Per Aspera Ad Astra
Chapter Undecem

***

Okay, with the lack of response to the last chapter, I seem to have lost you, and I guess I am now writing for myself. Not that that's a bad thing. Sorry this chapter is so late. I had computer problems (i.e. a virus.) Thanks so much to Tenik, duj, daflippnay, natasha "nat" trend, vamp, and charisma (once again, knew I could count on you).

***

Buffy trailed after Spike on their way back to the villa mere hours before sunrise. She was covered in blood from the remains of the strewn bodies. Wiping her sweaty red palms down the front of her tunica, she stalled before the magnificence of the Colosseum. Looking up, she brushed her hair back from her face.

Her Slayer senses went into overdrive.

"Buffy?" a voice asked from next to her.

"Yeah?" she answered without removing her gaze from the amphitheater.

"Are you all right?" Spike placed a hand at the small of her back.

"Something just doesn't feel right," she told him quietly, glancing at him quickly before returning her gaze to the gigantic building. "I don't know what it is."

"Yeah, I can feel it, too, love," he said, looking over at Livia and Lucius. They were hurrying towards the villa, racing against the dawn.

"There's something about this place ..." she trailed off, smoothing the hair out of her eyes again.

Taking her by the hand, Spike pulled her along. "Come on. We've gotta go," he tugged her arm a little. "We'll come back tomorrow night--check things out a bit."

Allowing herself to be led away, Buffy relented. She quickened her paces, matching them with those of Spike.

Glancing over, Spike frowned. "Are you okay, Buffy?" he asked again, concerned.

Buffy never let go of his hand. "Fine."

The two continued on the same path they took earlier. Lucius and Livia were waiting for them in the especially dark shadow of another tall marble building.

"You guys are really slow," Livia accused before turning on her heel and continuing.

Lucius smirked from his place within the moon-cast shadow, his face like India ink. Arching an eyebrow, he cocked his head in Livia's direction. "That's one--she's too impatient. She's got fire."

"So is Buffy," Spike shot back immediately, grinning. "I'm beginning to think it's a genetic trait of Slayers." He smirked before continuing on after Lucius.

"Shut up," Buffy ordered, digging her nails into the back of his hand.

He cast a sidelong glance at her, a smile on his face. A splotch of blood remained on his cheek.

Licking the pad of her thumb on her free hand, Buffy reached over to clean his face gently.

He looked over in surprise.

"You had some blood on your cheek," she quickly explained. Heat rose in her cheeks, and she looked away.

He cocked an eyebrow. "Yeah," he replied laughingly, "that always seems to be a problem."

"Come on!" Livia shouted back at them, annoyed. "Move it! If you keep on with that, I think I'm gonna hurl!"

"Please!" Buffy called back. "You think I didn't notice the smoochies earlier?" she teased as Livia turned red. "That's what I thought," she muttered to herself.

"There were smoochies earlier?" Spike asked, saying the word as if it was something foreign to him.

"Yeah, while you were telling your story," she answered casually.

"And nobody noticed?" he practically stated almost incredulously.

"Maybe you underestimate your story-telling abilities." Then, she yanked her hand free and took off into the dark. "Race you!" she called back.

Grinning to himself, Spike shot off after her.

*

Buffy returned to her room in the robe she was wearing the day earlier, her hair completely wet and now tangled. Wringing her hair out, she pulled her brush from the trunk and set to work, pulling it carefully through her hair. She winced every time she came to a particularly painful knot.

Looking over at Spike, she noticed he was sprawled over the bed, completely dry and fully clothed.

"That was fast," she commented, now half-concentrating on the task of detangling her hair.

"It's hard to take your time when you're taking a bath with another male," he told her blandly.

"It's hard to take a bath with another female," she returned.

"And yet it didn't stop you," Spike said, gesturing to her wet hair with a flick of the wrist.

Buffy shrugged in response before rummaging around in the trunk and pulling out a clean tunica. Spike looked away. Rolling her eyes, she dropped the robe onto the trunk and pulled the tunica over her head. "You can look now," she called to him, scrubbing at her head with the slightly damp robe before brushing it straight one last time.

"Tomorrow is the day before the end of the world," Spike snorted. "If you really are worried, you shouldn't be. If the world ended back, well, now, then we wouldn't have ever been born." He flopped back over. "And to think I realized all that within the fifteen minutes I've been lying here."

"Yeah, unless we screw up," Buffy pointed out. "Or if this is an alternate dimension or something. Didn't Anya say there were thousands of alternate dimensions or something?" she asked, finally crawling up onto the bed next to him, sitting cross-legged.

