If one had to go out, this was the way to do it. Fighting impossible odds. Fists and fangs all the way. Death and glory and sod all else, right?
Gunn was already gone. Angel was taking on the dragon. He could hear Illyria screaming in fury somewhere on his left. But he couldn't see them. He was in this singing, white clarity of battle lust, his vision focused solely on the faces of his enemies. He spun, wove, slashed, and they fell before him. He went on, killing, killing, killing in the cold rain, until his arms began to fail and even vampire strength was exhausted. The lance with its metal-tipped head but fatal wooden shaft came in under his guard. He felt it slice through his heart and laughed even as he fell.
He woke up floating on a cloud. Literally. Puffy, misty, white stuff. At least it wasn't wet.
"Bugger," said Spike and let his head fall back in exasperation. "Don't you pillocks ever get tired of bringing a man back?"
"You're too useful."
"Useful. See how useful I am when I'm ripping you a new one."
He raised his head. A few yards away, a small man with an unbelievably awful taste in clothes (could that be a porkpie hat?) was standing with his hands in his pockets, watching him.
"Who the hell are you, mate?"
"Name's Whistler. Angel might have told you of me."
"Remember something. Oh, yeah. Messenger of the Powers That Be, right?"
He pushed himself up on his elbows and looked around. The cloudy, white stuff stretched away to infinity in all directions, dotted here and there with Grecian-style columns.
"Where am I?"
"Not Heaven. Guess you could call it a waiting room." Whistler looked around with the pride of an interior decorator surveying his latest masterpiece. "Cooked this one up all for you. Like it?"
"Tacky and predictable," muttered Spike not quite as sotto voce as he had intended and Whistler looked offended.
"Hey, you could have woken up in Hell." Whistler sniffed. "And I fixed your wounds up for you too. You could show a little gratitude."
Spike looked down at himself. He was naked, so he could see clearly that there was not a scratch on him, although he knew he had taken several wounds, especially that last one that had finished him off. He decided against gratitude, since he had been healed only because someone obviously had a use for him and he was tired of being used.
"Be more grateful if you could get me some clothes. Uh, not like the ones you're wearing."
"Are all of you fashion snobs?" Whistler looked piqued. "Get them yourself then. Reality bends to desire."
"Oh, God, not that rot again." Spike concentrated, then sighed with relief as his jeans, T-shirt, boots and finally duster flowed back on him. "Hey, this is my original duster! The one that was blown up in Rome."
"That was the one you were visualizing."
"Brilliant." Spike came guardedly to his feet and stood there with his legs spread, braced to jump in any direction.
Whistler shook his head at this evident distrust. "Think we'd go to all the trouble of bringing you back just to off you now?"
"Don't know, do I? What's happened to the others?"
"Short version? Gunn bought it. Angel got incinerated by the dragon. Illyria decided to leave for another dimension now that the battle's won."
"Battle's won? Four of us against the armies of Hell and we won?"
"Buffy and the several hundred slayers-in-training that she brought with her did."
"Buffy! Is she all right?" Spike asked immediately, not caring about anything else.
"She's fine. Not a scratch." Whistler looked pleased at his concern.
Buffy. The thought of her was a warmth in his dead heart. The thought of her was ground under his feet, gave him a place to stand in this shifting world around him. Her face, her eyes, her smile—he held the thought of them close, cherished and safe within his protective hands.
Whistler was still talking. "The whole exercise was pointless, really. What did you think you were achieving? You can't defeat evil. All you've done is buy a little breathing space."
Spike shrugged. "Good enough. It was Angel's idea anyway. I was just in it for the fight."
Whistler leaned against a column, frowning. "It all comes back to Angel. It always does, right from the beginning. That wasn't the way it was supposed to be when I chose him for the male lead in our little passion play."
"You picked him? Right brilliant decision, that was," Spike said scornfully. Checking the pockets of his duster, he was delighted to find a pack of cigarettes and his lighter. He lit up and drew a long, luxurious drag. "What was it supposed to be all about, Alfie?"
Spike froze in the middle of bringing the cigarette to his lips again.
"He was supposed to be her partner, back her up, make her stronger. Instead ... Well, you know what happened instead. He hurt her, ruined her relationships, made her doubt herself, made her hold back emotionally from everyone, made her hate being a Slayer. She was supposed to enjoy being a Slayer. Instead she got colder, harder, more brittle, closed off from the rest of the world, too much like all the other previous Slayers, the ones that died early. That was not what we had in mind when we provided her with family and friends."
