"To the rafters!" Spike agreed.
Spike and Anya clinked shot glasses and drank deeply. They'd each finished a healthy dose of Jack Daniels, and neither showed signs of stopping any time soon. Why quit now that the ache was starting to lessen just a bit?
"And he always acted like he was ashamed of me, you know? 'Let's make this a quiet time, Anya,' or 'Can we not talk about my penis in front of my friends?' or 'Anya, the check-out line at Wal-Mart is not exactly the appropriate place to talk about lubricants.'" She shrugged, irritated. "Like I was supposed to know."
Spike nodded sympathetically. "Believe me, I understand the whole 'ashamed' thing. This girl, you know, the one I've been telling you about, she's always acting like I'm her dirty little secret. Bloody degrading is what it is."
Anya refilled their glasses. "Spike, you can stop saying 'this girl.' It's Buffy, right?" She raised her glass. "Skal!"
Spike froze. "What? No," he scoffed unconvincingly, wilting under her stare. "All right, fine. Yes, it's Buffy." He drained his glass. "How did you know?"
Anya snorted. "Please. It was, like, so obvious. You'd have to be blind or totally self-absorbed to miss it." She paused, looking pensive. "Which, I guess, is why no one else has figured it out."
"Did it ever look like—I mean, could you tell if—" Spike hesitated. "Did it seem to you like she ever cared about me?"
"Umm," Anya faltered.
Spike waved his hand. "Forget it." He topped off their glasses. "Cheers."
"I'm sure the sex was very good," Anya said cheerily, as Spike nearly choked on his whiskey. "What with you both having super-strength and all of that athleticism. I'll bet you gave her lots of orgasms."
Spike gave her a knowing smile. "Oh, yeah. The sex was great." His eyes saddened. "It was the in-between times that weren't so good."
Anya nodded. "For us, too. Me and Xander, I mean. When we were alone, it was okay. Well, it was better than okay," she said, smiling wistfully at the memory. "But in front of his friends, forget it. It was like he was always trying to fix me, or something. Like I embarrassed him." She closed her eyes. "Don't we deserve better?"
"Absolutely," Spike replied emphatically, pushing a newly filled glass toward her. "We absolutely deserve better than the two of them. Only…"
"Yeah, only we still want them, right?" She shook her head angrily. "No. They are totally unworthy of us."
"Damn right. Unworthy," Spike echoed, his speech slurred.
"Xander totally needs to be taught a lesson." Anya's breathing grew heavier as the whiskey sped through her body. "Buffy, too, of course," she added. "I mean, sometimes, don't you just wish—"
"You know what I wish?" Spike broke in loudly. "I wish that Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale." His brows furrowed in concentration, but the whiskey was making it harder and harder to concentrate. "No, wait – I wish that Angel had never come to Sunnydale. Now that would be something. Or maybe I wish that I had never come here." He tipped his elbow and emptied his glass. "Yep, it's definitely one of those three."
"A world where Buffy Summers hadn't come to Sunnydale," Anya said sleepily as her eyes clouded. "I remember that world. I liked that world."
"Or maybe I wish I'd never had this chip in my head," Spike mused to himself. "I could have killed her like I was supposed to, right healthy. Moved the hell on."
Anya rose unsteadily to her feet. "No, you said you wished Buffy hadn't come here. That would solve both of our problems."
Spike looked at her quizzically. "What, now?" he asked, peering at her.
She returned his gaze, her human features masked by her demonic visage. "Done."
And then all went black.
His head hurt. Throbbed was more like it. He fought down a wave of nausea when he rolled onto his side, groaned when the new position brought little relief from what felt like the mother of all hangovers.
He didn't even remember where the hell he'd ended up. The last thing he remembered was drinking more than his share of a fifth (or was it two?) with Anya at the shop. Everything after that was blank.
His hands began gingerly exploring his surroundings, feeling the sheet draped around his waist, a pillow under his head. He opened his eyes for a moment and caught a glimpse of blond hair splayed out on the pillow next to him in the instant before the pain caused him to clamp his eyes shut again.
In spite of the splitting headache, he almost smiled to himself. He couldn't believe that she'd actually taken him in, given the shape he must have been in last night. Just when he was finally beginning to believe that he was never going to be with her again, that they were through for good.
She stirred beside him, and he pulled her closer.
"Hello, lover," she said.
"Buffy," he murmured into her hair.
He never saw the blow coming, never actually had time to register the punch itself. And then he suddenly found himself busy registering the feel of his shoulder meeting the cement wall on the opposite side of the room.
"What the hell did you just call me?" Darla seethed.
"Darla?" he said stupidly, trying to focus.
"Yes, Darla," she spat out, gathering the sheet around her, towering over him in indignation. "You were expecting someone else, perhaps?" She threw his jeans at his head. "Typical. Last night you were begging for it, and now you're mumbling some other woman's name in your sleep."
"What about last night, now? And what are you doing in Sunnydale?" He pulled on his pants and rubbed his hands over his face in an effort to chase away the cobwebs. He closed his eyes, listening to the blood rushing in his ears. A dream, perhaps? A hallucination? He opened his eyes and did a double take at the sight of Darla. Nope, no hallucination there. "Wait, what are you doing alive?"
Darla threw him a withering glare. "Exactly how drunk were you last night?" She sighed the sigh of the mightily put-upon. "You know good and well that Sunnydale is my town, mine and the Master's. Just because you've decided to return to the fold doesn't mean you can start acting like I don't exist."
His eyes narrowed, uncomprehending. "Your town? Return to the fold?"
Darla slapped him across the face. Hard. "Snap out of it, Spike."
Realization hit at the same time as Darla's palm. Son of a bitch.
He'd said something last night, wished for something. Made a wish in front of a bloody vengeance demon. What the hell was it he'd said? He racked his brain but only dimly remembered wishing that he'd never come to Sunnydale. Unless he was very much mistaken, he was sitting on his ass in one of the back rooms of the Bronze. He remembered playing poker here once with Clem, minus the bed and minus Darla. So that wish, obviously not granted.
Wait, he'd wished that Angel had never come to Sunnydale. Said that before the other. Anya hadn't really done that. Had she?
Spike stared at Darla's enraged face. Anya had certainly the hell done something. The more he thought about it, a world without Angel suddenly sounded pretty damn good. So Angel had never come to Sunnyhell, and somehow that meant that the Master and Darla were in charge? There were worse things he could think of…
But even if Angel had never come, how had the two of them managed to get past Buffy? Spike's mouth suddenly went dry. Some memory was wound up in the knot of hangover and confusion, something about a prophecy.
A prophecy that said the Master was going to rise and kill the Slayer. Shit. What had he done?
"Stop thinking, Spike. You're gonna hurt yourself." Darla was pulling on a sweater, smoothing it down over a plaid, pleated skirt. She stopped suddenly, wheeling toward him. "Wait a minute, did you call me 'Buffy'? Were you dreaming about the Slayer in my bed, Spike?" She looked at him disdainfully. "That's just sick."
He lurched to his feet. "The Slayer? Buffy is the Slayer's name?"
"Spike, the amnesiac routine is starting to get really old. Yes, in case you've been under a rock for the last three years, the Slayer is named Buffy. For some unfathomable reason."
Buffy was alive. Spike almost fell back to the floor in sheer relief. But he wanted to get to her, check and make sure that she was really okay. "Right then. Just checking. I was dreaming of her, actually. Dreaming of draining her dry. Why don't I just go out and do that?" He started to move past her toward the door. If he could just get to Buffy, everything would be fine.
"Great idea. I hear Cleveland is very scenic this time of year."
Cleveland? Spike knew that if he asked Darla one more question, the only answer he was likely to get was another slap. "Ahh, right. Cleveland." He felt dizzy. It was little wonder he couldn't get his bearings. What kind of stupid world was this, anyway? Oh, right. It was the world he had made. And finally, he remembered the first thing he'd wished: that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. "Maybe I'll just wait on that, then," he finished dully.
Darla rolled her eyes. "Do whatever you want, Spike. Just don't do it here."
He glanced at her, confused. "What?"
"Yeah, listen, umm, you were great. We were great." Darla paused. "Well, I was great, at least. But I think our fling has been flung, no?"
It wasn't a question; that dismissive tone of voice he remembered. "I'll just be going then," he said as he edged toward the door.
"What an excellent idea." She shut the door in his face.
Just when he thought that this was far and away the worst night of his life and that there was no way that it could possibly get worse, he heard a familiar voice calling his name.
Oh, thank God. "Red, what the hell are you doing here? You've got to hide before someone sees you." He took Willow's arm and pushed her into the nearby maintenance closet.
She smiled at him, slow and lazy, in the dim light of the naked bulb illuminating the closet. "Well, now that you've got me here, Spike, whatever will you do with me?" She slid her hand across his abdomen, resting it on the top of his jeans.
"Willow?" he asked, pulling away from her. "What's gotten into you"—he peered at her—"and what's with the leather?"
She sounded like Willow, but she certainly didn't move like Willow or dress like Willow. And why did she still look like she was in high school? That didn't make any sense.
He was wrong. The night just got worse.
"Don't be shy, Spike," Willow purred. "We're family, after all. And you don't have to worry about Xander," she confided seductively, trailing her hand across his chest. "It's not like we're going steady or anything."
Spike blanched. Well, this just kept getting better and better. Xander was a vampire, too? And what was this about them being family?
God, had he turned her? Turned them both? The room was suddenly spinning, and not from the hangover.
"Well, there's Darla to think about," he spluttered, saying the first thing that came to mind.
Willow smiled wickedly. "I won't tell grandmamma if you don't." She leaned forward and took his earlobe between her teeth.
Oh, Christ. This was beyond Kafkaesque. "Knock it off, Wil," he said brusquely, pushing her away.
Her face fell into a pout. "Don't wanna play?" She looked thoughtful. "Probably just as well. The Master sent me to find you – he wants to talk to you."
Great, an audience with His Royal Fruit Punch Mouth. "Well, then I'd better go, hadn't I?" he said, feigning an authority he wished he felt.
"We'll have to find time later. You know, to talk." Willow leaned against the wall, jutted her hips forward suggestively. "Maybe after the hunt."
"Great." He opened the door and stumbled out into the hall to get away from her.
