A Different Light by dreamweaver
Summary: Photobucket SpuffyAwards1 RoguePoets Fang Fetish 2 During the fight over the Gem of Amara, Buffy and Spike get pulled into another dimension. Winner of Best Saga at the Spuffy Awards, Best Buffy Characterization at the Sunnydale Memorial Fanfiction Awards, and Judges' Choice Winner at the Rogue Poet Awards! Mod's Choice Winner and Runner up for Best Long/Saga and Best Alternate Reality at the Fang Fetish Awards! Thank you all the mods and everyone who voted for me!
Categories: General NC-17 Fics Characters: None
Genres: Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Sexual Situations
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 11 Completed: Yes Word count: 57912 Read: 63281 Published: 08/12/2008 Updated: 08/21/2008

1. Chapter 1 by dreamweaver

2. Chapter 2 by dreamweaver

3. Chapter 3 by dreamweaver

4. Chapter 4 by dreamweaver

5. Chapter 5 by dreamweaver

6. Chapter 6 by dreamweaver

7. Chapter 7 by dreamweaver

8. Chapter 8 by dreamweaver

9. Chapter 9 by dreamweaver

10. Chapter 10 by dreamweaver

11. Chapter 11 by dreamweaver

Chapter 1 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
SunnyDR16win RoguePoetR7 FF/MC/DL GenSagaSpuffyR16
FF-R10 Long R-Up
FF-R10 Light R-Up



Chapter 1


Buffy had never wanted to kill anyone as much as she wanted to kill Spike right now.

It was just the way her luck was running these days that he would have to turn up just when she was making a fool of herself, chasing after Parker! Even Spike had thought that was pathetic—and was cruel enough to say so. God! She wanted to dust him so bad! But he was wearing that ring, that Gem of Amara, on his finger. Stakes didn’t hurt him. Sunlight didn’t fry him. No wonder it was a vamp’s Holy Grail! She wondered whether even a bazooka would get through the protection it gave him.

The jerk was enjoying himself. He had the upper hand now. He was a superb fighter and they had always been evenly matched, strength to strength and skill to skill. But now he was invulnerable. Stakes, crosses, sunlight, holy water—none of that would work, not with that ring on his finger.

He threw her into a glass table and she barely missed cracking her head on the metal frame, rolled off in a shower of glass while he strolled after her, grinning.

“Getting tired, Slayer?”

She was. She had tried every trick she knew and nothing worked. He could have killed her a dozen times already, was playing with her like a cat with a mouse.

They traded another flurry of blows and he got her right in the stomach, knocking her down some steps. She fell and bruised her upper arm on the bricks of the lower level.

“So, you let Parker take a poke, eh?” he mocked, strolling down the steps as she staggered to her feet. “Didn't seem like you know each other that well. What did it take to pry apart the Slayer's dimpled knees?”

God! How she hated him!

“You're a pig, Spike.” She was too furious even to think up a decent quip. That came when she was having fun. She wasn’t having fun right now.

Spike did a forceful kick straight to her ribcage that threw her staggering backwards.

“Did he play the sensitive lad and get you to seduce him? That's a good trick if the girl’s thick enough to buy it.”

Buffy slammed a roundhouse swing at him. He blocked it smoothly, both that and every punch that followed, easily ducked or blocked the vicious kicks she threw at him. She was nearing the end of her strength now and desperate. She spun on a kick and he got her across the small of her back with a sweeping blow of his knee and shin that sent her tumbling forward onto her face across the steps. She lay there for a moment, unable to get up, trying to get her breath back.

“I wonder what went wrong. Were you too strong? Did you bruise the boy?” He was enjoying himself immensely, knowing that his words were more hurtful to her than his blows, pinpointing and throwing her own fears into her face.

She glared at him in hatred.

“Whatever.” He gave her a mocking smirk. “I guess you're not worth a second go. Come to think of it, seems like someone told me that. Who was it? Oh, yeah.” He grinned triumphantly. “Angel.”

Her brain shorted right out. She flung herself at him, snarling, beyond thought or reason, wanting only to kill him.

There was only one way. She found it. That blind rage of pure fury gave it to her. She smashed at him with the insane strength that came with that rage, thrashed him across the concrete planters, knocked him back at the right angle at last, coming back to herself in that moment of triumph. She held him immobilized over the concrete, her whole weight across his back and his arm twisted and stretched behind him.

“Take it off me this way, we both burn!” he flung at her in desperation as she reached to snatch off the ring.

A lie.

“Really?” she said, mocking. “Let's see.”

She jerked the ring off his finger and his face instantly contorted with pain. The removal of the ring made him susceptible to sunlight once more and he hissed in agony as he started to smoke.

Blackness crashed down on them.

“What the hell?” Buffy exclaimed.

“Oh, thank God!” That was Spike, saved from the sun. Then, in a furious, confused voice: “What the fuck is this, Slayer? What are you doing?”

“Me? You’re the one who’s not getting burned up by the sun! What did you do?”

“Not exactly a vamp talent, turning off the sun,” he snarled. “Stop pulling at me!”

“I’m not pulling at you!”

She had in fact released him in shock. But she was still gripping the leather sleeve of his duster. She didn’t want to lose track of where he was. There was no way she wanted a dangerous enemy loose who could possibly see in the dark while she was totally blind and unable to see him at all.

“Well, something’s pulling at me,” he said.

Something was pulling at her too, a drag like a current. They were being swept along through empty space. She flung out her free hand, swiping to all sides in the freezing blackness.

“Can you see? Vampire! Can you see anything at all?”

“No! It’s black, even to vamp eyes.”

She could feel him twisting and turning as well, searching about him.

A pinpoint of light appeared in the darkness.

“Look!” Buffy exclaimed.

“Sodding hell! What is that?”

The light rushed at them like a train bearing down on them. They both involuntarily flung up their arms against it.

It bore down on them, engulfed them. Buffy felt as if she were being pulled in all directions at once and then turned inside out. It was a sickening feeling.

Then she was staggering on a vast stone floor at one end of a vast stone hall and there was a huge crowd of strangers staring at her.

“Bloody hell!” exclaimed Spike.

They both instinctively swung to stand back to back, falling into fighting stances. They were enemies, but they knew each other. They didn’t know what they were facing here.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” muttered Spike.

They sure weren’t. Buffy glanced around warily. The hall they stood in was huge, both in height and in width, and was packed with people. Banners, arms and tapestries decorated the walls, and clerestory windows high up provided plenty of light though, luckily for Spike, no actual sunbeams reached the floor where they stood. To her left was a dais; on the dais was a man about thirty, very tall and impressive and splendidly dressed, clearly a Personage, seated on what was as clearly a throne, cut all in one piece and intricately carved out of pure white marble. His guards, all in black leather, bared swords in their hands, were leaping towards them.

“Truce, Slayer, until we get home,” said Spike quickly under his breath.

It galled her to have to agree. She was still so furious with him that she would rather have killed him. But he was right. He had adapted at once to the new situation. Spike’s genius, that instant adaptation to whatever might be thrown at him. Anything between them would have to wait until they were back in Sunnydale again.

“Truce,” she growled reluctantly.

The pressure of his back against hers suddenly vanished. From the corner of her eye, she saw him make a flying leap at the closest wall. He reached the crossed swords that hung ten feet up there, yanked them out of their scabbards, then rebounded off the wall with one foot.

“Slayer!”

She caught the sword he threw her, then he was at her back once again, snarling and in gameface. The guards coming at them instinctively recoiled at the sight of fangs, ridges and yellow eyes, giving them both time to drop into defensive positions. The swords were thankfully not decorative; they had an edge and were meant for use. The guards coming towards them came forward now more warily.

The Personage shouted something in a harsh, abrupt voice. The guards stopped. But they did not withdraw. They remained where they were, encircling the two intruders. A further line of black-leather-coated forms with bared swords was now barring the way to the dais, additional protection for Mr. Big.

A woman standing behind a brazier set up on the right side of the dais called something in a high, clear voice. She was very tall, some six and a half feet, with ivory skin and black hair. All the people around were like her, the men even taller, perhaps averaging seven feet plus and built to match. As far as Buffy could see, the look was a racial resemblance. Everyone was formally and sumptuously dressed, all in knee-length, brocade coats buttoned from hem to throat over pants for the men and ankle-length skirts for the women, except for the guards whose coats were similar but of leather with silver buttons.

The woman threw something into the brazier and called again, looking right at them. It was clearly a question.

“Sorry, no comprendo,” muttered Buffy sarcastically and Spike laughed under his breath.

The guards scowled at them. The woman tried again. Buffy and Spike held their positions. This went on for a little while, the woman tossing things into the brazier and asking incomprehensible questions.

“At least she’s good to look at,” Spike muttered.

“Don’t we have enough things to worry about without you getting the hots for some alien?” Buffy growled. But the woman really was beautiful.

“Hot bird’s a hot bird, Slayer. Doesn’t bother me. How much you wanna bet she’s a witch though? Look at that ‘toss the eye of newt tastefully into the cauldron’ action.”

“Got the moves,” Buffy agreed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him coolly scanning the hall. The sword in his hand didn’t waver and his braced, forward-slanting, dangerous stance didn’t ease in the slightest. Well, if she had to have him around, it was good that he was on her side. He might be an unregenerate, evil, soulless monster, but he was a ferocious fighter and she knew already from the Acathla business that if he gave his word on something, he kept it. She might have to watch out for him slashing at her throat the second they got back to Sunnydale, but here and now he was an ally.

“Dimensional jump?” he remarked suddenly.

“I’d say so.”

“Christ, the things that happen around you, Slayer!”

“Well, it was your own fault! If you hadn’t tried for that third notch on your Slayer-killing belt, you wouldn’t be here right now.”

“Yeah, well...”

“Do you understand me?” the woman said and they both jumped.

“Now we do,” Buffy said quickly. “Did you bring us here? Why?”

There was an angry murmur from the crowd.

“What?” asked Buffy, glancing around in surprise.

The woman raised a hand. “They do not know our customs, nefa’in,” she said to the crowd, “and of course they are confused and distressed. Grant them some allowance, of your courtesy.”

“Grant us bugger all,” growled Spike. “Just send us home.”

The woman frowned a little in puzzlement, as if not all of that had translated. Buffy guessed that the spell that she had done allowed some sort of instantaneous translation. But Spike’s British slang and probably her own Americanisms certainly would not translate well.

“We will not harm you,” the woman said.

“We will not let you,” Spike mocked.

“Knock it off,” muttered Buffy. “If you haven’t noticed, there are several hundred people here and a lot of what look like professional soldiers. Just cool the ’tude.”

“We can take ‘em,” growled Spike, glaring at the guards who glared back through cold and deadly eyes.

“An explanation might be of value, Lady Adara,” said the Personage dryly from his throne.

The lady bowed immediately. “I will do so at once, Tariess lord.”

Buffy didn’t know whether that was name or title. The word came not in her head like the rest of the conversation, but through her actual hearing. But the connotation discernible in the woman’s tone suggested that the simple term ‘lord’ was an understatement. ‘Lord’ was probably a modest equivalent for something like ‘majesty’.

“Explanations would be of the good,” she agreed.

“To simplify a complex situation is difficult,” Lady Adara said, frowning. “But I will try. We have an enemy, both powerful and unknown. Seeking for ways to defeat it, we came upon a prophecy in an ancient book...”

“Oh, God, not another freaking prophecy!” Buffy groaned.

Spike snickered. “Knew it was all about you, Slayer.”

Buffy realized that everyone was staring at them in bewilderment again. She waved her free hand dismissively. “Sorry. My issue. Ignore it.”

Lady Adara hesitated, clearly thrown off stride. “Yes, well. The prophecy, nefa’in, said that we should call for a champion across the Void. We called. You came.”

“Champion!” exclaimed Spike. “Oh, that’s her! The Slayer. She’s the champion all right. The one girl and all that crap.”

“Er...”

“Right then,” he said happily. “You got her. You don’t need me. Send me back.”

“But you too must be a champion, nefai.”

“Boy, have you ever got the wrong vampire!” He snickered helplessly. “No soul here. What you want is the great poof. Send me back and I’ll tell him he’s got an urgent appointment.”

“You are the one who came, nefai.”

“I just got dragged along for the ride because she was hanging onto my sleeve! Wouldn’t be here otherwise! Send me back.”

“The spell called you and you came, nefai. Therefore you too must be a champion.”

“I’m no bloody champion!” snapped Spike, outraged. “Not me! Never! I’m evil!”

“Spike!” muttered Buffy. “Ixnay on the evil. Heroes aren’t evil.”

“I’m not a sodding hero, Slayer!”

“Don’t offend the nice natives who are the only ones who can send us home.”

“Shit!”

“Besides, are you not her Guildsman, nefai?” Lady Adara asked. “You cannot abandon her now.”

“Watch me,” muttered Spike. “And what’s a Guildsman anyway?”

“I think she means the guards,” Buffy murmured. “All that black leather. See? Only the guards are wearing that. And there you are in black leather. Cut a little differently, but still. They think you’re my bodyguard.”

“Me!” He snickered involuntarily. “Gonna have a bit of a shock then, aren’t they?”

They had been speaking under their breaths, so quietly that only Slayer and vampire hearing could pick it up. Lady Adara was still talking.

“...Besides, the passage through the void will not open again for sixty days.”

“What? Sixty!” groaned Spike. “Say it’s not so!”

“If you do not wish to help us, we will assuredly send you back at that time. Do not fear.”

Spike laughed and glanced at Buffy. “What’s that phrase you use, Slayer? Oh, yeah. As if!”

Adara plowed on determinedly. “You will be our honored guests until then, since we are the ones who brought you here and disrupted your lives.”

Someone was thrusting through the group of people standing on the left of the dais. It was a big man with a harsh, lined face, his braided hair shot through with silver.

“We do not need their help! Look at them, Tariess lord! Are these champions? They stand no higher than one of our children of twelve summers!”

“Think you may find that size doesn’t matter,” said Spike dryly and Buffy laughed.

“I said it before and I say it again, Tariess lord. We need no outlanders. We can defend ourselves!”

“Scared of us, isn’t he?” Spike murmured and Buffy thought he was right. The way the man was looking at them, in disgust and revulsion, suggested that their clear difference from his norm frightened him.

“It is to be seen, Lehren-aver,” said the Personage calmly. “In the meantime, they are here and here they must stay, will they, nil they, until the passage opens. Lady Adara, see to their comfort.”

“I will, Tariess lord.”

“I regret this happenstance,” he said courteously to Buffy and Spike. “If you choose to help us, we would be grateful. Should you choose not, we will not compel you. In either case, we will make your stay as pleasant as may be.”

“Thank you.” Buffy caught a warning glance from Lady Adara and added hurriedly, “Tariess lord.”

He made a movement of his hand, dismissing them, and Adara led the way to a door on their right, the crowd falling back to allow them passage. Two guards fell in behind them, hands on their sword hilts. Spike gave them a narrow look, but said nothing. They seemed to be Adara’s men. No one attempted to take away the swords Buffy and Spike still carried bare in their hands.

“What is this place, lady?” Buffy asked as they went through corridor after luxurious corridor and up flights of magnificent stairs.

“This is the Hasjarad,” Adara explained. “It is where our lord and his court live and govern and dispense justice.”

“A palace.”

“What is that?”

“A home for the king.”

“Home, yes. What is ‘king’?”

“The ruler.”

Adara nodded in understanding. “Yes. Tariess lord rules.”

“What does he rule? How large is this land, I mean?”

“His domain spans the continent.”

“Empire,” muttered Spike. “Like Rome or Persia. Darius the Great.”

Buffy stared at him. “Huh?”

“Bloody ignorant SoCal valleygirl.”

“Hey! I’m not ignorant! Just not interested.”

“You are her Guildsman, nefai?” Adara asked dubiously and they both became aware of the impeccable manners of her guards behind them.

“Yes, he is,” said Buffy hurriedly. “Our ways are just different, that’s all!”

“Not a hireling,” muttered Spike.

“Ah, through conviction then. Most commendable,” nodded Adara and Spike smirked at Buffy, who had to stifle a strong urge to kick him in the shins. “I am sorry. I did not ask your names. Please pardon the discourtesy.”

“I’m Buffy Summers and this is Spike.”

“B...Buf...” Adara stumbled over the name, which had clearly come across by sound rather than by translation. “It is a strange name.”

“You can say that again,” muttered Spike and Buffy gave him a dirty look.

“Buf-fy Sum-mers,” said Adara with extreme effort. “Do I have that right, avera? Names are so important.”

“Close enough.”

“Try Slayer,” suggested Spike with a hidden grin.

“Ah! That is easier,” said Adara and Buffy sighed. “And you, aver. Spike. That does translate. But it is a name of convenience, is it not?”

“His name’s William the...”

“Spike,” said Spike flatly. “Just Spike.”

“As you wish. Here is your residence.”

They had reached a set of resplendent doors. The guards stepped forward to throw them wide. Buffy noticed that there were other such doors widely spaced along the extremely long corridor. At the far end of the corridor was a truly spectacular set of double doors, gilded and intricately carved, in front of which were black-uniformed guards.

“Tariess lord’s,” said Adara, noting the direction of her gaze. “A historical residence, as are the seven others on this floor.”

Buffy and Spike exchanged uneasy glances, understanding that they were being honored by being placed so close to the ruler’s apartments.

The doors led to an impressive foyer and then a reception salon and a set of bowing figures.

“Your staff,” said Adara. “This is Emer, who is in charge and will look after you.”

Averin.” The staff bowed.

There must be twenty of them, Buffy thought in panic. Twenty servants to keep the place in order! She bowed awkwardly back and was chagrined when Spike of all people did it better.

“Would you care to see the arrangement of the premises, nefa’in?” Emer asked. She was middle-aged, slender and had great dignity.

“Yes, thank you,” Spike said at once, though all Buffy wanted was to sit down somewhere and rest. She was exhausted. But from the smiles, he had said the right thing. “Better know the layout, Slayer, just in case,” he said under his breath.

“This is the outer section,” said Emer, leading the way. “It serves all the formal functions. The state dining room is here beside the reception salon and the post-of-guard. There is of course a private dining room in a circular salon that all the master bedrooms, each with bath, give out upon...”

It was...palatial. Buffy got steadily more and more numb as they went through room after room, which all started to blur together as they went on. Guest rooms and studies and libraries and solariums and apparently even a kitchen with its own chef—all filled with magnificent, antique furniture, every piece of which had a history that Emer proudly described. From the tour-guide fluency of her descriptions, people often came to view the place.

“Bloody museum,” Spike muttered sotto voce to her.

“Huh.” Even Buffy’s Slayer strength was flagging as she dragged herself through room after room. It had been a very long day. The transition here through that cold, empty, black place had drained her, and that had come on top of the fight with Spike and the emotional strain of her clash with Parker.

Adara at last noticed her exhaustion and called off the tour. Buffy sank onto a couch with relief, amidst a flurry of staff.

“Something to drink, avera?” Emer asked anxiously. “Tea?”

“Water,” sighed Buffy. “Or something cold.”

“Something stronger for me,” muttered Spike.

Shibei and isornin,” said Adara firmly.

Shibei turned out to be an amber liquor that Spike after the first dubious sip smiled over, and isornin was a very pleasant iced tea.

Emer came and bowed. “The chef wishes to know if you have any preferences, nefa’in.”

“Anything, thank you,” said Buffy. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Likewise, but...” Spike lifted a brow at Buffy.

“He needs blood,” said Buffy baldly and they both smiled blandly at the rustle of consternation that went through the room. “He’s something called a vampire and they subsist on blood.”

“Human blood,” said Spike flatly. Buffy opened her mouth to protest and he stared her down.

“It can be done,” said Adara, exchanging a desperate glance with Emer. “The hospitals, avera. They would have a supply.”

“No hurry,” said Spike easily. “I’ve fed for the day. Tomorrow will do fine.”

“Also tomorrow, Lady Adara,” Buffy said suddenly, “perhaps you could tell me more of this situation of yours.”

“Should have known,” sighed Spike, letting his head fall against the back of the armchair into which he had sprawled.

“I’m the Slayer, Spike. It’s my job.”

“In our dimension.”

“In any dimension, there’s no harm in listening.”

“Tomorrow then, nefai,” said Adara, smiling with satisfaction at the partial victory and leaving hurriedly before Buffy could change her mind.

“Being ‘good’ can be a real pain in the ass, can’t it?” remarked Spike scornfully when they were finally left alone.

“You’ll never have to worry about that. Human blood!”

“I’m already making a concession by getting it from the blood banks. Could have asked for it from a live source, couldn’t I? Look at this place! They’re so desperate they’d have talked some poor sucker into volunteering. One of the maids, for instance.”

She knew he was right. She glared at him and he smirked back.

“So why didn’t you?”

“Some of them are already worried about our intentions towards them. That Lehren git back there, f’r instance. Don’t want them thinking we might harm them. You were right when you said we’re outnumbered.”

One of the staff came in with a tray full of niblets and set it down where they could both reach it.

“Would you like more isornin, avera?”

“No, this is fine,” said Buffy. “Thank you.”

“The chef will not have a meal ready for at least an hour, but we can draw baths in the meantime.”

“Oh, yes, please!” sighed Buffy. “That would be wonderful.”

The girl smiled and bowed, then went over and flung wide the curtains along one side of the room, revealing a magnificent view of a huge city sweeping outwards to mountains beyond. Late evening sunlight blazed in.

Holy shit!” Spike almost fell out of his chair as sunrays poured over him, then made a precipitate retreat to the shadows at the back of the room, knocking over a probably priceless footstool in the process.

Buffy laughed and laughed.

“Glad you think it’s funny, Slayer! I want that Gem! These people don’t understand anything! Gimme back that Gem!”

“Spike, you didn’t burn.”

“What?”

“The sunlight was full on you and you didn’t even smoulder.”

He looked down at himself in astonishment, then held out a hand cautiously into the sunlight. Nothing happened.

“What the hell?”

He edged carefully into the sunlight and stood there in surprise.

“Different sun, I guess,” said Buffy.

“Well, how about that?”

The maid was standing with her hands to her mouth. Emer and another staffer came running in.

“Nothing to worry about.” Buffy waved a hand carelessly. “He has spasms every now and then. Just ignore it.”

Spike gave her a glare. Emer gave them both a nervous look, clearly thinking of the precious antiquities. The staffer went to right the fallen footstool, giving Spike a slanting, sideways glance from under dropped eyelashes as she did so. She was very lovely. Spike gave her an appreciative glance back.

“Now there was a come-on, if I ever saw one,” he remarked once Emer and the two girls had left. “Wonder if she might volunteer to keep my bed warm tonight.”

“Don’t fuck with the staff, vampire!” Buffy snapped. “We want to keep in these people’s good books.”

“Guarantee I’d be in her good books, Slayer.” He smirked at her. “But a gentleman doesn’t sleep with the maids in his own home.”

“Like you’re a gentleman.”

“Was brought up to be one.” He sprawled back into his chair. “I‘m not a bog-trotting Irish peasant farmer’s son like Angel.”

Buffy glared at him. “Shut up about Angel.”

“Angelus always liked rape. Me, I like ‘em willing. And someone whose livelihood depends on your smile or frown can’t be considered willing. I don’t fuck the servants.”

“Scruples. Who’d have thought!”

“Had a lot of them before I was turned. Too bloody many, in fact.” He smiled scornfully at himself.

“Don’t have any now, do you?”

His lids lifted and he gave her a cold stare. “No.”

They looked at each other with dislike.

“Or taste. Harmony,” she mocked.

“A good lay. If she’d only stop talking. God, that bint drove me ’round the bend! Kept going on and on about sodding France. Made the mistake of saying I’d take her there sometime and she never let it go. Even staking her didn’t work.”

Buffy stared at him. “You staked Harmony?”

“Didn’t take. She was wearing the Gem. Real shame. Would have shut her up for once.”

“You’ve got no feelings, have you?”

Something moved behind his eyes. A bitterness.

“No. And certainly not for a ditz like Harmony. Thinks she’s a SoCal princess. She’s a barmaid,” he said cruelly. “Dru might be crazy, but at least she’s got brains. Need that in a woman, I do.”

“It’s all about Dru, isn’t it?” she realized. “Because she dumped you. You’re taking it out on Harmony.”

“Not liking women much right now.” His face was cold and hard and resentful. A diagonal muscle jumped in his cheek. “You’re one to talk, Slayer. Taking up with that wimpy Parker git because Angel dumped you on your arse.”

“Shut up!”

“Why the dishrag? No, really. I want to know. He’s a user, that Abrams. Anybody can see that. Except for bints with over-active hormones, I guess,” he added unkindly.

“It’s none of your business!”

“He’s got wet eyes. Tell you something free, Slayer. You see someone with wet eyes like that, you run like hell. That git’s never had to work for anything in his life. He just turns on the soppy stare, all soulful and whatnot, and he gets it all. No spine, that one. Limp noodle. All wet.” He grinned suddenly. “Bet he didn’t even get you off.”

Buffy flushed. Parker had been disappointing. Spike laughed knowingly.

“Yeah, thought so. Humans will never do it for you, Slayer. Not when you can break ‘em like a twig. That’s why I never take up with humans. No fun when you can’t let yourself go. Always have to hold back just in case you do them some damage.”

“He’s normal!” she flung at him angrily.

“You pulling my chain?” he asked in astonishment. “What’s normal got to do with you? You’re more than normal, Slayer. You need someone more than normal too.”

“Yeah, I’m a freak,” she muttered.

“We’re all freaks here, Slayer, remember? But you’re special. Do you honest to God want to be normal?” he asked in amazement. “Or are you just shitting me? Have a house with a white picket fence, dog, two point five kids? Turn into June Cleaver, vacuuming her house in pearls, waiting for hubby to come home from the office? Pfft!” It was a disdainful, contemptuous sound. “You’d hate it.”

She had, when she lost her powers during the Council’s Cruciamentum test.

“That’s not the point.”

“Who sold you that crock of shit?” His eyes were penetrating. “It was Angel, wasn’t it? Really pulled a number on you, didn’t he? Couldn’t take the heat. Didn’t have the willpower to stay with you unless he could fuck you. Some great love, that is.”

“Like you would know!”

“Slayer, Dru was sick a year before I found a way to cure her. Stayed with her, din’ I? Found the solution.”

She looked at him in unwilling realization. “You really loved Dru, didn’t you?”

His mouth twisted. “Yeah.”

“And you don’t even have a soul.”

He looked at her scornfully. “Can love without a soul, Slayer. Not wisely, perhaps. But well.”

There was a little silence. Spike pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his duster pocket and lit one, then looked at the pack sadly.

“Have to ration these.”

“It’s different with Angel,” Buffy said suddenly.

“Oh, yeah?” He blew a long plume of smoke at the ceiling. “Soul goes bye-bye with a moment of perfect happiness? Well, find a way to stabilize it. What’s Angel doing about that? Should be looking for a way around it. That’s what I’d do.”

He would.

“Why’d Dru dump you anyway?” she asked. It suddenly seemed to her to have been a very silly thing to have done.

His lips tightened and his gaze came down to her face. Something moved in his eyes, irresolute, angry and resentful. He stared at her for a moment as if he were seeing her for the first time.

“What?” she asked, looking away uncomfortably from that focused blue gaze. “Do I have something on my face?”

“What? No. Sorry. Thinking. Dru just...got some weird ideas in her head. Didn’t like that truce that we had. Kept saying...” He broke off abruptly, looking away. “Didn’t make any sense. She’s always been mental, but this time she really spaced out.”

“Oh.”

There was another little silence.

“Maybe I really was taking it out on Harm because of Dru,” he said suddenly. “But, sod it, she’d drive anyone to murder.”

Buffy grinned involuntarily. “When I heard she had a boyfriend, I thought he must be the most tolerant guy in the world.”

Spike snickered. “Well, that’s not me.”

“I should say not. She’s pretty though,” she added to excuse him.

“Prettier than you, Slayer.”

“Thanks ever so,” she mocked, amused.

“You’re not pretty, Slayer. You’re beautiful. Got force.”

She gaped at him.

“Just saying,” he muttered, shifting uneasily in his seat.

“Well, uh, thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.”

“Not so bad between the sheets either, Slayer.” His eyes had lit with mocking laughter, vividly blue. “Should get it on sometime, the two of us. Think you’ll find you’ve been missing something with those other two gits.”

Her breath caught. He was hot. And very sensual, very tactile. She wondered what it would be like to...And she wasn’t thinking that way! Not about Spike!

“You wish,” she growled.

“Maybe I do,” he muttered to her complete surprise.



TBC
End Notes:
Glossary:
aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural /
nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural
Chapter 2 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 2

The bath was an experience.

For one thing, the tub itself was huge. She supposed it had to be when made to accommodate people over seven feet plus. She could nearly swim in it. It was made of some red stone with white speckles and the water in it was thankfully hot. Lighting came from globes on the walls, which shed a warm, yellow light. Her clothes were carried away with many a scandalized glance from the staff at the gauzy, blue top, white camisole and black pants. To be cleaned and pressed, they said at her worried objections; they would be returned in the morning.

Then they wanted to scrub her back.

“Uh, no,” Buffy said and sent them away. But the minute she had finished her bath and stepped out of the tub once again, she was immediately wrapped in enormous towels and swept off to be dressed like a doll in what they considered the correct attire—an exquisite brocade coat that buttoned from throat to hem, over a long, silky skirt and delicate, embroidered slippers. Very beautiful, but completely impractical for her purposes. Still, she wasn’t planning any mayhem tonight.

Her hair fascinated them. The color was unusual for them. They were all raven-haired and she guessed from the reactions that blonde hair was unheard of. They spent quite some time drying and brushing it out, nattering amongst themselves in a speech Buffy didn’t understand. It must be some dialect that Adara hadn’t woven into the spell. They wanted to braid her hair, but even though it fell to her shoulderblades, it was still too short to make what they considered a proper braid. Theirs all fell to their waists, even the men’s, Buffy had noticed.

“I kinda like it loose,” she said apologetically and, with much chatter and laughter, they unbraided it and brushed it out loose again.

“Like sunlight,” one of the staff remarked, stroking it lightly. Buffy smiled at her.

Dinner was being served in what they called the private dining room, which turned out to be nearly as sumptuous as the state one. The door on the other side of the circular salon flew open just as she came out of her bedroom and Spike ricocheted out.

“And I want my own clothes back tomorrow morning!” he yelled over his shoulder to a chorus of giggles from the staff. They were all smiling, including Spike.

He was barefoot and was wearing pants made out of some black cloth and a silky, maroon shirt defiantly open and flying back as he strode forward.

“Wanted to stick me in a sodding brocade straightjacket!” he grumbled. “And slippers!” he added with immense scorn.

