by Cody Nelson
SPOILERS: Through "The Gift."
SUMMARY: How they get her back.
FEEDBACK: Please, to firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMERS: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and probably some others who aren't me.
* * *
Spike shifted uneasily in his sleep, one hand bumping against the arm of the chair, awareness slowly rising through drifts of stray thoughts and random slivers of emotion. He was vaguely aware of resisting that rise to consciousness, knowing what it would bring. But the resistance only pulled him further awake. And then came the pain.
Buffy's dead. It hit him like a stake in the heart, savage burning pain. Every time, the moment he woke up, pain as fresh as the day it had happened. Spike curled in on himself, arms clutched across his chest, as if fending off blows. One harsh sob wracked his throat. He swallowed hard and forced his eyes open.
The television still played quietly, although the afternoon soaps were long over. He rarely turned it off any more. He barely knew what he was watching, but the low chatter and flickering images numbed him, took a tiny bit of the edge off the unbearable days and nights.
The program was some black and white melodrama. He didn't particularly want to watch it, but he was too uninterested to get up and change the channel. He'd always meant to steal a remote, but somehow had never gotten around to it. The picture shrank in on its sides and started to flutter. It had never worked properly.
Suddenly, the picture cleared and expanded to fill the screen and burst into color.
Buffy stared out at him. Her green eyes were wide open and intense.
Spike pushed himself upright, shocked gasp caught in his throat.
"This is the portal," Buffy said. She spoke carefully and clearly, as if reciting a lesson. There was a touch of irony in her voice, as if to say, I know how Poltergeist this is. But what can I do? Then she disappeared in a burst of static, and once again a grainy monochrome mother wept at the rejection of her ungrateful daughter.
He reached out to the screen. "Buffy!" But of course she was gone. If she'd ever really been there in the first place. Just a dream, another desperate dream, like all the others. He let himself slide back down in the easy chair, hands covering his face.
* * *
Willow pulled Tara closer, staring over the softly rounded shoulder at the moonlight in the open window. She stroked Tara's back. Tara stirred slightly, made small sleep noises, but didn't wake. Willow envied her her sound sleep. Willow herself hadn't slept a full night through since Buffy -- since the final battle with Glory. Her days were full of studying, helping at the magic shop, visiting with Dawn, loving Tara. It had gradually become possible to go minutes, sometimes even most of an hour, not thinking about Buffy and how they'd lost her. But not at night.
There was a face in the window. Long blonde hair, bright green eyes. Buffy.
"Bring me home," Buffy said. Her voice was clear, even through the window glass. Willow sat up, her sudden movement causing Tara to open her eyes and sleepily mutter, "Willow?"
"Buffy, what's happening?" But Buffy had already gone.
Tara's hand touched Willow's arm. Willow looked down at her, forcing a smile. "I saw Buffy at the window."
Tara looked out at the black night. "Sweetie, it was a dream."
"No. I've been wide awake for hours. It was... I don't know, a vision? A visitation? But it wasn't a dream."
Tara glanced at the window again, then looked back into Willow's eyes. She nodded. "What do you think it meant?"
Willow settled back down into their bed, wrapping her arms lightly around her precious girl. How good it was to be understood! She started to tell Tara what she'd seen.
* * *
Giles sat at his desk, poring over the records of the magic shop. Not that there was that much to pore over -- Anya kept the books with religious fervor. Not a stray penny would dare slip out of place. But he found it comforting, the spare, clean march of numbers. He buried himself too deeply in it, perhaps. Ledgers and balance sheets, inventories and revenues. Descriptions of things, rather than the things themselves. Although, how else was he to occupy his time? Without a Slayer to watch... no, best not think of that.
They should order more wolfsbane; there seemed to be a fad for it in amulets lately. And put the aesclepios on sale; it wasn't moving well. Anya disliked sales, but she seemed more amenable to them lately. Her engagement to Xander had mellowed her a bit.
