"I thought it would take longer to bring her back," said Buffy through numb lips. "I thought you said it might take years."
"We thought so too," nodded Whistler. "But the PTB gave this top priority. Can't leave a Slayer floating around in limbo like that. All sorts of things could happen!"
"Anyway, it's all fixed now. It's a pity we brought you over here for nothing. You weren't really needed and you must be upset about that. The PTB do regret it."
"Think nothing of it," said Buffy bitterly.
Half in and half out of the bed, Spike had gone absolutely still beside her. She could feel him withdrawing himself, going back into his head somewhere.
"Now all we've got to do is pop the other Buffy back into this dimension and pop you home," said Whistler. "How about in an hour over at Mr. Giles' place? That should give you enough time to shower and dress, and allow me to contact all the other interested parties and get them over there."
"It's two a.m., Whistler!"
"So? Only makes it more convenient for those interested parties who are vamps and prefer the night. Anyone who wants to sleep in instead can opt out, but I can guarantee they'll all want to be there for the party. Don't be late, Slayer, or I'll come get you," he said with a pointed look, then vanished.
"Spike..." she whispered, turning towards him.
His face was a mask of stone and he wasn't looking at her.
"Better go take that shower, Slayer," he said in a remote voice. "That little sod hasn't given us much time."
She went. When she came out in her bathrobe, he was lying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling. At her entrance, he flung the sheet aside and sprang to his feet, then strode towards the shower himself, brushing past her without speaking.
He was angry and he had a right to be. Without even meaning to, she had used him. The same way that she had used him in her own dimension, not thinking about the consequences to him. But she had wanted him so badly, couldn't have borne not to have him after losing him like that.
She should have thought. That was her problem. She never thought, just acted.
She pulled on the black tank and jeans in which she had arrived, moving stiffly like an automaton. Better to leave nothing behind that belonged to the other dimension. Once she was gone, there would be no trace of this Buffy Summers left in this dimension. Nothing at all.
Only her heart.
Spike came out of the bathroom and reached for his jeans. She watched him pull them on and zip them up.
His head was bent as he buckled his belt and she couldn't see his eyes, only the stony lines of his face, all the bones set hard and pushing against the taut skin.
She didn't know what. There seemed to be nothing that she could say. There were so much that she wanted to say and she didn't know which was worse—to say them or not. Her throat was swollen with words and tears, hurting her.
"Well, it's been a slice, hasn't it, Slayer?" He flicked her a sideways glance like the slash of a knife. His eyes were as cold and hard as chips of blue agate. "Been interesting, it has. Fucking the Slayer. Been a bloody revelation. Those Slayer muscles, that Slayer blood. Gonna miss that. I wonder whether the other Buffy...Nah, wouldn't work. That one really is a stick-up-the-ass and has a hate on for demons."
"You'd better get out of Sunnydale," she said through stiff lips.
"Won't see me for the dust, luv. Happy to be going home, Slayer? Know you were never really comfortable in this dimension."
"No, I'm not happy to be going back."
"Yeah, never fun going back to the old grind after a week off. But it was a nice little vacation, wasn't it? Catch up with some old chums, do a few easy kills just to stay in shape, fuck a little with whoever's handy, then get back home at last and forget it all. Only thing missing was the beach."
His eyes had gone golden, their pupils pinpoints. She realized that he was dangerously angry.
"Is that what you think this was?" She was furious herself. "A summer fling?"
"Heaven," she whispered.
His head came up and they stared at each other. The gold of his eyes suddenly snapped back to blue.
"And going back is going to be Hell. God, Spike, don't you know that?"
"Why?" he said intensely.
She shook her head dumbly.
"Tell me why, Buffy. I need to hear it."
"What's the point? It's only going to cut us both up!"
Suddenly they were both holding each other painfully tight.
"Oh, God," she whispered, her face buried in his neck and her arms fierce around him. "I don't know how I'm going to bear losing this."
This would be the last time she would be able to hold him. She desperately tried to memorize every detail, the feel of him against her, the scent of his skin, the texture of his neck against her face, the particular configurations of ripped muscle and strong bone that would have let her know who he was even blind and in the dark. Memory was all she would have now, flung as she would be into that long loneliness of loss that was to be her life in her own world.
