Hopeless (Slayer Series) by Djinn

Spike turned away from Christine as she moaned in her sleep. He heard her whisper Spock's name and felt the familiar guilt rising. This was only supposed to be a temporary thing, this passion between them, this relationship that should never have been started. He'd told himself that he was just keeping her safe for the man he considered a friend. Keeping her alive until she wanted to live for herself and not just because Spike was there to stop her if she went looking for death.

And truth be told, she had stopped looking for it. But he still hadn't let her go.

She stirred again, turned over and eyed him sleepily.

"Go back to sleep." He tucked the comforter around her. He'd picked it out for her when she was too tired of life to care about whether she slept warm or not. He'd thought the rich, dark red would remind her of blood, would shock her into some kind of reaction. But it hadn't. Still it was nice to sleep under down again. It had been years since he'd slept in a proper bed in a real apartment with lights and water all paid for by--well not by him, of course, but by Christine.

"What's wrong?" She pushed the covers off and stretched for a long moment.

He had to admit the red set off her pale skin and newly darkened hair. She'd shocked him when she'd shown up one day with hair that was no longer the color of the sunshine he hadn't enjoyed for centuries. She'd said she needed a change. He'd never asked her why she'd changed it to match Drusilla's. He hoped that was an accident, didn't want her over identifying with Dru. Not that either of them was a poster child for mental health. But Christine was getting better, had shown steady improvement. Dru had never seemed to get anything but more crazy.

"What's wrong?" Christine asked again.

"You should go back to him. You know he's worried sick." Lately, Spock was more and more on his mind. He couldn't touch Christine without feeling the sense of betrayal. Not that it stopped him from touching her.

She didn't storm out of bed at the suggestion, or try to wallop him one. Definitely an improvement. "Do you really think any good would come of it?" Her expression was neutral, and that too was an improvement. Before, when she'd talked about Spock, it was always with a hopeless look on her face.

"He loves you."

"I know."

Spike tried another tack. "He needs you."

"The whole world needs me, Spike. I'm a slayer, remember." She laughed and sounded so much like Buffy that he had to look away.

"The last thing he needs is me." She turned over, faced the wall. "What's the matter, lover? You getting tired of me?"

He could hear Buffy in her words now. Could see his slayer in the way this one tensed her shoulders, as if anticipating his hand reaching out for her. He pulled his hand back. "Go to sleep, Christine."

"I'm not sleepy." She turned over, began to touch him. "I know how we can wear each other out."

He pulled away, rolled out of bed. "Not tonight, pet."

You really are tired of me." Her look was somewhere between hurt and amazed.

"No. I'm not. It doesn't feel right, is all. Not after we just talked about him."

"You're a vampire, Spike. Creature of the night. Undead. This should not bother you."

He pulled on the black leather duster he'd found at a second-hand store. "Yeah? Well, it does. Looks like I have a better developed soul than you do."

"Funny." She pulled the comforter up, suddenly appearing ill at ease being naked in front of him. 'I can't go back to him. I can't put him in that kind of danger again."

"He's strong. He can take it."

"Maybe I'm not strong enough to take it."

"So you take up with me instead? You confide in his captain instead of him?"

She did react to that, anger made her shrill. "Jim was my captain too."

"You put him in a difficult spot."

She shook her head as if he was an idiot who just would never get it. "The captain saw us together, Spike. Here, on earth. His very next act would have been to tell Spock."

"So instead you ask him to lie to Spock for you?"

"Not lie. Just not tell."

"Same difference, Christine." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and knocked one free.

"Can I have one?"

"You know how hard it is to find these. You don't even like them." He lit the cigarette, savoring the feeling of smoke in his mouth.

"There's an Orion trader on the corner by the medical building. He sells them. I meant to tell you that. I'll buy us some tomorrow."

"Suit yourself." He knew she didn't like the things. Just did it to convince herself she was bad or something. Faith had been like that, going for effect. Of course after three years in prison, smoking may have been one of the few pleasures she'd had left.

He was halfway out the door when he heard her ask, "Are you in love with me?"

He turned to look at her, tried to guess what had prompted the question. Her face gave nothing away. He decided to play it lightly. "You know I'm very fond of you, Christine."

"Spike."

"No, pet. I'm not in love with you." He pulled the door closed behind him, sure that if he lingered she would see the statement for the lie it was.

He nodded tightly to their landlady Mrs. Rhatigan as he passed her, hoped the old battleaxe would have the sense not to pry.

She didn't. "Going out, dear?"

"That's right." Spike wanted to tell her to mind her own business, but he could hear his tone softening. Old bag reminded him of his mum; he just couldn't be cross with her.

"I guess Christine is studying tonight?"

"Every night, Edna. Every bloody night." It wasn't true, but it was a good excuse for why he went out alone at night so much.

She patted his hand. "Why back in my day, a lady had to pay attention to her young man or she'd lose him.

He mumbled something noncommittal.

"And you are her 'young' man, aren't you, William?"

He wished he'd never told her his real name. "Depends on how you count, I suppose." He pushed past her. 'Time for me to shove off."

"Take care, dear."

He didn't reply, just walked firmly away. The night was still young and if he was lucky he'd find himself a demon or something else he could kill. Maybe more than one.

"You'd like that. To kill something. Remember when I helped you kill humans?" Buffy stood in front of him, smiling evilly.

But it wasn't Buffy, it was the First. He walked through her, whispered the words Willow had taught him, the ones that had been on the axe. The Buffy doppler vanished.

"Thank you, Red."

Spike only saw the First when he was on Earth. And now it seemed to have lost strength, it took so little effort to make it go away anymore. It had probably been losing power since that night Buffy stopped it from taking over. She'd sacrificed herself to do it--Spike was alive, the world was still here, because of her. She'd died fighting, with the amulet Angel had brought around her neck, the axe in her hand. When she'd caught on fire, begun to burn, she'd pushed him out of the cave. He'd have rather stayed and died with her. Part of him did die with her.

It should have been him. In his heart of hearts, he knew it should have been him. But she'd been so empty, so terribly hollow. Death had indeed been her gift, the only one she could give. His gift to her had been letting her die.

"Spike, wait up."

He heard Christine's footsteps, turned to face her, wondering if she'd followed him just to continue their argument. She grabbed his hand as she caught up to him. Smiled down at him. She had been nearly as empty as Buffy when he'd found her. Now she seemed to vibrate with the life she was starting to reclaim.

"I'm sorry." She leaned in to kiss him.

He let her. Wrapped his arms around her, enjoyed the feeling of being lost in her taller, bigger body. Buffy had been so petite, Christine was an Amazon compared to her. But he was in love with her, the same way he'd been with Buffy. Dangerously, passionately in love.

And she didn't love him back. That too was the same.

He pulled away. "I was thinking of killing something."

"Sounds like a plan." Her grin was feral. There were times she reminded him more of Faith than of Buffy. Times when she threw herself with abandon into the destruction and mayhem. She said she was tired of the slaying, and he knew she was tired of the obligation of being a slayer. But she never seemed to lose her enthusiasm for a good kill. Buffy had never hunted with him the way Christine did.

"I don't need a slayer along mucking up my hunting grounds." He pretended to be angry.

She kissed him again.

"Oh, all right." He rolled his eyes. It was a game they'd recently begun to play. He pretended he didn't want her along and she pretended not to know that he'd give anything for her company.

As lies went, it wasn't a big one.

----------------------------

Spock walked purposefully through the crowded corridors of Starfleet Medical, avoiding doctors, nurses, and the occasional gurney. He had thought he could avoid the lunch crowd in the main Command building by taking a detour through the Medical complex, but these corridors were as tightly packed as those of his own building. The press of bodies irritated him, even if he would never admit to that emotion.

He had many emotions these days that he would never admit to. Loneliness, anger, and despair predominated. He had been looking for Christine for so long and never with any success. He had to admit, at least to himself, that she was never coming back. The resentment and worry and love that mingled together when he thought of her left him unbalanced and on edge.

She was his bond mate. She had to come back to him. His emotional side insisted that she must honor the promises they had made to each other, the love they had shared.

The logical part of him knew that Christine had never been completely stable. He could almost feel himself shudder at that assessment. But it was not imprecise despite the harshness of the diagnosis. Christine as a nurse had been perfectly fine, her tame life a way to find peace and control. But slaying had broken that control and turned her inside out, reopening old wounds that he barely understood. She had been wild, nearly out of control during the days leading up to their bonding. He had thought their love could withstand anything, that he could keep her grounded. And he might have, if he had not severed the bond when he had died. His actions had left her reeling at a time when her emotions were at their most chaotic. If he had not died, she might have been able to bear the despair the Orb had brought. .

But his death had been temporary; McCoy had brought him back. And Christine had known that. It was what bothered him the most: Christine had not run when she had thought he was dead; she had run after finding out he was alive.

She had not wanted to be with him any longer.

He forced himself to concentrate on his journey through the corridors. Dwelling on the past would not help him deal with the future, a future as yet uncharted. He had put off any decisions, was still not ready to decide which position he would take, or even if he would stay in Starfleet. It was a decision that could wait a bit longer.

Spock tried to turn off his thoughts, tried to focus on the people around him. He let his attention drift from conversation to conversation.

"Well, I'm glad she's in the study group. She's already got a biochemistry degree, you know," someone said behind him.

"I thought she was a nurse?"

"She was. But I'm not sure why."

Spock slowed his pace. He resisted the urge to look around. They could be talking about anyone; there was no reason to assume that Christine was the subject of their conversation.

"Who cares why? She was on the Enterprise. I'd give my eyeteeth to be on that ship."

The voices turned off into a side corridor, but he had heard enough. He hurried down to the main Command building, brushing against those he passed and murmuring apology as he walked to the temporary office he had been given. He pulled up the general Starfleet records, looked up her name. Nothing. Apparently, she did not wish to be in the directory. But she could not hide from anyone with his level of access. He logged into the personnel files, and called up her records. Latest assignment, Starfleet Medical.

She was here. On Earth. Where he could find her. And where he had never thought to look.

He knew he should not do it, but he scanned the file, saw that she had been on Earth for some months. She must know he was back. The Enterprise had returned to much fanfare over a week ago. It was in all the news. She knew he was back and did not seek him out. It should not hurt him any more than her other actions, but it did.

He read her progress reports. She was doing well, her marks were impressive, the comments from her instructors excellent. Spock read down farther, saw the notes from her advisor, the path she was taking to get an M.D. laid out in the file. He scanned back a bit more, saw who had recommended her for acceptance. And forgot how to breathe.

Jim? Jim had known where she was? Jim had written her a recommendation?

Spock rose slowly, tried to swallow and found that he could not, a lump had formed in his throat and he could not force it down.

Jim had known where she was. For months. And had not told him. His best friend had not told him.

How many times had Jim listened to Spock when frustration made him restless, filled him with the need to speak of Christine? And all the time Spock had been sharing his feelings, Jim had been lying to him.

Spock walked out of his office. He felt strangely distant, as if in a negative pressure suit, even his ears throbbed with a strange fullness. He could barely see as he turned the corner to the office Jim had taken over during the Enterprise's refits. He saw Kirk's name on a door, turned to it. The door opened as he approached and Kirk looked up as he walked in.

The smile was the same one Jim had worn for months. Spock found himself staring at it, as if he could discern some difference between it and the expression Jim had used before he had begun to lie to him.

"Spock? What's wrong?"

"You knew?"

"I knew what?" He got up, hurried over to Spock. "My god, Spock. What's happened?"

"You knew Christine was here."

Kirk's expression was suddenly wary. And also utterly exhausted. "Christine."

"You knew, and you did not tell me? Jim, why?"

Kirk sighed. "I wanted to tell you, Spock. But she asked me not to."

Spock could feel an eyebrow rise, it did not begin to convey his confusion.

"As her commanding officer, I felt obligated to honor her wishes for privacy."

"And as my friend?"

Kirk looked away. "I wanted to tell you."

"There is a vast difference between wanting to tell me and actually doing so."

"I know." Kirk turned to face Spock, held a hand out to him. "God, Spock, it's been tearing me up inside watching you trying to find her and not being able to help you." He let his hand drop. "I hated it."

"I saw the date of the recommendation you wrote for her. You knew for months." Spock clasped his hands together to stop them from shaking. Rage, this was rage. He should have seen this, should have realized when no one came to ask him about Christine, where she had gone, why she was AWOL, that she was back in the Fleet somewhere. He had not been thinking clearly, focused only on getting her back. Had never suspected she would return to Earth, a place of so many unpleasant memories, and so many vampires.

"Yes. I knew for months." Kirk moved closer. "If you'd seen her, Spock, you'd understand. She was trying to get her life together. Trying to start over."

"Trying to escape me?" Spock looked away; he did not want to show how angry he was.

Kirk didn't answer.

"She was my bond mate. I shared my feelings for her with you." He turned and looked Kirk in the eye. "I trusted you with those feelings."

Kirk reached out and touched his arm, and Spock sensed the desperation his friend felt. Desperation and guilt that was eating away at him.

Good.

Spock shook Kirk's hand off, tried to clamp down on the anger within him. He favored Kirk with a long emotionless look. "I do not believe that we have anything more to say to each other."

"Spock, I had to do it."

He let an eyebrow show his skepticism. "Christine forced you to keep her whereabouts secret?"

"Of course not. But if you'd seen her--"

"Ah, but that is the crux of our problem, Jim. 'If I had seen her.' But I did not see her. Because I did not know where she was. Because you did not tell me."

Kirk took a long, ragged breath. "She was hurting."

"And so you decided that I could not help her?"

"Spock, don't stand there and pretend you haven't kept secrets. When you took Chris Pike to Talos IV? That wasn't a shining moment of honesty, and it hurt that you didn't...couldn't tell me. But you did it for the greater good. For all the right reasons."

"Captain Pike was not your bond mate. Had he been, my actions would have been quite different."

"She wasn't your bond mate anymore either, Spock. You severed the bond, don't you remember?"

"I remember everything."

"You chose her future; you cut her off from you. Right at the moment that she was hurting the most, right when that damned Orb had filled her with so much despair. You locked her away from you."

"You would make this my fault?" Spock knew his anger was showing, no longer cared. "You would lay the blame for her having run on me?"

"No. Spock, no. Forget I said that."

"Forget?" Spock could feel his face twist out of the mask of control. He wondered what it showed to this man he had counted his greatest friend. "And I should forget that you kept me away from her? I should forget that you betrayed me?" He took a step away from Kirk.

Kirk did not try to follow him.

