NOTE: This is NOT A WIP! It is a series. Meaning, each installment of "Shards" will be a story unto itself with a teaser at the end of what the next reality might be. I'm not sure how many I will write or when I will write them. A saw this set-up as a nice way to cure my Spuffy plot bunny attacks and yet give them form. Buffy can go anywhere at anytime in any reality randomly. I figure there ain't a kink in my noggin that won't get dusted off for this. Hang on and enjoy the ride!

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Desoto hia873 for excellent beta work!

Shards: A Series

by Europanya

Buffy sat on a rock near the edge of the Sunnydale crater at sunset, fingering a thick plastic business card in her hand. It was thicker than most business cards, because a small red jewel was mounted in its center. She liked the jewel, the way it felt when she rubbed her thumb over its smooth surface. It sparkled, catching the orange sun. Even in the long shadows she could still read the lettering:

Ahmad Pollox, Master Necromancer

Specializing in Interdimensional Travel

and Pest Control Since 1078

1766 Fairfax Ave.

Los Angeles, CA

She'd kept this card at the bottom of her purse for three years now. Today had been her 40th birthday. She'd spent it alone with her bowl of pet goldfish and a lot of mint chip ice cream and tears. Tomorrow she was going to use it.

Buffy walked home along the same small desert-town streets she had followed for over a decade. The warm night wind kicked up rogue sand that caught in her short brown hair. She waved to Mrs. Pitchim who sat on her front porch sipping sun tea just like she did every night. She stopped and chatted with Mr. Brunswik and petted Scampy as they made their rounds of the fire hydrants. Mrs. Wilson was out on her front lawn yelling up the street for Davey to bring his bike in, it was getting late! Soon Buffy came to her small two-bedroom home, opened the low white picket fence and climbed the four shallow stairs to her door. She opened the screen, unlocked it and went in.

Buffy went to her kitchen and opened the fridge, selecting a lemon soy yogurt cup. A light was blinking on her answering machine and she hit the playback button while she fished through her jumbled silverware drawer for a spoon. It was Willow.

"Hey, birthday girl! Sorry I didn't get a chance to call earlier. Flora and I were still driving back from Shasta. The air up there is so clear; we should all go sometime. Anyway, home now - Portland. Give us a call tonight if you're still awake. I don't care how late. Hope you got the card! Love you, oh, and Flora says 'Love you, too' and 'Happy forty.' Uh, if that's something you want to be happy about. I say, well, it's better than not turning forty at all! But okay, I'll just shut up now. Bye!"

Buffy smiled and hit 'erase messages' and took her yogurt to the living room. She sat on the worn end of the sofa and flipped on the TV - news. She felt she should listen to the weather report, just to make sure the drive up the 5 wouldn't be too windy, or foggy or something that might cause a delay. A gust of wind blew past the slightly open window, ruffling her curtains and scattering the five greeting cards she'd left standing on the table that afternoon before her nightly walk.

She slid off the couch and bent to gather them up and re-verticalize them. The blue and yellow one with the sweet poetic message was from Xander's wife, Helen. It was signed by their four kids in various degrees of mastered penmanship in crayon to colored pencil - both adult signatures were signed in neat blue ballpoint by Helen. The cheery yellow-faced BE HAPPY DAMMIT! card was from Willow and her wife Flora. The beige card with the tapered faux handmade paper edges and Shakespearean quote was from Giles. The cartoony Cathy ripoff card about entering your Golden Years and getting age spots was from Dawn and her husband Jeff. And the unexpected close-up black leather crotch shot Suck This! 40! card was from Faith and Robin postmarked from New York City. Andrew's card she wasn't expecting until next week, with the self-humiliating 'I Forgot!' message to make them six in all. She smiled as they all lined up from edge to edge. Then she got up and closed the window.

Buffy woke on her sofa during an infomercial for ABS!ational Workout Cream! Only $49.95 a bottle plus shipping and handling. A woman with overly manicured red nails was rubbing the slippery stuff all over some rock-hard model boy who looked like he'd been born that way. Or turned. Buffy sighed and clicked off the TV. She was so not going there tonight. She needed a decent night's sleep for the drive.

She lay in bed in the dark for another hour or so, teeth minty fresh, listening to the wind and watching the backyard palms cast fingery shadows over the pillow next to her. It'd been years since anyone had lain upon it. How long was it since Richard had left? Three years now? Though he hadn't shed his balding head there for long. He was nice enough, she supposed. Nice and normal. She didn't really miss him. What she missed was the heat of another body holding her in the night - the weight of a man on her, in her, filling up the void. It didn't matter much if he was any good at it, just as long as he was there occasionally. That's all she really wanted. And that's why she slept alone.

