking about that? Wielding the cock for a bit of rough sex? She couldn't really mean rape? It wasn't like her, he couldn't imagine her trying on him what he'd done to her upstairs .... He flashed back on the night she'd pulped his face. She had that kind of violence in her, sure, but the other?
No. Wasn't the same. Besides, one way or another he'd deserved every blow she ever gave him.
"Spike" Her touch on his arm was soft, polite. "Did I forgive you? When you came back with your soul? For what you ... what you say you didn't actually do? I must've done, if you stayed, if you"
"Hey! So, what's going on here?" Xander came through the front-door, almost bouncing, looking peeved.
Again Buffy sprang apart from him. This time, she met his eye, her back to Xander, and mouthed something. Don't tell. About the soul.
Spike smiled. "So, did you ask her yet?"
Buffy said, "What?"
Xander's peeve darkened. He grabbed for Spike's shirt-front; Buffy stepped between them. "Stop it! What are you doing?"
"Thisfakegot me to tell him all my"
"Got you? Didn't get you to do anythin'!"
"Why didn't you say you're not Spike?"
"You wouldn't shut up long enough, would you? Anyway, I am Spike."
The next thing Spike knew, he was flat on the floor, his cheekbone ground into the rug. "Hey! You try it on with him, you deal with me."
"You should just say yes, love. S'clear enough how you feel about him."
Faith's eyes blazed up; she punched him.
Buffy tugged Faith away; Spike sat up and pretended to dust himself off. "Feelin' more like home here every minute."
Giles' voice called them to order. "Spike, the ladies of the coven want to know what you recall about the dimensional shift. Did a portal open?"
"Why're we dealin' with long distance? Where's Willow? Thought she'd be all over this like white on rice."
"Willow ... is away." Giles held out his cell phone; after a hesitation, Spike took it.
While he described the battle against the Circle of the Black Thorn to the calm English woman on the other end, he watched them all listeningBuffy in particular. She grew more and more tense as the details unfolded. When he got to Illyria, her mouth dropped open. "Think maybe she did it. Was part of the god's power, yeah, freezin' time, manipulatin' it, movin' in and out of dimensions. Angel's people powered her down some, but she could still do plenty. Only maybe not control it so well as she could before."
He answered a few questions, then handed the phone back. Faith and Xander were still watching him like he was going to swipe the silver. It was sort of hilarious, that they were suspicious of him, souled Spike, who wasthough they didn't know itsafe as houses. And were good friends instead with a Spike who was less highly evolved. He still didn't get itthey seemed like the same people he knew, the ones who'd always held him at arm's length. So, why?
Giles ended the call. "They're working on pinpointing the right location, and then they'll open a portal. It may take a little while."
"So meanwhile, what? Gonna sling me in irons?"
Giles, Faith and Xander looked like maybe they thought this was a concept, but Buffy waved it away. "Of course not. We'll just ... we'll just wait." She glanced at the others. "You guys don't have to stay. Spike can hang out here."
"I'd rather like to chat with Spike during the remaining time," Giles said. "His story of the battle he was engaged in may end up being instructive. And"
"Y'know," Buffy said, getting firmly to her feet, "I can ask him about that, and take notes. Copious notes. So why don't you guys head out, and do whatever you were gonna do this evening, and when we know when our portal is scheduled for, we can reconvene. Yes?"
What was she so anxious to get rid of them for? Still, come to think of it, he wasn't overeager to be quizzed by Giles, or to go on suffering the gazes of the other two, so he kept schtum.
Xander glanced at Faith. "Well ... we could still head out to that"
She dropped her eyes. Was it Spike's imagination, or did she blush? "Yeahallrightlet'sgo."
"But Buffy, this is a very unusual opportunity to"
"Giles. Don't you think Anya and Jemmie are wondering?"
"Really Buffy, I'm sure they're having a fine time on their own, and"
She crowded him towards the door, and onto the porch. "We'll see you later. Thanks, Giles."
When she came back inside, Spike didn't move from where he was slumped loungily in a chair.
"That wasn't what I expected."
She looked grim. "I want to talk to you, and I didn't think you'd want them to listen."
"True. Not sure I want you to listen either."
"I am getting this vibe off you ... what is it? You don't respect me because I love you without a soul?"
He was surprised to hear her say it; he didn't think she was that intuitive, and certainly she had no reason to be particularly tuned in to him.
"I don't know what the differences are that made things turn out so badly for you. Why your Buffy wouldn't ...."
"I bloody well know. Didn't have so much to do with what went on between her an' me. I was chipped up, an' I fell for her, and I tried to do like she'd want me to do, but I didn't really feel it, because I was a demon. Loved her, loved the sweet bit, but that didn't change what I'd done, what I was. She never could care for mefor that. An' when it came down to it, couldn't overcome my nature, an' savaged her."
She sank into a chair opposite. "How was she treating you, leading up to this savaging?"
Buffy's eyes closed; her face took on a look of patient disdain, he wasn't sure who for. "Oh," she murmured, "it's important. Takes two to tango, remember?"
"You're talking nonsense. I"
"What, you think things here haven't been rough? We're talkin' rough. I'm a slayer. You're a vampire. It's not like we're regular people. It took me a long time to get thatyou know me, I always wanted to be Miss Normal Girl. I'm mostly over that now ... You should see what goes on in this house, what's normal for us. A lot of it wouldn't be right for other people."
Spike shrugged. He didn't like hearing this.