Whoa! Whoever thought he would look like that under the T-shirt! Totally ripped, alabaster satin skin, taut sixpack, a really, really gorgeous bod. Grecian statue time. Buffy stared. The staff were staring appreciatively also. Emer’s voice was heard, scolding sternly, and the staff vanished.

“Haven’t been given a bath since I was in the nursery,” he muttered and Buffy giggled helplessly.

“You’re kidding! Did they actually...?”

“The older ones did.” He grinned. “Have to say, I enjoyed it.”

“Oh, I bet you did!”

“Did you get a load of that bathtub? Sodding gold taps!”

“And made of some weird stone that looked like salami.”

“Porphyry. Romans thought that was the Imperial stone. Used it for their emperors. Guess they like that kind of thing here as well. Looking kinda spiffy yourself, Slayer.”

“I feel like I’m playing dress-up,” Buffy sighed. “Can’t fight in these clothes.”

“Yeah, that’s why I wouldn’t let them button me up into one of those brocade gizmos. Told them I’d cut their hearts out if I didn’t get my own clothes back in the morning.”

“Nothing like tact. For God’s sake, Spike! I know it’s almost impossible for you, but don’t offend these people!”

“Oh, they thought it was funny. Know it’s hard for you to believe, but I can be charming when it’s required.”

“Yeah, right,” Buffy muttered, but the staff did seem to like him, incredible as that was.

Dinner arrived, starting with a delicate soup and going through several carefully varied courses.

“Chef’s trying to suss out what we like,” Spike said accurately. He was tasting every dish first, that vampire immunity to poisons valuable here where neither of them knew what was being served. “I wouldn’t touch that meat course, Slayer. There’s something in it I don’t think human stomachs will take kindly to.”

He ate it happily though, but passed on the fish course which was in a white sauce that he found too bland for his palate. Buffy ate that with pleasure though. She was hungry and the food was delicious. After dessert—a cream and fruit confection they both enjoyed—they went back to the living room where Spike poured himself another glass of shibei from the carafe that was now permanently situated there.

“Come and take a look at this, Slayer,” he said from out on the balcony where he had wandered, restless as usual.

She joined him and found him looking, not at the tiled roofs of the city sweeping outwards in all directions, but at the Hasjarad itself. They were on the highest point of it and the building was enormous, an amazing collection of towers and domes and flying buttresses..

“A city in itself,” said Spike. “Gonna see whether I can get a look around this pile tonight. You go to bed, Slayer. You’re looking tired and I’m a creature of the night, ain’t I?”

He grinned at her.

“What are these lights?” Buffy asked, stopping beside a globe as they stepped back in again. “It’s not electricity.”

“Gas lamps. Coal gas, I’d say. That’s what heats the bath water too. Real modern and up to the minute it was when I was a boy. Allowed people to work without worrying what season they were in. No more short winter days. Can see whenever you want. Candles are lousy at night when you want to read or work.”

“Never even thought of that.”

“Never had to.” He laughed at her. “Born to all the twentieth century miracles, you were.”

“What a change that must have been!” she said, suddenly seeing how much he had adapted to in his unnaturally extended lifetime. “From gas lamps to electricity and computers.”

“Rollercoaster ride. But it was fun! Wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

She looked at him with interest. “You like being a vampire.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Angel doesn’t.”

“Oh, well, that wanker! Never did know how to enjoy life.”

“Is that because of the soul? Y’know, the guilt and all that?”

“Maybe. But he was a Grinch before that anyway. Wasn’t happy unless he was busting some poor sod’s ass or fucking with their minds. Never knew how to have fun.”

Say what you would about Spike, he had an enormous zest for life.

Emer came into the room and bowed. “Lady Adara asks if you would be offended by Guild protection, nefa’in. It is customary and she has sent two individuals for your approval.”

“Protection for us or against us, I wonder,” Spike murmured in Buffy’s ear. “Take ‘em on, pet. Won’t be hard to get away from them if we have to.”

“Thank Lady Adara for us,” Buffy said formally. “We are pleased to accept their protection.”

The guards were one male, one female, both in black leather and with the calm, cool, impassive faces and the air of quiet professionalism that Buffy was starting to recognize as belonging to the Guild.

“Cadhi and Dehren,” Emer said and both guards bowed.

“Dehren, is it?” Spike said to the man. “Guess you’re mine. Right then. I want to take a look around this place. Will you show me?”

Dehren bowed. “Yes, aver.”

“Wait one.”

He turned and headed back to the bedrooms, tilting a brow at Buffy as he passed. He had an amused look in his eye and Buffy guessed he was about to test where exactly the man’s loyalties lay.

“I must set up the post, avera,” Cadhi said, bowing, then headed for the guard post beside the foyer.

“Don’t wait up for me, Slayer,” Spike said, coming back with his duster and Docs on. He grinned at her. “Gonna keep this git on the hop most of the night,” he said softly in her ear as he passed.

“Can I get you anything else, avera?” Emer asked as the two men left.

Buffy shook her head. “No, thank you. I think I’ll go to bed. It’s been a long day. Just make sure I have my clothes back in the morning.”

“Yes, avera. Only...they are not very seemly for one of your position.”

Buffy looked down at herself. “And these are?”

Emer nodded. “If you don’t like them, we could make others...”

“Oh, they’re beautiful! Only they aren’t good for my purposes. Champions need other garb,” she said dryly. “Wait!”

She strode into the foyer and called Cadhi out from the guard post.

“Now these!” She walked around Cadhi. Cadhi was wearing the usual buttoned-to-the-throat coat, but it was slit to the waist and worn over pants and boots, not skirt and slippers. “How well can you move in that, Cadhi? Can you kick?”

Cadhi smiled, her impassive face suddenly betraying a pleasant personality beneath the formality.

“Shall I demonstrate, avera?”

“Please.”

The foyer was tiled and almost bare of furniture. Cadhi had plenty of space to show how her clothes would move to any kick, bend or jump.

That’s what I want,” said Buffy.

“But only the Guild may wear that,” Emer protested with a nervous glance at Cadhi.

“It would be permissible in another color, nefai,” said Cadhi imperturbably. Buffy grinned at her and she smiled back.

“Whatever you think is suitable, Emer,” she said. “Just cut like that.”

“But...”

“I’m not a lady, Emer. I’m here to do a job and I will be carrying weapons and more than likely using them. These clothes I’m wearing are beautiful, but impractical. Those are practical. So if the Guild has no objection, those are the clothes I need.”

Emer looked dubious, but nodded reluctantly and Buffy went off to bed with a relieved mind.

She didn’t know what time Spike came back, but when she woke up, his bedroom door was shut and the staff said he was still sleeping. They sounded worried and she had to explain that he was naturally nocturnal and had been up most of the night.

Her own clothes were back, neatly cleaned and pressed, but beside them were laid out another lovely brocade jacket and silk skirt. She laughed, then decided to wear the ‘seemly’ clothes until circumstances called for the others.

She had breakfast by herself, then wandered around the premises, feeling rather bored and wondering what these people did for entertainment. She opened a book in the library, but found that she couldn’t read the language; Adara’s spell apparently operated on sound rather than sight. She flipped through the book, glancing at the color plates, then looked up with relief as voices in the foyer announced that a visitor had arrived.

It was Adara and her inevitable guards. The four Guild members remained in the foyer, chatting, while Adara came through into the living room.

“May we use the study, avera? There is a table there where I can unroll these maps,” she said, holding up the thick cylinder that she had brought with her.

Buffy nodded and they went there. Adara explained everything clearly and concisely, and Buffy had arrived at a good understanding of what these people’s problems were when Spike tapped quietly on the study door.

“Slayer, I need to talk to you.”

He was wearing his own T-shirt and jeans again though his feet were bare, and his face was oddly grim. Buffy glanced at Adara who nodded, then followed Spike to his room. At the door, she balked, wondering whether the staff would get the wrong impression if she went into his bedroom.

“Just get in there, Slayer,” he said harshly. “Not going to jump your bones, okay?”

“Wasn’t thinking that,” she muttered.

His room was the match for hers, except in gold rather than cream, down to the enormous bed and gilt and silver-washed furniture.

“What’s up?” she growled.

Spike jerked his chin at a glass of blue liquid that stood on a table.

Buffy frowned at it. “What’s that?”

“Blood.”

Her jaw dropped. “Blood? But it’s blue!”

“Noticed that, did you?”

“But...Oh, come on! That can’t be blood! Blood’s red!”

“On Earth. In this dimension, blood’s blue. Not hemoglobin. Hemocyanin.”

“What?”

“Copper based. Not iron based. Some molluscs and limpets have it on Earth. I think they even make some kind of cancer treatment out of one of the limpet bloods.”

“But...” She suddenly realized why he was looking so grim. “Can you drink it?”

“No.”

“Have you tried?”

“Yes. Threw up,” he said simply.

“Oh, God!” She plopped down on the edge of the bed and stared blankly at him.

“Give me the Gem,” he said.

“What?”

“The Gem of Amara. Don’t need to feed if I have the Gem. Impervious to everything, including starvation.”

She shot to her feet. “Spike, if this is a ploy to get the Gem of Amara...!”

“Isn’t. Want me drink that stuff? I will. Then you can watch me throw it back up again.”

She looked narrowly at him. “You’re serious.”

“Dead serious. Literally. Think I’d kid around about something like this? Not looking forward to turning into a living skeleton. Like those famine pictures from those dusty countries, only not half as funny.”

His jaw was set hard and his lips were tightly compressed. She could tell by the bleak, desperate look in his eyes that he was telling the truth.

“I don’t have it, Spike.” Strangely, she was sorry to have to say it.

“What?”

“I don’t have the Gem of Amara.”

“You took it off me right before they pulled us over here! What do you mean, you don’t have it!”

“I dropped it when the darkness hit us.”

“You dropped it in the void?”

“Yeah. Sorry,” she said weakly.

“Oh, bollocks!” This time he plopped down on the bed and sat there, staring into space. “After all that work,” he said blankly.

“That’s all you can think about? The work it took to find it? Damn it, Spike, if you can’t feed, you’ll...you’ll...”

“Dust. Yeah. I know. Well, that’s a kick in the slats, innit? Thought I’d live forever. Immortal.” He grinned wryly. “Oh, well, all good things must come to an end.”

“Spike...”

“Not the way I thought I’d go, though. Thought I’d go out fighting. Wanted to. Fists and fangs. That’s the way to go, yeah. Not starving to death. It’s funny really.” He gave her a twisted smile. “You must be getting a charge out of this, Slayer. Don’t have to raise a finger to get shot of me. But we were good enemies, weren’t we?”

“Don’t use the past tense!” she yelled at him, surprising both herself and him.

For a moment, they both stared at each other, then:

“Stay here,” she snapped and stormed out of the bedroom and back into the library. “Lady Adara!”

Adara jumped. “Yes, nefai?”

“Is all blood blue in this world?”

“Yes, of course. What other color would it be?”

“Are there no animals, fish, birds, anything, that have red blood?”

“Of course not. Red? Red blood is impossible. Unnatural.”

“Guess it would be.” She whirled to the foyer. “Dehren!”

“Yes, avera.” All four Guild members were on their feet. “Is something wrong?”

“I know this will sound ridiculous, but would you prick your finger?”

Dehren gave her an astonished glance, then drew his dagger out of his belt and pricked his left forefinger. The drop of blood that welled up was blue.

“Thank you,” said Buffy numbly. “I’m sorry for disturbing you.”

Leaving them staring, she went back to Adara who was on her feet, waiting for an explanation.

“What is it?” she asked. “What is wrong?”

“It’s Spike. He can’t drink the blood of this world. He’ll die. You have to send him back.”

Adara gasped. “But, nefai! We can’t!”

“You must! I’ll stay. I’m the one you want. The one girl. The champion. All that rot. You don’t need him. You have to send him back!”

“But we can’t, nefai! The passage will not open for sixty days!”

“In my world, portals open whenever we want. I mean,” Buffy corrected hastily, “whenever a witch tells them to.”

“Your adepts must be more skilled than we are. We only learned to work with the Void a year ago. It is such a new art! And Baniel, the adept who found how to open the passage, died doing it. He was very old and very wise. He might have found how to open the passage whenever he chose, but we do not have the ability. We are just stumbling in his footsteps. Even his notes were burned when he burned and we had to do all from the memories of his apprentices.”

“Sixty days,” said Buffy numbly.

“Fifty-nine now,” Adara proffered hopefully. “Perhaps...he could...hold out that long?”

“Perhaps. He is a vampire,” Buffy muttered, almost to herself.

“I’m so sorry! We never thought...We never intended...”

“You couldn’t have predicted this. No one could. It’s not your fault. You didn’t mean to. We’ll figure something out.”

She saw Adara and her guards off, then went back and tapped on Spike’s door before opening it.

“Spike?”

“I heard.” He was lying flat on his back on the bed, one knee bent, smiling crookedly up at the ceiling.

“I’m sorry.”

He had an odd look on his face when he turned his head to stare at her. “You really are, aren’t you?”

She gave him a rueful smile. “Well, y’know. What you said about being a good enemy. And an honorable one, Spike. This doesn’t seem right.”

“Ah, well. Can’t complain about the way the dice fall. Had a good run so far.”

“Can you hold out that long?”

“Maybe. Won’t be good for much by the end of it.” He sat up suddenly, an arrested look on his face.

“What?” she asked.

“Y’know, we should see what we can do about this problem of theirs while I still can be of some use.”

Her brows rose. “You’d help with that?”

“Why not? Rather keep busy. Better’n lying about brooding like the great poof.” He cocked a mocking eyebrow at her. “Hate to have anybody think I was like him.”

“Okay, what’s up?” she asked suspiciously. “Altruism doesn’t become you, Spike.”

He grinned. “Don’t have throw insulting terms like that about, Slayer. It just occurred to me. They brought us here by magic, didn’t they?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Said they had a problem, did a spell asking for a champion and bam! We get yanked here.”

“With you so far.”

“Well, if we solve the problem, we should get sent back bam! Right? Spell might do that, without waiting for the sodding sixty days.”

There he went again. Looking for solutions. Never gave up, did Spike.

She grinned at him. “You really are an optimist.”

“Rather that than going into a funk.”

“No guarantee it’ll work that way.”

“No harm trying. Y’never know. Anything can happen. If not, we’ll make it happen.” He bounced to his feet and snapped his fingers at her provokingly. “C’mon, c’mon. Let’s get a move on. What’s the gen on this pickle they’re in?”

“Uh, well, seems about a year ago, something started attacking their villages and farms, even small towns. Places totally destroyed, like a bomb had gone off. No survivors to give any clue about what caused it. Just charred bodies.”

“Could it be a bomb?”

“They don’t seem to have discovered gunpowder. Unless someone has and this is the first use of it.”

“Unlikely. What about Adara and her lot? These ‘adepts.’ If they can get people across this Void, surely they can get a lead on whatever this is.”

“Looks like the void thing is the only thing they’re good at and most of that seems to be this guy Baniel’s work. They’re more like scholars or hedge witches. Jenny Calendar or Willow seem to have more power than they do. I understand that it took the whole convocation of them to open the portal and bring us through. Adara certainly can’t do it herself.”

“Great. Any pattern?”

“Not that I can see. She’s got all the places that were hit marked on the maps. Come and take a look.”

They pored over the maps.

“Every place that was targeted is on the northern side of the mountains,” Spike remarked. The mountains ran like a belt three-quarters of the way down the continent. “Aside from that, there’s no pattern. It looks totally random. What’s on the south side? Another kingdom?”

“Nope. Belongs to Tariess, like the rest of the whole enchilada.”

“Rebels, maybe?” he suggested.

“Politically, everything’s just golden. I asked. Tariess is perfecto-boy. Nobody’s got a down on him. Revolutionaries are out.”

“Never know. But they’d target cities, wouldn’t they? Not smallish places like these. That’s the capital, isn’t it?” He put a finger on the star that marked it. Neither of them could read the writing on the map, but that was the only place with a star. “We’re here, aren’t we?”

“Emladris. Yeah.”

“The closest disaster area’s, what, three hundred miles away? Let’s go take a look.”

“This culture might not be capable of long distance travel.”

“Don’t see why not,” he shrugged. “Railroads were contemporary with gas lamps in the England of my time.”

“Well, the China of your time didn’t have either.”

Spike let his jaw drop. “You were awake in history class?”

‘Idiot!” She hit his shoulder and he laughed.

“They must have some means of transportation, Slayer.”

“I’ll ask. Wonder if they’ll let us go.”

He grinned. “Tell them their champion insists on it.”

Dehren and Cadhi showed no dismay at the request, just said they would pass the message along.

“You were right. They do have trains.”

“Thought they might.” He poured himself a glass of shibei.

“Take it easy with that stuff.”

“You have no idea of my capacity for drink, Slayer.”

“Saw you stone-blind last year,” Buffy said scornfully and he tilted an amused eyebrow at her.

“And you wouldn’t believe how much it took to put me there.”

“DeSoto carpeted with empties?”

“Door to door.”

Cadhi came back with Emer at her side. “Tariess lord has placed his personal carriage at your service, avera. We can leave whenever you say.”

“Private train?” murmured Spike in her ear. “And a message reaching the High Pooh-bah so fast? They’re giving you carte blanche, Slayer.”

“You will wish to change your clothes, avera,” Emer said.

Buffy looked down at her fragile and impractical coat. “Oh, yes.”

Emer, with triumph, showed her the clothes that the palace tailors had come up with overnight— an exact replica of Cadhi’s clothing, except in honey colored leather.

“This is perfect! How did you do it so fast?”

“We are accustomed,” said Emer proudly.

“Well, well. Golden girl,” said Spike dryly when she turned up in that. “Appropriate.”

Emer looked hopeful. “We could...”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” said Spike at once. He pointed at Dehren’s outfit. “That’s his uniform? This is mine.”

Emer sighed.

“Where’d you put those swords we liberated?”

“It is our job to protect you, nefa’in,” Dehren said.

“We protect ourselves.” Spike looked at him thoughtfully. “Or don’t your bosses trust us with weapons?”

“The Guild finds most civilians have not the skill,” said Dehren, a clear understatement.

Spike grinned nastily. “Have to prove ourselves, do we? Right then, we will, once we get back from this little expedition.”

“We don’t really need weapons for a train ride,” Buffy said diplomatically.

“Or ever,” murmured Spike with a flash of fang in her direction, hidden from the others. He looked back at Dehren. “You’re evading the issue.”

“No,” said Dehren stiffly. “We are Guild. We have been assigned to you, therefore we are yours. You may trust us.”

“Right. We will then,” said Spike to Buffy’s surprise.

She didn’t question him about it until they were on the train and seated at a distance from Dehren and Cadhi who had automatically taken up guard positions close to the door. Their party was able to board without even leaving the Hasjarad, since the train station was immediately under it. The coach itself was, unsurprisingly, the usual exercise in opulence, all red velvet hangings and gold fringes and its own steward. shibei and tea were immediately provided.

“This Guild,” said Spike when they were under way and the sound of the wheels covered their lowered voices. “I’m starting to get the way it works. Not exactly like our police or army. Once they assign a person, that person’s loyalties seem to transfer to the new employer. I got Dehren to show me all around the palace last night and he never jibbed, not even when I insisted on being shown the armories and other sensitive places like that.”

“Unusual.”

“They seem to operate even independent of this Tariess git and I thought he was the ruler.”

“Different branch, you mean? Like the separation of Church, State and Judiciary?”

“Mm. And I getting the feeling that they might be the Judiciary part, strange as the thought might be.”

Buffy grinned involuntarily. “Lawyers with swords? Come on.”

He laughed. “Vigilante justice. Trial by combat. Have a dispute, fight it out, death or defeat of your opponent is proof of the rightness of your claim. But don’t fight yourself. Hire the Guild to do it for you.”

Buffy frowned. “Like hiring a cop? Don’t know about the ethics of that.”

“Seems to work for them.”

“Dehren told you this?”

“Yeah. Has been done, y’know, in Britain, Japan. Various times, places.”

Buffy gave him a narrow glance. “What are you getting at?”

“Might be good to get them on our side.”

“We have sides now? Everyone seems awful friendly.”

“Didn’t like some of the vibes I picked up last night. That Lehren git has, not followers exactly, but people who agree with him. Best to watch our backs.”

Vampire. Used to being at odds with the whole world, distrusting everyone.

“Haven’t survived this many years without being careful,” he said and she nodded.

“I hear you.”

It took to mid-afternoon to get to the town that had been hit by the weird whatever. It had been burned to the ground, utterly devastated. Nothing but ash and cinders, all vegetation gone, even the checkerboards of field and pastures that would have surrounded the town no longer discernible. Dehren and Cadhi said that people, cattle, farm animals, every living thing within sight of the town had been charred to a crisp and vanished. Even the railway line had had to be replaced because the rails had been melted into slag.

“Haven’t seen anything like this since Churchill had Dresden firebombed in World War II,” Spike remarked as he prowled through the ruins. “Or what you Yanks did in Korea or ‘Nam. Nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning.”

“But this culture doesn’t have napalm.”

“Jellied gasoline?” said Spike to Dehren and Cadhi, and got totally uncomprehending looks in reply. “Guess not.”

“No tracks of anything coming into the town,” said Buffy when they had made a complete circuit of the area. “Or if there were, they’ve been completely wiped out by the fire. Was there anything in the town itself that could have ignited such a firestorm?”

Both Guild members shook their heads.

“No obvious cause,” muttered Buffy in frustration.

“We’ve looked, avera,” said Cadhi.

“By ‘we’, you mean the Guild.”

Cadhi nodded. “It started with small farms and it was at first thought that some resident had been careless with a lantern in a hay barn. But then the numbers grew, then became not only farms, but whole villages. That’s when the Guild began to investigate. We have been searching for the cause for a year, but...”

“Don’t need a champion,” muttered Spike. “Need Sherlock Holmes.”

“Yeah,” sighed Buffy. “Champions fight things. Can’t fight it if you don’t know what it is.”

“These incidents started a year ago?” Spike asked suddenly.

Cadhi nodded.

“That Baniel git died a year ago, just when all this started. Didn’t Adara say he burned? He burned, Buffy!”

“Like everything here! It’s an unusual way to die!”

“He was opening passages through the void. How did he burn? Why?”

“Adara didn’t say. Cadhi, do you know?”

Dehren and Cadhi looked bewildered.

“He was the mage,” Cadhi said slowly. “The Eldest. He found the passages through the Void. He died finding them. I know no more of him.”

“Something from the Void.” Spike was rocking back and forth on his heels, his hands on his hips. “He opened a passage and something came through. The way we did.”

“But something deadly,” Buffy said.

“Something inimical.”

They stared at each other.

“This is speculation,” Dehren said. “You make a leap with no thread for a bridge.”

“It makes sense though,” muttered Spike.

“We need to talk to Adara,” Buffy said. “We need to talk to someone who saw him die.”

“What they should have called is a witch, not a champion,” growled Spike. “Someone with real power who can track this thing down. Shit, even someone like your Red. How much you wanna bet it’s something magical? Some kind of force or something.”

“Please don’t say that,” groaned Buffy. “I’m great with the physical. I don’t do forces. Forces aren’t physical. What am I supposed to do? Stake it?”

Spike grinned at her. “Maybe we can short it out. Lightning rods, anyone?”

“So comforting,” she sighed.

“You’ll figure it, Slayer,” he said gently. “That’s what you do, isn’t it?”

“I guess.” But something in her relaxed.

It was the simplicity of his confidence in her, which was nothing like the Scoobies’ reliance upon her. The Scoobies laid all their problems on her and waited for her to tell them what to do or fix things for them. She was used to having to carry all the burdens. Spike, on the other hand, was sure she would figure things out, while at the same time planning on figuring it himself, and then, when one or the other of them found the solution, had every intention of helping her implement it. He had somehow become a partner. A partnership was something she had never experienced before, not even with Angel who would tell her about a problem, but never fight the fight with her.

She watched him curiously on the trip back. They had never talked much, had always been at daggers drawn, too busy trying to kill each other for any real communication beyond threat and counter-threat. The only time they had ever really talked to each other was these last two days. She found she was enjoying it—his mockery and his laughter and his complete enthusiasm.

“What’s with this obsession of yours with killing Slayers?” she asked idly. “Most vamps would head for the hills, but you? You go looking for trouble.”

“It’s the challenge, Slayer,” he said, amused. “Never could resist the challenge. Like to live life on the edge. To the fullest. What’s life without risk? Boring. Like to test myself against the best. And you Slayers, you’re the best.”

“Like winning Olympic gold,” she said dryly. “Except no medals.”

“Oh, there are medals,” he mocked and held up the lapel of his duster. “This is a medal, Slayer. Got it off that Slayer in New York.”

She hadn’t known that. She looked at the duster in distaste. “A trophy.”

“To remind me of a really good day. She was good, that Slayer in New York. Almost as good as you. She had something of your style. And hot? Could have danced with her all night.”

“But you killed her.”

“She wasn’t good enough in the end, was she? I was better. That dance? That was all about speed and strength. The one in China was different. She was all about skill.”

“Did you get a ‘medal’ from her too?”

He laughed and brushed the scar on his left eyebrow. “Right here. I’ll always have it. The sword she used was blessed. You should have seen her with it. Absolute precision. Fluid, like water flowing. A delight to watch.”

“But she lost.”

“She had a flaw. She depended on her weapon too much.” He went into gameface mockingly. “I always have mine.” He shook off the gameface before anybody else could see, just in case it disturbed them. “When she dropped her weapon, she reached after it. Shouldn’t have. That second gave me my chance. The Slayer is the weapon. Anything else is just an extension of yourself and can be discarded. You, the Slayer, are the weapon.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes. You understand. That’s why you’re the best.” He tilted his head to her, like an accolade. “The best I’ve ever come up against. You beat me yesterday, Slayer. And I had the Gem too. You beat me fair and square.”

“I did, didn’t I?” They smiled at each other. “And are you going to keep on trying?”

There was a little silence. He looked down suddenly.

“Not in this dimension,” he said lightly.

“We are coming to the city, nefa’in,” the steward said, pausing beside them and bowing. “If you wish, there is a good view on the right side of the carriage. The rails make a curve here.”

They both stood up and went to the right side of the car, balancing against the rocking of the train, and bent to peer out of the window. The city sprawled before them, roof tiles flashing in the sunlight, the geometric grid of its streets clear at this distance and this elevation.

The car lurched. Buffy lost her balance and Spike caught her with one arm. She found herself leaning against him, his body strong and cool against hers, his eyes very blue as he looked down at her. His pupils were dilating, folding open like the petals of a flower over an intense, burning darkness. She found herself falling into that blackness.

She heard his breath catch, then felt it shudder against her face. His lips were parted and suddenly she had the intense desire to know the inner shape of his mouth.

The car lurched again.

“You’d better sit down, Slayer,” he said roughly. “You’ll get just as good a view sitting down and you won’t have to worry about breaking an ankle.”

“Yes,” she said and pulled away hurriedly.



TBC
End Notes:
Glossary:
aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural /
nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural
Chapter 3 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 3

They were very stiff and awkward the rest of the day, avoiding each other’s eyes.

Buffy had sent a message to Lady Adara, saying that she wanted to discuss something. Adara couldn’t make it that night, but dropped in on her way to the Council chambers as Buffy was having breakfast the next morning. She declined the breakfast Buffy offered her, but accepted a cup of tea to keep Buffy company while she ate.

“No, nefai,” she said when the matter was explained to her, “I do not know what exactly was the cause of Baniel’s death. We know that he was at the tower in Eigen Forest where he lived. There was a storm and he was on the roof of the tower, attempting some procedure, when something happened. Most of the tower was destroyed and Baniel’s body was later found, charred almost beyond recognition. We surmised a lightning strike, but now you think...?”

“It’s just a guess,” said Buffy. “Isn’t there any way to find out what exactly happened? Didn’t he have any servants? Did anybody survive?”

“One of the apprentices with him did. The rest of his attendants died when the tower crumbled.”

“Can we talk to that apprentice?”

“We can have him brought here. It will take a few days. He is at the Collegium on the sea coast, quite a distance away.”

“Guess we’ll have to wait,” said Spike, padding into the dining room in his bare feet.

He lounged against the table, reaching desultorily to try this niblet or that from the various chafing dishes, dropping them carelessly after one bite. Not really interested, she thought; more for a change of taste than anything. Buffy hoped the chef wouldn’t be offended.

“Not like we have anything else to do,” he said. He looked bored and antsy. He smiled at the staffer who brought him the carafe of shibei. “Lady Adara, do your adepts have any way to tell if a force like this might exist?”

“There is a device that reads power concentrations. But it has a limited range, less than seventy ri.”

Ri?”

“The distance a man can walk in an hour.”

“Like our league,” Spike mused. “Roughly three miles to a league, so this device can only read about a couple of hundred miles at the most,” he said to Buffy.

Buffy sighed. “None of the disaster areas are within two hundred miles. That town we went to yesterday was the closest at three hundred miles away. Has the device ever shown any strange concentrations or fluctuations of power?”

“We never looked,” confessed Adara.

“Doesn’t mean there haven’t been any,” Spike shrugged. “Whatever it is may never have come near Emladris.”

“It was Baniel’s device. He was concerned about unlicenced mages within the capital. Do you wish to see the device?” Adara asked. “I must go to Council now and I will be there the whole day, but I can take you to see it in the evening.”

“Yes, thank you. Can’t hurt,” Buffy sighed to Spike as Adara left and the two of them drifted into the living room.

“Yeah.” He had picked up one of the several little clockwork mechanisms that dotted the cabinets and tables among various other knickknacks, and was playing with it restlessly.

“Geez, Spike, be careful with that!” she exclaimed. “It’s probably a priceless antique or something!”

“It’s new. Any one can see that.”

“Well, it looks expensive.”

“What doesn’t? This ‘bird in a gilded cage’ bit is driving me crazy,” he muttered. “Isn’t even any telly.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Can’t we find someplace to spar or whatever, Slayer? Gotta blow off some steam.”

“Not a bad idea. Rather not get out of shape lounging around here with nothing to do but eat.”

When appealed to, Dehren and Cadhi said that the Guild had training rooms down on the ground floor of the Hasjarad and they didn’t see any reason why anyone should object to Buffy and Spike using them.

The training rooms were empty when they got there. It was a sunny day, so those of the Guild who had dropped in for a workout were outside. Dehren went off to ask permission of the Guildmaster for their presence while Cadhi showed them around. Spike looked Cadhi over thoughtfully.

“I’ll bet that sword and dagger aren’t the only weapons you’re carrying,” he remarked.

Cadhi smiled. “No.”

“Concealed daggers?”

“Yes.”

He walked around her. “That belt buckle.”

“You are observant.” She pulled it out a couple of inches and a thin wire showed.

“Garotte?”

“Yes.”

He looked down at her boots. “And lockpicks in your heels, no doubt. What is that?” he asked as she nodded, pointing at what looked like a hair ornament of black wood clipping back her braid.