In her dreams that night, the Suck This! card boy and the ab boy were rubbing an entire tube of slimy $49.95 cream on each other's bellies.

Buffy parked outside Lulu's Launderette on Fairfax Drive in Los Angeles and checked twice to make sure she set her car alarm. Fine neighborhood for necromancing - barred widows, smashed beer bottles, spray-painted parking meters. The one nearest her space couldn't even be force-fed a coin. Oh well, the Corolla would probably be stolen long before the metermaid came around. Buffy walked past a couple of ancient women, a drunk old man and three Ethiopian restaurants before she came to the door at 1766. The name Pollox was painted on the wall over a dented mailbox and a ratty set of stairs leading up the side of the cracked stucco building. It looked like the place hadn't been in use for years. Wonderful. She had to pee, too.

At the top were a barred door and a wall buzzer. She rang it and waited. To her shock a small Asian man opened the door.

"Hi," he said without accent. "Can we help you?" By his strange black robed garb she thought he should have an accent.

"Uh, yeah. I came here on the advice of Willow Rosenberg the witch? You know her?" Buffy fished out the jeweled card and held it up as proof.

The small man unlatched the bars and came out, holding up the card for scrutiny, peering closely into the red jewel. He looked impressed and handed the card back. "I see," he said. "Please come in."

She followed him into the narrow studio and was asked to wait for the 'boss' in a red chair in a round curtained room. She asked if she could use the ladies' room and was directed to a scuffed door in the back of a box-filled storage room crammed with traps and large metal canisters with poison warning labels on them. Specializing in Interdimensional Travel and Pest Control Since 1078. Go figure. She dried her hands on her slacks as she came back into the main room and sat in the red chair. The rest of the room was vacant except for an ornate hanging wire and glass molded chandelier. She stood to get a closer look at it when the sound of a man clearing his throat startled her.

A dark-skinned man in red and black robes and dreadlocks was standing behind her. "Buffy Summers, I presume?"

Now this guy had an accent. African, as in the continent. "Yes, my friend Will - "

"Willow Rosenberg. Yes, I know this woman. We met in Nigeria some years ago. She told me you would come someday when you got lonely enough."

Buffy felt unease sink into her bones. When had Willow been in Africa? When Xander was there? But she'd been in South America - hell, she'd been wherever she wanted to be at the flick of a wrist. Buffy had been shocked to hear her and Flora were taking a car to Shasta. And missing her birthday. Darn it.

"Um, I don't know about lonely, I just…"

"Then you are here for rat control? We have a fine selection of ecological and safe pest removal and transport receptacles."

"No," she said, irritated. "That's not why I'm here either. I'm here…"

Why was she here? Because of a promise she'd kept to Wills to hang on to the card even though the very thought of using it had freaked her out from the start. It's a good trip, Buffy. Easy to take and fascinating to experience. Interdimensional travel is cool and safe. Flora and I have done it twice now! You should try it. You might learn something about yourself. She hadn't known what to say but took the card and smiled politely. Then it had enjoyed traveling around the dimensions of her handbag for three years. Until now.

"You've lost someone you want to find again," Pollox said.

Buffy felt tears starting and blinked them back. She hadn't expected that. But of course, that's what Willow had meant when she first put the card in her hand with a hopeful, yet sad expression. "Yes."

"Someone dear to you. A friend, I believe?"

Buffy looked at her boots. The soles made small triangular printings in the plush blue rug. "Yes, a friend…or, something more. I don't know, we never got the chance to really sort it out."

"This friend. He is dead now, yes?"

The tears threatened again, but she sniffed them back. "I guess you could call him that."

"Let me see your card."

Buffy looked up, confused. Pollox smiled. A business smile. She fished through her purse and handed it over. Something told her she wouldn't be getting it back.

Pollox scrutinized the card even more than the Asian man had. He held it up to the shaft of light just parting through the heavy curtains. Red flecks danced over the walls of the room.

"Ah, yes," he said. "There is much here we can use. Please wait just another moment."

"Sure," she said and began to pace. Meanwhile, the Asian man entered with candles and a taper. He fitted the chandelier with them and lit them up. Then he went around the room securing the curtains, blocking out the meager light.

Pollox soon returned with a much larger red jewel, polished and glittering between velvet gloves. "This is the conduit. It will gather the information from your shard and refract the connected dimensions throughout the jewel. Watch now."

He set the jewel between the candles in a loop of wire and taking the business card, fit the much smaller jewel into a tiny recess at the very top of the brilliant cut stone. The light became dazzling and Buffy shielded her eyes.

"No!" the necromancer cried. "Look! Look! Here you will find your gateway!"