When he got his hands on Anya, Spike fumed, he'd throttle her until she looked like one of those stupid bobbleheads. He was just gonna have to figure out how to survive until he could get this mess sussed out, find someone to help him. The fact that his potential allies were all turning out to be vampires in this reality was a little disconcerting, though.
He'd just have to go talk to the Master, see if he could get any information out of him, and then find somewhere quiet to figure out what his next move was going to be.
He walked out of the back hallway, into the club itself. It looked much the same. Eerily so. There, the pool table. There, the bar. There, the stairs leading to the upper level. His chest felt tight, looking at the site of his first kiss with Buffy.
That's how he always thought of their kiss at the Bronze. The kiss after the Glory beating, that had been just a peck, after all. He'd been so surprised by it that he'd twisted his head away before he even really had a chance to taste her. And the kiss after the day they'd all spent auditioning for Broadway felt out of his control, beyond him somehow. Oh, he'd been there, all right, and had more than enjoyed himself, but it had felt forced, fated, bigger than both of them.
The kiss here, though, right under those stairs, that was all him and Buffy. Intimate. The way it had felt to finally have her in his arms, to have her finally come to him of her own free will – it had been indescribable.
Despair could drive a man to do crazy things. Stupid things. He'd been worried about never having the chance to be back in Buffy's bed, and now he might never even see her again.
Snap out of it, Spike, he told himself sternly. Losing his head was not gonna fix this. Losing his head was what had gotten him into this scrape in the first place.
"Spike, my boy," a voice boomed. "Come."
Spike jerked his head toward the Master, sitting on the stage like he was holding court in a throne room. The Master had always been big on pecking order and protocol, from what Spike remembered. As he approached, he bent one knee and kneeled.
"No, no. Rise, Spike," the Master said, coming down the stairs to greet him.
Spike bit back a grimace. God, he'd always hated this guy. One of the few things he and Angel ever had in common.
"So, how does it feel?"
Spike started warily. "How does what feel?"
"Being here, with all of us, coming back to the Order." The Master smiled, or at least Spike thought that was supposed to pass for a smile.
"Oh, it's, umm, you know."
The Master studied him sympathetically. "It's been a long time since Prague, Spike. Since we lost our Drusilla."
Drusilla was dead here, Spike realized with a jolt. She'd never made it out of that mob. He wondered what that was supposed to make him feel. He felt too numb to summon any emotion.
"She was the most delightfully mad creature I ever knew," the Master lamented, easing his arm around Spike's shoulders. "It was right for you to grieve, wreak your vengeance on the guilty parties. But it's also right that you came home, where you can be comforted in the bosom of your family."
Spike had had a bellyful of his family. His blood family, at any rate. "Yeah, about that—"
"Your family is all you have, Spike," the Master intoned. "There's been so much loss, but there's also been recovery. I've lost my dear Jesse, but he left me two precious gifts, my Willow and my Xander." Spike exhaled. That tidbit at least answered one burning question, whoever the hell Jesse was. The Master continued, "And we've lost Drusilla and Angelus, but you, my prodigal son, have returned." He clapped his hands abruptly. "We shall kill the fatted calf and celebrate."
"Yeah, before we do that," Spike began, "shouldn't we strategize what we're going to do about the Slayer?"
"Ah, yes, you always did have a thing for Slayers." The Master laughed. "The Slayer is of no concern to us here." He shrugged. "She was prophesied to come, and yet, we are unmolested. This town, this world, is ours. We'll deal with her in time."
Well, that sounded ominous. "You've got plans for her?"
"I have many plans, Spike," the Master said archly. "But now is a time for celebration, not business." He gestured to a minion next to the stage. "Bring us someone to eat."
Spike's stomach lurched. His stomach still felt 100 proof. "Nothing for me, thanks," he said hurriedly, as a girl in a bright blue dress was dragged forward.
The Master looked at him in surprise. "Are you well?" he asked, concerned.
"I'm full," Spike answered, watching the girl struggle. She seemed oddly familiar, but he couldn't place her.
"Well, maybe later," the Master returned. He jerked the girl out of the other vampire's grasp, spun her sharply, and sank his teeth into her throat.
The girl's terrified brown eyes fixed on Spike's face. Cordelia. Some school mate of Buffy's, as he remembered it. Worked with Angel, too.
"You know what? On second thought, I think I will take that one. If you don't mind." Spike stepped forward hurriedly.
The Master drew away from Cordelia, fangs stained with her blood, and shrugged. "Fine." Cordelia pitched forward into Spike's arms. "Plenty more where that came from."
Spike followed his gaze to a cage full of people. How had they managed to round up so many people? Right, no Slayer, and the Order of Aurelius gathered in full force. He'd have to worry about the rest of them later. And where had that urge even come from?
Spike grabbed Cordelia's arm, folded it behind her back, and clamped his arm across her chest as she glared at him. Good, he thought, the Master hadn't had more than a taste; she'd be fine. "I don't suppose you've got a room where a fella could get a little privacy, do you?" he asked, leering at Cordelia for the Master's benefit. "Eat, drink…be merry?"
The Master smirked and rubbed his hands together in amusement. "Oh, you are a creature of appetites, aren't you? We're going to get along famously."
Willow sidled in, positioning herself near the Master as she smiled at Spike. "He could use the office. There's no one in there but Puppy."
The Master nodded. "Ah, yes, and I'm sure that he would appreciate some company, wouldn't he?"
"Brilliant," Spike said, backing out of the room, into the hall.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Spike felt a sharp elbow in the stomach that sent him reeling.
"You stay away from me," Cordelia warned.
"Hello, I just saved your neck in there! Literally," Spike tossed back, rubbing his bruised side.
"Yeah, so you could gnaw on it out here? Some big favor."
"I'm not gonna bite you, you bossy cow." This is what he got for trying to do someone a favor.
"You're damn right you're not." Cordelia pulled up the hem of her dress, fumbled at one leg, and pulled out a cross and a cell phone. She thrust the cross in his face with one hand and dialed with the other.
Spike raised his hands and backed away from her.
"Larry, it's Cordelia—no, I'm okay—well, I'm not okay, exactly"—she glowered at Spike—"Where are you guys?—Thank God, I need you guys to pick me up at the Bronze. Just drive to the back entrance and I'll run out.—Thanks." She punched a button and raised the cross. "And don't you go getting any clever ideas."
"No danger of that, love. I'm fresh out of clever ideas." There was an understatement.
"So you're the new lieutenant?" Cordelia mused, sizing him up. "Not as big and bad as we all thought. No offense." She raised her eyebrows. "Or yes, actually, offense intended."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Who's 'we all'?"
Cordelia smiled grimly. "Oh, you'll know us soon enough. We're the ones who are gonna kill all of you."
White hats? Here? Now this might just be a piece of luck. Before he had a chance to press her for more information, though, he heard the squeal of tires and the sliding open of a van door. "Your ride, I believe." He stepped further away from her.
She looked at him quizzically for a moment and then bolted down the hall.
He needed a place to think, so he opened the office door and stepped inside, looking around carefully. Wasn't there supposed to be a puppy in here? Instead, as he shut the door behind him, Spike saw a prostrate figure on the floor, bulky, dark-haired, face averted.
"Oi, who's in there?"
The figure turned, his shirt falling open to reveal a trail of welts and burns across his chest.
What the hell? "Angel?"
Angel thrashed in his chains, struggled awkwardly to his feet. "Spike." He said the name as if it tasted foul in his mouth.
Seemed some things never changed. "Angel, what are you doing here?"
Angel stared at him, clenched his hands at his side. "Very funny."
Spike's irritation grew. "Yeah, well, for those of us who don't know the punch line, I'll ask again: what are you doing here? Or rather, in there?"
Angel's hard laughter ended in a spasm of coughs. When it passed, he spat blood on the floor and gazed at Spike. "So the Master's latest round of torture apparently involves irritating me to death, is that it?"
Spike glanced at Angel's wounds. "The Master did that to you?" Hadn't the Master just said that he'd lost Angelus? Spike supposed that a souled Angelus wasn't the Master's idea of family.
"Well, no, not this round. These"—Angel gestured to his chest—"are courtesy of his two latest favorites."
"Willow and Xander," Spike guessed grimly. He'd always wondered what Red would be like if she ever got a taste of the dark side. The answer was obviously pretty damn scary.
Angel nodded, searched Spike's face. "And why is it you're here, Spike? Just doing a little fact-finding, or come by to add a few of your own wounds to my collection?"
Spike took a breath. Just do it fast, like ripping off a plaster. "As much as it pains me to say it, I could actually use your help."
Angel gaped at him, his expression a mixture of disbelief and amusement. "And why would I help you? You're the Master's new second-in-command. I'd never help you."
"Listen, it's not what you think," Spike shot back. "This is all some kind of huge mistake. I made a wish to a vengeance demon—accidentally, of course—and it changed the world. Things aren't supposed to be like this."
Angel sniffed. "Surely you didn't think this up all by yourself, did you, Spike? Tell me fairytales and lull me into a false sense of security to get, what? Information? What's the agenda?"
"There is no agenda, Peaches," Spike said in frustration. "I'm trying to tell you that whatever you think you know about me, you've got it all wrong." Angel arched his eyebrows, and Spike sighed loudly. "I've changed, Angel. Hard to believe, I know, but true. I'm actually trying to make things better, here. Figure out how to make the world the way it's supposed to be."
"Okay, so say I believed that you'd actually be stupid enough to make a wish to a vengeance demon—which, incidentally, sounds totally plausible." Angel began pacing as far as the chains would allow. "What exactly is the 'real world' supposed to be like?"
At last. "Well, for starters, this isn't supposed to be the Master's town. When he rose, the Slayer killed him. Sunnydale's her town, not his."
Angel's eyes narrowed. "Buffy, here?"
Spike pounced. "You know Buffy?" When Angel looked evasive, Spike rolled his eyes. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me – you're in love with her in this reality, too? Oh, come on! How is that even possible? When did you even meet her if she never came to Sunnydale?"
"I saw her, years ago, when she was called." Angel looked lost in the memory. "I was supposed to help her. Her Watcher came here, and so did I, but she never did. She was supposed to be my destiny."
"Oh, for—" Spike resisted the urge to kick Angel's cage. For five whole seconds he resisted. At least he was learning to exercise a little control. "Your destiny? Where do you get this stuff?" Damn, his foot throbbed. "Wait a mo – did you say that Buffy's Watcher is here? Giles is somewhere in Sunnydale?"