She laughed and detached it. It was like a tiny dumbbell, the shaft fitting into her hand, the hard wooden ends swelling on either side of her clenched fist.

Very observant, aver. To strike the nerve points. For a woman, more effective than one’s hand.”

“I should say. Hit the right point, could knock someone cold with that,” he said appreciatively. “Anything else?”

She flexed her arm and a couple of metal stars fell into her palm. Spike took one and examined it, then passed it to Buffy. The points of the stars were wickedly sharp.

Shuriken,” he nodded, took the second one from Cadhi and flipped it casually at a target set up on the other side of the hall. It struck dead center, the star vibrating with the force with which it had been thrown.

Cadhi said nothing for a long moment. “That was an unusual distance,” she said at last.

“Not really.” Spike grinned at Buffy. “Think you can match that, Slayer?”

Buffy grinned back and flipped her own. The star whirled across the intervening distance and slid into place exactly beside Spike’s, metal kissing metal.

“Yeah, I think so.”

They both laughed. Cadhi’s eyes were widening.

“Guild protection?” Spike murmured scornfully in Buffy’s ear. “All they are is this dimension’s version of humans. Could break ‘em in half with one finger. Hey, look. Quarterstaffs.”

He spun one expertly, then tossed it to her.

“You know how to use one?” she said in surprise, catching it.

“Oh, yeah.” He grinned at her. “Hundred and twenty years I’ve been at the game. There isn’t a fighting technique I don’t know. Fooled around with stuff no one’s used in centuries. Just for the hell of it. And you’re the Slayer. It just comes to you, doesn’t it?”

He was right. Throw her a sword or a mace or a quarterstaff and something in her swept out and encompassed it. Slayer ability, for lack of a better term.

They faced off, starting out slow, testing each other, then rapidly gearing up to top speed. The crack of wood on wood filled the room as they slashed, blocked, ducked in a whirl of laughing motion, enjoying themselves. Then Buffy’s staff shattered abruptly—she had struck, he had blocked, and they had both put too much force into it.

“Dang! There must have been a flaw in the wood,” she said, tossing the two jagged pieces away. “Don’t want to stake you by accident.”

“Appreciate that,” he grinned.

They became aware of Dehren, Cadhi and an older man watching them. Dehren and Cadhi looked stunned; the older man impassive.

“Nobiren, Guildmaster,” Dehren said and Nobiren inclined his head with dignity.

Buffy nodded, matching his inclination exactly, no more, no less, and sensed Spike doing the same beside her.

“You are more than skilled,” Nobiren said.

“Idea finally got through, has it?” Spike said mockingly and the Guildmaster gave him a long, cool look.

Buffy elbowed him surreptitiously in the ribs. Spike sighed deeply, but subsided.

“You’re no fun,” he muttered.

Buffy ignored him.

“You called for champions,” she said to Nobiren. “And instead of choosing one of the Guild, the call brought us here. What should be obvious?”

“That you possess more abilities than we do,” Nobiren conceded. “You are granted access to whatever weapons or aid that we can give you, avera.”

“Thank you.”

“Glad that’s cleared up,” said Spike. “Hand to hand, Slayer?”

“Sure. Wanna rub it in a little more?” she murmured under her breath. “Is that it?”

“No harm in underlining the point,” he grinned. “Arrogant buggers. And I can use the exercise.”

They went at it fast and furious, showing off more than a little bit, but as always enjoying fighting each other. She had never had a better opponent than Spike, who made her stretch herself to the limit. And from the laughter in his eyes, he was having fun too.

Except he was a little off. She could feel it. This wasn’t the way he had fought back on the campus. A little less power, a little less precision, everything just slightly blurred and ragged. She looked closer at him as they wove back and forth. Was he paler? She couldn’t tell for sure. The man was a vamp; he was always pale. Was the lack of blood already starting to get to him? If so, he’d never make the sixty days.

They battled back and forth while she wondered whether this was really wise and whether he should be husbanding his strength instead of using it up like this and whether she should stop the match right now. He got her with a spinkick while she was distracted, knocking her back. She did a back somersault to recover her feet, then made a slashing strike at his neck. Since that was the only blow she could make from the position she was in, she knew that he would have the counter move ready and fully expected him to block the slash. She was already planning her own next move when, to her complete shock, the strike connected.

It took him right under the ear, a paralyzing blow for anyone, human or vamp. He crashed to the floor.

“Spike!”

Then he was up again, snarling. The fangs were out. He’d gone into full gameface—ridges, yellow eyes, the whole enchilada. She heard gasps of shock behind her.

avera!” she heard Cadhi yell.

She looked around. They had acquired an audience, all the Guild personnel who had been outside and had trickled in to watch once word got around of the contest going on inside. They lined the walls and were now snatching at weapons.

“For God’s sake, no! Stay away from him, you fools! He can kill you in a heartbeat!”

She heard the Guildmaster snapping orders. She didn’t pay any attention, too intent on Spike. He was moving towards her in a slow, flowing, feline glide like some big cat. The yellow eyes were blind, their pupils pinpoints. Predator’s focus, like a leopard; tunnel vision. He’d turned into a killing machine, only instinct driving him.

She backed away slowly, keeping his focus on her.

“Everybody stand still! Don’t attract his attention. He’s out on his feet. Working on automatic, like one of your clockwork toys.”

The blow had knocked his consciousness out, but his defensive instincts had taken over, keeping him on his feet. He would kill without a thought, purely in self-defence.

A massive wooden sword-rack came between them as she moved backwards. He struck it aside. Full strength. The wood splintered and powdered. She heard exclamations of shock, ignored them.

“Spike! Snap out of it! It’s me. The...” Better not say Slayer. God only knew what that might trigger in him. “Spike! We’re just sparring! Wake up!”

Someone to one side made an incautious move and he started to turn in that direction.

“No!” If he went after the humans, she would be forced to kill him just to protect them. She was strangely reluctant to do that. “Not that way! This way!”

Her yell brought his focus back to her. She backed again, drawing him away from the onlookers. Her foot struck one of the pieces of the broken quarterstaff. A perfect stake. She refused to pick it up. She wouldn’t give up on him. Not until she was forced to.

“Spike! The truce, remember? We have a truce. It’s me. Buffy!”

He stopped, something struggling in his eyes.

“Buffy?”

“Yes! Come out of it, Spike!”

His irises went from gold to blue. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed.

She caught him barely in time before his head cracked on the polished wooden floor. She knelt beside him, holding him limp against her, his head in the crook of her arm, kneading his neck just below his ear with the heel of her hand to ease the nerve cluster.

“Is he now stable?” the Guildmaster asked dryly.

“I think so.”

He was unconscious, but the gameface was fading away into his regular human features.

“What is he?” someone asked fearfully.

Buffy looked up angrily at all the staring faces.

“He’s a vampire. I’m a Slayer. We are what you called out of the Void to help you.”

The Guildmaster was issuing orders. The Guild members went away until there was only Cadhi and Dehren left, squatting on their heels beside them in concern.

“Will he be all right?” Cadhi asked.

“I don’t know.”

He was pale and his skin was cold. Vamps were normally cool, only room temperature, but she thought he felt colder than that. He moved a little. Then his lashes fluttered and he opened his eyes, staring at her looking worriedly down at him.

“Hey,” she said. “Welcome back.”

“What...?”

“I hit you and you went all psycho on us. No big.” She grinned.

“Fuck.” He tried to sit up. “My neck hurts.”

“Yeah, I hit you there. Sorry about that. Just lie flat a little longer.”

“Don’ know your own strength, Slayer. Gotta sit up,” he mumbled and shoved himself into a sitting position, then twisted his head from side to side until his neck cracked. “Oh, that’s better.”

She kneaded his shoulders while he sat with his head hanging.

“Too slow on the block,” he said suddenly. “I remember. My fault.”

“Not really.”

He looked around at the empty room and then at Cadhi and Dehren watching them uneasily.

“Some impression that must have made.”

“Oh, you made an impression. Scared the living daylights out of everyone, by the looks of things.”

“Inter-dimensional incident. Great.” He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. She saw that the rims were red. “Let’s get back upstairs. I need some shibei.”

“I think they’ll be taking us seriously from now on,” she said when they were back in their gilded cage and alone once more.

He grimaced. “That bad, was it?”

“You went all fangy.”

“That Lehren git and his type won’t like that.”

“Got weapons’ access now, so that’s a plus.”

“Huh.” He knocked back his shibei and frowned at the empty glass. “Why didn’t you stake me, Slayer?”

“It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t mean to.”

“Still.”

“I don’t know why, okay?” She spun away irritably. “It didn’t seem right, that’s all.”

“Well, thanks.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered, aware of his gaze intent on her face.

He kept watching her over the next few days, a strange look, dark and silken that brought the color up into her face when she caught it. That wasn’t often. They were both avoiding each other’s eyes.

She wanted him to stay still and husband his energies, but he flatly refused, insisting that he was fine and coming along to spar every day. They were both more careful where they struck in those sessions and Buffy deliberately held back whenever she could do so without his noticing. He was losing strength. She could tell. He never took his duster off these days and very often she caught him holding it tightly about him, as if trying to conserve warmth. His skin felt icy now when she touched him, his eyes were constantly red-rimmed, and veins were showing blue at his temples.

He had insisted on coming along to see Adara’s power detection device. It was evidently one of Baniel’s designs again and operated all by itself in a small room, feeding out reams of paper and largely ignored by everyone else. Only Baniel had ever looked at its output. When Spike asked whether he could look through the last year’s worth of printouts, the device and several cartons of papers were promptly delivered to their premises, much to Buffy’s dismay. The Convocation apparently was glad to get rid of them.

“Know you don’t read, Slayer,” Spike said, making fun of her. Neither of them could read the language, but that wasn’t necessary to make out graphs. “Don’t worry. I do.”

At least it would keep him occupied and off his feet, Buffy thought. The staff were worried about him too. They kept fluttering about, unobtrusively trying to make things easier for him whenever they could without being noticed. Like all normally active people, he hated showing weakness and lost his temper at himself, not them, when he did. Because they all liked him, everyone tactfully pretended that nothing was wrong.

Baniel’s apprentice turned up, a very bookish, very shy and very young man.

“I was the least member of Baniel-aver’s staff, nefa’in,” he explained. “I had only just begun my studies with him. That was why I was out in the stable yard that day when the others were on the roof, helping him.”

“Adara said a lightning strike happened.”

Sessun shook his head. “The storm was over by then, avera. I tried to tell the Convocation, but no one listened. The sun was out. There was light all around, except...except upon the tower.”

“What do you mean?” Buffy asked, frowning.

“There was a great darkness upon us, even upon the stable yard. I could see the forest all around bright with sunlight, but where I stood was shadow. And bitter cold, as if wind was blowing from the snows. But it was summer.”

“The cold of the Void perhaps?” Spike asked quickly. “Did Baniel open the Void?”

“I do not know, aver. When I looked up at the tower, it was already starting to crumble. Then Cook came running out of the kitchen and I tried to go to her and the stable collapsed and I knew nothing more. The rescuers said that they dug me out from under the rubble, but I know nothing of that. Only that everyone I knew there was gone, even Cook. It was a terrible thing.”

“I’m sorry to have had to remind you of it,” said Buffy gently.

“Not much farther ahead, are we?” Spike remarked when Sessun had gone.

“I wish they had brought us when something was happening,” Buffy muttered.

“They don’t even know themselves when this thing might hit. But it has been in Emladris. Look at these readings.” He held out several sheets of paper that he had extracted from the cartons he had been steadily working through. “See the jump in power concentration?”

“Whoa!” The jump almost went off the charts. “It’s big!”

“Yeah.” He was frowning at the graph. “It comes and then it goes almost at once. And not just once. Several times.”

“And nobody noticed? Something that big passes through the city and nobody notices?”

“Power isn’t necessarily apparent, Slayer.” He grinned at her. “Look at you. Little bit of a thing, all tiny and fragile-looking. Wouldn’t know what you can do, at first glance.”

She laughed. “True.” That underestimation had worked in her favor several times.

“Not enough information.” He scowled at the graphs. “Dammit, this is going too slow!”

“Lehren thinks so.” Lehren had been busy agitating, Cadhi said. He wanted them gone. Adara had told them that he had even approached the Guild about putting out a contract to remove them from this world. The Guild had so far refused to take on such a contract, and Tariess had promptly delivered an ukase forbidding the attempt. Since Tariess was the one who had authorized their presence here, a strike at the champions would be taken as a blow against himself and would be met with deadly force, he declared. The Guild, relieved, complied. Lehren presumably retired, cursing.

Certain Councillors thought that people’s morale would improve if the ‘Champions’ were kept in the public eye and suggested that they be made more visible. Tariess vetoed that also, to Buffy and Spike’s relief. They had no desire to be lionized at political or social gatherings and preferred to keep a low profile, all too aware of the backlash that would happen when the next attack occurred without their being able to stop it. And since they still didn’t know when, where or what would strike, that was absolutely guaranteed to happen. Lehren, of course, was going around saying that if they really were champions, they’d have destroyed the thing by now.

“Like to rip that wanker’s lungs out,” Spike muttered. “They couldn’t find it in a year. He wants us to do it in a week.”

“It’s been a week,” Buffy sighed, “and we’re still nowhere.”

“Mm.” He poured himself another glass of shibei.

She heard the lip of the carafe rattle against the rim of the glass in a way it would never have done back in Sunnydale.

“You’re getting weaker.”

He put down the carafe hurriedly. “Still be here when the crunch comes, Slayer. Don’t worry. You’ll have back-up.”

“I wasn’t thinking of that.” She was thinking of what he had said before about turning into a living skeleton. The way things were going, he would be that before the sixty days were up. And did one even recover from a trauma such as that? She didn’t know enough and he wouldn’t tell her. There wasn’t even a way to research it. “You’re weakening too fast.”

“It’s this dimension,” he said tiredly. “Heavier gravity and less oxygen. Have to expend more energy just to exist. You wouldn’t notice. A Slayer adjusts without thinking. So would I, if I were at optimal.”

“Should you be drinking that much?” He had been drinking non-stop. But carefully paced, she had noticed—a glass every half-hour. Anyone else would have been totally plastered. He, for a wonder, wasn’t even close to drunk, just sort of blurry.

“Calms the Hunger.”

“Oh!”

She hadn’t thought of how much and how tightly he must be controlling himself to keep that in check. Any other vamp would have been a raving lunatic by now, slashing at any living body in sight.

He was slouched down low in his armchair, his head on the back, half asleep. He’d been sleeping a lot recently. The body shutting down, she supposed, trying to conserve energy. His eyes were half-closed, their vivid blue dulled. She was sad to see that, sad to see all that vibrant vitality gone. Spike was always full of quick, restless energy, dynamic and full of life. This lassitude was just so wrong.

“Bet you wish you were still with Dru right now.”

He laughed a little. “What, in Brazil and still dealing with chaos and fungus demons? No, thanks, pet. Better off here.”

“That hit you hard.” As hard as it had hit her when Angel left. “You really loved Dru.”

“Hundred and twenty years.” His voice was blurred with drink and exhaustion. He was struggling to stay awake and to keep his eyes from closing. “Never had much luck with women. Not as a human and not as a vamp. Cecily...But then I was such a nerd as a human. Sodding, sappy poet. Made that sadsack Harris look like James Bond. ‘Course she threw me out on my arse. Just in time for Dru to pick me up out of the gutter.”

So that was how...

“My black goddess,” he muttered drowsily. “That was Dru. Thought she was my salvation. But she belonged to Angelus. Took me a while to understand that. But you keep trying, right? You do your best. You try to be worthy.”

“I think you were worthy.” Dru hadn’t deserved that loyalty, she thought.

“Nah.” He sighed. “Something wrong with me, Slayer. Always wanted to be loved. Never was. Something wrong. Flaw somewhere.”

“Maybe you just pick the wrong women.”

He was silent for a moment. “No. Pick the right ones. ‘One bright, particular star.’ But... always above me. Still. ‘One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ Right? ‘Andrea del Sarto.’ Now there was a poem that resonated with me. Browning. He had the words. Never could find the right words. Had the feeling, but never the right words. Never really a poet. Only wanted to be.”

He had wanted to be a poet as a human? She couldn’t even visualize that.

“I think,” she said gently, “your genius lies in other directions.”

He grinned muzzily and bitterly. ‘Killing. Yeah, I’m an artist at that. Destruction, not creation.”

“Fighting.”

He laughed. “Cyrano, with fangs instead of a nose. That play resonated too.”

His eyes opened suddenly and fixed on her face. It was that focused look again, intent and dark and bewildering. He was wide awake once more.

“I have a fatal attraction to the best. Sodding, stupid romantic. Not good enough. Ah, well.”

He reached for the shibei and fumbled, the glass stopper of the carafe falling from his stiff fingers. Buffy moved forward automatically to help and he flung up a hand.

“No!”

“Sorry,” she muttered uncomfortably. “Know you don’t like...Didn’t mean to...”

“Stay away from me.”

She frowned at him. “What?”

“Don’t come near me, Slayer. It’s not safe right now.”

She realized suddenly that for the last couple of days he hadn’t come anywhere near her, had stayed carefully several feet away, hadn’t even come down to the gym to spar.

“I don’t understand.”

“Think I can’t smell the blood? I’m a vampire, pet. I can smell it. I can feel it, with every beat of your heart. Come near me and you’d have to stake me to keep me from taking it.”

She gasped in shock. As ridiculous as that seemed, she had never even thought of it! Stupid! Stupid! She had iron based blood, red blood. In this dimension, she was the only thing with red blood. And he had known it all the time.

“Why didn’t you just take it?” she exclaimed.

“Gave my word, didn’t I? Truce.”

“There is such a thing as being too honorable, you moron!”

He started to laugh. “Never thought I’d hear you say that, Slayer! Boy, you can turn on a dime, can’t you? Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, is it?”

“Who do you think you are? Angel?”

“Hey! Don’t have to be insulting!”

“Sickeningly noble! And you don’t even have a soul!”

He scowled. “Told you before. I don’t do rape.”

“You’ve taken it by force before. Why didn’t you now?”

He didn’t seem to know where to look.

“Because...because...Because it’s you, ” he finished helplessly.

And that didn’t make any sense at all.

“Why didn’t you ask for it? God! I’ve been so dumb! I didn’t even realize!”

He was looking at her in astonishment. “You’re the Slayer. C’mon! Would a Slayer give her blood to a vampire? Didn’t need to ask to know the answer.”

“You’ve been as dumb as I have!” She stalked forward, sat down on the arm of his chair and shoved her sleeve up. “Here.”

“What? No!” He tried to struggle onto his feet and she pushed him flat again with one hand on his chest. “Buffy...”

“You don’t have to take much, do you? A Slayer’s blood is powerful, right?”

“Slayer...”

She held her wrist to his lips and, at the scent of the blood in her veins, his fangs began emerging, despite his every effort to keep them back.

“Spike. Drink. You need it.”

He swallowed hard. Then his breath shuddered against her wrist and he went fully into gameface. His hand pressed her wrist to his mouth and his fangs slid into her vein.

She had expected pain. Both the Master and Angel had hurt when they had bitten her. But then the Master had meant to kill her and Angel had been out of his head at the time. Spike’s bite was as smooth as silk. And then, as he began to drink, a different sensation took over. A singing, voluptuous rapture. She gasped and leaned against his shoulder, weak with pleasure.

Angel had taken too much, had put her in hospital. She hoped Spike wouldn’t do that. He might, since, after a week of starvation, he probably needed it more. She didn’t know whether she had the willpower to stop him if he took too much, the sensation was that deliriously sweet.

His free hand came up, two fingers pressing lightly into the hollow of her throat. Then his fangs retracted and he licked the puncture wounds on her wrist to seal them.

“Whoa, Spike! What was that?”

He grinned a little. The color was coming back into his face and his eyes were clear once more. The fingers against her skin, that had felt icy at first, were now only cool.

“We can make it feel good when we want to,” he said. “Seduction rather than violation. Why do you think humans pay for it in the bite shops?”

“Wow. Yeah, I get it now. You didn’t take that much,” she said worriedly. “Was it enough?”

“Enough for a start. I’ll need more tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“You’ll have made up the blood loss by then. Dangerous to take more right now. I could feel your heart starting to falter,” he explained and his fingertips pressed delicately again on the pulse point in her throat. “It’s steadying now.”

Even though the Hunger must have been insupportable, he had still kept his control. Which was more than Angel had done.

“You look better.” The rims of his eyes were no longer red and his chapped lips were already mending. Vampire healing on overdrive, making full use of Slayer blood.

“Feel better.” His hand closed lightly on her wrist, holding her back as she began to rise. “Slayer. Why?”

She didn’t really know. He was looking at her in amazement and wonder.

“Oh, lots of reasons,” she said lightly. “Because we’re partners. Because I don’t want to be alone. Because we’re friends, aren’t we?”

His lips tightened. “Here.”

“Here,” she agreed.

But when they were back in Sunnydale, what would they be? She could see him thinking that too. They both looked away.

“You still didn’t have to do that,” he said under his breath.

‘You deserved it,” Buffy muttered. “You were...worthy.”

His head jerked up and he stared at her. His eyes had widened, all darkness and confusion. Something in them brought the heat up into her face and she turned away hurriedly.


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary:
aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural /
nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: 3 miles
Chapter 4 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 4

“Spike-aver! You are well!”

Even that small amount of Slayer blood had worked a miracle. Spike came striding into the living room the next day, fully recovered, with all his normal ebullient energy, duster flying. The staff converged upon him with little cries of delight. He grinned up at them as they clustered around him, all talking at once.

“Slayer solved the problem. She’ll solve yours too. Just wait.”

“We had no doubts,” said Emer steadfastly and every one of the staff nodded.

The youngest member of the staff had hurried off and now came back with a single blue flower like a daisy in her hand. She presented this to Spike, with a deep bow.

“We are very glad,” she said simply and everyone else bowed too, very deeply and seriously.

“Thank you,” mumbled Spike, looking utterly taken aback.

“Breakfast,” said Emer sternly and with little gasps the staff flurried off to fetch it.

“Nice people, aren’t they?” Spike muttered to Buffy.

She glanced at him sideways, smiling. “Would you eat them if you could?”

He got an arrested look on his face. “No. Besides, they’re ours.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, they’re...they’re sort of family, y’know. Our household. You don’t eat family. The ones in your care, I mean.”

Interesting. Giles would have been fascinated by this glimpse into vamp ethics.

Spike ate breakfast with relish, where previously he had only picked at it, even taking seconds of a concoction of curried rice, eggs and smoked fish that was too spicy-hot for Buffy’s palate.

“This is good,” he said to the staffer serving him, who beamed.

“The chef will be pleased, aver. He has been most distressed.”

“Kind of like the kedgeree of my day,” he said to Buffy.

“I thought Victorian cooking was bland,” she muttered, gulping at some tea to cool her mouth. “This is way hot!”

“British Raj cooking wasn’t. You must have bitten into one of these little peppercorn things,” he said, crunching them happily.

Buffy stared in horror. “Did you just crunch that? I just barely licked one and it nearly blew my head off!”

“I like strong tastes.”

“Yeegh!”

He grinned. “Wuss.”

Cadhi came quickly into the dining room. “There’s been an attack, nefa’in.”

“Where?” asked Buffy, throwing down her napkin and rising quickly.

“Faisi. Some forty ri from here.”

“Can we go there?”

“Dehren is making arrangements.”

Spike was fully dressed, but Buffy had to change her slippers for boots. On a sudden thought, she waved at Spike from the doorway of her bedroom. He came over, puzzled.

“Do you need more blood?” she asked and held out her wrist.

He took it and bent his bright head to it. But instead of biting her wrist, he just kissed it lightly. With astonishment, she felt his cool lips move against her skin.

“Not till tonight. It’s not a good idea for you to go into a possible fight weakened by blood loss. But thank you for thinking of it.” He looked down at her, his eyes wry and faintly smiling. “Did I say thank you last night? I meant to.”

She felt the color rise in her face.

“Hey, no big,” she muttered and ducked into her bedroom, She didn’t know what was going on with him. For that matter, she didn’t know what was going on with herself.

The palace tailors had copied Cadhi’s outfit faithfully and Cadhi had shown her where the Guild’s concealed weapons could be hidden in it. Buffy had never been this well equipped in her life. She might not have a stake, but she was carrying more weapons on her person than she had ever done in Sunnydale.

“Won’t need swords,” said Spike, who had been talking to Cadhi while Buffy was getting her boots on. “Thing’s gone. Came in the night and took off again.”

“The Guild is at Faisi now, guarding the search and rescue operation,” Cadhi said. “They have crossbows and will provide swords if necessary. It is best if you have no impedimenta. Unless you can ride very well, avera?”

Buffy turned in panic. “Ride?”

“The rail line does not pass near Faisi and we will have to ride some ten ri.”

“Thirty miles on a horse?” Buffy exclaimed in horror.

“On h’laren. That is your ‘horse’, yes? Four-legged mounts.”

“Guess so.” Sounded close enough.

Spike was looking amused. “Why do I get the feeling you’ve never ridden before, Slayer?”

“Not exactly never. I do vaguely remember riding a pony at my seventh birthday party.” She gave him a despairing look and he laughed.

“Don’t worry. You’re a Slayer. It’ll come to you. Just have to manage to stay in the saddle until then.”

‘I suppose you know how to ride,” she growled resentfully.

“I’ve ridden, yeah. Plenty of places in the last century where horseback was the only way to get around.”

“Wonderful. I’ll be the only rookie in the group.”

It was a group. A Search and Rescue team came with them, comprised of both Guild and military personnel, plus earth-moving and other similar heavy equipment. A special train was taking the place of the luxury coach they had had the last time.

It took two hours to reach the point where they would have to change from riding a train to riding horses. The station looked like a doll’s house, all fretted wood and curlicues, charming. Buffy looked around as they stepped down onto the platform. Carts with teams of what looked like oxen stood on the right side of the platform and the heavy equipment from the train was being unloaded, then reloaded onto them. That would take its own time getting to Faisi, along with the operators. A few Guild members and military personnel headed that way, but all the others had gone to the left side of the platform and were heading down the steps to wait for their mounts in a clearing that had been made there. Buffy and Spike headed left as well.

Halfway down the steps, Spike stopped short.

“Uh, you’d better stay on the platform, Slayer,” he said with a laugh in his voice.

“Oh, my God,” said Buffy faintly.

A seething mass of mountainous, black forms was coming around the corner, snorting, squalling and slashing at each other. Their heads were massive, longer than her arm from shoulder to extended fingertip, and the lower jaw had tusks the length of her hand, blunt-capped with metal, otherwise they would be ripping each other’s shoulders to shreds as they bumped and jockeyed for position. They had claws instead of hooves, and they were gigantic, they loomed.

“Horses!” said Buffy bitterly.

The only thing those behemoths had in common with horses was that they had four legs, a mane and a tail.

“Horse equivalent,” said Spike, trying not to laugh.

Dehren and another two riders herded them closer, thwacking at them with riding crops while they squealed and kicked and tried to bite.

“They’re carnivores!” exclaimed Buffy, seeing one on the far side of the clearing stomp what looked like a rabbit under its claws, then gulp the crushed and bleeding corpse down with relish.

“Omnivores,” corrected Spike, watching another snatch at a bush, its flexible upper lip stripping all the leaves from a branch.

“Kill me now,” muttered Buffy.

“Not until we get back to Sunnydale,” grinned Spike. “I need your blood till then.”

“You truly are evil.”

Riders were snatching at reins and mounting. Spike was watching their technique intently. One thwacked a mount on the shoulder until it bent a knee, then grabbed a rein as fast as possible, got hold of the saddle, and then was flung upwards when the monster heaved itself upright again. Hopefully, one ended up in the saddle instead of being pitched clear over onto the ground on the other side.

“We have two quiet ones for you, nefa’in,” Cadhi called, already mounted and driving two h’laren towards them. “The stirrups have been shortened.”

Black and wicked eyes each the size of Buffy’s fist rolled towards them, and red nostrils flared and blew fiercely.

Buffy groaned. “Quiet!”

“Comparatively,” laughed Spike.

He caught the riding crop Cadhi threw him and whacked a huge shoulder solidly. The knee bent, Spike grabbed the reins and saddle, then was tossed upward as the creature straightened with a powerful snap. He landed neatly in the saddle and grinned triumphantly.

“Well done, aver!” called Cadhi.

“I am not doing that!” said Buffy flatly.

“No, no,” said Cadhi soothingly. “You told us you don’t ride, avera.”

She struck Buffy’s mount lightly on the crop and it knelt down.

“Just climb on, pet,” Spike called.

The thing was so big that, even though it was kneeling down, Buffy still had to jump to get her leg over its back. To her relief, they had given her a saddle with a pommel and the reins were wound around that.

“Do not touch the reins, avera,” Cadhi instructed. “Just hold onto the pommel.”

“No fear,” muttered Buffy. She already had a deathgrip on it.

The h’laren rose. Its forequarters came up first. Buffy found herself lying horizontally in midair, staring up at the sky. Her stomach lurched. After a horrible moment, the hindquarters rose. She was pitched forward sharply and bruised her stomach on the pommel. She keeled over to one side, losing the stirrup, and was pushed upright again by Spike’s straight arm. He was laughing and she could have killed him.

“Just hang onto the pommel and keep your feet in the stirrups, Slayer. With that saddle, you’re safer than in a rocking chair.”

“Says you!”

“No, he is right, avera,” said Cadhi. “You are quite safe. Do not touch the reins. You will not need them. h’laren are herd animals. This one will follow the rest. You will not have to tell it where to go and we will be beside you always. If we have to run...”

“No running!”

“If, avera. We stay on by balance. But don’t worry about that. What you should do is just hunch down low, center your weight and hold on to the saddle. You are so light, you are nothing to her. But they turn fast and if you do not keep low, you will fall. Stay low, join her center of mass and cling to the pommel. Understand?”

“The clinging part, yes. Oh, yeah, I’ll be clinging.”

“She’ll be all right,” said Spike nonchalantly and Buffy glared at him. He grinned.

“Unfeeling pig! I wish I were dead,” she muttered.

“How do you guide them?” Spike asked, ignoring that. “What are the signals?” And got a fast lesson. “Not that different. Except for the way you use the riding crop. Whack them to distract them from mischief, right? And they’re always up to mischief, by the looks of it.”

“You can say that again,” muttered Buffy, having to stifle a yelp as her mount swung its huge head to thump the shoulder of Spike’s mount. There was an audible thud. Apparently, the damn things’ sense of personal space was as well-developed as their build. Spike shifted his mount sideways until an acceptable distance between the two was reached.

“They will be better once we are moving, avera,” Cadhi promised.