"But! I don't know that I want to leave this dimension. How do I know where I'll wind up and if I'll get back in time to go to work on Monday? And what if I wind up in the world of nothing but crabs?" Or was that shrimp? There was probably a crab world, too.

"It is not known where you will go or in what sequence. The universe is infinite. The variables are infinite. Each moment of your life sprouts like a vine with every choice you make, every choice you could have made, growing from infinite branchings. Already you have chosen to step into the gateway and to step away. You have already chosen to kick me in the face and marry my assistant. But you will only remember one choice, one path. This conduit will give you a chance to see the paths you took outside your linear consciousness. Some old, some new, some that happened long ago, others that may never occur to your knowledge."

"Then I will be seeing myself, my life? Lives? Not shrimp?"

"You have a life somewhere in which you choose to fill your garage with 15 tons of candy corn, but you will not likely go there on this journey. Only the most probable variations will make themselves known as you travel."

"Great, so I walk out of here and let's say, find my car's been stolen, but it's only probably been stolen and I'll only probably have to pay the impound yard that picks it up, stripped to the steel shell, a probable $185 dollars to tow it to the probable junkyard that will probably be closed on Sundays."

Pollox nodded. "Probably."

Buffy now remembered why she'd slept clear through Prof. Hayes' lecture on theoretical physics. This was the stuff migraines were made of. Even so, she unshielded her eyes and peered in. Light swirled and flashed, but once her eyes adjusted, she began to see flickers of images, vague and fleeting: Dawn, her mom, her first goldfish, the mall, her old home, her friends - a glimpse of Willow smiling, Xander nailing, Riley yawning, Spike smoking. Spike. There were lots of him, more than the rest, fluttering by on a jeweled superhighway. Yes, a world of shrimp would be just fine as long as he was in it. God, she missed him. Somewhere in these flashings there had to be a dimension in which he miraculously walked away from the collapsing Hellmouth. The thought of that possibility and no other was what had brought her here.

"If I go," she said. "How will I get back?"

"You will take this along," Pollox said, handing her a small ring with a green jewel similar to the one that had been in the business card. "Each world you encounter will last for six to eight hours before shifting to the next. You cannot control how long you will stay or where you will go next. Time will not move in sequence. You will be older; you will be younger; you will be happy; you will be sad. Not all outcomes are pleasant and the people you meet will not notice the change unless you make yourself known to them. You must be prepared for that and are advised to avoid disturbing the natural course of each dimension as much as possible. When you have had enough, smash the jewel in this ring and you will come back to the place you started, here."

"How much time will I lose?"

"You will have already returned at the precise moment you depart."

"That's very convenient."

Pollox grinned. "It's a wicked ride."

She took a step closer, toward the spot Pollox indicated directly under the flashing jewel. "What's this gonna cost me?"

"Only your sense of complacency."

She knew that somehow already. But then again, she was 40 now, there was really no time to lose. She stepped forward.

Buffy walked back down Fairfax to her car. It was still there. Good pick, probability. Stupid necromancer, stupid Willow. She'd wasted over $75 in gas to get here and all she had to show for it was a mild headache and a long drive home. Nothing had happened when she stepped into the jewel's light. Nothing. No zap or whoosh, no memories of past or present. No dead lovers back from the dead - less dead. Just a dark curtained room. Even the robed duo had taken off. Shit. She should have known better then to get her hopes up. She got in her car and shut the door.

"Buffy?" Someone was shaking her shoulder. "Buffy, you should wake up and see this." It was Willow, stupid Willow. Yeah, she needed to have a good long talk about this with Willow. Buffy raised her head - the beach towel had left bumpy terry cloth marks on her cheek. She had sand grains in her teeth. She sputtered them out and sat up. Willow was sitting on the towel next to her, an arm around Tara, pointing to the horizon where the sun was setting over the deep blue-gray sea, painting the sky in reds and purples.

"Wow, that is amazing," she said, admiring the colors as they melted together.

Willow was smiling that 'giddy with conspiratory thoughts' smile. "Your honey will be here soon, Buff."

Buffy scratched the sand from behind her ear. "My who?" Tara. Tara was smiling, too. Why? She shouldn't be here. And what was up with Willow's hair and all the weird curls like how she used to wear it when…

A fire flaring up to her left startled Buffy out of her weird disoriented thoughts. "Xander, I don't think emptying half a can of lighter fluid into the woodpile was a very wise decision. Look at the blatant manly display of fire production that's resulted. It could have burned my carefully toasted puffed gelatin right off the hanger."

"Some people like their toasted marshmallows a little burned on the side, Ahn. Observe this manly display of toasty goodness."