Angel regarded him suspiciously. "You know exactly where he is. I hear you paid him a little visit at the library on your way into town last night. Tried to rough up some of his kids."
Great, what the hell had he done to Giles last night? "Listen, whoever I was last night is not who I am tonight." Spike started pacing, too.
"Is that right?"
"Yes, it's right, you idiot. Last night, I was sharing a drink, or several of them, as it turns out, with a vengeance demon!"
"You're a great help, you know?" Spike shook his head. "Maybe Giles can help me figure this out, how to get back to my reality, back to Buffy."
Angel froze. "Why would you want to get back to the Slayer, Spike? To hurt her? You think I'd help you do that?" When Spike faced him, realization dawned in Angel's eyes. "You're in love with her."
"So?" Spike shot back, petulant. "So are you."
"And in your world, you and Buffy are together?" Angel asked incredulously.
"In every way possible," Spike answered smugly. Probably not the most diplomatic answer, but he couldn't resist.
"What did you do to her? Did you turn her?" Angel accused. "You always did have that thing for Slayers."
Spike scoffed. "No, I did not turn her."
"Thrall? Do you have her under some kind of thrall?"
"It's not thrall," Spike exploded. "She's with me because she wants to be." He tried to ignore the trouble he had meeting Angel's eyes after that one.
"So I'm supposed to believe that this world isn't real, that in the real world the Slayer is your lover, and that's the world I'm supposed to help you get back to?"
"Okay, yes, it does sound somewhat unlikely when you put it like that, I'll admit. But, I swear, it's the truth. And the Slayer isn't with me because she's turned, or under thrall, or corrupted. You should see her now," he said wistfully. "She's amazing."
"So you're a changed man, Spike? Is that what you're trying to tell me?" Angel tried to cross his chained arms and gave up. A look of alarm passed over his face. "You don't have a soul, do you?"
"No, Angel, you're still the one souled vampire in all the world," Spike replied snarkily. "But I don't bite anymore. All reformed now." Sort of. Angel didn't need to know about the chip, anyway, Spike reasoned. None of his damn business.
"There's no such thing as a reformed vampire. I know our kind, what we're capable of, remember?" Angel eyed him warily. "And even if part of what you are saying is true, Spike—and I'm not saying I think it is—I'd rather suffer in this world than let Buffy be with a soulless monster in yours."
"You great prat." A bleeding broken record, this one. Always throwing himself to the lions. "What if I told you that in my world, you are the love of her life?" he blurted out. "Would that help?"
"I'm the what?" Angel came forward. "But I thought you said—"
"Look, it's complicated, okay?" Was he actually gonna be forced to spend his sojourn in Déjà Vu-ville addressing the same hurts that tortured him in his own world? What fun.
"She loves me?"
"Forget it. I don't need your help," Spike said abruptly, rubbing a hand over his face. "I can do it myself." Angel was staring at him, calculating. "What?"
"Let's say I agreed to help you. I don't know that I'd be much good in here." Angel gestured to his prison.
"Well, I'd have to break you out, wouldn't I?" Spike raised his eyebrows.
"And you'd be willing to do that?"
Spike shrugged. "Helps me get back to my world, I'm willing to do just about anything." He bent to examine the lock on the cage.
"Wait, Spike. Do they know you're in here with me?" When Spike nodded, Angel shook his head. "Then it's no good. It'll have to wait."
"Why's that, now?"
Angel sighed. "Spike, you can't be reckless and stupid here. What if you're needed to undo this wish of yours? Let me go, and they'll dust you before you have a chance to fix anything."
Angel was right, Spike realized ruefully. This was going to require some subtlety. Damn, he hated subtlety.
"How much more of that do you think you can take?" Spike asked, gesturing at the burns on Angel's chest.
"As much as I have to," Angel answered. "In the meantime, you've got to figure out how to undo this. The Watcher probably is your best bet. But you'll have to be careful there, too."
Spike nodded, then flinched when the door to the office burst open.
Willow and a crew of minions, back from hunting and complete with victims. Great.
"Look what I found," Willow said, proudly displaying her prize.
She was softer and rounder and blonder than Spike had ever seen her, but there was no mistaking a very human, very terrified Tara.
"I just love Early Admissions Campus Weekend at UC Sunnydale. The out-of-towners are always so careless." Willow smiled cruelly. "There really ought to be something in the orientation packets about staying in your room after dark. Wouldn't that have been helpful to know?" When Tara remained silent, Willow slapped her. "I said, wouldn't that have been helpful to know?"
"Yes," Tara whispered.
"See, that wasn't so hard."
Spike glanced at Angel, hoped he wouldn't misinterpret what was coming.
"Here, now. Let's see what you've got there, Wil." Spike circled Tara, tried to look as predatory as possible. It wasn't difficult – it was instinct. "Yes, I think she'll do nicely."
"No way, Spike. She's mine." Willow ran a finger possessively down the side of Tara's face. "She looks like she'd be all kinds of fun to play with."
"Exactly," Spike said, giving Willow a hard shove. "And I'm gonna be the one to play with her, not you."
"No fair, Spike," Willow whined.
"Be a good girl, Willow," Spike drawled. "Go play with your puppy instead."
Angel stared at him, nodded imperceptibly. Spike had been a whipping boy long enough to recognize the signs – they'd beat and torment Angel, but they wouldn't kill him; Angel was too much fun to get rid of. And if he could take it, then so could Angel.
"Fine," Willow exhaled grumpily. "Whatever." She brightened when she turned to Angel. "Where did we put the matches, Puppy?"
Spike led Tara down the hall, found an empty room, and stood by the door, making sure no one had followed them. He turned to find Tara staring at him, her arms clasped around her waist as she trembled slightly.
"What are you going to do to me?" she asked.
"Nothing, sweet, I promise. I just needed to get you away from the others."
Her eyes were wide, unconvinced. "But you're one of them, right?"
"No. I mean, yes, I am. But I'm different, Tara, and I'll keep you safe." He jammed his hands in his pockets, tried to assume as non-threatening a pose as he could.
"How do you know my name?"
"Long bloody story." He sighed. "I'm gonna need you to take a few things on faith, here, but believe me when I say that I won't hurt you."
She studied him, and he felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny of her gaze. "I do believe you."
"Yeah? Best news I've had all night." A thought suddenly occurred to him. The chronology, the things he'd heard, it didn't seem to jibe. "What day is it?"
She looked confused. "It's Tuesday."
"No, the date. What's the date?"
"Um, December 8th. 1998. Why?"
Spike's mind reeled. What in the hell had Anya done? He hadn't said anything about going back in time, had he?
"Are you okay?" Tara asked hesitantly.
"About as far from it as possible, actually," he said grimly. He closed his eyes, felt for dawn in the distance. "We've got a couple hours before sunrise yet. I can't let you leave until then. Send you out there now, good chance of you getting picked up by more of the Master's flunkies. Whole damn town is apparently lousy with them. No, if you wait until sunrise, you'll be fine."
Her brow creased. "Are you a good vampire?" she asked.
"What I am is an idiot vampire." But maybe the break he was looking for was right in front of him. "Tara, are you practicing yet?"
"Practicing?" she echoed.
"Magicks, Tara," he said patiently. "Have you started doing spells yet?"
"How do you— You can tell I'm a Wicca?"
"Part of the long story. Say someone made a wish to a vengeance demon that he needed to have undone—what do you reckon would be the first step?" His first impulse had been to scream for Anya, perhaps stamp his foot for extra emphasis, but somehow he doubted the efficacy of a tantrum. Might have made him feel better, though.
Tara looked thoughtful. "Summoning the demon, I guess. Why? Is that what you did…" She trailed off. "I don't know your name."
"It's Spike, and yeah, that's what I did. The world is a big, bloody mess, and it's pretty much all my fault." He glanced at her. "Well, not AIDS or world hunger or the reality TV craze – I didn't do any of that. But I totally cocked up plenty of other things. The world isn't supposed to be like this."
She considered his words. "Which demon? I mean, who did you make the wish to?"
"Anya. Anyanka," he corrected.
Tara pursed her lips, confused. "But isn't Anyanka the patron avenger of scorned women?" He opened his mouth, but she finished for him. "Let me guess, part of the long story?"
Spike nodded. "Do you think you could summon her for me?" he asked hopefully.
"I could. I mean, theoretically. But some summoning spells are tricky; they usually require specialized ingredients. Even if I knew the correct incantation, I'd need supplies."
Damn. "Of course." He sat down, discouraged. He'd have to try to find Giles and pray that the Watcher would give him a chance to explain instead of just dusting him.
"I could come back." Tara's voice caught him by surprise. "Later. I could get a spell book, gather the ingredients, come back here to you."
"Why would you do that?"
"Maybe I want to help you change this world." Her eyes were suddenly shining. "My mother just died, and maybe, if I help you, I could get her back."
"I'm sorry, pet, but I don't think it will work like that." He remembered once hearing Tara talking quietly with Dawn about losing her mom when she was 17. Apparently even a time-warped alternative universe hadn't changed that.
She digested his words, and her shoulders slumped in resignation. "We're close, you and I? In your world, I mean?"
"Why would you think that?" Spike asked cautiously.
Tara shook her head. "Just a feeling. Something in your aura." She seemed to come to a decision. "I will come back and help you."
"I can't let you do that, Glinda." A ghost of a smile flitted across her lips at the nickname. "It's too dangerous. Besides, I've actually just come up with a better idea. I need you to find someone for me. Name of Rupert Giles. He's the librarian at Sunnydale High School. You ought to be able to track him down there, or at his flat." Provided he even lived in the same building, Spike thought. He gave her the addresses for both and watched her mentally file them away. Maybe if Giles knew he was coming he might be more inclined to ask questions first and stake later.
"What should I tell him, this Mr. Giles, when I find him?"
"I need you to set up a meeting with him for me, tomorrow night in the school library, half an hour after sundown." He stared at her intently. "You give him that message, and then you get out of town, Tara. Go home and let me take care of the rest."
"No." Before he could object, she plunged on. "What if Mr. Giles tries to kill you on sight?" She shook her head again. "No, I'll stay and make sure you have a chance to explain."