Riders were already heading out, the whole mass of h’laren shifting and swinging northward, bawling and jostling for position as they strung out into a ragged line. Her mount moved forward also.

“Too high up,” moaned Buffy. The ground looked miles away and was now not only rushing by dizzyingly, but was also moving up and down with the h’laren’s gait. She had a sickening urge to lean towards it and found herself empathizing with the people who refused to go up tall buildings for fear they’d throw themselves over. She fixed her gaze rigidly between the h’laren’s ears and refused to look lower.

After a while though, she got used to the movement and was able to look around. As long as she didn’t look down, she was all right.

Spike grinned at her. “Better?”

“Some.”

They had to shout because of the distance they had to keep from each other. The size of these creatures and their tendency to chop at each other or at a rider’s foot if that came within reach made it imperative to stay well away.

“This is fun!” he said and laughed when she gave him a dirty look. “C’mon, Slayer! You’re already balancing better. By the time we get to Faisi, you’ll have it down pat.”

She really was getting the hang of it, her innate Slayer sense of balance and movement already responding and adjusting to the new situation. She scowled at him, unwilling to admit that he was right.

“Do you always have to be so damn sure of things?”

“You may not believe in yourself, Slayer, but I do.”

It was strange, but his careless confidence in her ability to do this gave her more assurance than all the Scoobies’ concern would have. The Scoobies’ and Giles’ concern would actually have meant that they were worrying about whether she could really do it. And Angel would have insisted on putting her on a leading rein, attesting that he really didn’t believe she could. Spike, her enemy, simply took it for granted that of course she could—she was the Slayer, wasn’t she? Maybe it was because he was her enemy. It was only sensible to overestimate rather than underestimate an enemy’s capabilities.

The awful thing was that she was really getting to like Spike. That was one for the books, wasn’t it? There he was—an evil, soulless, unregenerate monster—and she liked him! Someone should drum her out of the Slayer’s corps. The Council of Watchers probably would.

And, of course, he was right. By the time, they got to Faisi, she had gotten used to this strange beast she was riding.

Faisi was—no, had been—a town built of stone. Even though they had seen that other village, the devastation here still came as a shock: the ruins of shattered buildings, blackened and reeking of fire; ash blowing through empty streets choked with rubble; no sign of life except for the Search and Rescue teams moving through the town, looking for survivors, of which so far there were none.

“Where are the bodies?” Spike asked beneath his breath. “There’s a few lying around, charred to a crisp. But not enough for a town this size.”

He was right. There were hardly any bodies at all. Maybe they were under the rubble. The Guild were using h’laren the way Sunnydale’s rescue teams would have used search dogs. The h’laren seemed to have the same ability to sniff things out, but had found nothing so far.

“Be careful where you step, nefa’in,” Cadhi said. “The town is...was...an ancient holy place. It was built over several layers of catacombs and passageways. The ground is honeycombed with them. There has already been a subsidence at the center of the town and word is that the rest of the structure is now very unstable.”

The town had been centered around a huge, open square that had been paved over. Some of the paving on the edges remained, jutting out like teeth over the great pit that now lay where the square had been. The whole square had collapsed into the catacombs below.

“Fire wouldn’t have done this,” Buffy said, looking at that huge hole in the ground. “Something heavy. Something really heavy did this. It’s as if a meteor fell or something.”

“But then where did it go?” Spike peered over the edge at the crumbled stone and broken beams that were all that were lying below. “There’s nothing down there but rubble.”

Buffy looked at Cadhi. “Did no one hear or see anything?”

“So far we have found no survivors. We only heard about this when the next closest town sent word. They are about three ri away. They saw flames in this direction, but don’t know how long Faisi was burning before they noticed. Faisi has...had a very good fire prevention squad, so no one thought to come and check before morning. But of course that was too late.”

“No one ever sees anything,” muttered Spike. “This thing is either really smart or really lucky.”

“Or really thorough,” said Buffy.

“Mm. Maybe it was a good thing that other town didn’t send anyone sooner. They might not have come back.” He was sniffing the air, frowning a little. “Something smells funny.”

There was a pungent, acrid smell in the air, the stench of burning.

“The fire,” Buffy shrugged.

“More than that. Like the smell you get before a storm. Ozone.”

“Really? What would cause that?”

He shook his head. “Don’t know.”

Dehren came towards them, leading his h’laren. “Nefa’in, the team chief wishes to speak to you at the river. He has found a curious thing.”

“That’s more than we have,” muttered Buffy. “Lead the way, Dehren.”

The river ran along the west side of the town, close to where the h’laren had been picketed. Buffy could see a small group of Guild moving around beside the water’s edge. Cadhi took the reins of Dehren’s mount and took it off to the picket lines, while Dehren led the way to where the team chief was standing. He was a stocky, middle-aged man with a hard, competent face, stern now with the burden of what had happened in Faisi.

“Look,” he said as Buffy and Spike reached him.

“Bloody hell!” exclaimed Spike.

The river bank was gashed and torn, as if by gigantic claws. At one point, there was a huge depression, as if something had fallen onto its belly and then wallowed down into the river. Or had struggled up from it. The depression was over a hundred feet wide.

“God, it’s big!” Buffy swung around to stare in all directions. Plains on this side of the river, forest on the other, the sharp, gray-black ramparts of the mountains beyond... “Where could something that size hide?”

“Might travel fast.” Spike jerked his chin at the rocky walls so close on the other side of the river. “Could be in the cliffs over there. Maybe it crossed. Any tracks on the other side?” he asked the team chief.

“We are searching.”

Spike held his hand up against the sun. Sure enough, there were black uniforms moving through the trees on the west side of the river.

“It passed through the city,” Buffy muttered. “Wasn’t that what you said, Spike? Several times. How could something that big do that without being noticed?”

“Don’ know. Doesn’t make s...”

Something shrieked. The sound was so loud that it hurt the eardrums, filling the air, reverberating off the cliffs, seeming to come from all sides at once. Everybody clapped their hands to their ears. It was a fell, deadly sound, full of hate and fury, freezing the blood.

The silence after that screech was deafening. Nobody could move.

Then squalls ripped the air as the h’laren panicked, breaking away from their picket lines, kicking and struggling in terror. With the inevitability of an avalanche, they tore loose from their halters and poured away, jostling each other in their stampede, like boulders crashing.

“Cadhi!” Buffy gasped.

She could see Cadhi struggling in the middle of those tons of heaving, black muscle and slashing tusks, her face white and desperate.

“Slayer!”

She was running and then dodging kicking, clawed hooves and thudding, massive bodies. A huge, sweating, black shoulder slammed into her, knocking her off her feet. She somersaulted under the bellies of clashing behemoths, came up beside Cadhi, grabbed her arm and flung her with all her strength towards the trees.

Then the earth gave way beneath her and she was falling.

‘The ground is honeycombed,’ Cadhi had said. All those pockets and passages beneath and the weight of those monsters thrashing and fighting on top of them. The barrier between had not been able to take the strain.

Most of the clearing had given way. Earth, rocks, rubble and a couple of h’laren were cascading with her. A couple of beams of sunlight showed the bottom. God! A hundred feet below her, stone-paved. She was going to smash herself on that stone. No way to avoid it.

Something caught her wrist and jerked her to a stop. She heard rubble fall past her to clatter on the ground beneath and the sickening meaty thud of the h’laren thumping onto the stone flags. But she was swinging ten feet above that stone and unharmed.

She looked up. Spike had a painful grip on her wrist with one hand and a deathgrip on a protruding beam with another.

“Sodding Slayer instincts,” he was muttering. “Can’t stay out of trouble, oh, no. Had to save the bloody human.”

“Our household,” she flung at him and he gave her a furious glare. “Is Cadhi all right?”

“How the hell should I know? I just went after you. Gonna drop you, Slayer, okay? This beam is none too stable.”

“Okay.” The ground was only ten feet below her; she would be able to make it unhurt.

He let her wrist go. She fell, landed on her feet, but went down onto her hands and knees from the momentum. She staggered upright just as Spike landed in front of her. He caught her and threw her back against the wall of the pit, flung himself after her, covering her with his body as the beam, plus a heavy fall of rocks and earth, cascaded down upon them.

There was a slight overhang above them. That made the beam miss him. But she felt him jerk as rocks hit his back, grabbed at him and pulled him tighter under the overhang.

The crashing noises changed to a pattering, then finally stopped. Enough sunlight was filtering through the haze of dust for her to see him as he turned his head to look over his shoulder. His lips were skinned back in a snarl from clenched teeth, and the cut-glass cheekbone and strong jaw were standing out in strain.

Then he blew out his breath in relief. “Looks like we made it.”

“What do we do now?”

“Oh, they’ll get a rope down to us in a few.” He leaned limply against her, resting his forehead against the wall beside her head, breathing hard. “Just give me a minute here, Slayer. If my heart could beat, you woulda stopped it.”

“You’re breathing,” she noted with interest.

He laughed a little. “Reflex. Stress does that to me. Emotion.”

“Scared?” she mocked.

“Terrified.”

Her brows rose. “About the Slayer?”

Something moved behind his eyes. He said nothing for a moment. “About my food supply.”

She laughed. “That makes sense. But you haven’t thought it out. You said that if we succeed, we might go back to our dimension, bam, just like that, right? But you haven’t thought about what might happen if we fail. If I die for instance. You wouldn’t be needed anymore. You might get sent back, bam! It’s a possibility. Haven’t you thought of that?”

He stared at her.

“Should have thought of that,” she teased. “What kind of vamp are you anyway, saving the Slayer? You should have let me die.”

“God, you can be such a bloody fool!” he said violently and kissed her bruisingly hard.

Holy...!

Oh, my God, whoever thought the man could kiss like that! Her knees turned to water, her whole body went liquid, and she almost went straight down to the ground amidst all the rocks and rubble. Her arms clenched across his back and her mouth answered his involuntarily. They kissed and kissed again, mouths twisting together, passion flaring, urgent and imperative.

No one had ever kissed her like that, with that much heat, that much intensity. Parker? Parker hadn’t had a clue about passion, was a wimp, just like Spike had said. And Angel? Angel had always backed away from passion, had been oddly afraid of it somehow, never seeming to trust it or himself, maybe because of Angelus and the way Angelus twisted passion to his own use. Angel kept his emotions in a cage, never really letting them go.

Spike never could keep things to himself. He was all out there. Everything he was, right out there. What he wanted, he wanted intensely, openly, passionately.

And he wanted her.

And she wanted him. God, the way he felt! Couldn’t get enough of the taste of his mouth as it ate her alive, devoured her. Or his tongue sliding along and around hers, searching out every corner of her mouth. Or his hands, at once delicate and hungry, moving and gripping across her face, her hair, her shoulders. Or his body, heavy and urgent, pressing her back against the wall, vibrating with intensity. She was drunk on him, drunk on sensation, unable to keep her body from moving and rubbing and straining against his.

They couldn’t stop kissing, mouths tearing apart to catch at breath, then coming back again and again, unable to keep apart.

God, she thought, drowning in him. What is this? What’s happening? This is wrong!

Someone called insistently above them, asking if they were there, if they were all right. It brought her back to her senses, incredulous and appalled.

Buffy tore herself away, gasping and breathless. He was gasping too, struggling for air as desperately as she was; and he didn’t need to breathe. They stared at each other, still caught in that net of dark fire and exigent desire and urgent need.

Oh, God, what had she just done? she thought in panic. What had she just let loose in both of them?


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary: aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: 3 miles
Chapter 5 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 5

Why couldn’t she remember that he was a monster? Just because he wasn’t acting that way here didn’t mean that he was any different from what he was back in Sunnydale. He was still evil and a killer and all those other psycho things!

So what if he was hot and sexy and gorgeous and kissed like a dream? So what if he turned her on so much that her body was aching with it? It was insane! It was just wrong! Giles and the Scoobs would have a fit. It was Spike, after all. One quarter of the Scourge of Europe and, unlike Angel, having absolutely no intention of redeeming himself—and totally lacking a soul!

A week ago, they had been seriously trying to kill each other. And now, suddenly, all she wanted to do was fuck him blind!

Raw, animal desire. She hadn’t thought she was even capable of something like that. In all her life, she had only made love twice. Once with Angel, and then she had been virgin and shy, and he had turned into Angelus right after. So that hadn’t gone any further. And once with Parker, which had been more than disappointing and was so not going to go any further as well. She hadn’t even known what real desire was, until now. Until Spike.

God, she was turning into such a ho!

There was always that dark side to Slayers. The side that enjoyed the killing, that had elements in common with the demons she fought. That understood them. Right from the beginning, Spike and she had always understood each other at some basic level. She had never really understood Angel. He had always been an enigma. Perhaps because he had never opened up to anyone, not even her, had always somehow kept himself apart.

But she and Spike?

‘I'd rather be fighting you anyway,’ said Spike, grinning, as they discarded other opponents to take on each other. ‘Mutual,’ she had answered.

There had always been that weird understanding and awareness. And she knew so much more about him now, was seeing him in a different light.

But who would have thought it would ever get to this point? Had the fighting always been a kind of twisted and sublimated version of sex with them? Suddenly now, everything she thought about him, whenever she thought about him, whatever she thought, was acquiring a sexual aspect.

She could feel his gaze like a weight upon her, all heat and dark intensity. They had been pulled out of that pit, were in the company of the Guild, quartering the town and its surrounding areas in search of whatever creature had screamed before. She was staying well away from him. He was as insistently staying within sight. Within striking distance, she thought bitterly. That gaze was a compulsion. It lingered on her like a touch, like a hand upon her skin.

The search for the whatever-it-was turned up nothing on both sides of the river. Spike had come up with the excellent suggestion that Baniel’s power detection device be brought here and used to locate the thing. A man was sent off at once to fetch it. But it would take at least an hour and a half pushing a h’laren to its utmost and then as much by train to get to the capital, and the same for the return. Six hours to wait. They were all armed by now, but Buffy couldn’t help thinking of that hundred foot wide wallow on the river bank. Swords would be no more than toothpicks to a creature that size.

“A ballista,” the team chief was muttering. “That is what we need.”

“What’s that?” Buffy asked.

“It is like a giant crossbow. Its bolt would skewer that thing.”

“You don’t know where the creature will strike. Would you be able to put one in every village and town?”

“It can be done. It’s worth the cost.”

“Suggest it to Tariess then.”

“I will,” the team chief said grimly.

A few survivors were being pulled out from under the wreckage. Frustratingly, none of them had any recollection of anything but fire and panic. No one had seen what had caused it. Many bodies were found under the rubble, but none on the streets or anywhere in the open.

Baniel’s device arrived in the late afternoon, accompanied by one of the Convocation’s adepts who knew its operation. The strayed h’laren had been rounded up from their stampede by that time, but the light was fading and no one, including Buffy, was eager to go after this thing in the dark.

“Locate it and I’ll keep an eye on it,” Spike said from where he was crouched on his heels beside the device. “Vampire here. No trouble seeing in the dark. We can go after it in the morning.”

“With swords?” muttered Buffy.

“A ballista will be here by morning,” the team chief said. “We can set it up, then drive the thing towards it. Prick it along with lances.”

Just as risky a proposition, Buffy thought.

“Bazookas would be better,” muttered Spike sarcastically, then looked thoughtful. “Wonder if I could make a bomb. Sulphur, charcoal, saltpeter...Shouldn’t be hard to find and I know the proportions. Saltpeter seventy-five percent, charcoal fifteen, sulphur ten. Meal powder, yeah. Don’t have time to knead and dry grain powder, but...”

“Spike, for God’s sake!” Buffy hissed, slapping a hand over his mouth. She looked around warily, but luckily no one had overheard. “Can you seriously be thinking about teaching these people how to make gunpowder?”

His eyes narrowed in amusement. He turned his head a little and sucked one of her fingertips into his mouth. She snatched her hand away quickly. That felt way too good, his tongue coiling about her finger. She had never realized just how sensual he was.

“Just a thought.” He was laughing at her.

“No! Prime directive, remember?”

“Another Trekkie like Harris, are you?” He caught her wrist as she turned away. “For our own use. In secret.”

“Too risky.” She pulled her hand free.

“Nothing,” said the Adept working Baniel’s device.

“What do you mean, nothing?” said Spike sharply.

“Nothing with any power concentration is apparent.”

“Is the device working properly?” Buffy asked.

“Oh, yes, avera. I have not much ability myself, but see? My presence is apparent on the device.”

“Can it see through rock or into the ground?” She nodded towards the mountains across the river. “Could the thing be in a cave or maybe behind those cliffs over there?”

“Matter of any kind should not interfere with the device. If the creature is within range, it should be apparent here.”

Buffy frowned. “But that device has a range of over two hundred miles. The thing was here seven hours ago. How can something that size travel out of range in seven hours?”

“Even h’laren can only do six ri an hour cross-country,” Cadhi said. She had come through the mess at the picket lines with only a few bruises. “That is eighteen of your miles, yes? That would be a hundred and twenty-six miles in seven hours And you would kill them if you pressed them to maintain that speed for that long.”

“Great,” muttered Spike. “Jet-propelled on top of everything else.”

“We might as well go back to Emladris,” Buffy sighed. “We’re not accomplishing anything here.”

“This is our task,” the team chief nodded. “If we happen on anything that merits your attention, we will advise.”

“That Lehren git’s not going to be happy about this,” muttered Spike, straightening to his feet and looking ruefully at the devastation all around.

“Lehren-aver can go jamisha himself,” said Cadhi and sedate laughter rippled through the black-coated forms clustered around.

“That didn’t translate,” grinned Spike, “but we get the idea.”

Having Buffy come after her like that had put Cadhi solidly on the Buffy bandwagon. The rest of the Guild seemed onboard too. Guild were supposed to take care of their employers. Employers were not supposed to risk themselves for Guild. The role reversal had shocked everyone and Cadhi had protested it fiercely, trying to make Buffy promise never to do that again. Buffy simply stressed the point that she was the Champion and that it was her duty: they were all in her care.

Well, at least she had got some goodwill out of it, thought Buffy, then caught Spike watching her again. Even if everything else was going to hell in a handbasket.

They headed gloomily back to the capital, leaving Baniel’s device at Faisi, so that the rescue teams would have some early warning if the creature came back again. Thankfully, the h’laren were subdued after the fright that they had had, so the trip back to the station was placid. The special train that had brought them here was almost empty on the way back. Buffy sipped at iced tea that Cadhi brought her and stared out of the window, steadfastly avoiding Spike’s gaze. Spike got Dehren to show him some dice game and the two of them involved themselves with that, Spike’s questions and Dehren’s explanations inaudible over the clack of the wheels.

The rocking of the train put her to sleep. She woke with a jolt when the train pulled to a stop under the Hasjarad and staggered muzzily to her feet.

“You’re tired, Slayer,” said Spike, steadying her with a hand under her elbow. “Been a long day. Grab something to eat, then go straight to bed. Gotta warn you though. Gonna have some stiff muscles tomorrow. Not accustomed to riding.” He grinned at her. “But maybe Slayer healing will take care of that.”

It didn’t completely, but a long soak in a tub filled with herbs that the staff provided did help. Spike was gone most of the next day, off with Dehren somewhere. Adara dropped in and Buffy asked her about Baniel’s device.

“No, we have no more than the one,” Adara said. “Baniel was concerned only for the capital and magics that might be used against Tariess lord.”

“Can you make more?”

Adara shook her head. “Baniel might have, but we do not even have his notes on the subject. They were destroyed in the fall of his tower.”

“Damn. I’d have liked to have blanketed the country with them, maybe track this thing down. But with just one...” Buffy frowned over the maps. “All these attacks are north of the mountains and pretty close to them. I think the thing’s hiding in there somewhere. Is there any way to take that device along the length of the mountains and see if the thing shows up anywhere? Is there a rail line or something that runs along there?”

“That might have results,” Adara said thoughtfully. “It can be done. I will send word to the Guild at Faisi.”

That poor Adept at Faisi was going to get a more arduous tour of duty than he had anticipated.

Spike turned up just past sunset, looking very smug.

“Okay, what’s up?” Buffy asked at once.

“God, you got a suspicious mind, Slayer!” He joined her where she was standing out on the balcony in the deepening twilight. “Nothing’s up. Pretty, innit, with the shadows coming over the city like that? Exotic.”

“Stop trying to change the subject.”

“Interesting dark side to this place. Thought there might be.” He tilted his scarred eyebrow at her. “Always is a dark side.”

Buffy blinked. “You went tomcatting?”

“Shame on you, Slayer, thinking dirty like that. Lot of fun to be had in the underbelly of this city without messing with the ladies of the evening. Told you I don’t do humans. Too fragile.” He gave her a sideways, sloe-eyed look. “Slayers though...”

She flushed and turned away quickly. “We’re so not going there.”

“Why not? Might like it.” His voice dropped into a low, sensual purr. “Did like it, didn’t you, Slayer? That’s why you’re running scared right now.”

“That was an accident!”

He was suddenly too close. “But you liked it. You wanted it. Think I couldn’t tell?”

“It was a mistake!”

“Why?”

She turned to stare at him. “Why? Because you’re a....you’re a...”

“Monster? Killer? Evil? Not in this dimension, pet. In this dimension, I’m a sodding champion.” His eyes danced with laughter, vividly blue, inviting her to share the joke.

She drew a deep breath. “I don’t love you.”

There was a small silence. Something changed. Something shifted behind his eyes.

“You didn’t love Parker either, pet.”

“That was different! He has a soul!”

“Ah, this soul thing. That really adds to the jollies in bed, does it? Might have a soul, Parker does. But for all that soul, he couldn’t get you off, could he?”

She struck out at him angrily and he caught her wrist, laughed at her.

“Bed’s a different place, pet. Skill’s what counts between the sheets. And I’m skilled, luv. A hundred and twenty years of practice, I’ve got. You have no idea of the way I could make you feel.”

He kissed the inside of her wrist and she shivered involuntarily, feeling those cool lips against her skin, feeling her body quicken and heat despite herself.

“And I wouldn’t treat you the way he did the morning after,” he said.

He wouldn’t walk out on her the way Parker had. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she did.

He glanced down at her wrist in his hand. “Do I get a drink?” he asked in a different voice, light and teasing.

“Oh, my God!” She had completely forgotten. “You haven’t had any blood! Today or yesterday! Why didn’t you say something?”

Now that she looked more closely at him, he was pale. He shrugged a little.

“Blood drain on top of fatigue? Not a good idea. Figured I could wait till now.”

“Spike...” Why did he have to act so thoughtful, act as if he had a soul? It was so confusing! “Go ahead. Just don’t make it...”

Pleasurable, she was going to say, but didn’t. That would give away too much.

He gave her a swift, sapient glance, then bent his head to her wrist. She felt his fangs slide into the vein, smooth as silk, painless—and then that incredible, singing rapture. Her breath shuddered in her mouth and she sank weakly back against the stone balustrade behind her.

He didn’t take much, nowhere near the amount that he had taken that first night and even that had been minimal. His tongue licked her wrist to seal the punctures, raspy like a cat’s, a hopelessly sensual sensation. The whole experience was sensual, his taking her blood like that. He knew it. She saw the heat and the darkness in his eyes when he turned his head to look at her.

“That was hardly a mouthful,” she muttered.

“More than enough. Slayer blood’s powerful.” He reached out and ran his fingertips lightly down her throat, paused at the stiff, upstanding collar of her brocade jacket, then flipped open the top two buttons with his thumb. His fingertips pressed lightly into the hollow of her throat. “Pulse is steady.”

“Good.”

“You know what else Slayer blood is? An aphrodisiac.” He laughed as her eyes widened. “Didn’t know that, did you?”

“Dammit!”

“Why are you so afraid of pleasure, Slayer? You’re always so scared to enjoy yourself. To just let go and take the risk and be free. To just enjoy.”

“I took the risk!” she flung at him. “Twice! And paid for it! The price was too high!”

He tipped his head to one side, smiling crookedly, his eyes half-lidded and very blue, their pupils wide over an intense blackness. “But there’s no price here, Slayer. Nothing to pay.”

“There’s always a price!”

“If you involve yourself. But you wouldn’t. Not with me. Monster here, right? But this monster can give you sensations you never dreamed of, Slayer.”

She realized suddenly that he had slid open the next two buttons of her jacket without her even being aware of it. His fingertips ran caressingly down between her breasts to rest above her heart, cool against her overheated flesh. She struck his hand away, flung herself away from the shadows of the balcony to the safety of the bright lights inside. It was too tempting here, too seductive. He was.

He caught her elbows to hold her back. His grip was light, no more than a touch, in no way constraining her. She could easily have pulled away. But she stopped, unable to move, torn both ways at once. She was intensely aware of him, of that cool, strong body behind her, that beautiful head bent to murmur in her ear.

“Don’t you understand, Slayer? Don’t you get it? This dimension’s the all-free zone. You can do anything, be anything here, and it has no effect on the real world. Want to dance with darkness? You can. And it’ll never get back to Sunnydale. There’s darkness in you. You’ve never dared let it out. Never dared experiment. Here you can. Wanna explore that dark side? You can. Wanna play with fire? Go ahead. Indulge yourself all you like. It doesn’t matter. No price here, Slayer. No price for you.”

Serpent. Tempting her. And, oh, it was so tempting! She wanted...She wanted...

“No!” she said violently and threw herself forward into the light.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it. He didn’t say anything more the rest of the evening, but those eyes watched her, half-lidded, intensely blue. She tried not to meet that burning gaze, but she could feel it on her, demanding, compelling.

Retreat into her bedroom didn’t help. She lay all alone on that enormous bed and found herself wishing that he was in it with her. Found herself thinking of the way he had looked that first evening before dinner, shirt flying open over that gorgeous bod, all that taut perfection. Found herself thinking of the way that body had felt against hers yesterday, all hardness and urgency. The way his mouth had tasted. The way all the blood in her veins seemed to have turned to fire.

That tempting murmur. Oh, the words were self-serving. But there was truth in them. Nothing she did here would ever get back to haunt her. Giles and the Scoobies would never know. It would all be like something in a dream, to be forgotten the minute one woke up.

No consequences.

She pulled the pillow over her head. Damn him! What was he doing to her?


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary: aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: 3 miles
Chapter 6 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 6

Spike was gone again in the morning, disappeared somewhere with Dehren. Exploring the underside of the city again? Well, she supposed he really would be more comfortable there.

A message came down from Tariess, saying that reporters had been clamoring to speak to the champions and that he had finally decided to authorize a meeting. He was aware that the champions might find this distasteful, but hoped they would condescend to say a few words. Though it was phrased as a request, it was clearly an order.

A press conference! Buffy hadn’t even been aware that they had newspapers here. But probably any culture would have newspapers, once the printing press was discovered. Lord knew, probably back in Sumeria even, there had been little handwritten pamphlets floating around, reporting the latest chariot accident or who the monarch had decapitated that day.

Buffy sent an urgent message through to Adara, who came up at once.

“It is because of the attack on Faisi,” she said. “Lehren and his ilk have been agitating. We need to calm the populace.”

“I don’t know how we can do that,” Buffy muttered. “It’ll happen again, Adara. You know that. How can we stop this thing if we don’t know what it is or where it will strike next?”

“I think they only need to know that we’re trying. Do not be concerned about the press, Buf-fy. There will only be a handful and from the largest newspapers. They have been warned,” said Adara cryptically, which Buffy hoped meant that the reporters wouldn’t be asking the tough questions. Like: who the hell are you, why haven’t you saved us by now and do you really think you can?

“Will they want Spike there?” God only knew what might come out of his mouth.

“It would be better if he were.”

“I don’t know where...” Buffy looked helplessly at Cadhi, who nodded reassuringly.

“We will find him, avera.”

The press conference was set for three o’clock. Adara gave Buffy an idea of the possible questions that might be asked and what the most reassuring answers might be. Spike turned up at two, an amused look on his face, and was carefully coached as well.

“I wouldn’t worry, Slayer,” he said quietly in her ear. “These are intelligent people. They know what the problems are and, if they’ve been okayed by Tariess, they’re not about to make waves. I think what they’re really here for is to confirm that they’ve seen us and that we’re not some bug-eyed aliens even worse than what’s out there incinerating their people.”

A high-up Guild official turned up five minutes before the conference and positioned himself where he would clearly be seen prominently looming behind Buffy and Spike. A statement of Guild approval of their presence here, Buffy realized with relief.

Spike turned out to be right. The conference went well and the reporters were most polite and not at all accusing. It was all very civilized. Buffy suspected the whole thing had been for show. The Guild official suddenly tossed out the helpful tidbit that ballistas were being constructed even as they spoke and would be sent out to every town and village. The atmosphere warmed even more.

Just as the press were packing it in, word came that Baniel’s device had picked up a power surge in the mountains at Rihar.

“Maybe that’s it!” said Buffy, reaching for her weapons.

The press looked hopeful, but before Buffy, Spike and their Guild contingent could even get out of the door, a panting messenger brought further word that it had disappeared again. Faces fell all around.

“At least it kinda demonstrated the problem,” Spike muttered as the press left.

“Maybe too much so,” Buffy sighed.

Spike and Dehren disappeared immediately after the conference. Adara and the Guild official left and Buffy was left alone again. She asked for some isornin and headed into the study to set up a new map dedicated to any findings Baniel’s device might now acquire.

“Much excitement, avera,” said the staffer who brought her the iced tea. She was very young and looked very excited herself.

“Not the kind I like,” Buffy sighed. “I really hadn’t thought that we’d be news.”

“But you are the Champions, avera! Of course, you are news. People are curious. There have been articles about you in the papers ever since you came.”

“There have? Kesi, would you be able to get me a few of these papers? I just want to see what they say.” Adara had adjusted her spell so Buffy and Spike now could read not only graphs, but also the maps and the messages that arrived from various sources.

“Yes, of course, avera.”

Kesi came back half an hour later with a stack of papers and Buffy started going through them. A lot of what was being said was speculation and/or reassurance about the presence and mission of the ‘Champions’ who had been brought here through the genius of the Convocation and the forethought and care of the benevolent and gracious Tariess. It was all in very extravagant and high-flown language that Buffy would have had trouble deciphering even in English

Then she came across a different publication.

“What are you doing up so late?” Spike asked, finding her still in the living room when he came in past midnight. Then he frowned. “Something wrong, pet?”

Sensitive to these people’s customs, Buffy had always been careful to comply with their very formal and decorous attitudes. But the staff were all in bed now. Freed of their constraints, she had yanked open the stifling to-the-throat collar of her jacket, popped the buttons that ran up her forearms and pushed her sleeves up to her elbows. The staff would have considered this the most shocking disarray.

“Kind of upset,” she muttered.

“Why?” Spike picked up one of the newspapers that littered the couch and glanced at it. “Bloody hell!” He started to laugh. “Angels with flaming swords, are we?”

“That seems to be the party line.”