"Well ... when you put it like that," he said, placing his arms behind his head. He half-closed his eyes to rest. "Love?" He heard Buffy murmur back slightly in response. "About earlier ... are you sure you're okay?" he asked one last time. He opened his eyes to watch her face.

She shrugged and sighed heavily. "I'm just a little worried. Normal Slayer reaction to impending apocalypse," she quipped.

"I mean, other than that. We're all a little jittery," he said as he pushed himself up on his forearms to get a better look at her.

She shrugged again. "It's not so bad anymore," she told him, burying her hands under her thighs to warm them. "Being here has ..." she broke off for several seconds as if to measure her thoughts. "It's shown me what I used to be like." She hid her face behind slowly drying hair. "I miss that girl."

Pulling her wrist gently to dislodge her hand from beneath her, Spike threaded his fingers with hers. "I miss that girl, too. But she's still here, in front of me." He kissed the back of her hand so softly she could barely feel it before bringing their hands to the mattress between them. His thumb ran across the back of her hand before toying with her "wedding" ring thoughtlessly.

"Spike?" she murmured, her eyes never straying from their joined hands.

"Hm?" he answered back, returning to his reclining position, eyes closing sleepily.

"Help me find her?"

Her request surprised him mainly, and he opened his eyes to look at her. It was the manner with which she said it that wrenched at his heart. His entire being was reaching out to protect and comfort this slip of a girl before him.

"Tell me how," he whispered back.

And with that, Buffy leaned over to claim his lips with her own.

*

The group had gathered for breakfast in the dining room, very similarly to the day earlier except this time, they were missing both slayers and both vampires. The table wasn't nearly as crowded as it was the day before.

"Are they still sleeping?" Portia asked before taking a large gulp from her cup.

"They got in very late last night," Tiberius informed them offhandedly, his eyes scanning a scroll quickly.

"Is Lucius all right?" Portia asked again. "They did get in before sunrise, right?"

"They did back it back before sunrise," he reassured her. Then, to the rest, "They ran into a bit of trouble though last night." He set down his scroll to direct his full attention to the matter at hand.

"Are any of them hurt?" Tara asked. She sported a maternal look on her face.

"No, no," he immediately replied, "everyone's fine."

"So everything's okay?" Xander asked thickly around his breakfast before choking heavily on a piece of wheat bread.

"Xander!" Anya cried out. She immediately leapt forward and began to pound on his back, shouting, "Heave!" occassionally.

Xander finally hacked up a disfigured piece of bread, clutching at his throat and gasping desperately at the air.

"Xander!" Anya cried out again and smoothed her hand over his back. "Are you all right?" She hovered over him like a mother bird.

"Fine," he gasped out.

"Dawn raised an eyebrow. "That was graceful," she remarked jokingly, after she was sure he was okay.

"Real smooth," Willow quipped from beside Tara.

"Have a drink," Anya offered. When he finished the cup, she immediately smacked his shoulder. "Don't you ever do that again!" she accused. "If you're going to die, don't let a piece of bread kill you! And what were you doing talking with your mouth full in the first place?!" Anya rambled on, submerged in her worry.

"Geez, sorry, Ahn," Xander muttered. "I won't ever eat bread again." This launched a whole new rant from Anya.

Clearing his throat, Tiberius broke the happy couple up. "Do you mind?" And the two immediately quieted, having been put in their place. Tara giggled quietly while the rest laughed right out.

"They plan on going out again tonight to investigate one place," Tiberius told them, taking another sip of his wine. He carefully rolled up the scroll he had been reading and secured it with a ribbon.

"Do you know where?" Willow asked. She nibbled on some cheese while resting her head in the palm of her hand.

"I believe some place near the Forum," he said. "Both Anna and William both said they could feel something wrong with the place."

"Spidey senses," Dawn remarked, earning confused looks from Portia and Tiberius both.

"At any rate, we should all be preparing ourselves for tomorrow." He took time to look at each one of them. "I believe we should inform the servants of the upcoming battle, don't you Portia?"

"Wait, wait," Xander cut in. "The servants fight, too?"

"Yes, when we need them," Tiberius answered immediately. "You think they stay here for the wonderful salary?"

*

Buffy breathed in deeply, feeling warm and comforted for the second time that week. She could feel Spike's eyes watching her face carefully and struggled to hold her facade of sleep.

She could feel his lips tickle at her ear and held in her slight giggle. "I know you're awake," he murmured, puffs of air following every syllable.

"Who's pretending?" she whispered back innocently, turning her face toward him.

Spike ignored her comment, flopping back down and shutting his eyes. His hair was tousled from sleep and he looked surprisingly young.

