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The Heartstone

Chapter Text

One

"Spike!" a breathless voice gasped in a ragged whisper. "Yeah, there… Oh. Oh my god right there… Yes!"

Zelda checked her watch. Four more seconds… Three… Two… One…

The moment was finally here.

She'd been waiting so long for this. Five hundred years of preparation and ritual leading to one small point in time when the conditions were just right. The universe was primed; the heavens were in perfect alignment and the distance between dimensions was at its thinnest. Everything was in place. There would never be a better opportunity to open the portal.

She was ready. She pushed out the sound of the tryst going on in the next stall and picked up her Heartstone, focusing all her powers of thought on the shiny red ball of polished rock.

"Precious Arda, hear me," she chanted. "Open thy door…"

Thump.

The flimsy wall of the toilet stall shuddered as two bodies finally joined in lust and slammed against it. What had been the furtive, breathy – and ignorable – gasps of a heavy make-out session had now become the rough, rhythmic groans of a vigorous knee-trembler.

Zelda banged on the wall. "Shut the fuck up!"

"Piss off," came the gruff reply.

Zelda frowned. She didn't have much time. The optimum moment was so short, barely a pinprick in the fabric of time and she couldn't afford the distraction of a pair of noisy lovers next door. She relaxed again and took a deep breath to calm herself. There was no way she could escape the noise; the club bathroom reverberated with the sound of their embarrassingly loud fucking, but she was good at meditation, she could tune the noises out.

"Precious Arda…"

"Spike!" There was a loud squeal as someone's G-spot received a direct hit. "I'm so close…"

With her concentration well and truly broken again, Zelda gritted her teeth. Why did they have to fuck here? Why now? Why did the only gateway to her lover's dimension in half a millennium have to manifest in the busy Bronze bathroom and not in a secluded forest glade or some lonely peak?

"Feel it Slayer. You're inside me as I'm inside you," The male voice rumbled sexily. "You consume me…"

"Guh, keep going! Keep talking!" was the reply.

"You burn me from the inside…" Grunt. "Can always feel you…"

Zelda winced. That was it. Having to listen to them fuck was bad enough, but this string of cheesy pillow talk was way too much. They wanted to be inside each other so much, they could be. With a flourish of her hand, she flicked a spell their way and the noises stopped.

"Ah, blessed silence, at last!" Zelda focused back on her Heartstone. "Precious Arda, hear me. Open thy door…"

Spike woke.

Dazed, he opened his eyes to the discovery that he was laid out on a hard tile floor, which smelled faintly of alcohol and stale piss under the potent mask of the disinfectant. Above his head the swan neck of a toilet bowl towered over him imperiously. Not his first choice of place to take a nap then, but he'd had to kip in worse places over the years.

He had better things to do than linger in the Bronze toilets though; when his head stopped whirling like a dervish, he'd persuade Buffy back to the crypt to continue the brilliant shag they'd been having in more comfortable surroundings. He still had plenty of ideas he wanted to try out tonight.

Unfortunately, there was a big flaw in that plan. From his limited viewpoint, he couldn't see Buffy anywhere. He didn't need to look around to know that she had already gone; her scent was fading under the chemical pong quicker than he could breathe it in. There wasn't even enough to keep him going until next time they met. Yet again she'd got what she wanted and abandoned him. No wonder his head hurt, he was far more likely to get her boot in his face than a goodbye kiss from his girl.

He was just thinking about getting to his feet when he heard a soft chanting, muttered in hushed and reverent tones, coming from the cubicle next door. If he bent his head back a bit he could just make out the crossed legs of someone sitting on the floor and some candles. Odd that. Or perhaps not. Maybe Buffy hadn't kicked him in the head this time. Maybe the blinding white light he remembered hadn't been a spectacular orgasm after all…

He got up shakily, a chill running through his dead veins that was more than just the cool draught he felt around his privates. Looking down, he noticed that his dick was flapping out of his jeans, hanging down dejectedly in disappointment. With a sigh, he adjusted himself, tucking his valuables back inside and zipping himself up. He remembered now. Some girl had complained about the volume of their shagging. She'd bloody well cast a spell on them! He'd tell that bossy bint a thing or two.

Spike ventured back out into the Ladies, where a large group of young girls were piling in to check their make up in the long mirror that skirted the top of the sinks. The throbbing music from the club flooded in through the open door and smothered most of their excited chatter with a thumping bassline. A self-absorbed moment passed before they even noticed his presence, but once they realised there was a strange man in the room trying to squeeze past them, they started to titter amongst themselves, glancing at him nervously. None of them were bold enough to ask him to leave.

Even when he kicked in the cubicle door.

A small woman looked up at him in surprise and annoyance. She sat in a puddle of tie-dyed skirts, her long black hair spread like creeping vines across her shoulders. In her hands she cupped a large orb of red stone. She looked as young as the girls outside, but there was a timelessness in her eyes that didn't fool him into thinking she was one of them.

"…Come through to me…" She stopped chanting and said angrily, "Do you mind?"

She raised a hand for a spell but Spike grabbed her wrist before she could cast it.

"Where is she?" he growled. The woman didn't even flinch; even when he surged into his vampire face with all the threat a very angry and sexually frustrated vampire could muster. She opened her mouth to reply, but as she did so, the air around her wobbled.

She turned to face the swirling portal that had just opened above the toilet bowl. "Fuck…"

Spike glanced at the portal and back at her. "What's going on?"

"Arda!" she cried as the shimmering circle overwhelmed her. Before Spike knew what was happening, her wrist was yanked from his hand and the portal snapped shut.

He stared in surprise at the space where the witch had been only a second before. That wasn't what he'd intended at all and, by the look on her face as she'd been swallowed up, that wasn't what the witch had planned either. He growled in frustration and returned to his human face, the bitch had done something to Buffy, he was sure of it, but now he'd never know what.

"Buffy? Buffy!" Enraged, he searched the other cubicles in the restroom, slamming each door violently open as he went. There was no sign that Buffy had ever been there. In desperation, he turned on one of the gaggle of girls, all of whom had been watching him in stunned awe. "You seen anyone leave here? Blonde girl, so high, pretty."

The girl shook her head, but she fluttered her eyelashes at him.

"Hey, are you English?" one of her friends asked. There was some surreptitious nudging as each girl tried to stake the first claim on him.

Spike rolled his eyes at them and turned back to the witch's cubicle. His heart sank as he smudged the circle of sand, there was nothing else he could do without help. He kicked one of the candles into the wall. It cracked a tile and landed beside something wedged behind the toilet bowl.

It was the witch's stone.

He dropped to a crouch, hooking the orb out with a couple of fingers and scooping it up when it rolled free. He guessed she must have dropped it as the portal sucked her in. It was a curious thing; solid, heavy and made of a stone the colour of a nice drop of O neg. Wispy shadows shifted across the patina like stormy cloud systems. They sped up and spread from his fingers as it vibrated slightly in his hand; until, as the whole surface turned to black, the energy reached its peak and the stone flashed back to red again, settling comfortably into a low hum.

Intrigued, he rubbed a thumb across its surface. At some point it had been lovingly polished to a bright shine, but there was now a multitude of tiny knocks and scratches pitting its shiny surface, as if it had seen a great many years of use. It was too big to shove into his pocket, so he tucked it under one arm. Perhaps it was of bugger all use, but Willow might know what it was and if not, the demon girl could always flog it as a paperweight.

He headed out. The silly girls scattered before him, but he barely acknowledged their existence. More pressing matters weighed on his mind; Buffy was gone, zapped somewhere by some bloody witch and he had no idea where to even start looking.

Avoiding the mirror, he shoved past them, eyes intent on the floor. He couldn't bear looking into something that was as empty as he felt, but as he passed the last sink, he finally lashed out with his fist.

The mirror broke into as many fragments as his heart.

Buffy woke to a thumping headache and her cheek pressed to a dirty, white tile floor.

Ew! She thought and tried to move.

Big mistake. Her body didn't obey her. It felt numb and, strangely, when it did move, it seemed to act of its own accord. Which was just as well, as her mind was too scrambled to keep up. She relaxed for a moment, trying to stop the drumming in her head, but her body had other ideas. Her head lifted itself and looked about; a toilet bowl rose over her like the bow of a great ship. Apparently, she was still in the restroom and Spike was nowhere to be seen. Great, one annoying flash from a bulb or something going out and he had just left her here.

Bastard. He was so going to pay for this.

Through the Kodo Drummers in her head, she could hear some muttered chanting in the stall next door. Whatever. Some people needed stuff like that to pee in a public bathroom. Yet chanting in Sunnydale was often a sign of trouble brewing and her head craned back in an awkward direction to try to see through the gap between the floor and the cheap melamine of the stall. She could see a pair of legs sitting crossed and the flicker of candlelight. That couldn't be good.

Her body wrenched itself to her feet, a little wobbly, but she was okay. For some reason she felt herself look down. She expected her skirt to be trashed, but instead of a crumpled mess fit for the garbage, she was wearing jeans and her penis was hanging limply out of the fly.

Penis? Penis! She panicked. Oh fuck!

Black jeans, manly hands reaching down to zip herself up, the swirl of leather around her legs...

Oh God, no! She was Spike! No, worse – she was in Spike's head somehow. She could sense everything he sensed, feel everything he felt and she felt… bitter; and slightly drunk, which accounted for some of the wobbliness at least. She was feeling all of his emotions and the functions of his body as if they were her own, but when she tried to take control her will had no effect. She was a prisoner in his head.

Spike was moving again. Out through the stall door and into a swarm of underage girls, all trying to push their way to the mirror. A second or two passed before the spell of lipstick and hairspray broke and they noticed her, him, them, but once they spotted the aesthetically pleasing vampire in their midst, they turned to each other en masse, giggling their embarrassment away in a circle of teen sisterhood.

Spike ignored the shy glances they occasionally flicked his way and swept past them in a swoop of black leather and focused attitude; but that didn't put them off. They watched in awe as her foot, no Spike's, definitely Spike's – there was absolutely no way she'd ever wear those chunky motorcycle boots by choice – struck the centre of the stall door. The impact destroyed the flimsy lock and the door burst open, hitting the side of the stall with a startling crash. Spike's anger washed through her like a tsunami as they both looked down into a pair of owlish, yet knowing, eyes.

The girl was pretty, kind of; maybe if she made more effort she could have been attractive, but her eyebrows needed plucking and her make up owed more to Marilyn Manson than Max Factor. Her choice of jewellery was tacky to say the least. She jangled with bangles and her necklace spelt 'Zelda' in chunky alphabet beads. She could have points for originality, but a big zero for style.

"…Come through to me…" the woman stopped and snapped, "Do you mind?"

"Where is she?" Buffy found herself saying in Spike's low, dangerous rumble that made her quiver and regret they hadn't finished their little lust-a-thon. She had no control over the words or of the way the bones in her face seemed to shift.

Was she dead again?

Ineffectual panic gripped her a second time, everything but her own emotions ceased to matter. She turned inward; shutting Spike out, ignoring what her – his – body did while she ran the implications of her situation through her head. She could be a vampire or she was stuck inside one and couldn't get out. There was no way to even tell him what was wrong. She was going to have to watch everything he did forever and he could live a very long time…

Crack.

The force of his fist smashing the mirror into a billion pieces snapped her out of her fright and brought her back to reality.

Which right then had become a very scary place.

tbc...

Chapter Text

Two

Xander’s less than welcoming welcome rang through the shelves of the Magic Box. “Hey look, it’s chipped and fangless!”

Although she was slightly irritated by Xander’s attitude when for all they knew there could be a rising threat in Sunnydale, Buffy couldn’t have been more relieved to see her friends. Her night had been of the suck so far; so it would have been just her luck to find that everybody had decided to take an early night, but by the looks of the catalogues and brochures scattered across the table, a late night wedding planning session was in full swing.

Spike barely glanced at Anya cashing up on the counter and he swaggered over to the table where Xander and Willow sat amongst a large pile of bridal magazines. Xander had looked up from a stationer’s brochure he’d been studying, but Spike ignored him completely and went straight over to the witch, who Buffy noticed was hard at work on some college essay.

Now, Buffy thought, something might actually get done.

Despite the vitriol of his greeting, Buffy thought that Xander actually looked rather pleased to see Spike, as if having someone to snark at would ease the tedium of wedding talk. “Whatcha doing here, Spike? Got no where else to be tiresome?”

“No, you git,” Spike waved an arm in Willow’s direction. “Looking for the witch here. Got ourselves a little problem. The Slayer…”

“Would kick you out on sight if she was here,” Xander cut in. “Now skedaddle, before I have to get all manly on your skinny ass.”

Buffy didn’t need to see Spike’s face to know that he was scowling. “Stop being a pillock. Buffy…”

For once Buffy agreed; Xander needed to get over himself this time, arguing wasn’t going to get them anywhere. She’d been a passenger in Spike’s mind way too long already and she didn’t have time for Xander’s sniping. There was no way she was going to stay imprisoned in Spike any longer than she had to. Sharing one body was too… intimate and intimate was the one thing she didn’t want to be with Spike – hours of mind-blowing sex notwithstanding. She didn’t care to know how his night had been or how he spent his afternoons in his crypt and she was sure it wouldn’t be long before he did something gross that she really wouldn’t want to see. Besides, she was already fed up with following Spike around, she had her own miserable life to get on with and she didn’t want his. He had spent the past hour searching Sunnydale for her. Evidently – despite the great honking anvil that was the trampy witch at The Bronze – he was still half convinced she’d split on him. Go figure. Finally, he’d given up and headed for the Magic Box. Even one-track-minded vampires with a Slayer fetish knew that the store was a place of answers. Even if he wasn’t particularly welcome.

However, there was little hope that Xander would give up his personal vendetta. He was on a roll. "We’re busy being actually useful right now, which is more than we can say for you."

"Yes," Anya chimed in from the vicinity of the money. She took aim and fired the pricing gun at a Shiva statuette. "He’s picking out the placeholders. I read gold was lucky for weddings. I expect Xander to choose gold."

Spike looked down at Xander’s reading matter. Buffy noticed that gold filigree and calligraphy seemed to be conspicuous by their absence, unless there was something that Wolverine was keeping firmly in his closet. Spike must have had the same thought. "Looks like the boy is catching up with his X-Men to me."

"Xander!" Anya waved a finger in anger. "You’re not taking this seriously! Our wedding will be ruined and we will have to live with the fact our special moment wasn’t perfect for the rest of our lives."

“Gold is perfect, An! Bright, shiny, the colour of gold coins and uh… gold. It’ll be great!” Xander turned to Spike. "You will pay for this, chip-brain!"

“Yeah, right.” Spike replied doubtfully, but Buffy felt him inch away. The chip still made him edgy even if he wouldn’t consider Xander a particular threat. Once at a safe distance, but not one that would seem too cowardly, Spike turned back to Willow. “Now about B… the Slayer.”

Willow, at least, took him seriously. “Where is she? What happened?”