"Should I forgive you too, Captain? Is that not the human saying? Forgive and forget?"

"Spock--"

"--I must go, Captain. I cannot speak of this now. I am too angry."

Kirk frowned at this unusual admission. "I'm sorry, Spock."

"For keeping her location secret?"

Kirk shook his head. At least, he did not lie. "No. For hurting you in the process."

"You have hurt us both. I considered you a friend. I am forced to reassess that consideration."

Kirk looked down. His voice was tight. "We are friends, Spock. In time, you'll see that. Time changes things." He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. "You just need to give this some time--"

"What I need is my bond mate back. You could have given me that. But you did not. I do not see that there is anything more to be said. Now or in any amount of time."

"Spock. I'm sorry."

"You said that, Jim. It means even less when repeated." Spock walked out of the office, turning his back on the man that an hour earlier he would have died for.

Time could indeed change things.

-----------------------------

Alma stared at the words on Kirk's terminal. "Come home," Nayla had said before signing off. Come home.

Alma was home.

She arched back against the chair, stretching muscles tired of being in front of this machine, tired of being locked in human form. Her people did not understand her fascination with this human, her need to try to fit in with him in his world. In their minds, it was time for her to come home.

Jim was her home.

She reached out with the sense that went beyond knowing, tried to find the wards that had been so strong on the Enterprise. They were not apparent here, in this cold apartment. It took her several minutes before she realized that she had been feeling them the whole time, that they had changed, become darker somehow. No less strong, but no longer built on the love of friends and crew, of his love for those same people. These wards were spun out of something bleaker, some strange determination. She analyzed the power that flowed through them. The conduits were new, recently erected to give this place more protection. As if this was not the temporary stopping place it had always been for him in the past.

Why would he do this?

She rose, began to walk around the apartment, fingers lightly trailing on the wall as she assessed the wards more tangibly. Yes, they were new.

She came to the front room, shuddered as she passed the wall of weapons. Metal was a friend to fire, the two worked in concert, but in this case the display of so much destructive potential bothered her more than she could say. It did not help that the room was so bland, so filled with earth colors. As if he were already trying to ground himself in the rich loamy browns of his native planet.

No. That could not be it. He would not do that, surely? He would not leave space? He would have told her of such a decision. They shared everything, had since the Orb had been destroyed. She had not been able to stay with him on the Enterprise for more than a few days, but she'd met up with him often, traveling the stars to find him, to steal a few days or nights away while the ship orbited this world or that. Now, with the ship in refits, they were enjoying unlimited time together. No mission to get in the way. But she'd assumed this was a temporary thing. Knew that he would go back to space, where he belonged. Where his magic was best utilized.

Just as her magic was best used with her own people. Alma could almost hear Nayla's voice, urging her to remember her duty.

Her duty had been to the Orb. The Orb was destroyed. She had won her freedom, and won Jim back. Only... Her mind shied away from the treasonous thought. Jim had come back to her. Anacost had been killed and his power over the not-dead, not-quite-alive Kirk destroyed with him. Jim had been restored to her.

So what if he seemed quieter. Less open to her questing powers. It didn't matter that she could no longer read him the way she had before. He had erected barriers, wards of his own around his soul. It was understandable. He had almost been lost.

This was ridiculous. They were honest with one another. They always had been. If she wanted to know what he was doing with his life, she only needed to ask him. He would never keep such an important thing from her.

She hurried out of the apartment, walked to the Starfleet complex, rushing through the wooded path to the main building, barely noticing the beauty around her, too busy concentrating on where in the maze of hallways and blank doors, Starfleet had put him. They did not put names on the temporary offices, let officers sit in any vacant office and work out their time till they were back in space. It was inconvenient for occasional visitors, but Alma supposed that the Fleeters got used to it.

She turned right, then left, then left again. Trusting her memory and her own ability to sense him to bring her to Jim's door. Five from the corner she remembered, and counted the doors to her left, stopping at the fifth.

Jim's name was on the door.

She felt a pain begin, somewhere deep within her. A pain that was the opposite of burning, it felt more like the sensation she got when she stuck her hand in water. The terrible silky cool feeling that threatened to extinguish her very essence. Water and earth. The two elements that could destroy her.

She reached for the door, but it opened before she could hit the chime. Spock stood in front of her, his eyes hollow and shuttered.

"Spock?" She reached for his arm. As soon as she touched him, she was aware of roiling emotions, terrible raging anger.

He shied away. His polite, "Good day, Alma," lacked any emotion. His back as he hurried away from her was rigid, as if he were holding in a volcano.

She turned to the door, saw Jim sit heavily in his chair. The look on his face was one of pure misery.

She knew without asking that Spock was not the one at fault. "What have you done?" she asked, terrified beyond measure to hear the answer.

----------------------------

Kirk watched Spock leave, felt something inside himself break. Then he saw Alma, in the hall, staring at him, then at Spock. Her eyes seemed to be caught by the sign on his door and he wondered if she would understand the significance of it. She looked back at where Spock disappeared. Kirk sat down, falling more heavily into the lush command chair than he meant to.

"What have you done?" she asked. Her eyes were blank, no expression, no fire showing. She was controlling herself tightly.

He knew that was not a good sign. "I knew where Christine was."

"What?"

He took a deep breath. "She was...is here. At Starfleet Medical. I ran into her months ago, when I was back here for a meeting."

"And you didn't tell Spock." Her eyes widened slightly, fire flickered for a moment then died. "Or me."

"She asked me not to."

"And naturally her wishes are more important than ours."

"Alma. if she wants privacy, she has a right to it."

"I never knew. You were keeping that from both of us, and I never knew." She walked toward him, laid her hand on his forehead. "I knew you were shielding. I just never thought it was from me."

He looked away, tried to pull away when her hand began to burn him. She would not let go.

"What else are you hiding, Jim?" Her hand burned brighter.

He shoved her away. "That hurts."

"No, Jim. That was uncomfortable. What you did to Spock hurts."

"I know I hurt him. But how does this hurt you? What difference does it make to us?"

She took a step back toward him. "If there's no trust between us, then there's nothing between us."

"That's ridiculous. That assumes we'll never have secrets, never keep anything from each other."

She nodded. "Yes. That is exactly what that means." She reached for him, frowned when he pushed his chair back. "No big secrets, anyway." Her eyes met his, flared this time with a fire he knew meant she was angry. "You accepted a job on Earth, didn't you?"

"I would have discussed it with you but--"

"No! No more lies. Did you accept a position here?"

"Yes." He smiled tightly. No more secrets to keep. It should feel better. "I did it for us, Alma."

"For us? Without even consulting me. You don't know if I want to live here. Or if I think this is a good idea."

"It's pretty clear from your reaction that you don't." He reached out a hand. "Didn't you say that home was wherever we were? That as long as we're together, we'll be fine."

She nodded. "Yes. Together. Here." She laid a hand over his heart. "And here." She touched her forehead. "We're not together that way anymore. You've shut me out. And I knew it. I just didn't want to admit it."

"I love you. I gave up my ship for you."

"Well, don't! I don't want you to. Get it back, Jim. Get it back."

He felt a dark bitterness fill him. The brass had been only too happy for him to finally step down. He had a snowball's chance in hell of getting the Enterprise back. "I can't, Alma. I knew that when I did it. I did it for us."

"And why did you keep Spock away from Christine?"

He looked down. "You were the one who said she was...how did you put it? Fundamentally damaged." He shook his head.

"You could have forced her back."

Kirk looked away. He had refused from the time Christine had fled to declare her AWOL, putting her on admin leave instead. He'd figured she would show up eventually. Starfleet had been one of the few good things in her life. "To a life she didn't want, a life that would have killed her? She has a chance to start over."

"You lied to him...and to me."

"She asked me to. I kept it from you, yes. But if you'd asked..."

She laughed. It was a hollow, empty sound. "You feel guilty, but you'll fight to the end to make it seem like you did this for the right reasons."

He took a deep breath. He hadn't liked keeping Christine's whereabouts quiet, but he didn't like the bitter coldness he was getting from his best friend and the woman he loved any better. "I made her keep fighting. She wanted to stop...to quit. I couldn't let her, wouldn't let her."

"No one could have made her fight if it hadn't been her wish."

"You didn't see her face. She was ready to quit. And I talked her out of it." He turned away for a moment. "She looked up to me. I should have let her fade back into just being a nurse, let go of all the adventure, but I couldn't let her do that. Because I liked it. The danger. The excitement."

"Magic calls to magic," Alma said softly.

"What?"

She leaned in, the coldness gone, suddenly all fiery passion. "Your magic is fire and air, Jim. Volatile energy and the magic of movement, of exploration and adventure. You try to meld it with earth and water and you'll only destroy it. You belong out there, not down here."

He looked up at her, was surprised to find himself choked up. "I'm tired, Alma. I'm tired of fighting and exploring and never having a place of my own to come back to, a woman of my own to walk by my side." He looked away. "No beach to walk on."

"Earth and water, Jim, that's what a beach is. You only want them because they are your opposites. You feel their lack, but you misunderstand their importance. They won't balance you; they'll destroy you." Her eyes hardened. "If Anacost didn't do that already."

He pulled away from her.

"I'm a fire creature, Jim. I can't walk with you on that beach. I won't walk with you on it." "She took a deep breath as if steeling herself to tell him some hard truth, but then she said nothing.

"What." He reached for her hand, her hot skin soft under his fingers.

"Magic calls to magic. Only now it's her magic--the mystical part that is the slayer essence--that calls to you. She would have killed you, after Anacost bit you. Did you know that? She was ready to slay you. I stopped her. Spock stopped her. And you protect her at our expense?"

"I had to. I was her commanding officer. I helped put her in that dark place she ended up. I owed it to her to help her get out." He closed his eyes. "I was torn, don't think I wasn't. I wanted to tell Spock. I longed to tell you. But I couldn't."

She didn't answer.

"Magic calls to magic. I don't understand what that means. That's your world, Alma, not mine."

"The minute you stepped into the slayer's world, it became yours too." Alma shook her head. "But you have your own magic, Jim. You never needed to live off hers."

"My own magic?"

"You're not even aware of it, but you use it. All the time. The luck, the miracle escapes, the things you pull off that nobody else could. It's your magic, Jim. Fiery, magic that flies free only in the air." She leaned down, leaned her face against his. "Get your ship back. You need to be in space."

He pulled away and she straightened up, took a step back. Part of him longed to be in space, even after such a short time on Earth. But it was time to move on. Time to settle down. He ruthlessly stomped the small voice inside him that echoed her words. He could not go back now. He was committed.

Something in his eyes must have shown her that. She took another step back.

"I can't stay with you. I won't watch you destroy yourself."

"If the slayers hadn't won? If I'd become a vampire..."

"I'd have killed you. We'd have gone up together. One big funeral pyre."

He nodded, looked down. "You think you can save me from myself. But this is just life for a human, Alma. The good times go away, you have to grow up, and you have to embrace responsibility, even if it isn't what you want to do."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

He laughed, a short, bitter sound. "I knew you'd tell me not to." It was the truth. "It's my life." That too was the truth.

"You would have made it our life, Jim. I had a right to be included." The look she gave him was so full of tenderness that he rose, tried to go to her but she held up her hand. "You've changed. Humans like to think that when someone becomes a vampire, a demon takes over. But we both know that's not true, don't we"

He looked away. Could not meet her eyes, would not admit she was right. Ever since that night on Vega Hydra, when he'd been freed from Anacost's power, he'd felt some other deep burden, a kind of darkness rising up inside him. At times, he feared that it would grow and grow until it overcame everything good that was inside him. If this was the darkness Christine felt inside herself--the darkness she had told him she was running away from--then he couldn't blame her for fleeing. The darkness was terrifying. In both its power and its allure.

She looked at him with infinite sorrow. "I love you. I've never loved anyone the way I love you."

"Alma." He reached for her, but she was already turning. "Don't go."

"I have to," she whispered as she walked to the door. "I can't watch this. I won't be a party to this."

"I love you," he said.

"I know." Then she was gone.

Kirk felt a moment of panic, his heart was racing. Then something stronger and darker slammed into place over it, taking control. She wanted to leave? Let her leave. He would get by fine without her. She'd come to her senses soon enough, start to miss him, miss what they had together.

He didn't need her or the Enterprise, would thrive here on Earth as he took his place among the admirals. His promotion hadn't been announced yet, but it would be soon.

Whatever she'd said about earth and water was ridiculous. He could thrive on his home planet. He could be happy. So he wouldn't have her to walk by his side, he could still find the beach.

She didn't understand how Starfleet worked. His time roaming the stars was over. He had to come back. Every captain was faced with this moment. None of them liked it, but it was how you progressed, the natural way of things.

Spock would come around and Alma might run away for a while but she'd come back to him. She would. She loved him. She had to come back. The more he said it, the more he knew he was lying to himself.

There was no one else left to lie to.

--------------------------------------------

Christine felt her hackles rise, sensed without looking up from her lunch that someone was watching her. She put her sandwich down, raised her head slowly, casually, as if just looking around.

She didn't have to look too hard. Alma stood in the shade of some evergreens, watching her. She walked over, nodding pleasantly. But her eyes flashed with banked fire, her lips were pressed tightly together. Despite her easy stride, Christine could sense that the fire demon was upset.

"Alma," she said evenly, not putting too much friendliness into her tone. She'd never felt that the demon approved of her.

"Slayer," Alma replied.

"Awfully formal, isn't it?" Christine gestured to the far end of the bench. "Sit."

"I'd rather not." Alma's expression shifted, any attempt she'd been making to be civil lost as she glared at Christine. "Did you ever consider what you were doing when you ran? How many lives you'd destroy?" Alma's body shook, as if in protest at how unnaturally still she was standing. "All slayers are selfish but you have to be the worst."

Christine's anger was lost in her sharp bark of laughter at Alma's last words. "Selfish?" She stood, suddenly glad that she was taller than the other woman. "We die for you, for all of you. And we have no choice in the matter. I died once already. Most of my kind will die young, alone, fighting some unspeakable evil. And you call us selfish?"

"You think because what is asked of you is difficult that it means that the world revolves around you. That your life, your happiness, however fleeting, is more important than anyone else's."

Christine took a deep breath. "I don't have to listen to this. You've never liked me, have you?" She began to gather up her things.

"I told you there would be a price for destroying the Orb." Alma held her hand out as if to soothe Christine, but she pulled it back when she saw Christine's expression. "Over time, the despair should dissipate."

Christine gave her a hard look. "There wouldn't have been a price to pay if your kind hadn't been so stupid."

