The Many Shades of True Heroes

Chapter 9/9

By L Mouse

Author's Note: The Buffyverse fans should know Illyria's back story, which is that she was summoned into Fred's body by the bad guys. In doing so Fred's soul was destroyed. This wasn't actually Illyria's choice or fault.

Addt'l note: I am very sorry that this chapter was inadvertently deleted from the "completed" version of this story. I had Chapter 9 posted it a long time ago and I do not know why it was deleted -- I didn't do it. And I checked and I do have a confirmation e-mail that it was posted ... maybe hiccupped. I am aware that people have been grousing about the story not "being complete" but this ends (deliberately) in a cliffhanger. I thought reviewers were referring to a cliffhanger ending being not complete, not that the story was missing chapter 9! So instead of clueless reviewers, it was a clueless me.

At any rate, here's the last chapter. And again, I am so sorry that it's been missing its last chapter for so long and I never realized it.

And yes, I will write the second story someday. Actually -- one of my goals for the very near future is to get off my ass and work on it.

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Tap. Tap tap.

"Dawn!"

Tap. Tap. KNOCKKNOCKKNOCK!

"You think you can jimmy this window open?" British voice. Achingly familiar.

"I think I'd break it if I tried. I don't want to break it." Stranger's voice. Midwestern accent, pleasant.

"Bloody girl's dorm. Wouldn't let us in through the front door. I still say we can sneak in."

"And if they catch us?"

"We'll fly away. You can provide that the flight."

"Superman does not need a reputation in this world for sneaking into girl's dorms. We're less likely to be seen this way."

"Dawn sleeps like a damn rock …"

Dawn was no longer asleep, however. She had her covers up over her head and was listening to the voices outside her third floor window with disbelief. Spike. And some stranger with a pleasant Midwestern accent.

Spike. Spike was dead. So either the First was out there, or some other form of trouble. She reached under her pillow for the vial of holy water and the stake she kept there. It was very tempting to stay under the covers, however, in her experience bad guys did not go away if you ignored them.

"Niblet, will you WAKE UP!" Spike's voice snarled.

"Any louder and you'll wake up the entire building," the Midwestern voice chided him.

"Just break the window, will you?"

She took a deep breath, steeled her resolve, and stuck her head out from under the covers. A perfectly impossible sight greeted her: Spike and a stranger peering through her dorm window. The stranger was cradling Spike in his arms; by Spike's body language, he wasn't happy about being held. It definitely did look like Spike, even without his trademark bleach-blond hair. He'd grown his hair out and it hung in a short pony tail to his shoulders.

The stranger was wearing a spandex outfit in brilliant blue and cardinal red.

"Niblet!" Spike said, "Open the window!"

She walked to the window in her pajamas but didn't open it. The thin, fragile glass was probably no protection, but it made her feel better. "You're dead. Go away."

"I'm back and your sister sent me to get you. We've got trouble, Dawn. Glory type trouble."

"I've got mid terms Friday!" Dawn protested. "No fair!"

She paused, "Prove that you're Spike."

"Little blue glowy key." Spike said, shortly. "How I'd like to turn you over my knee. Open the damn window, Dawn!"

She opened the window. The stranger started to fly -- yes, he was really flying -- through the window. He hit the barrier that prevented vampires from entering homes without an invitation and smashed Spike against it hard; they both bounced off.

"Ow. She's got to invite me in." Spike rubbed his shoulder.

"Come in," Dawn said.

The two entered. The stranger set Spike down; Spike took several steps away from him, straightened his clothes out, reassumed his dignity with squared shoulders and folded arms, and said, "Dawn. I've missed you, Niblet."

"You're really alive." Dawn said, as it suddenly sunk in. Spike. Spike, alive. He looked … different … without the blond hair. But it was really and truly Spike. She shrieked and tackled him, "Spike!"

He hugged her, a bone-crunching hug of welcome. He murmured in a choked voice, "Didn't much miss the others, Niblet, 'cept your sister of course, but I've sure missed you."

After a moment, he stepped back. "Her name's Illyria. She's an Old One. Something left over from LA. Trouble. I can't stop her if she's bent on going through me, but Spectacles here might be able to."

"She's after me?" Dawn shuddered. Half-buried memories of Glory threatened to swallow her now with claustrophobic suddenness.

"Yeah." Spike said, gently. "We're going to take you to your sis so she and Red 'n the rest of us can protect you better."

"I … I'll pack my things." Dawn said. She tried not to stare at the strange man with Spike. He was dressed in one of the most gaudy costumes she'd ever seen in her life. It was ridiculous, it was audacious, it implied bold heroism. She decided she liked it.

Spike sighed and glanced out the window. The sunrise was lighting the eastern sky. "We're not going to beat the dawn, I don't think. Don't hurry; we'll have to fly back tonight."

"Fly. With him?" Dawn stared.

"Dawn, this is Clark Kent. He's an alien …"

"Do you have to tell everyone that at any chance you get?" Clark said, with some annoyance.

Spike just gave Clark an amused look.