“We were…” Spike groped for the right word – undoubtedly the one that would gain him the most leverage – and Buffy braced herself for the inevitable.

Perhaps being trapped inside someone else’s head for eternity wouldn’t be so bad. As long as she didn’t have to see the appalled faces of her friends when they found out who the Slayer they’d resurrected really was.

“…out.”

Buffy relaxed. Spike’s feeble excuse wasn’t at all convincing, but at least he’d kept her secret.

Willow didn’t look as if she was buying all this though. “You were Patrolling?”

“Patrolling,” Spike agreed vehemently. “Yeah, that’s right. We were patrolling. Then some bint zapped us with the mojo. Woke up and the Slayer was gone.”

“She just abandoned you? Good Call, Buffster.” Xander sniped.

Hey! I wouldn’t do that! Buffy thought indignantly. Not right away…

“Xander! This could be serious!” Willow flashed him a warning with her best I-mean-business face. “Buffy could be in trouble.”

Xander looked at Spike grimly, but then relented. “Okay, fill us in.”

Spike nodded. “Looked everywhere. Couldn’t find her. She’s gone.”

“Do you know where?” Willow looked worried.

“There was a witch. Tried to get her to cough up where she took the Slayer, but she vanished. She left this.” Spike held out the Heartstone for Willow to see.

She was immediately entranced. As she took it reverently from his hand, a smile Buffy didn’t like brightened across her face like the dawning of the sun. "It’s so powerful! Oh, oh…"

Xander moved in to protect her. “Will?”

“She’s experiencing ecstasy.” Anya chipped in from behind the counter. “That’s how I feel when I touch my…”

“Anya!” Xander choked, cringing with embarrassment.

Anya pouted in response. “I was going to say my hard earned dollars, but I can say clitoris if you would prefer.”

“Back to the matter in hand.” Spike pointed at the stone. “What is it?”

“I don’t know.” Willow’s voice was heavy with awe. “But it’s old and it’s powerful. Really, really powerful. I think I can…”

Buffy was suddenly very afraid, her slayer senses screaming out that the stone shouldn’t stay with Willow and her poor impulse control. Her fear was so strong that it radiated out to Spike until he could sense it too.

"Don’t think this is a good idea, Red." He reached for the stone.

"Nooooo! I think I’d better keep it…” She snatched it away from him. “I should have it – for research!"

Spike growled at her. “Need it to get Buffy back."

“That’s okay, we’ll find her.” Xander rose and came to his friend’s defence, pushing Spike out of the way. “We’ll do fine without you.”

Willow’s eyes never left the stone. “We need to find out what this is. Spike, why don’t you… er look for her where Buffy disappeared?”

“But, I…” Buffy felt Spike prickle at the snub, but there was nothing he could do about it.

Willow head snapped up and she glared at him. Her eyes were black and very unfriendly. “You are not needed here.”

Stars weren’t what Zelda was expecting to see when she opened her eyes, certainly not the thin bridge of the Milky Way arching above her through the cold, clear night.

Fuck.

She sat up and shook off some of the snow clinging to her flimsy California clothes. Seemingly, her spell had not only backfired, but on a truly spectacular scale. The portal had opened as planned, but without the complete spell to anchor it to Arda’s dimension it had looked for another focus, plucking some half-actualised picture from her mind’s eye and transporting her there instead.

Checking her surroundings by the bitter light of the chilly moon above, she took in the ridge of snaggle-toothed mountains that sank the tree line just below her into sinister shadow. She groaned inwardly. She understood what had happened now. The spell could have sent her anywhere, any-when, but it had dumped her in the last place she’d thought of. Except she had no idea where that actually was. All she knew was that it was lonely, mountainous and incredibly fucking freezing.

One thing was for certain though; she wasn’t in Sunnydale anymore.

She looked up at the breath-taking expanse of the heavens above her, scrutinising them for occult meaning, but their splendour did nothing to soothe her seething rage. For five hundred years she’d analysed the sky and for five hundred years she had waited. She wasn’t going to be stopped now just because some vampire had wanted to screw his little human friend in a club restroom.

Relieved that the constellations were in their proper places and the planets she needed to open the portal were still in the right positions, she started down the mountain. She trudged miserably, her feet sinking into the deep snow that engulfed her boots and soaked through the soft fabric to freeze her toes. Occasionally, small stones masked by the snowfall would catch her narrow heels and turn her ankle, making her descent tricky as well as cold. But there was little else she could do except keep moving forward.

Idly, she flicked a heavily bangled wrist and cast herself a heat spell. It fizzed and sparked from her fingers but instead of the fiery glow she’d counted on to protect her from frozen mountain air, it only produced a faint lick of warmth that lapped her skin like a slowly cooling bath.

She tried again. Nothing at all this time. Zip.

She clicked her fingers, hoping to conjure some warming clothes instead, and something plopped into existence at her feet, half buried in the drift. Brushing off the snow, she picked it up, but it turned out to only be a threadbare green bobble hat. The wool was soggy from the heat of her hands but she put it on anyway. It would have to do until she found shelter.

At the thought of having to walk to civilisation, her shoulders sagged and she pulled the sleeves of her filmy top over her hands, wrapping her arms tightly around her chest to tuck her fingers under her armpits. Fuck it was cold. The knowledge that the cold couldn’t kill her as long as her life force was bound to Arda’s was of small comfort, it sure as hell didn’t make her warmer. Perhaps all her spell needed was more juice. Maybe the jump here had drained the Heartstone and she would just have to wait until…

The Heartstone! Now that she thought about it, she couldn’t feel its familiar presence.

With a rising panic, she retraced her steps, scrambling uphill until she found the spot where she’d woken. She already knew in her heart that it wasn’t buried under the crisp, virgin drifts, but she started to dig nonetheless, frantically using her freezing hands to fling the snow aside.

“Crap, crap, crap,” she cursed when her searches found little but more of the cold white stuff. “Fucking stone.”

She sat down on a frozen log, ignoring the dread possibility of chilblains, and put her head in her hands. If she calmed down she could feel for her stone, draw Arda’s power to her through it.

If she just calmed down…

Relaxing her whole being, she tried the one thing she knew she could do without the power of the stone. She separated her mind from her body, drifting upwards and out onto the Astral Plane. Her thoughts spinning out along the ley lines, using them to amplify her search as they criss-crossed the country like Tron, but more modern and in full colour. Nothing could hide from her like this.

The land zips beneath her on fast-fast-forward. She is everywhere at once. Overground, beneath the oceans, in the dark places of the earth. Cities and vast flat plains. Deserts, mountains and pastures. Acapulco. It’s nice there, warm too. It’s so, so tempting right now, but she’s gone too far. Pulls back. Reaches out. Finds her stone in the hands of another witch.

Zelda tries to snatch it, but it’s too far away. The redhead is smothering the stone in her own influence and it’s too strong to break. Her own powers are too feeble. Her fingers just slip right through it. Fuck it.

Retreat.

Zelda came back into her body with a furious bump. The stone was lost to her – for now. It was too far away, far enough that she couldn’t even feel the gentle pull of its magic or the comfort of Arda’s love.

She broke a branch off the log and lobbed it angrily down into the trees. That stupid vampire was responsible for this. If he hadn’t interrupted her spell, she’d be in the loving arms of her paramour, feeling again the raging power of his demonic lusts. The thought itself made her a little warmer and she smiled at the memories of the times they’d spent together; the way his body had shined with sweat as they made love for hours, the screams of their sacrifices as they prepared their diabolic schemes, the oh-so-naughty things he could do with a flick of his tail. Ah, very good times. Worth waiting nearly half a millennia for, most definitely – but for all the cold comfort memory offered, it couldn’t suppress the sadness that lurked deep inside that reminded her they were so far apart.

Tears started to turn her vision watery. She’d missed the optimum moment to bring him back now, the one point of time when her summons was guaranteed to work. She wiped the tears away. They weren’t going to help and there was still hope, still a chance that all her work wouldn’t turn out to be to be some fucking huge waste of time. The planets would remain close to their required positions for another day or so yet. The portal wouldn’t be as strong, but if she was quick it could hold long enough to bring him through.

She glanced up at the stars again. They offered no comment, no disapproval, no guidance, but Zelda’s mind was set. If she failed and Arda remained in the void, she vowed the vampire would pay. Him and his noisy ho of a girlfriend.

But first, she needed her Heartstone back.

tbc...

Chapter Text

Three

The Bronze was winding down for the night.

The lights had dimmed for the slow songs and only a few swaying couples remained entwined on the empty dance floor. New lovers exchanged lustful looks and moved together like liquid, each step made in anticipation of more to come. Established partners, perfectly in sync, curled around each other, close, loving and content. Buffy envied them and the normality of their love lives, she’d like a bit of that simplicity.

Spike, however, had no interest in the dancers. He breezed past the line of people waiting to collect their coats to get to his objective – the bar. A gaggle of young women in the line were teasing a group of hopeful boys with flirty looks, but he barely noticed them, even when they complained about the rough way he shoved his way between them. Ignoring their angry looks, he plonked himself down onto a stool by the bar and gestured for a drink with a wave of his hand as his other reached automatically into his pocket for his cigarettes.

“Can’t do that here,” the bartender said, pointing at the ‘No Smoking’ sign. Buffy didn’t recognise him, but he had to be new if he thought he could stop Spike from lighting up. He’d soon learn.

Spike glared at the man with irritation. The bartender must have seen something he didn’t like in that stare, because he quickly offered Spike the bottle and backed away.

Left in peace, Spike lit up and settled into his mope, easing his hurt with a long, comforting drag on the cigarette.

Bleugh. Yuck.

Buffy suppressed her need to retch as her, no his – she had to remember that – lungs filled with spicy smoke. The magic that bound them made the odd combination of his sensations and her reactions work together in strange and confusing ways. To his body, smoking felt natural and she didn’t even have the urge to cough, but there was a queasiness churning over in the pit of her stomach that was all her own. Probably because the cigarette tasted disgusting, completely different then when she kissed him; when the tobacco on Spike’s tongue tasted of passion and rebellion, something tantalisingly dangerous and exotic.

But cigarettes weren’t Spike’s only vice.

He grabbed the bottle, filling his glass with an over-generous measure before shakily knocking it straight back and pouring out another. He was drinking to get drunk, or drunker anyway, and Buffy’s head started to spin as the alcohol seeped into her system too. Each time he emptied the glass – and he emptied it a lot - he stared gloomily into the bottom, but every so often he would glance at the door to the bathrooms. Under his maudlin insobriety, a tight, burning ball of fear was lurking and it grew larger each time he looked away.

He was terrified of losing her again.

Buffy couldn’t believe it! A drunken wallow in self-pity was just what she didn’t need right now. Moping wasn’t going to fix anything. If he wanted to find her so badly he should have been out there doing something to help. Would she really have to solve this? Fine, she’d try to rescue herself.

There was one thing she thought she could try. Back in the Magic Box, she was sure he’d felt her concern about Willow; he’d picked up on her emotions at least, maybe she could try to do that again and it was as good a time as any to try and make contact. The Bronze was quiet and there were few distractions this late, if you didn’t count the huge amount drink he was necking. He was as relaxed as he was ever going to be while she was missing, so she cleared her mind, trying to focus on one emotion, one idea…

Spike? she asked.

Nothing. Spike dragged mournfully on his cigarette.

I need you to help!

Still nada.

Crap. She was pissed off now. Surely there had to be a way to get through to him. What was she doing wrong? She resolved to try one more time…

Spike!

Not even a twitch.

She gave up. Stupid deaf vampire.

But her annoyance had sown a seed inside Spike. As he smoked, she felt her anger percolate through his despair until she could feel it in the tenseness of his muscles and the hard set of his jaw. She caught a sudden sense of decision before she was swept along on a wave of boozy determination. He finished the last of the bottle with one deep swig and slammed it down so hard that it shattered.

A lazy round of applause rippled through the club in reply.

Spike raised a hand to accept the cheers from his audience and lurched to his feet, dropping a couple of bills onto the bar as he clumsily disentangled his legs from the stool. He swayed a bit, waiting to regain his equilibrium before putting a foot forward and her head spun in sympathy. For the second time that night, being a passenger in Spike’s body didn’t seem so bad an idea; at least she wouldn’t have to walk straight.

People looked away when they realised the excitement was over and the Bronze went back to the business of closing for the night. The music faded and the last few stragglers were being encouraged to leave by the staff. No one noticed the vampire nip casually into the empty restrooms.

As he slipped in through the door, he glanced briefly at the broken mirror – the pieces had been swept away and the remaining parts were taped to the wall with packing tape for safety – he was more interested in the stalls. One by one, he searched them, inspecting each one carefully until he reached the stall where the witch had disappeared. Her candles had been cleared away and there was no trace left of her circle to prove that she’d ever been there, but he sniffed, drawing the air in deep.

Buffy was assaulted with a ripe bouquet of odours, most of them deeply unpleasant. She had no idea whether Spike could, but she wasn’t able to distinguish the scent of any particular person over the mingled perfumes of the evening’s occupants. Spike wasn’t giving his thoughts away. He left the stall and tried the next in line, which to Buffy appeared to be little different from all the others, but this was the place she’d dragged Spike for the quickie she’d needed after her soul-destroying shift at the Doublemeat. That seemed like another lifetime ago now.

Spike took extra care to examine the stall for more clues, even reaching behind the cistern in case she’d shrunk extra small or something; that was the only reason Buffy could think of to explain why he’d look there anyway -- as if she’d ever get lost in such a place! But there was, frustratingly, little sign of the spell that had put her in his head. The only evidence anyone had been there at all was a slip of back lace hanging like a lost glove on a railing from the coat hook – her discarded and forgotten panties. Spike took them and gave them a nostalgic sniff, catching Buffy off guard with an eye-watering blast of her own musky scent.

She was too grossed out to notice him stuff them into his pocket.

Not for the first time, Willow stroked the mysterious stone, delighting in the way it gently hummed with inner energy against her fingers. She couldn’t stop touching it. She could tell it was more than just some magical curiosity Spike had found, its power was heady and it mesmerised her, drawing her into its spell.

But even for a black belt initiate in the arcane secrets of Google Fu like Willow, it had taken some searching to find out what the stone was; the Internet only giving up its secrets after she’d scoured the murky backwaters of some obscure occult message boards. A few unanswered postings later, user mildredhubble51 had supplied the answer and a sketchy definition of its abilities.

And very interesting those abilities had turned out to be. The Heartstone had been created to draw lovers together regardless of distance and would even work across dimensional boundaries if there was enough power behind it. Heaven and Hell were not beyond its reach. She was holding an object of incredible potential.

She couldn’t wait to try it out.

As Willow wondered how she could use it to help her with Tara, Xander and Anya returned from their own search. While Anya locked the alley door behind her, Xander crossed the shop and seated himself down beside Willow at the table.

“Hey,” Willow greeted them with extra chirpiness. “Did you guys find Buffy?”