Giles smiled wistfully to himself. He was glad Xander and Anya had found each other. It was a strange relationship, but a strong one. And Willow and Tara grew closer every day. Dawn had been amazingly resilient. She still grieved, of course. They all did. But whatever Buffy had said to her before leaping into the portal seemed to have given her extraordinary strength. And caring for her had given him a purpose that eased the pain of his own loss. They were all surviving, or learning to, little by little.
Except for Spike, alone in his crypt. He was healing from the terrible injuries he'd received being thrown from the tower, but not from the grief of Buffy's death. The poor vampire had been devastated. Giles had had a hard time convincing him to come away from wreckage where Buffy had fallen before the sunlight came to take him. They'd only been able to prevent him from staking himself by reminding him of his promise to Buffy to protect Dawn. Not that he was doing much protecting these days. He barely left his crypt.
It was hard to know what to do for him. They all visited him, brought him blood to drink to help him recover. Tried to tell him how much they appreciated his help, and his loyalty to Buffy and Dawn. Nothing seemed to help. Was it an aspect of his long-lived and slowly changing vampire nature that emotional wounds took so long to heal? Or was it a peculiarity of Spike himself, isolated from his own kind, emotional and far more susceptible to love than the average vampire? Without Buffy he seemed to have no center, no purpose. In a way, Spike had lost more than any of them.
Giles sighed, and turned over the paper he'd been studying. The next page was the inventory of orbs and crystal balls. These were steady sellers; no adjustment needed. There'd been a nice bump in business right after the portal opening until all the invading demons had been cleared away, but it was settling back down to normal now.
The numbers on the page suddenly seemed to swim before his eyes. He paused to adjust his glasses. It was late; he should be in bed.
The page came clear again. But it no longer held lists of items, quantities, costs. It was an image of Buffy, a serious look on her face. Beneath the image, in Gothic script, were the words "Come to the Hellmouth."
Giles started, pushing himself back from the table, his heart racing. Oh god, dear Buffy -- how could she have done it? How could she have left them all like that? He rubbed his burning eyes with thumb and forefinger, then stared again at the page.
It was now just numbers, lists of crystal balls and orbs.
* * *
Xander groaned, untangling himself from Anya's arms, and slid out of bed as quietly as he could. He shuffled off to the bathroom, where he peed and washed his hands. He stretched in front of the sink, hands pressed into his lower back. Sometimes he thought Anya was going to kill him. He turned and craned his neck to inspect the scratches across his shoulders. A slow grin spread across his face. Since they'd gotten engaged, Anya'd been more inventive than ever. He wondered what would happen when they actually got married.
He turned back to the sink, leaned in to check his face in the mirror. He looked tired, but that was no surprise. They'd only gotten to sleep an hour or so ago. And sleep was where he should still be, only... he wasn't quite sure what had woken him up.
Xander stepped back and yawned widely. When he opened his eyes....
Buffy. Buffy in the mirror. "Midsummer night's dream," she said plainly.
"Buffy!" he squeaked. He jumped back, crashing against the towel bar. He and it fell to the floor with a crash. One of the towels tangled around his arm.
"Xander!" he heard Anya cry from the bedroom. Before he could unwind himself from the towels, she was on the bathroom floor beside him, holding his head in her hands, inspecting him for damage. "Are you all right? What happened?"
"Buffy!" Xander managed to say. "In the mirror."
Anya stood up and looked in the mirror. "I don't see Buffy. I see myself."
Xander struggled to his feet, still fighting the towel around his arm. "She was there. She said 'Midsummer night's dream.' And then... well, then I was attacked by the bad towels."
" 'Midsummer Night's Dream'? Buffy appeared to you in a vision to recommend Shakespeare plays?"
"No. I mean, I don't know what she meant by it. I don't know what...." He shook his head. "I don't know what I saw. Or heard. Maybe it was just...."
Anya slipped her arms around his waist. The towel fell to the floor. Other parts of him rose. "You're probably just feeling guilty."
"Guilty?" Xander started.
"For having a lot of great sex and not thinking so much about Buffy."
He looked at the floor. "Yeah. I have been awfully... happy lately."