"Yeah, that gave her an edge," Spike nodded. "Saw that when she took me down that first time."
"Then everything went wrong."
Whistler nodded. "That's when it started. We kept hoping that things would turn around, but..."
"Why'd you choose him anyway?"
"Vampire with a soul. Her match in strength and abilities. Willing to be a white hat because he was searching for redemption. Looked like the perfect choice. I didn't know the ramifications of his curse though."
"I thought the PTB were supposed to know everything!" Spike spun and slammed his fist against a pillar. "God, you people are so inept! Didn't you even check?"
"My bad. Worse, I didn't realize that he'd choose redemption over Buffy."
"It's all about Angel. It always is. He's the most egotistical bastard there is." Spike flung his cigarette stub away because it was the only thing at hand to throw. It was either that or throw Whistler, which was what he truly wanted to do. "Fuck!"
"We want to fix it."
"Go back to the beginning and fix it. That's where you come in."
"I could go back and stake him." Spike gave him a feral grin. "I'd like that."
Whistler sighed. "Wouldn't work. The PTB would just bring him back. He does have his uses."
"What do you want me to do then?"
"Keep her from being so unhappy. Prevent some of the lousy things that happened to her."
"Yeah, I'd like to do that," Spike muttered. Then he stopped short, swinging around. "Hey, wait a minute! You want to change the timeline. But if you do that...For all you know, she could die this time around! As it stands right now, she's alive, the First Evil's stopped, she's moved on, she's happy. You want to change all that? No!" he said flatly. "No!"
"Calm down. Nothing's going to happen to this reality's Buffy."
"Everything in this reality has already happened. But, if we go back to the beginning, we can make changes to the alternate reality that would splinter off at that point."
"Stop. Just stop. Alternate reality. Another Buffy?"
"Guess you could say that. She is and she isn't."
"You make my head hurt," Spike sighed, then turned around to lean his back against the column. He lit another cigarette and drew the smoke gratefully into his lungs. "Okay. Say we do this. Say I go back in time. What exactly do you want me to do?"
"Whatever is necessary."
Spike gave him an exasperated look. "In other words, you don't know. Oh, you're a piece of work, you are. First you pick Angel and make a mess of things. Now you pick me. But I'm supposed to go into it blind. You don't really have a sodding idea what I'm supposed to do."
"Every situation has its own imperatives. And Joyce Summers is the one who picked you, not me." Whistler looked peeved at that.
"So? She talked to the PTB and convinced them that you were the one to fix things." Whistler scowled at him. "Don't you want to help Buffy?"
"Of course I do!" Spike thumped a fist against the column behind him. "Let me get things straight. Joyce, who happens to be dead, talks to the PTB. They want me to jump dimensions or go back in time or shift realities or whatever the hell it is. And when I'm there, they want me to fix things for Buffy. Somehow. You don't know how."
"That's about right."
Spike looked upward in supplication, then drew a long drag off his cigarette.
"Do I get to keep my soul?"
"Yeah, I'd turn into the Bid Bad again. Any chip?"
"Good. Do you care how I do it?"
"So if I want to stake Angel, I can."
Whistler shrugged. "If you don't mind him coming back a couple of months later, go for it."
"Oi! Wait! Me and Dru."
"What about you and Drusilla?"
"What are you going to do? Off the other me and pop me down into his place? Because that really doesn't give me any warm fuzzies towards the PTB. Don't like the idea of any version of me getting killed off. At the same time though, if the other Spike turns up in Sunnyhell..."
"It might be a complication."
"You only came because Drusilla got sick," Whistler mused. "So we'll fix it so that she doesn't get sick. No mob in Prague. No reason to come to Sunnydale. Would the two of you stay in Eastern Europe then?"
"Most likely. Dru likes the smell of repression in the old Eastern Bloc countries. Hmm. Other side of the planet. Yeah, that works."
"You'll do it then."
"Of course I'll do it. It's for Buffy." He gave Whistler a hard look. "One thing though. Angel's had a free run all these years. You never interfered except to bring him back when he got sent to Hell. I want the same. No interference. No second guessing. No backseat drivers. If we do this, we do it my way."