Xander shook his head. “We looked everywhere, Will. There’s no sign of her anywhere.”

“She’s gone,” Anya added as she joined them, her hands buried deeply in her coat. “It’s as if some demon ate her up.”

“Good thing Dawn’s at her friend’s tonight.” Willow said. A fearful chill was building in her stomach. “Spike was right.”

“Seems like it. So what’s up? Do you have a lead?” Xander rubbed his hands together with all the glee of someone hoping that they wouldn’t be expected to join the research torment. “Did you find out about that stone?”

“Not really.” Unconsciously, she pulled the stone possessively against her body. “I checked the Wiccan Wiki. It didn’t say much.”

“The wacky Wiccan Wiki was no use, huh? How about that,” he quipped.

“But I do know what the stone is now.” Willow added defensively. “It’s a Heartstone, but I don’t think we can use it to find Buffy.”

“A Heartstone?” Anya perked up. “I’ve heard of those. They bind hearts together. Powerful stuff.”

Willow snapped her iBook shut just in case; there was no need for Anya to guess what she was planning. “How so?”

Anya sat down, settling into what Willow feared was her story-telling mode. “Well, there was this one witch I heard of and she raised a demon to get revenge on her husband. He was sleeping around while she was pregnant with their baby or something like that, but that isn’t important. This witch, she fell in love with this demon instead. They had a torrid affair blah de blah, and this demon created a Heartstone for her so that their hearts would be joined forever.

Xander looked wary, but his curiosity won out in the end. “What happened?”

“They tried to destroy the earth.” Anya told him matter-of-factly.

“But they were stopped, right?” he asked anxiously.

Anya put a hand on his arm to reassure him. “Oh yes. The whole thing was very messy. He was banished to one of the Hell dimensions. She was left here to live forever, bound to him through the stone, always feeling him close but never able to reach him. It was always doomed to go wrong, if you ask me.”

As Willow thought that over, she asked. “Could this witch be the one that took Buffy?”

Anya shrugged. “Maybe. She’d be quite old now.”

“Why, when was this?”

“Oh about 1566,” Anya said airily. “That was a good year for vengeance. I was in Scotland…”

Xander moved quickly to intercept her nostalgic reminiscing. “The point, Anya!”

She glanced at him. “You never listen to my stories.”

“Because they’re always really big with the gruesome, which we agreed was not a good thing.”

Anya pouted, but fortunately she didn’t seem to be too annoyed by his interruption. “Alright. The point is that we should be looking for this witch.”

Xander yawned and stood up. “I’m sorry. It’ll have to be tomorrow. I have a planning meeting in the morning.”

“What about Buffy?” Willow asked, shocked. “We can’t leave our friend lost out there!”

“I can’t miss this,” Xander pleaded. “Our client is coming.”

Anya nodded proudly and beamed up at him. “He’s coming to see Xander especially.”

Xander smiled down at her indulgently and Willow didn’t need Anya to blurt out what would be going on once they got home. “We’ll look for Buff tomorrow, Will. Besides, this is probably all in Spike’s mind. You know, she’s been disappearing a lot lately. I bet she’s just gone somewhere to clear her head.”

Willow sighed and slid her iBook into her bag. Xander was right, she shouldn’t be such a worrywart; Buffy did go off a lot on her own these days and she was sure Spike had been lying about the patrolling part. He’d probably just taken the stone from somewhere and had brought it to the Magic Box to see if it was valuable, thinking Buffy would make a convenient alibi.

Yet, a nagging doubt made Willow unsure that it was that simple. Spike had changed over the summer; she didn’t think he’d just make everything up, not about Buffy. She caught Xander’s infectious yawn. They’d know one way or another in the morning.

If Buffy showed up at all.

tbc

Chapter Text

Four

Buffy would be the first to admit that Breaking and Entering was a vital, if dubious, skill in the repertoire of a Slayer. Evil didn’t care about laws or statutes, it wanted lunch, and sometimes the rules had to be broken – or creatively bent – in the pursuit of her sacred duties if she was going to keep people alive, even if not everyone understood that. Brushes with the Sunnydale PD were just an inconvenient hazard of her job, but she did what she did for the greater good and not for the fun of it.

Spike’s motives for breaking into the back of the Sun Cinema, however, weren’t so clear to her. She was quite sure that he had nothing so charitable in mind.

The cinema was old and Spike was able to force an ageing rear window wide enough for him to slip into the Manager’s office. It was dark inside, but an eerie light from the computer screen lit the walls with a sickly glow that flickered with the movements of the screensaver. Stalking through the gloom, Spike made a cursory tour of the filing cabinets, pulling out drawers at random and casually inspecting the knick-knacks cluttered on top. Anything that looked vaguely valuable found a new home in the depths of his pockets.

But it soon became obvious to Buffy that Spike hadn’t come here to help himself to trinkets after all. He scooped up the telephone as he as he rounded the desk and made himself at home in the executive chair, brushing aside a pile of important looking reports to make way for his feet on the table, not caring that they slid off the edge into the waste paper basket. Cradling the phone in his lap, he stuck a hand into his pocket, rooting through the junk and the engraved pens he’d pinched, until he found a crumpled scrap of paper.

Intrigued, Buffy watched him unpick it and smooth it out against his thigh. Scrawled across the page in scratchy ballpoint pen was a long phone number that she recognised as International.

Giles? she thought hopefully. She couldn’t quite read the spidery, old-fashioned script, but what she could read looked like it might be a very familiar number.

Spike leant back in the chair as he dialled, punching the numbers in slowly and deliberately to be sure. The call only took a few seconds to connect, but by the time it started to ring at the other end he’d already started to fidget.

Click.

“Hello?” asked a familiar voice on the other end of the line.

It was Giles! Buffy was so relieved to hear his voice, which right then was like comfort food for her soul. Everything felt safer and simpler with Giles around – if she couldn’t solve something by hitting it, he would find the answer.

Giles would fix all this.

“Hello Rupert.” Despite the situation, Spike evidently couldn’t resist teasing the man.

Spike?” Giles sounded stunned. “You’re calling me? Here?”

“It’s about Buffy…”

Thousands of miles and an ocean away, Giles humphed. “You surprise me.”

“Yeah. Right,” Spike mumbled. “The strength of it is that the Slayer’s missing. There was a witch and a spell. Everyone’s out looking for her.”

“I see. What can I do from here?”

“Need information. Witch left this stone when she disappeared. You know of it?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Buffy could have sworn she’d heard Giles remove his glasses. “What did it look like?”

“Round,” Spike explained quickly. “‘Bout the size of a big crystal ball.”

Giles sighed. “You’ll have to give me a better description than that. What was it made of? What colour was it?”

“Didn’t get time to look at it closely. It was red, shiny and it vibrated.” Spike shook his hand in the air to demonstrate. “You couldn’t see through it. There were patterns moving over the surface an’ Red got very excited about it. Said it was powerful.”

"Good Lord, it sounds like a Heartstone." The itch of academic curiosity was tangible in Giles’ voice. "They’re exceedingly rare."

"What does it do?"

Giles mulled his thoughts over. “Someone once told me that they bound hearts, strengthened the bonds of love between people and drew lovers to each other. I suppose one could also be used to boost the magical abilities of the weaker partner. Your witch may be using it to generate the power to cast this spell you speak of. That would mean she has an accomplice – a much stronger one.”

“She shouted a name as she popped off. Aga, Argos or something…” Spike paused as he tried to remember it. “Arda. That’s right.”

“Hmm. Not a name I recall. Bear with me.” There was a clunk as Giles put down his phone and a shuffling that Buffy imagined was the sound of many books being pondered over. Then came the familiar thump of heavy tome meeting robust desk. The pages rustled as Giles flicked through them. “Let me see…”

Spike swung gently in his swivel chair, Buffy could tell he was starting to get bored. “Not got all day, Watcher.”

“Who exactly is helping whom?” Giles snapped, but instead of anger in his voice, there was something more like wistful exasperation. “Besides, I believe it is still night in California.”

“Got me there.”

Giles ignored him. He hummed as he skimmed through the entries in another book. “Ah, Arda. Here it is! Arda was… Oh dear…”

Spike sat up with a jerk. “What?”

“It appears that Arda was one of the Higher Demons, a powerful Demon Lord banished from this dimension during the reign of Elizabeth the First.” The concern in Giles’ voice deepened noticeably. “It seems he and his paramour tried to end the world.”

“Who hasn’t?” Spike snorted without thinking.

“I don’t recall trying myself.”

“Ah,” Spike wavered as he caught Giles’ caustic disapproval. “Well, my heart wasn’t in it.”

“How reassuring.”

“So then,” Spike said brightly, moving Giles away from the tricky subject of his dubious past and back to what he wanted to know. “Why would these people have a Heartstone?”

“I suspect they wanted to pool their power. With one of those you could find your sweetheart anywhere – across continents, dimensions, even Heaven and Hell…"

Spike interrupted him. "So I could find Buffy with it?"

Giles laughed. "Good god, no. You would need the love of two people for that. The spiritual energy has to go both ways. Think of it as a kind of ritual marriage. I’m sure you’d never have that with Buff…"

Spike slammed the phone down and as he surged off the chair Buffy felt his anguish turn from a sharp, chilling stab of demonic wrath to a dark simmering ripple of frustrated anger. Giles’ words had hurt him deeply and they didn’t mix well with the cocktail of alcohol and despair that were already curdling within him.

When he slammed the fire door behind him and stormed out into the night, Buffy hoped fervently he wouldn’t do anything stupidly rash.

Whoop, Whoop, Whoop, Whoop…

Zelda froze, her hand still on the door handle of the shiny new BMW. The alarm was ear-splittingly loud as it cut through the night. A dog barked and bedroom lights popped on in the buildings nearby, filling the gaps between each whoop with angry shouts.

“Hey! That’s my car!” a furious voice shouted from a window above. The man shook his fist at her as he shucked on his dressing gown and then ducked back inside, intending to give chase.

Run Zelda Run!

Running wasn’t easy. She was bone-tired and the dangerous combo of impractical heels and the snowy sub-zero temperatures made her escape a gauntlet of slippery patches and frozen slush. Her feet felt like blocks of ice, but her speed was quick enough – for a short burst anyway – and she managed to get some distance from the angry driver before she ducked down a side street. It was only a matter of time before she would skid and get caught; she’d rather use cunning instead.

Problem was that she wasn’t that sort of girl. She was used to solving her problems with magic not wits, and no wily ideas came to her, except to try to lose herself in a crowd – and there were precious few of those in the early hours of the morning. If this were a movie it’d be simple, an amazingly convenient parade would appear, causing confusion while the marching band marched into her pursuer’s path, but the only people she saw were a few Neanderthal college types out for the après ski. They cheered her drunkenly on her way.

This, apparently, was civilisation.

Not in her book. The only good thing she could say about the mountain town, was that it had been easy to find. Fortunately, the wonky spell hadn’t sent her far; across the state into the Sierra Nevadas, rather than halfway up K2, and she’d been able to trudge down the slope, following the willo-the-wisp lure of the lights from the resort below, but now that she was back in the land of people, a bigger issue than the biting cold and fatigue was becoming apparent. She had no money and no money meant no food, no warming drinks by the fireside and no bus ride back to Sunnydale. Hitching might still be an option, she could easily charm some schmuck into buying her dinner and taking her South, but it was slow and unpredictable and without her magic it was risky. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt so powerless. Without magic, life was hard – much harder then she remembered – and Grand Theft Auto was impossible!

She was gasping by the time she had to stop in a doorway out of view; there was no way she could go further without taking a rest. Risking a quick look at her pursuer and expecting a baseball bat wielding maniac, she discovered that she hadn’t been followed and relaxed, her head falling back against the brick with relief. Seemingly, the man had been happy enough just to chase her away from his BMW.

Time to tick another potential scheme off the list, but what else did she have left to try? There weren’t a whole lot of other options.

Happy now the coast was clear, she stepped out of her hiding place as nonchalantly as if nothing had happened. There was a joint she’d passed on Main Street that looked promising and she headed there, hoping her pity-me face would prove more effective than her joyriding skills.

It was not the most prepossessing place, in fact it looked downright seedy, but right now Zelda was not being fussy. She dropped her shoulders and cast a little glamour that even her own magic could handle, making herself look pathetically small and delicate. She needed sympathy for this. But as she shuffled pitifully through the door, conversation didn’t stop as she’d expected. In fact, yet again her timing sucked. All eyes in the room were firmly fixed on an escalating bar brawl and no one noticed the dishevelled, shivering girl approaching the bar.

It just wasn’t her night.

“Fuck,” she cursed, dropping the act. There was no point pursuing it if no one was watching.

“Can I help you?” asked a voice from behind her.

Surprised, Zelda turned. A woman spreading with middle age was looking at her with concern and a friendly, trusting smile. Above a tray loaded with empty glasses that tinkled as she approached, her nametag proclaimed her name as Patty.

Patty slid the tray onto an empty table. “Did something happen to you, dear?”

Zelda nodded, snapping back into the role with a wibbling lip and pleading eyes. This woman looked like just the kind of pushover she was looking for. “I… I don’t remember.”

Patty offered her a hand. “Come with me, you look frozen!”

Gingerly, with a reservation that wasn’t actually part of her act, Zelda took it.

Half an hour later she had a nice meal in her belly and warm clothes, donated from absent-minded customers, on her back. Life was looking up at last. Patty had been kind and attentive, but she had customers to serve and no time to dote on Zelda.

And Zelda was quite certain that was what the woman wanted to do, but the last thing Zelda wanted was some mother hen clucking over her now she had what she needed – she had five hundred years on the daft bitch! Still, there was a room for the night on offer as soon as Patty finished her shift and it was tempting to think of taking her up on it, but time was getting short and the answer to her problem was sitting on the counter in front of her.

Zelda swiped the contents of the tip jar and made a break for it out the Fire Exit.

tbc...

Chapter Text

Five

Spike left the back alleys and stole out onto the deserted streets that criss-crossed the centre of town. He walked with a purpose, yet he still kept instinctively to the shadows, alert like a predator on the prowl. Sunnydale at night was no sleepy backwater town. Whilst long-term residents kept indoors, unconsciously shutting out the darkness that prowled the night; there was always someone or something out on the streets.

His destination was a mystery to Buffy; he ignored the turns to his usual haunts, the cemetery or the demon bars he frequented near the docks, and headed out towards the sprawl of UCSD instead. Maybe she was confused because she was drunk, but she couldn’t figure out what on earth Spike could want there. She hadn’t been near the College in awhile, not since they’d rejected her re-application, so why look for her on campus?

The place hadn’t changed much anyway. Students still walked the Quadrangle late at night, unaware that Sunnydale really had monsters that hid in the dark, and frat parties still dragged on noisily into the early hours without a care. But Spike didn’t choose to gatecrash one of those as she expected; his destination was apparently inside one of the many dorms Buffy remembered. The only person she knew in the dorms was Tara, and…

Oh.

