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By the click of someone else's slippers

Chapter Text

It was a night like any other night. Spike woke up with a hangover, swore, and glanced blearily at the radio on the nightstand.

“Hey, all right, this is KLON Drivetime with Kip Casper; how are all you commuters out there? We’ve got a new one for you this evening, so don’t take it out on that car in front; get a load of this instead…

Behind the blinking numbers, slender as a temptress, was a half-empty bottle of JD. It was such a simple thing, really, brown liquid in a bottle, but nonetheless Spike took great pleasure in reaching out, turning the lid and drinking himself a good slug to start the night. The burn of it sloshed between his teeth as he made his way to the shower, enlivening his movements as he toed his way through the litter of last week’s t-shirts.

“So, how about a competition tonight for all you guys driving home? Here at KLON Los Angeles we wanna hear stories from anyone who felt like quitting today. Did your boss ream you out? Are your co-workers slackers? Give us a call…”

The basement apartment was dark; the floor was cold; he could hear a cockroach, somewhere, scuttling – but within fifteen minutes Spike was somehow washed, dried and dressed yet again, his coat swirled around his shoulders to face his purgatory.

“We’ve got a call from Salome here, who…”

The radio died the death of silence.

Stomping steadily up the stairs, Spike rose from the depths into the drab hell that was his office. One plain room with two broken desks, the smeary windows looked out onto the denizens of the strip mall – who were either heading home or burning for a burrito. Not so long ago, Spike would’ve killed them all and dined on the one who’d bought the spiciest, but now he simply watched. And sighed.

“Well, don’t you look even more like crap today than yesterday.”

Never earning the money he paid her, completely useless at anything practical, his secretary was somehow always there.

“Cordelia,” he growled, because that was her name, one final insult to Shakespeare Spike could lay at the foot of Hollywood. “Don’t you have some showbiz twat to whore yourself on?”

She was examining her eyebrows in the glare of her computer monitor, compact in hand – his words made her close it with a sigh. Like he wasn’t even worth the effort. It was fucking pathetic. “Unfortunately,” she pointed out, “whoring only gets you a much less stable income than what you’re paying me here.”

Spike set one foot across the linoleum. “What I’m paying…”

“Well, I guess I’m paying me,” Cordelia continued, like she couldn’t care less. “Since if you had your way our clients would pay us in pints of their own tasty blood." She shrugged, still not looking up. "At least my way we make rent.”

Stuck like a prat under the ceiling fan, of course, Spike didn’t give that much of a toss – but he thought it was worth saying nonetheless: “Maybe you’re paying you too bloody much.”

“Oh please,” came the immediate retort. “Who else knows you’re a vampire? Who else figures the government really could put a chip in your head. Who else is gonna believe you’re a big enough loser to go for this in the first place – and still somehow find us clients? If we could afford it, I’d give myself a raise.” With a haughty flick of her hair, she leaned back and stared at him like she was the boss, arms crossed like an advert for the LA tan.

Two years ago – less than two bloody years ago – Spike would have killed her. Another time, another place, he’d have done a few other things, because she was pissing him off and when people pissed him off he killed them.

But that was then. Here, right now, he couldn’t keep himself from saying, “So what have we got tonight, then?”

And Cordelia, god love her, at least didn’t draw it out. “Bianca – BiBi. A four year-old husky. She went missing in Elyria Canyon last week.”

“Right. I’ll get on that then.” Because yes, he was Spike. The fucking Pet Detective.

He’d been doing this job a few months now, and every night he lost a little more hope that he was going to get out of it.

It wasn’t like he was here by choice after all. Stood on a moonlit trail, hands in his pockets, not a soul around apart from bloody wildlife – nights like tonight were hardly Spike’s idea of a good time. But he’d been cursed – at least, he was pretty certain he’d been cursed – and there wasn’t much he could do to stop it.

Even now, as Spike thought he could sense the whiff of dog on the air, there was an urge inside him to follow after it. At the moment it was mild, a bit like the way his hand twitched sometimes for a smoke, his legs reminding him he was restless and this was where he had to follow. But he knew from bitter experience that it could get worse than that.

Nonetheless, Spike resisted for a little while longer, taking in the air as the conviction inside him grew. Eventually he gave into it, accepting with a sigh that tonight would be another night when he was too caught up in suffering this thing to have time to get to the bottom of it. He started off.

A couple of hours later, Spike was sick of the park. As his boots trampled through the grass, as the twigs snapped and the branches swung to smack him in the head, it was difficult not to entertain the thought that struck him on at least a weekly basis. Because part of him was very much convinced that he was in fact actually dead, and this was some sort of bizarrely slow-paced hell dimension, steadily grinding him down before they stuck the pokers in. All told, they weren’t doing too bad a job of it.

There had to be someone pulling the strings, anyway – Lucifer or not; this all made no sense otherwise. Someone had to be getting a kick out of this.

Buoyed ever so marginally by that conclusion, not that it was new, Spike decided to ditch the scrubland from the south side – back in the direction he'd come. As it was, he’d long since lost any sort of scent trail.

The facts were, after all, that he was shit at this job. He hated animals and they hated him – and yet for some reason distraught clients kept calling him and for some even stranger reason, he had managed to locate the odd furry friend. His greatest successes were when demons were involved or Wolfram and Hart had a buffet on, but even when they weren’t he somehow still had a viable business model. It made him even more certain that someone out there was paying more than a little attention to him.

Deciding to troll the street benches for a little while, Spike first took a detour to check his car hadn’t been stolen. He was assuming it would be all right, but given there were people around here apparently stupid enough to own a husky in Southern California, he decided it was worth a glance.

Back in the car park for some big Hispanic grocery, Spike made the thrilling discovery that his car was fine. And that “BiBi” hadn’t decided to grow a couple of braincells and chase down the stack of steaks he kept on his backseat. No, it was just some lowly mutt sniffing around and failing to figure out a way in.

Spike left him to it, calling a fag break before he went back out on the road.

He was about halfway through his first cigarette when the service entrance to the grocery banged wide open, light spilling out onto the asphalt. It released one burly bloke with a taped-up stack of flattened boxes in his arms. Eyebrow raised, smoke in his throat, Spike watched him for a moment before he decided a bit of canvassing potential witnesses couldn’t hurt. “Oi; you all right, mate?” he called over. There was a slight hitch in the bloke’s step, like he was listening. Spike continued, “You haven’t seen a husky round here, have you?”

Now that he’d made it to the bins, the guy dropped his stack of boxes and glanced over. The look on his face was like he had no idea what Spike was on about. Spike couldn’t really blame him; it was at least 80 degrees and well past 11. The last thing any self-respecting shift worker was waiting for was some English bloke to appear out of nowhere and ask about a bloody ridiculous dog.

Still, because he was cursed, Spike tried again. “Look; yo no hablo español, right, but –”

“Oh, fuck off; I’m from Brazil,” the guy immediately replied. With the pile of boxes emphatically kicked amongst the others, it didn’t seem as though this guy was messing around. “I’m not an idiot over here, but you might as well be asking me if I’ve seen Santa and the Elves. Gimme a second.”

If he had a soul, there was a chance Spike would have felt like he’d said the wrong thing. But he was standing outside the entrance of somewhere that seemed pretty particular about who it catered for, talking to someone who didn’t not look Latino. “Well, what you doing working here anyway?” he asked, because he was happier off the topic of the husky no matter what. He had half a cigarette to finish before he was back on that dead-end.

Grocery-man rolled his eyes. “I’m in grad school; the TA slots were all filled this semester. And my Spanish is better than yours.”

Well, he apparently wasn’t all that scared of things that went bump in the night. A few years ago – again, those sodding few years – Spike would’ve had a go playing his chances. He could pass, this guy, as half demon: he was a mite heavy-set around the shoulders, had the sort of caveman-brow he’d surmised some birds found attractive, even without any visible horns.

As it was, this was now, so it was time to get on with the show. “Yeah, well, all right then,” Spike continued, saying it though it made him grind his teeth. A car drove by; he almost wished it would hit him. “Look. I’m supposed to be tracking down this dog, right, so you see one missing his sleigh then maybe you give me a bell?” The guy said nothing; Spike couldn’t be bothered to explain that particular piece of idiom. Tucking his smoke between his lips, he pulled a battered stack of cards from inside his duster and peeled one from the elastic band. “Here,” he said, heading over to meet the bloke with it. “Otherwise,” he added, turning for the retreat, “you have a nice time with your boxes, innit.” He almost managed to cut the sarcasm.

As he walked away, however, the darkness of the parking lot sucking him in like a vortex, he couldn’t quite block out the sound he always heard. The laughter – one short guffaw that could never be blocked out. “You’ve gotta be kidding me; you’re a… What’d you do, lose a bet?”

Spike paused, turned back. He wished, as in many moments previously, that he could somehow shoot beams of liquid fire direct from his eyeballs. Or at least just bleeding kill somebody. He began, “It’s funny you should say that –”

But then he stopped.

It was only for a second, probably even less than a second, but he heard something that he’d been waiting a very long time to hear. It had come from above them, quiet enough that he’d been lucky to have it carried by the wind, but he’d heard it: one girlish little titter, which certainly didn’t belong and was certainly aimed at him.

It was the string-puller. He knew it was. It didn’t quite sound like Dru – but this whole thing could still well be down to her. If not, then there was someone else. Watching.

The other man forgotten for a moment, Spike looked up. He tried to scan the roofline – but he couldn’t see past the glare of the security light, casting everything beyond into black. Who could it be? There wasn’t anything there, no shadow or silhouette, nothing that he could get standing upwind.

“Did you hear that?” Spike demanded of the guy from the grocery, really wanting anyone to tell him he wasn’t going mad. He pointed an arm in the direction of the sound. “Up there,” he explained. “Did you hear that?”

Of course, Spike didn’t really expect an answer. Even so, when he glanced back to realise the guy had beaten a steady if not hasty retreat inside, it cut a little bit. As did the swearing under his breath in Portuguese, which after some good times back in Europe Spike did actually have a grip on.

Cheeky bastard. Out of spite and a general sense of deflation, he threw his fag end over to the trash. It wasn’t nearly hot enough to start a fire, but lost momentum completely inoffensively, fluttering to the ground beside the bags. “Bollocks.”

There were two ways to go after that. One was acceptance, and one was the other thing. With a snarl that almost convinced him he was still a demon, Spike decided he wasn’t giving up without a fight. Ignoring the call of the wild or whatever the geas driving him was, and didn’t the twinge in his legs make him feel it, he took a run up to the grocery wall and hurled himself up towards the roof. His hands gripped it, concrete scraping into his palms as he pulled himself up and his thudded into what felt like solid rock.

There was nothing there, naturally– at least not that he could see. The roof was flat and low, the odd skylight breaking it up, but there was no-one he could see waiting in the shadows. A scream in the distance and the sound of fighting, maybe, but he figured whoever was watching him had a fast enough getaway to escape. Some sort of malevolent genie, maybe, or the fey. He never had succeeded in whittling it down.

He started off in the direction of the sound he could hear, just in case – it was on the other side of the building, a few hundred feet away. Of course, the DTs or whatever this curse had on him was already kicking in, making his mind cast around to remember what it was he’d heard in the first place. The memory of the laugh was fading, the exact pitch of it shifting and morphing in his head.

Lurching across the roof, Spike found himself turned around. There were skylights around him, backwards as well as forwards, but where was he going? There was pain in his legs, reminding him of something, but his head felt woozy; he couldn’t quite figure it out.

Pausing, dizzy, he wrenched his brain back into gear. There was a dog out there, he realised. A sodding husky; four years old and waiting to be found. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t found her yet, as obviously that was the reason he hadn’t had any sleep or blood or bourbon for his shaking hands.

Spike tried to keep going – he did. He made it about halfway across the building, yanking his mind back round to the bigger task – something ever more vague that he could somehow taste all the same. There was a masochistic streak in him saying he should go on, so he tried.

At a certain point, however, his shaking legs wouldn’t hold him. He tripped on the corner of a skylight, slamming face down into the rough surface of the roof and (what was worse luck) knocking himself out cold.

Later, Spike woke to the feeling of something wet slapping at his face. It was, of all bloody things, a husky, licking him. It took him a moment to figure out the significance.

The first thing he noticed, actually, because he wasn’t completely gone, was that he’d lost time. It was well into the early morning now, maybe three or four AM, and he realised Cordelia was going to kill him, unfortunately not literally. She was the streetwise tough gal in the big city, but she still claimed part of the deal in working for him was that he didn’t leave her to lock up. He was vampbait, she said. And to be fair, she had a point; you always did find vamps most where other vamps had been. The fucking sheep.

Still, Spike realised further, coming to – he had a dog. Either all husky owners in this area were as negligent as they were stupid, or he had his case well solved. If this whole adventure was a decent curse he’d have got a nice little buzz of that, but as it was it just reminded him he now had to get this dog back to its owner before the sodding thing ran off again.

Groaning, Spike waved the animal away from his face and stood up. The dumb thing looked at him, like a sorriest excuse for anything that was meant to be halfway to a wolf. “Come on, then – you daft bloody mutt.” Before she could expect it, he reached out and yanked her up by the middle. She struggled for a moment, but then gave in, like she’d been tiring herself out in the open.

On a better night, he’d use this excuse to get out searching again for his watcher, but it was close enough to sunrise that he decided that all he wanted to do was piss off home.

“So, what you’re saying is, some crazy girl who you didn’t see and didn’t recognise is out to get you. I… I think that’s a new low.”

Spike didn’t bother dignifying that with a response.

It was the next night, inevitably, and he couldn’t figure out whether his head was still bruised, if he’d had too much to drink, too little, or if he was simply bored.

“I mean…” Cordelia was wittering on. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re not the kind of guy girls obsess over? You don’t even drive a nice car.”

“Cordelia…” Spike began, with as little effort as possible. She had something resembling a point, of course, but he drew the line at comments about his car.

On the other side of the office, tapping away far too many keys for one simple saved-husky invoice, the girl barely glanced at him. “What?” she asked.

Spike told her straight, “Shut up.”

Of course, he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. As he rubbed a hand over one of his two bleary eyes, Spike suppressed a groan as the kraken was unleashed.

“Wow,” Cordelia began, ceasing typing so she could stare at him, framed by her social calendar and the other pile of crap that littered the noticeboard on her side of the office. “That has to be the lamest comeback I’ve ever heard. Why was it that Dru left you again?” She asked it like the jibe was meant to hurt, but Spike had stopped rising to taunts about Dru long ago, out of sheer bloody necessity. “Because, seriously, all I can figure is that she got bored of your whining. I mean, newsflash!” She splayed her hands. Like a flash. Spike wished he was dead. “It’s not all about you, Spike. You can’t even remember what happened, so why you think this is some big project I don’t even…”

“Hey,” Spike interrupted, sharply. Slumped forward on his desk, that final charge was at least something to make him sit up and snarl back. “Of course I bloody remember. It was a difficult time: Dru’d started sleeping around with whatever piece of snot slimed her way; that lead on the Gem of Amara had done nothing but get me incarcerated by scalpel-wielding morons. I come to LA, and – yeah, all right, things get a little blurry.” Honestly, Spike wasn’t sure if it was months or years he’d spent rehabilitating himself, but it had been a hell of a long time. Even now he could practically still hear the sound of tinkling glass. “But I still figure, one night I go out to a bar and lose a round of poker.” Quite what he’d been betting on, of course, he didn’t know. Really, all he could remember was the smell of piss, stale beer and cheap lemonade, but it had to mean something. “That’s all I need to know. I’d never been here before,” he finished, “but next morning I’m waking up in this cesspit to find you knocking at my door to answer some ad I never posted. It’s a bleeding set-up!”

Cordelia blinked at him, presumably remembering the rest of the story just as well as she did. He’d been mammothly pissed off, so had blown caution to the wind and tried to bite her. His chip had fried him out of the game, but not before she’d kicked him in the balls and pulled a cross from her bag. “Whatever,” she concluded as they both gave up on memory lane.

To be fair, Spike thought, it was the part about his head exploding that was one of the few reasons Cordelia was still there. She was a pain in the neck, and not the good kind, but since she was human Spike figured she wasn’t likely part of the plot to torment him. It was a long shot, but, really, at this stage he didn’t want to blood in anybody else, so he was risking it. Besides, she could be worse on the old eyes.

“So – to sum up,” Cordelia added, because she never could stop yammering. “I'm right, and you have no idea why you’re here, do you?”

“Not as such,” Spike conceded, just to shut her up.

Silence fell; it was almost soothing.

But then, out of nowhere, came the comment – “I do.”

Startled, Spike spun in his chair and wrenched his eyes into focus. Cordelia’s “Hey!” let him know he wasn’t the only one to be surprised.

But there she was, standing in the doorway – because apparently he hadn’t imagined the bell. One mystery woman, if not the one he was expecting. He was too stunned to speak.

This... Wasn't quite how it was meant to go, was it?

“Sorry I lost you last night,” she was saying, hands on hips like she owned the place. “But there was a vamp being vampy the other side of the building – I know you heard me, so I figured you’d catch up.” The tone was as bad as her look, like she was accusing him of following her. Quite where she was getting that idea from, he didn’t know. She was tiny, probably not much over five foot, with big eyes and a weird nose. She had too many earrings and her make-up was done like a goth six year old – which at least went with the pigtails.

“And who the hell are you?” Spike asked her.

The girl rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Spike; this is not a joke.” She said it like she was auditioning for The Matrix. “Maybe some part of you is enjoying living out this Angel fantasy, but it’s time to get you out of here. Dawn’s worried.”

There was something Spike had done in a past life, he was sure of it, to be surrounded by so many women who were mad as a box of hammers. Summoning the energy he had left for the evening, he turned to the sanest one, before asking, “You have any idea what she’s on about?”

Cordelia shook her head, slowly, apparently unable to take her eyes away from the trainwreck in front of her. “Really, really don’t have a clue.”

On second glance, it was possible he was being cruel about the mad girl’s outfit. The black-on-black wasn’t all that bad, but she looked so much like she was trying to play with the high school girls and have her juice box at three all the same. Especially now she was throwing a tantrum. “Seriously?” she was asking, the dark background and her dark clothes making her head look like a bobble-doll. “Even in this whacked-out alterno world, you must know who I am. I’m Buffy. The Vampire Slayer.”

He wasn’t expecting the laugh, so for a moment Spike choked, wheezing as his chair creaked beneath him. This couldn’t be her, could it? His stalker from the night before? She didn’t look like she could plan her way out of a paper bag, let alone magic him into this humiliating, dead-end existence.

“Please,” Cordelia was saying for him. “You’re not the Slayer – it’s that ho Faith.” Now Spike remembered why he kept her around – he was still corpsing too hard to talk.

“Right, but I was the Slayer first.” The so-called ‘Buffy’ was insisting.

“Again, no,” Cordelia disagreed, spinning out the apparently much-needed history lesson. “That was the girl from the Carribean who couldn’t talk to guys.”

“Kendra.” With the night behind her and the rage in her eyes, Spike really tried to see this girl as the Slayer, but he just couldn’t buy it. She was pissed off, for certain, but a champion in the fight between good and evil? No fucking way. And yet she said it all the same, “And sure – but I was the Slayer before her too.”