Xander was here, kneeling in the sand next to a bonfire pit erupting with flame and ribboning the air with vapors. He held the cool end of an unwrapped wire hanger with a flaming hunk of sticky marshmallowly-shaped char at the glowing tip. The black glob slid downwards and onto his hand. He jumped up. "Ow! Graham cracker! I need a graham! Anyone? Soon, before the flesh separates from the bone!"

Buffy responded, reaching for an as-yet unwrapped wax rectangle of cracker snacks, catching only half the ooze on it. The rest melted right though the paper and onto the sand at her feet with a plop. Xander abandoned it and trotted over to the open cooler to plunge his singed hand into the icy water with a rattling splash.

"Point made," Anya said, fingering off her lightly tanned puffed gelatin and popping it in her mouth with a quick grin.

Anya.

Overly cheerful, annoying Anya was eating marshmallows. Buffy felt an overwhelming surge of joy and dropped down in the sand to give the young woman a fierce hug and kiss on the cheek.

"Ooh! Buffy. Thank you, but I'm much more a man's lady this century. Or, well, all centuries come to think of it. You can go back and sit with the lesbians now. They'll better appreciate your sudden unaccountable bursts of affection."

"Anya!" Buffy said and turned to look back at the 'ladies only' section. "Tara! It's so good to see you two again. You're looking so well for being..." Not dead. They're supposed to be dead. Why don't they know this?

Tara nodded her elaborately braided head bashfully. "Yeah, Buffy, it's n-nice to be out here all together. It's like we forget sometimes how wonderful it can be to have everyone in the same place at the same time."

"I know…" Buffy said, feeling an odd sense of something missing coming over her. "Uh, guys, where's Dawn?"

"Dawn?" Xander repeated after Willow gave her a shrug. "What's a Dawn?"

Buffy looked at him like he was the biggest dope on the planet. "My sister? That Dawn?"

Willow touched her shoulder. "Buffy, are you okay?" Buffy felt like the world was shifting under the sands. Something wasn't right here. Something wasn't right with her. Where was her car? How'd she get back from LA so fast and why had she gone there in the first place, not to see Angel…

"Spike!" Her hand flew up and covered her mouth even as she said his name. It was coming back to her - the room, the curtains, the jewel, the dimensions. This was a dimension. They didn't know she was in this Buffy. Had she blown it already?

Willow rubbed her shoulder, soothingly. "It's okay, Buff. He said he was coming."

Buffy shifted closer to Willow, speaking low. "When? When's he getting here?"

Willow shrugged. "The sun's just setting. He'll get here. He always comes out to see you."

Some old dusty part of Buffy's heart shuddered and came to life. "He does?" No Dawn here in this dimension. But there's a Spike. A Spike who will 'get here,' soon.

For the first time since arriving in this confusion Buffy took a look down at herself. Whoa! Where'd those come from? It'd been years since they'd sat up like that. And since when could she fit into her ancient blue polka dot bikini and wrap? She grabbed her own ass. Whoa! Again.

Willow laughed. "You look fine, Buffy. Spike's not terribly picky about that, you know," she said leaning in. "He likes you a little 'tousled.'"

"Wha?" How did they know? When did they know? Why weren't they threatening to go after him with stakes? When did she tell them about Spike and her? No, that was after the break-up. Long after and…shit after Anya and Spike. Which would be after the wedding and then…She looked over her shoulder. Xander and Anya were sitting side by side now, staring at her quizzically and holding hands with matching wedding bands. "I think I need a beer."

Xander obliged her and Buffy sat quietly, sipping her wet sandy bottle and trying not to talk. Tara and Willow were cuddling, Xander and Anya were talking quietly and pointing at emerging stars and her date - at least she hoped he was her date - was crawling out of a crypt somewhere.

How many hours did she have? Six to eight, the necromancer had said. Could she make it that long here without flubbing up royally and getting herself committed to Sunnydale Hospital before time ran out and whoop! we're outta here and into a dimension where Spike's married to Anya and they have little demon kidlets all named Dawn? Did Spike still love her? Or did she treat him like shit and fuck things up again? Was her mother still alive? There wouldn't be time to find all that out for certain. This was traveling, like Willow had said, the Willow from years from now. Nothing was stable. She was to learn from this. Learn important lessons. Grow. Evolve. Have sex. Did I say that? Have amazing starry-skied beach sex with her former vampire lover. If he didn't show up with a deathwish chip on his shoulder, that is. Chip. The chip. Did Spike have one? Was Riley ever in her life or the rest of his crew to put the chip in? Headache returning. Nerves fraying. More beer needed. Never should have slept through that lecture.

Buffy eyed the green gemstone set in gold on her right ring finger. There was always a way out of this if it got too weird. But not before you get fucked within an inch of your life. Okay, she did not say that! Enlightenment. Focus on enlightenment.