Buffy sat forward, arms crossed on her knees. "Okay ... but after this attempted rape ... you were, what? Disgusted with yourself? And you decided you needed a soul."
"You decided. She didn't tell you to get one?"
"She told me to get the fuck out, that's all."
"So you decided, and you went on a very long journey, and you fought for it. I wonder why a demon would do that, if all he was was evil to his core."
Spike had no good answer to this. Whatever conscience he might've developed under the Scoobies' influence clearly hadn't been enough, which was why he needed a soul in the first place if he wasn't going to just go immolate himself and be done.
Buffy sighed. "Look, I know what Spike is. I know that the good he does now can't really balance out his past. But I know there's more to him than just pretending to be good so he can get in my pants, even if that's what started him on a new road. He loves us, so passionatelyit outweighs his other impulses. It rules him. And I learned to respect that. To be ... a little awed at how love runs him, to be a little envious, even. Anyway, he was there for me when I needed him, he didn't try to make me act happy like my other friends did. He has something I need. He satisfies me. We satisfy each other. I stopped feeling ashamed of that a long time ago."
This speech of hers rocked him; his Buffy had seldom been so articulate, and of course she'd never said anything remotely like this to him. She was ashamed of her desire, ashamed of its consummation, and she'd never let herself get anywhere close to admitting that she cared about himat least, not before he got the soul. And afterwardswell, she took care of him, all right, over and over. He'd always be grateful for that. But she held everyone off that last year. The more people piled into her house, the more on her own Buffy became. He'd known by then that they were never going to have a shot at anything. It wasn't what she wanted. He had to just accept that. He'd had his bit of happiness, his all-that-might've-been, that one night she let him hold her, in the stranger's house.
Hearing this Buffy say she wasn't ashamedthat almost wiped his small triumphs away. He couldn't look at her, her bright earnest face. Instead he scooped up a toy from the floor near his chair; a pink plastic puppy that squeaked when he squeezed it.
"If there's so much goin' on here that's not for normal people, what about the kiddie?"
"Jemmie's fine. She's got to be the most adored child in the whole state of California. She's got a huge entourage of worshippers. You head it up."
Turning the silly toy in his hand, he couldn't bring himself to believe it. Children were once a preferred snack, and since the soul he wanted nothing to do with them.
"You named her Jemima."
"Your favorite sister, of course."
"Where'd you get those photos I saw upstairs?"
"They're yours. Aren't they?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. They must be, only ... I have trouble remembering." He still didn't want to think about ithis mind shied from the whole subject, as if he was under some kind of spell that made it obscurely painful to look straight at what lingered in the corners of his consciousness.
Buffy made a face. Then she was on her feet, and standing in front of him, her hand resting lightly on his shoulder.
"Yeah." He still didn't want to look at her, didn't want to be this close to her. Fucking hell, he could still go. Plenty of time to get to LA before daybreak.
"I'm so worried about my Spike, but I'm worried about you too. That seeing this is making you unhappy. It must be so hard."
He shot up, moved away from her.
"And it makes me sad that there's another Buffy who doesn't have you in her life. Who's alone. I can't imagine not being with Spike."
"Who said she's alone?"
"... I don't know."
"It feels wrong, that you're far away from each other. That you're fighting this huge army and she isn't there."
"Think I like the unsentimental you better."
"I'm not being sentimental! Huh. The other Buffy must be kind of a bitch. I meanI'm kind of a bitch, but she's got to be"
"Shut up! You don't know her! She always did what was right." This time he made it to the door, but couldn't resist glancing back.
She regarded him through narrowed eyes. "Uh. Huh. Well ... would you tell me the rest of what happened? You got a soul, you came back here, and eventually you diedsupposedlyin a battle. But in between?"
In between. Crazy. Then controlled by The First. That was when Buffy rose to it, though, wasn't it? He was for a swift staking, but no, she wanted to find out what was going on. She no longer suspected him of every nefarious thing.
Suddenly it seemed important to explain all that to this Buffy, who, it seemed to him, was passing a lot of bloody offensive judgments on him and the woman he loved, based on insufficient information. He had to make her understand that her counterpart had done her absolute best, and that she wasn't to blame for not fulfilling his dodgy romantic fantasies. Reeling back to the sofa, he sat and told her. Everything he could remember.
Except the very end. What Buffy said at the very end. He wasn't going to tell this one, who scribbled mushy notes and wore frothy lingerie just for Spike, how his Buffy had lied. He preferred to leave that out of the whole equation. After all, it was just her trying again to do what she saw as the right thing.
"So she just left you down there to burn."
"Had to. The amulet's magic wouldn't have worked if I'd tried to bolt. Anyway, I was ready to go."
"And you never let her know you were still around? Do you really think that's fair?"
"It's the best thing I've ever done for her."
A dry look; a little stunned, contemplative, was the only answer to this. Buffy sat with her hands on her knees, and seemed to be holding her breath.
Then she leapt up, muttered something through her hand to her mouth, and rushed out of the room.
It took Spike a second to realize what she'd said. I'm so luckyI never knew how much!
This was getting on his last nerve. When fifteen minutes elapsed and she didn't return, Spike rose and went to see what she was doing. Following her scent upstairs, he realized she was in the bathroom, whose door stood ajar. He couldn't bring himself to approach. From the top of the stairs, he said, "Slayer? You all right?"
She didn't answer. He listened to her heartbeat, but he couldn't tell much from that. After another minute elapsed, he crept closer to the door.