"Buffy," he said in a wrenched voice. "Buffy, do you love me?"
She couldn't speak, didn't know what was better for him, hurt him less in the long run, to admit that she did or lie and deny it.
"You almost said it once," he said and she heard the intensity and the pleading in his voice. "I heard you. But you didn't say it and I wanted you to. So badly."
"Oh, God! I do love you, Spike! So much. So much."
His arms crushed her to him. They held each other so tightly that it would have broken bones on any other being.
"I love you, Slayer."
That was what had been in his eyes. Tenderness. That warmth and love and devotion that had been in the eyes of her dimension's Spike.
"I'm so sorry!" she said and her tears wet his neck. "I'm so sorry! I shouldn't ever have started this. I didn't want you to care for me and get hurt. I just...I wanted you so bad. I thought it would be just sex and you'd enjoy it and it wouldn't end up hurting you. I was selfish. And now look what I've done!"
"Buffy, no one's ever loved me. To know that you love me, it's a gift. Something I never thought I would have in all my unlife. Just knowing you do is worth the pain of not having you with me."
"I'll never stop loving you, even in my own dimension, even when we never see each other again. You'll always be loved, Spike. As long as I'm living, you're loved."
They kissed fiercely, clinging together in love and desperation.
"Stay!" he said violently. "Don't go. Stay in this dimension."
"Whistler told me before I came. He knew I might want to stay. You heard the way he said he'd come get me if I didn't turn up at Giles' place tonight. He told me right in the beginning that I'd have to go if the PTB managed to bring the other Buffy back. There can't be two Buffys in the same dimension for more than a few minutes. It's a law of physics."
"No such thing."
"A law of something anyway. I forget what he said. But there can't be two of the same thing in the same dimension. We'd explode or self-destruct or whatever, and other weird things would happen. It would be disastrous for this dimension."
"Isn't there something we can do?" he said desperately. "There's got to be a way around it! What if...what if I claimed you? Would that work? It's an unbreakable bond."
She smiled involuntarily. There he went again, trying to find a solution. That was so Spike.
"I'd love it, but it wouldn't work," she said sadly. "That would bind us together, but it wouldn't bind me to this plane. Death breaks a claim, doesn't it? Well, so would non-existence. When Whistler sends me back, I won't exist in this dimension. The claim would be severed and then we'd probably both die from the breaking of the link."
He cupped her head in his hands, stroking her hair back from her face. His eyes were soft and blazing at once.
"You'd love it? You'd let me claim you if we could?"
To belong to him forever, to have him belong to her, it would be utter perfection.
"Oh, yes. Oh, yes, Spike! In an instant."
She saw the joy in his eyes and the anguish. She felt the same. He kissed her again and again, and she clung to him.
"It's not fair," he muttered against her mouth.
"No way out," she said in despair.
"How about I kill Whistler?" Spike snarled.
"Wouldn't help. The PTB have to bring this dimension's Buffy back. They'd only send another agent."
There was a pop of displaced air and Whistler was standing there, frowning at them.
"Will you two get a move on? Everybody's waiting. I do have other things to do, you know. I'm a busy man."
Spike made a violent motion, but Buffy caught him back.
"We're just coming."
Spike grabbed his tee and yanked it over his head. While he was tucking it into his jeans, Buffy went to get a folder from the desk in the living room.
"Okay, we're ready," she said as Spike came towards her, shrugging on his duster.
"About time," sniffed Whistler and snapped his fingers.
The next second, they were standing in Giles' living room. Everyone was there, a bit sleepy and disheveled, but excited. They all turned to stare at Buffy and Spike, varying expressions on their faces.
Giles and Xander looked tremendously relieved. The girls looked sympathetic and a little sorry, but understandably they were looking forward to getting their own Buffy back. Angel gave her an expressionless stare, but cast Spike a glance of malicious satisfaction. Now both of them would have lost Buffy, but this dimension's Buffy would be happy to see Angel and would continue to rely on him, while hating Spike and doing her best to dust him now that he didn't have the chip. Riley, standing to one side, gave Buffy a look of dislike and smug triumph. He'd get his girlfriend back and this dimension's Buffy wouldn't care what he had tried to do to Spike.