"Calyx didn't know--"

"--And how is that? You can see into me so well, well enough to judge what you can't possible understand and yet your friend? Sister? Whatever she was couldn't tell a master vampire when she saw one?" She turned on her heel, looked over at Alma. "Pathetic."

She felt Alma's hand touch her shoulder, whirled, ready to swing, but stopped her blow when she saw the naked misery on Alma's face.

"I left him. I had to."

"Jim?" Christine frowned. "Why?"

Alma sank down onto the bench. "He lied to me. I would have staked my life that he would never have lied to me. Yet, he did. For you."

"That was his choice." She was not going to let this demon lay all her trouble at Christine's door. "You can't blame me for that. Or him. He was just protecting me."

"At the expense of his best friend?" Alma spat the words at her. "At the expense of me? You may not care about me, but doesn't it matter to you how much Spock is hurting now that he knows?"

Christine tensed. "Spock knows I'm here?"

"It is all about you, isn't it? Have you heard a word I've said? Jim's all alone now. Because of you."

"I am not to blame." Christine tried to fight down her panic. Spike had been right. She'd made a mess of things. But Spock...Spock knew where she was?

"Christine?" A new, softer voice sounded behind her. "I heard you were here, saw you were listed as a student at Starfleet Medical."

Christine turned, saw Uhura looking at her in confusion. The records were private. Christine had not released her information to the general directory. Uhura would have had to look for her, and use special access.

"Another friend you've hurt, slayer." Alma stood up, her face expressionless as a statue. "Where does it end?" She leaned in. "You're an expert on destruction; I guess it's fitting that you should destroy everyone who cares for you."

Uhura pushed between them. "You're out of line. Leave her alone."

"Gladly." Alma turned, took a few steps then turned back. "Do you even care that he's all alone?"

Uhura turned to Christine, an eyebrow going up in inquiry.

"You're leaving him by your own choice," Christine said. "The hurt you're causing will make what I've done seem insignificant."

"The Captain?" Uhura turned a glance full of dislike on the fire demon. "He's giving up the ship for you. To be with you."

Christine looked at her with horror. James T. Kirk planet bound? It was inconceivable.

"Well, you knew that long before I did." Alma's face twisted. "And I never asked him to do it. He made his decision independent of me."

Uhura looked over at Christine. "The ship is in refits. Didn't you know?"

Christine realized she had heard it being discussed in the halls; she just hadn't paid any attention. Kirk alone, with no ship and now no Spock or Alma. And all her fault.

Alma shook her head as if in disgust. "Goodbye, slayer." She turned and walked away.

Christine sank down on the bench. Uhura sat next to her, her movements tentative.

"Spock?" Christine asked, unable to say more.

Uhura seemed to understand. "He never stopped looking for you. Have you been here the whole time?"

Christine shook her head.

"For a long time he thought you went someplace called Kirsu. Said he couldn't follow you there."

"A logical thought. I didn't go there though. We--I wandered for a long time before I came back here."

"Why didn't you tell me where you'd gone?" Uhura's voice was barely a whisper.

"Ny." Christine knew she should reach out to her friend but the effort seemed too much, the distance between them too great. "How come I didn't know about you and McCoy?"

Uhura looked away. "It started out as something casual, just for fun. Bu the time I realized what was going on, it was way past the time I could say something to you." Uhura looked back at her. "Think of it, your boss and your best friend. I didn't want to make things awkward."

Christine sighed. "Best friends. Yet all we seem to do is keep secrets from each other." She got up, looked down at Uhura, saw a face both familiar and strange. Had they ever really been friends? "What are you going to do now?"

"You mean right this minute?"

Christine laughed softly. "No. I mean now that the Enterprise is in refits?"

"Stay with the ship. She still needs a communications officer. I've got some leave coming and then I'll be back to help test the new equipment. I'm working out of the main communications shop here. Have my own office and everything."

"And Len?"

"He's resigning. Ready to hang it up. He's worried sick about Spock and you. And now the Captain, giving up his command..."

"There's no doubt a promotion waiting for him."

"And you think that matters?" Uhura shook her head. "He's been different. Ever since Alma came on board. He's been quieter, holds himself tighter."

"It's not her fault. When you were gone..." Christine sighed. How to explain a darkness that could rise up, take over?

"I know what happened to him. Len told me." Uhura stood up. "But the part of the captain that smiled, that was cocky and optimistic is gone." She leaned down, put her hands on Chapel's arms. "It's gone in you too. All the lightness. The sweet, calm friend."

"Maybe I was never her to begin with?" Christine looked down. "When I had to start slaying again...that part of me couldn't survive. It disappeared."

"Or you let it disappear."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Uhura let go of her. "You know what it means." She straightened up, gave Christine a sad smile. "I missed you so much when you left. I'm glad you're all right. But I'm not sure I want to see you again."

Christine blinked, taken aback by Uhura's bluntness. Hurt by it.

"Maybe I'll see you around," her best friend said as she took a step back.

"Tell Len good luck for me?"

Uhura turned around, shook her head sternly. "Tell him yourself. I'm not going to make this easy on you." Uhura turned and walked away.

Christine blinked back tears. She'd always assumed Uhura would be there for her. That she'd be there for Uhura. They were best friends, but Christine couldn't even muster the energy to call her back. When had everything gone so wrong?

--------------------------

Spock walked the halls of Starfleet Medical slowly, scanning the side corridors. At every glimpse of a blonde head his pulse would speed up. It was never Christine.

But she was here. Had been here for months--months that he had been searching for her. Months that he had believed she might have been with the Kirsu slayers. Or might have been killed. Or might have been turned as Jim had nearly been.

Jim. Jim had known. How could he have kept this from him? How could he have known for months that the woman Spock was searching for was on Earth? Even if he had waited until they knew they were headed back to Earth. Even then he could have said something. But he had never said a word to Spock. Because she had asked him not to.

Spock realized he was walking too fast, and forced himself to slow to a more reasoned pace. But he couldn't force his heart to slow, or the anger he felt to lessen. Jim had betrayed him. Christine had betrayed him.

Why?

"Spock?" Kirk's voice invaded his thoughts. "Spock?" the voice sounded again, this time closer.

He whirled, saw his friend stop, his look surprised and wary.

"I thought you might be here. Is this a good idea?"

Spock did not answer.

"Are you all right?" Kirk asked.

Spock could feel his body tighten, his shoulders set. He let any warmth drain out of him. He had once thought he could forgive Jim anything. Just as he had once been prepared to forgive Christine for the pain she had caused him. But to forgive them both seemed a much more difficult proposition. "Captain."

"Jim, Spock. You call me Jim." Kirk gave him the smile that he normally reserved for difficult alien leaders.

He would find Spock much harder to charm.

"Good day, Captain." Spock turned, walked away. He needed time. Time to think this through. Time to let some of the anger he felt subside. Anger was not logical; rage was a waste of his resources. And still he felt those things. Indeed, they threatened to overcome him if he was not vigilant in controlling them.

Anger was a human failing.

As was love.

"Spock, for God's sake, stop."

"Now is not a good time, Captain."

"We have to make it a good time."

"I do not have to do anything, sir. And I am late for a meeting. If you will excuse me." Spock straightened slightly. He would have no one see anything but the consummate officer.

"Spock, please." Kirk's expression tightened. He looked around, gestured to a hallway that was less busy than the main corridor they were standing in. "We need to talk this out."

"What I need, sir, is for you to cease interfering in my life."

"And in mine?" Christine's voice, the voice he had longed to hear, was close and very angry.

He turned, and she recoiled slightly. He felt a pang at her involuntary reaction to him and reached out for her. She moved back quickly.

He drank in the sight of her. She was paler than he remembered. Dark circles under her eyes made her look tired.

"Christine."

He moved toward her and she held up a hand. He took another step and she slipped into a defensive stance. He backed up a step, waited for her to relax slightly.

"Why?" he asked.

It was apparently not what she expected him to say. Her eyebrows came down in a frown, and her eyes seemed to fill, but she blinked hard and any tears she might have shed were beaten back. He reached out for her again but she moved away, and he let his hand drop.

She backed away more, shaking her head. She did not answer his question, finally said, "I'm sorry, Spock. I love you, but I can't do this again."

"Why not?"

Again the simple question seemed to unnerve her. She looked at Kirk, and some unspoken communication seemed to pass between them.

"Tell me, not him," Spock said, managing to keep his voice low, not managing to keep the note of anger out of it.

"Don't blame him," she said.

"He lied."

"I didn't tell you. There's a difference." Kirk took a step toward him.

"A matter of degree."

"I asked him to protect my privacy."

"Protect? From me?"

"Yes. From you." She looked down. "If you'd known where I was, you'd have come for me. Whether I wanted you to or not, you'd have come for me."

"I did not realize my presence was so abhorrent to you."

She looked up, frustration in her expression. "You know that's not true."

"It is possible, Christine, that I have never known the truth. Not when it comes to you."

Her expression tightened. "What are you doing here?"

"Walking through the corridors. Many do it. It is shorter than going around the building."

"And that's the only reason you're here."

"Chris," Kirk said. "Let it go."

Spock turned on him. "This is between Christine and me."

"He's part of this too, Spock."

"Only because you made him part of it." Spock could feel the anger taking control. He had to master his emotions. He could not give into the rage, or the desire he felt. He turned to look at Christine, realized that she looked paler because she had changed her hair. The lovely golden locks were gone, replaced by dark strands of a shade he could find any day on Vulcan. Brown: dark and somber. He did not like it.

She turned away from him, murmured, "I'm sorry, Spock. And if I've destroyed your friendship then I'm even sorrier." She hurried off, past him and down the hall.

Spock followed her, was brought up short by Kirk's hand on his chest. His friend stepped in close, not threatening, just trying to apply some kind of emotional pressure through his physical proximity.

Only the fact they were in plain view of so many others kept Spock from throwing him aside.

"Let her go, Spock." Something crossed over Kirk's face, some new emotion that Spock recognized finally as pain. "Alma left me. She won't come back." Kirk moved closer, blocking the way to Christine even more. "So I do know what you're feeling."

Good, Spock wanted to say. Some dark part of him wanted Kirk to hurt as much as he did. Even if it was impossible. No one could hurt as he did. No Vulcan was ever supposed to.

"Apparently I did not make it clear the last time." He stepped back, felt Kirk's hand fall away. "We have nothing more to say to each other. Ever again."

He saw his words register on Kirk's face, heard the quick catch of breath, as if he had just punched his friend in the stomach.

As he turned and walked away, he realized that he did not care that Jim was hurting. In fact, he enjoyed it.

--------------------------

Christine prowled the open market near the waterfront. She'd trailed a vampire from the cemetery to the market entrance, then lost her in the after-dinner crowd.

"Excuse me," she said as she pushed past an Andorian who was walking slowly enough to get in her way.

"Hunting?" he asked her.

She turned quickly. "Tolvar? I thought you were on..." She realized that she had never asked what planet they'd been on when she and the Kirsu slayers had met up with him the last time.

"I moved. I like to do that. Find a hot spot then clear out when things calm down. Usually I look for a slayer or two. The energy you and your kind bring makes me feel alive." He pointed down the alley. "I believe you'll find what you're looking for down there."

"Thanks." She turned down the narrow passageway.

"I've got a booth near the fourth pier. Come see me when you're finished here."

She didn't reply, doubted that he really expected her to. Her senses were focused on the creature she was hunting. She was glad Tolvar had been here because she wasn't completely sure what the vampire looked like. All she'd seen was a red-haired woman clawing her way out of her grave, but Christine had been too far away to see more than that. The vampire had not lingered in the cemetery like some of her kind did.

"Looking for something?" The redhead stepped out of the shadows ahead of her. She looked young and innocent, until Christine saw the rat she was holding. A rat that squealed in terror, then ran madly for the safety of the darkness when the vampire dropped it. "Are you lost?"

An astute question, more so than the vampire probably realized. Christine doubted she was interested in exploring a slayer's emotional problems. "Not lost. You were right the first time. I am looking for something."

"In an alley?" The vampire leered at her. "What did you have in mind?"

Christine pulled out a stake. "Killing you."

The vampire stared at the stake, as if mesmerized. Christine could imagine what was going through her mind. She was hungry and Christine smelled good to her. She was too newly risen to fully understand the danger she was in. Her sire hadn't come back to witness her rebirth, so either he was an irresponsible sort or he was one of the vamps that she and Spike had killed in the last few days.

She wondered who the woman had been, what kind of life she'd led. She almost certainly hadn't asked for this fate. Funny how alike slayers and their prey were in that respect.

The vampire's voice was soft as she whispered, "I'm hungry." Her face changed, taking the innocent beauty with it, and her voice grew harsher, more dangerous as she said, "You're the one who is going to die."

She moved in, no fear in her eyes. Too young in her strength to feel anything but cocky self-assurance. She was the undead. Faster, more powerful than any human. Except a slayer. Her confidence left her open, and Christine brought down the stake, ready to exploit an easy kill. But the vampire surprised her, twisting enough that the sharp point missed the heart, jabbed into her stomach instead, sticking there.

Christine fell back, and the vampire yanked the stake out with a growl. She turned it around, the sharp, bloody point facing the slayer, stalking Christine as she backed away.

Christine felt a moment of panic. There was nothing worse than having your own weapon turned on you. Christine remembered Laura's tale of how she died the first time, stabbed with her own stake. Christine forced the fear away, watched the vampire's eyes, and waited.

The vampire slashed down, aiming for Christine's chest. Christine twisted, grabbing the vampire's arm as she did and wrenching it down and back, then chopping viciously with her other hand. There was the sound of bone cracking, then the stake clattered to the ground. Christine let go of the vamp, diving for the stake. She grabbed it, turned and forced it upright, as the vampire followed her down. The stake was wrenched out of her hands as the vampire impaled herself on it and burst into dust. The stake disappeared with her.

Christine pushed herself to her feet and brushed off the residue, patting her jacket pocket to make sure the other stakes hadn't fallen out. It would have been easier to have reached for one of them than to try to take her stake back from the vampire. Easier, but less fun.

She headed back down the alley the way she'd come in, and walked toward the piers. It took her a few minutes to find Tolvar's booth. It looked much like the one he'd had on Andus IV the first time they'd met. "Back to fortune-telling, I see," she said.

"We all fall back on what we know best, don't we?" He pointed to the lump of stakes hidden in her pocket.

She shrugged.

He smiled. "Will you finally let me tell you your fortune?"

She didn't smile back. "I have no fortune." Or none that she wanted to hear about anyway.