Tara! Of course, that made some sort of sense. Tara could sort this out or least help Spike find the witch. Buffy had always liked Tara.

Good ol’ Tara.

Spike stalked through the dorm with a purpose, obviously knowing exactly where he was going, but Buffy was lost. She was sure she’d been to a party in this building a long, long time ago, but the endless rows of firmly closed doors all looked the same now. Seemingly at random, Spike stopped at a door on the upper floor dorm that was as anonymous as all the rest, and he rapped on it hard. A few students who were shunning sleep in favour of last minute essay writing – between runs to the coffee machine – gave him nervous glances as they returned with their drinks, but they scuttled past him without comment when he gave them the Big Bad glare.

It took awhile and some more knocking, but when Tara eventually answered the door, she looked tired and puffy, as if she’d just woken from a deep sleep. Yet she didn’t seem surprised to see Spike at this hour. He didn’t need an invite either, Buffy noticed; it was obvious he’d been here before. And often, judging by Tara’s resigned expression. She turned back inside and Spike followed, flopping down onto a fake fur beanbag as Tara switched on the small reading lamp and busied herself re-making her bed. Bad Buffy. She had never been to Tara’s new room. Since the young witch had moved out of Revello Drive, Buffy had barely seen her. She would have to do something about that.

The room was a single, the tiny space dominated by a bed pushed against one wall and a battered desk against the other. In one corner there was a small basin and a mirrored cabinet decorated with a dapple of bright holographic stickers of cheery rainbows and smiling moons. Spike’s legs took up most of the remaining floor as he sprawled across it, taking up more space than was strictly necessary.

"Are… are you okay?" Tara asked him, her nervous shutter more prominent than it had been in a while. She looked down with a soft, caring smile, but it was plain that, despite any familiarity they had, she was still nervous around the vampire.

"Yeah," Spike grumbled. He sunk deeper into the beanbag and deeper into his sulk. "Peachy."

She sighed with the air of someone who’d had this conversation many times before. "Whatever’s bothering you… you should talk about it."

"I’m fine."

Tara gave up. She sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs under her and waited. An awkward silence settled on the room. She yawned as she picked at the bobbles on her worn pyjamas. Spike drummed his fingers on his jiggling knee. Buffy got bored waiting for something to happen.

Eventually, he straightened, seeming to pull himself together and shake off his funk. "There is one thing you could do for me..."

Tara looked up, her arching eyebrow implying that she’d been waiting for him to get over himself. "You need a spell."

“That’s right. Need a spell. Buffy’s missing.”

“Buffy’s missing?” she repeated.

Spike pulled out his flask and took a long draught to top up his drunkenness. “Yeah, vanished right under my nose.”

“Where? Did you see anything?”

“No. We were out. Patrolling.” Spike explained, then added gloomily as he took another swig, “Like we do.”

Tara didn’t look terribly convinced, but she didn’t interrupt.

“There was this bird,” Spike continued. “A witch like you and Red. Think she cast a spell. Knocked me clean out. Woke up and Buffy was gone.”

“Where did she go?”

“Dunno. She disappeared.” He shrugged. “Just went poof!”

“So why aren’t…?”

“Why aren’t I out there looking for her?” Spike exploded onto his feet and began to pace angrily, though the tiny space didn’t really give him enough room to truly get his rant going. Tara recoiled and backed up across the bed until her back was pressed up against the wall. “Gang’s onto it,” he spat venomously. “They can handle it. Apparently.”

“They w…wouldn’t l…let you help.”

“Don’t need them. Can look myself.” Spike whirled around and stared Tara down. “Find her for me.”

Tara nodded, relaxing a little as Spike collapsed back onto the beanbag. After his display of bluster, the energy that fuelled it ebbed away and the maudlin drunkenness returned. “Need to find her.”

Tara shuffled off the bed. “I can try a location spell.”

“That’d be dandy.”

Tara reached into a cupboard and dragged out a small chest. As she rooted around inside, she pulled out all sorts of interesting items before finding what she was looking for; a jar of coloured sand, a long crystal of clear quartz and some incense. Buffy watched her hesitate as she pondered what candles to use, her fingers lingering over the red, but after a quick glance at Spike, she chose pink.

“You need all this?” he asked.

Tara’s head jerked up. The circle of sand she was making gained an unsightly bulge. “I need them to…to focus. You… you m…make me nervous.”

“Don’t be. Wouldn’t kill you.” Spike reached out, tilting his head as he pushed aside her curtain of hair with a fingertip. “Even if I could.”

Tara swallowed and blushed. She smiled sweetly though. “You just want me to do your spells.”

“Not true! Lot of people I wouldn’t kill. Might want to,” Spike conceded, “but I wouldn’t, whatever the Slayer might think. I’ve changed.”

“Thank you. I think.”

Tara bent back to her task, closing her circle off with the remaining sand. The space was limited and by the time she reached the apex of her arc her hand was dangerously close to bits of Spike that Buffy thought no lesbian should ever have to contemplate.

She hesitated and stared at her hand. “Um. Spike? I… I need…”

“Oh, right.”

He shifted. A little. He was no longer sprawling like a big lazy cat, but as he crossed his legs under him to create more space, his hands unconsciously fell into his lap, framing his valuables.

Tara swallowed, apparently well aware of all the primal male sexuality on show, but trying to ignore it. She closed the circle with the sand and set the candles out at the cardinal points, plonking the last one dangerously close to the delicate parts of him that he was drawing her attention to. Her hand lingered on the thick column of wax, her fingers gently sliding towards its base. She gave him a wickedly sultry look, her eyes sparkling under heavy lids.

Buffy sensed Spike’s amusement at Tara’s challenge as he raised a quizzical brow. The irony of the witch’s hand clasped around a pink candle wasn’t lost on him. He raised a curious brow. “Didn’t know you leant that way.”

Tara sat up again and lit a match. Her eyes glittered with mirth as she gave him a sly, but surprisingly sexy smile that Buffy felt Spike respond to. “I don’t.”

“Yeah, well, remind me not to get you shirty.” He grabbed a purple batik cushion from the bed and placed it to protect his crotch. “There might be… sparks and stuff,” he explained, the entendre slipping from his tongue in a raspy drawl. “Not that I'm worried or anything.”

Tara’s eyes slowly dropped from his. “I’ll be careful.”

Buffy tensed. She didn’t understand what was going on anymore, how everything had got all sexy. Tara couldn’t be thinking straight. Not that Buffy was jealous or anything silly like that. She was just concerned. For Tara. That was all.

Honestly.

But the strength of Spike’s erection pushing against the cushion wasn’t lost on Buffy at all. “’Course you will.”

Tara lit the candles and unfolded a map of Sunnydale, pressing it out across the floor inside the circle. “I’ll need a focus. Do you have anything of Buffy’s?”

Spike reached inside his coat and pulled out Buffy’s discarded panties. “Got these.”

Horrified, Buffy could only watch as Tara took them delicately between two fingers – she didn’t look too happy about them herself.

“It’s not what you’re thinking,” he told Tara quickly as she placed them on the map with her crystal.

She looked up. “It’s okay. I know.”

Surprised, he lifted his head higher. His head tilted a little. “Yeah? That right?”

Tara nodded. “Buffy told me you’ve been together.”

He frowned bitterly, staring into the flask at the dwindling contents. “If that’s what you want to call it.”

“I think…” she started, but trailed off as Spike signalled for her to stop.

“Just get the spell done,” he said.

Tara gave him a long but sympathetic look and lit the incense. “Diligo Addo Gaudium!

Woof! The candles leapt upwards in bright flares. Reflexively, Spike recoiled sharply into his corner, drawing in his limbs as tightly as he could, avoiding the flames as they threatened to scorch the inseam of his jeans where the small cushion couldn’t protect him.

As the candles began to burn with an odd, dark fire, Buffy felt a strange but pleasant sensation surge through both their bodies, crackling at their nerve-endings. In Spike, the sensation quickly faded away, draining out of him like water through a plughole, but it flowed into her like honey, the sensation calm, loving and oddly wholesome. Her skin felt sensitive and tingly, and it was actually her skin, not his; she could feel its warmth and the way it was flushed with life. For the first time since the spell in The Bronze, she was aware of her own body again, yet at the same time, she could feel his too, all opposites; hot and cold, male and female, dead and alive. Freaky.

She relaxed into the spell’s heart-warming embrace, it felt not unlike the peace of heaven, but the comfort came from life not death. For the first time since she’d woken in her coffin, she felt like a part of the world again; glad to be alive. Unfortunately, the soothing warmth didn’t last, taking with it her sense of her own separateness, but her new-found positivity remained, even when she found she was still trapped inside Spike.

But… But… Wow. Willow’s location spells had never felt like that.

“What… what was that about?” Spike stammered as the candle flames died back to normal size and colour.

“It was just a charm.” Tara didn’t look surprised at all. “It was just a bit more powerful than I expected.”

“A what?” Spike straightened again, folding his arms tightly around him. “I don’t think that…”

“Shhh!” Tara evaded his glare and his question. She concentrated on the contents of the circle instead. “Aradia, we call on you to aid us this day.”

As she spoke the words, the air around them thickened, becoming charged and electric. The atmosphere had already been tense, but now it felt… expectant.

Send us your spirit to guide us.”

The candles flickered as the incense swirled and condensed, forming a ball of light in the centre of the circle above the crystal, like some miniature star being born in a distant nebula. As it grew, it started to burn with an intensity that lit the room with a pale, ethereal glow and its heat singed the lace trim of Buffy’s panties. It hovered above the map, waiting patiently for its instructions as Tara continued her invocation, calling on otherworldly powers to aid their search.

Let your light lead the way to the one that is lost.”

The light pulsed as if listening.

So mote it be.”

The light started to move, but then it hesitated, circling as if unsure of where to go. Buffy felt it connect to her, a soft tug that tingled her insides, and she realised that her willpower alone would determine whether or not it came to her. Right then, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She could disappear now and no one would ever know. No more responsibility. No more Slaying. No more Doublemeat Palace. No anything. She could ditch everything that had weighed her down since her resurrection in one swoop. She could stay in the sanctuary of Spike’s head until he was dust, unless he got the chip out and then… Okay, she didn’t want to think about that.

The idea would have sounded good a few minutes before, but the first spell had made her feel differently and living didn’t seem so bad right now. She didn’t want to disappear. She wanted her life back!

Decision made. She urged the light towards her and it came. Fast. It shot into Spike’s chest like a one-inch punch, knocking him backwards and cracking his head on the wall beneath the window. The vase on the sill above rocked ominously, then toppled onto the carpet, narrowly missing his head. He looked at it woozily, trying to grasp its significance then blacked out for a moment, plunging Buffy into a black void she couldn’t escape.

Spike! Her mind screamed.

Spike didn’t respond to her mental shout. Moments felt like aeons in the abyss and Buffy was adrift. She was just starting to worry that he might never wake up when he came to, his eyelids fluttering as Tara inspected his head for injury. His chest ached and his head was spinning like a rinse cycle, which made Buffy feel dizzy too, but there appeared to be little for a vampire to worry about beyond a few bruises.

Tara moved the map aside and knelt over him, her loose pyjama top inadvertently giving him a decent view of the kind of cleavage Buffy could only dream of having, and he perked up, surrendering to Tara’s caring hands. But what was much more interesting to Buffy than his lechery was that with the bump, something had shifted inside Spike’s mind. There was an opening, a small fissure in his consciousness that she could squeeze through.

She grabbed the opportunity and pushed herself through it. Spike? Can you hear me?

Astonished by the invasion of another voice inside his head, Spike jolted.

"Spike! Are you hurt?" Tara asked. “I don’t know what went wrong. It’s not supposed to do… do that. The moon phase must be making the magic more powerful.”

He nodded, still stunned.

Tara pulled back and looked at him. “Spike?”

Spike, Buffy said urgently, you heard me before. I’m inside you!

"She’s…" Spike stuttered to Tara. "She’s speaking to me. In my head."

"The spell didn’t work. I think you hurt yourself." Tara frowned.

Exasperated, Buffy tried to shout louder. I’m trapped inside you!

What?” Spike snapped as he winced at the volume.

“Spike?” Tara asked. “What’s going on?”

Buffy ignored their confusion. Spike! Listen to me.

“Buffy?” he asked, aloud.

“Spike? Spike! It’s Tara.” She reached out to him again.

Yes, Buffy urged him. It’s me! Tell Tara I’m in here.

Spike squeezed his head with his hands. “Shut up!”

Tara looked hurt, but she tentatively removed his hands. “Spike, are you okay?”

Tell her!

“I can’t talk to both of you at once.”

“Both? Who’s there?” Tara’s eyes grew huge. “Buffy?”

Spike gently pushed her away. “Tara, need a second.”

Tara sat back and Buffy noticed how concerned she still looked. She remained quiet as Spike stood up and went to the basin, but she was watching intently just in case. He bent down, avoiding the mirror, and splashed some water onto his face.

Spike. Buffy gasped, she’d seen something... Look up!

He covered his face with his hand. " Give us a minute."

You have to see this! Look in the mirror.

"There’s nothing to see, pet," he said gloomily. Yet despite his protest, he did what he was told and looked up. Buffy’s face stared back at them. Startled, he leapt back. “Bloody hell!”

“What’s wrong?” Tara asked as she whisked the candles away before any parts of vulnerable vampire or the carpet were singed.

Spike didn’t notice the gesture, absorbed as her was by the sight of Buffy’s face. “It’s…”

“It’s what…?” Tara got up. She looked where he was pointing, back at him, then at the mirror again. “Oh.”

“It’s Buffy, Tara,” Spike said, numbly.

Tara knows who I am, Spike.

He brought his hands to his temples, but rubbing them didn’t do him much good. “She’s stuck in my head.”

I’ve been inside you since we were zapped.

Tara turned back to him, squinting as she looked over him closely. “Your aura. It’s changed.”

Spike finally managed to wrench his eyes from the mirror. “My aura?”

Tara blushed. “Usually vampires, they have auras that are kinda black and oily. Yours is grey now where they’ve mixed together. I think you and Buffy have combined.”

Buffy’s stomach dropped like a plummeting lift. Oh my god.

“You’ve become like one of those Russian dolls,” Tara went on. “You know the ones that fit inside each other?”

Spike frowned and turned back to the mirror, narrowing his eyes as if he was trying to see the effect for himself. Buffy was frowning too. “She’s there. Chattering in my sodding head.”

And you have to get me out again, she stressed.

Spike sighed and squeezed his eyes closed. Bloody women, you’re giving me a headache.

I heard that!

tbc...

Chapter Text

Six

Ten minutes later, Spike was no happier. Underneath the shock, a tremendous relief vied with a fury that was as vicious as it was undirected. Tara had forced him to sit on the edge of her mattress, but despite mumbling a lame quip about her having a man on her bed, he’d said nothing else, staring at his hands instead. He felt violated, betrayed and desperately lost for an answer to their dilemma.

He wanted her out of his head.