She was standing at the sink, staring at herself in the mirror.
Afterwards he'd never been able to approach this bathroom without his mind reverting to what he'd done there. Even when he was living in the house, taking showers, the place never settled down into being just the smallest room, it was always a stage for disaster, the place where his last illusion about himself was shattered.
He made to withdraw, but she glanced around. "Spike."
Her eyes were red. She'd washed her face, but he could smell her tears.
"Don't fret yourself, Slayer. It'll all come right, an' you'll have your precious pet vamp back again, safe an' sound. Little while now."
"Don't call him that! God, is that really what you think of us? Look, you don't know him either! Why are you so hard on us?"
"Just callin' it like I see it, pet. How I've always done."
She made a face. "It's really you you're being so hard on. You have a soul now, that's supposed to make you into a person, like all the rest of us persons." She turned and leaned against the sink, to face him standing in the doorway. "You must know there was a lot more ambiguity in your make-up before you got it than you're admitting now. Don't be a puritan, it's boring. And that isn't why I was crying."
Spike took one step into the torture chamber. He wasn't afraid that he'd do anything terrible here again, but his whole self bridled against the reminder of how desperate for her he'd once been. He could so easily be that againon fire for the unattainable woman. And if he somehow survived all this, he didn't want to suffer like that again. Yeah, it was almost like being alive, loving and desiring so desperatelybut he'd made up his mind in LA that he wasn't going to get into personalities again. Pole dancers, Nintendo and the Big Eternal Verities of Good And Evil would do for him from now on. Safer that way.
Gentler on the frayed self.
"So why were you cryin'?" He wasn't sure he wanted to know, but she seemed to expect he'd ask. Standing on the tiles, he felt again what it was like to seize her, to paw at her clothes, to wrestle her down to the floor. And at the same time, how it was earlier when she'd kissed him, and he'd caressed her arms, his hands passing up and down the smooth skin, feeling the tautness of her muscle underneath, the warmth and pulse of her, and how she'd smiled and quivered at his touch. How rare and ecstatic it was for those few moments to just be allowed to caress her, to be gentle with her, to suss out what she really felt like. All their bashing and crashing encounters years back had left him still feeling he hadn't had that chance.
"I was thinking. Maybe how it happened to you is better. You have a soul, the hellmouth is closed, there are all those new slayers, so the whole weight of it isn't just on me and Faith. Maybe that's how it's really supposed to be. Maybe it's me who took the wrong path, and not the other Buffy. I wanted ... I didn't want to be unhappy. I didn't want to be all alone. That was selfish."
"S'not ... not selfish. You said yourself, you still save the world."
"World I'm from isn't any better than this, I can tell you. Sunnydale hellmouth's closed, yeah, but things're ugly all over. Don't suppose ... either way's better. S'just what is, yeah?" His head was starting to ache. A little while ago he'd been stiff with righteousness, but that was all collapsed now; her sadness and confusion was infusing him too. He shook his head.
Buffy was staring now at ... he wasn't sure what, her eyes seemed pointed at his knees, but it was a thousand yard stare. "What is. What is. Except I just don't know ... how I would still be alive if not for Spike." She raised her head, and her eyes were reddening again. "I really don't think I'd have made it. How did she? How did she do it all by herself?"
"Wasn't all by herself, had all the Scoobies 'round her. Sure you're no less accomplished than she is. Sure you're ...."
"You think there's something wrong with me because I learned to love you just as you were, and II can't imagine how she could've walked away from what you give me! I. Just. Can't."
Her noble little face bore that look now that Spike associated with Buffy's confrontations with the abyss; those moments when she didn't think she was ever going to pull it out. It was an expression he'd seen all too often; it used to fill him with tenderness for her, and a kind of helpless admiration for how hard she had to work, and to be.
She tipped up her chin, brought her gaze to his.
Suddenly she was right beside him, her hand on his forearm. "Oh Spike. Oh, don't. I'm sorry."
It took a moment to catch up to her, because he hadn't realized what he was doing. Her little hand was on his face; she swept a thumb across his cheek, crushing the tear, leaving a streak of wet. He hated crying in front of her, but couldn't make himself stop; the compassion in her eyes made his throat go into a painful knot he couldn't swallow around. For a moment she just stood close to him, stroking his arm. Then she put her body right up against his, and her arms around his neck, and again he was taken by surprise when her mouth brushed his.
"Whatno" He jerked back, stumbled over the door sill, retreating into the hall.
She followed, her movements soft, ghosting towards him, taking hold not of his flesh but of a belt loop, arresting him. Invading his space but so gently he didn't know how to repel her. Again she went on tiptoe, breathed against his mouth, touched her lips to his.
"What're you doin', Slayer? Think I ought to have a pity fuck, that it?"
This froze her, but only for a moment. She shook her head gently, and her voice was gentle too, reassuring. Persuasive. "I think we should make love in my bed. She should've given you that, treated you right. So let me."
"You're not her, an' you don't know"
"I do know. I told you, things between us here weren't always sweetness and light ... they're still not. I'm Buffy. I'm just as much Buffy as she is. And you're just as much Spike." She was drifting in some imperceptible way backwards, towards her room, drawing him along with her. "I'm going to show you what you are to me, here in my house, in Sunnydale. There's no house, no Sunnydale, where you're going back to, so now's the time."
He wasn't sure this made a whole lot of sense, but he also wasn't quite ready to dig in his heels and have an existential argument with her. Even in sweatpants and long-sleeves and her most mom-ish ponytail, she got to him like no other woman ever had.