He dropped down into an armchair opposite her and scanned the article, his eyes alight with amusement. “Haven’t seen this kind of high-flying prose since I was a boy. And even that was mild compared to what it used to be at the beginning of that century. You wouldn’t believe the heated and rolling periods they used to come out with round the 1800's. Well, I know their expectations are kinda high, pet, but...”

“Not that one. This one.”

He looked over the newspaper that she handed him. His brows rose, then he laughed and threw it aside contemptuously. “Yellow journalism. Those are the Lehren git’s friends.”

“It’s...it’s...”

“The word you’re looking for is scurrilous, pet.”

“How can they say things like that? They don’t even know us and they accuse us of the vilest... They haven’t even seen us, but they say we look grotesque, that we’re monsters and eat babies and are really in cahoots with that thing that’s burning their villages because we come from the Void as well...How can they be allowed to say such things?”

“Ethics in journalism only turned up around 1910, pet. Hell, the things that used to be in print before that! His enemies used to say Abe Lincoln was an ape and a baboon and accuse him of the most depraved actions, things that would put us demons to shame. Opponents of anybody in the public eye could call that person anything from a cannibal to a serial-killer to a pedophile and get away scot free.” He flicked the paper with a scornful hand. “It’s just a rag, pet. Ignore it.”

“People will think...”

“It’s mudslinging. Doesn’t matter.”

“Mud sticks!”

“Not here.”

“The people who read this...”

“Pet. You still don’t understand, do you?” He leaned forward and touched her wrist lightly. His eyes were gentle. “It doesn’t matter. The people who know us won’t believe that. Cadhi and Dehren and the Guild, Adara and Tariess, the staff.”

“But...”

“The populace doesn’t matter. Maybe we’ll leave here in a blaze of glory. Maybe we’ll go out dismal failures. Once we’re back in Sunnydale, who’ll know? Who’ll care? We’re out of our proper time and place here. Once we’re back home, this will all seem like a dream.”

“Then why even try?” Buffy asked in exasperation.

“Because that’s the way you’re made. And because they’re nice people. I wouldn’t want to let down the ones we know. The staff and all.” He grinned crookedly at her.

She laughed a little. “Their opinion matters to you.”

“Yeah, I guess. Care about them. Opinion only matters if you care. Don’t you see? And there’s a hierarchy to that too. With the people you care most about on the top. The people you love, for instance. And then your friends. And then your acquaintances. The general public? That comes last.”

“And this general public won’t exist for us once we’re back in Sunnydale.”

“Now you’re getting it. And even there, what does anyone’s opinion matter, as long as you’re doing what you think is right?”

She shifted uneasily. That cut too close to the bone.

“Your all-free zone, even there,” she mocked.

“You’ll call that vamp thinking, I suppose,” he said dryly. “Where do you come in your hierarchy, pet? Bet it’s not at the top as it should be. Bet you put all sorts of people’s opinions ahead of your own.”

She didn’t want to think about that, made an irritable gesture, brushing that away, deliberately misunderstanding him.

“Want, take, have? That’s not right. And even you don’t do that. Not with Dru.” She saw that now. She remembered that night at that vamp-wanna-be club when he had given up all the blood and the killing the moment she had put her stake to Drusilla’s heart. Dru had come first.

“Ah, well, that’s different, innit?”

“Well there,” she said triumphantly. “You choose your own hierarchy.”

“That’s right,” he said. “You choose.”

He looked up at her and his eyes were all blue light and intense shadow in the glow of the gas lamps. She jerked to her feet, uncomfortable with what she saw moving behind those intense eyes.

“I’m going to b...turn in.” She stopped short abruptly. “I forgot. You haven’t had...”

He stood up and took the wrist she held out, drew her to him. Too close. She put her free hand on his chest to hold him away, then frowned a little.

“Your T-shirt’s damp.”

“Went swimming. You should get Cadhi to show you their spa. Got a pool down there the size of a lake and every luxury you can think of set up around it.”

“Glad someone’s enjoying himself,” she growled resentfully and he grinned.

“Trying to change the subject, pet? Think if you don’t say the word ‘bed’, I’m not going to be thinking about it?”

“Spike...”

“You don’t even know, do you?” His cool fingertips ran the side of her face, leaving a trail of fire. “You don’t even know what it could be like.”

She pushed his hand away. “Don’t.”

He raised her arm to his mouth, but instead of bending to her wrist, his head dropped to the hollow of her elbow. His tongue slid across it lingeringly, then ran up the inside of her forearm. That tongue had gone raspy like a cat’s and the sensation was incredible. She shuddered involuntarily.

His eyes had gone yellow as he looked at her. “Feel that, pet? Anyone ever done that to you?”

No one had. Angel had stayed human, that one time he had made love to her.

“Think of that all over, pet.”

Oh, God! She tried to jerk her hand away. But he had it fast and now his fangs were sinking into her wrist. As usual, he took only a mouthful, but this time he took his time about it. The draw was slow and deliberate, and when that singing rapture began it went on and on. Her knees folded and she couldn’t help leaning against him. If it wasn’t for his arm hard about her waist, she would have slid right down to the ground.

The fangs withdrew and that raspy tongue licked her wrist to seal the punctures.

“Think of feeling that euphoria while you come, pet,” he murmured, his lips a breath away from hers as she gasped. “It’ll send you to a whole new level, send you higher than you’ve ever been before.”

Oh, God!

“Let me show you, pet. Lovemaking, it’s an art. You have no idea what I could do to you, how it would make you feel.”

“Spike...”

“I can give you what you want,” he said softly. “I can give you what you need.”

She tore herself away and fled.

But that wasn’t the end of it. He was under her skin now. Those words, that touch, that tempting murmur...

She was a novice at lovemaking. She’d only made love twice, had no real experience. She had been almost passive with Angel; it had all been so new and she had been too shy to explore. And then he was gone, turned into Angelus. Parker? Well, the less said of that the better, though she had been somewhat more aggressive. Parker had been too busy chalking up another conquest to make it a really enjoyable experience, even if she hadn’t had to hold back the way she had been forced to, because he was human.

It’s an art,’ purred Spike and just the brush of those cool fingers, the look of dark sensuality in those knowing, sardonic eyes opened up whole new vistas she’d hardly even suspected, only read about somewhat unbelievingly in books and magazines. She didn’t disbelieve anymore. She had no doubt that he could show her what she had been missing, could play her like a violin.

Serpent. Knowing, mocking, seductive serpent.

‘Always is a dark side.’

There was a dark side to her that responded to him, that wanted to find out what she was missing, wanted to indulge in it.

And she could, here in this dimension. He was so right. Nothing here would filter back to Sunnydale; nothing in Sunnydale had any weight here. What Giles or Angel or the Scoobies thought didn’t matter here. They would never know. That business with the newspaper had made it vividly clear. Nothing that happened here had consequence. Nothing would return with them across the Void. There was no price.

‘I can give you what you want. I can give you what you need.’

She did want it. Her body thrummed with wanting it. She felt sick with need. She lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling, in the glow of the gas lamps that she had refused to put out. Darkness would have been worse, would have allowed no distraction from her thoughts. But the light didn’t help. Nothing seemed to distract from the ache that seemed to be in her very bones. She felt hot all over, was glad that these people’s idea of a nightgown was just a loose tube of some silky material. If it had been anything heavier or with those ever-present buttons, she would probably have ripped it to shreds in sheer exasperation.

She got up in frustration and went to open the doors to the balcony to let the cool night air flood in. The bedroom balcony was only the width of the doors and just a couple of feet deep. Protected from the sightlines of other apartments, it was built to allow fresh air since apparently it could get very hot here in summer, Emer had said. It was spring right now, but she was still hot. She leaned on the cool stone of the balustrade and sighed.

He was a vampire, a monster, evil, soulless. It was wrong.

Did that matter here? a tiny voice inside her retorted.

“Dammit!”

She was never going to get any sleep! She flounced out of her room, heading for the library. She could read their books now. What she needed was some weighty, boring tome guaranteed to knock her out like a light.

There was a real light on in the living room. Spike must have left one burning and Emer would be upset. She stamped into the living room irritably, then stopped short at the sight of Spike sprawled on the couch.

Okay, big mistake. He was wearing only his jeans, his damp T-shirt discarded on top of the scattered newspapers and his Docs tossed negligently on the floor. All that hard muscle and clean bone and satin skin gold in the warm yellow light of the one gas lamp still burning. A shudder ran through her, subterranean and slow; a violent flush of heat. She stopped breathing.

He was unfolding himself, coming to his feet. “Thought you were going to bed, pet.”

“Uh, yeah. Came to turn off the light. How come you’re still up?”

His mouth twisted. “Couldn’t sleep.”

They stared at each other. She saw his eyes widen, heard the sharp catch of his breath.

She didn’t know who made the first move. But suddenly, in a burst of vampire speed, he was crushing her to him, his arms like bonds of steel about her, so tight that it hurt. She didn’t care. A flame rose in her in response such as she had never known or thought to know. She held him as fiercely, her arms clenched across his back.

For a moment his face swam in her vision, oddly white and strained. Then his mouth took hers and she was lost—lost in the taste of his mouth, the slide and thrust of his tongue demandingly against hers, the feel of his body hard and urgent and vibrating with passion as it bent hers back over his arm, the wild surge of excitement that crashed through her, uncontrollable, a flame of pure physical passion, pure animal desire.

He was moving her backwards out of the living room.

“The light,” she muttered. “Is it safe? Emer will...”

“Oh, for...”

He flashed to the lamp, turned it off, flashed back unerringly in the blackness. All she glimpsed was a glimmer of white skin as he moved through a patch of moonlight, but he could see perfectly well with that vampire sight. He caught her head, hands twisting in her hair, and kissed her again, bruisingly hard.

“Buffy...”

“Oh, yes,” she gasped. “Yes. Don’t care. Want you.”

“God!”

His hands slid down the sides of her neck, pushed the straps of her gown off her shoulders. It fell loosely right off her, puddling around her feet.

“Convenient,” he muttered and lifted her up out of it.

“Spike...”

Then his open mouth was on her bare breast, that catlike tongue rasping across her nipple.

“Oh, God!”

Her brain blanked out to everything but sensation. She felt air moving against her naked skin, didn’t even realize that he was carrying her along the passageway to her room. She was too focused on the feel of his mouth working upon her breasts. Then they were falling across the width of the bed and his weight was upon her, heavy and demanding, pressing her down into the tangled bedclothes. Her legs came up without volition to lock about his hips.

“The lights...” she muttered, coming back to herself for a moment and seeing the blaze of golden light that surrounded them. She had not turned down any of the lamps in her room and they were all full on.

“No.”

“But...” Both times before, she had made love in the dark, was used to that comforting veil of dimness that covered her actions, hiding the raw truth of what was happening.

“No. I like to see.” His head came up, his eyes dark and brilliant, staring down at her, their pupils dilated, intensely black and burning within a thin rim of incandescent, blazing blue. A muscle jumped diagonally in his cheek as his jaw clenched. “Want you to see. Want you to know what you’re making love to. Want you to know it’s me.”

“Vampire,” she mocked. “Monster. I know.”

“Giving in to the dark side, are you, pet?” He kissed her painfully hard, his mouth brutal.

She laughed and kissed him back as hard, uncaring. “Yes.”

“Passion’s just as good as love, innit?”

He was right. She was drowning in his passion, all thoughts of any other love burned away. Angel? Who was he? She couldn’t remember, with Spike’s mouth raking across her, and his hands kneading and demanding, and his body moving insistent upon her. She arched to him, her hands clawing at him.

“Come on, come on!” She tore at his belt buckle, wanting him, needing to have him right now, couldn’t wait. Couldn’t believe the way she was acting, couldn’t believe herself this needy, this wanton.

He twisted to tear off his jeans, his mouth avid on her breasts.

“Oh, God, Spike...!”

And then he was above her, settling himself between her thighs, his erection hard against her. Her eyes widened at the feel of him, so big, so urgent.

“Sp...Ohhh!”

He took her hard and her head fell back, her whole body arched to his. So perfect, that moment of entrance, his thickness within her, his eyes watching her with that strange look of darkness and heat and wonder. She had never felt so full, so complete.

They thrust against each other, straining together, gasping against each other’s faces, every nerve ending on fire. No need to hold back. She clenched upon him, clawed at him, bit—and he just laughed in pleasure and drove deeper into her, his hips twisting at the end of every stroke, hitting every sweet spot in her body. Then his fangs slid into her neck and she lost herself in that flaring-up of ecstasy that flamed into such a bonfire of consummation that burned away all other longings, all other desires—all other loves. Came and came again helplessly, her mind reeling with shock and rapture, felt him jolt and pulse within her.

Her brain came staggering back from that blankness of absolute delight to find him moving again upon her, lips sliding across her body, tongue rasping across her skin.

“Oh, no, no...twice? It’s not possible...”

He laughed against her navel. “It’s possible, pet. Don’t know vamps, do you? Or that Slayer stamina.”

“Spike...”

He bit her softly, the light sharp pinpricks of his fangs across her stomach incredibly arousing.

“We’ve barely begun, pet.”

Oh, God, she was gonna die!

The rest of the night was pure delirium.


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary: aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: 3 miles
Chapter 7 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 7

Sunlight was blazing through the doors of the bedroom’s shallow balcony when she woke up. Her head was in the curve of someone’s shoulder, a cool strong body was against her back, an arm lay between her breasts, big hand splayed across her hip, holding her to him. A forehead pressed to the back of her head; face in her hair; cool breath against her neck. Spike.

Three men, two good, one evil. And the evil one was the one who was still there in the morning.

She laughed a little, ruefully, and twisted in his arms to lie on her back. He leaned over her, his face expressionless and withdrawn, his eyes very dark and still.

“You’re still here,” she murmured.

“Of course. Monsters don’t go away. Don’t you know that? They’re always around, somewhere in the shadows. I don’t leave, pet.”

“Good.”

She pulled him down to her and kissed him. He made an odd little sound in his throat and kissed her back deeply. She felt his torso ease down upon her, purred at his weight, her hands running caressingly across his back and pressing at his shoulderblades to hold him to her.

“Nice way to wake up,” she murmured, “after a great night.”

The tight lines of his face had relaxed; his eyes were smiling. She realized that he had been braced for rejection.

“Liked it, did you? Liked your walk on the dark side?”

They had done everything last night, unable to stay away from each other, eating each other alive. It had been a revelation to her, how he could make her feel, what he could make her do.

“Wasn’t that dark.” She had done things with him which she didn’t even know how to spell, but it hadn’t felt wrong, had just seemed natural and right.

“Nothing’s dark if it’s done consenting, luv, and doesn’t hurt the partner.” He bit her shoulder lightly in illustration and the tiny prick of his fangs was only stimulation not pain. “Dru was the one who was into pain.”

“You didn’t like that?”

“Never was into the pre-show. Angelus was the one who got off on torture, twisted Dru around that way.”

“How come you’re not that way?”

“Too much of what I was as a human remaining, maybe. Don’ know.”

“The poet.”

He winced. “Did I tell you about that? Bloody hell, don’t tell anyone else, pet! Never live it down!”

She laughed at him. “Okay.”

“Wasn’t the kind of demon Angelus wanted. Never got into that kind of thing. Liked fighting a whole lot better. He didn’t like fighting. Thought it was crass. Too uncouth for him. Liked torture better, mental and emotional, made an art form of it. Tried to beat me into it, smashed a lot of my bones trying. But it didn’t take. I never liked being told what to do.”

“Why are you so different? Even before he got the soul, you’re not like each other.”

“All demons are not alike, pet. Angel’s always fighting his demon. I accept mine. Maybe that’s the difference. Let’s me control it, knowing what the demon can do and choosing to do it or not. That soul thing. All the soul does is give you a conscience, the knowledge of what’s right or wrong. I don’t know for sure, you see? I just guess. There are humans who know and do the wrong thing anyway. Serial killers, rapists, whatnot. Soul’s no guarantee. Doesn’t make you a different person.”

“Angel’s a different person than Angelus.”

“Is he?” He gave her a totally disbelieving look. “Angelus is just Angel with the brakes off, pet. They’re not two different people. He might want you to believe that, might want to believe it himself. But it’s not true. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person, pet, just opposite sides of the same coin. Heads or tails, a nickel’s still a nickel.”

She thought about that, frowning.

He ran a hand slowly down her body from shoulder to knee and she arched involuntarily to him. “How about we...?”

“Oh, God, are you still up for it? Even after last night?”

He grinned at her, tongue curling behind his teeth. “Always.”

“We should be getting up,” she sighed. “The sun’s up. What time is it anyway?”

“About noon.”

“Noon?” She bolted erect in bed, grabbing the sheets around her. “Oh, my God, what will the staff think?”

He fell onto his back, laughing. “They’re the best staff around. Which means they don’t think. They know. Besides, we left my T-shirt and Docs in the living room.” He smirked at her. “And your nightgown.”

Her face flamed scarlet. “This is awful!”

“They’re probably used to it.”

“You’re supposed to be my bodyguard, not my lover!”

“Must have happened before, between people and their Guild bodyguard. All those goodlooking Guild members of both sexes around all the time. Must be an awful temptation. Just propinquity would do it. Bet their racy novels are full of it.”

“I’m supposed to be a Champion, not the heroine of some racy novel!”

“Can be both, can’t you?”

“Ohh!”

She scrambled out of bed, the sheet wrapped around her, and ran to the bathroom, leaving him laughing.

She turned on the taps in the bathtub and left it to fill while she brushed her teeth. She was just sliding into the tub when Spike came padding into the bathroom, mother naked and totally unselfconscious about it. Buffy blushed. But really he was beautiful to look at and there wasn’t an inch of each other’s bodies they hadn’t explored last night, so she shouldn’t be feeling shy. But she did.

“Scoot forward,” he said and slid in behind her. “Love these big tubs. Plenty of space to play.”

“Spike...”

“We’re already late. Half an hour more won’t make a difference.” His arms came around her, pulling her back against him. She could feel him hardening behind her. “Besides, look there.”

She looked. There were two robes now hanging on the wall beside the tub where there had always been only one before.

“Oh, God!”

He was laughing at her. “Can’t keep anything from good staff. They always know. Learned that before I was turned.”

“However will I face them!”

“Just act as if there’s nothing out of the ordinary, luv. They will.”

His hands were sliding over her, his cool lips sucking their way down the side of her neck, touching off that flare of dark fire and heat that was getting to be so familiar now. There were definite advantages to making love with a vamp, she found, including his ability not to need to breathe underwater. By the time he let her out of the tub, she was a limp rag and the water was completely cold—not that she felt it as anything but a delicious contrast, being so overheated herself.

It was hard having to face the staff. But Spike was right. No one acted as if anything was out of the ordinary except that they had both decided to sleep in. Brunch quietly replaced breakfast and Buffy hoped that they hadn’t discommoded the chef too much.

The couple of newspapers brought in at Buffy’s request showed that the reporters from yesterday’s press conference had hewn to the party line. Baniel’s device had turned up a few more sightings. Buffy was just plotting these on the map when Spike looked in the study door.

“Gonna go down to the dojo, pet. Wanna come spar?”

“Sure. I just want to get these plotted first.”

“Come down whenever you’re ready.”

He was working with a slingshot when she and Cadhi got to the training rooms, firing a rock with deadly accuracy precisely into the gold of a target that had been set up.

“A slingshot?” she asked in surprise and he grinned.

“Their long range weapon seems to be crossbows or this little toy here.” He showed her what looked like a crossbow, but double the normal size. “They call it a belly-bow. You hold it against your stomach like this, then draw the string back. Throws heavy shot quite well. Can fire a rock weighing about forty pounds anywhere from two to three hundred yards. Tried it out. But I can get more force and distance with a slingshot.”

“You planning to do a David and Goliath with our Big Bad?”

He laughed. “Never know.”

Sparring between them had turned into a kind of exhibition match these days. Guild members started to drift in whenever they began to fight and Buffy had noticed that a few of them were even copying some of their moves. She knew that Cadhi and Dehren were watching intently. Inter-dimensional contamination. Couldn’t be helped.

Sparring always got the two of them horny. As if they weren’t already. She saw the heat flickering in Spike’s eyes, the laughter there, couldn’t help laughing back. God! If this had been Sunnydale, she would have been horrified at herself. But it didn’t matter here.

He caught her just as they were leaving the gym, pulled her into a stairwell. Cadhi and Dehren were a little delayed, held up by some question Nobiren, the Guildmaster, needed to ask them.

He leaned against her, his full weight upon her, pressing her hard against the wall. He was laughing and she laughed too, her arms tight about his neck.

“If it wasn’t that Cadhi and Dehren are gonna turn up in two seconds, I’d take you right up against this wall,” he muttered. “Can’t get enough of you, Slayer.”

She could feel his arousal. She laughed against his mouth, pulled him harder against her.

“If it wasn’t for Cadhi and Dehren, I’d let you. You’re addictive, vampire.”

There was a flicker of something shadowed and painful behind his eyes. He kissed her hard, mouth demanding, then leaned his forehead against hers, eyes closed, just breathing.

Cadhi’s voice called, “Averin?

“There they are,” he sighed. “You wouldn’t consider heading for one of our bedrooms when we get upstairs, would you, Slayer?”

She grinned involuntarily. “Rather not be that obvious. Not that long till night.”

“Too long.” But he straightened, drawing reluctantly away.

She tiptoed, sucked on his throat teasingly and felt him shudder against her. “Feel that way too.”

“God, you like playing with fire, don’t you?”

“One of your buttons? Have to remember that.”

“You should not leave our sight, avera,” said Cadhi reproachfully as they emerged out of the stairwell. “There are dangers.”

“Nothing we can’t handle,” said Buffy airily and they made their way upstairs again.

They went up the eastern side of the building, a route they always took to avoid the great central halls that were always teeming with people en route to Council or Audience.

Avera!” Cadhi suddenly shoved at Buffy roughly, knocking her back against the wall.

There were great twangs, four of them. Then Spike had caught Buffy up and had flung them both with his vampire speed to the floor on the other side of the wide corridor. Buffy hit the floor, then had all the breath knocked out of her by Spike falling on top of her.

“Spike, get off!”

But he wouldn’t, holding her flat with his body covering hers. She pushed at him, trying to peer around his shoulder. Cadhi had a crossbow bolt through her arm, pinning her to the wall. Dehren was down, another bolt through his leg. The wall beside which she and Spike would have been standing had two huge holes through it, testament to the power of the belly-bows that Spike had recently shown her.

Four men were standing in the corridor that crossed this one. Four total strangers. Two were struggling with their belly-bows, which seemed to be unhandy things to reload. The other two came running towards them, their crossbows already charged.

Cadhi tore herself free from the wall. Dehren heaved himself upright on his undamaged leg. They both threw themselves on the men with crossbows. The other two men suddenly dropped their bows and turned to run. Buffy felt Spike’s muscles bunch and grabbed him tight, holding him back.

“No! Spike, they’re human! Can’t be seen attacking humans!”

Dehren was whistling, a piercing two-note sound that brought black-coated forms racing down the corridors and along the wide flights of stairs. Tariess’s men, those Guildsmen posted on guard around the building and who had previously been advised that any attack on the Champions was to be considered an attack on Tariess himself.

All four men were surrounded and rapidly borne to the ground. Buffy and Spike grabbed at their own two wounded Guild members.

“Just a flesh wound, aver,” Dehren gasped, leaning on Spike’s shoulder as Spike braced him upright. “Went through the muscle. Did not strike bone.”

“Cadhi?” Buffy was saying urgently.

“Only a scratch.” Cadhi had lifted her jacket up from her shoulder and was peering at and under it. “The bolt pinned my coat to the wall. Just skimmed my arm. They are not professionals. At that range, professionals would have killed all of us.”

“Not Guild then.”

Cadhi looked scornful. “Decidedly not.”

A Guild officer had arrived and was snapping orders. The four men were taken away. The Guild officer came over to their little group.

“Our apologies for the occurrence, nefa’in,” he said. “We will take care of your Guildsmen. These others will guard you until their return.”

A squad of black-coated Guild was already forming up around them.

“I want to stay with my people!” Buffy said sharply.

“I regret,” said the officer flatly. “That cannot be permitted. You are in danger, avera. You must return to your residence where you will be safe.”

“But...”

“There is no danger to them if they are not with you, avera,” the officer said more gently and Buffy had to admit that he was right.

There was a seethe of people in their premises, Guild checking out every square inch of the place. The staff’s distressed faces eased when Buffy and Spike arrived.

“This is a terrible thing, averin!” Emer exclaimed. “We are so glad to see you both unharmed!”

“Cadhi and Dehren were hurt, but the Guild says they’ll be back soon. Does anyone know yet who those people were?”

“They are being questioned at this moment,” a Guild officer said, pausing beside them. His team was leaving, having made sure the premises were secure. Six Guild members now guarded the foyer and would remain until Cadhi and Dehren returned.

Adara came flying in, all apologies and exclamations ; then Tariess’s majordomo with messages of Tariess’s concern and determination to get to the bottom of the attack.

A couple of hours later, word came that the assailants were definitely not Guild hired for the purpose, but civilians, proponents of Lehren’s ideas and worldview. Respectable citizens who honestly believed they were saving the world by eliminating these alien intruders.

“Wonderful,” muttered Buffy. “That’s all we need. The populace wanting our hides.”

Spike gave a scornful laugh. “Nothing new about the peasants-with-flaming-torches bit for me, Slayer.” He was pacing back and forth, restless and irritable, like a cat on hot bricks. “Wish these gits would go and let us have Cadhi and Dehren back again. Comfortable with those two.”

Cadhi turned up some forty-five minutes later, having not only been patched up by medical, but also having undergone a debriefing by Tariess’s head of operations. Which must have been an arduous process, because she looked worn and exhausted. The crossbow bolt had been removed from Dehren’s leg and he was recovering well, but was being kept overnight for observation, Cadhi said. Buffy suggested that she go straight to bed, since they surely had guards enough right now. Cadhi agreed thankfully.

“Where is Spike-aver?” one of the new guards asked suddenly as those six were sorting out their duties at the guard post. Buffy realized that Spike was no longer anywhere in sight.

“I saw him going into his bedroom,” one of the staff supplied. “Shall I...?”

“No, I’ll go,” said Buffy shortly and headed for Spike’s bedroom.

She was unsurprised to find it empty. She glanced into the bathroom to find it the same, except for Emer making sure that everything was shipshape and in readiness. The doors to Spike’s shallow balcony were wide open, their curtains billowing in the breeze. She went and looked over the balustrade. There was a sheer twenty-foot drop to the next level, but she had no doubt that he could easily have made it. She should have known he’d do something like this. He’d been so fractious, resenting being caged like this.

“He’s sleeping,” she announced, returning to the guards. “You don’t have to worry about him.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Emer’s startled glance as that lady came into the foyer. Emer knew that Buffy had lied. But in her own way, Emer was as much a professional as the Guild was. Buffy and Spike were her charges. She said nothing.

Spike returned a couple of hours after nightfall. Lying in the dark in his bed, Buffy saw strong hands catch the edge of the stone balustrade, then a supple, shadowy form that looked like part of the night come vaulting over to land lightly on the balcony, only the glint of bleached white hair in the moonlight giving him away.

“On the prowl again?” she asked dryly and he laughed.

“That’s what I like to find in my bed,” he said and came unerringly through the darkness to put one knee on the bed and kiss her, leaning over her on his straight arms. “You. Naked.”

His T-shirt was damp again when she put her hand on his chest.

“You went swimming?”

“Got antsy.” He was laughing under his breath as he moved away. “Should have left the lights on, pet. You know I like to see you when we make love.”

He was relighting the lamps one by one.

“You don’t need that much light, vampire.”

He turned his head to look at her sideways, not smiling, his eyes very dark. “You do. Told you. Want you to know what you’re making love to.”

“I know. A monster.” She smiled at him as he trod off his Docs and began to pull the T-shirt over his head. “A very pretty monster.”

“Yeah?” His eyes went half-lidded and he started to smile.

“Better close the balcony doors,” she said as he tossed his jeans across a chair and moved towards the bed. “We might get attacked through them.”

“Twenty-foot drop, no handholds. Would take an expert with professional equipment to make that climb. These guys aren’t professionals. They’re amateurs.” He snickered. “Really like to see them get in here. They’re all so freaked out because of what they think we are? Should show them the truth. Should go into gameface and watch them fling themselves screaming over that balcony. Guild could take it. These pathetic wankers won’t.”

She laughed involuntarily. “You’re evil.”

“And don’t forget it.” His eyes were brilliant and hard and very dark as he folded down on top of her. “But you won’t.”

“No.” Her arms closed around him. “But I keep wanting to forget,” she sighed. “This is getting all too complicated. And you’re too beautiful.”

“Think so?” His eyes had gone soft. He kissed her slowly and deeply. “Like it if you think that way. Though you’re the beautiful one, pet. But it’s nice that you want to forget. Getting enamored of darkness, are you?”

“And you’re getting enamored of light. Why did you protect me back there?”

“Sex partner and food supply. ‘Course I had to protect you.”

“Liar.”

He laughed a little, ruefully. His lids were down, so she couldn’t see his eyes, only a flash of blue behind the thick, straight lashes.

“Habit. Victorian here. I protect my women.”

“You didn’t protect Harmony.”

“She wasn’t my woman. Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to, pet,” he said with sudden harshness.

“I need to understand.”

“No, you don’t. Everything here’s just a dream, remember? It won’t matter once we’re back in Sunnydale. Let it go.”

“You’re acting as if I were Dru.”

“Dru,” he muttered. “Crazy, but not. Sees things. Things you don’t know yourself. Covered with you. Yeah, she was right, wasn’t she?”

“What?”

“Let it go, Slayer! Sometimes it’s better not to understand things.” He looked down at her angrily. “Or are you planning to keep this little freak show going once we get back to Sunnydale?”

“God, no!”

“Didn’t think so. So let’s just go with the flow, shall we?”

His mouth took hers with a kind of despairing violence that she couldn’t understand; his body covered hers, urgent and demanding. The world spun away.

He disappeared again the next day. Went on some kind of a field trip right out of the city, the Guild said. Three of the six guards had gone with him. The other three were still here, assigned to help Cadhi who was back on duty.

“I’m going to have half the freaking army here next,” growled Buffy under her breath. But she wasn’t angry at them. She was angry at Spike for taking off like that without telling her what he was up to. Damn it, she was the Slayer. She was the Champion, not he, even though these people might have stuck that label on him. “Did he say where he was going or why?”

Everyone, staff included, shook their heads. Apparently he had just snapped his fingers at three of the guard, headed for the door and left.

Fuming, Buffy stamped back into the living room and spent the day plotting sightings of the Big Bad on the contour map pinned to the table in the study. That poor Adept who was porting Baniel’s detection device around must be thinking he’d be spending the rest of his life chugging back and forth on those railway tracks, chasing a mirage. The thing never seemed to settle.