Buffy kept her silence while his internal maelstrom raged. She did what she could to comfort him, sending out soothing emotions to ease his, but they were lost in the storm. He was angry with the witch, with her, with himself, with anyone and everyone, the tempest only blowing itself out as he grudgingly accepted her presence in his mind. His temper was still volatile, balanced precariously on a knife-edge, but he was calmer. He’d vent that anger once he had something to hit. She knew how he felt; they’d both feel better if they could fight their way to a solution, but with the witch gone that wasn’t going to be an option.

“So what are we going to do about this?” Spike asked both women eventually. “Can’t go about with a sodding running commentary in my bonce.”

And I need to get back. Dawn will never forgive me, Buffy added. Spike. You need to tell Tara about that witch. Her name was Zelda.

Spike sighed, letting his body collapse back onto Tara’s duvet. “Tara, Buffy reckons the witch that did this to us was called Zelda. You heard of her?”

“No.” Tara shook her head and sat down beside him. She wavered for a second and then placed a comforting hand on his arm. “But now we know what she did, maybe I can find a spell to reverse it.”

Tell her what Giles said about the Heartstone.

At her suggestion, Buffy felt Spike’s anger begin to bubble again. She was relieved that she could only speak to him and wasn’t privy to his inner thoughts because she didn’t believe he was thinking anything she wanted to hear. She didn’t understand what his problem was; Giles hadn’t been lying to him, he had to know that. She’d been clear all along that they weren’t a couple; they weren’t anything. She couldn’t allow that to happen, however much she might want to.

It looked like new improved formula Buffy was going to have to do something about their little sexcapades when she got free. Now she felt better, she couldn’t continue the way it was. She didn’t need to use him anymore, so she had to either dump him or get serious….

Whoa, stop there! Those were dangerous thoughts of which no good could come.

“Ever hear of a Heartstone, kitten?” Spike asked Tara, unaware of Buffy’s turmoil. He kept his frustration out of his voice, but Buffy didn’t feel it recede. ”Witch left one just as she sent herself back to Kansas. Called Giles…”

“You called Mr Giles?” Tara said in surprise.

“Yeah, he might be a git,” Spike relented. “But he knows his stuff. He said this thing was rare and that this witch was using it to stock up on the mojo.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Tara drew her knees up under her chin and sighed thoughtfully. “I’ll have to do some research. I could ask Willow…”

No! Buffy shouted. So not a good idea.

“No!” Spike propped himself up as he joined Buffy’s vehement protest. “Red’s not to know about this.”

Tara looked relieved, but she still asked, “Why? She knows much more than I do.”

His comforting smile helped to soften the truth. “Showed her the stone. Not sure I cared for the look she gave me. She said she’d keep it.”

“Oh.” Tara looked troubled. Her eyes flicked away towards some thought she was processing. “Okay. But this might take some time. I can’t guarantee I’ll find anything.”

“Fine with me.” Spike settled back against the pillows.

Tara’s shoulders sagged and Buffy could see how tired she was. I think we should let Tara sleep, Spike.

“Huh?” He craned his head to look at the young witch. “Oh. Right then. Seems I’d –” He gestured absently towards his head then the door. “We’d – better be off.”

Tara smiled thankfully as Spike slid off the bed and negotiated the obstacle course of magical bric-a-brac to get to the door. He opened it, but paused in the doorway, as if reluctant to leave Tara’s little sanctuary for the unknown outside.

She stood and toyed with the drawstrings on her pyjamas, twirling them nervously around her fingers. “I have a test tomorrow. I can come by after.”

He offered her a grateful nod, but Buffy noticed the big pile of books on the desk and the open file of revision notes. She suddenly felt horribly guilty for interrupting Tara’s sleep with their problems the night before some big test; she’d probably even gone to bed early to prepare.

With a deep sigh, she gave Spike a mental push out the door. C’mon, let’s get out of here. It’s going to be a long day.

Zelda did not do buses, nor any modern transport in general if she could help it, and now she remembered why.

As it slowly rumbled its way south through the morning rush hour traffic, the bus bounced its passengers about on its rackety suspension. The bus wouldn’t have been her first choice of transport, but the tip jar hadn’t yielded much of a cash crop and she was stuck with what she could afford.

The journey to Sunnydale would take most of the day, but she doubted she could stand it that long. Each time the crate ran over a bump in the road, she had to grit her teeth to stop them from knocking together. All that clenching made her jaw ache and her mood irritable.

Her eyes drooped and the bus jolted, banging her head against the window glass. Wide-awake all over again, she groaned in frustration. She needed sleep! A good night’s rest in a proper bed, not short dozes that she had to grab in a cramped coach seat each time the busy traffic brought the vehicle to a halt. She’d rested in the bus station from the arduous walk down the mountain, but she still felt drained beyond words.

The old hippy next to her seemed to have no such trouble drifting off. He snored on, dribbling into his tobacco-stained beard, no doubt dreaming in psychedelic Technicolor of the Summer of Love, but as far as she was concerned, he could take his rainbows and flower power someplace else, because he stank; a fume of sweat, bad breath and unwashed socks wafting into her personal space. She didn’t dare breathe in.

Zelda pressed herself close to the window, to avoid the stench and the ickiness of his body heat as much as possible. Her humiliation was finally complete. The day before she’d been wired; excited to see Arda again. they were going to rule this crappy dimension together. Now she was nothing. The disappointment was a crushing come down.

People, that’s what she hated so much about being helpless, the reliance on people. Even after all her years on the earth, she still despised them, Humanity was weak, obsessed with trivia and money, scrambling for every last penny they could get their hands on; but they would never see the world the way it really was, never realise they were just cattle kept for the benefit of their demon superiors. They couldn’t see what was going on beyond their noses. How could such dull beings ever experience the heights that demon passions could achieve?

Shifting again, Zelda tried to get comfortable in her seat, giving up when every position either got her too close to her companion or made her head bang against the window again. It was no use. Sleep was never going to come as long as she was cooped up.

She decided that maybe it was better to plan her way out of this mess instead of cursing those that had put her here. She might as well put the time to good use, there was going to be plenty enough time on this trip to dwell on her situation.

Her first priority was to find the witch that had her stone. The revenge she was itching to mete out might make her feel better in the end, but there wasn’t time for that just now. It would have to wait until Arda was safe. Five hundred years Zelda had kept her Heartstone close. Through it Arda’s remote presence had been a comfort; always there, always touching her soul, but now there was silence where her lover should be. She had never been this far from the stone before and she hoped its absence was just distance, since the alternative was almost too painful to contemplate. She consoled herself with the thought that it was unlikely that the other witch even realised what the stone was, and if she did, it would be useless to her unless she had a lover she wanted to bind it to. Nonetheless, the loss of its touch made Zelda uneasy.

Either way this witch was unlikely to just give the stone up and Zelda was too weak now to take it back by force. She needed some decent help and there seemed to be a distinct lack of it available. There was always that miserable vampire. If he wanted his girlfriend back bad enough, he’d make a bargain: the stone for the noisy ho. It didn’t seem like a fair trade, that wasn’t her problem. Once she had what she wanted she would deal with them both for good. She smiled, the thought of revenge always made her very happy.

Just as she was imagining how many bits she could chop the vampire into before he dusted, the hippy woke up with a gurgling snort. She squeezed herself further into the window and pretended that the country flashing past was deeply fascinating and not just a blur – until a gnarled, meaty hand found its way uninvited onto her knee anyway.

Her head whipped round and she hissed, “If you don’t remove that, I’ll fry your prick off.”

She didn’t quite get the reaction she expected. The hippy laughed and gave her leg a teasing squeeze. He’d laughed at her! He’d actually laughed at her! She glared at him, wishing him rendered into his component molecules or something satisfyingly messier.

His smile quickly faded as he took in her poisonous look and he retracted his hand – far too slowly for her liking. “You got quite an attitude there, missy.”

She snorted derisively. He didn’t have a clue what he was up against. She could make him wither and die with a flick of her wrist…

Except she couldn’t, could she? She folded her arms and huffed back into the padding of her seat. “Fuck off and leave me alone.”

He made a point of looking around the packed bus. “Ain’t nowhere for me to go. You need to take it easy, little princess. Tom Nightshade don’t mean you no harm.”

She laughed bitterly. Tom Nightshade? Oh please. Fucking hippies. “Just keep your filthy hands to yourself.”

“Just flirting with you.” Tom leaned in close. Zelda was caught again in the fiery blast of his halitosis and she coughed, covering her nose with her hand. For all the good it did, Tom didn’t seem to connect the action with his own reek. “Word to the wise,” he told her sagely. “That bad attitude of yours is getting you nowhere. I reckon you’re all alone out there in the world and that’s hard, but you’ve come to like it that way. Jus’ you have to learn that what it is you had is over now and there ain’t any going back. It’s way too late for that.”

Zelda narrowed her eyes. This man, if that’s what he really was, knew far too much about her. “Who are you?”

He tapped his nose enigmatically. “A friend is all. I’m just a guide to this whole wide world and you; you need a little guidance. Life’s all a-changing and you’ll be needing all the help you can get very soon. Chin up, little missy. You’re a big girl now. Time is you’re gonna have to act like it.”

“What do you mean?” she snapped. “I don’t understand.”

He wiped his hands on his jeans. “You will soon enough.”

Zelda threw her head back against her seat. “You’re from the Powers. I should have known.”

“Not everything in this world is about you.” Tom rose from his seat with a groan and the creak of old bones. “I have to take a tinkle.”

He gave her another smile full of yellowing teeth and she scowled back. She didn’t need an unhelpful intervention by the Powers right now. Destiny was for losers; she’d make her own thank you.

Tom patted the top of his seat. “I can’t say it was nice meeting you, little princess, but I’ll see you again soon enough.”

Zelda looked out of the window. Tom’s reflection sighed and made its way to the coach’s restroom.

He didn’t come out again.

tbc...

Chapter Text

Seven

Spike slept the sleep of the dead.

Buffy didn’t.

Sleep eluded her, coming in fits and starts but never quite settling into rest. With Spike’s eyes closed and his consciousness switched off, she was lost again in that impenetrable darkness she’d glimpsed when Tara’s spell had knocked him out.

All the time she was awake she was aware that she wasn’t alone in the blackness. Spike’s head was a crowded place; something primal lurked deep within and it was awake, watching her, hating her with all its being, loving her all the same. Her Slayer senses prickled at the presence of the demon, but she knew it wouldn’t harm her, not now, so she tried to put her concerns out of her mind; they might be reluctant roomies for a while, but they weren’t going to get chatty any time soon – however much that might have relieved the tedium.

Because she was bored. It felt like Spike had slept for an eternity and with no chance of getting to sleep herself, she had little to do except look at the back of his eyelids, apart from the interruptions of his dreams, of course, and they were a whole new level of disturbing. They leaked through from his subconscious, filling the darkness with colour and Buffy discovered just what it was that a nightmare dreamt of.

Her apparently.

In all sorts of ways. Even in his deepest sleep they played out the same moves they made in waking. Dreams twisted and erotic, passionate and angry, where they fought and fucked as one being, fused at lips and loins. Dreams where he saved her. Dreams where he didn’t. Dreams of blood and death and danger. Dreams of flames. Dreams where he killed her still. After those she couldn’t wait for the blackness to return.

But his gentler dreams disturbed her most, the ones that laid out his hopes in embarrassing detail. Holding hands as they strolled along a starlit shore, he fed her poetic lines that made her swoon – as if she’d swoon for anybody! When she brought him back to her house to make love in her bed on a carpet of rose petals it was soft and moving, without the bumps and scrapes of their usual carnal tussles. It was all romantic nonsense they could never share. They couldn’t be companions sharing their lives together in some white picket fence fantasy. What kind of vampire wanted all that?

Spike was consumed with her, immolated by a love that raged like furnace over a deep guilt over her death that had still not faded away. She wished he’d wake up. The intensity of his feelings was too strong and they were making a large dent in her good mood. He loved her. Really loved her and not with some empty demon obsession that mimicked the real thing – though that was certainly there. She was everything he had in the world. And she would have to take it all away.

He really needed to wake up.

Fortunately, Spike only slept a few hours, woken by the sound of the motor-mower trimming the grass of the cemetery outside. A bleary eye opened first, braving consciousness as an advance party for the rest of his body. Trusting that all was well and that the horrors of his pounding hangover were only on the inside, his other eye joined its partner staring out over the lower level of the crypt.

He was waiting for her to speak, but Buffy didn’t know what to say. She’d had a front seat in the IMAX cinema of his subconscious and every feature was all about her. What could she say to him?

Hi! she said, a little too lightly. It was all she could manage, especially as her own head was a little worse for wear.

He moaned and smothered his head in his pillows.

You can’t escape me that way, she teased.

“I can’t bloody escape you at all,” he muttered, his voice muffled in duck feather.

His words cut through the light mood she was trying to create. I thought you always wanted me around?

“It’s not the same. You know that.” With a heavy sigh, he excavated his body from the bedding and heaved himself out of bed. “Can’t do anything without you knowing.”

Buffy now knew exactly what Spike got up to. If the latter part of the previous night had been any indication, after pestering Tara, there’d been a lot of fights in back alleys and drinking in demon bars until the impending dawn had started to prickle at his skin. And what had he been doing going to Tara anyway…?

What’s going on? With you and Tara?

Spike furrowed his brow as he reached for his jeans. “Nothing’s going on, pet. Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Buffy didn’t believe that for a minute. You were flirting! It was getting all sexy and… and… everything!

He chuckled and buckled up his belt. “Just a bit of fun, Buffy. Red’s girl has a sense of humour.”

You went all horny and stuff. Despite herself, Buffy pouted. Just as well he couldn't see her.

“She’s a pretty girl. Got great tits.” He pushed his feet into his boots with an angry shove. “And she’s sweet to me.”

Her mistake. Her acid remark came naturally, but she regretted it almost as soon as she’d said it because she could feel how deeply it stung him.

“Right. I’m all yours, Buffy.” He reassured her, then added sadly, “Guess you already know that.”

I’m not jealous, she couldn’t help it, if she let herself give in, this… thing they had would go too far and she’d never be able to finish it. Don’t even think that.

He shook his head. “Yeah, right.”

Buffy lapsed into a sulky silence. He’d only been awake for a few minutes and she was already annoyed with him. He climbed up through the gap in the crypt floor and grabbed a shirt from the top of the sarcophagus. Thin slivers of afternoon sun shimmered through the grimy windowpanes, but they barely penetrated the sepulchral gloom and he avoided the patches of dappled light almost unconsciously while he puttered around.

Once dressed, Spike lazily scratched his chest through his shirt and sauntered over to the fridge. The contents were minimal; a few bottles of beer and a large jar of blood, starkly bright against the clinical white panels. The demon inside him became fidgety with a rising bloodlust. It was no longer a passive, watchful presence skulking in the back of his head, it was him and it was hungry.