Tolvar gestured to the chair across from him. "Please."

Christine sighed and sat down. "Don't bother."

He shook his head, his wizened face wrinkling as he grimaced. "Gloom and doom, slayer. You were that way when I first met you, and the Orb only made that tendency worse. I warned you."

"Yeah, you warned me." She picked up an orange crystal on his table, studied the ghost crystals inside. If she turned the stone slightly, they were barely visible. It was always a matter of perspective, how much you could see of any situation.

"Take it if you like it," Tolvar said.

She put it down. "I couldn't."

He didn't press her. "I've been watching you, you know. I've seen you around here other nights."

She shrugged. "There's a lot of vampire activity right now. Something odd going on."

"Something odd indeed. Perhaps, like me, they are fascinated by the sight of a vampire fighting at the side of a slayer." At her look, he laughed. "I told you, I've been watching you."

"He's a friend."

"More than a friend, I'd say. What happened to the Vulcan you seemed so tight with?"

Christine looked away. "That didn't work out."

"And a relationship with a vampire is working out?" He held up a hand when she began an angry retort. "I know, I know, you're just friends."

Christine was suddenly very tired of being the topic of conversations. But she couldn't think of anything else to talk about.

"Everything you know is breaking apart," he said into the silence.

She laughed bitterly. "Doesn't take a psychic to tell that." She leaned back and studied Tolvar. She didn't know him, not really. It confused her that she felt as if she could trust him despite that. "Tell me more, if you're so plugged into the mystical."

"Lies, slayer. They tear relationships up. Even lies of omission."

"I haven't lied."

"No, you had someone else do it for you."

She felt a shiver move slowly under her skin. "You know way too much, Andorian."

He sighed as if frustrated, leaned forward and set his hands down on the table. "Christine, wouldn't it be easier to let me in? I just might be able to help you."

She laid her hands over his, was surprised to see how much bigger her hands were than his. She was even more surprised when he turned his over and grasped hers in a tight clasp.

"You must follow your heart. The choice of how you will live your life is yours alone to make." He let go of her hands. "Sometimes the only thing you can do is say goodbye."

"I already did that," she said softly.

"Did you?"

Their eyes met and she had to look away. How could he possibly know that she'd left Spock without saying goodbye? But then again, how could he possibly know any of the things he always seemed to know about her?

"You are very brave, slayer, when it comes to risking your life. You are not so courageous when it comes to living it."

Enough was enough. She knew her inadequacies well enough without having to listen to some old blue man tick them off for her. She pushed her chair back and stood. "How much do I owe you for this wisdom?"

"For you, my dear, it's always on the house."

"Thanks."

He pointed behind her. "Someone waits."

She turned, saw Spike leaning up against a post. He shot her the grin she liked best, the happy, cocky one that promised a night of mischief and no serious talk. She grinned back.

Tolvar pushed the crystal over to her. "Give it to him. Tell him it's the Stone of Sycchia."

She shot him a skeptical look.

"He'll love it. And I think he's meant to have it." He began to busy himself with a deck of tarot cards. His voice was gentle, as he said, "Go on, you're keeping away paying customers."

She took the crystal and left.

"Friend of yours?" Spike asked as she joined him.

"Of a sort." She handed him the crystal. "For you. He said you should have it."

"Pretty." He held it up, then handed it back. "Not really my thing, crystal power and all that."

"He said it was the Rock of Sick...Sick something."

Spike snatched it back. "The Stone of Sycchia?"

She nodded.

"But that's supposed to be a myth." He put the stone in his pocket. "Thanks, love."

"You're welcome. And very weird to get this excited over a crystal." She took his arm. "Let's get out of here."

With a dangerous smile, he let her pull him away into the night.

--------------------------------------------

Spike pulled the Stone of Sycchia out of his pocket. He held it between his hands and concentrated. "Show me Buffy," he ordered it.

The coppery orange crystal was quiet.

"Show me Buffy, damn it all!"

Nothing.

He drew his arm back, ready to fling it away from him when he heard her voice.

"Spike?"

He turned, didn't try to hide his joy. "Buff--"

Buffy wasn't there. No one was there.

"In the Stone, Einstein."

He looked down. It was Buffy, gazing up at him, a look of extreme annoyance on her face.

"It's your nickel, Spike. What do you want?"

"I want...I want..."

"Spike!" Christine shook him awake.

"Oh, bollucks! I had her, I reached her." He turned away.

"What? Who?" She saw the look on his face and shook her head. "Buffy."

"Yeah, that's right. Buffy." He pushed himself out of bed, stalked over to where the Stone of Sycchia sat on the dresser. Picking it up, he held it aloft. "Show me Buffy."

The stone showed him nothing.

"What is it supposed to do exactly?"

"It's supposed to show you the worlds that might have been if things had gone differently." He slammed the stone down on the bed. "But the bloody thing doesn't work."

"Maybe you're not doing it right?" She sounded a lot like Darla at that moment. Mocking, amused, at his expense.

"You don't take me seriously. You wouldn't laugh at me if I didn't have this chip in my head."

"I'm not laughing at you. And what does your chip have to do with that damn rock?"

He leaned over her, his hand covering the stone. "I wish you could see what I'd be like without this chip in my head."

A bright light flowed from between his fingers and the stone became hot. He let go of it quickly.

"What the...?" Christine jumped out of bed as the stone threw a beam of white light at the wall behind where she'd been sitting.

He laughed. The stone did work.

Suddenly the light changed from white to the dimness of evening. It was like watching a movie, with him as the star. The stone was showing him that night he'd been watching Buffy, when the initiative had captured him and put the chip in his head.

Only this time he didn't get lost in his plans for revenge, actually heard the soldier boys coming. He got away from them. No chip in this Spike's head. One of the commandos, big strapping boy who seemed like the leader, followed him and got too close. It was a tough fight. But Spike broke the soldier's neck eventually.

Then he went after Buffy. He found Willow instead. She let him into her room, just as she had the night he'd first experienced the chip's control. Only this time Spike killed her, tearing her throat out so viciously he heard Christine gasp behind him as she watched.

Chipless Spike left Willow's body there for Buffy to find. The next day, the slayer came for him. The battle didn't last long. As that other Spike turned to dust, the light from the stone went out.

"Not much of a story," Christine said as she eased back onto the bed and crawled over to the stone, touching it gingerly.

"That can't be it."

"No, it can't be." She picked up the stone. The covers were slightly burned underneath it. "But it must be the most likely outcome given the parameters you stated."

"What do you mean?"

"There have to be infinite possibilities, Spike. Anything you can choose, you will choose, only in some other universe. But some outcomes are more likely, since not all choices lead to split offs from the current wave of events." She held the stone up to the light. "I think that it picks the most probable outcome that fits what you asked. In this case, you never got the chip, and you were slain."

She went into the bathroom, came out with a towel and set it under the stone. She put her hand on top of it and said, "I wish I could see what my life would have been like if Marcus hadn't been turned."

The stone lit up and again the lightshow began. Spike whistled as he saw Christine as a young thing. She laughed softly but her attention did not waver from the wall.

Spike saw a young man hurrying to catch up with her, laughing as he spun her around in the bright sunshine.

"Marcus," Christine said, her voice breaking slightly as she stared at what could only be a lost love.

"Let's run away," the Christine on the wall said. "Let's get far, far away from here."

"Darling, you just have pre-wedding jitters. You'll be fine."

She couldn't convince him to run away. Hell, she couldn't convince him to leave the park.

"Look at the moon, Christine." He threw his arms wide, spun again.

Spike guffawed. "Big with the twirling, wasn't he? You sure he wasn't one of those nancy boys?"

She glared at him.

"I'm just saying..."

She waved him to silence. "This was the night they came for us."

"They turned him?"

She nodded. "Only I didn't know that till last year. I thought he died."

They came for them again. And this time Christine bought Marcus time to escape. The vamps concentrated on her. There were too many of them. She fell. She died.

The light from the stone faded away.

"I'm sensing a theme here," Spike said. "Or else these are home movies from hell." He shook the stone. "Happy ending this time, if you please."

Christine tried to laugh, but she still looked a bit shaken from what she had seen.

Spike touched the stone. "Show me my life if Drusilla hadn't turned me."

There was virtually no delay. Spike saw the angry William walk into the alley. Drusilla came for him.

Angel came right behind her. He took one look at the shivering boy Spike had been and said, "Drusilla, we have standards." He reached over and grabbed Spike's head. "And he doesn't meet them."

One vicious twist later, and William was dead. Dru's wailing keen filled the room as the light faded.

"Okay, this is dismal." Christine picked up the stone, carried it back to the dresser. "No more Stone of Sycchia until we make sure its purpose isn't to depress us so much that we off ourselves."

"No, it shows alternate futures. It is doing that. Bloody downers they are, but that doesn't make them less real." He could almost feel Angel's hands on his head. Spike had seen him kill enough people that way. He'd just never thought that he'd be one of the victims.

"Well then, no more stone for tonight. I'm depressed enough as it is."

"Why?"

She shook her head.

"Christine. You've been like this for two days. And you won't talk to me about it. What is going on?"

She took a deep breath. "I saw Spock."

"When?"

"Yesterday. He was..." She closed her eyes, turned away.

"He was what?"

"A mess. He was a mess. He's mad at the captain, mad at me--"

"--And mad at me?"

"He doesn't know about you. I certainly wasn't going to tell him."

He felt a sting at that. "No, wouldn't want him to know that you're shagging the likes of me."

She walked over to him. "That's not what I meant. I just can't see adding to his pain by telling him I'm with someone else, not when I can't go back to him."

"Won't," Spike corrected, watching her expression tighten. "I just hate seeing you act like there's some good reason keeping you away from him. Other than your own desire to be miserable."

She pulled away from him. "All this time together and you still understand nothing."

"Oh, I understand. I understand that you don't think you deserve him. But I'm okay. You deserve me."

She sighed. "I'm not having this conversation with you."

"Fine." He stalked over to the dresser, snatched up the stone. "I'm not done watching."

"Knock yourself out. Just don't expect me to watch too." She gathered up her pads and left the room.

He sat down on the bed and set the stone back on the towel. "Show me what happened if Buffy hadn't died."

The lightshow began. Spike saw the Master pacing in his sunken prison, muttering to himself, "Where is she? I can't rise without her."

The Annoying One appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Did you bring her?" the Master asked, a note of hope in his voice.

"She didn't come."

The Master seethed. "Well, go find her."

Spike noticed the Annoying One didn't step within the Master's sphere of influence. "I looked for her. She left town."

"Left?" The Master strode to where the boy stood, just out of reach. "She shirked her duty?"

"She did."

The Master smiled grimly. "She's smarter than I thought." He dusted off his leather jacket. "She ran rather than face me, rather than die. Too bad the guilt will eat her alive long before she gets to enjoy her slightly longer life." He smiled at the Annoying One. "Well, I'll just have to come up with a new plan."

The Annoying One began to back away. "This was your last chance." He sighed. "You're stuck here for eternity. Unless we find another prophecy. We'll keep looking. And if we find one, we'll come for you." The little vampire turned to go.

"You can't just leave me here."

"Without a slayer's blood, you can't escape." The Annoying One smiled tenderly at the much older vampire. "If it makes you feel better, I won't stop looking for her, ever, and when I find her, I'll kill her for you." He walked away.

"Don't leave me! Don't you dare leave me here!"

"What about Buffy?" Spike muttered, but the stone went quiet.

The Master had been right. Buffy's guilt would have been enormous if she had run instead of faced him that night. She'd run away after she'd skewered Angel into Hell, but at least she'd known that she had fought him, bested him. Done what she had to. But to run away from a fight? That wasn't Buffy's style.

"Okay then, show me what happened to Buffy after she ran away from the fight with the Master."

The stone lit up the wall again. He knew this Buffy was slightly younger than when he first met her, but she looked about ten years older as she walked through the alleys of some city. A group of five thugs walked up to her.

"Hey, sweetheart," one of them said. "You got something you want to share with us?"

"Sure don't," she said, not slowing.

"Come on, sweetie. We're nice guys. Give us a little taste of that Sunnydale flavor." The lanky youth touched her hair, laughing as she knocked his hand away. "Word on the street is that your name's Buffy, and you're from Sunnydale."

"Not anymore," she said. "Now leave me alone and nobody will get hurt."

The boys started to laugh. One of the youths grabbed her. She broke his arm, twisting it savagely, and he fell to the ground with a scream. The others pulled their knives out.

"The last guy that messed with me had a gun. Guess I'm stepping down," she said, the tone in her voice reminding Spike of someone.

Buffy made short work of the first three, then circled the largest kid as he thrust out at her with his knife. He ended up with the blade buried in his own chest.

The first thug, the one with the broken arm, tried to crawl away. Buffy walked over to him, kicked him in his bad arm.

"Puta," he swore.

"No, that's not my name. And neither is Buffy. You never heard of Buffy. My name is Anne. That's an easy name to remember. Anne. From L.A." She stepped down on his broken arm. "What's my name?"

"Anne. Anne from L. A."

"Good boy." She lifted her foot. "You tell all your friends to leave me alone if they want to live. You got that?"

He nodded.

"Get out." She watched him stagger off, then went back to the boys she had killed and began to rifle through their pockets. She shoved cash into her jacket pocket, then buttoned it. Reaching into the biggest boy's jacket, she pulled out a bag filled with white powder. "Hello, oblivion." She grinned, a cocky lopsided expression that held very little amusement. Spike realized who it was she reminded him of.

She reminded him of Faith.

The stone went dark.

"Two more deaths to go," Spike said softly as he picked up the stone and put it back on the dresser.

He wasn't sure he wanted to see anymore.

---------------------------------

Blackness settled around Christine, then torches flared. She struggled against the ropes that secured her between two posts. Her legs were bound together, making it impossible to kick.

"Don't bother trying to fight," an amused voice said behind her.

"She has to. It's what slayers do." A dark-haired young woman stepped in front of Christine, examining the ropes.

Faith, so the other voice had to be--

"Nice knots," Buffy said as she too stepped around the post.

"This is a dream," Christine said firmly, willing the ropes to disappear.

The ropes didn't budge.

"May be a dream, but it's wicked obvious that you aren't the one in charge of it." Faith peered into the darkness. "Shouldn't there be some bad guys?"

"There are," Buffy said as she studied Christine. "You think you're getting better, but you're not. You tread water and cheer when the shore doesn't get any farther away."

"You sound like a watcher." Christine looked up at the ropes. "It'd be more helpful if you'd untie me."