“Ah,” Spike found himself interrupting, because he was starting to feel bad for the mad girl now. “No, see,” he explained, pointing the way to one pissed off secretary, who was clutching her pen like a dagger. “That was her over there’s friend, so you might want to pretend be…”

“Harmony,” Cordelia spoke over him, seething. “That was her name, and she was a good slayer, so –”

Harmony?” the mad girl interrupted, because apparently she had a death wish. It turned out he had a screech on her as well as the sulk. “Harmony’s the Slayer in this dimension? Are you kidding me?”

“Hey!” Cordelia screeched right back, standing tall and sending a pile of badly ordered papers slopping into further disarray. “Why don’t you wipe that drugstore smile off of your face and take your crazy someplace else?”

“No,” ‘Buffy’ replied, not backing down. “I think I wanna hear this.” To be fair to her, it did sound like she was used to having the attention of a room. Also, still, like she was a little unhinged. Spike had a slight problem where he found that quality as attractive as he did repulsive. Amusing, at least. “Let me guess, Harmony coped just fine with the whole sacred calling shtick, saved the world and made all her friends super proud. I’m guessing she took out Glory without a sweat, right? Adam, the Mayor… Gee, did she even break a nail? What is this world?” she snapped, her sarcasm breaking just for a moment. “You’re gonna tell me she killed the Master without even dying…”

God help him, Cordelia even looked a little taken aback. “No,” she said, and Spike rolled his eyes. Didn’t everyone know this story? It had done the circuit for months. “She blew off facing the Master for the school dance. And then he didn’t rise anyway, but The Anointed One did some ritual where he killed him and assumed his power – and, and eventually Angel killed him, but not before the stupid kid got to Harm about halfway through the summer.” Cordy sniffed, like it was sad rather than hilarious, then stared down the (now silent) Buffy so she could finish, “I don’t know where you came from, but shut your mouth. She didn’t deserve to go out like that.”

The actress in her got the last part out all poignant-like – almost to point that Spike found himself feeling sorry for the girl. It was worse than Passions.

“Right,” Spike interrupted, slamming his hands on his own desk and breaking into the silence. He wasn’t quite sure what he was going to say, but he knew it was the moment to say something. “So, you see, love,” he said, deciding to state the bleeding obvious. “there’s no way you can be the Slayer.” Nonetheless, he did take a moment to look her up and down one last time. It was possibly worth taking back what he’d thought about her nose; for some reason on the third glance it seemed almost like a shame she was just a common-or-garden delusional twit. “If you think you can help me with this spell, and are actually here to do that even though I’ve never met you before in my life, well…” That, he couldn’t help but think, had to be the least likely idea he’d ever heard, but he was going with it anyway. “Well, that’s fantastic,” he concluded, without much feeling. “But otherwise you might as well jog on, because the situation’s bizarre enough as it is and I’ve got things to do.”

“I don’t believe this,” the Buffy told him, shaking her head with an expression of near absolute impatience. She did cut something of a picture tapping out her little boots on his cruddy floor. “I come all this way and you can’t even figure out that you’re in the wrong dimension.” Spike felt like defending himself, but he wasn’t entirely sure what the charge could be. Mostly he assumed that they’d had their fun for the evening and it was time to get on with his sorry predicament the slow way. “I mean,” she continued, “none of this makes any sense. Why didn’t the Mayor ascend?”

Cordelia, apparently, had the answer to that. “Um, Faith crushed his magic spider box thing?”

But the other girl kept going, “I just… I don’t know what you want me to do here.” Her eyes were now struck on his, and Spike didn’t know what to do with how wide and imploring they were, like she was an imp at the end of the garden. “What am I supposed to say?”

Staring at her, there was – god help him – a small clench somewhere between his balls and his heart, like she’d launched a hook inside him and found something to catch onto. Spike really didn’t know what to make of it. The moment held, but in the end he sighed, figuring they were in for a long night. He glanced at Cordelia, before relenting. “Fine!” he groaned, waving a hand towards her. “Why don’t you explain how you got here?”

It took her a moment, and when she was still he could almost see her as a leader of people. Then she agreed, “OK.”


Chapter Text

The girl’s story was even more ludicrous than Spike’s own. Judging by the pauses, she seemed to leave quite a lot out of it, but even then it was barely believable.

“So,” Spike tried to recapitulate nonetheless, “you’re telling me that in your world, I got the chip and then – despite trying to kill you all for several years – I decided the best thing to do would be to take in with your little gang of nitwits. Only I wasn’t killing things, half the time, so much as babysitting some bitesize sister of yours.”

“Aha!” the Buffy replied, pointing at him like he’d given himself away. “That’s what you call her sometimes: Bitesize. See, it all figures out.”

Spike just stared at her.

“The thing I don’t understand,” Cordelia offered, arms resolutely crossed as she leaned back against her desk, “is why you let him hang out with you in the first place. He’s annoying. And undead.”

“We don’t let him!” was the not exactly encouraging response to that. To be honest, Spike worked pretty hard at being annoying, so he wasn’t going to protest. Plus it was fun to watch the mad girl throw her arms up and splutter. Then she continued, “We tolerate him, mostly…”

Now that, Spike wasn’t having. “So why are you so desperate to have me back in your sad little lives?” he demanded. “Things are falling apart now you’ve, what? Got a kid in the way of your stake-whittling?”

Rather than blow up even more – the reaction he was really hoping for – Buffy seemed to catch herself. Lifting her chin like an empress she stared him down, just for a second before she cut him entirely – shook her head and looked over towards the filing cabinets. “You know,” she said to herself, “this is exactly what Xander told me would happen when I came here.”

Spike was slightly unnerved by what her rejection did to him. The sharpness of it somehow took him straight back to a century and a score years ago, to all those ever so polite women who nonetheless took turns killing him with a glance. He was supposed to be immune to them – for god’s sake he had been immune to them since he could remember. Yet here he was with some goth urchin and it was all rushing back.

It took a moment, but Spike shook his head and banished the odd feeling. Thankfully, it seemed as though Cordelia was willing to take up the slack, apparently able to riff on whoever this ‘Xander’ character was.

“Xander Harris fights evil in your world?” she was complaining. “Are you kidding me? The only thing that loser’s gonna fight is cholesterol. And even then he’s not gonna win.”

Miss Buffy seemed to be tired of this game as well. She barely cast one glance at the other desk before snarking in a fairly dull tone, “Just laugh it up Cordy. In my world you dated him. For nearly a year.”

A gasp. “I did not,” came the outraged reply to that.

To which Buffy simply replied, “Yuh-huh.”

For some reason, Spike found himself taking pity on the girl, even after she’d kicked him in the knackers. It didn’t seem like she’d done it intentionally, after all. The fact that she probably thought she’d let him win seemed like enough reason to grant leniency. “So apart from this loser,” he encouraged, leaning back to put his feet on the desk, “the other members of your little Scooby Doo club reckoned you could get me back to your world.” It sounded like hell on earth, of course, but he could have a think about that once he’d got all the information. “Did anyone find out what I’m doing here in the first place? And why it was so important for me to forget about the life I was evidently so sorry to lose?”

“Right,” Buffy confirmed, rolling her eyes. She glanced back at him. Most of her vigour seemed to have vanished somewhere, leaving her face this shell where he could almost see the fractures. The pigtails suddenly looked like the choice of someone who hadn’t been able to face the shower that morning.

He almost raised an eyebrow, but then the shell continued to talk. “So, you realise you’re under a spell, with the pet detectiving – but you’re actually under two.” She explained slowly, like she didn’t really care or else he was very stupid. “Mr. Bitey or whatever he’s called probably didn’t realise how effective they’d make each other, but all this stuff –” She waved a hand around the office. “– it’s pretty much just his joke. The pet detectiving itself is basically, like, the loan shark’s curse. When I beat him up he said you’d have known exactly what it was if you’d been in our dimension, but…”

“The loan shark’s curse?” Spike interrupted, though he really hadn’t planned to. “I’m under the bloody loan shark’s curse?” He leaned forward, letting his boots slam back on the floor in anger. This was ridiculous; absolutely bloody pathetic. He couldn’t believe it. All these months wasted…

“What’s a ‘loan shark’s curse’?” Cordelia piped up from the other side of the room, straightening some of the papers that had got messed up earlier.

Thankfully, Spike didn’t have to explain. “It’s like this really simple compulsion spell,” Buffy told her, spat forgotten and far too much pleasure in the smirk on her face. “Usually only lasts a couple days. Demon loan sharks use it when they want to call in debts and the loanee hasn’t paid them back…”

Spike slumped forward, barely able to believe it.

A little more animated now, Buffy seemed to revel in the explanation, “See, back in my world, Spikey here has one or two kitten poker problems. And uh, he borrowed forty Siamese kittens to gamble with –” Spike could almost feel the glare he got for that one. “– but eventually he gave them back. Thing was, he forgot the interest payment, so Sharkey the loan shark wasn’t to happy with him. And since the last time he went after that debt me and the gang pretty much killed all his minions, Mr. I’m-a-Shark decided the best way to make the punishment stick was to move Spike to somewhere where he didn’t know us. I guess…” She trailed off slightly, right at the end, sounding a bit less comfortable with the whole business as she suggested, “I guess because I’m not here to know?”

“So all he needs to do is find some kittens?” Cordelia asked, missing or not caring about Buffy’s existential crisis. Spike looked up, not because he cared either, but because he didn’t want to appear completely pathetic when his secretary figured out what he already had. “But,” Cordelia continued, thinking out loud as she knew no other way. “Billy Idol over there told me when I first started that he didn’t want his rep ruined with all the poker-playing demons. So we don’t do – cats. We never look for…” And it turned out she didn’t hate him after all, because she visibly winced. “Oh wow.”

Because yes. All these months he’d been slaving away looking for lost pets, and it turned out that the only thing Spike needed to do was the one thing he’d avoided. He was, officially, a bloody fool.

No one said anything for a short while after that. Outside, the crickets chirped with the early evening; a car was pulling out as one happy customer had apparently claimed their burrito. The ceiling fan whirred round once, then twice.

“So he just needs to find some kittens.” Cordelia eventually repeated, more firmly. A poster child for optimism everywhere, she pushed backwards on her chair and walked over to the files, which as it was only she could understand anwyay. “We can do that. I keep the details of everyone who calls, just in case…”

“I don’t understand why I’m not here,” Buffy chimed in, apparently stuck on this issue. Spike couldn’t figure out if he gave a shit.

Or, no; actually, he was certain that he didn’t. He had much bigger fish to fry. It had just transpired that he’d wasted months of his unlife haring around after fuzzy animals, all of which were completely irrelevant to the geas driving him towards them. Some joker shark was going to get bloody sautéed by the time was done, chopped up and pan-fried and thrown in some sort of spicy soup.

It seemed as though Buffy was missing this point, however. “I mean, do I not exist at all?” she was still whining, addressing him like he would actually bother to answer. “I always thought that I made a difference, at least, but it turns out that the world’s still here even when I’m…”

“Oh hey, I found someone!” Cordelia interrupted, leafing through the files. “One missing pregnant cat, probably gone to give birth somewhere; called in two days ago. The contact is…” She paused, like she couldn’t believe it. “Huh. Phi Eta Pi UCLA, sorority president…” With a look of sheer disbelief, Cordelia read the name, “Buffy Summers.”

It took a moment for her words to sink in; they all paused. At length, Spike weighed his reaction and couldn’t help but think the evening had just got that little bit more entertaining. “Well, would you look at that,” he said, enjoying the fact even more when he caught the look of sheer horror on this Buffy’s face. It at least made a change from the self-pity. “Sounds like you do exist after all.”

It didn’t take much convincing to leave their Buffy in the car while he and Cordelia trekked their way towards Barbie’s Westside dream house. “The thing is,” Cordelia explained on the way. “It could be some low-rent interest-group sorority, you know, like a glorified film club or whatever. But maybe you should let me do the talking, just in case.”

“Whatever you want, love,” Spike replied, trying to figure out if that was a lawn flamingo he could see or the antennae of a vyvalin demon. He feared it was actually the former: payback for the amusement he’d felt back at the office. This visit had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now he wasn’t quite so sure.

Indeed, after ringing the bell, it only took a few moments for the answer to come and for all amusement to collapse into fear and panic. The girl who appeared was a paroxysm of bouncing red hair, sparkly teeth, one cheerleading top that wasn’t even skimpy and sweatpants that had been better laundered than his entire wardrobe. “Hi!” she said, like she would take any and every bit of candy they might be willing to offer.

“Hi!” Cordelia replied, overstressing it to the point Spike feared his ears might bleed. “I’m Cordelia Chase and this is Spike. We were wondering if Buffy was home?”

“Oh, it’s so good to meet you!” the girl replied, hand on chest like she’d just taken a hit of E. For all Spike knew she had. “I’m Tammy. I think Buffy’s just upstairs. Can I tell her why you’re here?”

If Cordelia didn’t get this done soon, Spike realised, he was going to murder someone. It was all too much. “Sure!” his secretary nonetheless replied, taking her sweet bloody time about it. “We’re from The Pet Detective; it’s about your missing cat.”

“Oh my god, Ketchup!” Tammy whined, apparently able to hit an even higher register. “We’re all so worried…! I’ll go get her right away.”

Thankfully, then, she left. “The cat’s name is Ketchup,” was all Spike could say, beginning to think he would rather put up with another month of finding ferrets in rubbish bags if it meant he could get out of this particular situation. It didn’t even matter how much it would entertain him to tell all this to their failed goth guest in the car; he couldn’t see that far ahead.

Cordelia didn’t turn to look at him. “I told you,” she said, barely relaxing the syrup in her smile. “Let me do the talking and it’ll all be over soon.”

Christ, Spike thought; why in God’s name had he thought that this would be a good idea? “I reckon Ketchup the cat probably got out while she still could; she’ll be three counties away by now.” Fuck it; he was lighting up.

Spike!” Cordelia hissed as she heard his lighter, but by then it was already too late. And before she could kick up more of a fuss they heard the sound of a familiar voice. She settled for a whispered, “Put that thing out!”

He ignored her, eye on the door as it opened again. Spike kept his eyes on his cigarette, summoning his strength.

But then, “Hi,” this Buffy said. No squeal – no exclamation mark – just one easy, mellifluous word.

Spike looked up, and was immediately a little taken aback. Because she scrubbed up well, this Buffy. With a smile that barely showed teeth, there was not even a hint of the Playboy bunny about her. She was looking at them through long eyelashes, a little impatient like she expected champagne and if she didn’t get it she’d be finding herself a whip. Her hair was golden, honey blonde, with highlights glinting in the porchlight; a long, loose swirl of the stuff hung around her shoulder. Her top was sheer and emerald green.

“I’m Buffy,” she added unnecessarily, a glance between them both. “Cordelia, is it?” she asked while Spike let loose the smoke he’d been holding. “From Sunnydale, right? Did we come on the same campus visit? I think I remember you from a mixer…” She paused, apparently to think, her mouth quirking into a serious frown. “Anyway; of course I know your name. Aphrodisia told us all about what happened with your father… It’s so awful.”

This seemed to strike Cordelia speechless, which should have put Spike on his guard. He was still musing about this new girl’s neckline, however, and so missed the implications.

Until, that was, the she-witch turned to him. “And you must be Spike,” this Buffy said, with a glimmering sort of smile that would have pulled in a weaker man from at least fifty paces. As it was, Spike found it a little difficult, standing so close. “I guess you do the detecting.” However, since he was standing so close, he noticed the flicker of a frown that crossed her face when she caught a glance at the DeSoto over his shoulder, parked by the curb. “Is that your car?” she asked, and it almost got to him.

Thankfully, this break in attention at least dissolved the spell, and Cordelia was finally able to interrupt. “So – we’re here about Ketchup?” she asked, apparently unwilling to give up the Valley Girl lacquer that was her professional persona, even if there was more of a bite to it this time. “When we spoke on the phone you said she was missing? And then I think you wanted to come in and talk to us, but I explained at the time about how we have a policy on cats… Only, we don’t anymore, so we figured we should come and talk to you.”

It had to be said, it was really quite difficult to recognise this Buffy they were talking to now from the mad girl in the backseat. For a start, this girl here had poise. She took a moment as if to absorb it all, then immediately took one graceful step towards them on the stoop. “Right!” she agreed, pulling the door to behind her. “No – it was just that I didn’t want the other girls to worry…” She looked between them, her big round eyes reeling them in towards complicity. The imperious look about her was gone, replaced by the rather more mundane nervousness of a twenty year old out of her depth. “It’s just that – and this is gonna seem really dumb, but… I think Ketchup was taken. Like, catnapped. We had a catburglary.”

Spike couldn’t tell if the wordplay was meant to be a joke or just indicative of poor vocabulary. He thought he could see a glint of humour in the girl’s eyes, but he had a feeling that was eyeliner. “O-K,” he said slowly, no longer interested in letting Cordelia talk for him. He had a rather serious, sinking feeling in his gut. “And why, pray tell, would anyone want your cat?”

“Well,” Buffy Summers replied, like she had the most exciting story in the world. “The thing is, she shouldn’t have really been pregnant at all. Ciara was supposed to take her to the veterinarian to have her spayed, right?” She looked between him and Cordelia, to make sure they were following. She was a bit less assuming than her twin, it seemed. “And we all figured that she must’ve gotten lost and taken her to the kitty salon instead – even though she promises she didn’t. But, anyway, weird things started happening in the last few weeks, so we got thinking…” For a moment she seemed to choke up at the gravity of what she was saying; Spike was glad he had a fag. “Girls would see bushes moving, funny faces through the window,” she explained. “At first we thought it was just the guys from Kappa Rho Delta, but we used to find Ketchup sitting up in the kitchen, meowing like she knew something was up… She wouldn’t leave me alone, like, at all – and then a week later she was gone. It’s just…” she continued straight on, wrinkling her nose. The funny end of it seemed to make sense on her face, the way it didn’t on the girl in the car. “It all feels hinky to me, like something isn’t right.” Then she rolled her eyes, seeming to cast the feeling away. “And I know she’s only a cat,” came the final comment, “but she’s a Phi Eta Pi. No way would she have left on her own.”

Framed by the cream front door, her perfect eyebrows were the image of despondency. Spike breathed out, and then in again. He glanced up to the soothing murk of the night sky and wondered, really, if he had actually signed on for this. He wanted some kittens. They were here to find him kittens. And yet this whole business was starting to sound like hassle.

More to the point, he really didn’t believe in coincidences. And as funny as it was to have one Buffy Summers in the car, ragged and bitchy, while this one stood in front of them like a prize piece of cattle, he was over the joke now. It didn’t help that this one wasn’t very silly, really, but rather seemed quite a lot more dangerous. Beyond that, if these spells on him, however many there were, had set him up for this, then there was something to be worried about. It felt too much like he was getting himself into something, and he didn’t yet know what.

After all, ‘funny faces in the bushes’ had ‘demon’ written all over it.

Cordelia was saying something to close down the conversation; Spike found himself nodding along. Buffy kept looking at him, which was unnerving, even as he grunted his goodbye and threw his fag end at the palm by the side of their door.

“Please find her,” she said as they left, and god damn her she sounded serious. He didn’t look back, but managed to pin down some of his anxiety when he realised that he actually wanted to help.