Although the demon’s hunger made her uncomfortable, Buffy thought nothing of it when Spike pushed aside the beers and reached in for the jar, she seen him eat tons of times, but as he poured the fresh blood into a mug, reality dawned on her. She was going to have to drink it too.

No! No way are you doing that! She started to panic.

“Got to eat, Luv,” he shrugged and kept on pouring.

But you can’t with me here!

Spike lent on the fridge door. “Can you actually stop me?”

Spike, this is hard enough.

Spike sighed and shoved the mug back into the fridge, slamming its door after it. He fished a packet of cigarettes from his coat pocket instead.

Not those either. Buffy had had enough of smoking the night before when she’d been too drunk to protest. Her chest, at least she thought it was her chest, already felt raspy. Obviously, if they were going to share a body for much longer, she would have to mark out some important boundaries.

Spike threw the packet across the crypt and growled, “Can’t smoke, can’t look at a pretty girl, can’t even eat. What can I bloody do then? ”

Spike… she said soothingly, but he was now too annoyed to listen.

He paced across the crypt and back. “No. You’ve been abusing my good nature all along…”

You haven’t got a good nature. She snapped. If he couldn’t be reasonable, then she wouldn’t be either. You’re evil! You do actually remember that?

He sighed, stopping to rub his forehead as his sharp stab of anger abated. “All the sodding time.”

Buffy could feel his hand tremble, without the blood his body was weakening, almost imperceptibly but the difference was there. They wouldn’t get anywhere if he didn’t have his strength and right now, on top of all her other problems, she really didn’t want to deal with a hungry, nicotine-deprived vampire.

Spike. I’m sorry. You do what you need to do.

He snorted bitterly. “Thanks, ever so.”

He didn’t wait for her to change her mind. He scooped up the cigarettes and lit one as he retrieved the mug of blood from the fridge and placed it in the microwave. Buffy waited apprehensively through the countdown as the mug circled the microwave hypnotically; she hoped she wasn’t going to be sick, because she had no idea how that was going to work out with the current body-sharing arrangements.

Ding!

“Time’s up.”

Spike opened the microwave door and picked up the mug. It was warm against his hands and it filled the crypt with an intense, meaty aroma undercut with a hard metallic tang. Buffy steeled her nerves; people ate gross things all the time, she could do it just this once.

But she stalled as he lifted it to his lips. It’s not human is it? I absolutely draw the line at that.

“Don’t worry. Finest porker, pet.” Spike’s tone was civil, but inside him, the demon, nearly insane with bloodlust, snarled restlessly. No wonder Spike was tetchy.

For her sake, Spike didn’t savour the blood, knocking it back in a few big gulps, but it still made her gag as it went down; there was no disguising the grossness of the taste. When he was finished, the demon quieted, sated for the moment, but it was the reaction of Spike’s body to it that really amazed her. She could feel the warmth of the nourishment rushing along his arteries and veins, filling each part of him with a lusciously warm flush. He felt stronger; more awake, more alert and, just for a moment, he even felt alive.

“You alright?” he asked, smacking his lips.

Yes, she replied in a small voice. That was disgusting.

“Human is better. This stuff tastes dead.” After a last mournful look at the bottom of the mug, he dumped it on the sarcophagus and sank down onto his chair. He inhaled a thoughtful drag from the cigarette and flicked the ash onto the ashtray balanced on the chair’s arm. “It’s not like you to apologise.”

I didn’t. You just imagined it. Buffy didn’t like the direction the conversation was heading. She tried to concentrate on the taste of the cigarette while she thought of a way to change the subject; at least the bitter taste took the blood flavour away.

Spike stared up at the ceiling. “It’s going to be like that is it?”

Get used to it. So what are we going to do all afternoon?

“Thought we could go for a nice stroll together and have a picnic on the beach, but it’s still a bit on the bright side,” he said with a large portion of sarcasm.

Ha. Ha. What do you usually do? What did you do with Harmony? Buffy let the question hang for a second as she realised what she’d said. No, please don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know.

“You wouldn’t,” he groused. He glanced over to the door. “Can’t go out. I reckon it’s the usual.”

The usual?

He picked up the TV remote and switched on the TV, getting settled with his feet up on his footrest. “Passions is on in a minute.”

You’re going to watch soaps all afternoon? She asked with horror.

“I need to catch up. It’s either that, or…” He put the TV on mute. “We could just have a meaningful chat. Talk about us for a bloody change.”

Yay! Passions it is then!

Prior to her impromptu coach trip of the Sierra Nevadas, Zelda hadn’t been in Sunnydale long, but the few weeks she’d spent preparing in the town had been plenty of time to build up a decent knowledge of the dynamics of the local scene. If there was something you needed to know, a bar was the place to ask, the seedier the better.

Sunnydale’s Demon bars weren’t the sort of establishments humans could frequent for long and survive, but it was many years since Zelda had considered herself anything like a regular human being. She walked in with the supreme confidence of someone who knew they could fry any one of the occupants into ash with merely a glance, even if this time she was faking it. She took a seat by the bar and ordered a drink, all the while keeping an eye out for a likely source of information amongst the dive’s rag-tag clientele.

As she waited for the drink to be mixed, she stretched, getting the last of the travel stiffness out of her weary muscles. The sooner she got her magic back the better, then she would only have to click her fingers to go where she wanted to go. More importantly, the sooner she freed Arda, the sooner she could leave this dump of a town.

“Hey, honey. You come here often?”

Zelda winced at the lame chat-up line, but smiled at the group of vamps in full bumpy forehead mode that had gathered around her, obviously waiting out the daylight hours drinking rather than in their dens. One, a black guy who seemed to fancy himself as a sharp-dressed Miami Vice type, leant casually against the bar beside her. Tubbs appeared to be the leader of this little band.

“Often enough,” she said. “I’m looking for a vampire…”

“I guess you found him.” The vamp leaned in closer, a grin full of fangs dangerously near her neck.

Unfazed, she continued. “Punk type, blond hair. English.”

“You mean Spike,” Tubbs said contemptuously as he pulled back in surprise. “You must be new in town.”

Tubbs grinned at the other vampires. They sniggered in deference.

“He’s a traitor. Kills his own kind,” one said.

“I hear he bangs the Slayer,” added another with a giggle and a nervous glance at his boss.

“The Slayer?” Zelda shook her head in disbelief. The noisy ho was the Slayer! Oh how fucking perverse. “So where does this Spike hang out?”

“You don’t want to be bothering with him,” Tubbs told her. His eyes dropped to her carotid and he drooled, narrowly missing her shirt. He put a hand on her arm and stroked it caressingly. “We’ll be much better for you.”

Zelda wrinkled her nose in disgust and pushed him away. “Thanks, but no. I have some unfinished business with this Spike.” She drank her drink in one quick gulp, then grabbed Tubbs by the collar, sparks of magic snapping from her fingers in warning. Dumb vamps like this wouldn’t see through the bluff to realise she couldn’t conjure much else. “But you will tell me where he is.”

tbc...

Chapter Text

Eight

Willow was worried. She sat in the kitchen of Revello Drive at the counter, staring into the remains of her toasted sandwich as if it held the secrets of the universe – and maybe they did. Tara had told her once that anything could be used for divination as long as the diviner’s focus was right: the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk, the splatters of coffee on the tables of the Espresso Pump or even the spirals of caramel in a tub of Chunky Monkey if there was nothing else to hand. That sounded great, but the crumbs of cheesy toast were holding on to their secrets today. The day was slipping away into another long winter’s night and still their missing Slayer mystery remained an unsolved case. So much for the ‘clearing her head’ theory, Buffy hadn’t returned and she’d missed her shift at the Doublemeat Palace. Even allowing for the unreliability of slaying, not turning up to work wasn’t like Buffy at all.

As time passed, Willow was growing more and more convinced that Spike had been telling the truth after all, or at least part of it, about his mysterious witch. Outside influence was hardly a rarity in Sunnydale and there were plenty of entities and magic users lurking amongst the population; a lot of them would be happy to see the back of the Slayer rather than the sharp taste of her stake. The puzzle was why Spike would lie about being with Buffy, especially with her extended absence. The way he felt about her was so painfully obvious, Willow was sure he wouldn’t have hurt her, even if he’d been able to; but there was no doubt he’d been cagey, covering something he didn’t want them to find out. His actions were way too suspicious to ignore.

The only hint of an answer she’d found in the crumbs were vague hatching patterns that criss-crossed a drip of melted cheese. The symbolism needed a bit of imagination to see, but the impressed marks looked like a gate or the bars of a portcullis. That didn’t tell her much; a gate could lead to anywhere, another dimension or the next field, and there weren’t many castles in Sunnydale, so finding a portcullis was pretty unlikely.

So much for toastamancy.

She gave up and dumped the toasted sandwich in the trash, scraping the crumbs off with her finger; Tara had always been so much better at the psychic stuff anyway and the knot of worry tied up in her gut made the food indigestible. Someone would have to do something soon; she couldn’t spin out the excuses to Dawn for very much longer. The surly teen was already beginning to suspect there was more going on than just a ‘double shift’. She hadn’t said a word to anyone all day and was now sulking in the living room, watching TV at an anti-social volume.

Which was more than okay. That just gave Willow more time to research Spike’s miraculous find without interruptions of the teenager sort. The less Dawn knew the better, because Willow had no idea how long she could resist the Heartstone’s lure and she still felt a little bit guilty over the last time she’d let the magic run away with her in Dawn's presence. Temptation was calling to Willow from the table. She picked the stone up. It promised much, but as yet it had given nothing away. She was holding the key to the mystery, she was sure of it, and she wondered what else it could do. It had to be more than some lover’s toy; she could feel the magic just waiting to be tapped within it. If she could use it to find Buffy… She shoved it away from her, dumping it back into the Mickey Mouse bowl she was using to stop it rolling off the worktop. It was time for Resolve Face. She had made a promise to Tara and she intended to keep it. No more magic! And if that meant doing things the hard way, she would. Sighing with the realisation that the answer wouldn’t just come to her without making the effort to investigate, she took the Heartstone from its makeshift plinth and left the kitchen, grabbing her jacket from its hook. She didn’t want to leave the moody teenager alone, but if she was going to track Buffy down, she would have to find out what was really going on with Spike and that might get dangerous – for him. If she had to make him talk, she would. It was about time he started telling the complete story.

The meaning of the marks in the cheese came to her as she was leaving the house. They hadn’t formed the symbol of a gate or a portcullis at all.

They’d formed a cage.

Stuck with Spike inside the crypt’s grey and dingy walls, Buffy’s afternoon should have been measured in geological time rather than simple hours or minutes. For all she knew, civilisations could have risen and fallen as Spike filled the long hours of daylight with soap opera after soap opera, only breaking the endless monotony of poor scripts, ridiculous plots and arboreal acting for the occasional trashy talk show – a psychological torture surely in violation of the Geneva Convention.

After the third or fourth hour – she’d lost track somewhere during a re-run of The Bold and the Beautiful – she was convinced her mind was turning to Jell-O. She didn’t know how Spike could stand the boredom; but then he was the vampire who had once spent all night every night on guard outside her house. No wonder he was obsessed with her, he had nothing else to do.

What didn’t help much was that she’d barely spoken to him all afternoon; she found it hard to find anything to say to him now. There were too many awkward issues hanging between them just to get chatty with the light conversation. This was one of those times when she wished things were still simple, because he’d been a good listener once, before all the sex stuff had got in the way. Now there was no one to unload all the crap onto. Spike only ever wanted to talk about them and that was the one subject they were never ever going to discuss. Not until she got free and they had that conversation anyway. She was well aware there were things that Spike wanted to know or hear, but she couldn’t give him that sort of answer. Better to keep quiet and watch the god-awful soaps than to placate him with promises she no intention of keeping.

At the top of the hour Spike picked up his remote and started to flick through the channels again. Flick. Commercial. Flick. Commercial. Flick. Cartoon – pause on that for a moment. Nope. Flick. Commercial. Flick. Soap too awful even for Spike to contemplate. Flick. Old black and white film Spike probably saw back when it was a new release. Flick. Some old Murder She Wrote re-run. Spike settled on that, obviously the next show on his daily schedule.

She took heart in the light streaking through the murky windows, which had darkened with the long shadows of the late afternoon sun and now cast rays of angelic light over the crypt floor. It would be dark soon; then they could finally leave this drab hole and get her out of his head for good.

Just as the opening credits had finished and Jessica Fletcher was poking her nose into another murder she was suspiciously close to, the crypt door creaked open with a haunted house groan. With a hint of annoyance at the interruption, Spike turned to check out his visitor, but when he saw it was Tara, his irritation evaporated.

Thank god, said Buffy, also hugely relieved to see the witch.

“Hello? Spike?” Tara asked tentatively, hovering just inside the door.

Spike uncoiled from his chair, avoiding the sliver of sunshine that scythed in through the open door, and welcomed her inside. “I’d offer you a drink, but it’s mostly of the red variety.”

“Thanks. I’m good. Are you okay?” she asked, nervously looking around, probably for exit routes. Buffy was relieved to see she wasn’t a regular visitor. “Is Buffy…?”

“Still locked up in my noggin? ‘Fraid so.” He nodded as he lit another cigarette. By now Buffy was taking in each smoky breath like an old hand. In fact, to her irritation, she was even beginning to like it.

Obviously feeling bolder, Tara shut the door and came closer. She rooted around inside her bag and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “I did some research like Buffy asked. I think I know who your witch is.”

“Yeah?” Spike raised a curious eyebrow.

Tara gave him her work and pointed to a paragraph in the handwritten notes. Spike barely glanced at it. “Super stuff. Tell me about it.”

Spike. Let me look. Buffy ordered him when she was denied a good view.

He did what she asked and held the papers straight so she could see Tara’s neat and curvy handwriting, but it was impossible to read when Spike kept losing interest in the text and allowing his eyes to drift away from the page, giving the witch his attention instead. Buffy had to snap at him to keep him tracking the lines, but eventually, she gave up when he started to let the sheets waver in his hands.

“The name Zelda,” Tara was explaining, “I was able to look it up. I traced her back to the 16th Century.”

I want that cream she’s using, Buffy chipped in.

Spike smiled at her comment. “She looked a lot younger than that.”

“She’s immortal,” Tara said, her bewildered expression giving away that she didn’t have a clue what he was smiling about. “That stone you found, it’s the source of her powers. She draws the power through the stone from a demon called Arda. He’s a minor Lord of Hell.”

And you gave it to Willow! Buffy said to Spike in shock, wishing she had the use of her hands to slap him.

Spike’s brow furrowed. “So?”

Recovering magic addict Willow, Buffy said very slowly so he got the point.

“Oh,” he finally understood. “You think Red would use it?” Buffy kept her silence. She didn’t like thinking the worst of her friend, especially after Willow had gone to such lengths to prove to Tara that she could avoid the temptations of magic, but Buffy couldn’t help remembering the look Willow had given Spike in the Magic Box when he’d tried to take back the Heartstone. There’d been nothing of the sweet girl she knew in that look and there had been too many slip-ups over the years to entirely trust Willow’s resolve. She hoped Willow had learnt to control herself.