"No doubt." Faith smiled at her. "But she wasn't the one who tied you up, so she can't undo you."

"You then."

"Not me either."

Christine pulled at the ropes. "Those bad guys?"

"Only bad guy here is you," Buffy said, shaking her head as if in disappointment that Christine was taking so long to get whatever the point was.

"But that could change," Faith said, nodding to where two vampires emerged from the darkness, dragging an unconscious Spock behind them.

"Don't worry, they can't see us," Buffy told Christine.

The vampires let Spock fall to the ground in font of the slayers. They grinned at Christine, then walked way. Spock didn't move.

Christine swallowed hard. "Is he dead?"

Spock began to stir.

"I'm thinking not." Buffy shot Faith an amused look. 'I guess we all have this dream?"

Faith laughed. "Not all of us. No loved ones, no targets to try to turn. I just didn't let myself care about anyone that much."

"Right." Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Oh, you're one to talk. Most of the guys you loved were undead to start with."

"My friends weren't."

Faith laughed. "No, they were totally normal. A former vengeance demon, a watcher whose nickname was 'Ripper,' a werewolf, and a witch who nearly destroyed the world. Oh yeah, and little sis, the glowy green energy thing. Some Scooby gang, B."

"I thought they'd be your Scooby gang. But once we beat the First, you were out on your own again."

"Hey, I did stay for your funeral."

"Big of you."

They seemed about to launch into a full-scale argument when Spock sat up. Christine was almost grateful to him for shutting the two slayers up.

He shook his head as if dazed, then sniffed. He slowly lifted his head, stared at Christine hard.

She couldn't speak.

"You left me."

She tried to get free again, putting on a last desperate burst of energy. The ropes didn't budge.

"You deserted me." He moved toward her.

"I had to do it."

"Had to? You always fall back on excusing your impulses as destiny. As if everything about your life is written in stone. You say you had to leave me. Why?" He didn't wait for her to answer. Leaned in and began to kiss her neck.

She shuddered and he pulled away.

"I loved you." He put his hand around the back of her neck, pulled her head forward and kissed her on the lips.

She didn't respond at first, but then he began to move his hands down her body and she moaned. The way he touched her...no one else had his power to move her. She opened her mouth to his, felt his tongue meet hers.

They kissed forever.

Then he pulled away. She bit back a sob; she knew what she would see. Like Marcus, Spock would be a vampire.

But he wasn't.

Faith moved behind Christine, leaned in and whispered, "Vampires aren't the only ones who can suck the life out of you."

Christine frowned. "Spock?"

"We will be together again," he said softly.

Christine flashed back to the field of Sekanik, Spock's lifeblood draining into the already sodden earth.

"No! I can't! Not again."

"What if he doesn't die this time? Buffy's voice was fading away. "Love can make you stronger."

Christine looked over at Faith. "Do you believe that?"

Faith gave her a slow sly smile. And vanished.

"No," Christine said again. "I can't do it, Spock. Go away."

"As you wish," Spock said, then reached for her shoulder. As she felt the Vulcan neck pinch for the first time, she came awake screaming.

Spike came running from the front room. Christine?"

She flinched away from him, saw hurt flash on his face and sobbed. "I'm sorry."

She wasn't sure whether she was saying it to him or to Spock.

------------------------------------

Spock tossed on his bed at the Vulcan embassy. The Vulcan government had offered him quarters and he had willingly accepted, hoping that the peace of the place would permeate his soul, bring him some stillness amid the rampant emotions raging within him.

But it had not.

Instead the residence seemed filled with disapproval. He wondered if every Vulcan he passed was aware of the turmoil within him. Spock fought to keep his expression even, his emotions--seething as they were--tightly held in check. He thought it was working as long as he did not meet their eyes. He knew his eyes did not reflect Vulcan calm. How long had it been since they had?

He had been straying farther and farther away ever since he had become involved with Christine. To be more precise, it had probably happened before that. Kirk and McCoy had also had an effect on him, and on his ability to exercise control. It had been a long while since he had spent any time around this many Vulcans. Had he allowed himself to slip more than he had realized? He had thought he had been following the Vulcan tenets, but being around humans had perhaps blinded him to his own failings? His emotions were under control when he compared himself to a human, but not when he looked at the Vulcans now around him.

He was reminded of that every time he walked by a full Vulcan. He was reminded of how he did not measure up, had never measured up. It was one of the reasons he had left Vulcan in the first place. To find his own path, make his own way. Far from the disapproving looks of Vulcans like his father.

He had thought he had found his way. Had found some true happiness with his friends on the Enterprise, and then later with Christine. And he had found purpose, serving on the ship. And later sharing the destiny of the woman he had grown to love. The woman with whom he had bonded.

The woman who had deserted him.

It was perhaps only logical, but he missed her most at times like this, when he was lying alone in his bed. For so many years, that had been the norm for him, and then, when he and Christine had become lovers, he had grown accustomed to having her cool body next to his. Had become used to losing himself in her, in her body and in her love. But now that was denied him. She was no longer running from him, but she was not running to him either.

Jim had known where she was. And he had not told Spock. Jim had probably also known that she was not alone. Naturally, he had not told Spock that either. Spock had found it out on his own. While it might be beneath the dignity of a Vulcan to lie in hiding in a moonlit cemetery waiting for his former bond mate to pass by, it was not beneath Spock's. He had waited night after night, working later into the evening at Command so that he could walk home to the Vulcan residence in the dark by way of the cemeteries. He did not linger long, just waited to see if he could sense her at all. But the bond they had once shared was dead.

He had found her tonight by the simple law of averages--eventually, if he visited the cemeteries of the city often enough, he would run into her. It undoubtedly helped his chances that he accessed Starfleet and Federation security files detailing the local deaths, looking for anything that seemed like a vampire attack, looking for a victim who might rise. A victim Christine would have to slay.

She had been slaying tonight. Fending off one undead as another fought his way out of his grave. She hadn't been fighting alone. It had taken Spock a long time to believe what he was seeing, to accept the identity of who was helping her. The surge of anger that boiled up inside him made him cry out softly, as his fists had clenched painfully.

He had forced his thoughts to calmer paths. There were any number of reasons why Spike might be helping her. He should not immediately assume the worst. He watched them work together, a well-rehearsed team. Whatever the reason that Spike was helping her, it was clear that he had been doing it for some time.

Christine pulled the newly-risen vampire out of his grave and threw him toward Spike's outthrust stake. The creature exploded into dust. The other vampire howled in protest and launched herself at Christine, who pulled her own stake out and brought it down hard into the creature's chest. The vampire's scream was cut off as she burst into dust.

Spock fought the urge to call out to Christine. He needed to see how she and Spike acted together, but part of him wanted to distract her, was willing to do anything to stop them from showing him what he did not want to see. He ignored that part of himself. Kaidith, what was, was. He stayed low in the bushes, waiting.

Spike laughed, the sound carrying to Spock's location as the vampire dusted off his pants and jammed the stake into the pocket of the leather coat he wore. He said something to Christine and she laughed too, moving close to him and bumping up against him playfully.

Spock could feel his teeth clenching, forced his jaw to relax. They were friends. Nothing more. He could maintain that fantasy until Spike pulled Christine into his arms and kissed her.

She kissed him back.

Spock knew he should look away, but he could not. He stayed in the bushes until they walked away, Spike's arm around Christine. He debated going back to the residence, but could not bring himself to do that. He followed them, trying to keep to the shadows, although he noticed Spike looked back several times.

They stopped at one of the older apartment buildings, Christine engaged the retina scan and opened the door, but Spike patted his pocket then said something to her that made her laugh again. She went into the apartment, and Spike crossed the street and ducked into the woods where Spock was standing.

"Told her I'd lost my smokes during the fight." Spike dug a pack out of his pocket and held it out to Spock. "Fancy one?"

Spock shook his head, unwilling to trust himself to words. His rage was threatening to boil over. Again. He could smell Christine on Spike.

"I guess you saw all of that?" Spike lit a cigarette, shoved the pack and the lighter back into his pocket.

Spock nodded.

"She still loves you, you know."

"That is not obvious from her actions." Spock did not attempt to control the anger in his voice.

"No, I s'pose not." Spike studied him, seemed to understand the danger he was in and took a few steps back. "She was a mess when I found her. It might not seem that way to you, but I was trying to help you both."

Spock let his eyebrow comment on that sentiment.

"Okay, I know. Looks like I was just helping myself to another man's goods. And maybe at some level that's what it was."

Another lift of the eyebrow seemed sufficient comment.

"She was suicidal, Spock. Ready to die. Looking for death."

"You could have brought her back to me. I would have helped her."

"Don't you think I tried to bring her to you?" Spike held up his hands. "She didn't want to go. I was afraid we'd both lose her if I pressed too hard."

Spock studied Spike's face. The vampire looked sincere, seemed to believe what he was saying.

"And now?"

Spike took a long drag off his cigarette, "Now, my friend--and I am your friend--it's up to you."

Spock waited as Spike exhaled slowly.

"We're expecting a new vamp to rise the night after tomorrow. By that big crypt in the middle of the cemetery." He stamped out the cigarette with his boot. "Be there first. Slay it and let her see. I know she'll forget all the reasons she thinks she needs to stay away from you if it looks like you're in danger."

Spock considered what Spock said. "The night after tomorrow?"

Spike nodded.

"I will be there." He waited until Spike turned. "I do not understand your actions. She is my bond mate and you knew that, yet you have been her lover even so."

Spike had turned around. "Some things you just won't understand. That's life, Spock. If you want her back, do what I say. And be careful with her. She's like a skittish cat. One wrong move and she'll bolt again."

"I know how to handle Christine."

Spike's eyes had hardened. "Not this Christine you don't."

Spock had left him, had returned to his narrow, empty bed in the Vulcan embassy where he now lay tossing and turning. He finally gave up on sleep and turned to plotting how to handle the woman he loved. The woman he would see again. In two nights time.

--------------------------------------------

Christine watched Spock move across the deserted cemetery toward the crypt. "He's staking out the cemeteries now?"

"He's in love." Spike moved past her. "And liable to get himself killed."

"You've never seen him slay."

"Yeah, well look how well he did at Gotterdammerung."

She glared at him but picked up her pace. She'd had Spock's death on her hands once; she wasn't going to live through that again.

"Damn it," she said, as two vampires stepped out of the crypt dangerously close to Spock.

She could hear Spike pounding behind her as they ran. It was clear they weren't going to reach Spock before the vampires did. She felt a rush of fear and tried to run even faster.

Spock drew out a stake, killing the first vampire before it had time to cry out. The other vampire took several steps back.

As Christine rushed into the clearing, she was just in time to hear the vampire say, "We don't have to fight. We could talk. Vulcans are peaceful talky types, right?"

"You have been misinformed," Spock said as he slammed the stake home.

He turned, nostrils flaring slightly as if he had caught her scent well before he saw or heard her. He seemed about to say something, then he saw Spike. The look he sent the vampire was not friendly.

Christine didn't move. He knew about her and Spike. Somehow, Spock knew.

"I'm going to make myself scarce," Spike said amiably. "I'll just leave you two kids to your reunion." He vanished into the night.

Spock slipped his stake into the inner pocket of the light Starfleet jacket he wore. He stared at her, at the drawn stake in her hand, the crossbow hanging down her back. "You are slaying."

"What choice do I have? I'm here, the vampires are here. I slay them. End of story."

"You do not slay all of the vampires though, do you, Christine?"

She tried to gauge his mood by his eyes. They were steely, like a sword blade. She glanced down at his hands. They were clenched tightly.

He was angry. Very angry at her. And, somehow she knew, at himself too.

"Spike has been a good friend to me."

"You would seem to have an interesting definition of friend." He stalked toward her.

"Spock nothing happ--" She couldn't finish the lie. They all deserved better than that. "He found me when I'd hit rock bottom, when I didn't care anymore if I lived or died."

He took another step toward her; she took a step back.

"And he helped you." He managed to turn helped into a dirty word.

She refused to let herself look away. "He did."

His hands tightened even more. "Do you love him?"

"No, I told you, he's a friend."

"I should perhaps wish that I were your friend, since the role appears to come with much greater access to you than that of bond mate."

"There is no bond." She felt tears beginning, blinked them back angrily. "You severed it. You told me you'd never leave me, but you did." She was yelling now, didn't care.

"You would have followed me into death."

"So what if I would have?" Her voice broke; she sank down to her knees. "Would it have been so bad to let me come with you? To rest?"

"Yes. Because I did not stay there. You would have been lost to me forever."

"You didn't know that at the time. I remember what happened. You thought you were dying."

"Yes, I did. But I did not die. I am here now, Christine. I am here for you."

He moved toward her so quickly she barely had to time to push herself to her feet and take off running. She could hear him behind her as she ran out of the cemetery and headed down to the apartment.

She had to get away. She couldn't do this again.

She made it to the front door before he caught her, spinning her around and pulling her close. Her breath came in great raspy sobs and she tried to push him away, but he held on to her.

"I wanted to die. I was ready to die."

"I know, Christine. I know." His voice soothed her, but his underlying anger was still there, just seemed to be changing into something more dangerous. Desire. Lust.

She tired to push him away again, and he wrapped his arms around her more tightly.

"Tell me that you do not love me, and I will go."

His hands were running down her back, his breath was warm in her ear. "Tell me that you do not want me as much as I do you."

When she didn't say anything, he pushed her to the door, moved her so that the security device could scan her retina. The door opened and Christine moved of her own volition, pulling him to her apartment door, realizing too late that Spike might be there.

He wasn't, but she saw Spock's nostrils flare again. Spike's odor must be everywhere in the apartment.

Spock turned to her, seemed to be barely holding himself together. He pulled away from her, began to pace, as if working off some unwanted energy.

"How did you find me?" she asked. "Tonight, I mean."

He turned. "I have been out every night since our meeting in the hall."

She calculated how many vampires he might have killed. "Impressive. Maybe you should be the slayer." The joke fell flat.

"I have not been hunting before tonight. I was too busy looking for you but perhaps I should have hunted--I find that slaying offers me an outlet for other emotions."

"Slaying is just a nice word for killing, Spock."

"I am aware of that." He moved toward her. "These emotions would find a better outlet in you." He reached for her, then took a step slightly to the side as if he expected her to bolt and he would block her.

"Spock, I can't--"

His mouth on hers silenced her protests. He pulled her close, moved her into the bedroom before she realized he had done it. His hands were everywhere. On her body, taking her clothes off, stroking her hair, and on the meld points. She was about to pull away, when she sensed his own reluctance for a deep meld.