Whistler nodded. "Your way."
He hadn't let Whistler see it, but he was nervous. This was a huge responsibility and he didn't have a clue how to go about it. He'd have to fly by the seat of his pants and it was Buffy who'd have to pay the price if he got things wrong. The only thing that he had going for him was that, unlike Angel with his redemption fixation, Buffy was what came first with him, not himself. He was determined not to let her down.
Make Buffy happy? Yeah, like he'd been so successful at that so far. Make her enjoy slaying? That was more feasible. Take it step by step. See how it played.
First things first, though. Keep Angel from turning into Angelus. Because that was the start of it. That was when the shit had first hit the fan.
The white, sourceless light of the cloud place phased into black. He staggered, trying to keep his balance, then found a hard surface taking form under his feet. Things began to shape themselves out of the blackness: a wall, streetlights, a full moon high above him. He was standing in an alley and it was night. He stepped out onto the street and realized that he was just outside the Bronze.
Timelines. Into what time period had Whistler dropped him? 'The beginning' was vague, could mean anything: the first time Buffy came to Sunnydale, the first time she met Angel, hell, it could even mean the time when Angel changed into Angelus. He hoped it wasn't that, because then the game would already be lost. He didn't think Whistler would be that stupid, but hey, the interfering little git had already proven himself to be not the brightest bulb out of the box.
He needed a drink and a chance to sit down and think. He checked the pockets of his duster and was relieved to find that Whistler had had the sense to provide him with some cash. Not much, but enough to tide him over until he could parlay it into a decent stake.
He stepped into the Bronze. The band was Nickel and they had just started playing 'Stupid Thing.' He glanced at the dance floor and then started to laugh.
Whistler had taken him back to the first time he had seen Buffy. There she was, dancing with Willow and Xander.
God, she was young. He had forgotten how young and carefree she had been at the start. She was laughing, her head flung back and her arms raised as she shimmied to the beat of the music. His Buffy hardly ever laughed, was never so light-hearted, had honed herself like a knife-edge into the perfect, steely, killing machine. This Buffy was young and gay and joyous, the golden cascade of her hair swinging happily as she danced, her face open and unguarded, guileless not wary and watchful, full of hope for the future not wearily determined just to get through another day. He saw where Whistler and the PTB were coming from.
And still she was Buffy. The Slayer. He could feel the force emanating from her. Power and danger. The predator, the alpha hunter, the ultimate adversary of his kind—that was what she was, and he found it intensely erotic, intoxicating to him. Such a turn-on, the challenge she represented, his Slayer. And such a turn-on, the girl herself.
The first time around, he hadn't heard the words of the song. He had been too focused on her, too focused on studying her in order to pinpoint the flaws that would enable him to kill her. This time he heard the words. I'm one step away from crashing to my knees. One step away from spilling my guts to you. He laughed wryly under his breath.
"Buffy," Willow said in Buffy's ear as they danced. "Take a look at that guy checking you out."
"Where?" Buffy looked around. "Whoa."
White hair, obviously bleached; black leather duster over black jeans and a black T-shirt; a really gorgeous face with supermodel cheekbones and a beautiful mouth. God, he was hot! If it wasn't for Angel, she'd...
He was watching her intently, circling the outskirts of the dance floor in a leopard prowl, sinuous and powerful and graceful as a cat.
"You do attract interesting...characters," remarked Willow, studying him with appreciation.
Buffy found herself wondering what color his eyes were. She couldn't tell in the dimness and strobing lights of the club. She was tingling all over from the weight of his gaze.
Then her Slayer senses finally clocked in and told her exactly what that tingle was. Oh, damn! Just her luck.
"I attract vamps," she said bitterly. That was what all that salty goodness was.
Willow gasped. "He's a vamp?"
She pressed her lips together and headed for him, stopping at the table where her school books lay to snatch the stake out of her purse.
Events were already moving out of their previous tracks, Spike realized. The last time, she hadn't seen him until he stepped out of the shadows after she killed the Anointed One's minion. This time, she was staring at him while she danced, her eyes wide and betraying an interesting combination of shyness and heat. And now she was coming over to him.
He tilted his head to one side, watching her draw near. He hadn't seen Buffy since burning up in the Hellmouth nearly a year ago and now he lost himself in the simple fact of her presence—her face, her hair, her mouth, the intent green eyes fixed on his. She was a younger Buffy, but she was still Buffy and he couldn't stop looking at her.