Spike came back a couple of hours after dark and went straight through to his bedroom. Buffy heard his arrival just as she was finishing dinner, tossed down her napkin and went after him. He was in the bathroom when she got there and she could hear him running a bath, but when she tried the door, it was locked and wouldn’t open.

She banged on it with her fist. “Spike!”

“Covered in mud here, Slayer. Gimme half an hour. Got to soak out a few aching muscles too. Takes a while to get used to riding those sodding h’laren.”

“Where have you been?”

“Out.”

“You son of a bitch!”

“Language, Slayer.” She could hear him laughing.

Well, two could play at that game.

She stamped back into her own bedroom, locked every door that allowed entrance, and went to bed. If he was going to be like that, he could wait till morning to talk to her. She was so mad right now, she would probably knock his block off if she saw him.

She had left one light burning, so she was able to see when the door handle turned half an hour later and hear him stop short when the door wouldn’t open. She smiled tightly with satisfaction.

He laughed with genuine amusement, then went away.

Five minutes later, the lock clicked quietly and the door opened. Spike sauntered in, wearing only a bathrobe, his feet bare. He shut the door behind him and grinned at her.

Buffy sat bolt upright in bed. “How did you do that?”

He held up a couple of thin metal instruments. “Guild has lockpicks, remember? Loaned them to me when I said I wanted to practice. Never could do that mist thing like Drac and wouldn’t care to break the door in. Emer wouldn’t like it. Probably another priceless antiquity or something.”

She barely stopped herself from laughing. His cockiness always got under her guard.

He tilted an eyebrow at her. “So, what’s with the bad moody, Slayer?”

She flounced out of bed, nightgown flapping, and stood glaring at him, her arms folded. “Where were you?”

“Spelunking.”

“Spe-what?”

“Exploring caves. They’ve got some about twenty miles out from the city. Wanted to see what they looked like.”

“Caves!” she said incredulously. “Why?”

“Thing might be hiding in one. Wanted to see what kinda conditions it might accept. Tell us something about it, that would. Don’t think it’d like it though. Cold, damp and nasty down there. Way colder than above ground.”

“Vamps don’t mind the cold, right? So maybe this thing won’t either.”

“Think it might like things hot. Likes playing with fire, doesn’t it? Incinerating things and all.”

Buffy frowned. “Your logic’s a bit shaky.”

“No harm in a recce,” he shrugged. “Caves were a bit shaky too. Guild says there are a lot of quakes all along these mountains. Couple of nasty tectonic plates grinding away at each other down there beneath us, I suppose. Got beaned by a couple of rocks, just fooling around in those caverns.”

“Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing?”

His brows rose. “Is that what’s got your knickers in a twist? Why should I?”

“I’m the Slayer, dammit! I need to know what’s going on!”

“We’re both champions here, Slayer,” he mocked. “You’re not the one and only anymore.”

“You should have told me!”

He was frowning, his jaw out, the bones of his face suddenly very visible.

“Asked your permission, you mean?” His eyes flashed with anger. “Never asked permission of anyone for anything once I became a vamp. Never gonna.”

“I didn’t mean that!”

“Then what did you mean?”

“I need to be kept up to date on what’s going on!”

“Do I have to run every idea past you now, Slayer? Like to work a thing out before I put it out there to get dumped on. Like to know all the ins and outs of how it functions. Not gonna change now.”

“Look, if you haven’t noticed, things are sensitive here with these people! We should discuss any bright ideas!”

“And who gets the veto? You? Yeah, thought so,” he mocked as she started to answer, then stopped. “You’re used to running things, Slayer. Good for you. Well, so am I. Ran things for a hundred years once Angel souled out on us. Did pretty good so far.”

“You could have got yourself killed by those rocks you said fell on you! Then where would things have been?”

“Same as they were. You’d still be around, being all ‘champion’ for these people. It wouldn’t matter.”

It would matter to her, she realized with a shock.

“‘M not one of your pathetic Scoobie losers, Slayer,” he snarled at her. “Not gonna run at your heels, waiting to be told what to do, asking permission to scratch my arse. Sod that!”

“I wasn’t even thinking that!” Okay, how had he managed to twist things around on her like this? She was the one who should be justifiably angry, but here she was on the defensive and he was the one furious.

“It’s all about you, isn’t it, Slayer?” he mocked. “Self-absorbed bint, aren’t you? Too used to queening it. Well, I’m not gonna take your orders, pet. Not gonna dance to your tune. That’s what’s really got you all pissed off, innit? That I won’t do what you say?”

What had really got her pissed off was that she had been worried about him, she realized in horror. She swirled around and tore the balcony doors open, stepped out into the cool night air, gripping the stone balustrade to keep from hitting out at him.

“That wasn’t it at all!” she flung at him over her shoulder. “I don’t expect people to do what I say! No one does! They all tell me what to do! Giles, the Scoobies, Angel...”

His hand slammed down onto the balustrade beside hers. He leaned over her shoulder to glare at her. “Oh, don’t bring that name into this! I’m not Angel!”

“You’re acting like him! Unilateral decisions,” she muttered bitterly. “All for my own good.”

“I don’t do things for anybody’s good!” he snapped. “Evil here, remember? I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m just fucking well keeping my independence! Sodding hell! Think I’m your lapdog, do you? Bloody well not, Slayer! You don’t own me!”

She could feel him vibrating with fury behind her and suddenly the ridiculousness of the situation hit her. She wanted to laugh. This whole thing had gotten out of hand. Because why? Because she had been afraid for him and hadn’t wanted to face that. Because she...cared for him.

She leaned back abruptly against him, her head on his shoulder. “But I do own you, Spike. Here.”

His breath caught. There was a ringing silence. Then the tight planes of his face softened, changed into helplessness. His hands closed on her hips, fingers digging into her flesh, pulling her back hard against him.

“Christ, you know how to play me, don’t you?” he muttered.

“Not playing,” she murmured and turned her head to brush her open mouth against his teasingly.

His breath shuddered in his throat. He kissed her deeply, their mouths twisting together.

“Not gonna work,” he warned. His face had gone strained and taut again, but it was a different kind of strain, all intensity and heat. “Not going to bloody do what you say.”

“Wasn’t thinking of that.”

“What then?”

She reached behind her with both hands to tug at the belt of his robe. “You.”

“You have no mercy, Slayer.”

He bent a little, his hands sliding over her hips and down her thighs. Then he was pulling her nightgown up, splayed hands sliding back up her thighs, the rings on his fingers cold against her flesh.

“Like these tube things,” he muttered. “Convenient.”

“As if anything else would give you trouble anyway,” she muttered back. “You’re too good at this game.”

“Getting there yourself, pet.”

His robe had fallen open now and she felt his skin cool against her, that taut, supple body aroused and hard behind her. She shuddered and pushed back against him.

A hand slid between her thighs, pulling her legs apart. He moved against her back.

“Oh, no, wait,” she protested. Even though it was night, they were out in the open, the room lit behind them and lamplight pouring over them. “Out here?”

“Not visible,” he said, a deep, husky mutter against her ear, lips sliding down the side of her face, her neck, across her collarbone. “No line of sight from anywhere else. Besides...”

“Dark side, yeah,” she murmured. “Want you.”

“Buffy...”

She felt his thickness push into her, arched against him. It was a different angle, deeper, stronger. She clenched upon him as he stretched her to the limit, and felt him gasp against her cheekbone. His splayed hand slid down her stomach, the heel of his hand pressing hard against her G-spot from the outside. His thumb found her clit, worked it. She moaned.

Exquisitely slow. Slow, deep thrusts going all the way in and then just that little bit further. That profound possession in both of them.

“You’re mine,” he said, a blurry rasp against her neck. “You’re mine.”

She didn’t answer, couldn’t, drowning in that heavy, honied, dark sensuality.

“Never felt the way you make me feel, Slayer,” he whispered as she arched and pushed against him, clenching hard upon him. “Not in a hundred and twenty years. Don’t know how I’m gonna give this up.”

“Me neither,” she sighed and felt the cool exhalation of his breath against her skin as his fangs sank into the vein. “Oh, God!”

It was too much, unbearable, that wild rapture thrilling through every cell of her body. She convulsed against him, her whole body seizing up in ecstasy, felt him judder and pulse within her again and again.

“God,” he groaned, his full weight upon her, both of them leaning weakly against the stone of the balustrade. His head dropped forward, forehead pressing against the side of her head. She could feel his breath shuddering against her hair. “Never gonna be free of you, Slayer.”


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary: aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: 3 miles
Chapter 8 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 8

“What are you doing?” Spike dropped down onto the floor beside Buffy and leaned back against the couch on which she was sitting. She felt his cool hand close about her ankle and slide back and forth, a light caress hidden from Emer and Cadhi moving about the living room.

“Trying to keep tabs on this damn thing.” Buffy glowered down at the map she had spread on the coffee table in front of her. “There’ve been three—well, let’s call them sightings, for lack of a better word, though nobody actually saw it—three jumps of Baniel’s meter thing so far today. Each one hundreds of miles apart. Do you think there’s more than one of these creatures?”

Spike glanced over the readouts the Adept had sent. “Don’t think so. That would have to show up at some point, two readings at the same time with distance between them. Here, the reading stops in one place and turns up later in another. Suggests something changing locations. God, the thing moves fast, doesn’t it? Even over some very rough country, if these contour maps are accurate.”

“Hope it is just the one. Hope there’s not a whack of them.” Buffy shuddered at the thought.

“Hope it’s not female. Eggs,” he said simply. “Offspring of some sort?”

She gave him a horrified look. “Oh, God, we might be here for years!”

“Nah. Just have to get rid of the big one and these people can take care of any babies that might be around.”

“If only the frigging thing would stay still!”

“Gotta settle sooner or later. It’s doing recon. See? It’s quartering the area like we did at Faisi. Except the territory that it’s covering is that whole range of mountains.”

There was a pattern to the sightings if one looked at it that way.

“That suggests it’s intelligent.”

Spike shook his head. “Big cats do that. Tigers, for instance. Walk their territory, checking for competition and danger. Looks sentient if you just see the pattern, but they’re not really.”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere!” Buffy said in exasperation.

He reached up to stroke her hair gently. “Hey. We’ll suss it out.”

“Yeah, but when? I keep dreading another attack.”

“We’ve got time. No, really,” he said when she gave him a disbelieving glance. “Look at the time factor. Week to ten days between attacks. Time to digest, maybe?”

“Eww. Can’t be eating hundreds and hundreds of people and cattle and whatnot. I don’t care how big it is. That’s way too much of a bellyful.”

“Lots of piles of ash around and bits of melted metal that could have been buttons and belt buckles and suchlike. Fries most of them, I think. It sounded really pissed back there.”

She remembered the hatred in the thing’s shriek. “Yeah, it did.”

“I mean, there must be mammals and things in those mountains. Deer or boar or goat equivalents. It could eat those if it wanted. Maybe it does. But people it’s mostly choosing to fry. Got a grudge on, I’m betting.”

“Great.”

Spike was sitting sprawled out, a forearm across a bent knee, the fingers of his dangling hand flicking restlessly back and forth. He had a wry, amused look on his face. He tipped his head back onto the seat of the couch and looked up at her.

“You’re being slow, pet. Something huge that fries things. That throws fire. What do you think it might be? Godzilla?”

“Godzilla doesn’t throw fire.” Her eyes widened. “No, no, no. Don’t say it.”

“Dragon.”

Buffy put her head into her hands. “You had to say it.”

“Baniel brought through a dragon and it’s not happy to be here.”

“Dragons don’t exist.”

“Demons don’t exist. Or vampires.” He was laughing at her. “Stop fighting the idea, Slayer. These people were fooling around with magic without realizing the consequences. Is it so surprising they brought a mystical, half-magical creature here?”

“No wonder it gets over ground so easily. It flies. It didn’t pass through the city. It flew over it. That’s why no one saw it.”

“Yeah.” Spike’s eyes were shining. “This is going to be fun!”

“Oh, God, you’re getting a charge out of this!”

“No wonder they needed a champion. Slayer. Dragonslayer. Has a nice ring to it. Always wanted to take on a dragon. All those fairytales when I was a kid.” He struck a dramatic pose. “Knight in shining...leather.”

Buffy giggled involuntarily. “This is awful. How do you fight something like that, Spike?”

“A horse, lance and shield is traditional, I understand. That’s the way St. George did it. Mind you, asbestos armor might help.”

“I wonder if the palace tailors can stitch some up.”

They both laughed.

“You thought of this before, didn’t you?” Buffy said.

“It was just a thought. Nothing to back it up. Still don’t really have anything, Slayer. This is all just a guess.”

“But it hangs together. That’s why you checked out those caves.”

“Dragons like caves, right? But these were too cold and wet. Hot creatures, dragons.”

“Reptiles,” Buffy objected.

“Not really. A demon. No real connection to the natural world. No Jurassic Park dino here, pet.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Only the Chinese legends connect dragons to water. Every other legend talks of fire and air. Except for when it attacks, it’s sticking to the mountains. Might be drier caves up there.”

“Thousands of square miles of them. We’re back to: where exactly is it?”

“Any repetitive sightings?”

“It’s moving and Baniel’s device is moving, trying to track it. Between the two sets of movements, we’re lucky to catch any sightings at all,” Buffy sighed.

They pored over the maps.

“Couple of repetitions here and there,” said Spike. “But that just looks like part of its territorial sweep. Four times in the mountains at Reishi. That might be a possibility. Cadhi,” he called.

“Yes, aver?”

“Anything special about Reishi?”

Cadhi shook her head. “A remote district, aver. Quiet. Not much industry. Logging, a little mining, some tourism, but only in summer when the snows have left the mountains and people can make the long journey up to the Caves of Fire.”

“The...Caves of Fire?” Spike said very carefully.

“Yes, aver. It is quite spectacular. Those mountains are volcanic, though there has not been an actual eruption in centuries. But vents and fissures in the caves allow the passage of fire and steam and gases. An impressive sight.”

Buffy and Spike glanced at each other.

“Ohh-kay,” said Buffy. “We want to go there.”

Cadhi gaped at her. “We, er, we can certainly arrange that, but...”

“Right away.”

“Y-yes, avera. But the rail line will only take you part of the way there. You will need h’laren for the rest of the journey. And camping materials. You will have to camp overnight both ways. It will take a little while to organize.”

“Please do it, Cadhi. It’s very important. We need to take a look at those caves. And contact that Adept, what’s his name? Jirun? Tell him to get Baniel’s device to the train station closest to the Caves of Fire. Are those Caves within two hundred miles of the station?”

“Oh, yes. Far less.”

“Tell Jirun to concentrate on Reishi and keep a watch for anything showing up near those Caves.”

“Yes, avera. At once.”

“Just a recce,” said Spike sharply to Buffy. “Nothing more. We go there, suss out the place, then work out a way to deal with the thing. You don’t rush in there, screaming, ‘Banzai!’ Okay?”

“Hey, that’s your technique, not mine!”

They grinned at each other.

They couldn’t leave for Reishi until the next day. Tariess insisted that a troop of twenty Guild and a Guildmaster accompany them. Dehren was back, limping only a little and swearing that he was perfectly okay to ride, though a long hike might be problematic. Since the h’laren could take them right to the mouth of the Caves, Buffy couldn’t find an acceptable reason to leave him behind.

The Adept with Baniel’s device was waiting when they reached the train station at Reishi. The device had shown the presence of the dragon last night, but the thing had flown away again that morning.

“We need to take that device with us,” Buffy said. “We need some early warning if it comes back. Do you ride, Jirun? Will you come with us or do you want to turn the scanner over to one of the Guild?”

“I’ll come, avera,” said Jirun. He might be only a scholar, but he was determined to do his duty.

“Good man,” said Dehren, thumping him on the shoulder, and Jirun looked startled and pleased.

Three of the h’laren were loaded up with their tents and supplies. Saddles with pommels were found for Buffy and Jirun, and the two most docile h’laren were located, though as usual their docility was a debatable point. The trip to Faisi had helped. Buffy was actually riding and balancing properly on her mount, unlike poor Jirun who sat his like a lump and was looking rather green around the gills. She still left the reins wrapped around the pommel though and didn’t try to control her h’laren, trusting Cadhi and Dehren to keep it moving with the rest of the herd.

They moved out at a sedate pace, two of the Guild taking point. There was no need for hurry and they had a long ride ahead of them.

“What I wouldn’t give for a donkey,” muttered Buffy. “Or one of those off-road motorcycles.”

Spike’s brows shot up. “You on a dirt bike? Please. You’re dangerous enough behind the wheel of a car, Slayer.”

“Hey!”

“I’ve seen you drive. At least with the h’laren, you’ll just kill yourself, not every other person within a mile radius.”

“Guess who’s sleeping alone tonight. Dammit, isn’t there any way to make it stop doing that?”

Her h’laren had decided to snatch at a particularly tempting patch of grass between its front feet. The movement brought its head down to the ground and Buffy jolting forward over the pommel.

“I’m going to fall!” Then she regained her balance as the creature’s head came up again. “These things are evil!”

“Yeah.” Spike thwacked his with his riding crop to keep it from taking a piece out of Cadhi’s mount ahead of them. “Getting to like the sods.”

Buffy gave him a look and he laughed.

The way was soon very steep. The h’laren, with their clawed feet, had no trouble. The train station was quickly lost behind them. Turns on the trail revealed magnificent views of the mountain range, foothills furred with trees, snow-streaked peaks raking the sky and marching away on all sides into the blue distance. The air was crisp, cold and very clear, with an invigorating tang to it.

“Beautiful country,” remarked Spike.

“I’m a city girl,” griped Buffy. “Rather see a billboard or a pair of golden arches.”

“And you’re the one with the soul.”

They both laughed.

Nightfall found them three quarters of the way up the mountain. Jirun said that the dragon had not returned.

“Even so, we will make a small fire only for cooking and then douse it after,” said the Guildmaster firmly. No one objected. Anything flying over them would certainly see a fire. “Lanterns in the tents are acceptable. The light will be negligible with the tents under the trees and the thick canvas that we’re using.”

“Anybody been in these Caves?” Buffy asked while they were eating.

There was a chorus of assent. Many of the troop had.

“How many entrances are there?”

The Guildmaster frowned. “The one great one on the side of the mountain. But that is not what you mean.”

“No. I’m talking about accesses aside from the main entrance.”

“It is a mountain, avera. There must be many.”

“Big enough to allow something a hundred feet wide to pass?”

“Ah! I think not.”

“That’s our job tomorrow. Work our way all around there and try to pinpoint any access that’s at least a hundred feet wide.”

“What are you thinking, pet?” Spike was stretched out on the ground, his hands behind his head and his ankles crossed, looking dreamily up at the stars.

“We can’t let it get airborne. That would give it too much of an advantage. A thing like that dive-bombing us? You saw what it did to Faisi and the other towns and villages. What was that you said about Dresden being firebombed?”

“Mm.”

“We have to keep it on the ground. It’s going to be tough enough to kill there. I don’t care about St. George. Swords and lances are no good against something that size. And it breathes fire. It’ll fry us to a crisp. I may be the Slayer, but that’s not something I want to go up against mano a mano.”

“Yeah.”

“No really useful long distance weapons here. Only thing we have is the ballista. Okay. Seal up every other exit that exists so there’s just the main one. Let it go in there, then skewer it with the ballista when it tries to come out.”

“Yes, yes,” muttered the Guildmaster. “Or if that is not successful, drive it back into the Caves, bring down the entrance and trap it within. Starve it to death.”

Buffy nodded. “Lots of options if we can only keep it contained.”

“Chancy,” murmured Spike.

“Got a better idea?”

“Maybe.”

“What?”

He smiled up at the stars. “Working on that.”

Clearly he wasn’t going to tell her yet. She opened her mouth to protest, then thought back to their previous argument and closed it again.

He grinned crookedly. “How about that? You do learn,” he said softly so that only she could hear with her acute Slayer hearing.

“Don’t have to be mean.”

Everybody had finished eating. A couple of the Guild collected the tin plates and mugs and took them down to the stream to wash. People were already heading for their tents, where the tiny lights would still allow conversation and dice or card games.

“Why do you keep looking at the sky?” Buffy asked. “Watching for the dragon?”

“Nah. It’s just pretty, is all.”

She looked up herself and found herself looking at splendor. The sky was peppered and spangled with stars, billions of them. She hadn’t really looked up until now. Even back in Sunnydale, she had never seen so many.

“Whoa. They’ve really got a lot here.”

“No light pollution. It’s the same back in our dimension once you get away from the streetlights.”

“It’s beautiful and I didn’t even see. But you did.” She smiled affectionately at him. “Yeah, the poet’s still there.”

He winced. “Thought you weren’t going to rub that in.”

She laughed down at him. “Kinda like it.”

He made a scornful sound. “Believe me, you wouldn’t have liked William. He was all wet.”

“But you’re not. Is it the demon then? The character change, I mean.”

He shook his head. “The demon gave me the strength and the speed, gave me the chance to be what I wanted to be. Opened the door. Took me decades to learn, to change, to become really me.”

“Spike. The new persona.”

His teeth flashed white in the darkness, mocking. “The killer.”

“What’s wrong?” she said suddenly. “You’re down. I can feel it.”

“I’m not down. Things are going well. We get this thing, we may not have to spend that much longer in this dimension.”

“Yeah! Isn’t that great!”

“Isn’t it?”

She caught the edge in his voice. “But...”

The Guildmaster stopped beside them. “We will break camp at first light tomorrow, if that is agreeable to you, avera. The more daylight we have for the search, the better.”

“Yes, of course,” Buffy nodded.

“More time to find a place to hide,” murmured Spike sardonically under his breath. “Rather see it than it seeing us.”

“You are all bad moody tonight.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You’re sniping.”

“Don’t I always?” He got to his feet irritably. “Jirun. What’s the score, mate?”

Jirun blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”

“Any pretty lights on your little box?”

“Ah! No, the creature has not returned. We are safe so far.”

“You may sleep without alarm, averin,” the Guildmaster said. “The men on watch will take the device and pass it along to each watch. We will have warning if the...dragon, do you call it?... appears.”

“Thank you.” Buffy got to her feet, then stumbled.

Spike steadied her quickly. “You all right, pet?”

She grinned ruefully. “Stiff.”

“Oh, yes,” muttered Jirun ruefully.

The Guildmaster chuckled and held out two little pots. “It was thought you might be. This may help.”

Buffy sniffed at her pot cautiously. The herbs that the staff had dropped into the bath water the last time had been pungent. But this had only a faint pleasant odor.

“This is nice. Thank you.”

“We use it often, avera. It is good for strained muscles.”

“And I’ve got those, all right.”

Cadhi and Dehren had set up a tent for them under the trees in the most sheltered part of the camp, where it would be overlooked by anything flying overhead.

“We’re the Champions,” muttered Buffy. “It doesn’t seem right that we have the safest spot.”

“Not the way they see it, luv.” Spike was setting up the tent’s light, which turned out to be a candle behind a strong magnifying lens in a small lantern. It cast a surprisingly bright glow.

The tent could be partitioned into two, but the partition had not been raised, had just been left hanging against the back wall. Cadhi and Dehren seemed to be as much aware of their relationship as the staff was. Buffy flushed a little.

Spike laughed, seeing the color come up in her face. “Household, pet.”

“Damn. Do the rest of them...?”

“Shouldn’t think so. They’re only on loan. Not part of the family, if you see what I mean.”

“Hard to get used to this,” she muttered.

“People knowing?” He smiled crookedly. “Just remember. No one will know back in Sunnydale.”

“Huh.”

The bedrolls had discreetly not been spread out, leaving it up to them whether they wanted to make one bed or two. Spike made one, without bothering to ask her preference. He had kicked off his Docs and was pulling off his T-shirt when he noticed her working away with the Guildmaster’s little pot of ointment.

“Here, give me that. Better when someone else does it for you.”

“You give massage?” Buffy teased.

“Got good at it that year Dru was sick. Lie down.”

He was good at it, that innate tactility of his given free rein. She lay limply drifting in a contented haze while those clever, sensitive hands worked her from neck to heel, kneading out all the knots in her aching body.

“My bones feel like wet noodles,” she sighed and he laughed. “Gonna fall asleep. I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“No need,” he said simply and, given permission like that, she did drift off to sleep.

She woke some hours later to find herself lying back against him under the blankets, her head in the curve of his shoulder and his arms around her, holding her closely to him. The candle in the lantern was burning low, but it was still dark outside. She could feel the steady rise and fall of his breathing against her back.

“You’re awake,” she said. He hardly ever breathed when he was asleep.

“Yeah.”

She twisted around to face him. His profile was very still and quiet, his gaze fixed on the canvas roof above their heads. His hand slid up and down her back, absently caressing her.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “You’ve been strange all evening.”

He turned his head to look down at her, his gaze moving lingeringly over her face from hairline to chin. She couldn’t read the expression in his eyes because his lids had dropped, leaving only narrow, shadowed curves.

“What if the spell doesn’t work the way we think?” he said. “What if we kill that thing, but we’re still stuck here the whole sixty days? Will you mind?”

“No, not really.” She pushed herself up on one elbow to see him clearly. “Will you?”

His mouth twisted sardonically. “Got all I want here, don’t I? Slayer blood, sex, posh digs, booze, staff at my beck and call...”

She laughed involuntarily. “Vamp paradise. But it’s not home though, is it?”

His gaze went up to the canvas again. “Guess not.”

“Hey, come on. Don’t get gloomy again. Forty-five days more isn’t that long to wait, is it?”

“No, it’s not long at all.”

“Look on the bright side. Maybe the spell will work the way we hope and we’ll get poofed back right away.”

He looked at her with wry amusement. “You’re something else, aren’t you, Slayer? Oh, well.”

She looked down at him, puzzled by the odd tone in his voice.

“We could enjoy ourselves in the meantime, right?” She stroked his face lightly and he turned his head a little, pushing against her fingers like a cat. “Hey, you like that.”

She ran her fingertips delicately over the planes of his face, down the long cord of his neck, across his collarbone, watched his eyelids grow heavy and half-close, his gaze turn inward, focusing on the way the caress felt. She bent and kissed him softly, and felt his breath shudder and his mouth respond helplessly to her own.

Gentleness. Who’d have thought a vamp would respond to gentleness? But then he had always been gentle with Dru. Had Dru been gentle back? Buffy thought not, from his surprise at her caress, the way his face went so defenceless and vulnerable. Tenderness touched something deep inside him. She saw his lips part, heard the little, shuddering catch of his breath. He yearned for it.

“Buffy.” His hands caught her upper arms, drawing her down to him.

“No.” She pushed his hands flat on the blankets. “I want to try a couple of things. Want to explore.”

“Anything you want.” He looked up at her, a strange expression in his eyes. “I’m yours.”

She could feel his body relaxing, become pliant and unresisting, surrendering itself to her. She ran her hands over him, feeling the deep, subterranean shudders that went through him, bent and kissed his throat and felt him arc it to her mouth.

Having power over him like this was incredibly arousing. She ran her hands and her mouth over him, coiled about him, taking her time, stretching it out, feeling him shiver and flex and conform to her movements, pliable to her demands. He was a pleasure to touch, those supple muscles, that very lickable sixpack.

“Could play with you like this for hours,” she purred.

“Want you to,” he muttered. “But...”

‘But’ was right. It was getting too much for him, his body demanding completion. He was tensing involuntarily, muscles firing off without volition, surging against her. She teased his nipples with her tongue, bit him just below his navel and felt him jerk against her. His fingers were clenched on the blankets, trying to hold himself back.

“Buffy...”

She pushed one leg sideways and bit her way up his inner thigh.

“Christ, Slayer!” His other knee was starting to tremor.

“Haven’t even started yet,” she purred.

“God, you’re gonna kill me!”

“But you like it.” She was exploring his balls. His hips jolted. He was painfully erect by now. “Oh, yeah, you really do.”

Her hand closed upon his cock. Velvet over steel. She ran her hand up and down it, bent and probed the sensitive slit at its top with the tip of her tongue.

Jesus!

His hips came right off the bed. Then it was like being hit by an explosion. She was yanked upwards and onto her back and he was coming into her hard. She laughed and wrapped her arms triumphantly around him.

“Yes, come on. Just like that. Yes!”

They strained against each other, taking each other fiercely. She was lost in him, lost in the driving rhythms of his body, the sound of his voice muttering something indistinguishable and intense, the pressure of his face against hers with its desperate, more than intimate closeness. Then his fangs slid into her neck, that slow, deep draw thrilling through every cell in her body, throwing them both so much higher, convulsing.

When Cadhi called outside their tent at dawn, she didn’t want to move. Her body felt heavy and replete, languorous with passion spent, rich and lush with contentment.

“I think my bones have melted,” she muttered into his shoulder.

He laughed a little against her hair. “Mutual.”

“Didn’t think it could ever be like this.”

“Never was before,” he said under his breath. “Not in a hundred and twenty years.”

They both sighed.

Washing, dressing, eating breakfast all passed in a dreamy haze. He came to her when they were all mounting up.

“All right?” he asked.

“I think my brain’s finally starting to function, yeah.”

They both laughed softly, leaning lightly against each other. His hands ran down her upper arms; his lips pressed against her forehead.

“Mine too.”

The h’laren were starting to move out. Spike tossed her up into her saddle and smiled up at her, then turned to whack the shoulder of his own mount. Its knee bent, he caught the reins, then was thrown upwards with a powerful jolt as the creature straightened, settling smoothly into its saddle as it started to move forward.

“Wish I could do that,” she muttered.

He grinned at her. “Few more days of riding and you will.”

“Days,” she groaned. “God!”

They made good time on the last quarter of the climb, reaching the mouth of the Caves by mid-morning. Even the outside was impressive: the raking, grey-black cliff face, the wide entrance with wisps of steam drifting from it, the huge clearing in front ending in a great drop down to the river hundreds of feet below.

“Did you wish to enter, avera?” the Guildmaster asked.

Buffy glanced into the entrance. An enormous tunnel swept away into dense shadow. The end of it was small with distance, a ragged red-orange circle waxing and waning with the flicker of the flames within.

“Maybe later,” she said. Sightseeing could wait. They had a job to do first. “Unless the thing’s down there. If it is, I want to take a look. Jirun?”

“It is not, avera. The device shows nothing.”

“Okay then. Everyone spread out and start searching for other ways in.”

Spike had dismounted too. “It’s been here.”

Buffy looked at the depressions that pockmarked the clearing. Something huge and heavy had landed here, not once but several times.

“Maybe this really is its lair.” She hoped so. If it kept coming back here, that would give them more opportunities to trap it.

Avera!” Jirun screamed suddenly. “It’s here!”

Where?” She looked around wildly. “You said it wasn’t!”

“It just appeared! From nowhere!”