“So, what was she like?” came the question as they got back into the car. The plaintive note was what had been missing from the other Buffy, Spike realised; what had made her sound so commanding.

As he turned on the ignition, Cordelia answered first, talking to this strangely now familiar Buffy in the rear-view mirror. “She had a two-hundred dollar haircut and a shirt from Dolce and Gabbana; you were a complete and total bitch.”

As far as Spike could tell, Cordelia said it seriously, but when Buffy moaned it didn’t turn out to be for the reason he expected. “Oh my god,” she said. “You liked her.”

“Well,” Cordelia even conceded the point. “I don’t know if it’s because you’re the Slayer or because you’re poor in your world for some reason, but it seems like someone here taught you how to put together an ensemble. You should look into that.”

“Hey!” came the complaint from the backseat. “I’ll have you know that my wardrobe at home is chock-full of cute stuff, even if it comes with a side of affordable chic.”

“Yeah, well…”

Spike tuned the argument out. In his head, he switched on his mental record player and started playing Combat Rock. He felt better almost immediately.

They dropped Cordelia back at the office, so she could pick up her own car. That left him with the mad girl – who, honestly, seemed slightly less mad now that she’d perked up a bit.

When Spike looked at her now, this Buffy, he could see something of the other one. She was a long way down on her luck, but he realised now how her features fit together. More than that, with the shiny version in his memory he couldn’t help but notice the things that were off with this one. She had bite scars on her neck, he realised – and that was two if not three. The lines around her eyes were deep, serious, and she had the ability to stand still like someone who’d seen enough trauma to send them rigid. Or else someone who knew how to hunt.

As they stood there in the strip mall’s parking lot, Spike had a rather peculiar urge to see the girl move. Fight. Erupt from this stillness into the other one’s smooth and clinical action.

“So what do we do now?” she asked him, and it caught him off guard. Apparently she was comfortable enough with him there on his own. Spike didn’t quite share the feeling; wasn’t sure what to say. “You got a process for this thing or what?” she continued. “Is there a bar somewhere we go for information?” She seemed almost excited at the idea.

“You’re joking, right?” Spike asked right back, recovering himself. “I’m a pet detective; not fucking Batman. Who’m I gonna ask?”

The girl shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just figured that, you know, since you’ve been doing this for months now, you might have some idea how to start...”

It was a fair cop, that insult. The timing was right and caught off-guard it made him laugh. The sound echoed from the sharp corners of the concrete walls around them. “Well,” he replied, slipping into humour. “Mostly I spend my time wandering around calling ‘Lassie, come home’ and hoping for the best.”

A slow grin crossed the Slayer’s face. She was clearly holding back her own giggle; she couldn’t stop it creeping into her eyes, brightening the corners. “Hmm,” she said. “I guess if it ain’t broke…”

Spike grinned back before he realised what he was doing – and then that sharp, sinking feeling struck him once again.

It was true enough, after all, that if you turned the thumbscrews he could admit he found Cordelia as entertaining as he did irritating. It was rare when she didn’t have some choice words to say about their clients, and he could appreciate a fine-crafted insult as well as the next man. But the two of them didn’t understand each other particularly well, at least not the extent that they shared that many moments of unspoken simpatico. She’d been working for him for months now, and some days Spike even forgot to look down her top.

And that suited him just fine. Apart from the odd drunk co-ed, he hadn’t been feeling particularly tender towards female kind of late.

The problem was, weird nose or not, this girl here was threatening to turn him on. Spike couldn’t figure out why. She was skinny as a rake, and her flat chest was covered up to her chin by the polo-neck she had on. Fair point, the other version of her had basically shown him what she looked like in a bra, but that beach-bunny stomach was probably nothing like what this girl had got from fighting evil…

Fuck him, also, if she wasn’t now looking at him like she could tell what he was thinking. The light in her eyes was warm, receptive, beckoning him closer.

It was time to get control of this.

“Look,” Spike said, forcibly distracting himself. She’s the Slayer. She says she’s the fucking Slayer… Just think what Dru would say. “This geas usually kicks in the moment it’s obvious what I should be doing, but since I ain’t currently got an urge to go knocking on doors, it probably means a night of bloody bookwork. And a drink.” Self-conscious now, he realised he sounded like he was inviting her in. And so he changed the topic, asked, “Where’ve you been staying, anyway?”

“Oh,” the girl replied, blinking. The looked around the car park and, thankfully, whatever moment had just been seemed to pass. “Well, you know; I got here late last night; I spent the day figuring out where you… I kind of haven’t been to sleep yet. Didn’t figure I’d be here more than a few hours.” She rolled her eyes. “I thought you’d still be you, so, once I’d explained things – you’d just find some kittens at the pet shop and I’d take us home. Only now I guess this other Buffy needs our help or something, and I can’t exactly leave myself without her pet cat or whatever…”

She kept talking, but Spike had soon stopped listening. The pet shop. Why the hell hadn’t he thought of that one? Presumably there was no chance of that now, was there? Of course, that was really the minor issue, he realised. “So how exactly are you supposed to take us ‘home’?” Spike interrupted, trying to hold back his feeling of suspicion.

Buffy shrugged, looking a little glum. And slightly exhausted, now he actually looked for it. “Tara – my friend – she gave me a couple of magic pendants. We put them on; say the word; we’re home before you can say ‘whiplash’.” She paused. “At least, that’s what should happen.” The girl rolled her eyes, continuing, “My friend Willow wanted to help, but she’s off the magics ever since this whole incident with Dawn, when I gave her an ultimatum about whether she could stay in the house or not… You won’t remember, but she wiped our memories this time when we first met your loan shark guy, which really should have been a warning sign, but…”

Another shrug. Spike watched her, silently. It was different, now she wasn’t playing defensive to a crowd of him and Queen C. It was like she’d forgotten for a moment that he had no idea who she or any of these people were. It was as if she thought he cared.

He wondered, not for the first time and with even less expectation of an answer, why exactly she thought he would want to come back with her. Because he didn’t care – not one subscript iota.

“D’you fancy a bit of whiskey and the internet?” he asked without fully intending to.

Wide, hopeful eyes looked up and met with his. Those bloody eyes, he thought; he had to stop looking at them. “No whiskey,” she said, even as the rest of her screamed some sort of desire to be needed, to be wanted. “And I can’t promise to keep awake if the screen’s all flickery.”

“Done,” Spike replied with a grin. Although part of him was panicking about what the hell he was agreeing to.


Chapter Text

“So what did you really think of her?” Buffy asked a little later, after they’d come inside. Spike had just about got online, after a couple of tries with the modem, but he hadn’t yet figured out what to search for.

“You what?” he asked distractedly, not exactly thrilled with the question, but hardly itching to read through his spam. Oh yes, eight messages of it he’d been ignoring earlier. “What d’you mean, ‘really’?”

He looked up, and from Cordelia’s desk Buffy was watching him. She was a little smaller than Cordelia, obviously, but something about her in that chair made her look waifish, lost. It was the dark colours she was wearing, as far as Spike could tell. Usually that part of the office was full of fuchsia, turquoise and – if he was really unlucky – bright sunset orange, so the black was something new.

This girl was also timid in the way she spoke to him, at least right now. The eyes on her held his, like she knew all his secrets and wasn’t telling. “You liked her too, right?” she suggested. “Like Cordy. You preferred her to me.”

Spike rolled his eyes, hardly interested in this particular episode of Sweet Valley High. The latest spam email’s promise to grow his cock into some sort of gargantuan trouser snake was beginning to sound appealing. “I’ve barely known you five minutes,” he replied, “and I can’t say your starring role at Castle Anthrax is doing much to endear me.”

“Right,” Buffy replied, not sounding nearly as put out as he’d hoped she might be. He’d got his AOL inbox receiving yet more mail now – and, low and behold, some twat wanted him to harbour a massive pile of cash. “So you’re not attracted to her at all; that’s what you’re saying?”

Where was she getting this from? Had he forgotten something about slayers in the last thirty years? Were they mind-readers now or something? Everyone said genetic engineering was coming – maybe the Council of Watchers had got in there first… “Why on earth would you think I was attracted to her,” Spike replied, knowing he’d taken the bait but unable to leave the question all the same. “I had no idea what she was on about. She was inscrutable, like some sort of sodding robot or something.” A killer robot. Or a sex robot. It was about time someone invented a sex robot…

“Aha!” Buffy interrupted his thoughts. Spike looked up to see her face, a little startled to find her eyes filled with humour and something like a smile pulling at her mouth. For a moment she looked not unlike the other one. “And you hate robots, right?” she asked him. “Can’t stand people who are predictable.”

Irritated, not least for the challenge to his sex-robot-dream, Spike was a little worried she was proving her point. Bemused, and not entirely sure when this had become about him, he tried to turn the tables around. “What exactly is your angle?” he asked.

“I’m just curious, you know?” Buffy asked him, guilelessly. Even though he obviously didn’t have a clue what these questions were about. She leaned her elbow on her desk and leant her chin on her palm, always watching him. “I know what you’re like in my dimension, but not really what you’re like when you’re not, I guess…” After a moment, she seemed to stop searching for a word and just shrugged, guarded. “You’re different here. I wanna know how much.”

“Right,” Spike replied without really thinking about it, caught up in the Man U match reports as the email clicked over. “Because in your world I got dumped by Dru and moved straight on to shiny-haired sorority bimbos.”

She didn’t reply, at least not for a moment. It took him that moment to realise, but when he looked up again her mouth was pursed, her eyes still on him. “Not exactly,” she said, and it was a warning. Some promise of something dark.

For another moment, Spike let himself examine her. There was absolutely a secret she was keeping: it burned in her eyes and seemed to hum right through her. Yet beyond that, he couldn’t help but notice the way her hair trailed around her forehead, loosened from plaits and coming down to soften the particularly harsh set of her jaw. It was greasy that hair, no doubt about it, and for a second there was nothing he wanted more than to clean her up and dress her the way he used to do for Dru. He could imagine her with blonde, bouncing waves of hair, dressed as smart as the other one but still with this secret in her eyes.

It was only a second, but it was arresting. Thankfully, in the second afterwards, Spike had himself back together and back on the task in hand. There were some thoughts even he refused to follow his mind down, and so when he suggested they begin their search on cat thefts, it was with nothing but relief that he heard Buffy’s acquiescence.

The internet didn’t turn up much of anything. Inevitably there were a few other missing cats in the world, some with owners more web-savvy than others. Over on Cordelia’s computer, Buffy distracted herself by trying to figure out what was different in this dimension; Spike too often found himself watching her over the rim of his whiskey glass. He’d told a lie, of course, because he did have some contacts in this city – he just didn’t like talking to them. It was usually embarrassing, even when it didn’t involve that bloody karaoke bar.

At some point around three or four AM Buffy fell asleep, out for the count, and it seemed like the best idea to help her into the armchair downstairs – because she certainly wasn’t having his bed – and then to throw himself under the sheets for another day’s rest.

That should have been it, even as the girl murmured nonsense into his arms. But the thing was, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the end of her, not at all. Not in his head.

In a dream that night – because later, at least, he figured out it was a dream – him and sorority Buffy were sitting opposite each other on a sarcophagus. There was a candle between them and candles all around them; the heat was like a gentle, lapping wave.

“Is that supposed to scare me?” she asked, and he realised he was wearing his vampire face. “Sorry; it’s just… I’m badder than you.” Her face was all girlish as she said it, as untouched by evil as he was by good.

“Are not!” Spike insisted, even as his face receded to human.

Laughing, the girl shook her head. “Am too.” She held his gaze for a moment, before slumping her shoulders. She sighed, and Spike had the odd urge to comfort her. “Look,” she told him seriously, far too aware for a girl still in college. “You don’t have to be all nice to me. I know why you’re doing this.”

“Enlighten me,” Spike replied, not sure why he was there or what he was doing. His world was calm enough inside the crypt, but it still felt like there was something for him to be doing outside – something they were both preparing for. Something was coming.

This Buffy shook her head, just a little. “I think you can,” she informed him, though the emphasis was wrong. Enlighten. The light behind her was bright, playing off her hair to make it gleam. “I think you can if I let you,” she promised him, openly and bizarrely seductive. “I want to let you.”

For a moment, the words wouldn’t come, but she waited for him, easy and accepting. The sense of something brewing outside the crypt grew stronger, and as someone now quite familiar with the workings of a geas, Spike wasn’t sure he could resist. “The other Buffy,” he admitted at last, an uneasy feeling inside of him. “The other, not-so-pleasant Buffy. I couldn’t live, her being in that much pain.”

This Buffy shook her head again – beatifically, almost. “I was torn out of there,” she explained, like it was something that was supposed to make sense – like it was something Spike didn’t know. “By my friends.” The pain in her was something unfamiliar, different from what he would have expected. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

Shifting off the sarcophagus lid, her slim legs bending and folding beneath her, the image tore her eyes away first. “You should be careful,” Spike called after her, raising a hand. She paused; he explained. “Never know what kind of villain's got a knife at your back.”

Buffy looked back at him, her heels two gentle taps on the floor. The betrayal in her eyes ran deep, clouding pupils he could barely see through mascara. “Isn’t that what you sang?” she asked him, with more meaning than he would have thought possible.

It cut into him, that low curling feeling in his lower abdomen – part of his anatomy he was beginning to think belonged to her alone. Because he realised now, though he hadn’t changed and the crypt hadn’t moved, he was nonetheless talking to the other Buffy, dolled up in red and leather, starlet waves of hair around her face but the pain still fresh and vivid.

Till the end of the world.

He wasn’t sure where the words came from, but they resounded in his head, reverberating from the walls around him. Buffy snorted, like they meant nothing, and turned steadily away from him.

Panicked, he called after her. “You can’t just shut me out!” he said, climbing down onto the crypt floor himself. What was that, Buffy? he wanted to ask her, but he wasn’t so sure he’d like the answer. What was that…

She looked back at him hopelessly, enough sorrow on her that he realised what it was he could feel. Because it had to be, didn’t it? Guilt. That feeling he’d thought he’d long forgotten, pulling and grinding at his insides. It felt like nothing else, nothing he could name.

Thankfully the girl took a step closer; a rush of her smell washed over him. She’d been exerting herself and now, in the heat of the candles, it was intoxicating. The guilt didn’t recede, but there was something warmer inside him, the first few sparks of lust pricking him a little bit lower. Adrenaline set his nerves on edge.

Of course he couldn’t help but step closer to her. She bit her lip like she was hesitant, but her coat slipped from her shoulders just as his fell from his. “I should’ve done this years ago,” she said as the distance collapsed and he reached out to catch her to him –

Of course, that was the moment Spike woke up. He gasped, sitting upright, the sense-memory of silk and slender arms burning on his hands. He wasn’t sure where he was, his eyes darting around the dingy walls.

The armchair across the room was empty. It was early evening, it had to be –


“… all right, it’s Kip Casper; KLON Radio. LA’s infinite repeat…

Spike turned to the clock on the nightstand. It seemed like he was awake right on time.

Fuck, he thought, coming to. His arms were shaking to hold him, sweat covering his skin like a veil. He looked down at himself. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Spike’s luck had run out months ago, but as he came upstairs it became clear that the nadir of his existence had still yet further to sink.

Because it turned out that his timetable was too short, or something, for the queens of UCLA’s sororities, and so rather than enter his office to the mild tones of typing and bickering, he rose into the heart of a full-on shouting match between one girl clearly too used to getting her own way and her double, who he’d really hoped had just fucked off during the night.

The Buffies had landed. And they were not happy.

“You know what?” the more polished one demanded, hands on hips and glaring at Cordelia. “I think someone needs to tell me right here and right now what the hell is going on!”

“And we’ve been trying to tell you, Sorority Jane!” the other Buffy answered, before Cordelia even had a chance to. There was something of a vindictive look on her face. Spike couldn’t figure out what had put it there. “I’m you and you’re me,” she continued, snidely. “Only I’m not you because, guess what? You were going to figure it out anyway and I didn’t want to be the one to tell you, but magic is real; demons and vampires are out to get us all; your life is screwed from here on out, and it wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t managed to lose your cat.” Spike looked at Cordelia; Cordelia looked at him and shrugged. “Get with the programme!”

When this world’s Buffy spoke again, her words were directed at him. “Who is she and why is she saying these things?” she said abruptly, turned an acute angle from the other Buffy and now directing her questions at him. It was like her double didn’t even exist.

Spike blinked, a little taken aback. He knew what that move felt like; he’d had it from the other one the other day. He couldn’t help but take a glance at raggedy Buffy, who was dressed in a black top of Cordelia’s along with some jeans, but otherwise still looked on edge. Her hair was clean, tied back in a ponytail; she must have taken a shower while he was asleep.

Shaking his head, Spike distracted himself again and turned back to the softer Buffy, though right now she didn’t look it. “She’s you,” he began, not entirely certain he could explain effectively. Or even there was really a need. Honestly, what was happening to him? “Get over it,” was how he decided to finish that particular conversation.

Drawing himself into the room proper, Spike took a seat at his desk and raised his eyebrows at the Buffy they were talking about. In the end, if she was the Slayer and she wanted to take him home with her, then as far as he was concerned it was time for her to start pulling her weight.

This Buffy, on the other hand, seemed to have other ideas. She stood there with her arms crossed, a mulish set to her mouth and her eyes trained on nothing in particular. The silence was awkward.

“Oh my god,” Cordelia exclaimed eventually, setting her hands on the papers that covered her desk. “Seriously,” she challenged the girl, “what is your damage? I would never be this rude if I met me in another dimension.” She got no reaction. “Do you hate yourself or something?”

Of course, the Buffy of this world didn’t give the other one a chance to respond. “Look,” she interrupted, the expression on her face hinting that she was more than a little spooked. It didn’t seem to affect how she spoke, though, addressing Cordelia while Spike watched her hand tremble. “I came here because I got this letter in the mail.” She started digging through her plum-coloured bag, her cream blouse fluttering as she rummaged. “It’s a ransom note, for Ketchup. Or at least I think it is. It says I have to find five thousand dollars and come to this place alone.” She found the letter, opening it between her fingers and replacing the bag on her shoulder. “I don’t understand, though,” she added, as if Cordelia could explain. “Why isn’t it for more? Aren’t ransoms usually for as much money as they think they can get? They must know who some of the girls are in our sorority.”

The other Buffy was closest, but she didn’t react, so it was Cordelia who came round her desk to take the note. Spike said nothing, watching the exchange with an elbow leaned by his keyboard. She was a spoiled brat, this Buffy, and it seemed she was the tsarina of other spoiled brats – but she was also clearly not stupid.

“Maybe they aren’t after the money,” said the other Buffy, grudgingly, taking a few hesitant steps across the lino as she folded her arms. She wouldn’t meet her own eyes, of course, but she seemed to have reached the same conclusion that Spike had. “They ask for enough to distract you –” That was assuming that five thousand dollars would be enough to distract Malibu Barbie, Spike felt like pointing out. He wasn’t quite so sure. “– but really they don’t care about that. They just want who they want.”

“But what do they want me for?” Buffy asked herself, sculpted eyebrows knitting together.

Spike found himself a glass and two fingers of bourbon to drink while Cordelia explained, “They could want you as a sacrifice. Demons love sacrifices.” She spoke like she was talking from bitter experience; Spike couldn’t help but smirk. “You might have found yourself walking in the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong moon, and now you happen to be the girl they have to have in order to raise the Beast of Quinoa-Cake or whatever.”