He was so absorbed in her that he almost missed the downwards blow of her right hand. The point of the stake was pricking the skin right over his heart before his left hand reflexively managed to catch her wrist and stop the motion. The stake quivered under the pressure of the two opposing forces as she tried to drive it through his chest and he held it back. They were equally strong. The stake went nowhere.
"Vampire," she snarled, glaring inimically into his eyes.
"Slayer," he retorted and laughed.
Buffy blinked. Vampires were supposed to throw themselves at her in a rage or run away blindly in sheer panic. They were not supposed to laugh, not with genuine amusement and enjoyment, as he was, as if this were some sort of delightful game that they were playing.
"You're dust, vampire."
"Eventually. But not anytime soon, Slayer."
He bent suddenly, taking her by surprise, and audaciously kissed the fingers of the hand holding the stake against his chest. She felt his cool lips move against her skin and recoiled with a gasp. He let her wrist go and tilted his head with interest to see what she would do next.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she demanded, amazed, the stake held poised at her shoulder.
A smile tugged involuntarily at the corners of her mouth. She forced it back and glowered at him.
"It isn't going to be fun when I stake you."
"Here, Slayer? In front of all these people?"
The tone of his voice turned it into sexual innuendo. She frowned at him, feeling the traitorous quiver of heat pass through her, thrown completely off-balance. Vamps weren't supposed to act this way. Vamps were supposed to be all fangy and serious, or all with the chants and the rituals, like the Master.
"No one would notice," she growled. "It would be over in a second."
"Oh, they'd notice. Think I wouldn't fight back?" His tongue curled behind his teeth. "Wanna dance, Slayer? It'd be a long, hot dance. I like to take my time. I like to make it last."
Was he flirting with her? she wondered incredulously. She was usually the one making all the quips. Now she found herself completely at a loss and he was running rings around her.
His eyes were blue, an incandescent gas-flame blue in the lights of the Bronze, vivid with laughter and a strange heat. It made her feel...hot all over.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked fretfully.
Like she meant something to him. Like she was amazing and delightful and beautiful and special. No one had ever looked at her that way before, not even Angel.
"If you want to get it on," he was saying, "let's go outside. More space there and...privacy."
It was a challenge.
"All right," she said. She never backed away from a challenge.
They moved towards the door to the alley, never turning their backs on each other, she still holding the stake at the ready, he still poised to stop her should she strike.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"That's a weird name."
"Oh, and Buffy is so much better."
She grinned involuntarily. "You know my name."
"All vamps know the Slayer's name."
"This isn't an accident," she realized. "You came looking for me, didn't you?"
"Why? Do you have a death wish or something?"
His left eyebrow lifted sardonically. There was a scar across it. She wondered how he had gotten that. It looked good on him, adding a rough edge of danger to that handsome, sensual face.
"I'm not as easy to kill as the others you've been dealing with, Slayer. Except for the Master, all you've faced so far are fledglings. I've been a vampire for about a hundred and twenty years. I'm a master vampire of the Aurelian line. A whole different proposition."
They had reached the alley. She looked around and saw with satisfaction that it was empty.
"You haven't answered the question," she remarked.
"Why did I come looking for you? I'll tell you tomorrow."
"Presuming you're still alive," she said and swung the stake before he even realized what was happening.
He flung himself backward and the stake only scored a line across his chest, ripping his T-shirt. His reflexes were faster than she had anticipated.
"Hey, that's cheating, Slayer!" he exclaimed. But he was laughing.
"Pre-emptive strike. It's not cheating when you're trying to kill me."
"I have no intention of killing you, Slayer." He blocked the back-slash of the stake and hit her solidly, knocking her backwards across the alley.
She rebounded smoothly off the brick wall, somersaulted back and got him with a spin kick to his jaw. He fell into a pile of crates, smashing them, but rolled away before she could reach him.
"Good one, pet."
He kipped back to his feet in one smooth move and they were trading blows. She was trying her level best to kill him, but he was too quick, too agile, rolling with the punches, laughing the whole time as if this were just some delightful game instead of the deadly contest that it really was. After a while she found herself grinning too. He was as strong and fast as she was, her equal in every way. It was truly satisfying to have a worthy opponent. She realized that she was enjoying herself.