Something shrieked above them. Something plummeted like a meteor falling—a gigantic, golden body, the beating of colossal wings. She was knocked off her feet by a downdraft of icy-cold air smelling of ozone. The h’laren screamed in terror and tried to flee as one, fighting the men desperately trying to hold onto them. An immense weight struck the clearing, shaking the ground like an earthquake.

She lifted her head to see a massive shape whip around and disappear into the tunnel, with shocking speed for something that size.

Spike grabbed at her. “Buffy, are you all right?”

She nodded dumbly. From the cold and the smell of ozone that it had brought with it, it had been somewhere in the upper atmosphere.

“Why didn’t it kill us?” she gasped. “It could have fried us! Why...?”

It took you long enough to get here,” a vast, cold voice said in her head. “Come in. Don’t be shy. I...enjoy visitors.


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary:
aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: three miles
Chapter 9 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 9

“Oh, God, it’s intelligent!” Spike groaned. “That makes this so much harder!”

They had all heard that enormous, baleful voice reverberating in their heads.

“We should leave now,” Jirun was stuttering. “It knows we are here. We should be dead. Why aren’t we dead? We should leave. Come back later. Element of surprise...”

Hugely contemptuous laughter filled their heads.

Yes, run. I can find you now, wherever you run to. I know the taste of your minds. I had more than enough time not only to learn them, but to succumb to tedium in the hours that it took you to crawl up here.

It had watched them then, probably from the moment they had arrived at the station. But where had it been all this time?

A childish toy that Baniel scorpion created,” the dragon said in answer to her thought. “It reads two hundred of your miles in all directions. But straight upwards? It cannot even read two hundred feet. I was on the next peak westward. He had no vision. Truly a fool.

“Is that why you killed him?” Buffy snapped.

Cold laughter filled her head, malefic and inimical. “He really thought I would not. He was so surprised when I did. It was to laugh. Insect.

Buffy climbed to her feet and stood with her hands on her hips, glowering at the cavern.

“Thinks a lot of itself, doesn’t it?”

Spike grinned tightly. “But we’ll take it down a peg, pet.”

You amuse. Come converse with me. It will provide a moment’s diversion.

“Wonder if it’s male or female,” she muttered.

Male. You are concerned about progeny. As if I would condemn my children to this cold, dull, heavy world of yours. You may have ensnared me here. You will snare no others.” A sense of snarling teeth clashing together came across. “I will ensure it. There will not be one of your species left when I am done.

“We will stop you,” Buffy snapped.

You? You puny little creatures who can do nothing but run and scream and hide at the very sight of me? I think not.

“I will stop you.”

You,” it said again. Laughter sounded, dripping with an annihilating scorn and disdain. “Can you truly believe that?

“Yes.”

Your overconfidence is diverting. Oh, I see. I come upon it in the minds of these your fellows. You are their ‘champion.’ But even they do not believe that any more.

“What they believe doesn’t matter.”

Your mind is different. You have strange things in it. A grotesque, mechanical world. Ah, now I understand. They called you also across the great divide. To fight me. How disappointed they must be now!

“Arrogant sod,” muttered Spike. Buffy just glowered.

Come and speak to me, ‘Champion’. I grant you passage. I may even let you leave. We have much in common and I wish to see what flea it is that tries to bite my ankle.

“Not alone!” the Guildmaster gasped. “Avera, we must come with you!”

I will not guarantee the continued existence of any who accompany you.

“No one comes with me except Spike,” Buffy said flatly. “We’re the Champions. This is our job.”

Avera!

“No. I want you to collect your men and get as far away from these Caves as you can.”

“We will not abandon you!”

“That’s an order. We’ll join you when we’re done.”

“Dehren.” Spike moved towards where Dehren was struggling with his h’laren.

“You will want your swords,” said Cadhi, bringing them.

“Why not?” said Buffy, exchanging an amused glance with Spike. She strapped it on, though it was unlikely that it would be of any use whatsoever. But who knew?

“Get them as far away as you can,” Spike was saying quietly to Dehren.

“I will try, aver.” Dehren handed him the saddlebag he had unstrapped from the h’laren.

“I hope you have asbestos shields in there,” said Buffy, looking at the saddlebag curiously as Spike slung it over his shoulder. It looked very heavy.

“Dragon can read your mind, Slayer.”

“Good point.” Best not to know what he was carrying in that saddlebag.

“Banzai,” grinned Spike as they stepped into the tunnel. They both laughed.

They moved shoulder to shoulder through the darkness towards the flickering, fiery opening at the far end. It was strange but at the same time natural to have him beside her as they went to face this creature. Strange because she had always gone up against dangers alone before; natural, because in the last fifteen days she had become used to having him at her side. She glanced at him and saw the flash of his teeth in the darkness as he grinned. He was having fun. Buffy enjoyed fighting, but risk was a duty to her, not a pleasure. Spike enjoyed it.

They stepped out of the tunnel into a vast cavern stretching hundreds of feet. Cracks and fissures split the rock under their boots, and jets of fire and steam from potholes spewed fifty feet up. The air was hot as a sauna, but breathable despite the gases.

“Careful where you step, Slayer.”

“Yes.” Any crack or fissure at random might belch forth fire or steam.

The dragon was lying in the middle of the cavern. It looked like jewelry work, like something precisely crafted out of plates of gold, the light of the fires glittering on the scalloped layers of scales. Except it was gigantic. A T-rex was nothing to it. A hundred feet wide, hundreds of feet long. Unfolded, its wings would have covered an entire village. Just one of its claws was longer than her arm from elbow to fingertip.

It turned its head to look at them. Her gaze ran up from its narrow snout to the oily green eyes. The pupils of those eyes were vertical like a cat’s and Buffy could have stood up straight in either of them, the eyes were that large. Smoke rose from the red pits of its nostrils. Between the gleaming, white fangs, glare flickered from the ever-present furnace in its belly. She got a sense of immense age and of youth at the same time. It was both ancient and young, in its prime. Terrible and beautiful at once. Magnificent.

I am,” it said. “And you are this Champion. You do not impress.

“Yeah, people keep telling me that. Then they find they were wrong.”

It laughed coldly. “At least you have courage. Unlike the others. What is that creature with you? I cannot read its mind.

“Thought not,” said Spike under his breath with satisfaction.

“This is Spike. He is a vampire.”

A...demon, you think him. Possibly that is why I cannot read behind his surface thoughts, only what he projects when he speaks. I sense connotations of magic and threat. A somewhat mystical being. Like me.

“Yeah, we’re both evil,” Spike grinned.

Then why do you oppose me?” It sounded curious, not concerned. “Even she wonders that.

“I have my reasons.”

Fair enough. I have no specific antipathy towards you, vampire. Her mind says that you too were drawn here by the malign machinations of these despicable people. Should you choose to step away, I will let you go. Your Slayer has just remembered that you are particularly flammable.

It grinned, fangs showing all the way around that wide, wide maw as the golden lips writhed back. Buffy gave Spike a rueful glance.

“You are, Spike. I should have thought of it sooner.”

“We’re in this together, Slayer.”

Noble,” sneered the dragon. “Touching. It really is. But will that sentiment have meaning to anyone when you are ash?”

“And will revenge have meaning when you are a stinking carcass on the ground?” Spike threw back.

Ah, you know what I seek. Come, come, vampire. You are a demon. You know that revenge is sweet for its own sake.” It hissed and a jet of fire spat from its jaws to burn across the stone floor. “That arrogant insect with his white hair and beard and delusions of power. How dare he drag Me across the dark and the cold? Trap me here in this ugly world, so chill it freezes my bones, so heavy it drags upon my wings and binds me down, down, to the dead earth. And all for the ‘secrets of the universe.’ As if I know them! But he thought I did. He wanted gratis the knowledge that I had strove and fought to accumulate over five millennia. If he wanted knowledge, why did he not search it out himself, work and learn, not steal it by force from others?

“He could not hope to,” said Spike. “His lifetime is only a hundred years at most.”

Mayfly,” spat the dragon scornfully. “He will not reach that hundred now. For his hubris, I burned him where he stood. And his people and tower with him.

“Five millennia,” Buffy remarked. “Are you immortal?”

Perhaps I am. I do not know. I am long-lived. I have lived five thousand of your years and I am young for my kind. But who can claim to be immortal until the end of days is known?

“True. What is your name?”

You could not pronounce it. It is...” It said several syllables in a voice that was the very voice of fire itself, a vast exhalation of heat and flame and sparks.

“You’re right. I can’t pronounce that. May I call you ‘Dragon’ instead?”

The word has connotations of terror and splendor. It is acceptable.”

“Um, yes. Dragon, you are ancient and you are wise. Why do you waste your time destroying these people?”

The word is Revenge. I like the taste of it in my mouth. It rolls. It sings.” Its lips snarled back from its fangs. “I had a life, Champion. I had a world of fire and beauty. I had a mate whom I loved. I had companions with whom to play and converse and soar. I danced among the stars. These people have trapped me here alone forever on this ugly, heavy world. They will pay. The new word is...Death.

The flat malignity in its voice was chilling.

“They made a mistake,” Buffy said weakly.

Indeed they did.” It laughed malevolently, a dreadful, horrible sound inside her head. “But they have not corrected it. They have in fact compounded it. They brought you here out of your world. Do you not see, Champion? They have not learned anything yet.

“They just wanted help.”

They must learn not to meddle with things they do not understand. I will teach them that lesson. I will write it across their world in letters of flame and blood.”

“I can’t let you do that.”

And how will you stop me? With that sword you have at your side? That pin? I see in your head that your proper world has weapons that might have damaged me. Rockets and missiles and such like. Very interesting toys, those. But you are not in your world now, Champion. Neither of us are. And this world has nothing that can harm me.

“There are things that can harm you. The ruler of this land is sending ballistas to every town and village. The country will be blanketed with them. You are armored everywhere, so perhaps their bolts will bounce off your scales. But your wings are thin. They can be pierced and shredded. You would be crippled. Flightless.”

She saw the dragon’s snakelike neck rear up, nictitating membranes flick once over its eyes. That had struck home. It knew she was speaking the truth because it could read it in her head.

“And once you’re on the ground, they will find a way to kill you. They are numberless. You are but one.”

I am but one, Champion. That is the whole point. What is death to me but a release? To be chained here forever. To spend eternity bound to this world, solitary and alone. That is horror. But I will take as many of these vermin with me as I can before I go.”

“Gotta agree,” muttered Spike. “Go down fighting. That’s what I’d do.”

Buffy gave him a look. “God! Do you have to start empathizing now? Enemy there.”

“Hey! Got no problem with killing it. But can’t help thinking it’s been handed the shitty end of the stick.”

Buffy had to agree. Baniel had harmed everyone by bringing the dragon here, not in the least the creature itself.

“Dragon...”

More argument? I have learned what I wanted to know. Ballistas can be circumvented now that I have been forewarned.” It laughed. “None of you should have come up here with that in your minds.”

“No, wait...”

My curiosity is satisfied and you are no longer of interest, ‘Champion’. Go. I permit it.

“I have an idea.”

You become tedious and predictable. Enough. There is no more to be said. I weary of this.”

“Dammit!”

Spike caught her arm. “Slayer. Really think it’s time to leave.”

You are no longer diverting.” The dragon’s head was turning their way, its jaws opening.

“Slayer, ever heard of a tactical retreat?” Spike said rapidly in her ear. “Get out, come back later with a goddamn plan!”

“Dragon...” She yanked her sword singing out of its sheath. The dragon laughed.

A thorn like that will not even prick my hide. Go, little fool, before I lose patience!

“Listen to me for just one minute.” She was aware that Spike had let her arm go and had turned sideways, doing something with his saddlebag. “Spike, don’t do anything!”

Well, it’s your own fault,” remarked the dragon.

“Dragon, stop!”

She heard the suck of the dragon’s breath, then its jaws opened wide. Spike’s left arm whipped beside her. Something dark flew from the slingshot in his hand and exploded halfway down the dragon’s gullet. The dragon fell back, choking and clawing at its throat.

“Damn!” said Spike. “One’s not enough! Gonna take the lot to do it, I think.”

“A bomb? You made a bomb?”

“Sort of.”

“Gunpowder! For God’s sake, Spike! You taught these people about gunpowder?”

“No one knows. Dehren stood guard outside, but he doesn’t know either the ingredients or the proportions. He thinks it’s a spell.”

“Damp T-shirts.” Not swimming, but a bath to wash off the acrid smell.

“Slayer, get out of here. Now.”

“What are you doing?”

He had a hand deep in the saddlebag. “Gonna blow up the place. Blow the thing up. Got enough here to do it. It’ll work. The whole cavern will come crashing down. Tested it in the caves at Emladris. I can give you five minutes. Enough time to get out of here, grab the others, put some distance between you and this place.”

“But you...!”

“Can’t be helped. I was planning to toss the bag in with a time-delay. But the thing’s intelligent. It’ll either rip out the slow-match or take off out of here where we can’t get at it. Slayer! Go! Now!”

The dragon was staggering back onto its feet.

“Spike...”

He reached out and touched her face lightly, smiling at her. “Last night was good, pet. I’m glad to have had it.”

The dragon roared, a sound that shook the caverns. “Vermin! You dare!

“Stop right where you are,” Spike called, “or I’ll blow you to kingdom come!”

You will die too!

“That’s our job, innit?”

“Both of you stop!” yelled Buffy. “Dragon! What if we can send you home?”

There was a blank silence.

Home?” said the dragon.

“What?” said Spike.

“I didn’t think of it while we were under the impression that he was just an animal and had to be killed. But he’s intelligent and he doesn’t want to be here and he didn’t ask for all this. Dragon, will you forego your revenge if we send you home?”

Home,” sighed the dragon, its voice low and yearning. “The singing winds. The lightness. The warmth. To soar over the gulfs once more. To dance among the shifting curtains of the auroras. To see my mate and my people. Oh, yes! Send me home!

“Can we do that?” Spike asked.

“I don’t see why not. Adara and the Convocation brought us here. They can open the passage again. Dragon, if we open the gate, will you know the way to your own world?”

I will know it. Do I not have power? It will call me.

“Forty-four days before they can open the passage,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “Maybe it could be less. Adara said they couldn’t do it sooner because they didn’t have the power. But he has the power. A dragon is magic. All the legends say so. If they do the spell with his power behind them, maybe the gate will open right then and there. I have to talk to Adara. Dragon, would you be willing to wait a few days without harming anyone while I do that?”

I swear it.

“We can get back to the capital by tomorrow and I’ll ask Adara. If it can be done right away, I’ll send someone back to the train station here. Dragon, do you know where the station is?”

Of course.”

“We’ll light a beacon. If you see a beacon at the train station, come to Emladris at...at noon the next day. There’s a great square in the center of the city...”

I have seen it.

“In your overflights, yeah,” Buffy grinned. “Come there. If the passage can’t be opened earlier than the forty-four days, we’ll see whether Adara can come up with something else and Spike and I will come back to tell you about it.”

Agreed.

It coiled back down to wait while they ran quickly across the cavern and into the tunnel again. Once outside, they found that Dehren had managed to talk the Guildmaster into pulling back the guard several hundred yards down the trail in case Spike really did decide to blow the caverns. When they saw Buffy waving at them, they came rushing back, all relief and exclamations.

“You are alive!”

“Where is the dragon?”

“What happened?”

“We made a deal,” said Spike.

“What?” Confusion, either with the translation or the concept.

“We have an agreement,” said Buffy. “It is willing to leave this world. But I must talk to Lady Adara at once. We must leave right now. How did you know that he couldn’t read your mind, Spike?” she asked as Dehren was bringing up her h’laren.

“Because if he could, he would have known about the bombs I was carrying the minute we arrived at the station and he would have burned us right there and then where we stood.”

Buffy let out a breath. “We were lucky.”

“You can say that again.”

This time they didn’t make camp when night fell, but kept on riding until they reached the station. Buffy spent the train ride fast asleep in the curve of Spike’s arm, her head on his shoulder. By the time they reached Emladris, dawn was breaking. Buffy wanted to go at once to see Adara, but the Guildmaster flatly refused to let her do that. Instead, he sent an urgent message to her and insisted that they wait for her in their own apartment where he could be sure they would be safe.

“Does it have so much power?” Adara asked disbelievingly when things had been explained to her. “All of us together can not force the passage.”

Spike held out one of the graphs that showed the dragon’s passage over the city and the jump on the chart that nearly went off the page.

“It has power. Where would the Convocation show on this graph?”

Adara winced. “The entire Convocation trying their hardest has not a tenth of that power.”

“And it wasn’t even trying then,” said Spike simply. “It was just flying along.”

“A dragon’s a magical being, the way I understand it,” Buffy said. “It’s got more power in its smallest scale or wingtip than you can possibly imagine. Our stories tell of wizards paying a king’s ransom or fighting each other to the death for a drop of dragon blood to strengthen their spells.”

“If it will add its power to our spell, I see no reason for the passage to fail to open.”

“I would rather kill the thing,” muttered Cadhi.

“I think Tariess might feel the same way,” murmured Adara. “The creature is responsible for so much pain and death.”

“Yes, it is,” Buffy agreed. “And you want it to pay for that. And it wants you to pay for bringing it here. Where does all that stop?”

“Baniel’s the one really responsible,” said Spike. “And the dragon fried him. He’s dead.”

“The ballistas...” Cadhi began hopefully, but Buffy shook her head.

“The ballistas are heavy and face in one direction. They can’t be moved easily once they’re in position. The dragon reads minds. It just has to swoop down from the back and burn it. Even if you get a whole bunch and make a circle of them, it can come straight down in the center from above. And it wouldn’t come straight on. It would be weaving and ducking as it came. You can’t be sure of hitting it. There’s no way to be sure of killing it, Adara. Let’s take what we can get.”

“That spell you were working on, Spike-aver,” Dehren said. “Will that not kill it?”

“I tried one of my ‘spells’ on it. Tossed one down its gullet. Made it cough a bit,” said Spike dryly. “Would need all of what I have and in a confined space to kill it. I don’t know how we could do it if it were flying free. And it will fly free. It’s not going to stay in those caves. He’s intelligent. He knows. We won’t trap him that easily again.”

“Should have got it while you could then,” said Cadhi fiercely.

Spike gave her a sardonic look. “Prefer to stay alive, yeah? We’d have had to die to get him. Despite what you all think, I’m no martyr. Not even a bloody hero, thanks ever so.”

“Practicalities,” said Buffy firmly. “You have to be pragmatic about this. You might want revenge. He wants revenge. And all that leads to is more blood and death. If we send him back to his own world, everyone is safe. Be content with that. Adara, explain that to Tariess. Make him understand.”

“He will understand,” said Adara. She waved Cadhi and Dehren back to the guard post and they went obediently. “Those of the Guild think in terms of sacrifice and glory,” she said quietly to Buffy and Spike. “Tariess however is a ruler and rulers are pragmatic. Before night falls today, we will send to light the beacon at Reishi station.”

Spike leaned his head on the back of the couch and smiled tightly at Buffy. “We’ll be back home tomorrow, pet.”

Adara blinked. “What?”

Spike lifted a brow at her. “Well, the dragon will come tomorrow and you’ll send him home and the job’s done, right? So the spell should pop us right back to Sunnydale.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no, no!” Adara was horrified. “I didn’t realize you were thinking that way! The spell doesn’t work like that! Oh, I’m so sorry, averin! I am truly sorry! You still have to wait for the sixty days to be up!”

“Is that so?” Spike started to grin. “Pity.”

Buffy laughed at him. “Another forty-four days, if you count today. Somehow, I’m getting the feeling that you won’t mind.”

“Let me think. Lying about without a care in the world. No boogeyman to worry about. Waited on hand and foot. Probably lionized by the entire city as the hero of the hour. All the...” he raised his brows at her meaningfully, “...pleasures that I want. It’ll be a real hardship, but I think I can force myself to endure it.”

“Such a sacrifice.” She shook her head at him, smiling, as she rose to let Adara out. But when she came back again, she was biting her lip. “And speaking of sacrifices, Spike, what was that bit in the cave? You say you’re not a hero or a martyr, but you sure acted that way in there.”

“Hey! Don’t do things for the greater good, okay? It was either you or me in there, Slayer, and the bombs were my toy.”

“I see.” She watched him avoiding her eyes. “Spike...”

He shrugged a shoulder irritably. “Spur of the moment, Slayer. Let it go.”

She sighed. “I don’t understand you.”

He looked up at her, smiling a little. His eyes were very blue in the sunlight pouring through the windows, amused and gentle.

“No, you wouldn’t. Well, you have forty-four days to figure it out, Slayer. No rush.”


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary:
aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: three miles
Chapter 10 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 10

That prolonged, hurried ride down the mountain had been exhausting. She fell asleep again in the middle of taking a bath and was only vaguely aware of strong arms drawing her out of the water, drying her off and tucking her into bed. She woke up in the mid-afternoon to find Spike fast asleep against her and light slanting sideways through the drawn curtains.

Her body clock was all messed up. She rubbed at her face vaguely and felt him come awake beside her.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Spike. Go back to sleep. You were up all day yesterday and all night. Your body clock’s probably even more screwed up than mine.”

He stretched, yawning, then kissed her shoulder. “Nah. Better to get up now. Otherwise I’ll be up all night again and we’ve got a big day tomorrow when Old Smoky arrives.”

They had what Buffy called a belated lunch and Spike called tea.

“It’s four,” he protested. “Everyone knows that’s tea time, not lunch.”

“The chef probably calls it hell on earth,” Buffy muttered and he laughed.

“Poor sod. No regular schedule with us around, that’s for sure.”

Adara arrived in the middle and accepted a cup of tea and a cookie as she brought them up to date. Tariess was fine with sending the dragon home instead of continuing to try to kill it. The Convocation was being summoned from all the places that it had dispersed to, and every member of it was now on his or her way to the capital and would be here in plenty of time for the spell-casting at noon tomorrow. The beacon had been lit at Reishi station and the dragon would know that he was expected. And the city had been warned.

“We do not want any fools firing at it with crossbows,” Adara explained.

“Yeah, it might think we’re double-crossing it,” Spike muttered. “I would.”

“Precisely. They have been told to leave any action to the Guild, on pain of death. And the Guild have been told not to move without explicit orders from Tariess.”

“I wish that gate could open to more than one destination at a time,” Buffy sighed and Spike gave her a wry glance.

“Thought you didn’t mind spending another forty-four days here, pet.”

“I don’t. But Heaven knows what’s happening back in Sunnydale.”

“They’ll survive,” said Spike callously.

Tariess wanted them to have dinner with him tonight. Buffy and Spike reluctantly agreed, knowing that they had no real choice in the matter, and were pleasantly surprised to find that, instead of the uncomfortable formal state dinner that they had been expecting, it was just an informal gathering in Tariess’s private dining room. The only people at the table were the two of them, Adara and her husband. Tariess, and the highborn lady that Tariess was presently courting.

Tariess apparently intended to be in the square tomorrow when the dragon arrived, despite the warnings of his entire Council, the Convocation, his generals and the Guild. Adara tried to change his mind again, but he shook his head adamantly.

“It is like a battle,” he said. “And in a battle, one leads from the front, not the back.”

“‘Come on’ rather than ‘Go on’.” Spike grinned at him. “That kind, are you? Good for you. Didn’t think kings did that, except in the Golden Age of heroes and whatnot.”

Tariess looked amused, rather than offended. Though dignity seemed embedded in his very bones, he had a sense of humor.

“Battles have been part of my life. My father was killed in battle with the southern kingdom that is now part of our lands. My uncle who became regent for me refused to pass over rulership when I attained my majority at twenty. He had to be...persuaded.”

“Went to war, did you?” said Spike. “Did his head and the heads of his heirs decorate your version of our Traitor’s Gate?”

Tariess wouldn’t have recognized the allusion, but he understood it. They smiled grimly at each other.

“They did.”

“Not a peaceful land, then.”

“Not even before the dragon came,” Tariess agreed. “Even now, enemies press on us from lands across the ocean.”

“Do you have ambitions in that direction?”

“No. But they have ambitions in ours. We will defend against those.”

“Exciting times.”

“You might find it so,” said Tariess meaningfully.

“You do not know much of our world,” Adara said. “You haven’t even seen much of it, except for the Hasjarad and a little of the city. It is a vast and beautiful land. We will have leisure now to show it to you over the next forty odd days.”

It became apparent that they were being courted. Tariess wanted their talents for his use. Buffy and Spike exchanged flickering glances and Buffy courteously intimated that they were willing to at least think about it over the next forty-four days. It seemed only polite and took the pressure off.

“Just have to pull this little trick off and it looks like they’ll hand us the keys to the kingdom,” said Spike when they were back in their apartments again. “Hope Old Fireworks doesn’t change his mind before tomorrow. Back in a tick, luv. Got a few arrangements to make with Dehren.”

About which, once again, it was better to know nothing.

She woke up early the next day. Spike was still sleeping and she didn’t disturb him while she took a bath, then ate breakfast leisurely in her bathrobe out on the living room terrace. To her relief, it was a fine, sunny day. The Adepts of the Convocation might be thrown way off their stride if they had to endure the vagaries of weather on top of contending with a dragon while trying to do a very complicated spell. The last time they had cast that spell, it had been in the sheltered Audience Hall in the Hasjarad.

At ten, she went to wake Spike up.

“Ceremony’s at noon,” he objected sleepily.

“Well, it’s ten. Come on. Get up. We should get dressed and ready.”

“To stand around waiting for two whole hours?” He reached out and pulled her into bed. “Got better ways to pass the time. Naked under that, are you?”

“Hey! We so do not have time for that!”

“Sure we do. Could get you off in five minutes.” He pulled her robe open and ran his lips over her breasts.

“Ohh...” She arched involuntarily to his mouth. “Five minutes? Too fast. Let’s shoot for half an hour.”

He laughed deep in his throat. “Oh, yeah, much better.”

Cadhi and Dehren came for them at eleven. They were ready by that time, though getting dressed had been a bit of a last-minute scramble. Spike’s eyes were still dancing with laughter at Buffy’s haste and embarrassment.

Preparations were well under way when they got to the square. Black-uniformed Guild lined the sides of the huge space. The Adepts of the Convocation were gathered at the north end, muttering among themselves as they went over the words of the spell. Adara was with them. There was a line of Guild in front of them, and in front of that again, Tariess and his guard. Aside from that, the normally teeming square was deserted, the whole city quiet and still, its inhabitants cowering in their houses behind locked doors and shuttered windows.

“We are ready,” said Tariess as the two of them bowed formally to him. “And you?”

“As we’ll ever be,” shrugged Spike.

Buffy glanced at the knapsack he had dropped between his feet and said nothing.

“There!” said one of the Guild suddenly.

A flake of burning gold had appeared on the horizon. It drew nearer with shocking speed, like a comet. Buffy caught her breath. Glittering in the sunlight like some vast, superb, golden work of jewelry art as it flew, the dragon was beautiful and terrible at once. A breath of awe and fear and wonder passed through the square.

It stopped over them, cupping air with its vast wings that spanned the entire width of the enormous square. They staggered in the downdraft. Then it lowered itself smoothly into the square, taking up most of it. Its wings flared high, then folded. Buffy hadn’t realized how huge it was. Sitting on its haunches, its head was level with the highest tower of the city.

It looked down at them with amused, cunning, oily green eyes as she and Spike stepped forward to meet it, Spike swinging his knapsack casually in one hand.

And there stands the leader of these people, come to face me,” it said and malicious laughter ran through its mind-voice. “What a revenge it would be to burn him where he stands!

“Remember that little packet I flipped down your throat in the caverns?” said Spike. “Well, every one of the Guild here has one of those. If I give the word, they’ll toss them at you. You may have survived one bomb. You won’t survive them all.”

So that was what he had been arranging last night! Buffy’s lips tightened.

The dragon’s gaze moved from his face to hers. “No sense of humor,” it remarked.

“Not funny,” said Buffy sharply.

Oh, very well.

“You know what you need to do. The Convocation will begin the spell in a few minutes. We need you to add your power to theirs.”

Done.

Adara raised her hand and the Adepts began to chant. The dragon raised its head, eyes flaring to a brilliant emerald.

Something moved in the air. Buffy had no magical abilities whatsoever, but even she could feel the power pulsating like leashed lightning through the square. The nape of her neck shivered and the fine hairs on her forearms stood up as if by static electricity. The power grew as the Adepts kept chanting, filling the square like lightning in a bottle. It became painful in its charge, tearing at all of them and the world.

“There!” exclaimed Tariess. The Guild refused to be distracted, keeping their eyes fixed rigidly on the dragon. The Adepts were focused on their chant. Buffy followed Tariess’s gaze upwards.

High above their heads, the air tore apart, a jagged black rent in the fabric of existence. It quivered, then widened.

Ah!” said the dragon and launched itself skyward. They all staggered in the wind of its departure. It flung itself towards the rip in the air.

Buffy glared at Spike. “You gave the Guild bombs? How can you be sure you’ll get them all back? What if someone keeps one, analyzes it? Have you even thought of what the consequences might be?”

He grinned at her. “I gave them stones, Slayer. Told them they had spells on them. I’ve got the bombs right here in this knapsack. Was gonna toss them under him if he made a move. But you believed the Guild had bombs. And because you believed it and they believed it, he believed it.”

“You are such a...!” But she couldn’t help laughing.

A gift, Champion,” the dragon called from high above them. Something spiraled down and struck the ground with a thud a few feet in front of Buffy. It was a golden scale. “Time. Forty-three days. Stolen from him, given to you.” They both heard its laughter. “A small return for that nastiness you threw down my throat, vampire. Is it a good revenge?

“It is a good revenge. Better than you know,” muttered Spike under his breath.

The dragon laughed and flew into the rift. The rift snapped shut and vanished as if it had never been.

“I don’t understand,” said Buffy. “Time? What did he mean?”

Adara came running forward to catch up the scale. “Power! The scale is charged with power. We can open the gate for you too, avera. Give us a couple of hours to rest and then, if you wish it, we can send you home.”

Buffy gasped in shock and delight. “Oh, yes! Oh, that’s wonderful! Spike! Did you hear? We can go home today!”

She wasn’t able to hear his answer. The square had gone crazy. People were pouring into it, yelling and screaming with joy. Bells were ringing. Even the Guild had lost their imperturbable calm and were shouting too. Hands thumped Buffy and Spike on their backs, spun them around, snatched them along. Voices cried their praise.

The Guild finally had to rescue them. Under Tariess’s orders, black-coated forms formed up around them and escorted them back to the Hasjarad through throngs that yelled deliriously and showered them with flowers.

“Well, that was an experience,” said Spike once they were once again in their apartments, accepting his knapsack back from Dehren who had snatched it up for safekeeping. “Never been a hero before. Don’t like it.”

“We knew!” Emer said. “We knew you would do it, averin!”

The staff was all around them, cooing and exclaiming.