At the doorway, she slipped free, and stepping back, began to undress. Under the baggy covers, she was still wearing the seafoam lingerie, the sight of which reminded him that he wasn't supposed to be the recipient of this anniversary gift. He was here in someone else's place.
"Not exactly sure what point you're tryin' to prove here, love."
She stopped, her hands on the ties at her waist. "I'm not trying to prove anything. I feel"
"Sorry for me, got it, yeah."
"No! I mean ... not entirely ... not the way you mean."
"It'll be all right, Slayer. They'll get it sorted, an' he'll come back to you."
"I know." The last of that wild stare dropped away. "But while we're together, let's make something of it." She held out a hand to him, as if she was going to draw him into a dance.
He hesitated, then clasped it in his. Her words, her look, the fierceness of her grip, moved him. She held tight, as if he might be sucked away at any moment.
"You really think your Spike would want me to have you like this?"
She actually took a moment to think about it. "You know, if he were here, and heard all we'd said to each other, I think he'd insist on it."
"If he were here, I wouldn't be."
"Well, there ya go. I think that clinches it."
"You're talkin' nonsense, Slayer."
She let the sweatpants drop to the floor and stepped out of them. "You're talking too much, Spike."
This time, taking her in his arms, he was even more self-conscious than when he'd been deceiving her a few hours ago. Their first kisses were mis-timed; she breathed raggedly against his mouth, her body tense, pulse fluttering. He wondered if she'd changed her mind; maybe he should say something, or just withdraw. But then she tightened her embrace, and whispered into his collarbone: "I think I'm too excited to do this right."
"Are you, pet? An' what's right anyway?"
"I want this to be perfect for you."
He steered her slowly towards the bed. "I just want Buffy. Just be Buffy."
"Oh God. How could"
"Sssh." He smoothed her clenched brow with a fingertip. "Don't worry 'bout that anymore, don't worry 'bout her. She's a good girl an' so are you, an' there's no need to compare." He was so turned on himself now that he'd lost all compunction about stripping off, and wasn't terribly interested in chatting anymore either. True, she wasn't the right Buffy, the real and original one. His. But this Buffy was in love with him. She exuded it with every breath; she smelled like it. She would let him take his time, let him look into her eyes. She'd be strong and forceful like she was, but she wouldn't hurt him.
Not physically, anyway. He knew, even as his brain buzzed with wanting her, that in the end this was going to hurt.
She'd unbuttoned his fly and drawn him out; her warm hand circled his cock; she pressed it against her belly.
Spike shuddered and came.
She was only startled for a moment, then she laughed, a girly little laugh, nothing mocking in it. "I feel better now, that you were really excited too." She wiped herself off with a tissue. "Anyway, I know youall that did was take the edge off. C'mere. Kiss me some more."
In bed, she was as he remembered her. Strong, firm in commanding the lead and setting the pace, not shy about taking or being seen in any position. But beyond that basic familiarity, the experience of fucking this Buffy was brand new. When he used to have her, he always told himself that, whatever she thought she was doing, he was making love.
Now, they were making love to each other. This glimpse into the existencethe everyday, normal existenceof his counterpart, was heartbreaking, maddening. Why had this Buffy's scorn turned to affection and acceptance? There's many a slip, twixt the cup and the lip. This phrase floated up out of the mists at the back of his mind, even as Buffy's mouth ground against his. Who used to say that to him? The "voice" of it felt masculine. His father? He tried to picture him, but came up blank, except for the image he'd seen a little while ago on the wall, the daguerrotype he didn't exactly remember but recognized as belonging to his former self. It was all very strange and he didn't want to be thinking about it. Not while Buffy rained down on him her warm and lusty regard.
She'd been right, at any rate, about his premature gush taking the edge off. He was hard again a few minutes later, and in the meantime, could concentrate on making her writhe and flush and gasp, just with his mouth on hers, and his trailing fingers. She was so responsive to his touch, and unlike the Buffy he knew, not at all defensive. Her randiness was not of the sex-starved variety but of the kind that battened on being constantly satisfiedshe needed, and got, a great deal of daily seeing-to, that was obvious, it made her sleek and loose and confident. And it wasn't just that she was seen toit was him. Or the other Spike, at least. Her desire for himher knowledge of his bodywas raw and specific, and yeah, flattering as fuckshe made him feel like a god.
She knew how to go down on him just the way he likedclearly she'd made a study of it. His Buffy had done so only rarely, with a bad grace and not very wellthe main excitement of it was always that his cock was in her mouth at all. Sprawled across him now back to front, she sucked him off like she was starving, giving him a view, meanwhile, between her wide-spread thighs, of her glistening quim, and her rosy little bunghole, both of which responded to his fingering with wiggles and avid nips. When he came, Buffy swallowed and sighed, resting her head for a moment on his thigh, before pushing herself back so her cunny was against his mouth.
"Oh God. Ohhhh!"
Seizing her hips, he dragged her in closer, stabbing into her with his tongue between taking long licks at her clit. After a moment he tumbled her over onto her back, so he could get at her better.
"Most delicious pussy I ever met," he said, when she'd spent and spent again and pushed him back. "He tell you that?"
"You tell me every time. Sometimes you mention it when we're not in bed tooyou'll whisper it in my ear while we're checking out at the supermarket, or waiting to get into the movies. And then I get so wet"
This would, Spike thought, be a nice time, a nice way, to die. Right here, just like this. Maybe he could get her to stake himnot just yet, because they hadn't fucked yet, and he meant to fuck her a time or fourbut after. A bit of afterglow, some cuddling, and then phwoom.