"He's a friend of your sister's."

"Latest boyfriend?" Dawn said, somewhat cynically.

"No!" Clark said, hastily, as Spike laughed. "Why is it everyone assumes that I'm involved with Buffy? I'm married!"

Dawn snickered at his aggrieved tone. She and Spike exchanged a look of amusement and she explained, "It's probably the reverse. People think Buffy's involved with you. My sister likes her men, shall we say, a bit exotic. If you're the most exotic thing around the logical conclusion is that Buffy's got the hots for you."

She studied this tall, dark stranger. Shame that he was married -- if he'd been single she'd have been seriously considering him as a prospect. He was handsome, stunningly so. She did like the costume.

"Any more like you on the home planet?" she asked, conversationally, as she dumped several scoops of coffee into her coffee pot hopper.

"No," Clark said, voice gone quiet and eyes haunted. "There aren't. Krypton was destroyed, a long time ago. Almost everyone died."

"Oh. I'm sorry." She paused, changed the subject, "Spike, I've got an old sleeping bag around here. If you wanted to hide under it we could probably drive back today. Get there faster than waiting for dark. It's about ten hours to Metropolis, probably about fourteen hours to dusk, plus flying time. I'm inclined to try to be a moving target if something's after me again."

Spike nodded. He observed in a mildly surprised tone, "You've grown up, kiddo."

What was that about? Dawn shrugged and gave him the best answer she could think of, which was, "Three years will do that to a girl."

"Yeah, I guess."

"I can fly the whole car." Clark offered, helpfully.

"Isn't that a bit … heavy?" Dawn said, doubtfully.

Spike said, "Reason Buffy sent Clark to get you is that we think he could probably put the hurt on Illyria if we run into her. Flying a car around …"

"That, I can do." Clark nodded firmly. "Easily. I can actually go faster because you two will be protected from the wind."

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A gentle hand resting on his forehead woke Giles. "Rupert. Rupert Giles."

When he opened his eyes the world spun around him in crazy loopy circles. Dizzy, nauseous, sleepy …

"Giles. You're Giles, aren't you?" The voice insisted.

He forced himself to focus on the owner of the voice. She was a brown-haired woman, mousy, painfully thin, all angles and awkward lines. "Who are you?"

"Fred." She said. "Illyria's gone. Let's get you out of here."

"Fred …"

She gave him a quick, shy, grin. "Winifred Burkle. Fred."

The name was startlingly familiar. He frowned at her. "Angel's Fred?"

She nodded, "That's me. Let's get you out of here. Can you walk?"

"Illyria …" The woman looked familiar; he stared at her, trying to place where he'd seen her before. He'd never met her. Something was tickling the back of his brain; he finally remembered what it was. "You're dead, I heard."

"They brought me back," Fred gave him a quick grin. "C'mon, let's get you out of here."

She tugged at his arm, and he somehow managed to find his feet. He gasped, "Buffy … Buffy needs to know that Illyria's after the Key."

"Where is the Key? I'll tell her," Fred said.

"I'll just call her at the first phone …" Giles leaned against Fred as she guided him to a set of stairs leading out of the demon woman's lair. But his head was swimming and he realized he couldn't remember his own phone number, much less Buffy's cel number. "No, we need to go there. To Buffy. I think I remember where her house is …"

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"No luck," Lois said, wearily, to Buffy and Willow. She'd come home at dawn, having missed the arranged midnight midnight meeting time by several hours, frustrated and empty handed after twenty four hours of fruitless search. "I looked, Buffy. Honest, I talked to everyone I know -- which isn't many folks, I'll admit. Most people don't like me once they get to know me. Checked every place I could think of -- everything from the bars and flophouses to the usual … dumping grounds."

She sat on her couch, hands in her head. "I went by the hospital, by the way, see if he was there. I know you did too, but I figured I'd pester them. Checked on my publisher … Jimmy was awake. He knew me."

"Well, at least there's that," Buffy said, sympathetically. Willow made a noise that might have been encouraging; Lois had seen vampires who looked less dead than Willow. Lois suspected Willow had been fruitlessly spell casting to find Giles.

She sighed. "Yeah. I just wish I could find your Watcher …"

"Willow couldn't find him with a locator spell so he's probably somewhere that's shielded from magic. That tells me we're dealing with something particularly nasty." Buffy ran a hand over her face and leaned against the wall.

"Worse," Buffy continued, "Spike came by. He found out there's an Old One loose in the city and we think she might be planning big trouble."

"Old One." Lois said, blankly.

"Think of it as something like a God for demon kind. Ancient. Really really ancient.. Spike says he thinks she'll be trouble and Spike's been accurate about that sort of thing for as long as I've known him." Buffy shook her head, a faint smile touching her lips. "First time Spike ever worked with me to save the world he was still a creature of evil. He just loved the world too much to see it destroyed."

"Isn't that a bit of a contradiction?"

"Yeah … Spike's all contradictory and stuff." Buffy's eyes brightened, for just a moment. "I thought he was dead."