"It's okay." Anya stroked his face. "I think Buffy would want us to."
"I know." He kissed Anya thoughtfully, then stood looking over her shoulder into the mirror. All he saw was his own face, and the back of Anya's head. "I do think about her. Every day."
Anya sighed. "Me too."
* * *
Dawn sat on the floor of Giles's spare bedroom, books and potions gathered around her. An 8 x 10 photograph of Buffy lay in the middle of the pile. She stared at the makings of a terrible spell.
Buffy had told her it was wrong. Willow and Tara had told her it was wrong. And finally, she had decided for herself it was wrong. Her mother was dead, and shouldn't be brought back. She'd just have to learn to go on without her.
But Buffy -- how could she go on without Buffy? Buffy had told her she had to be strong, and take care of everyone, and she tried, but she was just so tired and it hurt so much. She only wanted to cry all the time. She wanted to be the one who'd died. Buffy told her that living in the world was the hardest thing, but she had no idea how hard it really was.
She could do the spell. She knew she could. It had worked before, but she'd torn up the picture of her mother and ended it. She still had the books, the incantation that funny little man had given her. That funny little man who turned out to be a horrible demon, who threw Spike off the tower and cut her and made Buffy jump into the portal and die. But the spell had worked. All she needed was a Gorah demon egg. That would be the hard part. She remembered where the demon was, but she couldn't get the egg by herself. She was afraid to ask Spike to help her this time. She'd meant to, but when she went to his crypt, she'd been tongue-tied by the way he just sat in his chair and stared at her. He looked... dead. He was so skinny and blue-white he reminded her of a fluorescent light bulb, and his eyes looked cold, like they'd been in a freezer. He'd feel better, too, if Buffy came back. They all would. They couldn't be mad at her if the spell worked, could they?
Maybe she could get one of the boys at school to help. She thought Kevin kind of liked her, and he played baseball so he was strong and quick. She couldn't tell him what she wanted the egg for, though. Tell him it was... an adventure, a dare, tell him anything, just get the egg and do the spell.
Her eyes started to sting, and she sucked in a sob. Tears fogged her vision. The photograph of Buffy swam before her eyes. Then, suddenly, it seemed to deepen, grow, float up off the paper. And then it was Buffy smiling gently at her, alive and real.
Dawn blinked twice, her eyes widening. "Buffy...."
"I'm alive, Dawn."
"Buffy, how... ? Where are you? What can I do?"
"You're the Key," Buffy said. Then her expression froze, and suddenly she was chemicals and paper again.
Dawn snatched up the photograph, turned it over and over. She put it back on the pile of spell-casting ingredients and stared intently at it. "Buffy! Come back!"
The photograph remained a photograph.
"Buffy!" Dawn began to sob. "I need you. Please come back."
* * *
Spike groaned, fighting his way to consciousness. Someone was touching his hair as he lay on his sarcophagus. Someone's hand stroked the back of his head, sending tiny little shivers down his spine. "Buffy...," he moaned.
Buffy's dead. The pain sliced through him. He gasped, pulled away from the dream hand, and sat up.
It wasn't a dream hand. It was Willow, standing there looking at him like he was a pitiful excuse for a demon. Which he was.
He bent forward, rubbed his eyes, coughed once. "Will. What d'you want?"
She sat down beside him and touched his shoulder gently. "Sorry to wake you, Spike. How're you doing?"
He stared at her. Some questions didn't deserve an answer.
She tried to smile. "We're having a meeting. We think you should come."
He shrugged. "Dunno."
"It's important. It's about Buffy."
Even the sound of her name hurt. "Yeah? What about her?"
"Spike, did anything, you know, weird happen last night?"
"Joan Crawford let her creepy daughter walk all over her, but other than that...."
Willow's smile grew a little easier. "You didn't see anything? Like Buffy?"
"What d'you mean?" he asked sullenly. No way he was going to tell this lot about seeing Buffy on the television. They'd think he'd gone mad.
"Spike, we've all had, I don't know, visions or something. Of Buffy. We think she may be alive."