What a way to go out.
Only problem was that his dying here might well mean hers would die too, wherever he was, and he didn't want to put her through that. Not when she was being so good to him.
"You get so wet, an' then what happens?"
She smiled. "And then we go somewhere we can fuck. I can't tell you how many movies I haven't seen, or how many times I've paid for ice cream that melts before I can get it home."
Buffy's glad face grew shaded. "This must be just so unreal for you. Maybe ... maybe we shouldn't be doing this."
"Wouldn't trade this for" What was he trading it for? In the alley, right before he did the disappearing trick, he wasn't sure if he was killing the dragon or the dragon was killing him. Probably both. However it went down, he had no expectation that he or any of them would stroll out of that alley at the end of the night. Either they'd be trampled utterly, or they'd fight the thing back at the expense of all their lives. Either way, The End.
This, whatever it wasinterludewas just a way station.
"Come give us a kiss, pet." A moment ago he'd been eager to get his leg over, but now he gathered her close against him, tasting her mouth, drawing a hand through her hair, wanting, more than pleasure and release, to experience her. Buffy seemed to understand this, she slowed too, giving herself to kissing with a charming concentration.
When they broke for her to breath, she murmured, "You're really good at this." Pressing a finger to his lips, slipping it into his mouth. "Y'know, after that first time I kissed youback when I was in college, remember, and Willow did that spelleven though I was all yuck about it afterwards, I used to think of you."
"Did you pet?"
"I was sorry we didn't get a chance to fuck. I mean, if we had, I'd have staked you after the spell was undone, but ...."
She dotted kisses on his face, on the points of his cheekbones, the scar on his brow. "When we did get together finally, it wasn't that the sex was so amazing that surprised me. What surprised me"
"was how patient you were with me. How kind you were. Everyone else was sort of hysterically needing me to be normal and happy because I was back from the dead, but you saw through all that, you just let me feel what I felt, and you didn't let me chase you away, even when I brutalized you. I don't knowI still don't knowwhat makes you that way. You were one of the worst vamps I ever went up against, and then ... you became my best friend." She shuddered in his arms; Spike was suddenly aware of how cool his skin was against hers, how still his body alongside her throbbing.
"I wish I knew why the other Buffy was different."
Clearly this was preying on her as much as all the strangeness of this domestic life preyed on him.
"Everything was harder for her. Giles left an' didn't come backnot for a long time, and not for good. She was left with a load of debt an' no good way to earn money. Was all a huge muddle, an' then the trio began nipping at her heels, making things difficult, 'til they went an' killed a girl, and then the whole bloody thing went pear-shaped, like I told you. Havin' me around makin' demands on her didn't help."
"Butafter that night in the house, when it fell down all around uswhat happened then?"
"Kept tellin' me she wouldn't see me anymore, threatening me if I told anyone, an' yet she went on coming to my crypt. She ... kept me as a guilty secret, an' the more we met on the down-low, the more she hated it. Never would admit to feelin' anything for me, 'cept lust an' contempt."
"Didn't you get burned out of your crypt?"
"A little while after we startedthe others figured it out, Will and Xander and Anya. They burned you out. They thought they'd run you out of town that way, but instead I brought you to live here, and you've lived here ever since."
"Well there you go. My Buffy never let me be part of her real lifean' her friends never figured out what we were up to 'til much later, an' then it was so ugly I don't want to talk about it anymore."
"I'm sorry. Even after you got your soul, she never?"
Spike blotted out the sight of her pity-knit face by kissing her again; easing her back. Her moist hand closed around his cock, guided it to her quim. At first she held it so the head just rubbed into the wet folds; moved it against her clit until she shivered and gasped. Then let go and lifted her hips to engulf him.
But once he was firmly seated in her, she relaxed, let him do what he liked. He could feel her waiting for his lead, matching her movements to his, and knowing her, how she always was, this affected him almost more than anything yet. How much she wanted to demonstrate herself, to please.
"Wrap your pretty legs round me, pet."
She did, and her arms, she made herself warm and soft, all curves and slick skin, the force and muscle in abeyance for a little while.
She wasn't his. But he was glad for the lending of her, this little while.
He'd come already so many times that he was able now to go slow.
She thrummed around him, simmering. Kept saying Yes. Over and over, whispering it and gasping it. Yes. Spike, yes.
The phone rang.
Two rings. Three.
"That'll be Giles. Better pick it up." Though it felt like plunging naked into an ice floe, Spike withdrew, rolled off her. Grabbed the phone from the bedstand and handed it over.
He could see her trying to get a grip on herself before hitting the button. Her face was all flushed, her nipples tall and tight and hard.
"Hello? Any news?"
She listened; Spike could hear too. Giles was describing something entirely too technical for Buffy's attention spanespecially nowabout portals and interdimensional disturbances. When he mentioned that the coven on the case had detected the energy signature of her Spike on the other side, tears sprang to her eyes.
Then the call was over. They had an hour before Giles and the others would arrive, equipped by the power of the far-off coven to open a new portal and put him back where he belonged.
She was crying now, and he could see how firmly she'd been suppressing her own fear and anxiety while dealing with him.
"It'll be all right, pet. He'll be fine. S'meant for me to go out in that battle, not him. Not his fight. He'll come back here safe an' sound."