Bill appeared from Lois' kitchen, cups of steaming coffee in his hands. Lois glanced at him, then did a double take when she realized it wasn't Clark. She accepted the coffee. "What's he doing here?"

Buffy glanced at him. "Spike left him here when I sent Spike and Clark off to get my sister. I'm concerned Illyria may go after her … I'd rather have her with me, where we can protect her. Anyway, Bill offered to help us." Buffy said. "I think we can put him to work. What do you think?"

Lois regarded him for a long, silent, moment before sipping the coffee. "Good coffee."

He gave her a shy smile, then stared at the toes of his battered work boots.

"You might find him useful at Slayer Central, I guess." Lois said. "I work alone, you know that."

Bill looked up sharply. The disappointment was obvious on his face, but he didn't say anything. He looked like a kicked puppy, Lois thought, and she said, shortly, "Don't look at me like that. I don't need any help. I work alone. Makes life much easier."

Buffy said dryly, "Don't worry, Bill. She hates everyone, it's nothing personal."

"I don't hate people. I just find people … complicating. Easier to be by myself." Lois protested.

"I understand that," Bill responded, quietly.

"And I'm really too tired to continue this conversation," Lois announced.

Lois' balcony door opened, and Superman stepped inside, alone. Lois glanced between the two, seeing them together for the first time. The physical differences were slight; Clark was a tad thinner and a decade younger. It wasn't an obvious difference; in poor light she'd have had a hard time telling them apart.

The biggest difference was attitude, however. That was immediately obvious simply in the way they looked at her. Clark -- damn, he was gorgeous -- met her eyes with bold fearless calm. He wasn't afraid of her; it wasn't an arrogance but rather confidence in his expression when he looked at her. He was confident that others would like him, and comfortable with himself if they didn't.

Bill, on the other hand … he was staring at his feet again, occasionally glancing up at her with wary interest. He reminded her of a stray dog, desperately lonely but scared he'd be kicked if he let anyone within striking distance. Something stirred in her heart -- she wanted to see him grin openly, like Clark; she wanted him to meet her gaze without immediately looking away. She wanted … she didn't know what she wanted, except to say she was fascinated by this strange, awkward man.

She didn't want Buffy to take him away to the Slayer headquarters in Cleveland -- though she knew that Buffy would be a fool not to consider it. She was already regretting the declaration that she worked alone. Perhaps it would be good to have backup. A partner. Someone who could hold his own in a fight, that she didn't have to worry about. Bill could tear vampires apart with his bare hands. He'd make a great partner.

What was she thinking? She didn't need any complications in her life. Particularly not some alien who was probably unstable. How could she trust him if he wouldn't even meet her gaze and look her in the eyes?

"Where's Dawn and Spike?" Buffy started to stand up. Lois, startled,

"Parking Dawn's car …"

"You drove here?" Buffy blinked, did some math in her head, and said, "How fast did you speed?"

"I flew the car. It made sense -- thank you, Bill," Clark gave his double a long look as Bill handed him a cup of coffee.

"Lots of cream and sugar?" Bill asked.

"Yeah." Clark sipped the coffee.

"Just like me. Weird."

Lois let out a long, low whistle as the comment of, "flew the car" suddenly penetrated. "Just how strong are you?"

Clark chuckled, "Strong enough. Maybe Bill could give you guys some demonstrations …"

"I don't," Bill said, very quietly. "Use those powers."

Clark's look was surprised. "But there's so much good you can do with them."

Lois felt a pang of acute disappointment, which she resolutely squelched. She wasn't planning on even knowing Bill after this. Why did his statement that he didn't use his super powers bother her?

"I've done so much evil." He stared at his hands, fingers spread, palms up, for a moment. "What I am isn't a gift, it's a curse."

Clark glanced at Lois and Buffy. Buffy raised an eyebrow at him, and made a little gesture with her hand that seemed to encourage him to talk to Bill. Lois bit her lip and forced herself not to say anything.

"Bill," Clark said, very carefully, "What happened?"

Bill met his eyes. The look on his face was naked grief and terrible guilt. Clark reached out and gently placed a hand on the other man's arm. "I know about the boy when you were a kid."

Lois marveled again at this man who was Clark Kent. He was some strange, appealing combination of sensitive soul and manly man. How many grown men had the guts and the sensitivity to reach out to another guy like that?

Bill didn't seem to mind. In a bare whisper, he said, "He was the first."

Clark said with confidence, "All accidents."

Lois, fascinated, watched the interplay between the two. They were so much alike, yet so obviously different. Yin and yang, light and dark, hero and … not a hero.

"It doesn't matter. Accident or not. People get hurt when I do things. I don't -- I can't take the risk." Bill averted his eyes from Clark's face and stared at the floor. "I just can't."

Lois' apartment door opened at that second, and two people entered, a man leaning on the shoulder of a tall, gangly woman.

"Giles!" Buffy shrieked, bolted across the room, and tackled him. He winced, but returned the hug. The utter and absolute relief on Buffy and Willow's faces was almost painful to witness.