Buffy had killed the first beer and was nursing the second when something small and white began to make its way across the sands from the parking lot. Willow nudged her and winked. "Go on, Buffy. Tara and I will keep your towel warm."

Was that him, or was it a fast-moving poodle? Only one way to find out. She tried to get up but her legs didn't work. They needed to work. They needed to work now. Then she was up, running over the sands, her silky wrap trailing in the warm summer wind behind her, moonlight glowing through her hair, which was really long now. I look like a bad feminine deodorant commercial, she thought, but kept on until he was there before her, bare feet in the sand, gorgeously muscled arms crossed over that ab-cream boy belly, dressed in a sleeveless, faded, band-no-longer-decipherable tee and Holy Mother Teresa - dangerously short, ratty, blue-jean cutoffs with the pockets hanging down over his... Legs. Spike has legs. Two of them. Can die now. Again.

"Evening, love."

Oh…the voice. How could she forget the voice? Low and raspy and maple syrupy and the accent and the ridiculous hair and bullshit attitude. You broke up with this? Say something, idiot!

"Hey, Spike. Glad you could make it." Gah, she sounded like a receptionist. Well, she was a receptionist. Now. But he didn't need to know that. From the way he was looking down at her in her little yellow dots and twirly hip-ties, she'd be a Catholic school girl for the night if that's what worked for him. She stole a glance at his crotch. Oh, she hoped they were still having sex. Lots of sex.

Spike cocked his head and narrowed his gaze in that adorable bald eagle-like way of his. "I make it every Friday night, pet. For the past six weeks going since the Scoobies started this little summertime weenie roast. You thought I had laundry to do?"

"No! No. Not at all. I was just…" Horny? Slutty? Desperate for a shag? Agh! Shut up! "…looking forward to seeing you."

His lip curled wickedly. Shit, that was hot. "You saw me this morning and this afternoon and just before the run to 7-11 and…"

"I know! Just, uh…you're still in love with me, right?"

"Always."

His eyes were that same lovely blue, even in moonlight. God, he was beautiful. And he loved her, wanted her - it was in his every glance. Why did you dump this guy? Why? Yeah, no soul. Little hang up. Though he did look awfully at ease. At least a lot more at ease than she was. Maybe he had the soul now. Wouldn't hurt to ask.

"So, um, Spike. Have ya been to Africa lately?"

Her question threw him. "Why in bloody hell would I go to Africa?"

Nope. No soul. Not like they sell 'em on eBay. Unless, Willow zapped him with the gypsy-mojo which would mean they might not be able to...Oh, this sucked! Just ask!

"Um, so you haven't seen your soul around lately, or anything like it, have you?" Smooth.

He lit right up and started to laugh, big beautiful Spike guffaws, leaning over to grab his knees. "Slayer, you want to tell me you haven't been drinkin'? That's the funniest damn thing you've said in ages. My soul's long gone, sweetheart, and good riddance to it."

It's true. Soulless Spike. You get to have sex with soulless Buffy-obsessed Spike all night long on a beach wearing your twenty-year-old body. Enlightenment indeed. Thank you, Will! So getting you the deluxe fruit basket for Christmas this year, the one with chocolates in it, not just the yucky pears.

"Spike, can we not talk anymore and just start having sex, now?"

He shrugged. "Sounds fine to me - Oi!"

Her leap knocked him back into the warm sand and would have knocked the wind out of him, too, if he had any wind to knock. She claimed his mouth, kissing the heck out of that lush smirky grin, her fingers curling through that maddeningly crunchy hair, her tongue tasting all the wonderful flavors that came with the tobacco-smoking, blood-drinking, vampire variety. Seventeen-year-old Buffy would have said 'ew,' but 40-now Buffy, starved for the taste of something more dangerous than a freshly flossed dentist who occasionally drove 45 in a 30 zone, was eating Spike up like a dark chocolate Dove bar. She was making yummy sounds in her throat and just didn't care. Mmmm. Vampire. Tasty.

Spike pushed her off a little and grinned - all malicious and playful. "Damn, Slayer. What's got into you tonight? The rest of the sappy-snogging brigade get you all worked up?" He squeezed her ass with one hand, while the long fingers of the other slipped under her bikini to pet the length of her sex like a newborn bunny. "Must have been quite a pre-show. You're burning up." Spike never was one to mince advances - he just grabbed the goods as soon as they were offered and possessed the nose to know exactly when that offering was ripe. She was ripe alright. Three years of abstinence and too-many-to-count years of lousy lays were pouring out of her. It was embarrassing how wet she was right now.

"Oh…yes…I guess so…shit, do that knuckle thing again."