He wanted to decline her offer but realized it might be the only way Giles would hear him out. "Thanks." He read the exhaustion on her face. No wonder, given the night she'd had. "Why don't you try to get some rest? Close your eyes a bit before dawn." He suddenly felt self-conscious. It was one thing that she trusted him, but who was going to nap in a room with a vampire? "If you'd rather not—close your eyes, I mean—I'll understand. No offense taken."
She smiled faintly, touched his hand hesitantly, and then seemed almost surprised at her own boldness and pulled her fingers away quickly. "I'd like to rest. Thank you, Spike."
He had a hard time swallowing past the sudden lump in his throat, so he just nodded. He'd find a way to make this right. For Tara, for Buffy, for himself. He had to.
Patience had never been one of his strong suits. Tara had gone hours ago, and Spike had tried to rest after, but it was no good. He felt jittery, hopped up, and desperately wanted this all to be over. Didn't want to have to wake up again and remember what a mess he'd made. Sunset couldn't come soon enough for him.
The place was quiet now, and Spike wondered if it might be an opportune moment to break Angel out of his cage. He'd be stuck inside until sunset, too, but then Angel could make a run for it. At least it would give Spike something to do until it was time to meet Giles.
He edged down the hall toward the office quietly, but he needn't have worried. The place was silent as the grave. Literally. Which was the reason the sudden voice at his shoulder caused him to nearly jump out of skin.
"Yeah, Angelus is fun to play with, isn't he?" Xander set the awkwardly-shaped wooden package he was carrying down next to him on the floor. "Sorry I missed your welcome home party," he smirked. "I hear it was quite the shindig."
Spike studied Xander, whose vampire sartorial style, like Willow's, apparently ran along the lines of Leatherpalooza. Hard to wrap his mind around Harris as a vampire. He could scarcely believe Anya'd done this. Maybe she was somewhere regretting it right now, and she'd put everything… No good thinking like that, Spike told himself firmly. He wasn't going to wait around for Anya to save his ass. No, he'd gotten himself into this mess, and he'd get himself out.
Spike jerked his finger toward the office door. "Unfinished business with grandsire. And where have you been?"
Xander smiled, cold and hard. "Looks like me and my crew are a little late on getting your surprise here, but as they always say, better late than never."
Spike's eyebrows quirked up in a study of curiosity. "My surprise?"
Xander leaned forward conspiratorially. "Aw, what the hell. Might as well tell you." He gestured down the hall. "Better yet, I'll show you." He hoisted his wooden box onto his shoulder, and Spike followed with a growing sense of apprehension.
"The Master's been working on this since he heard you were coming," Xander continued. "Had a helluva time trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Looked for a while there like we weren't going to get the last piece, what with it being in the Slayer's backyard." He glanced at Spike. "Well, not her actual backyard, but you know, her territory."
"Yeah, yeah, I got it. But you managed to get this whatever-it-is away from the Slayer?" If Xander had laid so much as a finger on Buffy, Spike would personally shove that entire wooden box he was carrying through Xander's heart.
Xander smirked. "Snatched up her Watcher. Told her we'd give him back if she coughed up this baby." Xander patted the box on his shoulder lovingly.
"You worked out a trade with her?"
"Yeah, not so much. I mean, we gave her the old man, but he was just a little less alive than when we grabbed him. Actually, a lot less alive. Man, was she pissed." Xander's lips curved upward at the memory.
"You killed her Watcher?" All fangs and no brains, this one. Considering it was Harris, that probably shouldn't have come as a great surprise. "But won't that bring her here, mightily brassed off and looking for vengeance?"
"Yup, I guess it will."
Xander looked so pleased with himself that Spike had to struggle to keep from knocking the grin off his face. "Good plan."
"The Master knew you'd want to see her go down. Told us all that Slayers are your thing." Xander actually made air-quotes around the word "thing," and Spike decided that even though the Xander in his reality was a tosser, he wasn't nearly as irritating as this asshole. Who would have guessed that he'd miss Xander?
"Yeah, that'll be fun," Spike answered absently. "Me kicking her ass."
Xander shook his head, a child with a secret. "That's just it. You won't have to. That's what this is for." Xander lowered the box and opened a door in front of him, gestured into the shadows. "Big Blue will take her out. And then we'll kill them all."
Bloody hell. That's why that package looked so damn familiar. It was the Judge's arm.
So the Master had reassembled the Judge, and the grand activation was set for later that night. Well, the Master had said that he had big plans. What was next? Were they going to dig up Acathla, too, for bonus death and mayhem? 'Cause that would just make this blast from the past completely "Twilight Zone."
His mind reeling, Spike hurried through the new darkness, so new that it didn't even really qualify as darkness yet. When he'd left Xander, it was close enough to sunset that he decided to just go ahead and set out for the library. He didn't have as much time as he'd have liked anyway; they would all wonder about him if he missed Papa Smurf's coming out party at the Bronze. Here was hoping he could get Giles to listen to reason quickly.
His footsteps echoed eerily down the school hallway, already empty despite the early hour. No Drama Club meetings or band rehearsals or swim practices for Sunnydale High. It looked as though everyone had scattered before the final bell of the day even stopped ringing.
Well, not everyone. He saw the soft glow of light under the library doors and steeled himself. He leaned into the wall next to the door hinges and used the toe of his boot to push open the door gingerly and call in a greeting. No arrows flew out, so he considered that a good sign.
In the movies at moments like this, they yelled, "Don't shoot!"; however, a gun was the least of his problems, and a loud "Don't stake!" didn't have the same ring to it. Instead, Spike edged into the doorway, hands held palms up in supplication.
"Stay where you are." Giles—a thinner, more heavily stubbled Giles—held a crossbow steadily in his hands while Tara stood unhappily by his side. Giles's eyes were cool, appraising, and, to Spike's relief, seemed to be undecided. The rest of the assembly—pitiful lot though they were—held holy water, crosses, and either stakes or blades. Damn. Spike realized he'd been hoping there were more of them.
Spike nodded once and froze. Best not to make any sudden moves.
"He's the one who paid us a visit a few nights ago, sniffing around the perimeter." Spike didn't recognize the speaker, a big, beefy blond kid who looked none too happy about Spike's presence on his turf.
"And," Cordelia said, stepping forward, "he's the one I got away from last night."
Spike suddenly found a few more crossbows trained on his chest. "Got away from?" he echoed incredulously. "I let you go."
"Yeah, and that had nothing to do with the big cross I shoved in your face?"
Spike sighed. "We don't become mute in the presence of crosses, love." At her blank expression, he continued, "If I was so keen on having you, why didn't I shout out to a couple of minions for help? Your lone cross wouldn't have stood up to all of us."
Cordelia tried to mask her confusion with irritation. "Oh."
"You are William the Bloody, known as Spike, yes?" Giles interrupted, clinical, business-like.
Spike saw Council tomes and other volumes of vampire lore spread out on the nearby tables. They'd obviously been doing a little homework while they waited for him. "Yeah, I am, but I also used to be really good at self-promotion – most of the stuff you'd find in those books isn't true." Giles raised an eyebrow. "Well, yes, some of it is, but I'm different now. I've changed."
"So we've heard," Giles replied coolly. Spike couldn't stop comparing this kind of Mad Max version of Giles to his own Giles; he didn't know which was scarier. "This girl has told us quite a tale about you."
Spike glanced at Tara. "Are you okay, Glinda?"
"I'm fine, Spike," she said and blossomed under his attention like a flower, his champion and defender.
Giles watched the exchange between the two of them with interest, almost in spite of himself. The girl had submitted to repeated tests. They had laid a cross on her forehead (or Cordelia had, and more than once) and performed a number of spells to reveal thrall. But she wasn't a vampire and did not appear to be under any sort of evil influence or mind control. Giles didn't doubt that the girl was telling the truth, so far as she understood it. The question was whether the vampire was.
Giles found Spike's eyes on him, and he cleared his throat awkwardly. "You must admit, this story of yours sounds preposterous."
"Does it?" Spike asked wearily. "Have you ever woken up, Rupert, and just felt—known—deep-down that the world isn't supposed to be like this?"
He had, of course. He'd come to Sunnydale full of anticipation and youthful enthusiasm and waited for his Slayer to arrive. Only she hadn't, and everything had felt wrong ever since.
"If you've ever felt like that, even once, then give me a chance. We can figure out how to make things right." Spike shoved his hands deep into his pockets and waited.
"Not to be all Annoying Logic Guy here, but shouldn't we see if he's got any proof that what he's saying is true?"
The voice belonged to a short redhead that Spike knew he'd seen before. Red's mongrel—the wolf. What was his name? Oz.
Spike sighed in frustration. "Yeah, the thing is, when you wish the world into an alternate universe, there tends not to be any evidence. Everything's just gone that way." Spike's fingers brushed something smooth and glossy in his pocket—thank God, he could do with a fag right about now.
But it wasn't a box of Marlboro Reds he'd found, and he knew it. He drew the photos out of his pocket slowly, reverently. He'd actually forgotten they were there. A picture of Dawn and Joyce and Buffy on the front porch on a sunny spring day after the surgery. Another of Dawn and Buffy taken on Dawn's first birthday without her mother. And the last, and most recent, addition: a picture of himself and Buffy at her own birthday party just a few weeks before.
Tara had taken the photo. She'd been all sly-boots that night, like she knew a juicy secret, and she'd snapped the picture while neither of them were looking. Miracle of miracles, the picture actually caught Buffy smiling at something he'd said, which of course made him light up like a Christmas tree full of candles. After the picture mysteriously turned up at the crypt the weekend after the party, it rapidly became one of Spike's most prized possessions.
"Wait," he said. "I have these." He laid the photos out carefully on the nearest table.
Cordelia peered at them, wrinkling her nose. "Who's the bottle blond?"
"Buffy Summers, the Slayer," Giles supplied, turning to rifle through his pile of books and papers until he pulled out a file folder dossier on his intended charge. "Or, at least someone who looks very much like Buffy. But this girl is clearly quite a bit older than Buffy is." Giles pointed to his only picture of Buffy, a yearbook photo in which she was no more than 15.
"Yeah, your picture is out of date. Buffy's older than you think. Not to go all Michael J. Fox on you, but I come from the future."
"Hmmm." Giles knew that Spike's mate, Drusilla, had been notoriously mad; perhaps Spike wasn't in his right mind, either. The trouble was that he didn't exactly behave like a raving lunatic. "And the girl with her?" he queried at last.