Gulping, she nodded. "But I want to help you. Why isn't she helping you? What can we do?"
"From here, nothing. Just ..." He reached for her, and she pulled him to her again, as if agreeing that the best thing to do was finish what they'd begun in this bed.
Now that she was worked up, her more primal emotion released, she was different againshe fucked him back hard, grinding herself against him, her hands gripping hard enough to bruise, exacting sucking kisses. She mewed like a tiger cat as he drove into her.
At the end he lost himself for a few moments, was surprised to come to on his back, feeling like he'd plunged through space. Just as when he'd first arrived in this place.
But she was there. Wet and smeared and tousled and smelling like her most intense self.
There were so many things he wanted to ask her and tell her still, but now their time was up.
"That was lovely, pet." Understatement of the bloody century.
"I hope it was."
They kissed again, but it was definitely a finishing sort of kiss.
"Better have a shower an' brush up. Don't want to shock Rupert."
She seemed to want to hold him there, but after a moment's resistance, nodded and slid to the edge of the bed.
She went out into the hall, to the "bad" bathroom, and left him the one inside the master bedroom, with which he had no associations.
They met again in the kitchen. She was microwaving blood.
"At least I can feed you up before you go back to"
They were awkward again. The ten minutes 'til Giles was due to arrive felt like a desert of time to fill.
"I think ..." Buffy began, and stopped.
The microwave dinged. She was very housewifely about taking out the blood, pouring it into a mug.
"What?" Spike prompted.
"I just ... I think you should have hope. You don't know you can't win the battle. I mean, you, and Angel, together, you should be able to"
Hearing her say this, feeling the heat of her blush, Spike realized he had no hope, and didn't want any. Didn't want to look forward. There was nothing to look forward to. "Concentrate on gettin' your man back an' put all this behind you."
Before she could go on, Giles arrived, with the others. They moved en masse down to the basement, which was fitted out as a training area, nothing like Spike last remembered it. There was plenty of room to make the magical circle. Xander and Faith got going on that while Giles, communicating by phone with the coven, took last minute instructions. Oddly, since Spike was the whole focus of the ritual, they all seemed to be ignoring him.
Buffy proposed going through the portal as well. "I want in on this battle."
Giles made a decided negative. "If you go, the Buffy who belongs there will end up here."
"So? She's not doing them any good herself! She's in Rome, shopping!"
"Buffy ... I can't guarantee that I can pull you back if you do that. For Jemima's sake"
"Butif I goand she ends up herethen you can shove her through into the battle right away, and then she can do her duty, and I"
"My dear, I don't think we can count on it working like that. The portal will almost certainly collapse as soon as Spike passes through it."
"Are you sure?"
Buffy turned to him. "What about youdon't you think?"
"No." He didn't want Buffy going through, and he didn't want his Buffy anywhere near the battle either. He liked knowing she was off on the other side of the world, having a life for herself. She'd more than earned it, and that was that.
She frowned, watching him; something in his demeanor seemed to convince her to let the matter drop.
Instead she crossed her arms, eyeing him critically. "Okay, so I'm not going to be able to help. But I know you're going to fight well. You always do."
"Do I? Well then, 'spect that'll be so."
"I am not seeing you off to your death here. This is you getting back to your life. Spikeplease think of it that way."
"Why? Why not? Why give up when"
Suddenly he found himself blurting what he'd wanted to keep hidden from this Buffy, the sweet affectionate one.
"She told me, when we were down the hellmouth an' I was startin' to burn. She told me then that she loved me."
Buffy started; her face opened up, from surprise into a dazzling smile that collapsed all at once, the way the hellmouth had collapsed on him at the moment of his death. Her mouth workedfor a moment she couldn't manage to speak. Her eyes were glassy and her voice broke. "You ... oh no. You didn't believe her."
Spike couldn't bring himself to look into this Buffy's eyes as he shrugged. "Was the only time she ever lied to me. Was sorry she did, at the last. Bit of a cheat, after everythin'."
At that moment Giles stepped towards him. "Right. We're ready now. You need to participate in the ritual, so that the portal will open to the right place."
"I'm there." He followed Giles to the circle without looking again at Buffy. There was some business to go through in Ancient Assyrian and burnt herbs. For a moment afterwards, as they stared at the circle's center, it seemed like nothing at all was going to happen. Spike glanced at them all: Buffy, Giles, Xander, Faith. Noticed that Faith was wearing the ring Xander had shown him before.
He was about to say something about it, when a blinding flash scorched his skin, and suddenly the space of the basement was exponentially vast and open and boiling with darkness; energy crackled at the edges of something that had no real shape, and on the other side of it he could hear, before he could see, the rain and the stamp and clang of battle. The stink of it came next, torn demon flesh, the free-flowing blood of many creatures, and garbage left out to rot, soaked in the downpour. And then all at once, heall of themsaw it. The dragon, filling the portal's whole proscenium, its great wings thrashing, bouncing up and down in the murk as it struggled to dislodge something from its back.
As it banked, stalling in air, he sawhimself. Game-faced, covered in blood, yelling like a banshee, planted on the dragon's back and sawing at its coiling writhing neck with a sword.
At his side, Xander's awed voice broke the Sunnydale silence. "Why's Spike naked?"
"I was naked when I got here," Spike said, only now realizing, with a dropping feeling in the pit of his stomach, what that meant.
"Nothing inorganic can move through the portal," Giles confirmed. "Bodies go, clothes don't." He, like the others, was gawking at the sight; the dragon might almost have been in the basement with them, its roar seemed to shake the house.