He made that singular horny vampire sound as he held her firmly around the hip, fucking her nice and deep with his fingers. No one had hands like his. No one. Or if they had, hadn't a clue how to use them. Spike should write a book. Or maybe make a step-by-step video - sell it on that 24-hour shopping channel. She'd be the willing demonstration model, spread wide for all the cameras to see. Oh, this was gonna be good.

"Come closer, baby," he said, pulling her toward his mouth. "Let me get my taste of it."

Baby. Love. Sweetheart. To think she used to complain about the pet names. She'd be his baby, his love, his bitch, his whore, his naked mole rat - anything he wanted to call her was fine, just fine, as long as he said it like that, like his cock was animating his mouth. She throbbed at the thought of that smug mouth on her again - that tireless no-breath-needed lip and tongue combo that could gobble on her for hours, pleased as punch to be just - pleasing her. She made a gaspy sound of agreement and fumbled with the stringy ties at her hip. He grabbed it and severed the nylon with a briefly lowered fang. The sight of that perfect razor-sharp incisor extending and retracting shot a bolt of white-hot lust right down her spine and into the happy place, which had grown very happy indeed - all swollen and juicy, begging for a generous suck. He had her ass in both hands now, and slid her up, her knees in the sand to either side of his face, lowering her to partake of the waiting feast.

She rode his face, his fingers up in her pussy, while he licked and nibbled just the right nooks just the right ways. She bucked and moaned as the distant pit fires blurred in her pleasure-clouded vision. She wasn't really too concerned who might be walking up the beach. Some people were, of course, but they gave their distant writhing forms a wide berth.

"Spike, oh, baby. That's so good. So good." She ground her clit into his nose while his tongue slid in her, plumbing the depths of her. His free hand moved up under her top, cupping a breast and capturing a nipple. She crushed his hand to her, encouraging him to play rough. She wanted to race for that red hot explosion she felt building and thrumming in her sex, but he held her back, just working her up notch by notch, slipping out of her cunt to lap at her jangled nerves with the flat of his tongue.

His hands left her and she could feel him working himself out of his shorts. She was afraid to look, afraid she'd faint from delight at the sight of him all long and pale and hard as fucking granite. It'd been so long since she'd had it so good - well, since the last time she'd had him, in fact. Like you're God's gift. He'd been right about that, self-righteous schmuk. Spike lifted her up and tossed her over onto the sand with a growl. She giggled like a teenager (come to think of it, she practically was) and crawled toward the surging ocean while he cursed and scrambled to get out of the rest of his clothes.

He caught up to her at the tideline where the kelp gathered in small tangled clumps. He wrapped a long cool arm around her middle and pressed his hand next to hers in the sand. The damp tip of his delicious cock was poking her labia, demanding entry. "Just can't get enough of me tonight, is that it? Can't believe how randy you get sometimes. Gotta drink two pints of blood a day now just to keep my gear up," he said, spreading her open and sliding into her in one long glorious push. Heaven - oh, he was heaven. And she would know.

So this was how it was for them in this world. Everyone knew they were unrepentant lovers and they just let it happen, indulged themselves night and day and night again. Why couldn't it have been like this before? No Dawn. There's no Dawn here. Then no Glory either. No death. No resurrection. Just Spike, his devouring love pouring out for her and her endless capacity to receive it, letting him fill her up to bursting. "Spike, God, fuck me, please."

"Nothing I'd like more."

He was fucking her now, just like he used to, steady and hard, his groin colliding with her ass, his cock up in there so thick and deep it was like he was screwing the back of her mind. No one filled her like this, no one took possession like this, made her feel all wild and nasty and just so full of pure animal lust she wanted to twist and bite and growl and break the world down around her. The waves came up now and again to soak her knees and palms as they sank into the drenched sand. Tiny sand crabs swam between her fingers. She had sand everywhere, sticking to her arms, legs, ass - there was some probably grinding its way up into her pussy, but she just couldn't give a damn about any of it because she was so full, complete, pulsing, raging, backing against him for more - telling him to do it, give it up, fuck her good, fuck her hard, that's my lover, my bad-ass vampire.

Her climax was hovering, just on the edge of collapse, so she fell to her belly beneath him and flipped herself over, splashing and spattering wet globby sand on his arms and chest. He grinned, his tongue flickering in the moonlight over white teeth and he withdrew a moment to set her up how he knew she liked it - on her back, legs up on his shoulders and his hands free to work her tits and clit while his cock slid in for more. He fucked her, laughing at the waves that splattered up against her back as she elbowed up, sputtering, lifting her ass off the sand so he could hit that perfect spot juust right while his fingers pinched and worried nipple and clit like tuning dials. She came, carelessly shouting into the darkness at How. Fucking. Good. This. Was. How good it always was, how rare, how precious. Her body hummed with endorphin-fed elation while he was still in her, pumping, shifting to find his own end.