* * *
On the way to the magic shop, Willow explained what they thought had happened. "When the portal opened, the walls between all the dimensions broke down. Not just ours and Glory's. Lots of demon dimensions, lots of others almost like ours. Like the one the vampire me came from."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Vampire you?" Willow as a vampire? Now, that would be a lovely sight.
"Oh, that's right. You weren't around when that happened. Anya and I conjured her up by accident. She was... well, it was really weird. Spike, stop looking at me like that."
Spike quickly looked away, still picturing her with fangs and forehead, fresh blood on her mouth.... But no. Not in this world. "Do you know who her sire was?"
"No. We weren't exactly best pals." She stopped. "You think it was you? The other you, I mean. In her dimension."
He shrugged. "I did try to do you that one time. If not for the chip, you'd be vamp Will yourself."
"This does not make me feel warm and fuzzy towards you, Spike."
"Sorry. Wouldn't do it now, you know. Even if I could."
"It's okay." She patted him on the arm. "Anyway, we think our Buffy fell through the portal into Glory's dimension. But at the same time, some other Buffy in some other dimension jumped through the portal in her world. And fell into ours."
"So you're saying the Buffy we buried...."
"Was a Buffy. But not our Buffy."
"And our Buffy...."
"Is alive in Glory's Hell dimension. Trying to get home."
* * *
Buffy alive. Buffy. Alive. The words spun around and around in Spike's mind, but he couldn't get them to make sense. Buffy alive. He wanted to be happy but it hurt too much. The words twisted and cut inside him like a knife. Like Doc's knife in his back. Like the look on Dawn's face when he went off the tower. Like Buffy's broken body lying in the rubble.
They walked on to the magic shop in silence. Could it be that somehow they'd get her back? Alive? Buffy walking, talking, fighting, slaying. Of course he wanted it, but -- Buffy hating him. Buffy knowing how deeply, completely he'd failed her.
"Willow. Spike. Good, you're here," Giles said as they entered the shop. Xander and Anya, Tara and Dawn were with him, gathered around the table. On the table was a sheet of paper, on which were written the words:
I'm alive. You are the Key.
Bring me home.
Come to the Hellmouth.
Midsummer Night's Dream.
"These are the messages we've received from Buffy," Giles explained. "She's appeared to me and Dawn, Willow and Xander. We think she's trying to tell us how to get her back."
" 'Come to the Hellmouth' -- that's where we're supposed to go to bring her back," Willow said. "It makes sense -- the Hellmouth is a door to the demon dimensions."
"And midsummer -- the Summer Solstice -- is a time when the walls between worlds are weak," Tara continued. "This year the solstice is on June Twenty-first. That's three days from now."
"And I'm the Key," Dawn spoke softly, but her voice was strong. Her eyes shone. "I can open a portal for her to come through."
"NO!" All heads turned to stare at him. Spike spoke tightly. "Have you all gone mad? You can't let Dawn open another portal. She'll die."
"No, I won't, Spike -- " Dawn insisted, and,
"Just shut up and listen, Deadhead -- " Xander said at the same time.
Giles stopped them both. "No, Spike's right to be concerned." He turned to Spike, all patience and restrained sympathy. It was the same look on his face as when he'd urged Spike away from the rubble under the tower. It will be light soon, Spike. Come away. You know Buffy wouldn't want this. "We've discussed it. We believe that if Dawn can open a portal in the right place and time -- as Buffy has indicated -- then Buffy can jump through and close the portal after her. Dawn won't be harmed, beyond a small cut."
"And we get another dead Buffy. Brilliant," Spike muttered bitterly.
"Her heart will stop," Willow said. " 'The blood stops flowing' -- that's what the ritual says. We think we can revive her. The other Buffy -- the one who fell into our world -- was killed in the fall from the tower. This time, if we can control the portal so it's close to the ground, she won't have so far to fall."
"How d'you know it's even really Buffy sending the messages? Suppose it's some mimic-y demon impersonating her, trying to get you to open him up a doorway into our world for fun and destruction?"