Spike stared. So that was what he looked like, in full-on fists and fangs! His counterpart was definitely having a moment of joyous glorythe sight of it rooted him to the spot, purpose momentarily absorbed into awed observation.
Then Buffy broke from his side, making a dash towards the portal.
"NO!" Spike sprang forward, grabbed her just as her hand crackled into the opening, snatched her back. "What the hell are you doin'?"
He had her by the arms, shook her a little to put the sense back into her. But she was alight with passion, struggled out of his grip. " I know she wasn't lying! I've never lied to you!"
He wanted to tell her that she didn't understand and that it wasn't any of her business anyway, but at that moment the other Spike took a blow from the dragon's tail to his back that sent him arse over teakettle; he was dangling now, fresh blood streaming from the new wound, having lost hold of the sword, which was still buried deep in the dragon's scaly twining neck, and struggling to cling to the base of one wing even as the dragon spat fire towards his bare kicking legs.
"Fucking hell" Dropping Buffy, Spike plunged into the portal. Before the rush deafened him, he heard her insistent cry: "It was true! Spike, she meant it" And then he was there, suddenly naked, one slick hand flexed around the rubbery wingbase, the other frantically reaching to regrasp the plunging swordhilt. At his back something flashed and rumbled; the portal closing. He had no time to think of it; devoid of his leather, he was getting seriously singed. The dragon was losing altitude; it would probably be killed on impact with the ground, but then so would he.
And Buffy, thinking him dead already, would never know he'd gone down a second time. A picture came into his head, as he flailed towards the bucking hilt, of her head, blonde hair swishing as she danced, glimpsed in that Roman nightclub. The last time he'd lain eyes on the real Buffy, and ever would.
It was all so bloody futile.
That was the idea in his mind as something flew past him and hit the dragon with a thwock that made it scream; as he lost purchase on the wing and began to fall; as the dragon zagged and dropped and he dropped too, bones crunching on slick concrete, consciousness flickering ... flickering ... black.
It was dark, and he was weak and sick, stomach empty and heaving with it, but he couldn't move. He struggled against the nausea, against the stiffness of his body pinned flat on his back.
Hell, this must be.
Then it wasn't anything.
The next time he was aware, it felt as if a lot of time had passed, or else that he was in a place outside of time. Hell was still all around him, pressing in on him with pain and absence, but he could see a light, faint and cool. In its glow, Buffy's face hoved into view, looking down at him, her hair dangling so that it almost but didn't quite brush against his skin.
"Huh," she said.
He tried to see past her, to see if he was back in the bed in that other Sunnydale, but he couldn't see anything. When he tried to speak, his mouth was a desert; no sound came out.
Then Buffy was gone. His body throbbed with hunger, but he still couldn't move.
He'd known, hadn't he, when he accepted the soul, that eventually there would be hell.
Hadn't quite pictured it like this.
Or that it would have the smell of hot blood in it. That someone would, none too tenderly, haul him half upright in a way that made his bones groan, his outraged muscles bunch and spasm, and put a cup to his lips. "Drink this."
It was Buffy, he knew the voice. Could smell her. The agony of her rough handling robbed him of breath. Blood spilled from the corners of his mouth, ran down his chin, but he swallowed some.
When the cup was empty, his mouth wiped clean, the arm that supported him was withdrawn; he crashed out flat again. The light wavered. Footsteps retreated.
The footsteps stopped.
"What happened?" he asked. "Didn't it work? Thought I went through."
"The portal. Jumped through. Didn't I?"
"You didn't jump through anything. You fell like a stone when I shot the dragon and now you're a bag of broken bones. Shut up and rest."
"Bingo. Now be quiet."
She was gone, and it was dark again.
The next face he saw was Angel's.
"You look like shit," Spike said.
"Takes one to know one."
When the light came back, it was brighter, and steady. The pain was a little less. He smelled Buffy, and the warm blood, before he saw her. She hauled him half upright, shoved a couple of pillows behind his back, and handed him the cup. This time he was able to hold it. As he drank, the pain receded more, or maybe he just cared less because he was eating.
She'd cut her hair a bit since before, when he'd made love to her.
A wave of uncertainty lifted and dashed him against a rocky unknown shore.
"I don't know where I am," he blurted. An abrupt sense of shame suffused him with uneasy warmth, as if he'd wet himself. All at once he wanted to cry. He felt like a little boy, strayed into a strange place and afraid he'd never see home again.
Buffy stared at him, grim-mouthed. "Where do you think you are, you stupid vampire?"
He knew then that he wasn't in Sunnydale, but he couldn't remember where he was supposed to be, or how he'd come to be so injured; panic crept up the length of him. Was his back broken? Could he feel his feet? Was he paralyzed? He shook his head.
Buffy's hand was on his forehead. It felt hot enough to make a brand on his already burned flesh.
"You never don't cheese me off, do you, Spike?"
"Don't mean to," he said, meekly. "Which ... which Buffy are you?"
"I'm the Buffy who's nursing you back to health so I can break every bone in your damn body all over again for holding out on me for a whole year while I mourned for you, and then didn't even have the courtesy to call me up and invite me to his bonehead apocalypse. That's which Buffy I am."
The best of all possible Buffys.
"You know, I'm not going to mention this confusion of yours to the others, and when you wake up next time, you're going to know what's the what. OK, Spike?"
"I ... I'll try."