Willow exclaimed, "You're hurt!"

"Fred rescued me," Giles explained, sitting down somewhat heavily at the table. Lois regarded him with some concern; he had two black eyes and was breathing shallowly. She was rather familiar with the symptoms of being beaten to the point of shock; he was close.

"We should take him to the hospital," Lois suggested.

"No -- no, she might find me there," Giles shook his head. "Might find me here, too, but that'd just make your jobs easier."

Kill the demon, he meant. Lois felt a surge of pride at that assumption; that they as Slayers (and a witch) would deal with the problem. It was what she'd been born to do.

"I thought you were killed," Willow said, giving Fred a bright grin. "Good to see that intelligence was wrong."

Fred returned the grin and giggled, "Well, you know. Not necessarily a permanent condition."

"Tell me about it …" Buffy said. Then she sobered suddenly, and gave Willow a look that Lois couldn't interpret. Willow looked grim and sad and returned Buffy's look with a small shrug. What was that about? Someone whose death had been permanent, perhaps?

Bill hugged himself, and stepped away from the others. There was fear in his eyes and in his posture. He walked to the balcony door and stared out the window.

Clark started to go after him, but Buffy said, "Clark, are you with us?"

Clark nodded, firmly, "I'll help. Of course."

No hesitation, Lois noted. He hadn't even had to think about it. Bill, on the other hand, looked like he was facing his own execution. He was chewing on his lip and hugging himself.

Buffy said something about weapons -- probably offering Clark something sharp and/or pointy. Or both. She heard Clark's negative, he didn't want a weapon; she didn't hear Buffy's response because Bill had her total attention.

She walked to him, feeling a compulsion she didn't begin to understand. "Bill?"

"I … I want to help." He looked down at her, when she stopped beside him. He met her eyes and she felt as much as saw the despair in his heart. He hadn't had an easy life, this strange alien man. He was terribly lonely; she sensed that, too. A loneliness to match that in her own heart. He looked away, too quickly. She could have stared into his eyes forever. She wanted to tell him he wasn't alone but couldn't find the words. Maybe if he looked at her again he'd simply sense that.

What was wrong with her? She was turning into a sloppy ninny over a pair of broad shoulders and deep brown eyes.

"You can," Lois said, putting her hand on his arm. She was shocked by her own boldness at that gesture. She wasn't exactly the touchy-feely type. "Bill, we could probably use your help."

"I don't … I don't use my powers. They're a curse. He," he jerked his chin at Clark, who was now deep in a conversation with Buffy and Willow, "he's not me."

"Didn't say he was …" She squeezed his arm, an impulsive gesture. He had muscles like rocks. He reached up and put his hand over hers, grasped her fingers. At first he didn't look at her, he stared out the window instead.

After a minute, he glanced down at her again. She gave him a smile and he returned it, shyly. Something lit in his eyes. It was hope, and she realized with a shock that hope had been missing from his heart and soul for a very long time. She wasn't sure how she knew that, just that she did. He'd been living a bleak, hopeless existence. No family, no friends, nothing to live for. And this was a man who needed things to live for.

In a husky whisper he said, "Lois, what you people do is amazing …"

Her front door opened again, admitting Spike and a tall brunette that Lois assumed was Dawn. Bill glanced up, gave Spike a brief smile of recognition and greeting. Lois wasn't entirely sure why Buffy was so worried about her sister; she supposed there was some history she hadn't been told. She wasn't on some critical need-to-know list and that bothered her more than she was willing to admit.

Fred was staring across the room at Dawn. A warning bell rang for Lois; Slayer intuition suddenly kicking in. Buffy, as well, was looking hard at Fred.

Spike's expression was thunderstruck. He grabbed Dawn and thrust her behind him. "Buffy …" His voice held enormous warning. "Buffy, that's her!"

"You died …" Buffy said, to Fred. It was an accusation, a condemnation. She took a couple of strides across the room in the general direction of Lois' weapons chest.

Fred simply blurred. One second she was a gawky, awkward looking woman and the next she was blue haired, blue eyed, and very Other.

"Illyria …" Giles breathed, "Oh, lord, I've been tricked. I brought her here …"

"Key," Illyria said.

Spike said, "Illyria."

Ilyria regarded him with her head tilted to the side, no expression on her face. "I believed that you ceased to be, vampire."

Spike said quietly, "I'd rather not fight you, Illyria."

"I wish to have the Key. I wish to return what once was to reality as it is now. I wish you to step aside, vampire." Her words were imperious. There was no trace of the nervous, geeky Fred in this creature. Lois was having a hard time even recognizing Fred and Illyria as the same creature.

"No." Spike said. He lunged forward, leaping fearlessly into the fight.

She moved, impossibly fast, and struck Spike with a stunning blow. He hit the wall with horrible force, leaving a dent. Buffy snarled a cry of inarticulate rage and lit into the demon -- and one blow from the woman sent her flying through the air and into Lois' kitchen. Wood splintered, and Buffy hit the ground under cabinets full of pots and pans-- she was out of the fight, at least temporarily.