"Buffy's sister. And that there's her mum." Spike pointed.
Giles removed his glasses, held them loosely in his hand as he contemplated Spike. "The Slayer has no sister."
Spike's stomach dropped. Shit, he'd completely erased Dawn. He couldn't think about that now, or he'd probably go to pieces. He just had to concentrate on trying to explain. "It's complicated, Giles. Dawn's not your average kid sis. She was mystical energy made human by a bunch of brown-robe types, sent to Buffy so that the Slayer could protect her from a skanky hell god."
"You realize that that explanation, not really helping your cause." Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest.
"Wait, I know that house," someone broke in, grabbing the picture of all three Summers women together. "My best friend used to live across the street. On Revello."
"Yeah, I know Revello," the big blond kid said. "You're right. But that block doesn't even exist anymore, remember? We firebombed it last year after everyone left and that nest of vamps set up shop in the house on the corner."
"Uh, guys, forget the address. Look at the date the film was developed." Oz held up the picture of Spike and Buffy and indicated the orange stamp in the corner: 15 Feb '02.
"Could be faked, right?" Cordelia looked to the others for affirmation.
Spike's brow furrowed. "I'm barely computer literate. Word is a challenge for me – no way I could figure out the photo-editing software to fake something like this."
"Wait, you've got computers that can do this?" Oz interrupted. "Wow."
"My PhotoShop stuff looks like cave drawings next to this." A dark-haired girl held the photograph up to the light to take a closer look.
Spike was exasperated. "Hello, we're getting off track here – I said it's not computer-generated!"
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Yeah, this computer stuff is all really fascinating. If you're pathetic and have absolutely no life. Actually, I was referring to magickal faking. A spell?"
"It's not a spell. It's real." Tara stepped forward. "Acclaro," she said, waving her hand in the direction of the picture of Spike and Buffy.
"To reveal," Giles translated. He glanced at the unchanged photograph and slipped his glasses on to study the picture carefully. The date was only part of what got his attention. Finally, he came to a decision. "Start at the beginning, with the wish, and don't leave any details out."
"So it seems to me that we've got two choices here, providing this is even really true." Larry was the first to speak when Spike came to the end of his recitation, and his tone that made it obvious that he wasn't entirely convinced as to the veracity of Spike's tale. "We can either try to undo this vengeance wish, or we can figure out how we're going to stop this Judge guy." He regarded Spike with suspicion. "I vote for the latter."
"But if we just undo the wish, then no one has to worry about the Judge." Explaining the wish and its aftermath had taken longer than he'd anticipated—they kept interrupting him with questions—and Spike felt at the end of his tether.
"Wait. There are a few things about all of this that I still don't understand." That was Nancy; at least Spike thought that was Nancy.
"A few things?" Cordelia snorted.
Nancy continued, "I don't get why you're so desperate for things to go back to the way they were before. You're a vampire. What do you care if the world is wrong? There are still plenty of people to eat here, aren't there?"
"That's really not the point, pet. Not for me, at least." Spike's stomach picked that unfortunate moment to rumble loudly. God, he was famished. He hadn't had anything since that pint before the whiskey-fest two nights ago. He looked around, saw the uneasiness in everyone's faces. "What?"
"It's the growling stomach," Oz said. "Costs you credibility points."
"Yeah, well, I've been a little too busy trying to figure my way out of this mess to head to the corner market for a gallon of pig's blood," Spike said peevishly.
"Eww," Cordelia sniffed disdainfully. "Wait, why are you drinking pig's blood? What, I'm not good enough for you?" she asked indignantly.
Spike rolled his eyes. There was a woman for you – you were damned if you did and damned if you didn't. "I don't drink human anymore. I can't."
"What do you mean you can't? You haven't bitten anyone since you've been here?" Giles asked.
"Not since I've been here, Rupert, and not for a long time before that. No point. Another long story short: thanks to Uncle Sam, I've got a behavioral modification chip shoved up my brain that prevents it – I'm as harmless as a kitten now. Can't bite, can't even harm a living thing."
Giles's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "That may be the case in your world, yes. Did the Slayer have something to do with this chip?" Spike nodded slowly. Without Buffy, he never would have come back to Sunnydale and run into the Initiative. "But the Slayer never came here, and that made everything different, correct? You may, in fact, find yourself restored to your former state." He looked at Spike intently. "It never occurred to you to check?"
"No, I guess it didn't." Why the hell hadn't he checked? It was the chip, Spike reasoned. Operant conditioning. He was like Pavlov's miserable cur after all the years with the chip. Sure, he still had the thoughts but knowing he couldn't act on them meant that they died before he even really had the chance to entertain them. That and the stress of being stuck in Bizarro World would knock anyone off his pins. He certainly wasn't growing a bloody soul. Couldn't just magically have that one thing that would suddenly restore him to personhood to the gang back in his reality. To Buffy.
Still, it sent his mind reeling to realize that he'd never even tried to bite someone. That he'd never even thought to try. And now that he did think of it, he had no urge to try out the chip on Giles or his people.
Spike lifted his eyes to find Giles watching him. The Watcher's expression was undecipherable. "We, ah, obviously don't have any blood on hand here. Can you make do without?"
"I don't suppose you have any raw meat down in the caff?" Spike asked hopefully. "If I just had a little something, it would at least take the edge off."
Giles looked puzzled. "I wasn't aware that vampires were able to process anything other than their, um, liquid diet. You can eat solid food?" When Spike nodded, Giles turned to several of his students. "Larry, can you go to the cafeteria and see if there's anything that might be suitable? Oz, perhaps you could go as well?"
"Ta, Rupert," Spike said, as the two turned silently and left.
"What are you?" Giles asked suddenly.
"What do you mean?" Spike was startled. Hadn't they just covered all of this?
"Do you have a soul?"
"No, I don't have a soul," Spike answered. He was surprised at how much that admission stuck in his throat for some reason. He didn't even want a ruddy soul – that was Angel's shtick. God, he was going soft here, thinking he could actually be someone in their eyes. What was that all about? Probably delirium from the hunger.
"Then I'm afraid I don't understand," Giles said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "There's nothing in the Council's resources to even suggest that you, the way you are, is even possible." He fell silent. "A conscience of some sort, perhaps?"
"Oh, yeah, I've got a conscience all right. Her name's Buffy." He'd meant it as a joke, but it hadn't come off well, and now Giles and Tara were both staring at him hard, as if they could see inside him. Spike tried to laugh, but that too faltered, and suddenly he felt like a bug under the microscope. "What can I say? I've never been one for following the rules. Always had to be different."
They were interrupted by the return of Larry and Oz from the cafeteria, the latter carrying a large, foil-wrapped pan. He let the pan drop with a thud on the table in front of Spike. "Tomorrow's Meatloaf Surprise, all ready to be popped in the oven. Best we could do." The foil had been peeled back from one corner, and Spike saw blood gathered in the corners of the pan.
"God, they don't even drain the meat," Cordelia said disgustedly. "I knew it."
"Here, we drained the blood from a couple of the other pans, too." Larry put down a glass before Spike, about one-third full.
Spike's eyes stung mysteriously, and he realized with horror that there were tears burning behind his eyes. He would not cry over bloody Meatloaf Surprise, for Christ's sake. Just because this Giles and these kids treated him better than the Scoobies did most of the time was no reason to have a damn breakdown. Instead, Spike just nodded, drank off the glass in a single draught, and set about scooping up a little of the raw beef.
"How do we really know things are so much better in your world?" It was Nancy again. Damn, she was sharp. "I mean, things are better for you there. I guess that's why you want to go back. But what about the rest of us? Are we really better off in your world?"
Spike swallowed carefully before speaking. "I don't know," he answered truthfully. "These four I know"—he pointed out Tara, Giles, Cordelia, and Oz—"and I know that their lives are better there. The rest of you, I can't say." He met Nancy's eyes. "But I like your chances a lot better there than here. That's the truth."
"I think we should do the summoning spell," Tara said quietly. "To call Anyanka."
Giles held his breath and waited. He'd come to that decision himself, but he didn't want to force it on the others. It had to be everyone's choice.
"I agree," Oz seconded. "What about everyone else?"
One by one, each hand raised until only Cordelia's hand remained down. "Fine, fine," she said, waving her hand. "Things can't get any worse, right?"
It didn't take them long to assemble the proper spell book and the necessary ingredients—apparently Giles had a mini-Magic Box here in the library—and they all stood around the cauldron as he and Tara began the spell.
"Oh, Anyanka," Giles intoned loudly, "I beseech thee. In the name of all women scorned, come before me." He looked up from his text at Tara, his brow furrowed. "Perhaps I should have let you do the incantation."
A blinding white shaft of light and a column of smoke brought the demon before them. She turned slowly and eyed them imperiously. "Who dares summon the great Anyanka?"
Spike's eyes goggled. "Halfrek?! What the hell are you doing here?"
Halfrek brought a hand to her hair and self-consciously fluffed her curls. "William?"
"Where's Anya?" Spike barked in exasperation. God, he really didn't want to deal with Halfrek right now.
She ignored his question. "Good to see you again. As always. Your manners really have taken a turn for the worse in the last century or so, though."
"Oh, do forgive me," Spike returned with grossly exaggerated civility. "Everyone, Halfrek. Halfrek, everyone."
"Listen, I can see that you still have issues about that whole London thing, William, and I do feel badly about that. Really I do. But I was undercover, working! I couldn't afford to hold the hand of some love-struck poet when there were so many neglected and ill-treated children to help." Spike was staring at her, dumbfounded, so she just plunged on. "You just have no idea how shockingly terrible Victorian parents were—"
"Enough!" Spike exploded, and Halfrek took a step backward. "Listen, you silly bint, this is not about us! I'm trying to get in touch with Anya, you know, the one whose calls you're apparently answering these days."
"Oh." Halfrek sighed heavily. "Anya's 'recuperating'"—she said it with air-quotes—"in the Gravlak dimension. Let's just overlook the fact that if she weren't D'Hoffryn's pet she be in Arashmahar, chained to a rock, having her liver picked at by a Hajnar right this very minute, and I could get back to the children instead of doing her job." She clasped her hands together dramatically. "All of the poor children—"
Spike shook his head. "Once more, Halfrek. With clarity this time."