"Let's get a move on," said Whistler.
"Just a moment," said Buffy, walking past him.
"For Pete's sake, Slayer, I don't have all the time in the world!"
"You're the PTB's agent. You do."
"Just hold your sodding horses for five minutes," snarled Spike, his fangs out, and Whistler backed away, holding up his hands.
Buffy went over and handed Giles the folder she had brought.
"Giles, I've written down everything that happened in my dimension. I'd like you to give it to the other Buffy. I don't know if she'll follow all my suggestions, but it would be better for her if she did. Maybe you could explain that to her."
"There are things in it she might not like." Buffy's glance slid towards Riley. "But they're true."
Giles' gaze followed hers and his lips tightened.
"I'll make it plain," he said grimly. "I do agree with you about that."
"And my Mom. I mean, her Mom. She has a tumor and, in my dimension, they do remove it successfully, but then she had an aneurysm and dies. Spike... Spike said he'd keep an eye out for it. But Spike's leaving Sunnydale. So tell her to get Angel to keep a watch on Mom instead. He's a vamp too and should sense it forming. Spike would have been able to detect it, he says."
"I'll tell Buffy." Giles has a strange look on his face. He took off his glasses and began polishing them furiously. "I-I've been thinking over what you said about grays. Even what Spike said about demons. You were both right. Between the two of you, you've demonstrated very convincingly how valuable it would be to network with the non-harmful demons. I'll talk to our Buffy about doing the same. And about seeing the grays."
"I think that would be a very good idea, Giles. It'll make her life a lot easier."
"I've let myself become too rigid and inflexible."
"Council indoctrination," she said, smiling.
"Not all of it. We really have kept blinders on our eyes as you said we did to Willow. Well, I'm not too old to learn."
"So Willow talked to you."
"He's going to get me a tutor," said Willow softly at her elbow. "Things will be different, Buffy, I promise you. And I will keep working on Xander," she added in a whisper.
"There will be some changes made," said Giles firmly.
Best she could do, Buffy thought. She turned and looked at Spike who looked back bleakly. They were both suffering.
"About Spike," she said to Giles. "He's leaving Sunnydale. Don't harm him before he does."
"Not if he doesn't harm anyone."
"I won't," said Spike without interest.
"When will you leave?" Giles asked anxiously.
That made Spike grin. "Here's your hat, what's your hurry? I'll leave tonight."
Buffy gave Giles a crooked smile. "Those demons will still be watching, by the way. Just in case anyone gets any bright ideas." She glanced at Riley and Angel. "Up to the very minute he leaves."
"I somehow thought so," said Giles wryly.
"Can we get this done?" snapped Whistler, fed up. "Or are the bunch of you going to jaw all night? Slayer, if you'd come stand here in the middle of the room where there's no furniture..."
Buffy had been moving towards Spike. She stopped and turned obediently towards the place Whistler indicated.
"Slayer!" said Spike under his breath behind her.
"No way out," she said as softly and stopped where Whistler wanted her, then turned to face Spike. They looked at each other despairingly.
"Okay, now hold still," said Whistler.
"This can't happen!" said Spike in a snarl of anger and frustration.
"I love you, Spike," said Buffy so quietly that only her Slayer and his vampire hearing could pick it up. Neither of them cared about Angel watching them inimically from the other side of the room. "Always remember that."
"Buffy!" He jerked towards her helplessly.
"Don't touch her!" said Whistler sharply. "Why do you people always have to make my life so difficult? Will you two stop!" he exclaimed as Buffy and Spike reached unthinkingly towards each other.
Angel moved forward to yank Spike away. Neither Spike nor Buffy even looked at him, totally focused on each other.
"No need," said Whistler, waving Angel back. "Holding onto each other won't keep her here. Do you hear that, you two? It just makes my job harder, having to separate your essences...They're not even listening, are they?" he said in exasperation.
"No," said Tara softly.
"Freeze!" commanded Whistler and flicked his fingers.
Still reaching out to each other, Buffy and Spike stopped, frozen into place like statues, unable to move under the spell Whistler had cast. Whistler saw with satisfaction that their fingertips were still inches apart.