Lois grabbed a kitchen chair and swung it at Illyria with what should have been deadly force. She hit her with everything she had. The chair splintered; Illyria didn't even blink.

"Insignificant creature," Illyria said, and made a lazy gesture with one hand. Stunning force launched Lois airborne … she crashed through the balcony door, scrambled to grab at the balcony railing, missed, and screamed in horror as the ground rushed up from seven stories below. She was going to die …

"Loooooois!" A scream from above her. Arms wrapped around her and her fall was arrested with painful force.

Bill. Bill had caught her. His eyes were huge, and terrified and she could feel him shaking. He'd reacted without thought -- had just gone after her frantically.

"Don't drop me!" She latched onto his neck.

"I caught you …" he marveled.

"You did," that was Clark, who was hovering inches away. She realized they were only a scant few feet from the ground. She'd come very close to hitting it. Slayer or not, that would have killed her. Clark looked nearly as frightened as Bill. "I couldn't have caught her in time."

Someone -- it sounded like Willow -- screamed in the apartment above their heads.

"Get her to safety," Clark said, shortly. In a blur of red and blue he zipped back to the apartment.

Bill's arms tightened around her. In a strained, husky whisper, he said, "I saved you. You would have died. I saved you. I did it."

"Yeah, and I need to get back up there. Can you fly me up?" She pointed in the direction of her apartment.

"No!" He said, "You'll get hurt. That thing -- that thing's dangerous!"

"Bill," Lois said, "That's my job. That's something you need to know about me -- I have to fight things like that. It's what I was Chosen to do. It's my duty. You have to take me back into the fight."

"But …"

"I could die," Lois said, "but I accept that."

Bill cupped her face in his hand, eyes searching hers. She smiled weakly. "Bill, please."

He swallowed, she saw his adam's apple bob up and down twice. "Okay."

Flying was a most amazing sensation -- he just zoomed back up to the balcony and set her down. The door was mangled and splintered; he yanked it off the hinges and tossed it aside. She ran back into the room.

Clark was on his knees, shaking his head slowly, blood running in a steady stream from his nose. So much for invincible; he'd said he didn't know how he'd fare in a battle that involved magic. The answer was apparently, "Badly."

She saw him struggle to stand up, then sink back to his knees. She thought he'd be back in the fight in a minute but she wasn't sure they had a minute.

Buffy was conscious, but tangled up in the wreckage of Lois' cabinets. She was thrashing about, trying to extricate herself without success.

Spike was struggling to his feet. He'd vamped out, eyes amber, fangs showing. If the stories of this man were true he'd fight to the death -- had, in the past. Lois fought down a gut-level Slayer instinct to consider the vampire an enemy; she firmly reminded herself he was an ally.

Giles was out cold, or dead; she couldn't tell. He was slumped on the floor, not moving, limbs askew.

"Luz Arcanum!" Willow's voice hit a pitch that made the hair on Lois' neck stand on end. The witch stood up from behind Lois' couch, eyes gone utterly black.

Light flared in the room, bright as the sun, ferocious and painful on the skin. Purple afterimages swam across Lois' vision. She couldn't see …

That was apparently the idea, because she heard the demon grunt in pain at the same time Spike screamed in agony. Willow'd just blinded Illyria -- apparently, at the cost of Spike's sunlight allergy. Then she'd hit her with something nasty.

"Spike!" Willow's voice was horrified. "No!"

A whoosh of icy cold air swirled across the room. She smelled smoke; blinked as her vision cleared. Spike was covered in soot and ice and he was glaring at Willow. "Thank you, Red, I needed a tan."

"Sorry," Willow said, meekly. "Did it work?"

"It worked …" Bill breathed, but she thought he was referring to his icy cold breath putting out a Spike-sized bonfire, not to Willow's spell. Good for him, she thought, as she looked for the demon in the wreckage of her room.

There. Lois' big screen TV had hit the ground in pieces -- Illyria stood up, shoving it aside. She didn't look hurt.

"You are a very interesting creature for a mortal," Illyria said, with something that sounded like respect in her voice.

"You'll have to kill me before you touch Dawny," Willow stood between Illyria and Buffy's sister -- who was standing with her back to the wall and a lamp in her hands, held like a baseball bat.

Spike stumbled over to stand beside Willow. "You'll also have to kill me, Illyria."

Illyria stood stiffly, hands by her sides, glittering blue eyes inhuman and expressionless. Clark, behind her, found his feet. He spat a mouthful blood, started to take a step forward, then stopped when Illyria spoke.

"You repulse me, vampire. Vile half-breed."

"Yeah, I'm in love with you too, Blue," Spike said, sarcasm in his voice. "What are you going to do now?"

"This world is changed and I am no longer relevant to it. I wish it to be as it was." Illyria stared at him, silent, wordless.

Clark silently picked the shattered remnants of a chair up off the ground and began to creep up on her from behind. Spike saw him and shook his head, almost imperceptibly. Clark hesitated, glanced at Lois. Lois shrugged. The direct approach wasn't working; Spike apparently had something else in mind.