“Or it could be because you’re me,” the other Buffy added, set against the night like a Madonna in some stained glass window. “You must have the potential to be a slayer. There are things out there that can do something with that.”

“But I don’t wanna be a ‘slayer’,” the polished Buffy immediately replied. “Apparently it ruins your taste in clothes,” she explained. “And it makes you mean.”

Spike snorted into his drink; he couldn’t help it. Of course, this made the Buffy who was the Slayer, supposedly, glare at him with a look of hate. Oddly, she also seemed slightly hurt by it all. As though they were supposed to like her even when she was behaving like a moody cow.

He rolled his eyes. “Well, whatever it is, I’m sure we’ve all figured out the obvious Carry On answer to the question.” Turning to Sorority Jane, Spike continued, “If you might dress Madam Summers here for the part, then she can go along as you and one hopes get herself out of any trap they bother to lay. Maybe even with Ketchup the cat, so we can all get on with our merry lives.”

It seemed obvious to Spike, but for some reason they all looked at him like he was mad.

Polishing off the rest of his bourbon, he waited for someone to say something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Cordelia, who none-to-smoothly came over to his desk and grabbed him by the arm. “Spike,” she asked as she pulled him out of the office foyer, “could I talk to you alone for one second?”

Spike went without protest; didn’t see much point in resisting. There was a kitchenette just off the side from the main office, right by the door to his basement. He didn’t spend much time in there apart from when he was microwaving his blood. There was too much booze in him, most of the time, for coffee to have much of an effect, and while he didn’t mind the taste it just meant there was no reason that Cordelia could ask him to wash up the cups.

And, god, his thoughts couldn’t make him sound any more like a domesticated, pathetic loser if he tried.

“OK,” Cordelia addressed him once they found themselves there, talking in a hissed whisper so the Buffies couldn’t hear. Even with her mortal hearing, though, Spike thought she should have been able to hear the two of them start up again, so he didn’t know why she bothered. “So, do you really think this is a good idea?” she kept whispering nonetheless. “I’m not sure we can trust her.”

“Trust her with what?” Spike replied. His voice came out in a low tone, despite himself. Staring at a shelf full of cheery coffee mugs, he really did figure he was depressed. “It’s obviously a trap for this other girl; best option was always going to be to not let her go.”

“I mean letting her in on the whole operation,” Cordelia charged right back. “For all we know she’s some crazy demon in disguise, trying to get us into a vulnerable position so she can kidnap us. This might be part of her plan!”

To be fair, it was a realistic possibility. Still, looking at Cordelia’s tense face, the dark spikes of her fringe cutting up her forehead, Spike couldn’t help but think she was just reliving some of her Sunnydale trauma. “Thing is,” he admitted, letting it out with a sigh. “I think she’s telling the truth.” The idea was ridiculous, him in this other dimension; he knew it was, and the look on Cordelia’s face said that she thought it too. And yet – “I dunno,” he continued, shaking his head. “She was here last night and I suppose we must’ve bonded or something, but…”

“Oh my god, Spike,” Cordelia interrupted, screwing up her face and ruining his train of thought. “You slept with her?” She pulled away like he was diseased. “Geez; have some class, why don’t you?”

“For fuck’s sake; I didn’t sleep with her,” Spike replied, irritated. Although… Naturally, he couldn’t help but then glance back down the short corridor to where the two Buffies were talking – possibly… Was that a laugh? At least they were distracted, he supposed. “We didn’t talk much either,” he explained to, god help him, his closest friend in this current charade of undeath he was living. “It’s just, the way she speaks to me when she’s not thinking about it. And, I dunno; the way I was dreaming last night, I think part of me might remember what she’s going on about.”

Cordelia looked at him sceptically, arms crossed as she leaned back on the countertop. She clearly thought his subconscious was better at getting its end away than it was. “You mean you actually believe all that stuff?” she asked him, moving right over that particular question. “About you as the friendly neighbourhood vamp and Xander Harris the demon fighter?”

Spike shrugged, challenging himself to really think about it for the first time. The booze was helping him a little bit, keeping his thoughts nice and fluid. “It makes as much sense as anything,” he explained, allowing himself to accept the possibility. “I mean, when I think about it, it even fits together.” He shook his head. “There’ve been times in my unlife that I’ve lost time, right? Gone nowhere for a bit,” he said it carefully, not entirely sure how he felt about all this. “But only for the odd week or two at a time. And yet… When I went to Sunnydale, after Dru, that was – what, the end of ‘99? All right, I was in LA for a while before I remember all this happening, but…” And this was the point he tried to impart on her, meeting her eyes more seriously than usual. “There are two years to cover there and I just can’t place ‘em. It makes me think, right – what if I was actually dead?”

Cordelia looked taken aback; Spike couldn't help but laugh, watching her face. "Wha…" she began, but it went nowhere.

“Yeah,” Spike agreed, way ahead of her. “I'm thinking, this feeling like I might be in hell – maybe the Spike I am here’s long gone. Some time in 2000 I got so sodding drunk I didn’t wake up again the next day; I lost a bet; lost a fight; just missed the fucking sunrise.” He snorted at himself, the idea of that pathetic end to a pathetic existence. “It’s always what I said I’d do without Dru anyway,” he explained. “And, all right, some bastard wants to get rid of me? Well, that leaves a nice convenient little dimension to dump me in.”

Her mouth turned down into a frown, Cordelia seemed to take him seriously. She was running the numbers in her head, Spike knew it, just like he was. It was more than true enough that the life he had going here didn’t entirely make sense. Hell, he wasn’t entirely sure that he made sense. Sometimes he was convinced there was a softness in him that didn’t belong, that had dug into him like rootworm and wouldn’t bloody go away. This girl Cordelia right here was a case in point.

“But what does that mean?” she asked him, the hiss gone from her voice as she took a more relaxed stance against the tea-towels. “For you, if you go?”

Part of Spike was tired of sneering, but he just about got his lip to curl. “Figure I’ll go back where I came from, I suppose. Me as I am here will still be dust; me in the other place will carry on… Only I’ll know,” he realised, and this was the slightly cringe-making bit, “that her in there –” He nodded towards the foyer. “– she’s the reason I’m not floating in the wind.”

Cordelia raised her eyebrows, looking down at their shoes. “Well,” she said hesitantly, though he knew she was mostly joking. “Better you than me.”

Spike laughed, or felt the movement of it at least. He was trying to figure out what else needed to be said.

“How’d she manage it, anyway?” Cordelia asked, catching his eye again. She was actually confused, which surprised him. Most of the time he figured he was easier to read than a book. “What was so special about hanging out with her gang?”

And now Spike looked purposefully back towards the foyer. The two Buffies seemed to have settled their contretemps, if only for the moment, and were leaning beside one another against his desk. One of them was casual, the curve of her slender back picture-perfect but utterly unconscious; the other, he accepted now, could feel him like he was starting to feel her, a memory of battles long forgotten. She was stiff, ever so slightly, not poised but ready to move, ready to go.

The girl hadn’t mentioned anything of the sort, of course, about what had kept him with her. But he feared he was starting to feel it, in the ache he had to see her move; in the guilt he felt about nothing, that feeling he couldn’t quite place.

Spike turned back to Cordelia, not sure what he was going to say, part of him still thankfully disgusted with himself. She, at least, had the grace to keep quiet. With nothing more than a slight roll of her eyes, she crossed her arms and changed the topic. “So,” she asked. “If you go, then what’s going to happen about my job?”

“Well,” he suggested, glad for the distraction. “You could always take over here…”

This suggestion, however, did not go down well. “Are you kidding me?” Cordelia immediately responded. “Chasing around after other people’s lost chihuahuas and getting my clothes covered in turtle crap? No thank you.”

“Oi,” Spike replied, not sure why he’d even bothered suggesting it. Thankfully the memory doused any thought he was having about their resident Vampire Slayer. “We agreed to never mention that again.”

Of course, the girl’s only response to that was to shrug. The cow.

The meeting was meant to take place at midnight, down in some warehouses by the docks. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been snuck back into the sorority, and tarted up as far as Phi Eta Pi Buffy had seen fit.

When it came down to it, Spike was surprised by how easily the pair of them got on with the plan. As they drove downtown, the Buffies took turns to explain why, despite this being the most ridiculous set of circumstances anyone had ever concocted, it ultimately wasn’t something they had beef about.

“I guess it’s just that, when you think about it,” sorority Buffy explained, “we really did live the same lives until the age of fifteen. Just because Buffy freaked out and went to live with Mom in Nowheresville, it doesn’t mean we don’t have anything in common.”

Inevitably, though, some things never changed, so Cordelia took issue with her. “Hey!” she complained from the front seat of the car. “Sunnydale is not Nowheresville. We have an international airport.”

“Whatever,” Buffy replied. The other Buffy let out a giggle; Spike took a moment to remember he was meant to be watching the car behind rather than her face.

“I can’t believe Mom is dating Giles,” was what that Buffy actually said, allowing Spike to return his eyes to the road (because he had no idea what the bloody hell she was on about there). She sounded like she wanted to complain about it, but part of her was pleased all the same. Why the hell his mind found itself so occupied with reading her tone, Spike didn’t know, but for the moment he was going with it. “I mean, you remember Giles, right, Cordelia? He’s like, this total geek,” she explained, apparently for her double’s benefit.

The only thing that Spike could think was that the expensive beauty products she’d been bathed in were going to her head.

“I guess it’s…” For a moment, then, she faltered, cheer fading. “I mean,” she explained, audibly perking herself up, “you’ll never know how lucky you are that he was there that day and I love him actually probably better than our Dad, but, seriously, the guy is so British that it hurts.”

Spike thought about complaining on that point, but since the one thing he did actually know about this bloke was that he’d been Harmony’s watcher back in the day – well, he was keeping his mouth shut.

The other Buffy seemed happy to natter on nonetheless. “I’m just saying that he sounds better than the last guy I remember – what was his name? Ted, or something? Eh; anyway… Dawnie said he made her act like Stepford Mom… You know she’s a massive geek herself, though, right? It’s where Dawn gets it from.”

It was a more pleasant atmosphere than last time, it had to be said, but Spike had the B Side of the Clash to play, and letting his mind wander, it did.

It was about ten minutes before he realised Buffy from the other world had gone quiet, watching him.


Chapter Text

So, Cordelia and the other Buffy had come along on this excursion because, the way Cordelia remembered it, any time she’d been left back at base she’d been kidnapped. Spike didn’t give much of a toss, but he insisted the pair of them stayed in the car, leaving him and the Buffy who was bait to deal with the rest of it on their own. The other Buffy had agreed pretty readily, only asking that they brought back Ketchup the cat. Because apparently she had no fucking clue about the real issues of this situation.

Spike, on the other hand, approached the warehouse filled with nothing but doubt. As it was, there was still the possibility – if not risk – that they were dealing with absolute amateurs and they’d have the cat back quicker than someone could say ‘classic Spike cock-up’; he’d have the kittens; they’d do whatever they did under this curse – which he’d never known anyone pathetic enough to suffer. And then he’d be faced with a weird, human vampire slayer demanding his services in another world and he’d either have to go for it or doom himself to this existence until the end of time.

It was enough to make anyone piss off and dunk their head in a vat of Christmas brandy.

“Spike!” the Buffy from the other world was suddenly demanding of him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

He realised that he’d stopped, not so far from the car; not so far from the entrance. The image of his future was standing there, dressed to the nines and glaring at him. Damn him if she wasn’t hot, her hair curling across a sharp, black motorcycle jacket, her jeans as tight as bloody stockings.

Looking at her, Spike wondered what things were like in her world. He wondered if he had her or if he didn’t, if the feeling he thought he felt was ever enough to sustain him. He tried to figure out what he did all day, if he’d given up on the side of evil and yet wasn’t trusted by the side of good. Part of him yearned for it, to give into the brewing cocktail of lust and curiosity she elicited from him – but the other part of him, the part that had survived Dru’s abandonment, it resisted. There were enough warning signs here. And romantic as he was, a slave to love as he was, Spike did try to avoid situations which meant for absolutely certain death.

“I don’t think you get it,” Spike told the girl eventually, still caught up in the vision of her. It was as if they’d had far more conversations than, so he realised, they'd actually had, even if they had been too many. Here and now, walking with her into the lion’s cage, he could see how his future looked and he wanted nothing more than to be back in his office, counting the seconds it took for Cordelia’s coffee to percolate. “I’m certain you don’t get it,” he repeated. “I can’t do this.”

Buffy looked back at him, speechless. Five minutes to midnight and she was speechless, her mouth nothing but a seductive O.

“I don’t think you understand,” Spike tried to explain. “And I know you don’t want to.” He could see it all so clearly now – at least, he thought he could. “But I figured it out.” He had it all in his mind’s eye, from the way she’d been laughing with her double and from the way she’d been affecting him. “I know what’s waiting for me back in your world and I’m telling you, I can’t do it.” Even now his mind was skittering away from the thought. He didn’t want to acknowledge it, even as the phantom guilt stabbed into him: the loneliness and the fear of her; the worry for her safety and the wish that she was dead. He couldn’t do it, not again – not when in all likelihood it had killed him here the first time round.

Buffy started towards him, but Spike shook his head, stepping backwards. “Either you don’t understand what this means for me,” he continued, backing away, “or you don’t bloody care.” From the look of her, it didn’t seem like she cared: there was anger in her eyes and a firmness to the way she stood. He wasn’t even sure himself where he had this coming from, but it was there – holding him at bay. “This was only meant to be some spell that made me look for lost puppies, right? So why are you here? Haunting me?”

“Spike…” she began – and she was different again. No longer the mad harpy she’d been when she’d arrived; no longer the extra from Clueless like she’d been just now in his car. Suddenly she was old and tired and serious, like he was supposed to believe that this was her. She was close to him, just a few feet away, and it was really much too close for a slayer to stand near a vampire without there a fight going on. She smelt like something burning, but he couldn’t tell if that wasn’t just the unresolved attraction inside of him, sick like poison and spoiling everything he was.

“Just tell me,” he insisted, barely able to control himself, not here when they were alone. “Tell me you feel this how I do.” Spike didn’t know what had happened between them in that other world, and frankly he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. All the same, needed the assurance that it wasn’t just him on his own, trailing around like some cuckolded, desperate wanker, clinging to the dream of one last decent shag.

The girl shook her head and he knew it then: she would never acknowledge it, what was there, in his head and in the heart of him. He felt sick; he felt overwhelmed. The wild urge ran through him that he had to get away, to find himself somewhere else that he could gather his thoughts and feelings back together.

Before he could set to flight, however, the strange girl who apparently knew him better than he thought had set one hard, firm hand around his wrist. “Oh no,” she informed him through gritted teeth. “You’re not going anywhere.” He began to protest, but the bones on her just held him faster. “Oh, boo hoo,” she mocked him as a breath came out of his throat. “I’m Spike, the lost little vampire. I don’t know who I am or what I’m supposed to be doing.” He shook his head – confused but also a little too aware of what she was saying. She kept on, “I’m here one week to help out and then the next I need to be saved from somewhere else.” Even as he stilled, her voice turned harsh. “It’s not about you,” she said. “Learn to deal with it.”

In certain ways, the last few months had made Spike a lot tamer than he had ever been. For a start, he’d been dealing with humans the whole way through, had Cordelia yammering in his ear at every second interval. That was probably what kept him attentive through her speech.

Nonetheless, he was still a soulless, evil vampire and, really, you could only push him so far. As she finished and the words sank in, he found himself forgetting entirely about the chip and about every single ridiculous circumstance that had brought this Buffy to his door. With a reaction that was born out of nothing but instinct, Spike wrenched his arm from the Slayer’s grasp and socked her, on the backswing, right in the face.

It didn’t hurt him, which was a revelation. The chip never fired. And yet Spike was so caught up in the moment, for the moment, that he didn’t quite acknowledge it. He reacted instead, because she reeled back, this slayer, initially, before she recovered, spun, and threw a heavy, hard fist into his stomach, following it up with a knee that quite possibly broke his nose.

Spike yowled – but had enough muscle memory that he was able to grab the foot that was coming for his chin, lifted and threw his opponent into what became an elegant backwards somersault. Still, he pushed his advantage, barrelling the girl back against a cold, dark wall where no one would see him force his fangs into her throat, drink her deep and make the decision for him, lay her dead at the feet of fate so no one could tell him when or what he was meant to do.

And yet, that wasn’t quite what happened. He went for her throat – of course he did – but when Buffy’s fingers forced their way through the hair at the back of his scalp, his face dropped of its own accord. Before even her head could slam into brick, she was kissing him and he was kissing her back, desperately, like he actually loved her after all.

There was nothing inside of him that remembered this. Whatever spell it was that he was under, it didn’t break the moment that she touched him. Quite the opposite, it seemed all too apparent who he was: a lonely, wasted ex-creature of the night, washed up on the shores of mediocrity. There wasn’t enough passion left in him for this particular experience; he felt inadequate, longed quite suddenly to be the sort of man who lived like this, every sense humming with the nearness of his predator.

Spike knew he was done for, but for some reason it seemed like Buffy had it worse. He came up for air not long in, his insides liquid and bright and broken as the vision of the girl filled him; she had tears in her eyes and something like a sob in her throat as she begged him, “Please. Please don’t make me bring you home.” She shook her head, choking on something he could only hope was emotion. “Just say you want to come; don’t give in. Don’t make me…”

“What?” Spike insisted of her, because he was seriously bloody confused. He could barely see her face in the shadow of his; one hand was pressed around the curve of her bum as the other clenched around her shoulder, bra strap like some sort of maddening tripwire beneath his nails. “Don’t make you fucking what?

Caught in momentum, he could only ever drag her closer, but she came with him – a whole elbow around his neck as her mouth seized on his once more. She tasted like quicksilver, some sort of heavy alkaline scourging away every burr and bristle inside of him.

The weight around his neck led to fingers, maddening as they scratched through his shirt, but it was her other hand that was dangerous. Within seconds it had found its way past the buckle of his belt; a few more and it was popping past the buttons on his jeans. His mind almost blank, Spike whimpered, lips slipping out of rhythm to be caught once again; a steady steer showed his balls where to sit and how his cock was meant to slide between knuckles that weren’t his.

A better vampire – and, indeed, a better man – would have figured out this was the moment to find some reciprocal dishabille. As it was, Spike had enough problems riding with the flow as this vampire slayer resolutely gave up on the job. “Fuck me,” he whispered, half to himself and half to the air. He wasn’t entirely certain whether it was a curse or a command.

Of course it couldn’t just be answered by a whimper and a giggle, just as the consequence wasn’t only for him to figure out where his hand was meant to go, even on borrowed denim and a body he wasn’t quite so familiar with.

Because, no, this was his unlife. Which meant the shag of an albeit very short century was interrupted by the scathing, cock-shrivelling put-down of, “Yes, Spike. Let’s all fuck you.”

Oh right. The mission. He’d forgotten about that.

Returned to his senses, Spike immediately tore himself away from strong arms. Unashamed by the rapidly drooping appendage between his thighs, he was slightly worried about its vulnerability – and so tucked the thing away as he took in their new opponents. Buffy wiped at her mouth, proving her true colours once and for all.