"No consideration," he muttered. "But at least they're not touching. I won't have to use the extra mojo."
"Um, Whistler," murmured Giles.
Millimeter by millimeter, Buffy and Spike's fingertips were closing the gap as they strained towards each other.
"By the Powers, they're strong!" Whistler made a complicated gesture. "There. That should put an end to that. But it's tiring."
He fanned himself with his hat and glanced around in search of sympathy. But everyone was staring at the tableau in the center of the room. Angel, Riley and Xander looked smug, Giles ambivalent and all three girls had regretful looks on their faces.
"Can't they...?" began Tara and Whistler flung up his hands in exasperation.
"No, they can't. Don't you want your Buffy back? The laws are immutable. There can't be two on the same plane for more than a few minutes. Watcher, I need a drink. That's taken a lot out of me," he muttered as Giles handed him a glass of scotch. "Let's bring your Buffy out of limbo. She at least is on this plane. Shifting across dimensions is exhausting and I can use a bit of a rest before I tackle that."
Something shimmered to one side of the room, then took form. It was their Buffy, young and tired and wide-eyed as she looked around in astonishment.
"Buffy!" everyone exclaimed.
"What are we all doing at Giles' place?" she asked in bewilderment. "Where's the lab? Where's Adam? What's happened?"
They all fell on her, exclaiming and explaining.
"I went poof? And Whistler brought me back? You mean we actually got some use out of him?"
"There's gratitude for you," growled Whistler resentfully and she grinned at him.
"Riley, you're all banged up!" She tiptoed to kiss him. "Forrest really did a job on you, didn't he?"
"It wasn't Forrest," murmured Giles. He heard the girls make an encouraging sound behind him. They wanted him to go on. "It was demons."
"Demons!" exclaimed Buffy. "Oh, poor Riley! And I wasn't there to stop them!"
"It's not important," said Riley hurriedly before Giles could go into more detail. "Forget it!"
Giles gave him a sardonic look and fell silent. There was a small, scornful smile on his lips. He was biding his time. Distracted right now, Buffy wouldn't listen. But sooner or later, she would read that file the other Buffy had left for her. And if she didn't believe the things it said about Riley, Giles would make sure she did. He hadn't missed what the older Buffy had inadvertently blurted out about vamp hos and ultimatums and Sam, and his own opinion of Riley had suffered a major reversal after what Riley had tried to do to Spike. Giles was determined to open Buffy's eyes to a man he now distrusted and despised.
"Angel!" Buffy was exclaiming. She had finally seen him. "You came to help! That's so good of you!"
"Of course I came to help," said Angel, stepping swiftly to her side. Over the top of her head, he and Riley exchanged hostile stares. "I'll always be there if you need me. You can count on me."
"That's so sw..." She stopped short abruptly, seeing the tableau in the center of the room. "That's me! But that's not me! She's older. What...?"
"She's Buffy Summers too," Giles explained. "But she's from another dimension. The PTB sent her over here to take over your duties until we could get you back. Whistler's going to send her home in a minute."
"And that's Spike! Why is she with Spike?"
"She, well, she has, er, had a...a relationship with him."
"With Spike? Eww!"
"I'll see that 'eww' and raise you a 'yechh!' Oh, it's so good to have you back, Buffy!" exclaimed Xander with profound satisfaction.
"Something's happening!" said Willow sharply.
Whistler swung around sharply and gasped at what he saw. Buffy and Spike's straining fingers had crossed the gap and touched.
"That's impossible! No one's that strong! How are they doing that?"
"Maybe their love is that strong, Whistler," said Tara softly. "Maybe nothing can keep them apart."
The spell broke in a rush. One second their fingers were touching, then their hands had clasped, then a moment later they were locked in each other's arms.
"Being in different dimensions will!" snapped Whistler and flung out his hand to cast the spell that would transfer Buffy over.
A bubble of golden light suddenly surrounded Spike and Buffy as they held each other, blocking the spell. Whistler staggered backwards from the backlash, shaking his hand in pain as if it had been burned.
The golden globe vanished. And so did Buffy and Spike.
"What? No!" exclaimed Whistler. Then in complete shock: "The PTB interfered!"