He was ashamed of what he was feeling. Did not want her to know how little control he had over his emotions.

And she found that she didn't want to know. She pulled him down to her, pushing his hands away from the psi points and on to other sensitive spots. As he buried himself in her body, a small voice inside her urged her to be careful. She ignored it and gave herself over to the sensation of loving him again.

-------------------------------------

Spike watched Christine and Spock kiss on his front stoop, then one of them, he wasn't entirely sure which, pulled the other inside.

So they'd finally made up, thanks to him. It had been a long time coming. And he'd known it would happen. He'd known that he would lose her.

He walked back to the cemetery, found a crypt that looked like the one he'd lived in all those centuries ago in Sunnydale. Pulling out the Stone of Sycchia, he smiled as he laid it on the cold stone floor. Christine wasn't here to lecture him now. It was time to finally know the truth. Or at least some alternate version of it. And from the look of Christine and Spock, he had all night to watch the truth play out.

"Show me what it would have been like if Buffy hadn't jumped from that tower to save Dawn."

It had been the second worst night of his life, only at the time he'd thought it was the worst. The stone began its show, and he watched as Buffy tried to make Dawn listen to her, but the Little Bit was having none of it. She pushed Buffy away and leaped off the tower. As she fell through the portal, she crackled with green energy and screamed once loudly. Then she disappeared.

Buffy stood numbly, staring down at where her sister had disappeared. She didn't cry, didn't make a sound. Just stepped off the tower and plummeted like a stone. She hit and bounced just as she had when he'd seen her die. He wept along with the other Spike.

She had been ready to die. In any reality. It didn't surprise him.

And then they'd brought her back. Willow and poor doomed Tara. Anya and Xander. They hadn't included him. Probably knew he would have tried to stop them. He'd firmly believe that Buffy deserved peace. Rest. To stay dead.

But she hadn't been allowed any of that.

God, she'd been so tired that last night he'd spent with her, the night before they'd gone up against the First and its ubervamps. Buffy hadn't trusted him enough to close her eyes around him, even with his soul. She'd never been able to forget what he'd done. To her. To the victims he'd killed under the First's directions.

He had not been her friend. Or her champion. Only the vampire she'd once shagged. The one she was stuck with at the end.

The one she hadn't loved.

"Show me a world where Buffy didn't die fighting The First."

The stone seemed to take a long time to begin the show, and he drummed his fingers on the concrete floor as he waited. Finally, it began. The slayers in training were following Faith and Buffy and him down into The First's lair. It was just as he remembered. Except that this time, he, not Buffy, wore the amulet.

"I can feel it, Buffy."

"What?"

"My soul. It's really there. Kinda stings."

The fight was intense, vampires staked into dust, slayers falling. But then the amulet began to glow. The other Spike said, "Go on, then"

Buffy didn't want to leave him. "You've done enough, you can still--"

"--No. You beat 'em back, it's for me to do the clean up." Both Spikes smiled.

Faith called down from the entrance. "Buffy! Come on!" Then, as the tunnel began to collapse, she ran for safety.

Buffy ignored the falling debris.

"Gotta move, lamb. I think it's fair to say school's out for the bloody summer." Spike smiled as he watched the cave collapsing on the legion of vampires.

"Spike..."

"I mean it. I gotta do this." He seemed to be in enormous pain. He held his hand up and Buffy took it in hers, holding tightly, not pulling away even when their hands began to burn.

Buffy looked him in the eye and said, "I love you."

Spike shook his head, the Spike that was on fire just smiled gently. "No you don't. But thanks for saying it." The cavern began to rock in the throes of an earthquake. Spike pushed her away. "It's your world up there. Now go!"

She looked at him one last time, then fled.

Spike didn't watch her go, turned instead to the destruction all around him and smiled, a devilishly satisfied smile. "I wanna see how it ends."

Then he exploded into pure light and the cavern collapsed. The stone went quiet.

Spike laughed. He had saved her. Finally, he'd saved her. By hell, he'd saved them all, he had. He replayed the scene over and over and over. The picture on the wall flickered and seemed to become less bright around the edges.

"No!" He rubbed the stone. It felt hot, much hotter than it had been. He realized the crystal was becoming black in places.

The Stone of Sycchia was dying.

"I know there's a world where Buffy loved me. Show me that."

He grabbed the stone, ignoring how it burned him.

"Show me!"

The lights started, he saw Buffy moving toward another Spike. A Spike who stood in direct sunlight and didn't burn. Then the picture began to blacken at the edges as if on fire.

He picked the stone up, grasped it firmly with both hand. "Show me!"

The stone flared and he dropped it, his hands seared.

"No."

The stone turned completely black.

"No. Show me a life where I'm happy, dammit!"

The stone lay silent.

He picked it up and threw it, slamming it against the wall. It shattered into pieces. A terrible screech filled the crypt as the pieces of the stone ricocheted around him.

Spike pushed himself up, his hands screaming in protest. He could feel the dawn coming, felt a strange confusion come over him. He had to get home...to Christine. For some reason, he had to get home.

He ran, the smell of dawn overpowering the pain in his hands but not the strange sense of panic he felt. Only the panic wasn't for him. It was for Christine. She was in trouble. He didn't know how he knew it, but he knew it. He put on a burst of speed, made it past the retina scan and into their building as the sun rose.

He was being a fool, he tried to tell himself as he ran up the stairs to their apartment. Christine was with Spock. And Spock would never hurt her.

Only Spike remembered what Spock had said about his people. How violent they had been in the past. And Christine, while she might be light years better than she had been, was still pretty screwed up.

And that could be a recipe for complete disaster.

--------------------------------------

Spock felt Christine stir against him, tightened his hold on her. He had lain silently next to her for hours, relishing the feel of her, hoping she would stay asleep, that this wonderful feeling would never stop.

"Let me up," Christine said. Her voice was odd, not angry but distant. On edge.

He nuzzled against her, did not loosen his grip.

"Spock, let me up, damn it." She tried to kick him away, but he was too close.

"Shhh. Christine, it is all right." He kissed her neck, under the ear. To be this close to her, the feel of her, her scent, it overwhelmed him,

She began to struggle, and he pulled her over, to her back so that he could see her face.

"Christine. Love."

She was staring at him. "Let me go."

"Where do you wish to go?"

"I have class." She looked away.

"Class?"

She tried to push him away again. "Medical school, Spock. Remember?" She looked on the verge of panic.

He let her go. "Will you continue that?"

She fairly threw herself out of the bed. "What?"

"When we are together? Will you want to continue that?" He had not yet determined if he would continue in Starfleet or not. He would not want to accept a new assignment if she was on Earth. He had spent too long away from her.

"Together?"

On the other hand, returning to Vulcan might make more sense. He could easily find a position at the Science Academy and she could continue medical studies if she wished there. "We could return to Vulcan?"

She had begun to pace. She glanced at him, her face devoid of any emotion. She looked like the Vulcans back at the residence.

"Christine?" He pushed the covers off, walked over to her slowly. "What is wrong? Did you not enjoy this?"

"Enjoy?"

He realized she was crying. She backed to the wall, slid down it and hugged her knees to her chest.

"Christine?"

"I love you, Spock. You know that?" She looked up at him. The look on her face was the same one she'd worn on the ship, when she'd run from him after he'd been hurt trying to keep the Orb from falling into Anacost's hands.

She was going to run again.

He kneeled down, smoothed her tears away. "It has been a long time, Christine. I have forgotten what your love feels like." He slowly raised his hands to her face. "Why don't you show me?" He pushed his fingers into the meld point.

"No!" She tried to move her face away.

He reached out, grabbed her behind the head, jerking her to him more forcefully than he intended. The meld had calmed her then, the bond had solidified that calm. It would do so again.

She was his.

"My mind to yours," he whispered, ignoring her struggles.

"Damn you!" She punched him hard, tearing his fingers away from her psi points as he fell away from her. "You have to push. You can't just let this be."

He stood staring at her, his anger growing again. He was suddenly overly aware of the smell of Spike throughout the room. The bed had stunk of him, left a residual odor on her skin, and on Spock's. Spock wanted to burn the bedcovers, tear the clothes he knew he would find in the closet apart and leave them for the vampire to find.

This woman was Spock's. She had been bonded to him. They belonged together. They should still be together. Spock had only severed the bond for her own good; he had been sure he had been dying.

He backed away from her, sank down on the bed. "I do not understand you."

"I know. Things have changed, Spock."

"Why?" He looked at her, studied her with her dark hair and pale skin. "Why did you change your hair?"

She sighed. Walking slowly as if she didn't quite trust him not to try another meld, she came to him and laid her hand on his cheek. "I'm not the same woman. The sunny Christine is gone."

He thought back to their interactions since he had found out she was the slayer. Sunny was not a word he would use to describe them. "And who has taken her place?"

She straightened up, pulled her hand away. The look she gave him was hard, resolved. "Me. I have. The real Christine. The dark one. I was hiding behind the blonde hair as much as the meek nurse. This is me. The running, the despair. This is my life. You spent months trying to convince me that life was good, that together we were stronger than any pain, any darkness. But it wasn't true. I wanted it to be though." She sank down next to him. "I came to depend too much on it being good because you were there. When I lost you...I saw how little of my life was really mine. How little of it was up to me. Does that make sense?"

He did not respond, turned to look at her. "You say you love me, but you do not wish to be with me?"

"I can't. I have to find out who I am."

He reached out for her hand. "I know who you are. I can show you. If you would just let me?" He tentatively reached for her cheek, saw her flinch and dropped his hand to her shoulder. "I believe my view of you is more balanced than the way you see yourself. Your life does not have to be only darkness and pain."

"You're right. It doesn't. But it can't be good only because of you. I have to find that within myself." She pulled her hand away. "I do love you. I wish I could run away with you."

Her eyes did not echo that wish. Her eyes were sad and determined.

She was leaving him.

"You will not be with me?"

"Maybe. In time. If you give me some space. But I can't jump right back to where we were."

He had never considered that she would not want him, not once they had come together again. "But you wish you could come with me?" There was a forlorn quality to his voice that made him wince.

"I do." She leaned in, kissed him softly then pulled back. "I love you so much. But I have to do this on my own. Do you understand that?"

He did not. His expression must have conveyed that.

"I need you to go." She began to rise. "Now."

His hand tightened on her shoulder, finding the position without conscious thought. "As you wish."

She collapsed as he pinched hard. He stared down at her naked body, unsure what he meant to do.

The door burst open. Spike grimaced as he let go of the handle. His hands were blistered as if he had burned them. Spock had the impression he had been running.

Spike looked over at the bed. His eyes narrowed.

Spock reached down for the covers and began to hide Christine's naked body from the vampire.

"Think I haven't seen that?" Spike asked him in an odd voice. "Think I haven't touched that?"

"You would be wise not to speak of this," Spock said, fighting a surge of rage at the thought of what the two of them had been doing while he had been searching the galaxy for her.

"What are you going to do? Carry her off on your charger?" Spike shook his head, his expression mocking. "She's not ready, Spock."

"I would expect you to say that."

"She's not. Believe me on that." Spike shook his head. "I'm rooting for you. I am. But I warned you to be careful. She's not bloody ready."

"Maybe it is you who is not ready for her to go." Spock reached for his clothing, slowly pulled on his pants. "Are you in love with her?"

Spike shrugged. "Would it matter if I was?" He looked at the unconscious Christine with infinite tenderness. "She's only ever going to love you."

Spock picked up her clothing from the floor, began to dress her.

"I can't let you take her, Spock."

"You can't stop me. Your chip won't let you." Spock turned around, knew his look was savage. "I won't let you."

Spike smiled tauntingly. "You'd like that right now, wouldn't you? Make me pay for having touched her. Pay for keeping her safe while you wasted all that time trying to find us? Well, sorry, mate. She needed help. I could give it to her. It was clear she wasn't going to accept it from you."

"She did not give me a chance."

"She was wild, Spock. Can't you see that? Wild and all torn up inside like she'd been eating glass. That life you wanted her to lead, being a slayer, being a nurse, being your bond mate. How long did you think she could do all that without cracking up? She was on the edge when you met her. Only you don't want to admit that."

Spock took a step back.

Spike walked to the bed. "They're different, these slayers." He stroked her hair. "They don't stay unconscious long, for one thing."

Spock realized Christine was waking up and reached down to deliver another neck pinch.

Spike caught his hand and cried out in pain. His hands were burned; Spock could smell the charred flesh. But Spike didn't let go of Spock's hand.

"Don't." There was a note of pleading in Spike's voice. "For her sake."

He looked down at Spike's hand, then slowly raised his head. He knew that his eyes would show no mercy. "If you wish to live, let go."

Spike didn't let go. "If you can't think of her, then do it for your own sake, Spock. How long do you think you can hold her if she doesn't want to be with you? How do you think she'll feel about you if you do? Force solves nothing. It only makes it worse. Unimaginably worse. I know this from experience."

"Let go," Spock repeated through clenched teeth. Anger such as he'd never felt boiled through him, whispering things that he would not normally think. 'Rip his head off,' the rage seemed to urge him. 'Tear his heart out,' it suggested.

Spike did not let go.

Spock kicked him away, following him as he crashed into the wall. Spike recovered quickly. They circled around each other several times, Spock moving ever closer as Spike suddenly seemed to realize the danger he was in. But he didn't give ground.

"I can't let you do it."

Then the vampire would die Spock rushed him, his blows falling in a flurry as the anger he felt poured out of him, centered in his punishing hands.

Spike tried to hit back but the chip flared each time, seeming to cause him as much pain as his burned hands.

Spock felt as though a curtain had fallen over his vision, he could see little around him, could only focus on the vampire he now hated more than anyone he had ever known. Could only see to land another hard blow to the face, to kick in another rib.

Spike had stopped fighting back, had fallen to the ground. He looked up at Spock with eyes nearly swollen shut. Through torn lips, he said, "She's not ready, Spock."

"I will be the judge of that," Spock said as he reached for the stake in his jacket. "You should never have touched her." His arm rose high. The blow would be unimaginably fierce.

Spike closed his eyes.

And as Spock let his hand drop, another hand grabbed his, knocking the stake out of his grip and wrenching him away from Spike. Forcing him to turn. To face her.

To face the Slayer.

"Have you gone completely insane," she spat, as she moved to stand between him and the vampire.

Spock stared at her. He had never seen her look at him with such loathing. Such hatred. "Christine. Love, I only want you back."

"I said, 'No.' Or didn't I make that clear enough for you?" She looked down at Spike, knelt down to touch his face.