"Hey," Buffy whispered again. "You going back to sleep?" She pushed his bare shoulder slightly. "Wake up." He didn't budge; she pushed harder. "Wake up!" Failing to receive a response the second time, she settled her head into his shoulder, not to sleep but to bask in the remains of her deepest rest in quite a while. Watching Spike's face, she wove on hand into his hair to muss it further.

"Buffy?" Spike murmured.

"Yeah?" Buffy answered, smiling into his neck. She shifted slightly to make herself more comfortable.

"You think we should get up?" he moved a little to gain a better look at her.

"Why? I like it here," she answered. "You're a nice pillow. All squishy and stuff."

"Come on," he answered, pushing her away slightly. "Who know when these people will wander in," he said, reaching over the side of the bed for his tunic.

Buffy moaned, burying her head with her pillow. "No," she protested. "Why can't we just stay here forever?"

"Because we would get hungry, ducks," Spike answered simply, handing Buffy her own tunica. Her arm whipped out, pushing the garment away. Sighing, Spike grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up.

Crying out in surprise, Buffy grabbed the blanket for purchase. Spike pulled the tunica over her head roughly, pushing her arms through.

Buffy laughed, mock-struggling against him. As soon as her arms were free, she grabbed Spike by the back of his head, meeting his lips with her own. Her other hand made its way to his cheek where it joined with his own hand.

Breaking away, she rested her face against his. Nodding lightly, she pulled the sheets away. "Do I look rumpled?" she asked him, pulling away and smoothing her hair down.

"You look beautiful," Spike answered immediately, causing Buffy to blush lightly almost on instinct. "And you smell wonderful," he leaned in to breathe in her scent.

"Yeah? What do I ..." She sniffed herself lightly. "I smell like I just ran a marathon." She blushed again. "Do you think they have some lotion or ...?"

Grinning, Spike made his way around the bed to the trunk. Throwing it open, he dug through it before letting out a triumphant shout. Tossing a small bottle of perfume to her, she smiled in gratitude.

Standing up, he smoothed his curls back into place with both hands. Reaching down, he grabbed his sandals and handed Buffy her's.

Buffy flopped down next to him, taking her sandals and placing her foot in one. Tugging annoyedly at the laces, she glanced over at Spike. "You all right?" She lifted an eyebrow at him before pulling roughly at the laces again.

"Buffy, about last night ..." he began quietly and somewhat cautiously.

"Oh," Buffy responded, grimacing slightly.

"I can't help feeling as if last night may be a mistake ..." he trailed off, pausing from the task of his sandals.

"Spike, um," Buffy cleared her throat quietly, "I don't think last night was a mistake," she said, saying the word with distaste.

Spike's eyes immediately focused on her, his head tilted gently to the side and his lips slightly parted.

Reaching over, Buffy grabbed his cheek and kissed him deeply. Bringing herself to her knees, she scooted herself closer on the mattress. Breaking away, she smiled silently at him. "I'm still here, aren't I? That's got to say something, doesn't it?"

"You've got no where else to go," he answered somewhat stubbornly if not honestly.

Buffy lifted an eyebrow, slinging an arm over his shoulders.

"Fine," he relented.

"Can we just," Buffy swallowed heavily, "keep this to ourselves for a while?"

Spike immediately pulled away, yanking her arm from around his neck. He went back to tying his sandals, clenching his jaw tightly, willing himself not to say anything back.

"Spike, don't do this," Buffy coaxed tiredly. "This is a really bad time and you know it."

"So when, Buffy?" he snapped. "It's always a bad time. We live on the bloody Hellmouth!" He rose angrily to his feet and turned to leave.

Buffy grabbed his hand quickly. "No, stop," she said, tugging on his arm.

Spike stopped mid-stride but refused to face her. His shoulders tensed, the muscles bunching beneath them, and his hands clenched.

"You're right, you're right," Buffy relented. Pulling him around gently, he relaxed his stance. "Just, let's wait until we get home, okay?"

He turned his unwavering gaze toward her.

"Okay?" she repeated persuadingly.

Spike sighed. "When we get home?"

Buffy immediately nodded. "Yeah."

He sighed again, arching a doubtful eyebrow at her.

Grinning in triumph, Buffy reached up to kiss him again.

Reaching around her back, Spike pulled her flush against him and kissed her hard. "The things I do for you," he muttered before releasing her.

***

I was going to make this a lot longer but decided against it. Seven pages is enough. I don't think the next one will be out until after exams because next week I have SOL's. The week after I have AP exams. Then, a couple weeks after that, I have final exams. I feel very tempted to find a gun and put myself out of my misery. In advance, I thank whomever reviews.

On a happier note, I finished my webpage!! (woohoo! The first--no second--thing I've made from scratch that actually looks kinda good ...) Go sign the gbook!

Thanks again! Eva