"It's Buffy," Dawn said stubbornly. "I know my sister. And she wants to come home."
It was as hopeless arguing with her as it ever was arguing with her big sister. But he couldn't bear it, her putting herself in danger. Even to bring Buffy back. Spike took a step towards her. "Suppose it is, Little Bit. But what if something happens on her end, and she can't make it through? Then the only way to close the portal is for you...." He looked away, unable to finish.
Dawn flung her arms around him and held him tight. He started, and had to stop himself from pulling away. She said, "I know you want to protect me. But this is what Buffy wants, I know it. It has to be okay, or she wouldn't ask me to do it. I have to try."
He patted her back awkwardly, then let her go and stepped away. "How do you know it will even work? I thought using the Key was supposed to be a one-time opportunity."
It was Giles who answered. "I've been studying the ritual texts. It appears that minor portal openings like these are possible, in the wake of a major opening such as the one Glory started. Somewhat like the aftershocks of an earthquake. It will be smaller, thankfully -- we won't have to worry too much about all the legions of Hell coming through at the same time -- and it will require a focus -- something to channel and direct the portal energy. We're not sure yet what that will be. We were hoping there would be another message...."
" 'This is the portal,' " Spike quoted dully. Buffy's face on his television appeared before his eyes. Bright and intent and so beautiful.... "It's what she said to me. On my TV."
"Then you did see her!" Willow exclaimed. "I thought you said...."
"I saw her." Spike shrugged. "I see her every night."
* * *
He was halfway back to his crypt when Willow caught up with him. "Spike, we need your television."
He kept walking, his long stride making Willow half-run to keep up. He glanced sidelong at her, one eyebrow raised to ask the obvious question.
"For the ritual. To channel the portal energy. That's what Buffy meant when she said, 'This is the portal.' We think."
"It wasn't easy nicking that TV. Why don't you use one of yours?"
"Yours is the one she appeared in. We think it's the one she wants. There may be something about that particular TV -- we don't want to take any chances."
"It's just a TV. Nothing special about it."
"Spike." She tugged at his sleeve. Finally, he let her stop him. "I don't understand. I thought you of all people would do anything to get Buffy back. You're acting like you don't even care."
He jerked his arm from her grasp. "Don't be daft," he spat. " 'Course I want her back."
"Then why won't you help? It's not just the TV, you don't even want us to try it."
"Promised I'd protect Dawn," he said tightly. And failed. "If Buffy comes back, and anything's happened to her sis, she'll kick my ass."
"Didn't you promise to protect Buffy, too? She's out there, Spike, alone in some Hell, and she wants to come home. Dawn wants her home. We all want her home." Her voice was rising, words rushing after one another.
"You think I don't?" And he was next to shouting, himself.
"You're afraid to lose her again, aren't you? Afraid to believe that we might get her back, in case it doesn't work."
Bloody hell, yes. He was afraid it wouldn't work, afraid it would work, afraid that no matter what happened he was stuck in his own hell forever. " 'Course not," he insisted.
"Or you're afraid she'll come back and she won't like you any more, now that the danger from Glory is over."
Before he could stop himself, his fist came up. Willow flinched back, a spark of fear in her eyes, then she steeled herself and glared at him. He swore under his breath. "Fine, take my telly. Need a new one anyway. Now piss off."
Her voice was softer now, but still edged with anger. "That's your answer, Spike, isn't it? Get mad and yell at everybody instead of dealing with what you're feeling."
He crossed his arms and set his jaw, saying nothing.
Willow shook her head and turned to go. Spike stood for a while watching her. Then his shoulders slumped, and he headed back to his crypt.
* * *
Midsummer. It was Spike's least favorite time of year. All that depressing sunlight. Too hot to wear leather. Nothing good ever came of it, not for him anyway.
Almost unbearably keyed up, he paced at the back of the cavern, while the Scoobies made their arrangements around the pit that was the most direct entrance to the Hellmouth. Willow and Tara fussed over the exact placement of Spike's television. Giles kept his eyes on his watch and called out the minutes until the solstice. Xander and Anya organized supplies from a first aid kit -- bandages for Dawn, once the portal closed, and whatever might be needed for Buffy, in case she was injured when she came through.