"Oh, nice move, luv."
She had feinted, then hit him with a right cross. She laughed.
"Glad you like it."
"Having fun yet?"
"Y'know something? I am. But I'll have more fun when I stake you."
She was beginning to think that he was right. They were evenly matched, but he seemed to know all her moves, seemed to be able to anticipate everything that she threw against him. There were only a couple of times that she was able to surprise him with a blow. And she was never able to surprise him with the stake. He always seemed to know where that was.
She was also beginning to realize that he was speaking the truth when he said he had no intention of killing her. He had knocked her back several times, but never followed up on the opportunity. He seemed to be treating this as a sparring match, rather than a real fight.
"You're dropping your shoulder, Slayer."
Giles had warned her about that, but she kept forgetting. Spike punished her for it with a solid blow that sent her flying the length of the alley. But instead of following up on his advantage, he just waited for her to get back on her feet.
"Sloppy," he said, shaking his head. "Could have taken you then." His head whipped around suddenly and his face hardened. "This is between us. Keep them out of it or I'll hurt them."
Buffy looked around and saw that Xander and Willow were standing at the back door of the Bronze. Willow had her hands pressed to her mouth, but Xander was coming forward, waving a stake.
"He's got guts," Spike remarked. "Gotta give him that. Also gotta say, he's amazingly stupid."
"Xander, go back!" Buffy yelled, but Xander kept coming.
She raced forward, trying to get between them, but was too late. Xander swung; Spike ducked smoothly, then hit him. Xander crashed into the metal back door of the Bronze, then slid down it and lay still. Willow rushed to him.
"Bastard!" Buffy exclaimed and flung herself at Spike.
"Time we finished this," he said and jumped straight up and over her.
It took her completely by surprise and she didn't even have time to whirl before he came down behind her, twisting in the air before he landed. He caught her from the back, his arms wrapping around her to hold her hard against him. He had her thoroughly immobilized, his arms trapping her upper arms against her sides, his hands gripping her wrists. The only thing she could move were her legs. She tried to kick his legs out from under him, but couldn't.
"Not going to hurt you," he said quietly.
Spike was in trouble. God, she felt good against him. He hadn't held her in his arms for so long, not since the night before the fight in the Hellmouth. Now her body was against his, those lithe, smooth, strong muscles straining against him, the way they strained when the two of them were making love. If only she would stop wriggling! It was turning him on. Shyeah, as if the fighting itself hadn't turned him on. Fighting with her always made him horny. Fighting was foreplay for them.
His forehead dropped against the back of her head. He closed his eyes, leaned there for a moment, breathing in her scent, just luxuriating in the feel of her in his arms again. God, this was wrong! This was not what he was here to do. He sighed deeply and forced himself to draw back.
Buffy's eyes were wide. He was holding her fast, all that cool, hard muscle wrapped around her, sinuous and powerful. He felt—Lord, he felt good, his body vital and vibrant. And he was aroused. She could feel him hard against the small of her back.
"Let me go," she said furiously.
"Making a point here."
He bent and ran his open mouth down the side of her neck, then closed it firmly over the vein lying there. She gasped and closed her eyes, waiting for the killing bite. Willow screamed.
She felt the pinpricks of his fangs very light on her flesh over the vein. His lips were cool on her skin. Then he just licked her neck lightly, his tongue sliding caressingly over her flesh. It felt incredibly sensual. She shuddered involuntarily. Her whole body felt hot and her toes had curled.
"You taste good, Slayer," he said and let her go.
She whirled at once, stake slashing out. But he had jumped again. Fifteen feet straight up. He came down on the roof of the Bronze as neatly as a cat and swung around to grin at her.
"Could have killed you, Slayer. Could have bit you. Drunk your blood. Drained you dry. Didn't."
He hadn't even broken the skin.
"Tell you tomorrow. At your school library after sunset. Bring your Watcher. Bring anybody you like. I don't care. I just don't want to have to explain everything more than once."
He started to turn away, then paused.
"Forgot. Bring the gypsy."
"What's her name?" He snapped his fingers irritably. "Oh, yeah. Jenna...Jenny Calendar."
He swung on his heel and flashed away with vampire speed over the rooftops, leaving Buffy and Willow staring blankly at each other.