It was every ounce of shame and disappointment that he called on as he swore, “Darla.” Then as he looked to the traitor by her side. “Dru.”

The bitch had the temerity to blow him a kiss, even as Darla spoke. “It seems like you’re already ahead of the game, William,” she charged him, dressed like a secretary but tilting her head like she still had ringlets and a corset. With a look of dismissal she turned to address Drusilla, “I’m happy to believe you, she’s the one; but you forgot to remind me how dismal I find the sight of him.”

“But he’s so pretty, grandma,” Dru replied, eyes trained on his ever-shrinking parts. “Like a tortoise without its shell.”

Darla rolled her eyes. Buffy snorted. Spike felt, not for the last time in his existence, as though the fates had a bet on how shit they could make things for him.

The thought passed his mind that they at least probably thought this Buffy was the other one. “Well, come on then,” he said, feeling like a memory had come from somewhere. “Let’s get on with the fighting.”

And so it went, his feelings locked back deep into the heart of him.

Obviously, Dru and Darla didn’t come at them on their own. With one click of someone’s fingers, scads of hulking minions appeared from the shadows, rushing in for the fight.

Spike risked a glance at Buffy, hoping that if she was the Slayer she had at least half the experience she claimed. Apparently he was in luck and she even had a plan, because in the seconds before the mob hit she caught his eyes and commanded, “Get your ex and the Super Slut. These guys’ll keep coming, but they’ll run out of ideas without those two.”

There was no time to do anything but agree, as a microsecond later Spike was hurling his first punch and pushing away from hands trying to grab ahold of him. He didn’t generally carry a stake, because that seemed too much like carrying a death wish, so while he had absolutely no qualms about breaking bones, he was at something of a disadvantage as he muscled his way through the crowd. From the sound of those familiar feral gasps behind him, Buffy at least was weaponed up and putting on a show.

The thought distracted him, momentarily, and a lucky punch found its way into his already bruised stomach. Spike found himself doubled over, supernaturally strong hands gripping him as the fist came again. He snarled, looking up to his assailant through yellow eyes. It was the usual characterless lunkhead who looked back at him, some git who’d been turned probably less than a month ago, had a face like a barn door and was all the uglier for the teeth.

All right, so Spike was pretty certain that in this dimension he was already dead. But it was one thing to go out because he was depressed and paralytically drunk, and quite another to go out to one of Darla’s Angelus-lookalike goons. With a roar that seemed to surprise this guy, Spike surged forwards, ripping his arms from the bastards who were holding him to headbutt his opponent in the face. The prat reeled backwards, and as Spike stumbled after him he could feel his feet tripping on something – a pipe or, as luck would have it, the missing slat off a wooden pallet. It barely broke his stride to snap something useful off of it, and then that make-do stake was plunging into the idiot’s heart.

That victory geared Spike up from some more and he worked his way through minions, trying to catch a glimpse of blonde hair and stuck-up attitude. Hell, he was ready to go for Dru at this point, considering that as far as he could tell she was most likely the reason why he had died here, the fickle bitch.

Nonetheless, it was Darla that he found first, watching the proceedings with a smug smile on her face. When she recognised him emerging from the rapidly thinning crowd, she looked surprised. Spike played that to his advantage, rushing her and her ridiculous teal cardigan back against this new brick wall.

Darla giggled as his body slammed against hers, as she ricocheted backwards and wool crunched on the rough. “Oh,” she exclaimed, suddenly in control as her four-hundred year old hands grabbed his shoulder and his wrist, squeezing not quite hard enough to make Spike drop his stake, but with more than enough strength that he couldn’t move. “Is this what you do on every first date? Because when you’ve seen the same moves used on another girl they just don’t feel special.”

Spike wasn’t stupid enough to fall for this bollocks of hers. Naturally, it was weird to be looking down into yet another tiny face so soon, rippling blonde hair contrasted with dark brickwork. It made his heart clench a bit. But it didn’t keep him from pulling backwards, adjusting so he could come again with an arm across her throat. Now Darla gurgled.

Of course, Spike had no leverage to jam a stake into her heart, but at least he had an advantage. He demanded of her, “What’s your role in all this, Darla?” Another shove, just to show her her place. “What’re you playing at?”

She gurgled again, but Spike knew full well she could still talk if she wanted to, so he didn’t slacken off. A couple of seconds and Great-Grandma seemed to give in to that point. “Take a guess,” she told him, with difficulty but not without spite. “Your little girlfriend.” For some reason Darla kept talking like the joke was on him. “Guess you figured out she’s a potential slayer, but did you know she’s in love with Angelus?”

That deserved another shove, and Spike gave it, every bone in him feeling hard and serious. His boots fought for purchase on gravel and he couldn’t even hear what was going on behind him anymore. “You’re talking rot,” he insisted, because this at least he knew was true. “Girl doesn’t even know Angelus. He’s down fighting ghoulies at the Hellmouth.”

Of course, that was the moment Spike remembered that this Buffy with him, the one he feared he was interested in, she lived on the Hellmouth too. Whether she spotted his hesitation or not, Darla smirked, wincing only a little as he pushed on her harder. “That’s not what Dru saw,” she said.

It was not a moment to get distracted. But, of course, Spike was never one to play by the rules. It only took a moment to realise, after all, that Dru had got her wires crossed – again. Somehow she must have seen the Slayer Buffy coming, and that meant…

Before he could complete that thought, however, he was being stabbed, right in the goddamn kidney. Because he’d failed to remember that Darla didn’t go anywhere without a knife.

“Fuck!” he screamed, reeling backwards as the pain kicked in. He pulled the stiletto out of him and threw it to the ground, unable to believe quite how long the damn thing was. The silver blade glinted in the light.

Darla tried to duck around him, but this wasn’t Spike’s first time on the stabbing train and he’d had quite enough of her, really, for one existence. As she moved to run he leapt on the back of her, forcing every inch of her daft seminary outfit into the dirt. The image flickered through his mind of snapping her neck and leaving her, letting the forty-odd years of memories stay his hand.

Then he remembered he was evil, merciless and impulsive, and it had been too long since he’d had a kill that meant anything. She had a schoolmistress-like scream on her when she was panicked, Darla, but as his own blood sloshed down his leg Spike was deaf to the “William!” she commanded him with. He brought down his makeshift stake, made one solid jab, and the body beneath him crumbled. It was an odd feeling that passed through him then, as he paused and took a breath. He watched his blood dribble into dust and figured there wasn’t really much chance to come back from this.

It was all falling to shit, like it always did. This Buffy – maybe she wanted him, maybe she didn’t – but inevitably it would never be something about him and him alone. It couldn’t just be the story of the Slayer and that vampire with a chip in his head, who despite the odds got caught up in their fatal attraction and shared ill-advised manual sex every second Saturday. No. His wanker of a grandsire had to get a look in, overshadowing every bloody move.

It was enough to make Spike snarl in frustration and run his head into the wall. In fact, that was very tempting as reactions went. But the fight wasn’t over yet, and with Darla’s dust on his knees he really did feel like they were winning.

As the pounding rage left his ears, Spike could hear things were dying down over with the rest of them. He looked up, but was a little surprised to see that Buffy didn’t seem to have won. The Angelus-loving bitch was held in the hands of four minions, and from the other side of the loading bay, wherever it was they now were, she was being approached by his dear old ex, seduction and deception in every swing of her hips.

Spike could still remember what that meant – and was surprised how much the sight panicked him. Miffed though he was, he wasn’t quite ready to see this girl go out to one of Dru’s mind-games, obviously. More than that, however, he realised then quite how much unfinished business it seemed to him there was. It couldn’t all be over now. They’d only just met; he was only just figuring it all out. He’d bloody killed Darla: they were supposed to win.

Unsteady in his limbs, Spike struggled to his feet, struck quite suddenly by his blood loss now the adrenaline was waning. His legs felt weak, too heavy for him – and a laugh bubbled out of his throat as it struck him that this would be the perfect moment for the geas to kick in.

Stumbling the first five yards of fifty he needed to cross, it became clear that Spike wasn’t going to make it. Dru was standing just across from Buffy, her hand raised like Mystic Meg. She had to know, Spike thought, that Darla was gone – and if he knew his Dru that meant she was in it for the vengeance now. That feeling was back with him, the one he got around this slayer: fear and panic, roiling strains of regret digging around the base of his stomach. The docks’ floodlights were bright like a football stadium; the black sky above seemed to mock him, too wide and big and plain for the small group of stick figures he was trying to get towards.

And then, just as Spike figured it was all about to be over, as the pang of loss and regret hit him for real – a pair of headlights flashed on from his right-hand side.

The lights were on full-beam; Spike couldn’t look at them – and they distracted Dru as his car then came running straight towards her, the bumper like a battering ram. There wasn’t all that much acceleration left in the DeSoto, but whoever was behind the wheel went gunning for it, not braking as the love of his unlife crumpled onto the bonnet and up over the roof of the car.

It was all a bit much for Spike, in the end. He didn’t know what to feel and he found himself stumbling to the ground, black spots of sleep descending around his eyes. He wondered if he couldn’t wake up to find himself playing chartered accountant in some other godforsaken dimension, because he’d near had enough of this one.

Just before he went, Spike caught sight of some movement in the shadow of one of the buildings. With a flicker of light, the scamper of paws and a meow, one scrawny-looking cat came out of the darkness to inspect the scene, lowering itself on its front legs to get the same view, almost, as he had. It was black, mostly, but with white splotches. In the gloom, its green eyes glinted like knowing, nasty emeralds.

If this was Ketchup the cat, was Spike’s last thought as he faded out – if she’d escaped – then she was smarter than all the other pets he’d given Dru over the years. Most never realised how little interest she had in feeding them. He must’ve made a good choice this time.

Spike woke up on the ride back to the office, in the backseat of his car.

“Learn how to drive, you idiot!”

Cordelia was in the front, honking the horn as she pulled on the brakes. Blearily, he could see the back of a 4x4 through the windscreen – it must have cut in front of them for the intersection.

“Come on!” Honk.

One of the Buffies was in the front with her, laughing. He could see the side of her face, the smile on it. There was a box in her arms that had holes jabbed in it. The whole sight was oddly affecting.

It was only then, a few seconds later, that Spike realised there was someone else in the car. There were fingers in his hair, not really moving; his head was lying on someone’s lap.

Shifting slowly, and quite painfully, Spike looked up. He figured this had to be Vampire Slayer Buffy, smiling at him. Her hair was all askew and a bruise was forming across one cheekbone. “Hey,” she said as their eyes met. A crinkle of humour framed her eyes. “We saved the kittens…”

He ignored her, continuing his inspection. He could feel the bones of her fingers, spread against his cranium. She was breathing in and out, heartbeat a little accelerated – the whole of her a little turned on, it seemed, to have him in her arms. She smelled like sweat and vampire dust, but there was a touch of arousal left over from his earlier attention. What she didn’t smell like was his grandsire, but he knew on that front that you couldn’t always tell.

“You’re in love with Angelus,” he accused her, as firmly as he was able with most of his blood missing and his body nonetheless slumped sideways.

She said nothing as Cordelia shunted them forwards, presumably on the green light. The thought passed through Spike’s brain that they needed a discussion on how to treat a classic, but he didn’t let it distract him from his current point of focus.

Buffy’s face was unreadable, so he pressured her further. “That’s what you haven’t been telling me, isn’t it?” he demanded, though it came out more like a stuttered whisper. He should have known it was too good to be true, really, in the end – that anyone would travel through dimensions to try and find him. Barely tolerated fuckbuddy, whatever his role was, he couldn’t even play that without being overshadowed by that brooding, hulking git. “I’m your bit on the side, is that it? Bit of rough for when you’re tired of playing his princess?”

As interested as he wasn’t in the goings on at the Hellmouth, Spike hadn’t kept up with what Angelus was doing down there. All right, this dimension was different, but in a lot of respects it seemed to be the same – and Cordelia had told him Angelus still spent most of his time giving pointers from the shadows, acting like he knew it all. He and the Slayer, Faith, they’d had some sort of double act going by the time Cordelia had left. If Spike had to lay a bet, he reckoned they were probably fucking each other and all.

“In my dimension,” Buffy began, glancing at him once before she turned her gaze out of the window. “Angel’s in LA.” Apparently she wasn’t going to answer any of his questions directly, but Spike listened anyway, because that took less effort than complaining. She hadn’t moved her hand from his head. “He’s here. He’s a…” She smiled, remembering a joke. “He’s a private detective,” she said, catching his eye again to make sure he got it. “Not for pets or anything… Just for people. Usually with demony problems.” She shrugged, and Spike was surprised by how little malice there seemed to be in what she was saying. “He has this gang who work with him in this big-ass hotel, and the one who’s been with him the longest is actually this girl called Cordelia.”

At that, Spike did let out a sound of protest. He takes everything, that bastard. Even the image of this particular existence, it seemed, couldn’t be just his alone…

Buffy shushed him, shaking her head. He was watching the lights of the city run in sweeps across the window behind her, her face not quite in focus as she told him, “So, you see, the thing is… If I’m in love with him, then I might as well be in love with you.”

All Spike could think was that this girl was a massive bitch. He’d suffered enough jeopardy for one unlife already; he didn’t need her casting him in this ridiculous double-bind. “What a pile of rubbish,” he said to her, even as he could feel himself fading again. Cordelia’s driving was getting to him, clearly.

“Well,” Buffy replied, apparently willing to talk to herself. “What were you expecting me to say?”

For once in his existence, Spike just wished people would be straight with him.

Of course, it seemed like a losing dream.


Chapter Text

Once they were back at the office Spike began to feel a little better. The wound was small enough to have closed some, leaving his insides to ache for what was going to be at least a week if not two. He downed a couple of pints of blood and with a little more whiskey to his name he decided he might just about pull through.

None of the birds had seen what had happened to Drusilla, of course. Spike figured she’d probably get herself to safety somehow, and most likely convince some hideous swamp creature to help her recover. She had a habit of falling on her feet, his girl, and even better without his help. He wasn’t going to shed a tear.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do with these kittens,” the prettier Buffy was saying, the cardboard box still held in her arms. It smelt a bit, but she was missing her jacket, so he figured that piece of clothing history had been sacrificed as a bed for Ketchup’s litter. They were certainly mewing away. The cat herself was turning figures of eight around her owner’s ankles, purring. The whole get-up looked like a bloody cat food commercial. “They’re too small to take them away from Ketchup,” Buffy continued, in an actress’s voice, “but there’s no way we’ll be able to keep them on campus.” She sighed; a perfect lock of hair fell over her face. “I guess I’ll put a notice in the vet’s office when I take her in to get fixed.”

So, the stronger Buffy had been kind enough to bring Spike’s armchair up from downstairs. Lounging on it sideways, by virtue of the hole stuck in him, Spike demurred from offering any particular comment. Ridiculous or not, it was difficult not to appreciate the way this Buffy’s ankles were set off by cat, so he was content to watch.

“I guess we can let you know,” Cordelia came back with a reply, falling right for this Buffy’s charm, “you know, if we hear from anyone who’s interested.” Spike was glad he found himself immune. Although he couldn’t be certain what it meant that he was falling for the other one.

As it was, he figured the spell had to be broken now. The way he understood the loan shark’s curse, it was nothing more than a spiteful bit of vengeance, like whore’s footrot or bartender’s burning palms. It compelled him to find kittens and not rest until he did, but there wasn’t enough magic in it to make him take them to wherever the other him had got his from. His credit was shot; he’d made it clear the heavies wouldn’t help – this was just a last bit of bother to terminate the relationship. Given how this one had come with a side of alternate dimension, so it seemed – well, whoever this loan shark was, it was clear he and Spike’s relationship was not one that would be rekindled.

That was fine by him. Malibu Barbie would take her kittens; Action Barbie would piss off home and he would… What?

“You remember what I told you, right?,” Action Barbie herself was saying, arms crossed and still wearing the other’s slightly roughed up clothes. “About vampires?”

“Sure,” her double replied, with the smile of a teacher’s pet. “Make like the 80s; wear a crucifix; stay out of dark alleyways – and if in doubt, remember that a number 2 pencil goes through vamp meat like butter.”

“Got it,” Buffy confirmed, her back straight and her face serious, even without the bruise. After a couple of seconds’ silence, her face softened and she smiled an awkward little smile. “Well,” she told the other one, glancing over to the glass doorway, the night and the open road outside. “Good luck with everything.”

“You too,” the other agreed. With a glance his way, bizarrely, kitten-bearing Buffy leant forward and drew the Slayer into a spontaneous hug. She whispered something in her ear that Spike couldn’t catch, but it made Buffy blush, bite her lip and look down. It made Spike raise an eyebrow. If he’d been sitting upright, found himself possibly a little less drunk, then he might have preened at the attention. However, watching from his low position it mostly made him suspicious.

As the hug broke, the Vampire Slayer asserted herself again. “What are your plans for after college, anyway?” she asked, like she was hungry for the information.

The sorority queen looked surprised. “Oh,” she replied, glancing around the room at him and Cordelia, the room full of losers. “I want to be a lawyer,” she told them as if she was actually serious, leaning down to pick up Ketchup the cat. “Criminal law, you know, like in Legally Blonde.”

The reference went right over Spike’s head, but Cordelia seemed to have a clue what she was on about. Leaning forward so her desk creaked, she commented, “Uh. You know they don’t actually take fashion majors, right?”

“Sure,” Buffy replied, letting the cat into the box to a cacophony of yowls and gremlin-like scrabbling. Spike wondered whether it had really been worth it after all. “But my major’s Philosophy,” she added. “I’m really into Hannah Arendt, you know, on the nature of evil?” She looked around the room again, and Spike it was now the rest of them who were lost. You’re wasted on this place, Blondie, he tried to tell her with his eyes. Why couldn’t he fancy this one again? She bit her lip, avoided his gaze as she continued to explain, “It’s why I ran for president when I was a sophomore, so in senior year I could focus on my GPA?” Oh right, she was bloody sorted and sensible.

Cordelia and the other Buffy didn’t seem to believe it, sharing a look between one another. Spike supposed the pair of them thought they were the only ones to grow up out of being the high school prom queen. He rolled his eyes.

“Well,” Buffy finished, jingling her car keys as she adjusted the box of kittens. They all complained again; Spike winced. “Thanks for your help, I guess?” She spoke to Cordelia, “Send me the invoice for whatever I owe you and I’ll put a cheque in the mail.” Then she added in his direction, still not quite meeting his eyes, “Um… Get well soon.” It was as though she was scared of him or as if she actually did like the look of him, which should have been a turn on if he was anything other than completely fucked. Thankfully it only lasted for a second, before she turned to the other Buffy and told her, “Have a safe journey home.”

Then she was leaving, and Spike’s stomach sank further. Because of course, once this Buffy left then there was no reason for the other to stick around. No real reason for him to stick around. He shifted on his armchair, uncertain.

The silence was heavy once she was gone, and it seemed to take a few moments for anyone to decide what to say. Standing upright, as if she’d successfully read a tension that wasn’t in the room, Cordelia declared, “I’m gonna go and make some coffee. You two have a nice conversation.” And then within seconds she was leaving them to it, vanishing off down the little corridor. Spike growled.

“You’re not coming with me, are you?” Buffy said immediately, once Cordelia had gone.