"I'm all right," he managed to say through lips twice their normal size.

She stood up with the grace of a jungle cat, advanced on Spock. "Get out."

"Christine. I love you."

"Get out." Her fist struck out hard.

He caught it before it made contact with his face. Staring at her helplessly, he whispered, "I gave you everything I had. Emotions I did not even know were within me, I dredged up for you. I loved you with everything I had. What more can I do? What more can I say to convince you to come back to me?"

She was breathing hard but she didn't try to get away.

"I have been lonely since you left. I have felt this great rift inside me and I do not know how to fill it or how to make it go away." He saw that there were tears in her eyes. "I love you, Christine. You taught me to love. And now... now that the only thing that will ever give me peace is that love, you run. You refuse me. You take it all away." He let go of her hand.

"That was your mistake," she said in a voice that held both compassion and resignation.

He did not understand.

"You let me teach you how to love. What do I know of that, Spock?" She pointed down at Spike, gestured to where she had lain unconscious on the bed. "Is this what love is, Spock? Is this what I taught you? This violence?" She took a step back. "Why would you ever want that back?"

She turned her back on him, kneeling down to gently ease Spike up. "Get out," she said over her shoulder, her voice holding no warmth, no possibility of clemency. Of reunion.

"Christine, I l--"

"I heard you the first time, Spock. You love me." She looked up at him as she helped Spike to the bed she and Spock had just shared.

"And you love me. You said so. Even Spike believes it." Spock thought his voice sounded like that of a small child, petulant yet begging for things to go his way.

She looked at Spike and he shrugged and croaked, "Thought it would help if he knew the truth."

She turned back to Spock. "I do love you. I'll always love you. Forever, Spock. I'll love you forever. Is that what you want to hear?"

He took a step toward her.

"Now get the hell out of here. And don't ever, ever come back."

As he stood and watched her, she crawled into bed, holding Spike, her back to Spock.

Spock stumbled as he turned. The emotions inside him threatened to explode, to blow his body to bits the same way he and Christine had exploded countless numbers of vampires into dust. He wanted to run to her, to grab her and take her with him. He wanted to make love to her again and then strangle her where she lay. He could imagine his hands around her neck, snapping it like a twig. He wanted to kill her, to kill Spike, he would not even mind killing himself. Anything to give this terrible violence that raged inside him a route for escape. So that it would leave him alone. Leave him in peace.

"Get out, Spock," she said again, never turning to look at him.

He turned and walked out of the room, out of the apartment. He found the transporter station, beamed to the nearest spaceport with a ship bound for Vulcan. The steward gave him a strange look as he showed Spock to a small but private cabin. Spock looked down, realized that he still had Spike's blood on his hands. He washed his hands in the sink over and over. He would scrub the skin clean; he would scrub the skin off, if he had to in order to become clean.

He had to prepare himself for what was to come. He would find peace. He would not live with this pain and rage inside him forever. He would not hurt like this again. There was one place he could go, one place that would ensure she could never again touch him. One place to stop this terrible madness from ever erupting again.

And its name was Gol.

----------------------

"You got a minute?" McCoy caught up with Kirk as he walked back to his office with a lunch tray.

"For you, Bones, I have five."

McCoy's grin was perfunctory, with none of his usual warmth. It was a symptom of the strange distance that had grown up between them ever since that night that the slayers had called Gotterdammerung. Hell would have been Kirk's choice, if he'd had to name it. Hell, death, darkness. A turning point. He'd come back to himself, was human again. But he hadn't come back the same. Alma had known that.

And he thought McCoy knew it too.

"What can I do for you?" The words, so formal, would have been out of character for them before that night. Now they seemed perfectly appropriate.

"I'm leaving."

"On vacation?" Kirk pushed a padd out of the way and set his tray down on his desk.

"For good."

Kirk slowly raised his head, could feel the frown beginning. "What do you mean for good?"

"You're a smart boy, Jim. You should be able to figure that out." McCoy's accent seemed stronger, more pronounced.

"You're leaving Starfleet?"

"That's right."

"Why?"

McCoy's eyes seemed to bore into him, straight down to what was left of his soul. "Can you think of a reason I should stay?"

"Nyota, for one."

McCoy shrugged. "I don't need to be here to see her. She can carry on with an old country doctor as easily as she can with some fleet physician."

"You're not just some fleet physician." You're my friend and I need you, Kirk wanted to say, but couldn't or wouldn't. "I thought Starfleet Medical had offered you a position?" He'd envisioned getting together with McCoy for lunch or for drinks after work.

"They did. I turned it down."

"You're just going to walk away from it?"

"From it? Good God Almighty, Jim! When did you get so afraid to say what you really mean?" McCoy took a step toward him. "I'm walking away from you. That's what you mean, even if you won't say it."

"Okay, from me then. Why?"

McCoy took a deep breath. "Because I can't stand to watch this. You, here, at a desk."

"I can't be a space jockey forever."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because I have a duty, Bones. To do what's needed. To move on. Grow up." He couldn't meet McCoy's eyes.

"A duty? What about passion? Or did you give that up when Alma left?"

Kirk looked at him sharply. He hadn't expected McCoy to know about that.

"What about Spock, Jim? What about the duty you had to him?"

Kirk's mouth twitched, he pressed his lips together tightly to stop his anger from showing.

McCoy wouldn't let up. "He needed her. You knew that--"

"--She asked me not to tell him." Kirk felt guilt warring with anger. "Why do I have to explain this? What good would it have done to tell him where she was if she didn't want to see him? What logical purpose would it have served?"

"Logic? This isn't about logic and you damn well know it. This is about Spock's heart. This is about feelings that the Spock I first met wouldn't have even admitted to having. This is about the woman he loves."

"She was with someone else, Bones. How would he have felt to know that?" There, the truth was out. It didn't make him feel much better about what he had done.

"What?"

He practically spit the words at McCoy. "She was with someone else."

McCoy sat down heavily. "I don't believe it."

"Believe it. I didn't seek her out, didn't want to be the one who found her." He rubbed at his eyes, trying to make the ache that had started behind them go away. "God, Bones, don't you think I wanted to tell him where she was? He was hurting, and I had the truth about the woman he wanted back so desperately."

McCoy took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "It's all falling apart, Jim. Can't you see that?"

"Everything ends. Even the best of times."

McCoy leaned forward. "But you don't have to dive straight into the worst of times."

Kirk smiled tightly. "Choices, Bones. All our choices loom up to haunt us." He leaned back in his chair. "You can't call back the bad ones. There aren't any do overs."

"You could reach out. You could say you're sorry. You could try to get back what you've lost." When Kirk didn't react, McCoy leaned forward, slammed both hands on the desk. "Your ship, Jim. Your friends. Your soul."

Kirk smiled, knew it wasn't a nice expression. "My soul? Surely you exaggerate the situation, Doctor?" He could feel himself shutting down, didn't have the energy to stop the process.

McCoy pushed away from the desk, turned and walked to the door.

"Good luck, Bones."

McCoy turned to look at him; his expression was full of pity. "Save it for yourself, Jim. You're going to need it more than I will."

And then he was gone.

Kirk pushed the tray away, no longer hungry at all.

--------------------------------------------

"So, you're all packed?" Uhura closed up the bag she'd filled with personal items she'd collected from McCoy's temporary quarters.

"I could take those to Georgia, you know."

"Are you sure you want to? This could be your chance to shake me loose?" She was aiming for lighthearted. She could tell by the look on his face that she hadn't achieved it.

He cocked an eyebrow at her. "This your not-so-subtle way of telling me you're tired of me?"

He looked so worried that she set hurried into his arms. "Not on your life, Mister."

"Then why in tarnation do you think I'd be tired of you?" His kiss was long and sweet.

"Everything else is falling apart," she whispered as she buried her head under his chin.

"Doesn't mean we have to."

"I saw Spock a few days ago. He walked right past me."

"Yeah, he barely grunted when I saw him." McCoy frowned. "I haven't seen him around lately though."

She pulled away so she could see his face. "I don't understand it. One minute Christine and he are together, in love. Happier than I've ever seen her and him too as far as I could tell. Then I go away and when I come back it's all been blown apart."

"I know." He shook his head. "It was dark. As dark as the times with Drusilla. Darker even."

"Christine's darker. And I don't just mean her hair."

McCoy nodded. "Yeah, I guess she is. I run into her every now and then in the corridors of Medical. She can barely look me in the eye." He sighed. "Jim says she's with someone new."

"You're kidding!" Uhura remembered her last conversation with Christine. Her friend had slipped and said, 'we,' then corrected herself quickly. Uhura had let it go. Maybe she shouldn't have. "Who?"

"Jim didn't say." McCoy gave her a sheepish grin. "And I didn't ask. I was sort of caught up in a rant."

"You?"

"Hard to believe, I know."

"Burned your bridges?"

"At least half of them." He pulled her over to the window, held her as they stared out at the city across the bay.

Somewhere in that mess of lights their friends were hurting. Alone. The captain especially. "It's not a star field," she said softly.

"And eventually, he's going to realize that. And there won't be anyone there to help him when he does."

They stood silently for a long moment, then she whispered, "I feel sorry for him."

"Me too, darlin'. Me too."

"I feel sorry for all of them." She turned in his arms. "Promise me we'll find a way to make this work?"

He kissed her. "We will. Because we want it to. They gave up on each other way too soon."

"We won't make that mistake."

"We sure won't." He looked over at the lights.

As she watched his dear face turn serious again, she hoped he was right.

----------------------

"Aargh," Spike grimaced as he reached for the towel. He hadn't felt this weak or hurt this bad since the time Glory had beaten him up. It had been a moment that, if he left out the excruciating pain, still made him happy when he looked back on it. Buffy had seen him differently that night. It had been the first time she'd treated him like an equal, with respect. Or at least, not with disgust. He thought of all the things that the Stone of Sycchia had shown him. Such subtle differences between realities. And one major difference: Buffy had died in his reality and it should have been him. If he could go back in time and change things, he would. He knew it was why Christine had discouraged him from using the stone. She had known that he would get lost in what might have been, what could never be.

"Christine doesn't love you." The First chose to show up as Faith this time.

"Newsflash, princess. I know." He walked through her, didn't even bother to say the magic words to make her go away.

As she started to speak again, he turned and laughed at her. "Can't you give up already? It's been three hundred years and I haven't turned. I'm not going to. Now go away."

Faith suddenly morphed into a ferocious demon head that filled the entire bathroom. It spat pretend fire at him.

"Oh, get stuffed." Spike wrapped his towel around his waist and walked through the snarling visage of evil.

Christine looked up from the bed. "Who were you talking to?"

"No one."

She smiled and shook her head, then turned back to the padd she was reading. He dressed quickly then studied her. Her color was better; her eyes as they looked back at him had some of their old sparkle back. He'd worried that she was never going to come out of the funk that her disastrous reunion with Spock had left her in.

She narrowed her eyes as he continued to study her. "What?"

"You look good."

"You, on the other hand."

He touched his face gingerly. One of the benefits of having no reflection was not having to see how bad he looked at times like these. "I'm not pretty then?"

"Oh, you'll always be pretty. Just a little lopsided."

He smiled. She sounded a bit like Buffy. One slayer then, another slayer now. Both meant everything to him. He sighed.

"What's wrong?"

"You're all better."

An eyebrow went up, banishing Buffy. Now Christine looked very much like Spock. "I am?"

"You don't need me anymore, love."

"I'd be on Vulcan now if it weren't for you."

He laughed. "You'd have woken eventually. Spitting mad on a small shuttle and wouldn't Spock have had hell to pay then? Plus some explaining to do once you got done with him. Maybe it's him that owes me?"

She didn't answer, just nodded and looked down.

"Maybe I should have let him take you. No vampires on Vulcan, you know."

"I know. Great place to retire."

"Maybe you should?"

"Aren't you the one that put life and limb on the line making sure that didn't happen?"

"I don't mean let him take you against your will. Go yourself. Leave here and be with him."

She shook her head. "I can't."

"Can't?"

"I just feel that if I'd gone with him, I'd have lost something that was mine."

"Your freedom?"

"My future." She shrugged. "I know it doesn't make sense, Spike. I love him."

"I know you do."

"I've never loved anyone the way I love him." She put her book down, pulled the covers up around her. "But I feel like I'm not done yet. I have to find out who I am. What I'm made of."

"And you can't do that with Spock?"

"I don't think so." She patted the bed and he sat down next to her. "If I'd gone with Spock, I might be happy, but it would be an empty happiness. Because I'd always know that I had run away again."

"It'll be the same if you stay with me." He looked at her, felt the familiar desire rise. He forced himself to look away. "I haven't touched you since..."

"I noticed. Figured you weren't in any shape to."

"Yeah, that, and also it would be wrong." He reached out, found her hand and squeezed it. "You're his."

"I know. I wish I weren't. It would be so much easier not to love him." She put her other hand over his.

He reveled in her warmth, the light pulse in her hand reminding him that she was alive. And he never would be. "I understand that. I lied before. I do love you."

She swallowed hard. "I know."

She didn't lie to him the way Buffy had lied to that other Spike. He sort of wished she would. "I don't have much luck with slayers." He let go of her and got up, pulling away more quickly than he intended.

"You've saved two of us. Who knows how many more you'll help?"

"I'm done with slayers. Gonna find me a nice chaos demonness and settle down." He turned to see if she understood what he was saying.

She smiled softly. "Mucus be dammed?"

"I'll buy stock in tissue."

She laughed. "I'll miss you."

"Not for long. Medical school will keep you busy. And who knows where you'll end up after that."

"Who knows."

"Next time you see Spock, tell him no hard feelings, okay?"

"If I see him, I will." She eased out from under the covers, walked over to him and let him pull her into a long embrace.

He wanted to kiss her, but didn't think he'd be able to stop with just that. "Goodbye, Christine."

"Goodbye, Spike." She did kiss him, a long sweet touch on the forehead. A slayer benediction. "Thank you. For everything."

He threw a few things into his bag--he'd actually stayed in one place long enough for it to gather some serious dust--and pulled on his coat. "Okay, I'm off to adventure." He didn't think his jaunty tune was fooling her any.

"If you ever need my help..."

He nodded. "I know. Same here."

They stared at each other for another long moment, then he turned and walked away from her. It seemed like a very long walk out of the bedroom and down the hall to the front door. A very long and lonely walk.

-----------------------

The night breeze blew Christine's hair around her face, and she pushed it behind her ears as she finished her patrol. Since Spike had gone, things seemed to be quieter. She wondered if Tolvar had been right. Had all those vampires been curious about a vampire and a slayer working together?