Dawn herself stood rigid behind the TV set, knife in her hand. She insisted on making the cut herself, which the others seemed to think was not a good idea, but made perfect sense to Spike. She was so pale she looked nearly bloodless, like a vampire child waiting to feed. He still didn't like her risking herself like this. Protect Dawn was burned into his brain like a mantra, and this felt wrong. But there was no stopping her. It was all going to happen again, and again he could do nothing to prevent it.
His own job was to watch the portal once it opened, deal with any stray demons that might manage to come through. He carried an axe, but he didn't like the way it lay in his hand. It reminded him too much of that night gathering weapons at Buffy's, overwhelmed to be invited in, feeling on top of the world, even as it threatened to end. Buffy trusting him. Buffy counting on him. He'd have promised her anything. With his life, he'd protect Dawn. Gladly he'd die for her.
But in the end he'd done neither. He'd been left to carry on his sorry existence, while Dawn bled and Buffy lay dead at the bottom of the tower. A Buffy. Whether they got their Buffy back or not, someone's Buffy had died for his failure.
He tossed the axe aside and paced. He hoped some nasty thing would come flying out the portal. He wanted to fight the way he was meant to fight, fists and fangs and fury. His jaws itched, game face wanting to come out, and he determinedly shook it away.
"It's time," Giles said.
* * *
Without hesitation, Dawn lifted the knife and drew the blade across her palm. Three drops fell in slow succession onto the top of the television. Her blood smelled hot and rich and full, all the way across the cavern to where Spike was standing. He heard himself growl, felt his fangs lengthen, his forehead thicken, the crotch of his jeans tighten. He shifted his weight, shaking his head, trying to force the unwanted bloodlust away, but he was too deep in it now. Fortunately, no one was paying him the least mind. Everyone's attention was riveted on the television.
Dawn stepped back, cut hand curled into a fist to stop the bleeding. On the TV, the three drops smoked, then sparked.
The television screen erupted into static. A brilliant white glow pulsed from it. A whirling vortex formed in the center.
Spike stepped forward, fists clenched, willing Buffy to come through. His whole being focused on the portal, as if by sheer concentration he could bring her back. He wanted to jump through the portal himself, find Buffy and fling her through.
"Come on, Buffy." Was that his own fevered plea? No, it was Xander. No, it was all of them, begging her to come home.
And there, was that a flash of blonde hair? A pale fist slashing through the swirling light?
With a crack of thunder, a body flew through the vortex and fell to the ground with a thump. The portal sucked in on itself and disappeared. The others rushed to Buffy, turned her over, tilted her head back. Giles began to pound her chest, then bent down to pinch her nose and breathe into her mouth. Dawn dropped the knife and began to sob. Willow's eyes grew huge and black as she murmured spells. And Buffy lay still and lifeless.
It's taking too long, Spike thought savagely. Please, Buffy, please come back.
Suddenly, Buffy sucked in air and coughed. Her hand fluttered up to grasp Giles's arm.
"She's alive!" Anya shouted, and for once no one minded her announcement of the bleeding obvious. Dawn's sobs turned to joyous laughter, while tears still streamed down her face. And they were all crying, and crowding around Buffy, touching her shoulders and arms and laughing.
"She's alive," Spike whispered. And suddenly he was sobbing, too, his game face finally receding while his heart broke again and again. Alive. Buffy was alive and Dawn was safe, and there were no demons to slay today. She was with her friends, and he --
Spike took a step back. And then another. Then he turned and crept quietly away.
* * *
He sat on the floor in the corner of his crypt, knees drawn up, tears tracking down the hollows of his cheeks. Buffy was alive. Buffy was home. He was so happy it hurt, and so miserable he wanted to die. He'd got her back, only to lose her again in another way. She'd be so disappointed in him. He couldn't bear to face her, knowing how completely he'd failed her.