"You won't try, you just will. Because I say so, and you so owe me, pal."
"I saw Angel."
"Did you? Then he's been out of bed when he was expressly told to stay put, so now I've gotta go read him the riot act too. Vampires. You put souls in 'em and it just makes them uppity."
She was gone, having taken the light, and all of time, with her. He fell backwards again into nothing.
The dragon! Spike surged, twisting, grabbing into the air, and plunged. His head hit the floor with a crack; stomach churning. Footsteps, running, approached. The light shone, and then Buffy was bending over him, pulling him upright.
"What are you doing on the floor?" Infinite exasperation.
No dragon. Dragon dead. He remembered now. The only question was: where was this? He glanced around past Buffy; he was in a small, musty, shabby hotel room that looked as if it had been abandoned for fifty years.
The Hyperion, Angel's old place.
They'd fought the battle right outside.
Buffy was maneuvering him up; to his surprise, he was able to get his feet beneath him, to stand, but only for a few seconds before tumbling backwards into the bed.
"How did you come here?" he asked.
"On a plane. Duh."
"No, I meanhow did you know? That we needed you?"
She cocked her head, grinned with half her mouth, and held up her hand. "How many fingers?"
He grabbed it, past caring, and pressed a kiss into her palm. "How?"
To his surprise, she didn't snatch her hand back, but kept it curved around his battered cheek, and brushed a thumb softly across his lips. The touch lit him up, made all his knitting bones ache as if electricity was shooting through him.
"Angel called Giles, and Giles gave Angel the air, but he mentioned it to Andrew, and apparently Andrew knew you were still alive and the little shit never told me. I got here just in time to save all your hides. You're welcome."
She let her hand drop then, but when he caught it, she permitted it to rest in his. They both stared at her white pretty fingers, neatly manicured in pink, held in his bruised ones.
"She said she'd never lied to me, that you"
"Huh?" Buffy glanced up, frowning, and detached herself to put her hands on her hips. "There you go again, with the brain salad."
"No salad. I wasnever mind where I was. Thought you lied to me at the end, is what I'm sayin'."
Her frown deepened; she quivered so he thought she might hit out at him, or bolt for the door. All that repressed Buffy rage affected the local weather; the air shimmered around her.
"You are so stupid sometimes I want to pummel you."
"Know you do. But can you blame me this time?"
"I blame you! I blame ..." She fell silent. Her lip trembled, and then it was she who looked like the lost child.
Spike reached out, touched the back of his hand to her jaw. "No blame, Buffy. Forget that. Still here for you, I am, still ready to fight at your side. Your servant."
"I don't want a servant." She wouldn't look at him; she shied from his touch.
"Yeah, well, just sayin'."
The silence lengthened. Then she moved, it was sort of like a cat arching and spitting. "What? I'm still not getting through? What do you want? Poetry?"
The corners of his mouth jerked; he tried not to smile. If he smiled now, he thought, she might belt him. "Poetry'd be nice. Partial to poetry."
She fairly wailed. "I don't know any poems!" Then, waving a hand, "Wait, wait wait! Okay: Comelivewithmeandbemyloveandwewillallthepleasuresproveofsomethingsomethingdumpetydumand, oh, forget it. Okay?"
"You are a sentimental bit of skirt, Slayer. It's shocking, really."
"I am," she grumped, "but you always think I'm lying."
Always? He decided to assume this was a rhetorical exaggeration.
"Yeah, well, I'm set straight now," he said. "An' I accept, provided you mean to keep me in the style to which I'm accustomed. Plenty of balls-out violence, yeah, an' we subscribe to the fancy cable that gets all the footie."
"But I'm not keeping you chained in the basement. I don't have a basement anymore."
"Where then, shall I take up residence?"
She moved in close to him now, standing between his knees, hands resting on his shoulders, her face inches from his. Still pouting, but only pretending now to be disgruntled. Her eyes searched his; he felt her uncertainty as if it was a field of force between them. "I want us to sleep together. Spooned together, like ... and I want us to make love. Can we do that? In between the violence and the football and the inevitable screaming fights?"
He had to steel himself, when she said this. The words lifted him up and spun him around with a force that was almost centrifugal. He could have cried out, and fallen at her feet.
Instead he cocked his head, and showed her a bit of tongue. "Reckon so, if you want it. Between us, it's always how you say, Slayer."
"Is it?" He thought she might start to cry, but she gathered herself, and blinked, and the moment passed.
"Give us a kiss on it, pet."
She kissed him; a kiss soft as rain, salty as tears. But even as he returned it, she pulled him in, deepening and demandingregaining, with her confidence, the Buffy force he was accustomed to and craved like blood. Her tugging hurt his battered frame, and he groaned, but she only took him harder for a long exquisite moment before stepping back.
"I guess you still have to heal." She was aroused, and sulky.
"Guess so, less you want to go easy on me."
Her eyes narrowed, and for a moment her tongue appeared between her lips. It was her Sluggo face. "I never do go easy on you, Spike."
"Why start now?" he agreed.
She sighed, and then, to his surprise, began to shrug out of her clothes. "Who says I can't be gentle? I can do gentle too. You think you know all about me, you stupid vampire, but I'll show you something new. Shove over."
He started to speak, but she stopped his mouth with her hand as she climbed across him. Her hair brushed his chest and made him shiver, a shiver that went straight to his groin.
There was nothing else to say right now anyway.
He'd wanted Buffy, and here she was.
Return to Herself's Fic.