She walked slowly enjoying the night. She wasn't in a rush to get back to the apartment. It felt a bit lonely without Spike. She missed him.

She missed Spock too. Wished she could take back that evening, change the frantic sex they'd had into something tamer. Something that wouldn't have burned out of control until it nearly destroyed them all.

Some nights, when she lay alone in her bed, she wished she could have gone with him to Vulcan. Settled down and not been the slayer anymore.

But that was who she was. She was the slayer. She'd run once and her destiny had found her. She wouldn't run again.

Not even for Spock. Not even to stop this terrible ache where her heart had been.

But it had been so good to hold him. If it weren't all mixed up with the darkness that followed it, the sex would be a pleasant memory. If Christine were someone different, something different, it wouldn't have to be just a memory.

She glanced down a side street, realized that Kirk lived down it. Without thinking, she turned and walked up the hillside to the modern building that dominated the rise. The doorman nodded to her, holding open the door. If he knew how many stakes she had in her coat pocket, she imagined that he'd be less welcoming.

On impulse again, she turned in, rode the elevator up to the top floor. She'd never been here, only knew Kirk lived here because he'd mentioned it in conversation. Had said how much he enjoyed the view from the top. She remembered McCoy teasing him that he would never settle for less than that.

As the elevator opened, Christine wondered what she was going to say to Kirk. She reached for the chime, rang it, then hoped he would not answer. As the door stayed shut, she felt a surge of relief at the thought that she'd missed him.

She turned to go and the door opened.

"Chris?" He was the only one that called her that.

He stepped aside, motioned her in. She moved past him, turning to wait for him.

He smiled, the expression nowhere close to reaching his eyes. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm not sure." An honest answer would have to do. She couldn't think of a single good reason for being at his place.

His smile faded. "You heard about Spock leaving?"

Leaving? "Spock left?"

Kirk laughed, the sound so richly bitter it sent shivers down her spine. "It's all the gossip at Command. Figured you knew. Guess I was wrong."

He led her into his main room. Weapons lined the walls, nearly all of them antiques. The firearms were a mystery to her, but she could identify all the bladed items. The benefits of a slayer education--she could tell at a glance which would best behead a vampire.

She walked over to one of the swords. "Is this the one you had on the ship?"

"Good eye."

"Good blade." She sank into one of the leather chairs. The room was done in different shades of rich browns, creating a warmth that was at odds with the iciness she sensed from her former captain. "What was it you thought I knew?"

He walked to the bar set up in a corner of the room, poured himself a drink, threw her a questioning glance as he lifted a glass. She declined.

"Spock went back to Vulcan. To Gol."

She wasn't sure what that meant. Her expression must have told him that.

"Gol, Chris. Where Vulcans go to purge their emotions, to embrace the tenets of pure logic."

She could feel all expression draining from her face, wondered if the color was following. She felt as cold and remote as a statue. "I didn't know."

Kirk threw back his drink. "I thought he'd try to see you...at least one last time. He was so frantic when he lost you, so desperate to find you." He set his drink down. "And then I betrayed him. I didn't tell him where you were." When he looked at her, his eyes were full of guilty pain.

"You think he left because of that?" She scooted forward on the couch, reached out to touch his hand. "No, Jim. It wasn't you."

He moved away from her. "Then what was it?"

She drew her hand back, tried to meet his eyes but couldn't quite bring herself to see the condemnation she knew would be there once he knew the truth. "He did come to see me...was waiting for me in the cemetery. He was hunting." At Kirk's look she amended it. "Slaying."

He nodded, sitting down in the chair opposite her.

"I missed Spock so much and there he was."

"You made up?" His voice was gentle, no censure in it. Yet.

She looked up at him, felt her gaze lock with his. "Yes. No. Not exactly."

He laughed softly, the sound equal parts confusion and sympathy.

"He wanted us to be together. Wanted me to go back to Vulcan with him."

"And you had other plans?" His smile was grim.

She nodded.

Kirk pushed himself heavily out of his chair, as if being planetbound was already sapping his agility and strength. "He didn't know about Spike and you. I didn't tell him."

He walked to the bar, poured himself another drink. Sipping it slowly this time, he sat back down.

"He found out about our relationship. But Spike wasn't what pushed him over the edge. Or why I couldn't go back with him."

She had his full attention, took a deep breath before saying, "It had been so long and I missed Spock so much. We probably shouldn't have but..."

Kirk smiled tightly. "You slept with him."

She nodded.

Now he seemed to be getting it. "And he wanted more. He wanted the bond back."

"He wanted it to be like it was."

"And you didn't?" His eyes seemed to bore into hers. "Don't you love him?"

"More than anything."

"Then why?"

"I just can't. I'm afraid I'll lose myself again. That I'll end up exactly where I was."

"With a man who you love more than any other?" His tone held no condemnation. It was as if he was working something out for himself. "A man who loves you in equal measure?"

"It sounds so simple when you say it that way. I want him, but I don't want to go back to the dark place I ended up after Vega Hydra. Not that it was his fault, but the slaying...and the bond. I think it was all too much. I can't. Not again."

"He wouldn't want you to slay. Not if it's dangerous for you."

"Running away to Vulcan isn't the answer. I'm a slayer, like it or not." She sighed. "It doesn't make sense. Not when I explained it to Spock, or later to Spike, and not now. I only know that when I think of Spock, it's with despair and fear."

"That's the Orb's influence. You knew there would be a price for destroying it. It took away whatever gave you the most happiness."

She nodded. "It nearly destroyed me."

"You're stronger. I don't think it's destroying you now. I think you are rebuilding."

She met his eyes again. "I'm trying to fight for my life, my soul. Trying to fight off this blackness that seems to overshadow everything."

"I understand."

She supposed he did. Being almost turned had changed him. And like her, not for the better.

"Maybe someday I'll be ready to be with Spock again. But not now."

Kirk didn't say anything, just moved the glass in his hand, the amber liquid sloshing gently up one side of the glass, then the other.

"Alma told me she left you."

He nodded, the gesture so sharp that she almost let it go.

"She blamed me," she said.

"She blamed me too." He threw back his drink. "She was a wise woman. Who's to say she's not right?"

"You were just protecting me. And I was just protecting myself." It sounded weak, even to her. Maybe her dream had been right? Buffy had said the only bad guy in Christine's life was Christine. Maybe the same could be said for Kirk?

"Well, while we were so busy protecting you, nobody was looking out for Spock and Alma." He stood, left his drink on the bar and began to pace, as if what he had to say was too painful to try to sit still. "I..."

When he didn't continue she stood and walked over to where he had stopped. He was facing the window, gaze locked on something far beyond the spectacular view.

"You what?"

"I can feel the darkness, Chris. It calls to me. No matter how much I try to push it away." He reached out, touched his reflection. "Alma said the darkness was part of me now."

Christine put her hand on his arm. "And it scares you? Because it repels you?"

He nodded.

"And because it doesn't?"

He nodded again. She stared at his reflection, saw how tightly he was clenching his jaw, lips pressed together in a thin line. He stared back at her, his expression haunted. A feeling of kinship, of needing to help him nearly overwhelmed her and she suddenly understood what Spike had felt. Why he'd wanted to help her.

Could she do any less for this man? This brave, good man who had suffered...was still suffering, because of her?

He seemed to sense her thoughts, turned to face her. "Alma said that your magic called to mine."

Christine frowned, not understanding. He reached out, stroked her cheek. She leaned into his hand and closed her eyes.

"Your darkness calls to my darkness is probably more accurate." He pulled away from her. "You're just starting to make your own life. Rebuilding and healing." He smiled, the first genuine smile she'd seen from him. Then it faded. "I'd only pull you back down. And I won't do that to you again. You wanted to quit, to go back into hiding, and I wouldn't let you."

"I'm a big girl. You didn't--"

"Bull, Chris. I talked you out of it. End of story." He stepped away from her, picked up his glass and carried it into the kitchen. "What are your plans for the future?" His tone was light, forced.

"Be a doctor." She hadn't thought much beyond that.

"Do it on the Enterprise."

"I don't understand."

"The ship won't be in refits forever. You were happy there once. You could be again. No Spock, no McCoy. I won't be there to tempt you into generous but foolish sympathy."

She hadn't even considered going back into space. But to be back on the Enterprise. To have a chance to mend the rents in her friendship with Uhura. To have a chance to let the slayer die...or at least rest. It would be so sweet. But was it right? "I'd just be running away again."

"No you wouldn't. I can't see you turning your back on your duty again." He nodded as if figuring it out as he talked. "But you'd be living your life too. The life you want.

"I know the new captain." Kirk's look was wistful as he continued, "Will Decker. He's a fine man, who'll make a fine captain. I can put in a good word for you if you want?"

Did she want that?

When she hesitated, he said, "Just let me talk to him. You don't have to decide anything right away."

He was right. She had a long time before she'd be ready to make any final decisions. "Okay. Thanks."

He nodded.

"What about you?"

He shook his head, as if not understanding the question.

"What are you going to do, Jim?"

He still didn't respond but she saw the answer in his eyes. He'd stay on Earth. Alone. No Alma, no Spock, no ship. Utterly alone. Her heart ached for him.

"Jim," she said, trying to put everything she felt into the one word. She moved toward him.

He held up a hand. "For God's sake, no pity, Chris. I'm an admiral now. They'll be announcing it tomorrow. And an admiral's place is here, at Command."

"At a desk?"

He shot her a warning glance. "Now you're sounding like McCoy." He moved to the doorway. "Thank you for stopping by. I'll put in a good word with Will for you."

She nodded as she walked to the door. She was almost to it when she turned back to him. "Go find her, Jim. Find Alma. Show her she was wrong to have left you."

"You won't go back to Spock, but you think she should come back to me?"

"Okay, then if she won't come back, find someone else. You shouldn't be alone."

His expression tightened and she realized he didn't want to hear what she had to say.

"Jim." She reached out, pulling him to her.

"Chris, no," he said even as he wrapped his arms around her, opening his mouth to hers. A long moment later, he pushed her away.

"Spock's my best friend. I can't do this to him."

She could feel her pulse racing the way it did when she kissed Spike. Jim had the same power, the same darkness inside him. He was right; it did call to her. "If he's gone where you said, soon he won't be anyone's friend. Or care what I do." But she eased her grasp on him. He was right. They couldn't do this to Spock.

"Doesn't matter. I still can't hurt him that way." He stroked her hair. "I like it dark."

She smiled. "I do too."

His eyes met hers and she saw hunger in them. Hunger for her or just to be touched, she wasn't sure which.

"I don't blame you," he said softly. "For Spock leaving, I mean."

"And I don't blame you for keeping me slaying."

"If I hadn't though, we'd probably all still be together."

"You can't know that." She tried to put assurance in her words, her tone. Even though she thought it likely that he was right.

She thought of what Spike had told her, that he'd died in that alternate reality. Died to save Buffy, and to save the world. Her own Spike had lived on...to save her. "Salvation comes from unlikely places." She hadn't meant to say that out loud.

He only smiled at her words. "It does, indeed." He leaned in, kissed her cheek. "I do appreciate your willingness to try to save me." He straightened, for a moment every inch the captain she had not seen since they took on Anacost.

"Good luck."

He nodded. "Godspeed, Chris."

She smiled at him and then hurried out before she could do something she'd regret later. She could still feel his hands on her hair.

Spock hadn't liked her hair. She didn't think that Spike had either, even though he'd made much of the change. They were alike that way, the Vulcan and the vampire. Preferred their partners sunny.

She didn't think she'd ever go back to blonde again.

She turned onto the street to her apartment and saw Uhura coming towards her. Christine wondered if she lived nearby. Felt regret that she didn't know where Uhura lived. She waved at her friend, smiled tentatively.

Uhura's face brightened, then the look fell away as memory superseded instinct. She turned, heading back the way she'd come.

"Ny, wait up."

Christine saw Uhura hesitate and hurried to catch her. Maybe it wasn't too late. Perhaps not everything was lost? Christine pushed through the crowd to where Uhura had stopped, was waiting with a wary look on her face.

She reached out, took Uhura's hand. "I'm sorry. I should have told you where I was and that I was all right."

"Yes, you should have." Uhura's expression was still full of caution, but her hand tightened around Christine's.

Maybe there was still hope for her after all.

Christine pulled her into a hug and when Uhura's arms tightened around her, she sighed in relief.

Maybe there was hope for all of them.

-------------------------

Christine and Uhura walked off together. They seemed awkward after their impulsive hug. But at least they were talking.

"Are we done watching over her?" Faith kicked herself off the short wall she was sitting on and smoothed down her leather jacket. "Cuz this guardian angel gig is wearing thin."

"We are. For now anyway." Buffy watched Christine turn the corner and disappear. "I think she's gonna be all right."

"Yeah, because she's not in a relationship. I told you those just made you weak. Although that Kirk guy was hot. I think she should have stayed for a few hours and--" She demonstrated her meaning with a one-two slam of her pelvis.

"Right, groin-girl." Buffy grabbed Faith's hand.

"Oh, like you didn't think he was hot?"

"He was cute." .

"Where are we going?"

"We have a new assignment. Or at least I do." Buffy smiled.

"Huh?"

"You'll see."

They winked out, then reappeared in the cemetery. Buffy pointed to a remote crypt. She could just make out Spike fighting three other vampires.

"No way."

"Way." Buffy started walking.

"We're going to watch over him?"

Buffy shook her head. "Nope. I am." She smirked at Faith. "You're stuck watching our girl become a doctor."

"But you said--"

Buffy laughed. "I said we were done with her. I am. You're not."

"That is so not fair."

"She's from your line."

"Lame comeback, B. We're all descended from you."

"Oh but she does take after you so, Faith. And don't call me 'B'." Buffy pulled Faith to her, kissed her cheek and squeezed her for a moment. "It's been real."

Faith scowled.

"Anyone ever tell you your face might freeze that way?" Buffy turned, saw that Spike had dusted all three vamps and was headed for the crypt. "Okay, I've got to motor. I can't wait till he goes to sleep. This is going to be a whole lot more fun than being in Nurse Neurotic's dreams."

Faith looked envious for a moment. "Speaking of...I better go find her. I'll miss you, B." She blew Buffy a dramatic kiss, then disappeared.

Buffy smiled, a fondness for both Faith and Christine filling her. "We'll be together again someday. And then evil better get a new address." She flipped her hair over her shoulder and stalked toward the crypt, already planning what she was going to wear in Spike's dreams.

FIN