"Spike, pull it out when you go - I want to see it."

His eyes widened a bit, then narrowed at the dark thrill her request gave him. He fucked her good and quick, thrusting the air out of her in huffs until his eyes screwed shut and he wrenched himself free at the last moment to stroke his cock in his fist, squeezing the head as white sticky vamp-spooge pulsed across her belly and breasts in stringy patterns. Damn. That was…damn.

Spike cracked his neck vertebrae and looked down at her all boneless and spunky. "That getcha where you needed to go, baby?" he asked with that smart-ass self-satisfied grin of his. She didn't know whether to kiss him or kick him. She collapsed into the wet sand instead, seeing more stars than the ones that should be overhead.

"Yeah, for a few minutes. You're not off the hook yet." Not for another five hours or so at least. Oh, why couldn't she stay here? For how long? A week? Year? Forever?

A wave came up and he grabbed her up against his chest before it could choke her. It splashed around their legs instead, where they clung, sated and rubbery. He tipped her chin up and kissed her softly. "Love you," he said, nuzzling her temple.

She turned her cheek to catch his gaze and gave the words right back to him. A look of wonder warmed his blue eyes.

"Don't I say that?" she asked, hurting at the thought that even here in this free and open reality she still held back the words he most needed to hear.

He smiled like a child. "Never enough."

Buffy lay on her belly in the sand near the fire after some knotted bikini repairs and a brief saltwater bath she'd subjected herself to despite the cold ocean water. Xander was teaching Spike how to catch and throw an American football - badly. Perhaps his complaints about the damned thing not having a proper ball shape and his insistence on holding a burning cigarette in his left hand while trying to catch it as it came spiraling unerringly at his head had something to do with his general lack of athletic grace.

"Sod this, Harris," he said, 'spiking' it into the sand. "You and your bloody ridiculous ball! You know how much a decent fag costs me nowadays?" He'd just lost another in the sand 'going long.'

Xander made a face. "So not going to touch that one. See, Buffy, I can play nice with the snarky vampire."

She nodded her approval. Even here, Xander had trouble fully accepting her and Spike, but he was making a monumental effort to befriend the beast and that touched her immensely. She'd forgotten what he looked like with two working eyes.

Spike brushed the sand off his stomach and pulled out another cigarette from his fuck-me-now shorts and lit it with the glowing end of a marshmallow hanger that had been left in the fire. He came over to her and plopped down, taking a long drag, watching his smoke blow up into the night sky. "Lots of stars up tonight, pet."

She stretched out on her back next to him and yawned. Her belly was full of hot dogs, corn chips, beer, chocolate, grahams, everything she'd never eat at such satisfying quantities if she had to worry about getting on the scale the next day. She'd leave that for the other Buffy to wonder at. She gazed up at Spike sitting next to her on her towel, smoking and staring up at the sky. He looked content. Extra calories weren't the only sinful pleasures she'd have to return in the next few hours. Sad pangs struck her. She wanted more Spike, every drop she could drink. Xander had settled back against Anya, smooching and Willow and Tara had long since disappeared toward the rocks at the beach's far end.

"Spike, come walk with me," she said, poking his thigh with a toe.

He followed her down the sands, walking through the shallow lapping waves. He hurried to finish up the smoke and tossed the butt into the ocean so he could take her hand. Prior-Buffy would have given him shit about littering, and certainly would never had allowed him the simple loving connection of her fingers threaded in his. But time and struggle, love and loss, had taught her otherwise - that there was only so much you could expect from another person - and to try and extract more only made them fade away or bash themselves to bits trying to be someone or something they were never meant to be. Funny how Spike's lack of soul meant nothing as she walked along in the sure grip of his hand. Why couldn't she have learned this years ago when there was still a Spike to grip?

"Are you happy?" she asked him as they sloshed along.

He smiled a little. "Haven't ever asked me that before, love. Don't think anyone has." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Let's see: got smokes, got blood, got a bed with a lovely warm girl in it every night. Fuck, yeah, I'm happy."

Buffy felt warm - warmer than the Pacific summer night. So they lived together. How very sweet. Her mother must be gone.

Spike squeezed her hand. "Are you happy, Buffy? I mean with all the not slaying anymore and all."

She stopped. Just stopped and stared at him, at the beach, the ocean. That was it, that was the difference. She'd stopped. Here, one day, she'd just stopped slaying. That was why there was no Dawn. No deaths of Tara or Anya. Xander had said his vows, kept his binocular vision. Giles was not here and not just for the fact they were still a bunch of barely-adults (the humans anyway) lazing about on a Friday night. She'd stopped. How? She wanted the answer to that question more than anything.