He heard the door to the crypt open. He stared at the floor at his feet, wishing whoever it was would just go away.
Buffy sat beside him. Her fingers brushed against his arm, sending a shiver through his whole body, almost painful in its intensity.
"Spike," she said. "Why'd you run off?"
"Thought you'd want to be with your friends."
"I do." She lifted his chin, turned his face to hers. "Including you."
The sight of her tore him up inside. There were scratches on her cheek. Dark circles under her eyes. The weeks in Hell had not been easy on her. But she smiled gently. He could feel her soft breath on his face. And she was so beautiful he thought it would kill him.
"Buffy...." His throat tightened. "I'm so sorry."
She frowned slightly. "For what?"
He pulled away, buried his face in his arms. "Letting you down." A single sob shook his shoulders.
Her hand rested lightly on his back. "Spike. You didn't let me down."
Somehow, her kindness was even more painful than her spite would have been. The words tore from his aching throat. "Promised I'd protect her. But I didn't. My fault you had to jump. Everything that happened... because I failed you."
She pulled him to her and held him, and he wept helplessly onto her shoulder. He felt her arms tighten around him, encircling his back, stroking his hair. His cheek pressed against her breast, and he felt her heart beat. Strong steady pulses of rich, flowing blood. Alive. He couldn't believe she was holding him, and oh god, it hurt.
"It wasn't your fault." He felt her lips move on the top of his head. "You did your best."
"Not good enough, was it?" he choked out. "I let you die."
She continued to hold him, speaking calmly, steadily. "Spike, listen to me. You didn't fail. You were brave and strong and you did everything I asked you to do." She unwrapped her arms from around him and took his face in her hands. She made him look at her, and her face was bright with truth. And it hurt. But the pain was becoming even and clean, not twisted and dark any more. "Everything happened the way it was supposed to. I believe that. Even if I'd died in the portal. It was what I was meant to do. You couldn't have stopped it, and I wouldn't have wanted you to."
He didn't know if he believed it. But she did. And he had his arms around her, and her hands on him, and that was its own truth. She didn't hate him for what he'd done. So he supposed he'd better stop hating himself.
She stroked his hair and put her arms around him again, and he settled at her side, with his cheek under the hollow of her throat.
She kissed the top of his head, just a light brush of her lips against his hair. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."
"No matter," he murmured. And, just because it seemed necessary, "I love you."
She held him for a while in silence. Then, "Spike, back at the magic shop, when I said I love you all...."
He pulled away and looked up at her, and she was smiling an impish Buffy smile. "Yeah?" he asked. "Right, then, about that -- I mean, what did you -- ?"
Still smiling, she gave him a brief squeeze. "Shut up."
* * *
They sat together a while longer. Just leaning against her, touching her, feeling her arm around him -- it was so good he didn't ever want to move. Eventually, though, she patted him on the back and straightened up.
"They told me there's another Buffy here, who fell out of the portal and... didn't make it."
"Yeah." One Buffy alive -- but one Buffy still dead.
"I'd like to visit her."
He nodded and got to his feet, offering a hand to pull Buffy up. She didn't need his help, of course, but she let him do it. And she let him hold her hand as they walked out of the crypt and through the cemetery.
Spike sat on the ground before the gravestone, arms wrapped around his knees. Buffy Anne Summers, it read. 1981 - 2001. It troubled him to know that someone's Buffy was dead.
Buffy sat down beside him. She slipped an arm around him, and he leaned into her, resting his head on her shoulder.
"What are you thinking?" she asked.
"Wondering," he said. "If there's a Spike in her world, missing her as much as this one missed you."
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I wish there was some way of sending her home."
Her hair fell across his face, a silky caress, and he breathed her scent. "Maybe your witches can figure out a way."
"Maybe. Meanwhile, I hope her friends understand. I hope they're taking care of each other."
He remembered Giles's insistence that he come in out of the sun. Dawn's bravery. Willow's kindness. The blood they all brought him, that kept him alive through those black days.
"Then they'll be all right."
They sat together by the grave, and watched the silver moon rise.