It looked like Tara had been having similar thoughts. Her frown was grim. “I… I don’t know. She says she’s not done any magic for awhile now.”

Thoughtfully, Spike blew out a cloud of smoky air. “Does she now? Got any proof of that?”

“There haven’t been any… accidents. Not that I’ve heard about anyway.”

Spike looked at her carefully. “But it’s not about that.”

“No,” Tara bit her lip, nervous under his scrutiny. “I… I can’t…”

“Trust her anymore?” he offered.

She didn’t reply, but drew her bag to her tightly, clutching it against her chest.

Spike stubbed the cigarette out, grinding the stub out into the sarcophagus. “Doesn’t matter when you still love her, does it?” He shrugged. “Know the feeling well.”

Rolling her eyes wasn’t an option, so Buffy rolled them in her imagination instead. She wished he’d stop trying to bring everything back to them. Nothing would change the fact he was evil and a vampire and therefore terrible boyfriend material.

“I miss her. I miss the way it used to be,” Tara said. Her lip quivered as she spoke and a tear glittered as it rolled down her cheek. “Staying away is so hard.”

Buffy’s heart went out to her, she knew all too well how difficult it was to resist what the heart wanted and make proper decisions with the head. She admired Tara for not giving in to the weakness she herself hadn’t found the strength to stop. Not that Buffy was in any way admitting to having feelings for Spike, of course. No way! It was all about the sex. Sex was good and Spike was good at sex. She’d needed to feel good, because when she hadn’t been with Spike, she’d felt so bad; but that was over now or would be – soon.

Spike hesitated at first, but he reached out to Tara and wiped the tear track away with his thumb. Buffy couldn’t quite call what he was feeling empathy; the emotion was too complex and human for the vampire to grasp, but they made the acute unhappiness underlying Spike’s emotions rise to the surface, escalating his misery until he was feeling horribly sorry for himself. It was a nice try; he could recognise the emotion, even if there was an empty space inside him where he should have felt it for Tara, but it was a poor carbon copy of the real thing.

“I reckon she’ll be worth it all in the long run,” he said gently.

“I hope so,” Tara replied, looking up at him with a despair that contradicted her positive words. She looked no less lost.

He kept the young woman’s cheek cupped in his hand. He said nothing as he gazed down into Tara’s big watery eyes and Buffy wished she was able to hear what he was thinking to make his emotions so jumbled.

“I…” he started.

“Spike?” Willow asked, making all three of them jump.

Spike and Tara quickly split apart, probably looking guiltier than they actually were. Spike faced the newcomer nonchalantly, while Tara recoiled into herself.

Willow was framed in the doorway, dark against the heavy sunlight. Her voice broke as her eyes fell on Tara’s proximity to the vampire. “Tara?”

tbc...

Chapter Text

Nine

No one dared move.

Willow stared at Spike. Spike stared at Willow. Buffy watched Tara’s eyes flick anxiously between the two. Buffy wouldn’t have liked to gamble on which one Tara would defend if it came to a fight; but judging by the annoyance in Tara’s expression, Buffy figured Willow might just be out of luck.

As her jealousy grew, Willow’s wintry glare dared Spike to explain himself to her satisfaction, an uncanny shadow falling across her as she furrowed her brows in threat and her mouth set into a hard line. Like a gunslinger with an itchy trigger finger, her hand kept darting into her bulging Hello Kitty bag and touching something inside. She looked torn between wanting to believe Tara wouldn’t do anything with a vampire – a male vampire at that – and expecting the worst, however ridiculous that might seem.

Spike met her challenge with a fatalistic defiance. He squared his shoulders like a great hero preparing for his last stand, ready for anything she might launch at him, but it was Tara that broke the tense High Noon tableau.

She wiped the tears from her face. “Willow. This is not what it looks like.”

Spike! Say something! Buffy urged him. She could kill you – me – us!

“Right,” he agreed. He approached Willow cautiously. “You see; it’s like this, Red. Tara was just a bit upset…”

“Be quiet.” Willow snapped. Her pupils dilated as they flooded with magic, infusing them with a dark fire that burned viciously within as her hair turned from burnished copper to a sombre autumnal auburn. The air around her began to warp, rippling into shimmering waves and through the crack of the door, Buffy saw black, apocalyptic thunderheads gathering, cutting off the soft, creamy light of the sun that moments before had soaked in through the cobwebbed windows.

In the distance, thunder rumbled in portentous warning.

Uh oh.

“Bugger.” Spike stepped back, swiftly putting his chair between himself and the angry witch, as if that would protect him from the very dusty death Willow was threatening. So much for going down in a blaze of glory, Buffy thought.

“Willow!” Tara put herself in front of Spike, spreading her arms out to make her defence wider. “No! It’s not like that! It’s Buffy. We found her. She’s in Spike’s head.”

Willow scoffed. “You expect me to believe that? I read it in the crumbs, Tara! There was a cage thing. He’s probably been holding Buffy captive all along!”

“A cage in Spike’s head.” Tara explained. “It’s a spell!”

“Yeah, right,” Spike added. “Like I said, we found this witch. Out patrolling.”

“And Tara?” Willow asked him pointedly.

“No, you’ve got it all wrong.” Tara said calmly, wiping her eyes again. She moved slowly towards Willow as if she was trying to soothe a nervous pony. “I came here to help them.”

“He’s upset you, Tara!” Holding out her arm, Willow made the Heartstone materialise in her palm, transported up from her bag with a snap of her fingers. She narrowed her eyes at Spike. “I’ve been wanting to give this a try!”

She directed her will at the Heartstone, feeding it with all her anger and hate. It glowed in response, turning a deep, flaming red that lit up the crypt until it looked like a corner of the fiery bowels of Hell; but instead of absorbing the energy, the stone dissipated the magic, discharging it over its surface in snapping crackles of static electricity. Its power was not meant for her. “Oh…” she said, her demeanour lightening as her sweeter side re-emerged. The dark clouds lifted and through the open door the soft, ambient light began to flood in again.

Until someone stepped into it.

Zelda.

She snatched the stone out of Willow’s hands. “I think you’ll find this belongs to me!”

“Hey!” Willow protested, stunned by the sudden appearance of the stranger in the middle of her quest for justice.

Zelda held the stone aloft. Her expression was triumphant. “Arda! I’ve missed you!” “Who are you?” Willow snapped, her pupils beginning to darken again. “You!” Zelda snarled, pointing at Spike, ignoring Willow completely. “I’ll destroy you and your slutty girlfriend!”

Look who’s talking! Buffy said indignantly, willing Spike to defend her honour. Spike did no such thing, preoccupied as he was by Zelda reaching out her hand to zap him… But nothing happened. Zelda looked down at the stone. It appeared to be dead, lifeless in the witch’s hands. She shook it, she knocked on it, she grimaced at it, but she made no impression on it whatsoever. “No!” she screamed. She glared at Spike. “That spell! That fucking spell! You picked it up together, didn’t you? I should have fucking known! It bound you!”

“Bound? I’m not quite catching your drift.” Spike told her.

She tried one more time to generate enough power for a spell, but it was too late. She’d been shut out forever.

“Arrgh! This is useless!” Zelda took one last look at the stone and then launched it into the wall, where it left a hefty dent before crashing to the hard stone floor with all the bounce of a bowling ball being dropped from a great height. On impact it cleaved in two, but as the magic forming it lost its focus, cracks appeared and it disintegrated into powder.

Whatever hold the stone had claimed on Buffy suddenly vanished and she was hit by a wave of vertigo that also sent Spike staggering backwards into the sarcophagus. Through the painful cloud of her lurching head, she felt him try desperately to steady himself against the stonework, but the dizziness had shot his spatial judgement to hell and his reach fell short of the lid. He crumpled onto the floor and fell forwards, convulsing and tearing at the air as reality began to wrench at their bodies.

She could feel herself separate from him, sinking as she grew heavier with flesh and bone. An overwhelming need to move made her gather her strength and crawl forward with a heave, pulling herself along arm over arm. When she was clear of him, the spinning sensation finally passed, taking with it the keen edge of Spike’s predator senses but exchanging them for the intense buzz of life his body was lacking. With relief, she flopped to the ground, gasping. If she’d had any lunch, she would have lost it right then, but freedom was well worth the price of the discomfort.

“Buffy?”

When Buffy’s stomach had recovered enough to look up, she found that Tara was kneeling beside her, trying to make her lie still. Beyond the young witch, Spike was kneeling with his head hanging low, his arms shaking as they barely kept him upright. He looked as terrible as she felt.

The sight suddenly made Buffy terribly angry that Zelda could have done this to them. She fought off Tara’s gentle push. “I’m okay, I’m okay!”

To prove it, she climbed unsteadily to her feet, staggering as she discovered she wasn’t used to the way her body moved anymore. Each step she took was stiff and awkward, her legs feeling lighter than they ought to be; but there was too much to do to be concerned with trivial stuff. She rounded on Zelda and Willow, crossing her arms, hoping that if she looked serious enough, they’d ignore the giveaway wobble in her legs.

“Buffy! Are you alright?” Willow asked as if the last ten minutes hadn’t happened.

“I’m fine,” Buffy told her sharply, tuning to Zelda instead. “No thanks to you.”

“Huh. Do you realise what you’ve done to me?” Zelda was furious. “I’m nothing, whore! I’m nothing!”

Buffy wasn’t going to argue with that. “You’re not going to get a lot of sympathy here.”

“I’m a fucking mortal,” Zelda ground out between clenched teeth.

Propelled by the force of her temper, Zelda grabbed the nearest weapon to hand – an ornamental urn – and charged Buffy with it. Buffy stood her ground, but as Zelda raised the urn to strike, Spike appeared from behind Buffy’s shoulder and tackled the witch to the ground. The urn cracked, but rolled away intact.

Unlike Spike, who yelped and held his head as his chip fired. He stood up gingerly, and Buffy could see the pain in the tightness of his eyes, but he nodded, indicating he was still backing her up.

“Welcome to the real world.” Buffy yanked Zelda to her feet and slung her to Spike, who caught the witch in an arm-lock.

“I’ll die!” No match for Spike’s strength, she wriggled in his grip. “All because of you!”

“I’m paralysed with not caring.” Buffy stepped right up close, tilting her head as she analysed the witch’s response. “I think you’d better leave my town.”

Her words made the witch stop her struggle, but Zelda was no less angry. “No fucking way are you telling me what to do!”

“After what you did to us,” Buffy looked to Spike for his support and she knew how he felt just from the look in his eyes. “I think you’re getting off easy.”

When her gaze drifted reluctantly back down to Zelda, she found herself caught in the woman’s stare. Zelda might have been powerless, but she hadn’t lost all of her skills and she pushed Buffy effortlessly into the ultimate staring competition; a battle fought solely in their heads. With winning or losing all in the mind, they locked eyes on each other, sizing the other up; seasoned slayer in her prime versus centuries-old but embittered witch.

The moment lengthened like elastic. Minutes became hours; hours became days; days became years or even millennia, it didn’t matter, the outside world had gone and all they had left was their war. Neither blinked; pain was irrelevant. Zelda’s will matched Buffy’s strength for strength and they both struggled for supremacy, neither yielding, neither gaining advantage. Stalemate.

Desperately and without even knowing how she did it, Buffy reached out psychically, searching for anything that could give her an edge. Immediately, the dark touch of Spike’s consciousness was there, bolstering her effort, allowing her to push Zelda away…

With a gasp, Zelda crumpled. “Okay. I’ll leave!”

Buffy, almost as shaken as her opponent, gasped, “There’s the door.”

Zelda straightened. “Then tell your boyfriend to let me go.”

“Boyfriend?” asked Willow with surprise as Spike released Zelda with a gentle shove, which caused him to wince as his chip gave him another warning buzz.

Buffy motioned for Willow to stop. Stop talking. Stop thinking. Stop even going down that idea street. “Why does everyone always think that? Spike and I, we’re not…”

“Because it’s true? “Zelda laughed darkly. “If he’s not your boyfriend, then what were those disgusting noises that interrupted my spell?”

“We were… pretending!” Buffy pleaded to Willow. “It was a cover or something. We were patrolling!”

Spike shook his head. “Buffy, I think the game’s up. We…”

“Give me a break,” Zelda cut in. “The Heartstone bound you.”

“Huh?” Buffy still didn’t really understand what the witch meant.

Zelda spoke slowly as if Buffy was being incredibly stupid. “It only binds people in love.”

The colour drained from Buffy’s face and she looked around at the others, searching for some other answer – Spike looked smug; Willow looked confused; Tara looked sympathetic, and that just made Buffy more determined to deny the allegations even though she knew they were true.

“We…” Buffy started, not knowing what to say. “We were… We aren’t responsible for that stone. We didn’t know it would bind us. It could have bound anyone.”

“It bound you because you wanted to be bound to each other,” Zelda stressed. “That’s what it does.”

“Oh no…” Buffy looked at pleadingly at Tara, at Willow again, desperate for them to deny what Zelda had said, but Willow just stared down at the gritty, glassy dust that was the remains of the stone. Buffy didn’t dare look at Spike, although she could feel his intense gaze willing her to come clean.

When no one bailed her out, Buffy sighed, maybe she could just pass this all off as an infatuation. “Okay! Willow, Spike and I, we… Since I came back it’s been so hard. Being with Spike made it easier.”

“It’s okay, Buffy. I understand.” Buffy was sure Willow was trying to sound reassuring, but it wasn’t going to work while she still looked so freaked. “We don’t always choose who we love.”

“Looks like someone had a secret.” Zelda’s grin was smug. She turned to leave, tossing one last comment over her shoulder, “Have fun with it.”

Buffy folded her arms and looked away, ramming down the urge to slap the witch into next week. Clenching her hands into tense, tight fists, she waited until the crypt door slammed shut, then finally admitted to her friends, “I was going to finish it.”

Spike humphed in response, but didn’t say anything else – thank god. Buffy didn’t know what else to say, especially to him. Just because the feelings were there, it didn’t mean indulging them was wise. She loved Spike – kind of, sorta, if she really faced the elephant lurking in her sub-conscious. Perhaps if she kept telling herself, the awful truth might sink in and she could get over the feelings as quickly as possible. The Heartstone had opened her eyes and wouldn’t let her deny her burgeoning feelings anymore. Stupid stone.

Holy crap. She loved Spike!

It was new and raw and delicate, but the feelings were developing and had been all the time she’d been in his head. That spell of Tara’s had worked like good compost, letting them grow unchecked in spite of herself…

Tara’s spell.

She turned on Tara. “What did you do?”

Tara did her best rabbit-in-headlights impression. “D…d… do?”

“When you did that location spell, you did something else, didn’t you?”

“I did. I did a spell,” Tara admitted. “Nothing big, just a charm.”