At first Spike could only look at her, the serious lines of her face and how the pot plant on Cordelia’s desk set off the darker tones in her hair. She seemed to have made her peace with the idea: it brought even deeper stillness to her and Spike hated himself for being enchanted. “What makes you say that?” he asked eventually, treading carefully so as not to give away what he hadn’t yet decided for himself.

Buffy looked him up and down, or at least along the length of him where he was lying, still mortally wounded, thank you very much. She seemed to make a calculation. “Well,” she explained readily after a moment or two. “What have you got to come back to? I can’t give you anything; you don’t even remember anybody else. You seem to be happy here.”

Happy?” He almost laughed at her. The rest of what she said, made a decent case, of course, but she lost points on that one significant detail. “Did you miss the sign on the door where it says I’m a bleeding pet detective?”

Inevitably, Buffy glanced to see the sign. Spike wished he could burn it. “Yeah,” she confirmed, clearly agreeing that it needed to be done. “But you don’t have to be anymore, right? The spell’s broken.” And that was a good point – one which hadn’t yet quite sunk in. “You can do whatever you want; get Cordy to help you.”

The pity-me morose tone was back in her voice, but Spike wondered whether he really needed to notice. He wasn’t beholden to her by any means, and one half-finished hand job wasn’t enough to buy his loyalty. All right, when he’d dreamt about her she had been something to him, but she would be nothing again soon enough.

For some reason, though, it rankled him that she’d come all this way and yet nonetheless wasn’t even going to try. “Have you ever thought about asking nicely?” he queried, making her eyes rise up back to his. “I mean, you’ve tried assuming I’m going to come; you’ve tried brute force… Would it really hurt that much to just come out and say that you want me back in your world?”

For a moment, Buffy looked at him. Spike had been watching her quite a lot in the past few days, so the feeling of meeting her eyes wasn’t new. All the same, it seemed to make his kidney wound burn a little deeper. He could see it, this time, the churning anxiety that drove her, from a place that was fully real and yet beyond his comprehension. Would it hurt her? As she looked away again he realised that, actually, it really would.

Buffy left not long after coffee. She gave him the other pendant, ‘because she didn’t need it back home’, and popped out of existence right there in front of them. All that remained of her afterwards were some thin traces of her scent and a strong puff of ozone. It was like the lights had gone out.

“So,” Cordelia asked him, looking down from where she was perched on her desk. “How long before you go after her?”

Spike blinked, still laid out on his chair. He couldn’t work out what had given him away. “What are you talking about?” he blustered.

“Oh please,” the girl scoffed, throwing him a box of Advil. That was kind of her – Spike took the pills gratefully and picked up his whiskey from the floor to help them down. “I know your MO,” she told him as he sorted himself out. “This is just the mysterious girl in the dark alleyway, version 2.0. You know she’s gonna kill you; you figure she’s gonna hurt you; but part of you is hoping it won’t hurt quite so bad this time.”

Spike couldn’t tell whether she had a point or not. When he tried to suss out his feelings, he couldn’t be certain whether hope did in fact get a look in. It seemed unavoidable, going after this girl, the way it had done since she’d arrived, but he still couldn’t figure out why. “Look, it’s been fun, Cordelia, yeah?” Worryingly serious, Spike tried to explain as he popped his pills, “But you’re destined for better things. I’m destined for other things. And we can barely stand the sight of each other as it is.”

Cordelia smirked at him, which pretty much said all that he needed to hear. “Yeah,” she agreed, and they broke eye contact together.

“Look, pass us that phone, would you?” he asked as she readied herself to leave.

Apparently not trusting herself to say anything, Cordelia did so on her way out, stretching the cord from her desk to where he was lying.

“Ta, love,” he said to her, and she nodded, leaving the office without a backwards glance.

Once she’d gone, Spike rang the number that he somehow knew by heart. Despite what this whole incident seemed to say about him, he did pay his debts, and there was one more he had to ring in.

“All right, Lorne? It’s Spike. Yeah. It’s about that favour you owe me. I’ve got a girl who needs an agent – and not one of those money-grabbing wankers who’ll spin her along for a free dime. I’m talking about you, mate; someone who’ll get her work. Oh yeah; she knows all about demons and that, don’t worry – been working for me since November, hasn’t she? No – I’ve got… There’s just somewhere else I need to be…”

It was funny how the memories came back to him. One minute he was cursing blue murder as his comfy chair gave way to hard wooden floor, the next Spike was thinking to himself that it was just his luck to end up at the Magic Box. Then, however, it took him a moment to figure out what the Magic Box was and what on earth his memory of a magic shop had to do with what looked like a particularly run-down gym.

Eventually that part clicked together, and so it followed that he hoped he wasn’t alone, or else that Anya hadn’t set an alarm, which led him to figuring out who Anya was (Xander’s other half) and so on and so forth. When he added it all up on a scale, it didn’t seem to him that the gamble had paid off too badly. He’d probably miss Cordelia a bit, who had to be vastly underappreciated by Old Broodface, but there were actually some people in this version of his unlife that he didn’t hate. And he was resolutely uninvolved with anything to do with fuzzy creatures, which could only be a plus.

As for the reason he’d leapt in the first place, well, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. He did think she might have mentioned that he’d been painfully, obsessively in love with her for over a year now. Or else maybe that she’d died and had been torn out of paradise. It put a certain amount of her whining into perspective.

Quite what he was going to do now, Spike didn’t know, but he figured the first part of the job would be see what state his crypt was in. That involved getting himself upright, which wasn’t easy with a punctured kidney, and then making his way to the door.

His ears adjusted a bit slower than the rest of him, so it was only as he made his way up that he realised the Scoobies were out front.

He was struck by the sound of her voice, Buffy’s. It sounded the same as it had in the other world, naturally, but there was something different in how he perceived it here with his memories intact. The clarity of it, the way she was explaining whatever she was explaining without any real emotion at all… It drew him in like it had been drawing him in for days, but it repulsed him just as much. Right then he wanted nothing more than to be out of there.

Of course, lumbering as he was on his stomach wound, he couldn’t make it to the backdoor before someone came to investigate. And – trust his luck – it was her.

“Spike,” she said as she came through the door to the shop. There was no desperation in it; this was no call of desperation or surprise or shock. Instead, it was a straightforward, commanding address.

Naturally it had him turn to face her. “What?” Spike asked the woman he now figured out he did actually love. She looked the same, almost too much the same, and it was cutting right into him. He could barely meet her eyes.

“I didn’t think you were coming,” was all she said. There was no memory on her face of her begging him to stay, nor of her digging her little hand between his legs in that rather literal rendition of her power over him. She just stood there, back in her natural habitat of brick and graffiti wards; exercise kit that stank of her alongside Xander and Anya’s odd quickie.

In the other world, Spike thought, he’d been up for an adventure. As far as he was concerned here, however, the adventure had been and gone: he’d lived this life and now he was right back in it. It left him tired, which was why he asked, in the end, “How long was I gone?”

Buffy paused, which really said it all. As the silence hung he watched her, chewing over whatever dismal thing she didn’t want to say. It made his stomach sink. After all, he could still remember some of the things she’d said in the other place; it had sounded like more than the odd tea party had happened after he’d gone missing. Quite a lot more.

How long?” he pushed the question, as Buffy continued to say nothing, looking down. It was enough to make him angry, which thankfully was enough to stop him thinking about the pain. Nonetheless, he could feel his hands wanting to shake, incontinent and pathetic. And that just made him angrier. “Not expecting you to count the minutes,” he added, because apparently he always gave this girl an out. Fuck knew why; he was keeping his voice level and all. “But you must have some idea…”

“Time…” Buffy replied, enigmatically, catching his eye for a moment before she looked away again. It was all a bit much. “It moves the same in both dimensions…”

For a moment, Spike was nonplussed. Then he figured out what she was saying. Months. “You left me there for…” As much time as he remembered, doing his job – that was how long he’d been missing from Sunnydale, without anyone who cared enough to find him.

As Buffy blushed, Spike realised there were two ways to go with the mounting rage and, actually, plain sense of betrayal that he could feel inside of him. He could get him and Buffy into a fight, which he would lose given how he was injured, especially if they didn’t end up back in a situation that wasn’t in the mood for right at the moment. Or else he could leave, and avoid the risk that the jumble of torment inside of him would come out in that way it often shamefully managed to around Buffy.

It was fight or flight, ultimately, and like any beaten and battered bit of prey, Spike knew what he had to do. Buffy called after him, but she didn’t try very hard to follow.

If he hadn’t been shattered and in pain, Spike would have got trashed that night. As it was, stumbling through the door of his crypt to somewhere that was reasonably similar to how he remembered it, save for another layer of grime even he refused to call a patina – well, it was enough to send one bleeding corpse down into musty sheets and pretty much straight to sleep. The quarter-bottle of scotch he laid hands on was enough to send him off, but it was hardly enough to get him trolleyed into blissful ignorance, which was really what he thought he deserved.

In any case, he went to sleep without much bother, and was readily unconscious until what had to be around noon the next day. He woke to the itching feeling of sunlight encroaching through his walls and stomping girly feet hammering on his trapdoor.

“Spike! I know you’re down there!” came the stilted but not uncertain call. “You’re probably naked or something so I’m not coming down, but could you get up here? I have to be back next period or they’ll put in on my record…”

It was, of all people, Dawn Summers.

Rolling out of bed to find he had forgotten about his stomach wound, but that it was thankfully healing well enough not to find itself ripped completely open, Spike struggled into his nearest available clothes. Prying teenage eyes could only be stayed for so long, and he wasn’t quite ready to go full frontal on the sprog. There was a pang of disorientation as he gave a thought for his old hot shower (back to the jerry-rigged cold outlet for him), but if there was one thing he didn’t miss it was that bloody radio.

With a groan, Spike made his way up the ladder, not sure quite how he’d made his way down it, and emerged onto the upper floor.

“Oh my god!” the girl squealed when she saw him. “It’s true! It’s really true! You’re back!” She clapped her hands and everything, wonder pure and bright in her eyes and her mouth pulled into a true Californian rictus grin.

It was the reaction he would have liked from one or two other people. Rather than dwell on that, however, Spike gave into the enthusiasm and made his way up the last few rungs. “Keep your hair on, Bit,” he said, always maintaining those last dregs of cool he had. “Anyone would think I had a say in the proceedings.”

That particular statement clearly confused her, but she’d soon dismissed the feeling in favour of hassling him again. “But where did you go?” she asked him. “Buffy said you’d left us, but then there was this whole thing with Clem and nobody would tell me anything.” That part had clearly bummed her out; she had the pissed off look of any teenager in a snit but, like most things with Dawn, it was clear there was slightly more going on beneath the surface. “You don’t understand what it’s been like here without you.”

It was one thing to be thrown back into a world where no one had cared to find him. It was quite another to be thrown back into a world where Dawn looked at him like he still really knew who she was - how he was, in fact.

Not one for giving himself away, Spike tried to play the role. He looked around for a cigarette and asked her, “How’s that, then?” Forcibly, he listened, trying to sort himself into the right frame of mind.

It was all a load of nonsense, apparently. Willow had gone off the deep end not long after Spike had vanished, leaving an injured Dawn and a ‘permanently PMS-ing’ Buffy to look after her with no small amount of tough love. Money troubles had sent Buffy to the Doublemeat Palace, which seemed to drain any goodwill left inside of her, leaving Casa Summers a fairly unhappy place to be even before Buffy’s birthday party, which had apparently been another scene of drama, and Riley’s return about a week ago.

There were clearly some if not several things that Dawn wasn’t saying. A few of them she seemed unwilling to talk about, even when Spike prodded her, and he imagined there were at least a couple more incidents he didn’t know about. It wasn’t entirely clear to him what had catalysed Buffy’s decision to come and find him in the other dimension, but then Spike wasn’t sure he would ever know. All in all, it was bizarre – and far higher octane than BiBi the husky.

“So Buffy’s still having a rough time of it, then?” Spike asked as Dawn’s narrative seemed to draw itself to a halt, trying to figure out where he fit in.

The girl snorted, pulling herself up on the sarcophagus where she’d perched. “Please, Spike, is that all you think about? We’re all having a rough time of it.” Quite how she managed to sound so superior when she was about the age of a flea, Spike didn’t know. “All everyone does these days is yell,” she said seriously, like she’d been measuring it from a distance. “I try to spend time with Tara, and Willow yells about Tara. I try to stay in the house, and somebody yells about chores. When Buffy isn’t slaying she’s watching the TV like some stinky, yelling zombie. I don’t think she sleeps.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. He still felt like he didn’t know her, this Buffy, like she was the foreign creature he'd come to this dimension to find. It was difficult to put the pieces together; slide everything back into place.

“I can’t tell if she’s meaner than she was before, or what,” Dawn continued, like this was the natural course of her thoughts and she would keep going unless Spike stopped her. He’d long finished his cigarette, but was comfortable enough on the other end of the sarcophagus. “I mean, she was pretty much always a total bitch to me, if you discount that part where, you know, I was freaking out about being the Key and whatever, but I don’t know what’s up with her these days.”

“I’m not sure anyone does, Bit,” Spike replied, because it seemed like the thing to say. It was true enough.

Silence fell, and Spike's gaze wandered around the dusty remains of his crypt, to the chair and TV that had somehow survived his absence. The lamp he’d always figured Buffy would smash his head into, had she been alive. That prophecy hadn’t come true yet, but there was still time.

What were any of them supposed to make of her, this girl who had been torn from heaven? Who’d been happy, it seemed, to leave him to rot well beyond the tentacles of Sunnydale. With a night to think about it, Spike couldn’t tell if it had been an act of malice or of mercy.

“Giles never came back, you know,” Dawn commented after a while, sounding quite sad about it. “I can’t remember if you were here when he went, but he left. Sold his apartment and everything.”

“Coward,” Spike sneered emphatically. He did remember that business, now he thought about it, and it seemed to him that if he, Spike, could make it back from a dimension where he hadn’t even heard of the Scoobies, the old man might make the effort from old Blightly.

Yet, as it was, Dawn didn’t seem to share this opinion. She shook her head, the long strains of her hair slipping across her shoulders as she ducked her shoulders. “I thought I’d never forgive you both, not for leaving us,” she admitted, sounding nothing but defeated. It made Spike’s heart break for her. “But now I just figure that staying can be worse.” She sniffed, then looked up at him, like she couldn’t believe what she was saying. “I think you should go again,” she said quickly. “I think it will be better. I think you’ll be happier.”

Spike was taken aback. Leave?

Dawn pushed her advantage. “I can come and visit you, so long as you don’t go to England,” she explained. “My friend Monica, her dad lives in Pittsburgh. She goes to see him on Thanksgiving and stuff…”

The way she was selling it, the idea almost sounded sensible. The thought took root in Spike’s brain and he figured he would think on it.

For now, though, he’d had enough of teenage misery. It got him down. “Come on,” he said, hopping down from the sarcophagus lid, filing the thought away. “How long you got before school’s back in? Know I’ve got some cards around here somewhere.”

At last, someone had a smile for him. Spike wondered if that was what he really wanted.


Chapter Text

After Dawn left, Spike had had a lot of time to think about leaving. In fact, he spent a good twenty-four hours thinking about it, and it seemed more than likely that it was a good idea after all.

However, before he’d had the chance to make his decision, it seemed as though someone else had got wind of his thoughts. His sleep was once again interrupted, if more furtively than before.

Initially only realising there was somebody moving around upstairs, Spike was on his feet in seconds. A pair of jeans pulled on and a purple shirt slung around his shoulders, it was only halfway up the ladder that he realised how well he recognised the particular pattern of footsteps he could hear. Moreover, the scent of sweat and the tick of an elevated heartbeat.

With nothing in particular to say, Spike took the last few rungs on the ladder carefully, easing himself into the darkness. There he found one Vampire Slayer standing in his entranceway, practically milling for all the pointlessness of every movement she made.

“Buffy?” he asked her, because nothing about this particular scene made sense. The way she’d done herself up was unfamiliar to him, from this dimension at least. Granted, he’d been missing for a while, but since she’d come back from the dead he’d grown used to thinking of her in harsh colours, blacks and reds and nothing he had a problem with, or the sort of thing that wiped her out entirely. This version of her had her hair swept back into some half pulled-out pony tail thing, and with her outfit made of green and pink, leather skirt and gold, she was reminding him of that girl who’d thrown herself of a tower. In what he felt could possibly be a good way.

At first, she didn’t respond to his question, just stared at him with something like fear in her eyes. After a moment, however, she seemed to pull herself together, put on a smile, and said to him, “Hi.” It was a reasonably auspicious start. And slightly less bizarre than the statement she followed it up with: “So, it’s about my cat.”

Spike quirked an eyebrow, trying to figure out how exactly this worked to be a joke at his expense. “What the bloody hell are you on about?” he asked her. He realised he hadn’t yet done his shirt up, but considering how nervous Buffy looked, he figured there was no reason to cover himself up just yet.

Of course, it kept him slightly out of step with the game she seemed to insist on playing. “My cat,” she repeated, looking at him like he was supposed to get it, whatever she wasn’t saying. She took a step further into the crypt, pulling out of the low twilight into the gloom proper, reminding him to light some candles. “He’s… He’s a cat,” she added, like she really hadn’t thought this through very far. “He’s missing.” She paused, and as Spike set his lighter to work she kept her eyes on him. “I… You’ve – helped me before,” Buffy eventually continued, one word at a time. With one candelabra alight, Spike paused to listen to the last part, annoyed how he found himself admiring the way this girl looked in candlelight. “So I was thinking,” she said, with a steady amount of conviction. “I mean, I wanted to ask you, you know…” She blushed, then, but finally she said it. “I wanted to ask if you would help me out again.”

“To find you cat,” he replied, sceptically. Now – there were many things Spike didn’t understand. Smoking bans, for one. Arsenal supporters. But above all of them was the mind of Buffy Summers. She could have asked him directly; she could have come into his crypt like she always had done and said it straight to his face, like she’d said so much else. But no. She had to come in and play out some cutesy routine that let her keep her final piece of distance from actually engaging with him. It was a habit of hers he certainly hadn’t missed. He thought he was having trouble getting back to grips with her? He’d never bloody known her at all. “I don’t know why you’re bothering.” Of course, he couldn’t prevent himself from playing right along with her. “It’ll probably come back on its own.” The scorn crept into his voice of its own accord. “That’s what most creatures do.”

Buffy nodded, quickly. Her heart was still going pitter-patter, but she drew slightly closer to him and the candlelight. “I know,” she said, and she looked at him almost like she was grateful. “I mean, he came back once before when I thought he was gone, but then he went missing again – and I was angry the first time, but this time I figure he might actually be gone for good, so…”

She was getting herself in a right state, all about some fantasy nowhere-cat that Spike could only hope was a metaphor for him. Dawn had mentioned how Spike was only the last in the line of triumphant returns, and if it turned out Buffy was talking about that galumphing prat Riley there was going to be unpleasantness.

From the way she was looking at him, however, it was difficult to believe she had eyes for anyone else. Spike knew that, on Buffy more than anyone, appearances could be deceptive. At the same time, it had been a long while since he’d looked at her without pain in his body and all of his memories intact. He thought about ending this whole détente – crossing the floor and pulling her into the clinch he could already imagine perfectly in his head. At least, Spike thought, it would get a reaction out of her – something real that cut through all this rubbish – help him figure out his feelings. But then the very last thing he wanted was to leave Sunnydale because she’d pushed him away. It would be his choice if he left; his choice if he stayed. It had to be.