"Buffy? Sweetheart? You all right?"

She felt tears starting. "Yeah, I'm just…"

He reached for her and she pressed her face to his shoulder to try and let some of it out. She needed to cry off some of the lonely nights and nightmares and regrets onto the cool perfect skin of the only man who ever really loved her just for being who she needed to be. Even when she wasn't the hero anymore.

"Do you forgive me, for giving up?"

"It was your choice, love. Best decision you could make when your Mum first took ill and all. Faith's never complained about it. Slaying sure beats sitting on her arse in Chino, I'd wager. Besides, I wouldn't say I'd rather be killing things right now, m'self."

So that's how it was done. She'd quit. Faith was paroled. That would be a first for slayer history. Early retirement. Did Giles understand? Did the Council even care? Did Faith have a little sister now to protect from the wiles of a hell-goddess fashion-victim? So many questions and no time. There was only one thing she really wanted from this dimension and the item in question was holding her and murmuring the sweetest things in her ear.

"Spike, please just listen to me for a moment and don't think it's weird, okay?"

He nuzzled her neck. "Sure, love."

She held on to him tight and spoke hurriedly, before she could think about what she was going to say. "Being the slayer was never an easy ride. You know that. It made me hard and bitter and sick half the time with worry for my friends and family. I lost so much…so much I couldn't replace. It all just went away or got ruined and messed up. I couldn't do a damn thing about any of it. But there was one disaster in my life I made all on my own. The one good thing I ever really had. The one thing that I could never accept and just beat all to shit because it wouldn't break, wouldn't go away - and that was you, baby. I used you up and spit you out and crushed you under my feet because…because I could. Because you let me. And you never gave up on me, even when I made you so angry and desperate that you…" What was worse? The assault or the soul? He'd done both. Over her. To prove something to her - the devil and the saint whispering in his ear. And what did he get in return? Dusted.

He pulled her back now, looking down at her, distressed and confused. "Buffy, you're wrong, sweetheart. You've never done these things. We had a bit of a rough start, but you came around right enough. I love you. You could never be like that. Dunno what the hell's gotten into you thinkin' that, but…"

She kissed him. That was the best thing to do. Just shut her gob, as he'd say, and make with the kissing. Words would serve her ill on this journey, better to speak with her lips and hands, palms running up and down his beautiful body, drinking him in. She wanted to love him, worship him, make him so fucking happy he'd never once in the rest of his unlife feel rejected or unloved or incomplete. Perfect. That was the word for him. Perfect. For her.

They were back in the sand, tumbling around, smiling, kissing, pinching, fucking, moaning, feeling the earth moving, turning, waging its battles with good and evil, all without them. The hours rolled by and she knew it was ending, but she didn't want to stop any of it, not waste another moment to show him with her body and eyes and hands and lips how very much he was adored and treasured.

Until the fading began and she grabbed his shoulders, clinging. "Spike… oh God, it's happening. I'm leaving, I have to go. Don't forget, no matter how horrible I am to you, please don't forget."

"Where're you going to, love?" he asked and her heart ached as his voice and face faded, echoing away in her mind as she slipped. She fought her despair with the hope that the next world would be even better. Even better than this…a happy place. Think of a happy place. With Spike.

When she woke she was sore, the floor under her was cold and hard. She sat up, blinking into the dim light. Tall bars rose before her and when she went to touch them her arm dragged and clinked. She was chained. Frightened, she stood, shaking. She was nearly naked, just a few scraps of cotton-something hugged her hips and one sock was on her left foot. She drew an arm across her bare and bruised breasts. She stank. Chains, why am I chained?

Her cell was underground. In a tunnel somewhere. It smelled like the Sunnydale sewers, but the cell was new - put in recently, drilled into the rock. Off in the black distance, water trickled steadily. Quickly she looked to her right hand. The green gem was there. Good. Safe for now.

She stepped up to the bars, her chains clinking behind her. "Hello?" she called out. "Anyone there?"

A groan answered her, close. She jumped back. What she had taken a moment earlier for a dark formless rock was moving, rolling. A dirt- and blood-streaked head emerged from the folds of mud-caked black leather. Spike. He's trapped here, too. Is he hurt?

Another groan and a bottle rolled out of the coat, nearly empty and rocking to a stand-still against the outside of the bars. Spike coughed and a rivulet of booze oozed from his lips. The room reeked of whisky and old blood. Her eyes were adjusting now, revealing the collage of images pasted to the walls around her. Of herself, Dawn, her mother and their home on Revello Drive. She recognized some of them as having once belonged to Spike's depraved Buffyshrine. He wasn't a prisoner. She was. And he wasn't injured. He was drunk.

I don't think this is a happy place.

TBC in Series.