"Anya broke the two most important rules of the vengeance demon's code with that little stunt the two of you pulled." She spoke to him slowly now, like he was a child or a simpleton. She ticked off the rules on her fingers. "We're not allowed to alter the linear progression of time in this dimension, and we're never, ever supposed to grant wishes while drunk."
"Oh, oh! Like the way you can't get a tattoo if you're plastered?" Cordelia asked suddenly, and Halfrek nodded.
"Well, actually, that depends on which tattoo parlor you go to," Oz interjected thoughtfully.
Giles stepped forward, shaking his head. "If we can stay on task, please?" He turned to Halfrek. "Anyanka is being punished for what she's done?"
"Well, that's just what I'm getting at," Halfrek answered, clearly annoyed. "She ought to be on the receiving end of some serious torture right now, but D'Hoffryn sent her to Gravlak to 'rest' instead. Hello, the place is the demon version of a country club! I hear they've got well-muscled and scantily-clad male demons serving refreshing tonics down by the mud pits and offering daily massages." Her voice trailed off wistfully. "She always could get away with anything wherever D'Hoffryn was concerned."
"Focus, Halfrek." Spike's patience was worn thin. "How can I get hold of Anya at this stud farm D'Hoffryn's stashed her at?"
Halfrek snorted. "Well, you can't, silly. That's the whole point. D'Hoffryn thinks that Anya needs a little private time to get herself back in order, so he's sent her to a communication-free dimension."
Spike paled. "For how long?"
"Oh, who knows? Days? Weeks? Time moves differently there. Or so I'm told." Halfrek sniffed bitterly.
Shit. Why did everything have to be so damn difficult? Spike tried to relax his face, gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry I'm being such a prat, Hallie. It's just that I'm kind of out of my element here. I've made a mess of everything."
She gave him a funny look. "But isn't this what you wanted?"
"No. I mean, it's what I said I wanted, but I was drunk at the time, too. Forgot I was talking to a vengeance demon. You girls can be so attractive." He smiled winningly at her. "I don't suppose you could help an old, ah, friend out of a jam, could you?"
"You can stop buttering me up, William," Halfrek said stiffly. "I can't undo another demon's vengeance. It's rule #4."
Spike grimaced, dropping the pretense. "Great. That's just great. When you see Anya, will you give her a message for me? Will you tell her to GET HER ASS DOWN HERE?!"
"You don't have to shout," Halfrek said peevishly. She looked over his shoulder at the assemblage in the library. "How are you kids, huh? Anybody having any trouble at home?" She glanced at Spike's murderous expression. "What? I just figured that while I was here…"
"I think we'll just let you get back to your other work," Giles said smoothly, maneuvering himself between the demon and the vampire. "Thank you for your help."
Halfrek shrugged. "Fine with me." With a dramatic flourish of her arms, she was gone.
"I can't believe this," Spike mumbled to himself. This was not happening.
Spike looked so stricken that Giles felt moved to pat him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Not to worry, I'm sure we'll find some way to fix it."
The door behind them swung open, and everyone turned to watch the newcomer stalk forward in heavy combat boots.
"Looks like it's your lucky day," the girl said. "I happen to be an expert at fixing things, if, you know, by fixing you actually mean killing."
Spike's mouth fell open as he took her in. "You're—"
"Yeah, I'm Buffy. The Vampire Slayer. Who the hell are you?"
Spike stared at Buffy, gobsmacked. This was not the same girl he’d watched dancing with Willow and Xander in the Bronze all those years ago. That California golden girl had been replaced by a half-goth warrior chick in tank top and cargo pants. Her gaze was cool and flat as he stared into her dark-rimmed eyes and visually traced the scar that ran from just under her nose to the top of her chin.
“Miss Summers?” Giles stepped between them. “Rupert Giles.”
“Right. Giles. My Watcher mentioned you.” Her mouth tightened, and she flicked her heavy braid over her shoulder. “He told me, anything ever happened to him, I should find you. Lucky for me, you happen to be in the same town as the people who did him, so two birds, one stone.”
“I’m very sorry about Vernon.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t believe in sorry. I believe in getting even.” She scanned her surroundings. “So this it, huh? This is your crew?”
“Yes, these are my students.”
“Hmmm, not exactly Slayer material, are they? Guess that’s gotta be a bit of a disappointment for you.”
“Hey!” Cordelia said, her hands on her hips. “We do the best we can.”
“Uh-huh,” Buffy moved around Giles and stood in front of Spike. “And what about you? What do they call you, sailor?”
It took him a few seconds to find his voice. He was having trouble dealing with the reality of her, this Buffy he’d created. “Spike.”
“Well, that’s nice and phallic, isn’t it?” Her gaze sharpened suddenly as she stepped closer to him. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.” She threw a glance over her shoulder at Giles as she pulled out a stake. “And here I thought you all were the good guys.”
“Wait! It’s not what you think.”
Buffy pressed the tip of the stake into Spike’s chest. “Really? ‘Cause what I’m thinking is that good guys don’t hang out with vampires.”
Tara raised a hand, and the stake clattered to the floor.
“Now, see, I wouldn’t have guessed you had that in you,” Buffy said, glancing in Tara’s direction, her eyes flinty. “I bet you’d be real handy to have around in a fight.” She crossed her arms, turned her attention back to Giles. “Someone gonna tell me what’s going on here?”
“It’s rather complicated, and somewhat hard to believe,” Giles began. “But this world is apparently an alternate reality, and Spike is actually a good vampire.”
Buffy nodded thoughtfully for a moment before letting out a short, almost maniacal burst of laughter. “Oh, that’s a good one,” she said, turning to Spike. “Just how exactly did you manage that?”
“No, really, it’s true,” Cordelia said, confidently. “Spike doesn’t hurt anyone anymore, and he helps people now. He’s one of the good guys. Well, except for that whole thing about getting drunk with some vengeance demon, bitching about his world’s version of you, and creating an alternative universe where everybody’s lives suck. See, he’s not bad, just kind of a dumbass.”
“Cordelia, don’t help me,” Giles broke in, putting a restraining hand on Spike’s arm as the vampire moved forward menacingly. “I know you’re probably familiar with Spike’s history, Miss Summers, and that it might influence you negatively, but we have good reason to believe that he’s telling us the truth about his being, ah, reformed and about coming from a future reality different than ours.”
Buffy stared. “And just why is it I would be familiar with Spike’s history?”
“Surely you’ve read about him in your studies.”
“Oh, yeah, about that. I don’t read all that Council crap. Me, I figure homework would be pointless. Think I’ve got things pretty much figured out.” She began ticking points off on her fingers. “See a vampire, kill it. See a demon, kill it. See an apocalypse coming, stop it. What else is there that I really have to know?”
Giles looked shocked. “Well, a great deal, actually.”
“How about you give me the books-on-tape version? Hit the highlights? You worry about alternate realities, and I’ll keep saving the world in the here and now.”
Giles goggled at her, and Spike took the opportunity to interrupt. “Rupert, I’ve gotta get back for the Judge’s coming out party. You’ll fill her in?”
Giles seemed to shake himself and nodded. He reached behind him and held out Spike’s pictures. “Don’t forget your photographs.”
Cordelia grabbed at them before Spike did. “I forgot! We have proof that Spike is from the future or the beyond or whatever. Here’s a picture of the two of you together, and you look pretty happy.”
“I’m not so sure that’s the best idea,” Giles began, but Buffy snatched the pictures, staring first at the picture of herself and Dawn and then of herself and Spike. She shuffled the photos again and inhaled sharply.
“Start explaining right now why you’ve got a picture of my mother. What is this, some kind of sick vampire stalker thing?” Her voice crackled with fury.
“No,” Spike answered. “I—”
“Wait a minute. Let’s say I buy whatever story it is you’re selling – so, what, my mother is alive where you come from?” Spike watched as her whole face rearranged itself into an expression of desperate hopefulness, and for the first time since she’d strutted in, he could finally see a glimpse of the woman he loved looking out of this girl’s eyes. “Answer me!” Her hand tightened on his arm, and he winced.
“You’ve lost your mother?” Giles interrupted gently.
Buffy gave him a withering glare. “I didn’t ‘lose’ her. She was taken from me by a couple of sick, soulless monsters. Demons. A couple of years ago, right after we got to Cleveland.” She released Spike abruptly. “But she’s okay here, in whatever World of Tomorrow place you’re from?” Buffy held up the picture.
What was he supposed to tell her? That she’d kept her mother safe from the forces of darkness only to have Joyce’s own body betray her? Would that exorcise any of her personal demons? He glanced at her and closed his eyes against the raw grief he saw on her face.
“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Already the emotion was sliding out of her eyes as her jaw tightened in resignation. “You do it?”
“I would never have hurt your mum. Had nothing but respect for her. It was a brain tumor.” He watched her try to digest the news. “Didn’t hurt, the medics said. It happened fast, and she never knew.” He lowered his voice. “It wasn’t you. You protected her.”
She stared at him, the whiteness of her knuckles as she gripped a chair her only visible reaction to his words.
Spike turned to Giles. He’d almost forgotten the others were still standing there.
“Perhaps Miss Summers could hold on to that photo for a while?”
“Don’t need it,” she said sharply. “I’ve got my own pictures of my mother.”
Spike stepped away from her, pretended to study the clock with concern. “Just keep it. I’ve gotta go now.” She shrugged casually, but the care with which she slid the photos into her pocket didn’t escape his notice. He glanced at Giles. “I’ll send Angel to you as soon as I can.”
Spike evaded the Master’s sentries as he approached the Bronze and decided to make straight for the office. Best to spring Angel before anyone knew he was back. Plus, he wanted to concentrate on a little something that might take his mind off Buffy, or, more accurately, the Buffys, plural. The rather sizable flaw in his plan, of course, was that time spent with Angel was unlikely to shake the thought of her out of his brain.
When he found the hallway leading to the office empty, he opened the door and slipped inside.
“Ready to fly the coop?”
Angel started forward with a rattle of chains. “Did anyone see you come in here?”
“I do know how to do sneaky, thanks. Taught to be so by a right bastard who’d beat me bloody if I was ever followed, remember?”
Angel made no reply, and Spike started work on picking the lock to the cell. His skills were a little rusty, but at least he’d had that little B&E business with Dawn at the Magic Box the year before to reacquaint him with the basic moves. He made a triumphant noise as the door swung open.