"Where are we?" Spike stared around in bewilderment over the top of Buffy's head, still holding her possessively tight.
Buffy was looking around too. It was her hotel room in London.
"It's my dimension!" she whispered. "Spike, you're in my dimension! The PTB must have done it! Whistler wasn't going to send you with me. The PTB must have done it themselves!"
"You mean, we won't lose each other?"
She shook her head, so happy she was unable to speak.
He laughed suddenly, joyously. "Then I can stop wanting to rip their throats out! But aren't I supposed to blow up or something if I'm here?"
"You won't. There's no other Spike here. You're the only one. Spike, they're giving you to me!"
"Got more sense than I thought, those PTB blokes, even though they've got that weird hangup on Angel. But I was yours already, Slayer." He grinned down at her, his eyes intensely blue. "And you're mine. All we need is the claim to make it official."
She gasped as he tipped her back onto the bed and leaned over her. "Right now?"
"Why wait?" He went abruptly serious. "I've waited a hundred and twenty years, Slayer. Wanted to be loved longer than that. And here you love me. You have no idea what kind of miracle that is to me."
"Oh, I have an idea." To find him alive again had been a miracle. To have him loving her again was an even greater one. She hadn't dared to hope for that.
He bent and kissed her, his mouth demanding.
"You're the dream, Buffy. The dream I've had all those long years. I'm scared to lose it. Need to grab onto it, bind you to me. You said you wanted it. Didn't you mean it?"
She wrapped her arms around his neck "I meant it."
There was a pop, then the room was full of people.
Spike snarled onto his feet, in full gameface. "First Whistler, now these berks! This is our bedroom, not Grand Central Station! Doesn't anyone have any notion of privacy?"
Buffy leaped hurriedly off the bed herself, grabbing at him. "Spike, wait!"
"Something always gets in the way! What's next? A bleeding apocalypse?" His gaze finally focused on the faces of the intruders. "Sodding hell, it's the Attack of the bloody Clones!"
Buffy giggled helplessly. "This dimension's version of..."
"Can't get away from them, can we?"
"Buffy, are you all right?" Willow exclaimed. "Dawn said that Whistler had taken you somewhere and there are so many dimensions that we couldn't find you. Then your signature finally popped up back here and..."
"Dawn said?" Buffy turned in surprise as Dawn pushed her way to the front.
"They yanked me out of school because they were all freaking," Dawn said in a long-suffering voice. "I tried to tell them there was nothing to worry about. You said on the phone you were going dimension-hopping and, hey, what's that for a Slayer? I knew you'd come back safe! You always...Spike?"
She squealed, hitting a pitch that could have shattered glass. Spike winced.
"She's gonna make my ears bleed," he muttered, then jumped back hurriedly when Dawn threw herself at him. "Uh, yeah, I'm Spike. Who the bloody hell are you?"
Buffy caught Dawn and pulled her away. "Dawn, he doesn't know you. He's from the other dimension and he doesn't have a clue who you are."
"You don't know me?" Dawn's chin wobbled.
"Sorry, pet. Not that I wouldn't like to," he said hastily as Dawn's eyes welled with tears.
"She's my sister," explained Buffy.
"Oh. Well, then I'd like to." He grinned at Dawn. "Always wanted a kid sister."
"You always acted like my big brother. And then I was so mean to you and...and..."
"Well, you weren't mean to me, pet, just to the other Spike. So there's no need for the waterworks. Ready made family, huh?" he said to Buffy. "Kinda like the idea."
"When you said you'd go to any lengths to get him back, you weren't kidding, were you, Buffy?" said Willow, her voice gentle and teasing. "A whole other dimension?"
Buffy laughed. It looked like Willow at least had come to terms with Spike being around. Xander looked ambivalent, but he too didn't seem really opposed.
It was Angel and Giles who were scowling at Spike.
"Buffy..." Giles began.
"Don't. Even. Start," said Buffy. "I've got him back and nothing's taking him away from me. Anyone who tries gets removed from the face of the planet." She held out a hand to Spike. "How do you feel about becoming a rogue demon hunter, love?"
Their hands met and interlinked tightly. He grinned down at her, his eyes full of laughter and tenderness.