“You cast a spell on us?” Buffy couldn’t help it. She felt betrayed. All of the feelings she’d admitted to and they were all just a spell. She looked at Spike. He’d turned away, avoiding her.

“I… I didn’t. I cast it for Spike. I just wanted to help him out.” Tara stuttered. “You must have been affected instead.”

Willow looked crushed. Buffy thought she would crumple into tears at any moment. Her lip was quivering uncontrollably. “You did that after everything you said to me?”

“It wasn’t like that,” Tara begged her. “I didn’t impose my will. I was just trying to get him to see that he could be happy.”

“And how was it supposed to do that?” Spike asked bitterly, staring pointedly at Buffy over his shoulder. She bit her lip. Was it too late to late to pretend that none of this happened?

She met his eyes. The old cliché was true: they could have been alone. Tara and Willow became irreverent and she didn’t even hear what Tara said to Spike in reply. His gaze locked her to him and she was lost. She realised right then that however sensible the decision was to end this, she wasn’t going to find it easy to fight what her heart wanted. To soothe his hurt, she tried to tell him everything she felt, sending everything over to him without words to make him understand why this was so difficult; the topsy-turvy doubts and certainties, the morbid fears, the out and out knowledge that they shouldn’t be feeling this way, but cushioning it all with the truth there was something inside her that contradicted all that.

“We’ll talk,” she found herself telling him. It wasn’t enough, but she needed to stall for time. They needed that talk, it was only fair.

He nodded, prepared to wait – for now. He didn’t look convinced, but this wasn’t the time to bare her soul.

Avoiding Willow, Tara gathered up her bag. “I think I’d better go. You’ll be okay now.”

“Tara? Tara, honey?” Willow asked with soft, pleading eyes.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t think I can…”Tara looked at her feet, her hair tumbling over her face. “I think we have to be over.”

“Tara,” Willow burst into tears, but no one moved to comfort her. “I… I don’t know what came over me.”

Tara scuttled to the door, avoiding Willow’s hand hopelessly reaching out to her. “You scare me, Willow. I love you, but I can’t do this now.”

With that she was gone.

Spike leaned back against the sarcophagus and lit a cigarette.

Buffy caught his appraising look. “Gimme that.” She took the cigarette from Spike’s fingers and took a long drag of her own.

“Buffy?” Willow forgot about her heartbreak for moment, her mouth falling open in surprise.

Spike looked quite shocked too.

“What?” she challenged them. “I just fancied some.”

“That’s how it works, isn’t it?” Spike said acidly.

“I think I should go,” Willow said. She’d paled and the tears were staring to flow.

Buffy stopped her. “Willow? Will you be okay? You want me to come with?”

“I’ll be fine, Buffy. I need to be alone right now.” Willow’s smile was feeble. “I think you two have a… a lot to talk about.”

“I’ll be back later.” Buffy nodded. She stole a glance at Spike; he was still annoyed by the look of it. Willow was right, they needed to sort this out right away. “Will, don’t tell Xander, okay?” she said quickly. “Not yet. I need some time before I take on that one. Or maybe never. Do you think I can get away with never?”

“Maybe we could find a easy to break to him gently?” Willow sniffed, glancing at the door.

Spike snorted. “Try a bazooka.”

Buffy glared at him. “On the other hand, maybe there’ll be nothing to tell.”

tbc...

Chapter Text

Ten

The crypt door slammed shut with a finality Zelda would have found ironic if she’d not been too preoccupied to notice. She was still fuming. Any pleasure felt at screwing over the Slayer had evaporated as soon as her boots touched the soft cemetery turf. Her fake smile dropped into an acid frown. For the first time in half a millennia she was an ordinary girl again. She would age and die – just because some kinky vampire was under the delusion that a Slayer would make him a good girlfriend.

The world never ceased to amaze her.

She had to face it. Arda was gone forever, lost far beyond her reach. Her rituals might have raised him from hell the first time, but without the Heartstone they would never be strong enough to spring him from where he’d been sent, even with the stars aligned at the correct time and place. She barely had enough energy to summon up a good curse anymore; punching holes through dimensional walls was a little too advanced.

It was over.

She sought solace in the spectacular colours of the sunset. Against the blush of pinks and the dazzling golds, sheets of filmy clouds stretched above her, reflecting the dying rays of the sinking sun in silver ripples of vapour. The same sun had watched over her for five hundred long years, its movements through the zodiac guiding her search for a way to return Arda from exile and it was about the only thing that wouldn’t change now. She sat down on a gravestone and stared sullenly at the crypt. She sniffed. It wasn’t fair. Those two losers had each other and all she had left were faded memories.

She wasn’t going to cry, she wasn’t.

“‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’. That’s what they say.”

Zelda wiped her tears away and looked up. Tom Nightshade’s big hairy hippie face was beaming back at her. “Not you again,” she spat, wrapping her arms around herself and evading his all-knowing eyes. “Fuck off and die.”

Much to her horror, he sat down beside her, making her shift to the very edge of the headstone. He still stank like a tramp’s armpit. “Sorry, no can do on that. How’s life working out for you?”

“Fucking brilliant.” She couldn’t resist a brief glance at the crypt again; vampires were flammable, weren’t they? If she could just generate a spark…

“Gum?” he offered, producing a packet from the pocket of his threadbare jeans.

She wrinkled up her nose, thinking of where the packet been and the parts it had been close to. “I don’t think so.”

“Shame, life always seems a little bit brighter when you chew, least I think so anyways.” He took a stick from the pack and posted it through his beard into his mouth. “You did a great job by the way.”

She snorted bitterly. “A great job of what? I fucked it all up.”

Tom chewed loudly, loud enough to make her feel ill. “You were never going to get Arda back, you know that. Face it, he forgot about you years ago.”

“How can you say that?” she snapped.

“I know it.” Tom tapped his nose. “Now, don’t you worry, you’ll be alright, we’ll see to that. You’ve served us well. That’s very commendable.”

“I’ve served you? How?” she asked with a sinking feeling.

Tom pointed over his shoulder with his thumb, indicating the crypt. “Those two. They’ve been fighting us all along. The Slayer, now there’s a gal that’s had it tough of late. She’s been dead you see, an’ she wasn’t seeing what was staring her in the face. We gave her a nudge, tinkered with the little witch’s spell a bit, ‘cause she jus’ needed to see that life ain’t so bad and there’s someone there who’s waiting for her.” He chuckled. “Been quite the task getting them kids to even like each other, I tell ya, an’ you managed to set them on the right track at last. Fitted the last piece of the puzzle so to speak.”

“But why?” Disgusted, Zelda got to her feet. “They didn’t sound like they had any trouble getting it together to me.”

“That’s not the sort of together we mean, honey. Not that we look down on a little Free Love now and again, especially if you’re offering…” Tom gave her a wink as he leered at her ass.

She took a sharp step back. “No, no fucking way are you ever touching me like that!”

His eyes drifted up to her face, but only after a lingering detour along the curve of her breasts. “No harm in trying that’s what I say. Anyhow, those two, they got a lot to work out and they’ll need to, ‘cause that girl has quite the busy future. She’ll need a lovin’ partner to see that through, an’ we found her the best we could get. Love’s funny like that, as you know well. It don’t always come from the smartest of places, ‘cause that vamp, he was going be a hard sell from the beginning and we needed an insurance policy. That’s where you came in.”

She stared at him in disbelief, finally beginning to understand what he was telling her. “Hey! Wait a minute,” she poked the finger she was waving at him back at herself. “You mean my whole purpose in life was to get those two retards together?”

Tom grinned at her broadly, chewing with his mouth open. “That’s the way it works, little princess.”

“No!” she protested, pacing. “No. My life, my whole fucking life, was one just big farce?”

Tom blinked at her, unfazed by her vitriol. “If it makes you feel any better, you still have plenty of years ahead of you.”

“Alone?” she scoffed. “Thanks a lot.”

“That’s up to you, but with that shitty attitude of yours, you might have a point.” Tom stood up and put an arm around her shoulders. She found herself being steered out of the cemetery. “You seem to have done mighty fine on your own. Why do you need to go change that now?”

“I never wanted that. I wanted him.”

“Them’s the breaks, kid. Loving a demon is hard work.” He stopped as they reached the cemetery gates and pointed at the sky. “Hey, look up there. There’s the first star of the night. Wanna wish on it?”

Zelda squinted up at the heavens. A few stars had just begun to twinkle through the Southern Californian smog, valiantly bright against a sky of peacock blue. “I wish you were dead.”

Tom clapped her on the back and nearly knocked her slight body over with his big hand. “You know what? I think you gonna be just fine!”

Hard truths.

That’s what they called all the stuff that you didn’t want to know, but caught up with you anyway. They were pesky things that didn’t stay buried like they ought. A bit like some people she could mention.

Buffy knew hard truths all too well; she’d faced plenty in her time. Sometimes she felt like she’d spent all her life avoiding one or another; the reality of her parent’s divorce, the acceptance of her calling, the necessity of sending Angel to hell, the list just got longer and harder to bear, so what was one more item to worry about?

She loved Spike.

Spike.

Spike the soulless, evil, chip-headed, annoying, frustrating, persistent, slayer-killing, vampire that just would not go away. It couldn’t be the real her that felt this way, could it? She was some sicko that was it. She had to be. Maybe Spike was right, she had come back wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong…

But if she was so wrong, why did she feel so much better now?

It all came back to Tara’s spell. It had done something to her, something deep, fundamental, profound. Buffy couldn’t see how Tara could have done it. The charm had wiped away her depression, just like that. Tara wasn’t that powerful, her spells were charms and tokens, fancies and neat Halloween tricks. Yet the difference was tangible.

Something else was going on. It had to be. She’d changed inside; properly and not the silly surfacey effects you got with magic. Responsibly was still a drag, but it was no longer dragging her down to despair. She wanted to live again and not be swallowed by the darkness. Perhaps it was best to accept the benefits as they were.

From her vantage point curled up in his chair, she watched Spike as he moved around. He was pacing and trying not to show it, pretending to do small tasks around the crypt, but all the time his attention was really on her. She could see he was anxious, desperate for her to speak, but not wanting to start the conversation. He still thought she was dumping him.

Was she? She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do now. A relationship with him was a bad, bad idea, but the thought of walking away felt pretty crappy too.

“I need a cigarette,” she moaned, leaning her head on her hand. She didn’t have a clue what to do.

Spike flipped her the packet, leaning against the sarcophagus as he lit his own. She caught the box but didn’t take one, turning it in her hands instead. Okay, she couldn’t deny her feelings for him anymore, but smoking was one habit she was definitely going to quit.

“When were you planning on telling me?” he said eventually.

Her head snapped up. “I… I dunno. I only just figured it out.”

“So you use me for bit,” He jabbed in her direction with the cigarette. “Take a ride in my head and just say goodbye?”

“No! No. I didn’t mean that.”

“What did you mean?”

“I meant…” Maybe she did need a cigarette after all.“…the other stuff.”

Spike snorted. “‘Other stuff’?”

“You know, about how the stone worked.” Damn, he was going to make her say it. She sighed. “Okay if we’re going to do this, there have to be some ground rules.”

“You surprise me.” His words were sarcastic, showing some of the bitterness he’d built up, but they didn’t match the hope in his voice or the sparkle that brightened his eyes.

Maybe she was being cruel. Before, when all this had just been a sex thing, she could keep him in his place, keep him from thinking that this was going somewhere, now he looked like he was about to go and pick out the rings.

This couldn’t work. “I have to know I can trust you.”

“You know the answer to that,” he told her quickly. He was still keeping a wary distance, probably until he knew for sure what she was going to do. “I wouldn’t…”

“Yet.” She didn’t doubt that he meant it, but she couldn’t guess how much his words would mean once she was out of sight or if the chip came out. Could she really rely on his vampire judgement if he was offered a cut of some shady scheme? Whatever he meant or said, he was still evil.

He frowned a little, but then gave her that look. The earnest one that was supposed to melt her resolve. It hadn’t really worked on her before, mostly because very time he tried it she’d been so angry at him that nothing was going to change her mind, but this time her stomach did a little flip.

“I mean it. I’ll be good,” he promised.

Damn. He had to look so enticing when she was trying to convince herself what a stupid idea this was. She wasn’t going to get far telling him they were over if she was mentally unbuttoning his shirt at the same time. She caught herself watching his cigarette as it bounced on his lower lip. She had much better uses for his mouth. Fuck it, the ground rules could wait until tomorrow, it wasn’t as if she wasn’t halfway into this relationship already or could easily deny the weird alchemy that drew them together so perfectly.

Despite herself she gave him a naughty smile, which he returned with the filthiest smirk she’d ever seen ever. It wasn’t fair. He had a hundred year start on her in the sexiness stakes.

But oh yeah, what the hell. Buffy like.

She unfurled her legs and slipped out of the chair, drawn to him as if on invisible strings. This relationship would never be easy. They’d still fight and he’d still piss her off, and there was every chance he’d still meet the business end of Mr Pointy one dark night, but it was too late to go back now. She didn’t want to think about this complicated stuff anymore. There was a long night ahead of them and she’d face the consequences tomorrow. Right now she needed the comfort of strong arms and yummy kisses. She knew he wouldn’t disagree.

She was right. Spike had no arguments. His eyes fell shut and the kiss he gave her was light as air, but something so soft couldn’t last and it quickly deepened into an eager caress laden with hopes, fears and a whole lotta love.

Breathless, she pulled away with a gasp, only to immediately lean in again for more. She wanted this kiss to be endless, but there was something she needed to say, even though she hated to break the connection for something as trivial as words. Her mouth brushed his, but she kept the touch minimal, a gentle stroke that sent tingles across her lip.

“Spike…”

His mouth was open, desperately seeking hers as his hands tried other methods of persuasion. She had to duck his questing lips and nip at his jaw line instead; what she had to say was too important, too personal to be interrupted. A kiss against his ear was a promise, a call for patience, even as her fingers eagerly popped open the bottom buttons of his shirt like she’d been dying to all along.

“I want you to come over for dinner tomorrow. We could just spend time together,” she whispered.

To say he smiled would be an understatement. He pulled back and beamed at her, then dropped his eyes as if embarrassed by his reaction. “I love you,” he blurted out.

Her mouth moved silently as she tried to think of something to say. She wasn’t sure if she could say the words just yet. “I…”

“Don’t.” He placed a finger over her lips. “I can wait.”

She gave him a bright smile in thanks as her hands spread out across his chest. “We can try out my bed,” she offered as consolation. She wasn’t going to cover it in rose petals, but maybe she’d be ready to confess her feelings in words not just actions.

“Maybe…” he said with a flirty flick of an eyebrow as he unzipped her skirt, “tonight could be a trial run.”

Then he grabbed her, whisking her off her feet as he shoved her back into the wall where he kissed her forcefully. This might be a new beginning where touch would mean much more than bruises and lust, but they would still want a lot of that too.

Which right then, as his mouth locked on hers in a sensual tangle of tongues, suited Buffy just fine.

The End