Spike snorted as he started to work on Angel’s handcuffs. “Concerned about me? That’s gotta be some kind of a first. I’m touched.”
The lock on the wrist bracelets popped open, and Angel rubbed at his newly-freed flesh. “It’s just— It looks like you’ve got a lot on your mind.”
“Guess I do.” Spike knelt and set about undoing Angel’s ankle chains. “Buffy’s here.” He sighed at Angel’s failed attempt to smother his delight. “Calm down. She’s… different. Better give her a wide berth.”
“What do you mean, ‘different’?”
Spike kept his eyes on his work. “I mean that I think this Buffy is not the girl you’re expecting her to be. She’s not the girl I’m used to. This one’s lost her mum to demons, got no friends, no sister, dead Watcher. It’s like she’s cut off from all the things that keep her grounded in my world. Or used to, anyway.”
“So save the girl.”
Spike shot Angel a look of surprise. “What?”
“Don’t give up on finding a way out of this mess. You said it yourself – you made this world. It’s up to you to make amends.”
Spike looked away. “Making amends is your gig. Not my style.”
“Then what are you doing here, Spike? If you weren’t trying to make things better for her, for everyone, you certainly wouldn’t be setting me free, would you?”
Spike’s eyebrow quirked up. “Good point.” He sat back on his heels. “We’re not having a civil conversation here, are we?”
“No,” Angel scoffed. "I’ve just been in this cage so long, I’m delirious.”
The door opened, and a minion—the one who was supposed to guarding the office, if Spike’s memory served—took one flustered look at Spike on his knees in front of Angel before starting to back out with an apologetic, “Uh, sorry, Spike, I didn’t mean to interrupt, uh, whatever you’re doing.”
Spike shot him a look that was equal parts disgust and incredulity. “Oh, for— Get in here and shut the door behind you.”
Angel’s jailer closed the door but kept his distance. “Yeah, I heard a few of you older members of the Order went in for, um, that, but it’s not really my thing.”
Angel looked at Spike and stepped out of his manacles. “You are gonna kill this guy, right?”
Spike sniffed. “Count on it. Way I hear it, this is the wanker responsible for setting you loose.”
The younger vampire took a step backward in surprise. “Angelus is free?”
“Wow, nothing gets past you. Sharp as a stake, this one.”
“They’re at the library?”
Spike nodded. “They’re expecting you. Watch your back.”
Angel swung himself up to the window and pushed it outward. “Need me to give them any messages?”
Spike saw the minion edging back toward the door and grabbed him by the collar. “Ah-ah-ah. Not so fast.” He turned back to Angel. “Tell them I’ll be around later with an update.”
Angel nodded and was gone.
“I don’t know what you two are up to, but I’m gonna tell the Master. Man, is he gonna be pissed that you let Angel go.”
Spike slipped into gameface. “Congratulations, mate. You’re the very first thing I’ve wanted to kill since I showed up here. You’ll be receiving your parting gift shortly.” He grabbed the vampire by the throat, hard enough to crush his windpipe and keep him silent, and dragged him to the door.
Spike propelled his captive through the narrow hallway and pushed him into the Master’s audience area in the main room of the club. Everyone looked up, startled, as Spike threw the minion to the floor.
“This bleeding, incompetent tosser let Angelus out of his cage!” Spike roared.
“What?” Darla made the syllable as sharp as a razor.
“Angelus is gone? Dude, that sucks!” Xander was indignant.
The vampire coughed and tried to push himself off the floor. He choked out a “Not… me… Spike,” before Spike kicked him in the ribs.
“That’s just about enough out of you.” Spike twisted the minion’s head until he heard a loud snap and kept applying pressure until his hands met through the dust.
“How exactly did Angelus escape?” Darla demanded.
“How am I supposed to know?” Spike snapped. He was irritated enough with himself, with the whole rotten situation, to make a pretty damn good show of being cranky. “I walk in for some quality torture of dear old Grandsire, this idiot”—Spike jerked his thumb at the pile of dust behind him—“is on the floor, unconscious, and the cage door is hanging open with the keys in the lock.”
The Master cut Darla off before she could raise any further objection. “It is a vexing development, to be sure, but we have more important matters. Angel,” he spat the word, “and his friends at the high school won’t be able to bother us once we assemble the Judge.”
Seeing that the show was over, most of the vampires went back to finishing the preparations for the Judge’s reanimation party. Only Darla continued to give Spike a searching look, and he glared at her until she looked away and started talking to one of the minions.
Spike made a quick lap of the club and nearly stumbled at the wave of human desperation that hit him when he passed the cage at the back. Of course the people knew something big was afoot; you could practically feel it in the air. He’d just have to find some way to keep them safe. Wasn’t like the Judge would emerge in full destructive mode, anyway.
He sighed. He supposed he could suggest a new hunt, try to persuade the Master’s people of the benefits of fresh caught instead of the caged variety, but then that might just leave more innocents in the crossfire.
Shit, when had he started thinking of humans as “innocents”? Moments like this, he wondered if the government tattooed “What Would Buffy Do?” on his brain while they were shoving in that damn chip. He didn’t know how Buffy did it, made the choices she did. Of course, he thought ruefully, for Buffy, there were no choices to be made. There was just the “Save everybody” motto. No wonder Slayers had a death wish; who could live with that?
A murmur of expectation had him turning back toward the Master. The Judge’s boxes had been carefully reassembled, and there, predictably, was the spark of light that seemed to knit them all together.
Spike strode to the front of the room as the doors to the Judge’s wooden prison opened and he stepped out. Even Darla was smiling as he took his first unsteady steps forward.
The Judge’s gaze was hungry as he surveyed the cage full of people in the corner. “Bring one of them to me.”
“‘Bring’?” Darla echoed. “Isn’t this the part where you fry the whole bunch of them from across the room?”
“Big Blue here has a little trouble with the foreplay part of the program,” Spike interrupted and nearly slapped the Judge on the shoulder until he remembered he probably qualified as having enough humanity to get himself burned to a crisp. “Takes a while to get him up to full power.”
Darla shot him a suspicious look. “And just how would you know that?”
“What? I don’t read?” He managed to sound indignant. “Says so in the, uh, New Revised Watcher’s Compendium.”
“Right, and you just happen to have a reader’s card to the Council of Watchers’ library?”
It was just like bluffing in poker; it was all in the attitude. “Don’t need a Council of Wankers’ card, love. Just gotta eat the right Watcher.”
Willow laughed, and Darla looked like she wanted to throttle her.
“Yeah, this is fascinating and stuff, but I kinda wanted to see the Judge flame-broil somebody.” Xander sounded like a kid whose Christmas toy didn’t work properly. Spike had half a notion to throw him in the Judge’s direction so he could get an up close and personal experience with the Judge’s zapping power but resisted the urge. Xander turned to a minion close by. “Go get someone from the cage.”
Spike raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you want to keep it stocked for full-strength Judge fun?” He grabbed the minion by the neck. He’d seen this one reading earlier; sure, it was a Marvel comic, but he’d just have to hope that reading was reading and that a fascination with Spiderman translated into some degree of latent humanity. “Take this.” He shoved the minion hard into the Judge’s outstretched hands.
It was a struggle to keep from rolling his eyes at the delighted “oo”s and “ah”s that accompanied Minion Flambé. Hard to believe he’d once thought this was quite a show.
The Master clapped his hands in delight. “That was delicious!” He dropped his hands into his lap. “And speaking of delicious, I’m starved. Let’s celebrate.” He raised a finger, and the vampire guarding the cage fumbled with the keys on his belt.
Dammit. He’d just have to hope that the people of Sunnydale were safely tucked inside their beds tonight.
Spike affected a disdainful, swaggering pose as he approached the Master’s chair. “You really enjoy this stale, caged stuff?”
“That’s why we capture them, Spike. Humans on tap.” Darla’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
Spike snorted. “I guess I just don’t get how this could compare to the thrill of the hunt. Me, I prefer the chase, the sound of a heart pumping in terror and exertion, letting them think that maybe they’ve given me the slip. Good times."
The Master’s eyes narrowed. At least, Spike thought the Master’s eyes narrowed. It was hard to tell in that ruin of a gameface. “What are you suggesting, then?”
Spike smiled. “I’m suggesting we go out to eat.”
The Master’s face twisted into a grin. “I like your style, my boy.” He stood and drew the attention of the crowd. “To the streets!”
The glare Spike had given the two younger vampires who suggested accompanying him ensured he’d have a little peace and quiet while everyone else stormed through town looking for new victims. He headed for one of the cemeteries, figuring he wouldn’t run into anyone else in the land of the dead.
Which was why Buffy’s appearance caught him totally by surprise.
“What are you doing out here?” he demanded, scanning the surroundings to make sure there were no other vamps nearby.
“Looking for you. And hoping for a good slay while I’m at it.” She smirked at him. It was hard to believe this was the same girl who’d reminded him of the Buffy he knew. Whatever cracks had appeared in her badass veneer had apparently been plastered over again.
“It’s dangerous out here. The Master’s people are out in force tonight.” He glanced behind her. “How’d you get away from the others?”
She laughed. “Come on. I’m the Slayer. It’s not like I can’t give a librarian, a bunch of kids, and an anemic vampire the slip.”
“Great, they’re all out here, too?” Damn, and this responsibility thing just continued to be a drag.
Buffy fell in step beside him. “Nah. Left them at Giles’s apartment. They were deep in strategy-mode about this Judge guy. They are way into the whole plan-everything-out-in-advance mindset. Me, I’d rather go straight to the crash and bash.”
He jammed his hands in his pockets. “I suppose you’ve got some questions for me. About what Giles told you.”
She made a clicking sound with her tongue. “Yeah, that’s quite a story you’re putting out there.”
“Not a story, Slayer. It’s the truth.” He stole a sidelong glance at her, but her eyes were set firmly ahead.
“So, what, I’m supposed to be all aflutter to find out about my great life in your world?”
The amusement in her voice set his frayed nerves on edge.
“You’re not?” he challenged.
“Figure I’ll just spare us both the part where you tell me having a mystical kid sister and a head full of sunny highlights means that other life is so much better than this one.”
“So you’re not even remotely curious, then?”
She stopped. “Listen, you keep on pining away for your fantasy world, okay, Spike? Whatever gets you through the night. Me, I have to live in this crappy world. I don’t get the luxury of make-believe.”