"Sounds like fun."
"You can't waste your time like that!" Giles protested. "We need you in Rome, training Slayers!"
"Don't care what you need. What I need is Spike."
"He can..." Giles closed his eyes as if severely pained. "He can go with you. He can help train the newly called Slayers. We'll even put him on salary."
Buffy raised her brows at Spike. He shrugged.
"Can always walk if we don't like it."
"True. Well, why not?" said Buffy. "We'll try it for a while. But we can talk about all of that tomorrow, Giles."
Buffy was looking at Dawn. "Do you have a place to stay tonight, Dawnie?"
"I've been staying with Willow."
"Good. We'll come talk to you all at Willow's tomorrow. But tonight Spike and I will be busy."
"Maybe I shouldn't be hearing this," muttered Dawn.
"Claiming each other," said Buffy softly, smiling tenderly at Spike.
His eyes flared.
"No!" exploded Angel.
Spike looked at Angel's enraged face and laughed in pure satisfaction. "Deal, poofter."
"Winner and still Champion," grinned Buffy. "Angel, we have nothing more to say to each other. Take them all away, Willow. Spike and I want to be alone."
Angel stepped forward furiously, but in that moment Willow's power flared white. The room was suddenly empty.
"Where were we?" purred Spike, shucking his duster and Docs.
"I think you had your fangs in my neck."
He scooped her up and dropped them both onto the bed, his face vivid with laughter and triumph, his irises intensely blue around the black smoulder of his expanding pupils.
"All you said you wanted was a good fuck," he said. "Should have known better. Should have known I had no chance against you. Not from the beginning. You don't play fair."
"Not when it's this important," she murmured. "Are you complaining?"
"Not when it's everything that I ever wanted." He stroked her face lightly, his touch delicate and caressive as never before on the fine bone structure. "I love you, Buffy."
"And I love you, Spike." She stroked the planes of his face too, cherishing him, and saw his eyes darken and grow helpless. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That we've both been set up? Yeah."
"By the Powers."
"Evil, innit?" Spike grinned. "I'm starting to like those sods."
"They were sneaky. They didn't even tell Whistler. He didn't know. I'm sure of it."
He twisted to allow her to push away his clothes, drew hers off as smoothly.
"Would anyone tell that hamhanded git? It was a tricky game they were playing, those PTB, manipulating the two of us like that. Needed delicate handling, it did. If you were setting it up, would you want him around going wink-wink, nudge-nudge all the time, and coming up with his sodding bright ideas that always screw things up? Would have put me off proper, I tell you. I was edgy enough as it was, with the Slayer coming on so strong. Damn nearly cut and ran, figuring there had to be a catch in there somewhere."
She ran her palm down his throat and he lifted his chin a little to give her better access. She brushed her lips across the junction of his neck and shoulder, sucked lightly on the skin there and heard the little sharp exhalation of his breath, felt him tense against her.
"But you couldn't pass up all the sex and Slayer blood."
She felt him smile against her temple. "Weak-willed."
"No. It had to happen. Because, you see," she bit him sharply and felt him shudder with pleasure as she licked his blood, "you're mine. You always were."
"Always, Slayer," he breathed and pushed her head sideways. She saw the wonder and awe in his eyes. Then his head came down and she felt that little silken thrill as his fangs slid painlessly into her neck. "And you're mine."
Something caught them up, wove them together—mind, heart, body, all their separate pieces fitting into each other, interlinking so smoothly and completely that it would be impossible ever to separate them again. They were one being and neither time nor distance would disunite them.
"Oh, yes," she whispered, feeling him shudder and jolt against her, feeling his joy and amazement. He too hadn't known what it would be like, even though he was a vamp, hadn't experienced that perfection of communion.
"I can feel you loving me," he said breathlessly. "It's the dream..."
It was the dream fulfilled for both of them.
"Why did they do it?" he said incredulously. "The Powers. Why should..."
"You're my reward," she murmured.
He gave a little spurt of helpless laughter. "Never been a reward before."
"Well, you are."
"If that's what I am, then what are you supposed to be?"
She held him tenderly. "Maybe your redemption."
He looked down at her, his eyes vulnerable and shining with love.
"You are," he said. "You are."