"They're gone, Illyria. You can't bring them back." Spike's voice was curiously gentle. "Mourn for them. But do not do this. Angel wouldn't want it. Wesley wouldn't want it."

"I hurt. I wish to make it stop." Illyria still had no inflection in her voice. "I hate this world. It is not my world. Once I ruled all. Now I grieve for a halfbreed and a human. I wish this to stop."

Spike took a step towards her. "Illyria, it doesn't stop. Grief is part of living in this world. Believe me," he glanced at Buffy, "I know how much you're hurting right now. But killing people only compounds the grief. The Key you seek is Dawn, she's Buffy's sister."

"She is not. She is made, not born. You bear false memories and see illusions. Smoke. Mirrors. Fallible mortal minds. I can make them forget."

"Buffy doesn't want to forget Dawn." Spike said, quietly. "Nor do I. Nor does Angel. Angel's fond of the Niblet too. How do you think he would feel if you created a portal to the past and destroyed Dawn in the process? He would hurt as you hurt now. You can't do it, Blue."

The demon was silent, watching him with inhuman eyes. No expression, no emotion, that Lois could identify. She didn't know what Illyria was thinking or if Spike's tactics had any hope of working.

Buffy let out a small sound, suddenly, a gasp of comprehension. She said, "Angel. Angel's dead. You're trying to bring back Angel? With Dawn? This isn't about … ruling the world?"

"No." Illyria turned to face her.

"Look, lady, I'd give my soul to save Angel, but I'm not giving up my sister." Buffy was angry -- Lois heard a peculiar note of outrage in her voice. This wasn't simply another fight anymore. She was pissed on a personal level.

"He loved you." Illyria stated. "He died a glorious death. You were not there."

"He didn't ask for my help." Buffy said, shortly. She glared briefly at Spike, who was present with Angel during that fight in LA. "Or I would have been."

"I cannot change time as I once did." Illyria held a hand up and stared at her fingers. "With the Key, I could. I could step back, I could … I could ask for the help that Angel needed and did not have. You would have come."

"Over my dead body," Buffy said. There was horror in her voice at the thought of killing Dawn to save Angel.

Spike rested a hand on Illyria's shoulder. "Blue, you're not alone. Grieve. But do not do this."

"I do not know how to bear this pain. Wesley. I lied to Wesley at the end. He wanted me to. I wish I did not have to." She stared at his fingers.

"We've all done things we wished we didn't have to do, Blue," Spike said. "What are you going to do, Illyria? Because if you're going to try to kill Dawn you'll have to go through me to do it. Do you want to do that?"

"I did not know The Key had been given mortal form," Illyria said, finally. "I find I am curiously fond of mortals. Once I found them vile and repugnant and of little consequence."

"Once." Spike prompted. He let go of Illyria's arm. "And now?"

"I must think on this." Illyria said, stepping away from him. "I cannot answer your question now."

Spike exchanged a look with Buffy that held a rather large amount of relief. "Go out in the world, Illyria, and live in it. Trust me in this: humans grow on you."

Illyria studied him for a moment, head tilted to one side. "I underestimated you, Spike. We shall speak again."

"Looking forward to it, Illyria," he said honestly. "But rather than beating up on my friends the next time you're wanting a spot of friendly company, just call my cel phone. I'll give you the bloody number."

"Very well." Illyria inclined her head slowly. "I shall … call your phone."

Lois let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. Clark murmured to her, "See? It's not always necessary to slay the bad guys."

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

The following evening, Lois knocked on the door of the small construction trailer. She heard footsteps inside, and then a curtain was pulled back. Bill peered out, saw it was her, and hastily opened the door.

"Hi," he said, shyly. But he met her eyes when she looked up at him.

"Can I come in?"

He held the door open. She entered, and glanced around. The trailer was just two rooms -- she was standing in a tiny living room. It was neat, tidy, furnished with a battered but clean couch, an ancient TV with rabbit ears, a single kitchen chair and a card table. His kitchen was composed of a refrigerator plus a hot plate, microwave, and toaster oven neatly lined up on a small counter. The sink held clean dishes in a strainer.

Through the doorway she could see a neatly made bed.

"I wanted to thank you," she said, as he shut the door after her.

"For what?" He sounded surprised.

"For saving my life, silly," she grinned at him.

He grinned back, briefly, hesitantly. Then he sobered, "How's Giles?"

"Willow says he'll be fine. He's a tough old man." Lois sat down on his couch. "He's got some broken ribs and a concussion but he says he's had worse."

She paused, "Clark's fine too -- Illyria hit him with some kind of magical whammy but he heals incredibly fast. You know that, though. Buffy's got a broken arm but Slayers are tough; we heal pretty quickly too. She's pretty tore up over Angel, though -- Spike says he thinks Angel died but he can't prove it. Spike had some burns from Willow's spell but they're healing."

"Sounds like everyone's going to be okay, then."

Lois looked sharply away from him. "My publisher's still in the hospital. They don't know when he'll get out or if he'll be … be himself … when he's out."