For once in his unlife, therefore, Spike waited to see what would happen. The candles lapped up the stale air around him and his thumb itched on the pull of his lighter. It would have been easy to spark up a cigarette – there was a packet waiting for him on the windowsill, resting in the evening shade like all the others he had lying around half-empty. He didn’t reach for it, though. He held himself and waited.

After a few more agonising moments, just when Spike thought patience had proved itself the sin he’d always imagined, Buffy spoke. “You know, I really don’t have this figured out,” she said.

For an instant, Spike was convinced her heart stopped beating – but then all of his senses seemed to shut off, only revealing themselves as they came back one by one. So he wondered whether maybe it wasn’t him instead.

“I mean this,” Buffy continued, waving a hand between them. “What am I supposed to do?” She wasn’t making great reams of sense, but Spike supposed that she at least wasn’t talking about cats anymore. “I don’t see you for months and I figure, sure, maybe you were right to leave.” Clearly, this had been the Revello Drive consensus. Quite what it meant that Spike was too thick to have ever done it, he didn’t like to think. “And then,” Buffy continued to explain, “I find out that you didn’t actually leave because you wanted to, and – guess what?” She raised her hands, as if talking to an invisible audience – but only for a moment before her arresting gaze came back him. “It turns out you don’t even know who I am, so I can’t even blame you for staying away.” She accused, “And then you come back anyway, for reasons I honestly don’t understand – only to say that you’re going away again? For real this time. On purpose.”

When she put it like that, Spike had to accept it sounded confusing. At the same time, Buffy only had herself to thank for all of it, didn’t she? Also, he hadn’t said anything of the sort to anyone. “Well, what do you expect me to do?” Spike demanded of her, that welt of betrayal in him still aching.

Dawn was to blame for all of this, clearly, but that didn’t stop Spike from feeling annoyed that this was Buffy’s response. To come in and ask him about a cat? Did she not have any respect for him at all?

Spike didn’t intend to start pacing, but his feet took him anyway before he could regain control of them. “I can’t stay here, can I?” he tried to explain, mostly to himself. “Not with you. Not when you think so low of me.” All right, so he hadn’t entirely planned to get into this with her, not ever. And yet here he was. It made him laugh. “Never thought I had any pride, but it seems like you can surprise yourself sometimes.” Finally, Spike paused, looking Buffy in the eye to make sure she got it. “It was a bit of a wake-up call, right? Figuring out how little respect you really had for me.”

Across the room from him, Buffy looked wounded, but at least she had the grace not to try and contradict him. “I wanted you to be here,” she insisted instead, and it came out with no small ounce of disbelief. “When Dawn and Willow… When I discovered you were gone. And later, when I thought…” She shook her head. “I don’t know how it works, but I go to this other dimension wanting you and then I find you don’t want me.”

She explained it so absolutely that Spike felt like he had to interrupt. He started to respond, “Yeah, but –”

Immediately, however, Buffy talked straight over him, the earnest rhythms of her voice at odds with how her fists were clenching. “And that should have been the end of it,” she said, staring him down. “I screwed up; I failed. I pretty much left you to die all alone in another world and that was there on me.” Oh, so it was the sad little martyr act again. “Only you decide for no reason that makes sense that you’re gonna –”

“I’m in love with you, you stupid cow,” Spike raised his voice and snapped at her. Two more steps, right to the edge of her personal space, he tried to explain in words even a Buffy could understand. It almost felt like he was telling the truth. “I’m attracted to you,” he stuck a finger at himself and then at her, in case he was talking some foreign language. “Down-and-out, chip-in-his-head, cheated-on fool, me. Doesn’t matter if you make me a sheep farmer in the Outer fucking Hebrides; you have some hold on me that keeps me hoping that I might be somebody worth being at some point.” God knows why.

“You were in love with someone you didn’t even know,” Buffy dismissed, the true colour of her finally revealed. It was nasty, the way her face blanched, like a gleam of light on a razor blade. Spike, as he now well remembered, couldn’t get enough of it. “You still are. You don’t know anything about me apart from how to build your slutbot and feel my fist in your face.” In the end she lifted her chin and accused him straight, “You don’t even know what love is.”

“And that’s why I went for you, isn’t it?” Spike sneered, looking down at her. He wasn't touching that bit about love; he’d heard it too many times. Sometimes, in the end, there was only so much punishment he could take. “Could’ve gone for the other one," he tried to explain instead. "The pretty one," he pointed out. "The bloody sane one." That earned him a glare, but did it matter? “In the end I always end up chasing after you!

It was disgust that Spike could feel, but he couldn’t say that his motor wasn’t revving all the same. The way Buffy was looking at him, glare not yet broken, it was inevitable. Hate burnt through her in a way he couldn't look away from; it made him want to break her into a thousand pieces, cast her out of his mind and have himself guided by some other star.

After a moment, Spike rocked forward on the ball of his foot, not sure what he was going to say but more than ready to let it rip. In that instant, however, two strong hands were seizing at his shirt front and he lurched forward, off-balance, a swell of passion rising in him.

The kiss was unavoidable, the only outlet Spike had for the rage he felt against himself and his long-wavered conviction to leave; the only response to the smell of her suddenly all around him. Words were swallowed back to cut inside of him instead, somewhere around that kidney wound he’d inherited.

After the last time, there wasn’t much time for the preshow. Buffy was walking him back against the wall; Spike pulled her to him, pushing back and wrestling her around. The light from the candles was warm on their left hand side, revealing strange, abstract glimpses of chiaroscuro as his eyes drifted in and out of shut. Control was gone, even over his eyelids, but he could feel Buffy laugh as he pushed her up and winded her, hands under her thighs and a solid ram to keep her in place. She did the rest, one hand on his shoulder for balance; the other not playing around this time to get them both sorted out – her harsh, panting breaths tickling Spike’s chin.

By the time Buffy guided him in, Spike knew what was coming and yet was still caught by surprise. A cry tumbled out of him and his head slipped past Buffy’s to thump into the wall.

She laughed at him, still breathing deeply. As they steadily pulled together, Buffy’s hand that had been fiddling around came up and caught the side of his skull, fingers squeezing bruises into his jaw as she pulled him back to kiss her. It was all a bit much, as far as Spike was concerned. He could feel himself nestled inside of her, and the weight of her resting on him, the smooth and soft insides of her thighs like silk against his exposed hips. The love that he remembered – which had always borne him through – it rose up from somewhere and made him feel like an alien in his own skin.

Buffy, for her part, was still holding on, pressing light kisses in smiles around the edges of his mouth. It annoyed him, how she ignored the particular existential crisis she brought with her. However, after a small response to one kiss made her moan, Spike decided the moment was not now for figuring out who he was. Sinking down back into himself, he reclaimed control of his hips and his tongue, using his frustration in one of the few ways he knew how.

Spike woke in his bed, the weight of morning like a curse. This was weird, since he couldn’t quite remember how he’d got downstairs. Clearly he’d passed out at some point, as Buffy probably had right alongside him: Spike could remember more bruises than good feelings for at least the first few goes, but then eventually something calmer, something more like sex as Spike figured it was known to other people. They must have found the softer surface.

Since was morning, they couldn’t even have slept that long. From the ache in his muscles, Spike knew he would have rather slept longer, but the unexpected feeling of someone sitting bolt upright two inches from his nose was more than enough to rouse him from slumber.

Steadily, Spike cracked his eyes open, surprised and yet not surprised by how light Buffy was on the other side of the mattress, how pale the un-made-up parts of her were when set against his sheets. She had one of them held across her front, but seemed to have forgotten his eyeline was set on her back and the uninterrupted transition from her shoulder blades down to her coccyx, the ribs expanding and contracting just above her waist and the slight fleshy hips she had on her. He’d pulled her hair out hours before; it hung in thick, sweaty tangles as she breathed deeply, in and out.

“Oh shit,” she whispered, like she couldn’t quite believe where she was.

Spike couldn’t help but reach out a hand to trace the line of her spine. Her words didn’t sink in; he just reacted to the sound of her voice, caught up in the sensation of feeling, sated, warm and not insignificantly hungry. His stomach rumbled, but it only made his toes tingle, like the way the ache in his legs made him feel like a king.

Unfortunately, Buffy did not seem to share this feeling. When Spike touched her, she flinched, turning her back away and wrenching the sheet further to cover more of her body. Of course, that had the presumably unintended consequence of exposing him all the more. Spike snickered as she blushed. “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” Buffy exclaimed, clearly in a panic. “I was gonna ask you to help me out again, and… And you weren’t gonna leave, and…”

“Right then,” Spike began, starting to get rather pissed off about this now. “So, you usually use sex to get what you want, is that it?” From how she shrank away from him, it was clearly the wrong thing to say, but Spike wasn’t sure that he cared. One moment he was waking up thinking that he’d possibly just hit a turning point on the shitness of his existence, only in the next to find himself feeling used and wrung-out like some mouldy old dishrag. It wasn’t a new feeling. “Because I have to say, it does explain a few things about how your lot have ever saved the world…”

She didn’t look at him, Buffy; didn’t say anything; didn’t fight back. She just pulled the sheet entirely from the bed and turned away, clearly starting the hunt for her clothes.

Remarkably, some actually had made it downstairs with them, but Spike didn’t care about that. The girl was shaking like a leaf, out of anger or else something deeper, unable to get a handle on her guttering breath. It made Spike feel like a heel. “Buffy!” he called after her, as she retreated into a particularly gloomy shadow. “Wait, look; I didn’t mean it…” Climbing out of bed, he clambered through the debris left over from when they’d tried it against the bookcase. With a little effort, he managed to pen her into a corner, just about keeping a respectable distance. “You felt something, yeah?” was what came out of his mouth, because apparently he was pathetic after all. Buffy looked terrified. “It’s only natural,” Spike continued. “I’ve been away a long time; feelings build up; they come out in unexpected…”

“No,” Buffy replied, dashing his hopes into dust. She shook her head, at least looking at him now as she clutched her top to her chest, the flimsy rag that it was. “You haven’t seen me all this time,” she explained, her eyes a little glassy. “You don’t know. I mean, the last time I came back from the dead I went through this whole angry-at-the-world, sexy-dance-with-Xander phase, but… I’m out of control this time; I’m…”

“You never fucked Harris,” Spike sneered, not sure whether he was asking her or telling her.

Wrinkling her nose, Buffy conceded the point, but immediately pushed on. “Maybe not,” she said, “but you don’t get it. The way I’ve been with people…”

It was disconcerting, the feeling he was in the wrong place; Spike had forgotten it until Buffy gave it back him. He tried to ignore it, but it set him back a touch.

Buffy was still explaining, accusing him, “And you! In that other place…” She didn't actually need to remind him. “We’d barely met and you wouldn’t do what I wanted so, what, I think it’s OK to pretty much assault you? What kind of person does that?”

For a moment, Spike tried to figure out if she was entirely serious. From the way she was looking at him, it almost seemed like she was. “Well, I have to say,” he told her, glad to be back on ground where he could feel quite confident, “if you’ll let me speak for Spikes everywhere, I think you’ll find we do quite well when a girl like you decides to take an interest…”

“Oh, come on, Spike,” Buffy interrupted, impatiently, “you know that’s not true.” Her hand was loosening on her sheet, holding it more casually, and some corresponding part of Spike’s brain remembered they were actually having this conversation naked. But then Buffy continued, “Imagine if Glory had come onto you like that.” The feeling died. “She’s, what, preppy and blonde and a little bit crazy? Should be your type, right?” Buffy suggested, preppy and blonde and crazy as anything before she finished, “Somehow I don’t think you’d appreciate her hand down your pants.”

Despite that rather terrifying image, Spike decided the conversation had really gone on long enough without him trying his luck, so he edged a little closer, catching Buffy’s eyes in his. “Well, no,” he agreed, before reminding her. “But we went over this last night: you, Goldilocks, are special.”

Instinctively, it seemed, Buffy brought a hand up to her hair, running fingers through knots as her big, bright eyes resolutely didn’t drop from his face. She’d probably figured out that there was a growing sight to see. “But I was using you,” she said, like some therapist had told her to. “I used you last night. I keep doing it, over and over, taking advantage of your feelings, everybody’s feelings, just to get what I…” A guilty swallow. “To make myself feel better. And now I’m here – and I can see it – and I…”

As far as Spike was concerned, all Buffy had figured out was the foundation of most relationships, but that probably wasn’t what she needed to hear. She was clearly expecting something from him now, her heart pounding in his ears and the sheet held so loose that it barely held across the curves of her breasts, scooping low under her arms to the back of her.

Spike wasn’t quite sure what to do, but had spent too long with frightened animals now not to tread lightly around anything that looked ready to bolt. “Look,” he tried, coming in a little closer. She didn’t stop him. “Come back to bed, love, yeah?” he asked her, and she bit her lip. Spike figured he almost had her; this part at least all made sense. He reached out a hand and traced a thumb over her cheek and, for reasons only known to Buffy herself, she let him. “Don’t have to figure it out all at the beginning.”

“I’m not a puppy, you know,” Buffy told him, serious accusation in her eyes like she’d figured out his game completely. She was still smiling, however, so Spike didn’t really care. “You can’t just sweet-talk me into the back of your car.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “What kind of pet detective do you think I am?” he asked. Sweet-talk? In what universe was he meant to go about horse-whispering jumpy mares. Some things simply made universal sense. “Mostly,” he pointed out to Buffy, because she was still looking at him sceptically, “All I do is this.”

And then, even as she let out what even Buffy couldn’t pretend was not a delighted squeal, Spike ducked round to her back and seized her up by the waist, two arms wrapped to hold her caught against him. She struggled, but that didn’t work so well with the sheet still wrapped around her, and, with the few strategic footsteps Spike placed on its end, by the time they made it back to the bed it was gathered fairly uselessly in a trail from Spike’s arms. Buffy’s bum was warm and pliant against his stomach, her breasts entirely exposed to peeking eyes as he worked his teeth between her neck and her shoulder. She was laughing, screeching almost as she wriggled her legs, clawing at his arms to try and find purchase on his wrists.

All in all, by the time Buffy was thrown back onto the bed, she was bright pink with anticipation and seemed to waste no time in rising on her hands and kicking off the last clinging folds of modesty. It was a simple enough equation. Of course, Spike’s slow pursuit was ruined as she reached out and yanked him down to join her, but then she was kissing him, for a second day in a row, and scissoring her legs between his. Flesh ran against flesh across his thighs and calves and feet and backside; her arms held him to her, in a tighter hold than him.

Naturally, Spike didn’t resist. The ferocity of Buffy’s attack, however, couldn’t keep him from running his mouth, not this time. “So you feel nothing for me?” he asked her, just as he got a hand between her legs and she was splaying herself open to greet him. “Is that what you’re saying?” A couple of fingers and Spike could feel a shudder go through her. “All you ever missed was that helping hand round the house, on patrol?”

Buffy’s face was still underneath his, blood all caught up in her cheeks as she panted for air. He raised his eyebrows. “I don’t know –” A cry broke out of her as Spike found somewhere sensitive; it made him cackle. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Buffy continued when she had breath to do so, eyes hooded as she started on a rhythm and pushed fingers into his hair, almost tenderly. “Didn’t you see me in the other world?” she asked. “I was to-” A gasp; she bit her teeth. Spike pushed harder. “I was totally business-like,” Buffy finished, before tipping her head back to strain against him, eyes shut, moaning.

Spike amused himself for a minute, thinking it over. Running his lips against Buffy’s jugular, sucking on the taste of her sweat and sticking a hickey right over the scar tissue, he tilted her hips and replaced his fingers with his cock, which was apparently a very welcome guest indeed. Of course, as Buffy curled up in appreciation, grabbed his head in both hands and stuck her tongue in his mouth, Spike didn’t find he had much room for thoughts. He was too occupied with finding purchase enough to keep moving, with keeping the tears in the back of his eyes as his insides received the most tender attention they’d ever had.

All right, so Spike found himself getting carried away. He gave up on pressuring her – laid her back instead and reached behind him to massage every last tension out of her. At the back of his mind, some voice warned him that they’d only spent one night together. They hadn’t yet set foot into the outside world. Hadn’t faced the Scoobies and their beady little eyes.

But even as he was carried away, as Buffy herself went and put in that little bit of extra effort, Spike couldn’t help but think that it all might have gone a lot worse. Anyone with either half or a half-occupied brain knew that Buffy had to be joking when she said she’d been business-like in the other place, which meant…

Whatever it meant, the romantic in Spike couldn’t finish any spectacular morning shag without expressing himself. “I love you,” he promised, cradling Buffy’s body as it trembled and rolling over so he could hold her properly.

“I don’t want you to go,” she whispered, shaking harder as Spike nuzzled her hair. “I wanted you to come back. You… I was… There were times I nearly died.”

Whether she was talking about Sweet the sing-a-long demon or something else, Spike didn’t know. He didn’t really want to know. As he thought about his life in the other world, how as far as he knew he had actually been long dead, Spike wondered whether he didn’t know exactly what Buffy meant. “It’s all right,” he told her eventually, holding the dream of her as closely to him as her skin and bones. It almost felt like it was enough for him.


Chapter Text

They parted on what were relatively cordial terms, at least in Spike’s eyes. From experience months ago he knew that the expected reaction from Buffy after any sort of intimacy was for her to go running off into the night. A half-smile and dissolution into the sunlight, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly an explicit promise, but it was slightly more pleasant than a kick in the head.

It did seem to have put a stay on any desire he had to go chasing after any other alternative existence. Their whole evening together had clearly been borne out of Buffy’s desire to keep him, and he wasn’t one to leave those who wanted him, however vaguely. Quite what he was signing himself up for, of course, he did not know, and – after a pint of pig and another few hours to sleep off his excesses – Spike found himself impatient to figure out what precisely was going on. Or, if not that, then at least set the ball rolling to make it happen all over again.

When it came down to it, there was nothing good on TV, so what could he do?

The result was that Spike found himself on the way to the Magic Box, treading the path through the sewers he still knew like the back of his hand. Dawn had said the next event on the horizon was Anya and Droopy Boy’s wedding, so he assumed the lot of them were due for endless fannying around with last minute details and generally getting on each other’s wick. This was an assumption based entirely on the bizarre afternoon of wedding planning he’d spent with Buffy, naturally, but that spell must’ve got its sense of humour from somewhere.

Growing lax with her impending nuptials, it seemed, Anya had only left the worse of the two bolts on the Magic Box basement door. Even perched on the ladder leading to it out of the grime, Spike easily jimmied it open and found himself released from one course of fetid air into another, though the Magic Box was mostly the stench of rotting flesh and formaldehyde, lightly alleviated by some Herbes de Provence.

Spike cadged some burba weed for later, which was at least a little more ras el hanout, and then quickly made his way out of the basement and onto the shop floor. He had his opening line ready, since the best way to play things seemed to be to act like he’d never gone away. And so with an easy-going, “Afternoon, all,” he emerged to greet his audience.