He held his hands up in a gesture of surrender, and she started walking again as he trailed after her, feeling pulled along in her wake.
He decided to change the subject. “So, that ‘anemic vampire’ crack – you’ve seen Angel, then?”
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen him. What’s up with that guy? He’s all big, wounded puppy-dog eyes, looking at me all expectorant, you know, like he’s waiting for something from me. What the hell does he want?”
Spike allowed himself a tight smile. “The word is expectant, pet. Guess he just wants to help you.”
“He gives me the creeps. Way too goody two-shoes for me.” She looked at him, and he could almost feel the air around them changing, the way it felt just before a sudden spring storm. “You’re supposed to be reformed, too, but you’ve got this whole rebel edge thing going on. It’s hot.”
He stopped abruptly. Was she coming on to him?
Her lips curled upward. “You think I don’t know when a man wants me, even if he does happen to be dead? I’m not some innocent little girl, Spike.”
His eyes widened. “Can see that, yeah.”
She tilted her head and studied him. “You can do more than see if you want.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s supposed to mean that I’m gonna find someone to screw while I’m in town, and we both know you want it to be you.”
“Knock it off, Buffy.”
She laughed, a throaty, grating rasp of a sound. “Don’t do the noble savior routine, Spike. It doesn’t suit you.”
“Yeah? I don’t think the world-weary Naughty Miss costume fits you so well, either.”
“What’s your problem? I figured we had a few things we could teach each other.” She reached into her pocket, drew out a cigarette, and stuck it in the corner of her mouth. With one hand she pushed him roughly against a grave marker, and with the other, she searched his pocket for his lighter. It felt like a bizarre parody of that morning he’d had Buffy against the front door, digging into her pocket for her dirty little secret.
This Buffy pulled his lighter free, her hips helping to keep him pinned against the marble monument. She lit up and took a long drag before he wrested both the lighter and the cigarette out of her hands. The cigarette he ripped in two and tossed aside, the lighter, he returned to his pocket.
She rolled her eyes. “Hi, pot? This is kettle – you’re black.”
“You smoking matters a little more than me doing it. My lungs are past saving, pet.”
“I think I was wrong about you. You’re just as big a kill-joy as Angel.”
He reversed their positions against the headstone with lightning speed. “I’m nothing like Angel,” he growled, more angry at himself for getting riled by the comparison than he was at her.
The smile she gave him was both predatory and curious. “Hmmm. That’s more like it.”
“Think your mother would want you acting like this?” he countered.
She gave him a hard shove, and he lost his footing on the damp grass. “Shut up. Don’t assume you can talk to me about her.”
“Doesn’t seem like you give a whole lot of thought to her these days, what with the way you’re carrying on.” He knew it was a low blow, but he’d do just about anything to wipe that look of detachment off her face.
“I told you to shut up.” This time a punch to the face accompanied her words.
Spike wiped the back of his hand under his nose, came away bloody. He got up slowly as she bounced lightly on the balls of her feet. “If this is how you want to work up a sweat, it’s fine by me. Not quite as fun as the method I had in mind, but I’m game.”
“I’m not gonna hit you, Buffy.”
“Really?” She cocked her fist, and when he made no move to defend himself, she punched him again. “Huh. I may have been wrong. This is actually pretty fun.”
Spike warded off the next blow with a grunt of frustration, knocked her to the ground, and straddled her awkwardly. “We’re not doing this, Buffy.”
“Fine. We’re back to my original suggestion. Let’s do this instead.” She grabbed the back of his neck, her fingers digging into his skin, and lifted her head until her lips met his.
A tidal wave of emotions broke over him as she kissed him. That she wanted him, needed someone, was obvious, and that, of course, was something else that reminded him of the Buffy he’d left behind. It was the kind of kiss that made him feel as if she were drowning, only he couldn’t tell whether he was holding her head underwater or pushing her up to break the surface. And maybe it felt a little like he was drowning, too. The desperation, both his and hers, was achingly familiar, and when he couldn’t bear it anymore, he pushed gently against her shoulders and pulled away from her.
“What are you doing?” She sat up half-way and rested on her elbows. “You think I didn’t feel that?”
“You really do want me as much as I want you. More, even.” She seemed oddly triumphant.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I don’t?” She chuckled and lowered her voice to the girl-telling-secrets register. “It’s not like you would be cheating, you know.”
“On her. The girl in the picture? The me in the picture.”
“Forget it, pet. It’s not gonna happen.”
Her expression darkened. “Fine, then get off me.” She pushed him backward, but her legs were still tangled with his, and she was pulled back with him.
She suddenly stiffened against him, and he felt a telltale tingle in his own senses.
Vampires, nearby. A lot of vampires.
He struggled to free himself from her, but she pushed him down hard. “Just let me think for a second.”
“Nothing to think about. Couple of the Master’s favorite pets are in that group out there. We won’t be able to take them all. I’ll stall them, and you’ll head for Giles’s.”
“You want me to run? I don’t run.” Her eyes flashed in the dark.
“Now is not the time, Buffy.”
Her sigh was exasperated. “What’s your plan?”
He was going to have to make this look good, or they wouldn’t buy it. He pulled her down to him and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
As she drew back in surprise, he punched her solidly in the mouth.
He winced at the pain in her eyes but tried to put it out of his mind as their audience approached. “Hit me back, Slayer,” he taunted.
“You’re damn right I’m gonna hit you back, you son of a bitch.”
Buffy kicked her legs free with a grunt of anger and sent an elbow into his eye as she stood over him.
He raised an eyebrow and got to his feet. “Is that the best you can do? You hit like a girl.”
“A girl who’s gonna kick your ass.” Her next punch was a carbon copy of his, and he tasted blood in his mouth from the split in his lip.
“Your punning needs a bit of work, too.” He sneered at Buffy as Willow, Xander, and a dozen other vampires watched the contest with interest.
“My punning is about to be the least of your concerns.” She delivered a flying kick that caught him under the chin and sent him sprawling backwards. When he saw Xander and a couple of the others advancing, he mouthed the word “Go” at her, and she sprinted off in the other direction.
Spike jumped up. “She is mine,” he growled. “I mean it. No one gets to touch that bitch but me.”
Xander looked puzzled. “Aren’t you gonna go after her?”
“Think I bested my slayers in one go?” Spike shook his head as he watched Buffy disappear into the distance. “All part of the show. And that was just the first act.”
It hadn’t taken Spike long to frighten away the others with his bad mood. He wished he hadn’t had to hit Buffy to carry off the ruse, but he couldn’t think of any other way to protect her. He rushed through what was left of the night to get to Giles’s, to make sure she’d actually made it back without running into any more of the Master’s people.
He was grateful to see the soft glow of light behind Giles’s curtain and tapped on the door with one knuckle.
“Is she here?”
Giles stepped out and shut the door quietly behind him. “She’s fine. Upstairs, asleep.”
Now that he was here, he could finally sense her, hear the soft, steady beat of her heart. Funny, that. She looked and acted so differently, but the scent of her, the sound of her heart – so much else was the same.
Spike glanced up at the window. “And Tara’s safe? She’s here, too?”
Giles nodded, sitting in one of the outdoor chairs. “And Angel. He didn’t want to rest, but it’s obvious he’s been through quite an ordeal.” The look he gave Spike was a searching one. “As have you.”
Spike waved a hand. “I’m fine. Not the victim here, Giles.”
“But not exactly the villain, either.”
He avoided Giles’s eyes by staying in motion, his movements restless. “And, uh, how’s Buffy’s…?” Spike pointed to his lip.
“In about the same condition as yours. Something I should know about? She wouldn’t say.”
Spike pursed his lips and grimaced at the stab of pain that followed. “She found me in Shady Hills. Had to stage a fight to throw off the other vamps. Told ‘em that no one else was allowed to touch her but me, which they all pretty much accepted because…” he trailed off.
“Because you’ve killed Slayers before,” Giles finished.
Spike was grateful for the lack of follow-up questions. “Anyway, it ought to keep her safe for the time being.” He looked away. “And I’d never hurt Buffy, just in case you were wondering.”
“If I didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
“Appreciate the vote of confidence, Rupert.” Spike finally sat next to him and lit a cigarette. “So we’ve got another problem I forgot to mention.”
“Master’s got a cage full of people at the Bronze for easy access drinking. I had everyone out hunting tonight instead of staying in for supper, and I’ll try to keep them going out, so you’d better work on keeping the townsfolk indoors after sunset. The bigger problem is the Judge, who’s now awake – when he gets back in top form, those people at the club will be the first to go.”
“Wonderful. How long until he’s ready, do you think?”
Spike shrugged. “Not more than a couple of days, from what I remember. We’re going to have to move quickly here.”
“How, exactly? I’m afraid I’m at a bit of a loss. All of the literature says that no weapon forged can kill the Judge.”
Spike nodded. “Right. Forgot about that ‘no weapons forged’ claptrap. Buffy took him out with a rocket launcher before. Military.”
“A rocket launcher?” Giles echoed, incredulous.
Spike shrugged. “Weapons forged in the olden days lacked the destructive punch of today’s brand, I guess. The lot of you stole it from some local armory, or so I heard.”
Giles raised his eyebrows.
“Buffy’s pretty good at thinking outside the box.”
Giles sent him a penetrating glance. “And what about this girl? Do you think she’s ready?”
“She’s Buffy,” he replied, stubbing on his cigarette on the ground. “She’ll get the job done. It’s what she does.”
“She’s ill-trained, ill-prepared, and rather ill-mannered.”
Spike smiled faintly. “I wouldn’t call her manners a pressing concern at this point, Rupert. And you’ll start training her proper tomorrow. If we can’t fix this mess of mine, she’ll need a Watcher, need you, to teach her what she needs to know about being the Slayer.”
“That’s assuming we find a way to defeat the Judge.”
“She’ll find a way.”
“She’s a girl who’s desperately unhappy and lonely, Spike. A girl who may not be prepared for what’s ahead. She’s not your Buffy.”
Spike’s smile faded, and he was too tired to correct Giles’s identification of Buffy as his. “And even with all that, she’s still… She’s the one. She can do it.”
Buffy rested her temple on the windowsill and watched the thin wisp of smoke curl off the end of her cigarette as she stared at the picture of herself and Spike.
She almost believed him.