"I'm sorry," he said, his tone clearly indicating that he meant it.

"Yeah. Me too."

"I still can't believe that Spike talked Illyria down like that. She's still out there." He straddled his kitchen chair backwards. "Do you think she'll be trouble?"

"I don't know. Buffy's worried about it. Giles is talking about sending an army of Slayers after her. Clark says they should wait and see what she does. He thinks she'll not be a threat now."

Bill nodded. "But she's not the only danger this world faces, is she?"

"No. This world needs heroes, Bill." Lois glanced at the door to his tiny trailer. "It needs every hero around to keep the darkness and the evil at bay."

He looked away from her. "I'm not sure that I'm a hero."

She wasn't sure what impulse made speak. A crazy one, surely. But she said with a grin, "Well, big guy, why don't you join me on patrol tonight and find out?"

His jaw hung open for a minute, then he nodded gravely. "I'd like that."

"Good. I could use a partner out there. You're the first person I've met that could hold his own in a fight, that I didn't want to kill within five minutes of meeting them."

She was genuinely surprised and delighted when he gave her a teasing grin. "You just haven't known me long enough, then."

Lois laughed, the first time in a long time, and stood up. "C'mon, Flyboy, let's go find some vampires to slay."

"Buffy."

Spike's warm voice stopped her in her tracks. He was behind her. He'd left Lois' apartment minutes after Illyria had; she hadn't seen him since and it had been three days.

Without turning around she said, "Why?"

Why had he let her think he was dead. Why hadn't he at least picked up the phone and called her. Why hadn't he sent her a letter or bought an airline ticket or told a friend who'd tell a friend who'd tell a friend until some disjointed and inaccurate rumor of his resurrection reached her. If she'd had even a whiff of an idea that Spike was alive she'd have traveled to the ends of the earth, left no stone unturned, shredded reality itself, to find him.

"Because," he said.

He stepped up beside her, not touching her. She still wasn't looking at him. She didn't think he was looking at her, either. Her mind supplied a thousand clarifications to that statement, "Because."

Because I was mean to you.

Because you don't love me.

Because you didn't think I loved you.

Because you've moved on.

Because I'm not worthy.

Because you're a coward.

The latter was untrue; she knew that. The rest … she finally looked at him.

He was smoking, and staring up at the few stars and a half moon visible through the glare of Metropolis' city lights. His profile was so achingly familiar. She still didn't know what to make of his hair.

He finally turned to face her, at last, and flicked the cigarette away. It leaked a thin trail of smoke from a patch of bare ground.

"Because." He paused, trying to find words for something that he'd had difficulty explaining even to himself. "I've changed, Buffy."

She nodded. "I know."

"Since Sunnydale. I'm not the man I was then."

"Dying tends to change you," Buffy stepped closer to him. She brushed her thumb along one of his cheekbones, wished she dared to kiss him. Something in his eyes warned her that would be a bad idea.

"It does." He agreed. "Living changes you more."

"Spike -- what I said, in the Hellmouth? I meant it." Buffy cupped the side of his face in her hand. "It's still true."

"And what does that mean, Buffy?" He pulled away from her grasp. "Do we hide our relationship from your friends? Or defy them? How long until the hatred for me bubbles over again and someone tries to kill me? I associate with you, I have to watch my back from the good guys. Forget being friends with them."

He shrugged. "I guess I have my pride to think about."

"You're saying I'm not worth putting up with a little crap from the Scoobies?" Buffy said, indignant and wounded.

His face was stricken. "No! That's not what I'm saying. I'm just … Buffy, I want to be valued. As me. I've earned it, I think."

Now he looked away, and his voice broke. "And I was also so very scared you'd reject me. I won't be your dog again, Buffy. I won't follow around after you groveling for attention. And I don't need to prove myself to anyone anymore, either, least of all you -- or myself."

Buffy looked up at him, at this vampire who'd become so much more than anyone had ever expected or dreamed that he could be. Once, in what felt like another lifetime, he'd told her that she made him feel like a man. Now he was standing solidly on his own two feet, repudiating his hero worship of her. But not his love. He still loved her.

He said quietly, "I could not bear it if I were to follow you and not …"

He trailed off, and shrugged, and said uncomfortably, "Well. Buffy, I will always love you -- love you for what you are, for who you are, love you heart and soul. But I'm not sure if you can give back to me what I want from you. And it's not fair to either of us if you can't. I can be a hero on my own just fine."

She smiled at him, but it was a smile that threatened to turn into tears. There was a hot burning in the back of her eyes. "Spike. I love you. I love you like you want me to. It's true. You want to be my equal? You've got it."

He tilted his head sideways, listening to her words and looking her in the eyes.

"I don't know if I can believe that," he breathed, finally.

She reached up and draped her arms around his neck and stepped boldly into the circle of his arms. She gazed up at him and he looked down at her. He said in a hoarse whisper, "God, don't let me wake up and find this is a bloody dream."