It was rather underwhelming, in the end. The bride and groom to be didn’t look over from where they were arguing in front of some giant noticeboard, with circles and squiggles presumably displaying a seating plan. Willow was ignoring them, tapping away on her laptop like the Furies were on her heels. The image Dawn presented, it seemed, was not altogether untrue. Really, it didn’t look like he’d been missed.

After a flurry of bashed out keys, Willow did finally have the grace to glance up. Spike leaned on the counter, a little unnerved when she shot him a look like he was some stubborn grime on the sole of her shoe. “You,” she said, expressly hostile.

In all honestly, it felt a bit unnecessary. “What?” Spike challenged her.

With a side-eye to Mr. and Mrs. Matrimonial Disharmony, Willow seemed to dither between ignoring him and having out whatever bee had found its way into her bonnet. Abruptly, then, she reversed her chair and rose to her feet. Spike watched as she strode across the room, raising an eyebrow as she came to a halt just by the counter. “You couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Willow hissed, strain around her eyes and not a little of that brown she pretended wasn’t her real hair colour growing in at her roots. “You figured, hey! I’m back! Now it’s time to do all the things I never could before.”

“What the bloody hell are you on about?” Spike asked her straight in reply, not bothering to keep his voice down. If he’d ended up somewhere else without even meaning to, he was going to be bloody annoyed.

“She said you guys talked,” Willow continued, ranting pretty much to herself as far as he could tell, rationalising something Spike didn’t have an in on. “Before you went away. That’s why I helped her, talked to Tara: so she could get some perspective again. Not so she could…”

Spike was more than a little confused. He assumed they were talking about Buffy, but beyond that it didn’t seem entirely clear to him what Willow’s problem was.

Thankfully, the silence was interrupted by the opening of a door and the arrival of Buffy from the back. She looked flushed – and Spike realised the sound of her working out had ceased out of the background. There were beads of sweat around her forehead and her white tank top clung to every gentle curve. “Hey,” she said, sparking off some rather pleasant memories. “What’s going on?”

Glancing back to Willow’s mulish expression, Spike wasn’t sure what to say. “I seem to have pissed off Red somehow,” he told Buffy, hoping she might have more of an insight.

“Oh, yeah,” Buffy replied, rolling her eyes, hands on hips. “She figured out that I spent the night at your place,” she continued, leaving Spike dumbfounded as she turned to face down her friend. “Guess she thinks I can’t make my own romantic decisions.” The smile at the end of that sentence was not unlike that of a big cat on the savannah.

“Gee,” Willow replied, completely unfazed. “I guess that must be because you’ve been making them so well lately.”

Spike looked around, just to check that he was still in Sunnydale and not in LA. He’d thought he’d left the bitchfights behind, but there seemed to be a remarkable lack of group hugs here. Yet he was right there all the same, caught among bright blue walls. Buffy had a stubborn look on her face, but to Spike it seemed like she was putting on a front, as though on the inside she actually was hurting, blue walls or none.

Possibly he spent too much time trying to read Buffy’s emotions.

“I mean,” Willow continued, interrupting Spike’s thoughts, “I don’t know why you think this is going to make things any better.”

“It’s different,” Buffy insisted, a little of the pink dying in her cheeks. Spike still had no idea what the hell was going on, but it seemed like a shame. “I don’t know why you have to keep…”

“He was married, Buffy,” Willow shot back, as if she were continuing an argument not long old. Spike tried to figure out what to say. “And you didn’t care. But hey, why worry about that when you’ve got Spike to…”

“I didn’t know!” Buffy immediately replied, sounding pained. “He was being all flirty, and then…” She looked up to the ceiling, clenching her jaw. “What you guys saw, in the kitchen… He came onto me, I swear it. I wasn’t gonna let anything…”

“I think you did enough, don’t you?” Willow interrupted, darkly. Even though he was still without words, Spike thought he might be starting to get an inkling of what they were about, and he didn’t much like it. “You knew we were there, me and Sam. And you still kept saying… Made him tell you those things.”

For a moment Buffy didn’t reply, but when she did her tone was just as serious. “His wife deserved to know,” she said, eyes only for her friend. “He made me feel like such an idiot, Will,” she complained. “He swept in and joked about my job and made me feel like things could go back to how they were… But it was all so he could feel like he’d won, like he’d done better; I just wanted…”

“Revenge?” Willow accused. Buffy looked chastened, but as the thoughts clicked together Spike found himself without much sympathy. “It was cruel, Buffy. I remember how it feels. Riley…”


Spike knew the name was coming, but it still hurt to hear it confirmed. Dawn had said he’d come back, hadn’t she? What a bloody joke. Finally remembering that he existed, Buffy and Willow were turned to him, one guilty and one triumphant look between them, but that was useless to him now. There were no words for this particular feeling he felt.

It didn’t stop him of course. “You brought me back because you were turned down by bloody Riley?” he demanded, for the first time since he’d been back feeling completely and utterly at one with himself. And fucking pissed off.

“No,” Buffy insisted, shaking her head, stepping close to him and bringing one warm hand against his chest. It might have felt like a victory at one time, but it sounded like Willow had seen far worse in recent days. The move did little to calm him, even as Buffy went on. “That’s not it at all,” she promised. “I told you…”

Apparently Willow had made it her mission to interrupt today, because she cut straight in, “She didn’t even mention your name until I told her you hadn’t left of your own accord.”

Why he might have imagined it differently, Spike didn’t know, but it hurt to hear it nonetheless. It seemed to hurt Buffy too, weakening the pressure of her hand on him. Spike pulled away, looking purposefully towards a pile of till receipts while Buffy turned her words on her friend. “Why are you doing this?” Buffy asked. “What did I do to you? What did I do to anyone that was that bad, huh? Did I steal my girlfriend’s memories? Get hopped up on magic and break Dawn’s arm?”

“No,” was Willow’s sarcastic reply. “You just abandoned her to spend the night in jail...”

“I wasn’t in jail!” Buffy exclaimed, raising her hands. “I had to make a statement and they’d ran out of...”

“You called her from the station and said you weren’t coming home!” Willow shot back.

“You told her they had things kept on file about me!”

Spike’s mind was racing. From a distance – that was, as much distance as Spike could get, they sounded like two people who had spent too long in close proximity, self-destructing without much life support. Spike wondered if this was what he might have sounded like, if he’d been around the last few months. If Buffy had come to him before, whether he would have held up any better, or if he’d just have been the one she argued with, in place of her friends. Maybe it was better that he'd gone.

At the end of the day, he knew where this was going. He’d made his decision in the other world, and was weak as anything back here. Was it too much to ask for to get some peace? “Will the pair of you put a sock in it?” Spike asked, raising his eyes again to look at them. Both looked surprised, but they at least shut up. With a glance to Xander and Anya, who were still having a go with the noticeboard, Spike tossed an arm around Buffy’s shoulders and pushed her back towards the workout room. “Appreciate the intervention, Red,” he commented as they left, “but I need a talk with this one.”

With little more than token resistance, Buffy seemed happy to go.

A little bellowing of his own, and Spike was at least able to get the story out of her. Riley had come back, apparently kitted up with even more ridiculous toys than he’d had the first time round. Buffy, who had been rather on edge ever since she’d convinced herself that she’d killed someone, had found herself swept away in the romance of demon hunting and rappelling down a hundred-foot drop with no more security than Captain Cardboard’s big strong arms. Riley had hardly resisted her attentions, but then the mood had been killed by his wife turning up.

A little later, still feeling rather sore about this, Buffy had taken the opportunity to get her own back. Riley had tried for the whole guilt-ridden ‘we can never talk about this’ reconciliation at the same time as he invaded Buffy’s personal space (and didn’t Spike remember that one?), so she’d gone with it. The plan, as much as there was a plan, had already been in motion when the poor Mrs. Finn had entered the room, and Buffy had found herself a little caught up in the moment.

“And he was just saying stuff, you know?” Buffy finished the story, shame like a heavy cross on her shoulders. “About me. And I know I should have stopped him,” she added. “But I figured… Maybe if he saw, if he got a clue about how much it hurt for him to play around from someone else, then maybe he’d see it.” She shrugged, apparently not all that repentant. “Willow’s been ragging on me for it ever since.”

It was times like this that Spike reckoned scruples didn’t do much for anyone, soul or not. He didn’t give a toss about Riley, of course, but there were parts of this story that came close to the bone. “So, what?” he challenged. “You got yourself wound up and then the pair of you decided, right, if that sex toy’s not kosher then we might as well get old Spike back from wherever he’s gone?”

For a moment Spike was struck by the harrowing thought that this dimension could well be the curse after all, the other where he truly belonged. Buffy might have easily shagged the Spike here down into dust, then gone and got him so she could do it all again.

Thankfully, as soon as the thought came, Spike was able to dismiss it. The timeline had definitely been squiffy in the other place; here, however, there were far too many tedious memories to sell themselves as a spell. No one had the time or patience to come up with that summer he’d had after the Initiative. At the end of the day, there was just Buffy and her categorical inability to make up her mind.

He tuned back in to yet another pointless defence. “That’s not what last night was about!” she was insisting. “I didn’t want… All I knew was that Dawn told me you were leaving.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “So this thing between us,” he pointed it out again, feeling like he was going round in circles, “it’s because of Dawn?”

“No!” Buffy insisted, exasperated. She turned away from him, kicking at the floor mat in a way that Spike could well and truly understand. “Look,” she continued, spinning back to face him. “There was this guy Richard, right? Xander brought him to a party.” Spike could only imagine what kind of prat had the name Richard. “And he was sweet and everything, and he got me a lemonade and we fooled around a little before he got stabbed and we had to take him to the hospital…”

Spike raised an eyebrow, happy to say he didn’t quite feel threatened by this hospitalised Romeo. Or maybe he did, but only a little.

At any rate, Buffy kept talking as if the muppet wasn’t all that important. “Anyway,” she said. “He made me remember how I’m doomed to basically kill any normal guy I try to date – even if I actually found somebody – and I guess when Riley came back I had this idea in my head that maybe things could work out this time.” She rolled her eyes. “Which obviously was stupid.”

“Is there a point you plan on making?” Spike asked her, annoyed at himself for getting angry, but still sick of her talking about these other men. It was all she ever did talk about around him, far as he could tell. “Or d’you want me to call Oprah?”

Buffy glared, crossing her arms. “It’s called context, Spike; look it up.” She was hot when she glared, but Spike didn’t think she’d appreciate him tackling her to the ground right then. “I’m trying to explain how I’ve been wanting to be wanted,” she declared like it meant something. “But maybe you missed that among all the pet rabbits or whatever.”

“Oh…” Spike wasn't sure where to go with this, but he couldn't be bothered much longer. “Will you stop talking bloody claptrap?” he finally replied, walking around her because he was bored of her face. It also seemed to be a good idea to get between the Slayer and her weapons, the more irate he got. “All you want,” he told her, because as far as he could see this was it, “is to back to when the world wasn’t quite so hard and you had your snookie-bear Angel to take all your problems away.” After all, Dru wasn't anything if not perceptive, in this world or the last. “He’s not here, so I get called in to replace him and provide some actually decent quality sex that everyone always forgets he’s never been arsed with even when he was evil.”

It wasn’t the conclusion Spike thought he had come to, but it seemed as good as any. It appeared to have struck some sort of chord, in any case. When he raised his head, Buffy was there facing him. She looked more than a little peeved, the door to the Magic Box behind her not nearly the escape route she wanted. “And what, exactly,” she demanded of him carefully, steel in her expression, “is wrong with wanting things to be better?”

Spike had asked himself the same question many times, of course, so when he sneered, it wasn’t entirely at Buffy herself. Still, he told her what he knew. “It’s all a bloody mirage,” he swore, his own rage surprising him. His arm jutted out in a point back towards the shop. “You look back; you think you were better off – you think you might be, but you never bloody know.” It had messed him around, his trip abroad. He was sick of the feeling; sick of this girl in front of him. “For fuck’s sake,” he went on, wishing he could snap her out whatever train of thought it was that he’d located, “You can’t spend your life wishing on things that’ll never be. People come into your life; they go out; you keep going.” He’d seen it with Dru until it had burned his eyeballs right out of him; he’d never been enough, but not for anything he’d done. No, all he was ever measured against were the parlour games she had playing in her head, where everything was perfect and every misfortune had been settled well in time for tea.

“Right,” Buffy interrupted his thoughts, holding herself with far too much gritty rationality for him to ever be attracted to her. Or so Spike would have told himself before he’d known better. Sodding girl. “So that’s why you stuck with your other life and never came chasing after me, I guess? Oh wait…”

Spike rolled his eyes. All right, so he still wasn’t quite sure why he’d made the jump, but, even so, “That’s not what I’m saying. Point is,” he tried to explain, calming himself, “you can’t live on a dream forever.”

It hurt Spike’s head, all this rubbish with Buffy, all the rubbish he’d ever lived with Angel standing over him. Maybe that was why he’d hesitated, in the end – and maybe that hesitation was more what he should have been trying to puzzle out.

No matter what, Buffy seemed to have him pegged. She looked down her nose at him, imperious like she always would be, distant and cold and unfeeling. “What’s it to you what I do?” she asked him, then added with all the conviction of a saint, “Angel might come back for me one day.”

Spike snorted, unable to deny the truth of that. Scattering his more pathetic thoughts from his mind, he nonetheless couldn’t help but mutter, “And won’t you be glad to have spent a lifetime waiting…”

“Yeah,” Buffy challenged him finally, some part of her still dead so far as he could see it in her eyes. “And so won’t you.”

It was clear what she meant. Spike caught her gaze and tried to figure it out, how much she was fooling herself and how much it was really true: Buffy would never love him, not how he wanted. Before she’d died, that was what Spike had assumed, but since then he’d gathered far too much evidence to the contrary. All right, so the fact he’d been abandoned for months didn’t do his chances all that many favours, but the tension he knew they both felt between them seemed far too complicated to make it entirely about his one-sided feelings.

“I don’t reckon it’s as simple as all that,” Spike tried to get her talking, reveal to him anything that might give him some hope.

Buffy didn’t seem to be having any of it, however. “I am so tired of this conversation,” was all she said, before turning on her heel to storm back into the front of the Magic Box.

The next shop along from the Magic Box didn’t do a bad selection of fags, so it wasn’t immediately that Spike slunk back into the sewers. Dashing through the sunlight from the alleyway behind the training room, he made his way in and out with enough success that it didn’t feel entirely like he’d wasted a trip.

By the time he’d made it back to his crypt, however, he still wasn’t entirely sure what to think. There was nothing that seemed like an option, not when there was still hope, of a decent night in if nothing else. Nor when it seemed like he would never live out his purgatory in peace, not with one Buffy Summers who would always be there to remind him what an unattainable target she was.

Nursing a fairly full tumbler of scotch, Spike wished more than ever that he’d never found himself in that other bleeding dimension. It was one thing being miserable when there was no way out; it was something else when he had three months’ lived experience to compare it to, in particular when those three months were of being miserable in so many exciting new ways. It made him feel like he was meant to do something about what was going on in the here and now.

There was still nothing on the TV, but Spike tried to watch it anyway. Currently he was flicking between one cooking show and another, hoping that sooner or later something would explode. It didn’t seem very likely.

Before he dropped entirely dead from boredom, however, a randy slayer kicked his door in. It made Spike jump, kicked his bloodflow out of inertia, and suddenly he felt like he could fall in love with this girl all over again. “Spike!” Buffy barked, the sunlight pouring in behind her. She’d changed out of white into some crimson red number; leather trousers. It didn’t quite make sense with the sunshine, but it sold him on her frustration.

“Do you mind?” Spike challenged anyway, because he wasn’t a complete walkover. “I’m busy here,” he added, even as he pointed the remote and turned off the telly.

Buffy cocked one eyebrow at him, before stepping forward to let the door swing shut behind her. It had been hours. No more than two or three or four sodding hours, and she'd changed her mind. “Busy doing what?” she asked, like there was nothing he could possibly have to do. No reason for him to be annoyed.

What the hell did he care anyway? “I dunno,” Spike informed her, glancing around the barren reaches of his crypt. “Waiting for you, I suppose,” he ultimately decided, likely because he’d been on a double bill of Dawson’s Creek before the Cooking Channel. Equally likely because it was true.

“It was kind of boring, huh?” Buffy asked him, wrinkling her nose as she came to sit on the arm of his chair. As if they were friends or something. “I mean,” she added conspiratorially, leaning over so he got the full head of her perfume, “that’s what I find about waiting. It gets dull.”

She didn’t want to talk about it, so it seemed, and yet she’d come nonetheless. She was going to drive him mad. She absolutely was. At the same time, it almost seemed fair enough. As far as Spike could tell, any time he tried to think things through he only made them worse, so he wasn't sure why he hadn't stopped trying.

Barely needing the invitation, therefore, Spike was content to reach an arm around Buffy’s waist and yank her towards his lap. She straddled him, knees squeezing between his hips and the chair arms, crotch seam squeaking over his. As she tossed her hair, Spike looked up, and wondered how exactly he was going to play this cool. Buffy bit her lip. He didn’t bother. “You ever figure you might come in here,” he suggested, “and talk to me like we aren’t playing out some soap opera of your imagination?”

“I like to think flaws enrich a person,” Buffy responded enigmatically, before she leant down to press her mouth against his, kissed him sweetly. Why she couldn't have done that in the other world, Spike didn’t know. “I suck,” she explained, smirking one inch away from his face. It made enough sense. “You wish you could suck. It’s all a big sucking mess.”

In spite of himself, Spike laughed. It was a moment to go back to the snogging, but years of living with Dru’s quite painful temper and the argument back at the shop made him pause. Certainly, he wasn’t about to put any damper on this new seductive streak Buffy was sporting, but it was rare that Spike wasn’t concerned to find out if the joke was on him. “If a fellow might check,” he asked carefully, “is this the part where you leave me high and dry, or is that due to come later?”

“Hmm…” Buffy pretended to consider it, adjusting herself against him. Spike suppressed a groan. “I don’t know about ‘high and dry’,” she said eventually, leaning her elbows around his head so Spike found his vision entirely filled by her. “I was thinking more low and, well…”

Sometimes in life, as in unlife, Spike figured it was healthy to let oneself be seduced. As on many times before, as on this occasion, he went for it, offering a kiss that went as deep and felt as good as the air he gasped into his lungs.

“Why did you follow me home?” Buffy asked him later, after a whole load of nonsense was said and yet more pieces of furniture were irredeemably broken.

She lay amongst the wreckage looking thoroughly debauched. If Spike were still to call himself a poet, which he tried not to, he would have thought she looked like one of the seraphim who had unwittingly been shown the pleasures of sin. In any case, she was pretty to look at: he tilted his head to examine her, resting on an elbow by her side.

As his answer took too long, however, Buffy the seraph kicked him in the crotch, smacking his balls not so very lightly with the top of her foot. “Well?” she demanded, even as Spike rolled over her body for protection.

After another moment’s silence, and after Spike had adjusted to feeling of her breathing against him, he was able to centre himself and answer her truthfully. “No idea,” he said, looking his chosen one in the eye. She smiled at him, like he was as pleasant surprise. “S’pose I reckoned you’d at least keep me entertained.”

It was a lie, quite possibly. But then – so many things were once the moment passed. At that moment, it didn’t seem so important.