"It's a dream, all right," Buffy didn't move to kiss him -- they were still too fragile, too new, for that. Instead she just rested her cheek against his cool shoulder. "A really good one. Spike, I love you."

He was shaking. She realized he was crying. She'd made him cry. She leaned back, looked up at him, and saw that he had an enormous grin on his face. "Buffy," he breathed. It said everything, in two syllables. Yes, he'd stay. Yes, they belonged to each other. Yes.

"I wish I had more time to get to know you all," Clark said, quietly. "But I need to get home. My Lois has got to be frantic."

He surveyed them -- good people, he thought. They were heroes, all of them, in their own ways.

Bill stood next to this word's Lois. He had hopes, there, that something might happen between them. Lois was letting her guard down around Bill -- she'd even smiled at him twice while Willow sent up the elements of the magic spell that would send him home. Bill clearly worshipped the ground she walked on. He'd do anything she asked -- Clark knew that feeling well. If Lois asked Bill to be a hero he'd try for her. He hoped she would ask.

Hey, Bill, remember she's worth it even when you want to strangle her with your bare hands, Clark sent, telepathically, at the other Kryptonian.

Bill's eyes widened. Woops. He'd forgotten to mention that gift to Bill.

Ah, yeah, you've got some telepathic powers. You can talk to other Kryptonians. Clark explained, briefly. You've got some empathy with humans, too.

Bill responded with amusement, to Clark's relief, and not shock or horror, Any other surprises I should know about?

Not that I can think of, Clark said. He'd warned him about Kryptonite and about New Krypton -- they had never shown up in this world. Clark wasn't sure if they didn't exist, if they'd been unable to find Bill, or if they'd come and gone after judging him wanting as a leader. I'm sure Lois will have plenty of surprises for you, though.

She's … something.

That she is. Clark agreed.

"You ready to go home?" Willow asked.

"Yeah. I'm ready to go home."

He glanced at Buffy and Spike. The two were standing as close together as they could without actually touching. Buffy said, "My sister wanted to be here, but she had finals. Giles had to go back to Cleveland; something about a problem with a research assistant at Slayer Central."

He nodded. "Tell them I said goodbye."

"I will. And -- thank you." Willow said, gravely.

Willow started chanting at that moment. She had a ruby colored orb in one hand and a fistful of herbs in the other. She called out to forces he couldn't identify or name, and power swirled around them. She summoned the magic; his hair crackled and stood on end.

He was going home. To Lois. To the Daily Planet. To his world, where justice was simple and human. No vampires, no monsters, no shades of grey when dealing with bad guys.

Willow swore, suddenly, intensely, and dropped the herbs and grabbed the orb in both hands. "Something's wrong!"

Spike said something vile. Lois said a four letter word. Bill just stared. Reality crumbled around not just him, but all of them. He was spinning, tumbling, falling through the air and his powers didn't exist …

With a thump, he landed on the floor of the apartment he shared with Lois. Buffy landed on top of him. Spike bounced off the couch. Bill crashed into a wall, causing far much more damage to the wall than to Bill. Willow landed on the floor by the window.

Lois swore vigorously.

Wait. He was hearing Lois swearing in … stereo?

Buffy scrambled off him. He sat up, then smirked as he took in the appearance of his Lois. She was wearing a white robe with a cowl -- she looked like a diminutive druid. Cute.

"Clark, oh, thank God!" She tackled him. Kissed him. She smelled like some sort of stinky incense and smoke. She felt wonderful in his arms; he'd missed her so very much.

She swore at him, "Damnit, I've been trying for days to get this thing to work right -- Rayne said it should work but I just couldn't get it right."

Willow sat up, shook her head, glanced between the two Loises. The Lois from Buffy's world had fallen silent, but was standing up now with her fists balled. She looked ready to fight.

"You were trying to do magic …?" Willow asked.

Clark grinned. He was sure she was. He wasn't the slightest bit surprised that Lois had someone figured out what had happened to him and had tried to get him home herself. He also wasn't surprised that she'd apparently fouled it up.

"Yeah. It finally worked. Who the hell are you people? Who's she?" Lois demanded. The 'she' was the other Lois.

"It didn't work," Willow said, sounding remarkably unperturbed given the circumstances. "All it did was foul up my spell. It upset the balances and it brought all of us here instead of just Clark."

"Oh. Whoops." Lois said, sounding not nearly as contrite as Clark thought she should. She stared at the other Lois. "Who the hell's she? Please tell me she's not another clone. And him, too."

The him, too, was aimed at Bill.

"Lois," Clark still had her in his arms. "They're from another dimension. And now we need to figure out a way to get them back."

Willow held the orb in her hand up to the light. It was cracked; Clark could see that across the room.

Buffy said, "Uh-oh. It's broken, isn't it?"

Willow sighed. "It's broken. It looks like we're going to be here for awhile."

Clark said, "I promise I'll help you guys get home. Your world needs you as much as mine needs me."

He buried his face in his Lois' hair, wrapped his arms around her, and just held her. He was home, home with his Lois. He would deal with sending the others home later.

For now, it was simply good to be home.