“And best of it all, Emer,” Buffy exclaimed, “we can go home. Today!”

“We are so glad for you, avera! But we will miss you. We will all miss you. It has been a pleasure having you with us.”

The staff all bowed in agreement.

“We’ve enjoyed it too, Emer.”

It took quite a while to break away from all the congratulations and excitement. A message came from Tariess saying that the Convocation would be ready for them in the Audience Hall at three, but that he wanted them to come down half an hour earlier if they would. Buffy sent back word that they would comply.

The silence in her bedroom was a welcome change from the tumult outside.

“Oh, wow! That was something else, wasn’t it?” she exclaimed to Spike.

“Yeah.” He seemed very quiet.

“I think I’ll forget about my Sunnydale clothes. I’ll wear this yellow leather outfit home. Want it as a souvenir. Emer wanted to give me the whole wardrobe of brocade jackets and whatnot. Isn’t that sweet? What are you going to do with those bombs?” she asked, glancing at the knapsack Spike put carefully down on the bed.

“Gonna take them with me, drop them into the Void. Should just vanish there, be no danger to anyone.”

“Good idea.”

“Buffy, we could stay,” he said abruptly.

She looked up in surprise, then laughed. “Still want that forty-three days being made much of by everyone? Keys to the kingdom and all that?”

“No, I mean...” His face was tense, eyes intent. “We don’t have to leave. Ever. They’d let us stay.”

Her eyes widened as she realized what he meant. “You’re suggesting...permanently?”

“It’s a nice world, isn’t it? Most of the people do like us and that Lehren git’s discredited now. Tariess wants us to be part of his Guard. Would pay us well. And the Guild would let us in. Make us official. There’s a lot we could teach them. Couldn’t go on living here, of course, but we could find a place to stay somewhere else. Big city. Will miss the staff, but we could visit, right? And...”

“Spike.”

“Lots of things going on here. From what Tariess said, sounds like it could get real interesting. Lots of things we could do...”

“Spike, I can’t! You know I can’t.”

“Why not?” he demanded fiercely.

“I’m the Slayer. It’s bad enough that I’ve been away for seventeen days. God knows what’s happening in the Hellmouth right now. Demons are probably overrunning Sunnydale. And as long as I’m alive, no other Slayer can be called. Being in another dimension doesn’t change that. I’m still alive. I have to go back.”

“Buffy...”

“Spike, you know it’s not possible.”

He spun away to the other side of the room, his hands clenched at his sides, came back swiftly.

“We could be together here,” he said intensely. “ They wouldn’t let us be together back in Sunnydale.”

She caught her breath. “Don’t.”

His eyes burned; his lips were compressed in a tense, hard line, their corners indented with stress.

“Haven’t you...liked it?”

She couldn’t meet his eyes.

“I liked it. I...Spike, you knew. You knew when this started that it was only temporary, that... that...”

“That you were just indulging in the dark side, yeah.”

She heard the pain in his voice. “Spike...”

He looked up at her, his face very white and strained. “I love you.”

Her breath stopped.

All the pieces were clicking together, everything he had said and done over the last seventeen days. The way he looked at her and touched her. The sacrifice he had intended to make in that cave. God, she had been so blind! So stupid!

“Oh, Spike, no!” she whispered.

He held out a hand helplessly. “Buffy, I love you.”

And she couldn’t say, as she would have before: you don’t have a soul; you can’t love. She knew better now.

“I don’t...I don’t...Oh, Spike, I can’t! I have to go back! I’ve been happy here, but I can’t stay! There’s my duty and...and...my Mom and Giles and the Scoobies...”

“The people you love.”

“Yes!”

“Yes.” He looked down, reached out somewhat blindly for the knapsack. “Sorry I brought it up. Gonna go say goodbye to the staff. To Cadhi and Dehren. They’ve been good people. We’ve still got half an hour to go before we have to go see Tariess. Meet you in the foyer, okay?”

“Spike...”

“It’s all right, pet. Knew it wouldn’t be any good. Had to try though. That’s what I do.”

“Spike, I’m sorry!”

“So am I, luv.” He smiled twistedly at her and left.

Why did things have to get so complicated? Everything had been so simple until this happened. She dropped onto the edge of the bed and put her head into her hands. Nothing had changed really over the last seventeen days. He was still a demon, still a killer, still evil, still lacked a soul. So what if they had been happy here? This was just a glitch, a snag in the usually smooth weft of their lives. They had both known that. Things had to get back to normal now. Why couldn’t he just have accepted that? Why did he have to drop this bombshell on her head?

It’s all about you, isn’t it, Slayer?’ she heard his voice say accusingly in her head as he had before. She was focusing just on herself. But she didn’t want to think about what he must be feeling right now.

He had promised her no price, no consequences. It was unfair of him to be changing the rules on her now.

All the staff had assembled in the reception hall to say goodbye, even the chef. She thanked him especially; he had been remarkably patient with their vagaries. She hugged Cadhi and Dehren as well since, even though the two Guild members would of course be walking them down to the Audience Hall, there would be no opportunity to say a proper goodbye there.

“Time to go,” said Spike quietly, picking up the knapsack.

Neither of them looked at each other or said a word all the long way down to the Audience Hall. Tariess was waiting for them in a chamber just off the main Hall.

“I am sorry that you are leaving,” he said. “We were hoping that you would choose to stay.”

“I know,” Buffy said. “Thank you for wanting us to. But I have duties back home and Spike can’t stay without me.”

“The food problem. Yes, I understand. We were thinking of some reward for what you have done for us. We want to give you...”

Half the wealth of the treasury, it seemed. Buffy declined.

“It’s very gracious of you, but I can’t accept a reward for doing my job. It could set a precedent that might have unpleasant consequences, the way this Slayer thing works. You’ve already been so kind! That lovely apartment and the staff and the clothes...We’ve been very happy here.”

“But we must present you with some honor, if only that the people demand it.” He smiled at her. “A medal, perhaps? A small Order?”

Buffy laughed. “Medals are fine.”

“Good. Come into the Audience Hall and we’ll present it there in public. The Convocation has gathered there and will open the passage when you are ready.”

“One thing,” she said. “Don’t let the Adepts play around with the Void anymore. It’s just too dangerous.”

“They shall not,” Tariess said grimly. “We have learned our lesson.”

They turned to let Cadhi and Dehren escort them to the Audience Hall ahead of Tariess, who was obliged to make a formal entrance a few minutes later. Tariess held Spike back for a moment and said something in his ear. Spike nodded and gave Buffy a flickering glance.

“What did he say?” asked Buffy curiously when Spike finally joined her.

“He said to take care of you.”

“Oh.”

They both looked away awkwardly.

The Audience Hall was thronged with people who set up a huge cheer when Buffy and Spike appeared. The Convocation of Adepts was drawn up to the left of the dais, Adara carefully holding the scale. She came over to say her own goodbyes, then returned to her place when Tariess took the dais.

There were the expected speeches and Tariess pinned Orders on their chests. The Orders were apparently the very highest the land could give—for exemplary courage and heroism in the face of the enemy, Tariess announced in ringing tones. Buffy saw the corner of Spike’s mouth twitch involuntarily with amusement. She could clearly see him thinking, ‘Not a sodding hero!’ and she couldn’t help smiling

She was going to miss that camaraderie that had sprung up between them, miss being able to turn her head and share the joke and see the laughter in his eyes. She hadn’t realized until now how much she shared with Spike that she hadn’t been able to share with anybody else.

Then the Convocation opened the passage.

They both threw a last glance around at all the smiling faces and Buffy gave a lingering one to the ones she would miss, like Cadhi and Dehren, Adara and Tariess. Then they stepped forward into dark and cold. The gate snapped shut behind them. Buffy felt Spike make a shrugging movement that tossed the knapsack of bombs away into the Void.

They were swept through freezing blackness again, but this time they knew what it was and didn’t fight it. Then the other gate opened and they were staggering out onto grass and concrete.

They were back at UC Sunnydale, standing on the campus exactly where they had left it. The only thing different was that it was now twilight. A lingering glow in the sky suggested that the sun had only just gone down. Spike let out a breath of relief. They hadn’t been sure of where or when they would return and he had been ready to make a dive for the nearest sewer entrance.

“Wonder what day it is,” Buffy said. It felt really strange being back here again—the campus, the town stretching out beyond it, even the smell of the air. All so familiar and prosaic and normal. She felt as if that other world had been all just a dream, just like Spike had said. As if none of it had really happened. Only the clothes she was wearing and the Orders blazing on the left side of both her jacket and Spike’s duster attested to anything different.

“Guess we’ll find out,” Spike muttered.

“Suppose.”

He unpinned the Order from his duster and looked down at it. It was a golden star, splendidly jeweled.

“Gonna fetch a nice price when I hock it,” he said sardonically and dropped it into the pocket of his duster, then shoved his hands into his pockets as well and looked up at the sky. “Right then.”

“Guess I’d better get back home,” Buffy mumbled. “Everybody must be freaking out.”

“Yeah.” He hunched his shoulders uncomfortably. “Well. See you around, Slayer.”

“Spike!” she said sharply as he began to turn away. Somehow she didn’t want to see him go.

He turned back quickly, hope lighting in his eyes. “Yeah, Slayer?”

“I...want you to leave Sunnydale.”

“Oh.” The hope died out of his eyes. Buffy bit her lip.

“I can’t...I can’t let you feed on the populace and, if you’re here, I’d have to...Spike, I don’t want to have to stake you!”

“Yeah. Right.” He nodded. “Won’t put you to that choice, Slayer.”

“You said there’d be no consequences!” she flung at him suddenly. “You said there’d be no price!”

“Well, there isn’t, is there, Slayer?” He smiled at her twistedly. “Not for you.”

Her eyes widened. No price for her. But there was a price for him. And he had known and accepted it right from the very beginning.

She jerked towards him. “Spike...”

Something tinkled on the pavement as her foot brushed it. She looked down, startled.

It was a ring, flashing green in the light of the streetlamps. She bent and picked it up. It was the Gem of Amara.

Spike started to laugh, a bitter, ugly sound. “Guess you didn’t drop it in the Void after all. Cosmic joke, innit, Slayer?”

It was. She looked numbly down at the Gem lying glittering on the flat of her hand.

“Take it,” she said suddenly and held it out to him.

His eyes widened. Then:

“No,” he said. “Give it to Angel. He’s the one with the soul, isn’t he?”

“Spike...”

He reached out and touched her face very delicately. Two fingertips jolted against her lips, so lightly that she almost didn’t feel it. Then he ducked his head in a kind of bow and spun away, black leather disappearing into black shadow in an instant.

Buffy suddenly wanted to cry.


TBC
End Notes:
Glossary: aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: three miles
Chapter 11 by dreamweaver
Author's Notes:
The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.
Chapter 11

She wanted her mother.

She could have reached the dorm room she shared with Willow easily from here. Instead she made the trek to Revello Drive. If she had been missing for seventeen days, Joyce would be freaking out. Maybe she didn’t know. Maybe Giles and the Scoobies had managed to keep it from her. But she doubted it. Giles would have felt that it was wrong not to let her mother know. She only hoped he had kept Joyce from calling the cops. They would insist on knowing where she had been and right at the moment she couldn’t think up a convincing lie.

All the lights at 1630 Revello Drive were on and she could see shapes moving behind the living room curtains. It looked like the Scoobies were all gathered here instead of at Giles’s place.

She was right. Willow, Xander and Giles turned startled faces towards her as she let herself in.

Buffy!” they exclaimed in chorus.

“Buffy!” Joyce flew out of the kitchen and grabbed her tight.

Buffy hugged her back fiercely. “Oh, Mom! I’ve missed you!”

“Honey, where have you been? We’ve been so worried!”

“Kind of a long story.” All the Scoobies were around her now, exclaiming and asking questions. She hugged them all, then flopped down onto the couch. “Oh, it’s so good to be home!”

“But where were you the last three days?” Willow exclaimed.

“In another dimension. The people there needed a dragon killed and they dragged me and Spike over to do it.” Then the number Willow had mentioned registered. “Three days? But we were seventeen days in that other dimension!”

Either time had moved faster there or she and Spike had made a time jump backwards when they had passed through the Void. She didn’t know which.

“Spike! Spike was there?” Angel’s voice asked sharply.

She blinked when she saw him standing in the doorway of the kitchen. “Angel? What are you doing here?”

“We asked him to come when you disappeared,” Giles explained. “We were hoping that he would be able to help find out what had happened to you. We thought Spike might have killed you. You do know that he has the Gem of Amara? Harmony told us they found it.”

“Oh, yeah. We were having a bit of an argument about that when we got pulled into that other dimension. I got it off him though.”

“And then I hope you dusted him!” said Xander.

“No. We kinda made a truce. He helped me take out the dragon.”

“You made a truce with Spike?” Xander’s jaw dropped. Everybody else was staring at her as well.

“Just like back with Acathla. It was the only sensible thing to do. And it worked out great. Alive here, see? That’s thanks to him.”

“I don’t understand,” Giles said. “Spike’s evil.”

“Well, yeah, he is. But we had to work together there.” She gave them an abbreviated and highly expurgated rundown of what had happened in that other dimension. “The one thing about Spike is that if he gives his word, he keeps it. And he did.”

“So what happened to him?” Willow asked. “Is he still in that other dimension?”

“No, he’s back. We came back together.”

“And then you let him go,” Angel said grimly.

“What?” Xander exclaimed. “You let him go? You didn’t dust him?”

“That wasn’t a very wise thing to do, Buffy,” said Giles admonishingly.

“Well, I couldn’t dust him after he’d helped me. Look, he’s going to leave Sunnydale. We won’t have to worry about him anymore.”

“What else happened in that other dimension?” Angel was glowering at her.

“What?”

“I can smell him all over you!”

Oh, God! The color leaped in her face. Spike and she had made love just before the dragon had come to the square in Emladris and she hadn’t taken a bath since then. Angel, with his vamp senses, could probably pick up everything. And from the rage in his face, he was.

“That’s none of your business!”

“You don’t mean...You can’t mean...!” Xander was on his feet, horrified, his fists clenched. “No! He forced you! That’s it, isn’t it, Buffy? He raped you!”

“No! It was consensual sex!” She gave Angel a furious look, resenting the fact that he hadn’t had the sense to keep his mouth shut, had brought that out into the open. “Angelus is the one who likes rape, remember?”

Angel flinched and she smiled with grim satisfaction. Served him right. Idiot!

“You had sex with Spike?” Xander yelped, still unable to take it in.

“Yeah. He’s great in bed.” She gave him a nasty smile as he flopped into an armchair and sat there gasping like a landed fish.

God! To have to come back to this! Accusations and condemnations and guilt trips. A sudden, furious rebellion welled up in her.

“And I say it again,” she snapped. “This is none of your business. My private life is my affair. I don’t interfere with yours, you don’t interfere with mine. You don’t have any right to tell me what to do.”

“You’re the Slayer,” said Giles flatly. “You can’t involve yourself with a vampire. Buffy, he’s evil! He’s a killer a thousand times over! He doesn’t have a soul!”

“Yeah, yeah, like I don’t know. He’s a lot more than that though.”

They didn’t know what he was. It had only been three days for them. They didn’t know him the way she did. She gave Angel a cold look as he stood there glaring at her. Not even Angel really knew him. To Angel, Spike was Drusilla’s get and babysitter, the pain in the ass, the one who refused to do as he was told. And now he was the rival who could have what Angel couldn’t. They had been at odds for a hundred and twenty years. Angel had never and would never see Spike except through the prism of his own preconceptions and prejudices.

“Look. The point is that he’s leaving Sunnydale. Whatever happened between us is over. If any of you see him, I want you to leave him alone. Unless he attacks you. Which he won’t. He said he wouldn’t do anything that would make me stake him and Spike keeps his word.”

“No,” said Angel. “No. He won’t get away with this!”

“Get away with what?” said Buffy dangerously. “Sleeping with me? You don’t have a say in who I sleep with. You’re the one who walked out on me, Angel!”

“I wanted you to have a normal life!”

“News flash, Angel. I’m the Slayer. I’m never going to have a normal life. I get that now. Y’know, I really bought into all that crap of yours about having a normal life. And you know what that got me? Parker Abrams.” She and Willow shared a look of understanding. “You leave Spike alone, Angel. If anyone stakes him, it’ll be me. This is my turf. I decide. No one touches Spike. That’s an order.”

“What’s that on your neck?” Angel said harshly.

“My neck?” She had forgotten all about the mark of Spike’s fangs on her neck. Her hand flew now to cover it.

“He bit you? You let him bite you!”

“I had to! They didn’t have the right type of blood over there. He would have starved to death.”

“My God!” Giles gasped. Both he and Angel were looking horrified. “Did he claim you?”

“What?”

“Did he say anything possessive?”

“Not when he bit me.”

“But he did at other times?” said Giles quickly. “Did you agree in any way?”

“Agree? No. What is this claim thing?”

“It’s like a minion link. He would have a hold over you.”

She shook her head. Spike didn’t have a hold on her. If he had, he would have made her stay in that other dimension. Wouldn’t have let her send him away the way he had. Wouldn’t have been so hurt, so grieved.

“He didn’t claim me and I didn’t agree.”

“We can’t be sure!” said Giles. He and Angel shared a frowning look. “We have to be sure.”

“You can’t take my word for it?” Buffy demanded and Giles waved an exasperated hand at her.

“How would you know? You didn’t even know what a claim is.”

Another thought struck her. “Could he have claimed me that easily?”

“Yes,” said Angel flatly. “He could have tricked you into it. You wouldn’t have known what he was doing. It would have been easy.”

But he hadn’t. Despite what must have been an overwhelming temptation, he had left her free.

“I can’t believe the way you’ve acted,” Giles was saying in grim, censorious tones. “So irresponsibly! I don’t even recognize you anymore, Buffy! Have you forgotten who you are? What you are? You have a duty. How can you forget that?”

A sudden blind rage took her. She hadn’t realized how free she had felt in that other dimension. Free of their demands and expectations and lectures. But now the shackles were coming back on again.

“My sacred duty. Oh, I haven’t forgotten, Giles.” She stood up, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. “If it wasn’t for my duty, I wouldn’t be here right now! I’d still be in that other dimension. I was happy there. Only my duty brought me back. And, believe me, I’m starting to regret that now!”

“All of you leave her alone!” snapped Joyce suddenly and put her arms protectively about Buffy. “I don’t think she’s acted irresponsibly at all. In fact, she was doing her job, even if it was in another dimension. Isn’t that what all of you keep insisting she do? And she succeeded. She did what was necessary and she survived. She’s back safe and no one’s been hurt.”

“But...”

“This claim thing. You don’t even know if there is one. You’re just frightened that there is. Throwing accusations around without a shred of evidence to back them up!”

“But...” Giles began again and Joyce cut him off with a slash of her hand.

“Buffy says there isn’t and she’s the one who should know. So that’s quite enough out of you, Rupert Giles! She’s absolutely right. Her private life is none of your business. She can sleep with anyone she likes, just like any other girl in the world, whether you approve or not. You’re only her Watcher. Maybe you can tell her what to do about this Slaying thing...” Joyce stopped and thought that over. “I’m even starting to wonder about that. She did quite well in that other world without you, didn’t she?”

“Every Slayer requires a Watcher,” Angel said in a heavily patient voice, as if he were talking to a child. “Who’s going to do the research? Buffy?”

“Well, fine. Even so, Giles, you have no right to interfere with her personal life! Honestly! Willow is in love with a werewolf. Xander has just taken up with that strange girl, Anya, who used to be a demon. But nobody says anything about that.” Joyce gave Angel a hard, disliking stare. “And the less said about Angel the better. That’s rather the case of the pot calling the kettle black.”

“Angel has a soul!” Giles protested. Willow and Xander were both bright red and silent.

“And a curse. I must say, I like the way Spike acts without a soul a whole lot better than the way Angel does without his.”

“Joyce!” exclaimed Giles, shocked. Angel hunched his shoulders shamefacedly, looking as if he were trying to disappear into his own black leather coat.

“I want all of you to leave now,” Joyce said firmly. “You can discuss all of this tomorrow. Buffy needs a little peace and quiet to adjust to being back. She’s told you what she wants and I think you should respect her wishes.”

They filed out, looking chastened.

“Thanks, Mom! You were great,” said Buffy when they were all gone.

Joyce smiled at her. “Well, it is your own business, dear. And, really, I don’t like the way they all push you around.”

“I’m starting to feel that way myself.”

“And I can’t really blame you about Spike. He’s very handsome.”

Buffy laughed. “Good eye. You like him, don’t you, Mom?”

“Yes, I do. He’s a nice boy. He’s been very sweet every time I’ve met him.” She gave Buffy a rueful look. “Though, to be honest, I would have preferred a normal boy and grandchildren.”

“Being a Slayer makes that difficult. And I’m kinda off normal boys right now.”

“Willow said something about that. This Parker person. But that was a rebound, wasn’t it?”

Buffy sighed. “Yeah.”

“From Angel.”

Buffy glanced at her. “You don’t like Angel.”

Joyce looked embarrassed. “Well, he didn’t make all that good a first impression, being Angelus and bragging about sleeping with you. And he hasn’t really grown on me since.”

“I’m not too pleased with him right now either.”

She had become used to being treated with respect in the other dimension. For the first time, she realized that both Angel and Giles treated her like an unruly child rather than an adult. They acted as if they thought they had the right to make her decisions for her, ignored her opinions as silly, ignorant whims, didn’t even really listen to her during the arguments that went on over the next several days. And she was the Slayer!

She realized that they had always acted that way, right from the beginning. Told her what to do, but never provided any real support, like that time she had gone out to fight the Master all alone. Spike wouldn’t have done that. Spike would have insisted on coming with her and fighting beside her every step of the way.

She had let them push her around, accepted it all unquestioningly.

She had grown in that other dimension. The people there had treated her like an adult, took it for granted that she knew what she was doing, and she had risen unthinkingly to the challenge. She had matured. Spike had helped, with his unwavering confidence in her. To him, she wasn’t a child, as both Angel and Giles persisted in seeing her. Whether as an enemy or as a friend, Spike had never treated her as anything less than an equal, an adult, didn’t think of her in any other way.

She missed his unshakable support, the sense of having him always with her, ready to back her up on anything, fight the battles with her. ‘Come on’ rather than ‘Go on.’ She understood what he had said to Tariess now. She hadn’t realized how used to having him beside her she had become. She felt as if she had lost an arm.

That sense of something missing persisted. She would notice something ridiculous and turn without thinking to share the joke with Spike, see that swift laughter in his eyes—except he wasn’t there. Or think, ‘I have to tell Spike about that’— and then remember that she couldn’t.

How could it all have happened so fast?

Even her own familiar bed at home seemed strange and empty. Because he wasn’t in it with her; because that cool, strong body wasn’t wound around her when she slept or when she woke up. The bed at the dorm, when she went back to it, was no different. She tossed and turned in it restlessly, waking up Willow who watched her thoughtfully.

“Guess he was really hot stuff, huh?”

“Willow!”

Willow grinned. “You’re acting as if you’re in withdrawal from some drug.”

That was the way she felt.

“Yeah, the man was addictive,” she mumbled and buried her face in the pillow.

“Man, not vamp?”

Willow had put her finger precisely and accurately on what was the real issue.

She looked up and saw Willow sitting up in bed, frowning and hugging her knees. For Willow, Spike was the vicious vampire who had tried to kill all of them several times, had wanted to eat Xander, threatened to cut her face with a broken bottle. Willow hadn’t spent all that time with him, didn’t know the person behind that deadly gameface.

“You see the man, don’t you?” said Willow. “Spike, not the vamp. The way I see Oz, not the werewolf.”

She looked at Willow in surprise. “You understand.”

“Yeah, I do. Kinda going through the same thing here.” Willow looked at her curiously. “Do you have feelings for him, Buffy?”

“I don’t know,” groaned Buffy. “How can I? He’s a vamp. He doesn’t have a soul. He’s evil.”

“Could he change?”

He had already changed.

“I think he has,” she muttered. “But...”

Willow looked sympathetic, not disapproving. “Yeah, the others would have a cow. Xander wouldn’t do anything. Your Mom flattened him with that Anya crack. But Giles and Angel don’t give up that easily.”

“They’re wasting their time. Spike’s gone.”

But Angel still hung around. He had taken up residence in his old mansion again, and he and Giles constantly had their heads together. Giles might not like Angel because of Jenny Calendar’s death, but he was a pragmatic man, and they had common cause in their mutual dislike and distrust of Spike.

“You think he’s still here,” said Buffy, watching Angel doing his slow Tai Chi or whatever exercises. “He’s not. It’s been two weeks and there’s no sign of him. He said he was leaving Sunnydale. How long are you going to hang around? ”

“Until I’m sure,” said Angel grimly. “I keep getting this uneasy feeling.”

Could Spike possibly...? Her heart leapt. She shoved it back down again. She shouldn’t be feeling like this. Spike was a vamp. She was a Slayer. They had no future. They had shared a dream. A lovely, crazy fever-dream. But now it was over.

“It’s just your imagination,” she muttered. “Don’t vampires know when family is in town? You’re both Aurelians. You’d know if he were here.”

“I know I would. And I don’t sense him around. But the hairs on the back of my neck keep standing up.”

A couple of mocking remarks that Spike had made about Angel’s hair standing up popped involuntarily into her head and she had to bite her lip to keep from giggling.

“You’re starting to turn into weirdo-boy, Angel. Things have been quiet. Unusually quiet, actually. Hardly any demons around when I patrol. Go back to L.A. He...he’s gone.”

“You don’t sound very happy about that,” said Angel accusingly. His eyes had gone black.

“I’m neither happy nor unhappy. It’s nothing to me,” lied Buffy. “Are you still thinking about that claim thing? I looked up claims in Giles’s books after you mentioned it and, believe me, Spike didn’t put a claim on me.”

Angel peered at her neck where the bite marks had already faded, which the books said wouldn’t have happened if Spike had established a claim.

“Well, maybe not,” he said reluctantly.

“So you’re just wasting your time here.”

“You’re very eager to have me gone,” he said. “You didn’t used to be.”

She looked at him coolly. “That’s because I never realized before how controlling you really are.”

“Buffy!”

“Doing things for my own good. Never consulting me. Never listening to what I want. Shouldn’t I have some say in my own life? But you make all these unilateral decisions without allowing me any input.”

She saw a flash of what looked like panic and guilt go through his eyes..

“When you do things to people without their consent, it’s a kind of...a kind of rape, Angel. That’s something you seem to share with Angelus, even though it may not be the actual act.”

“It’s not...!” Angel was thinking of that day he had taken back. But he hadn’t meant it as a....as a...as what she was saying. He’d done it for her own good. It was for the best.

“Even if it’s without their knowledge. That’s like raping their minds. Essentially the same.” Buffy was thinking that Spike had been right. Angel and Angelus weren’t that different, just two sides of the same coin. “I think you should be more careful how you treat people, Angel.”

“As if Spike treats them better!” he flung at her.

“This is not about Spike. It’s about you. But while we’re on the subject of Spike, I don’t want you hurting him. You have no excuse to. He hasn’t put a claim on me. If you hurt him, it’s because you want revenge on him, not because of any danger to me.”

Angel glared at her. “Giles agrees with me about Spike!”

“And that makes me doubt Giles, not excuse you. Both of you are acting like heavy-handed, paternalistic idiots and I don’t like it. So knock it off. Oh, for heaven’s sake!” she exclaimed in exasperation, “Stop doing those stupid exercises and come and spar with me instead!”

Angel looked shocked.

“You should be doing these exercises too,” he said with heavy patience, sounding as pompous as Giles. “Without them, one can’t achieve perfection.”

Static perfection. Exercises were all well and good, but there were other ways of honing one’s skills. She thought of her sparring matches with Spike, the unexpectedness of the things he threw at her, the way he turned anything available around him into a weapon and forced her to do the same, made her dig deep inside herself for move and countermove—the way it would be in a real battle. And the flash and flare and fun of it. The laughter.

Angel wouldn’t even consider that. His way was the only way.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really known you,” she said with wonder and walked out, leaving him staring.

***

Where were all the demons? It was close on three weeks since she had come back from that other dimension and Buffy had only seen a couple.

She dropped in at Willie’s. There were a few of the troublemaking ones there, but those looked remarkably subdued and none of them offered battle, instead snuck out the minute they noticed her. She left them alone. It was tacitly understood by both sides that Willie’s was neutral ground until one or the other made an aggressive move. Willie gave her a strangely resentful look when she came in. But all the peaceful demons bowed when her gaze ran over them. She nodded back indifferently. She had never bothered to harass the peaceful kind. There was a whole community of those in Sunnydale, but she left them alone. She had her hands too full with the troublesome type to want the hassle of running the others out of town.

She saw Angel and Giles walking along together in Shady Rest cemetery, probably doing another useless sweep for Spike. She gave them both a wide berth. She was really not in the mood for arguments and lectures tonight. She headed north instead, working her way through Tranquility and then Restfield cemeteries. Tranquility turned up the nothing that had come to be the norm these days, but the minute she turned into Restfield she heard a snarling fight going on. She ran forward quickly, but the sound broke off with a crack that resounded through the night and then everything went silent. She rounded a crypt and saw a massive body lying on the ground.

It was a Grathar and it was very, very dead, its neck broken and its head turned right around on its shoulders. She stood over its body, wanting to laugh hysterically in relief. The handiwork was familiar.

“Spike!” she yelled at the night. “Spike, I know you’re there! Come out!”

There was a hesitation. Then he stepped resignedly out of the shadows.

“Yeah, Slayer.”

Her heart jumped, then started to beat overtime in her chest, hurting her. The very sight of him was a joy—the white-blond hair glinting in the moonlight; the strong, cut-glass planes of his face, strained now with tension; the vivid blue gaze watching her so intently, a tiny wary frown in his eyes. She couldn’t stop looking at him, the same way that he was looking at her, with helpless pleasure and yearning.

“What the hell are you doing here? I told you to leave Sunnydale!”

“And I told you, pet. I don’t leave. Monsters never leave, remember? They’re always somewhere around in the shadows.”

“Have you been doing my patrols for me?”

“Well, y’know. Got bored. Had to do something to keep myself occupied.”

“I see.” If anything illustrated the difference between him and Angel, it was this. There Angel and Giles were, wandering through the graveyards, hunting Spike and ignoring the demons, leaving them all to her because they were supposed to be her job. And here was Spike, doing a careful sweep before her path, taking out any demons that might potentially harm her, protective as usual.

Angel and Giles left the physical dangers to her, but protected her from the dreadful possibility that she might make the wrong decision. Spike protected her from the physical dangers and left her choices up to her, trusting her to know what was best for herself, even though that choice might go against him. She knew which one she preferred.

A flurry of small, gray forms filtered out of the shadows behind Spike and surrounded the Grathar, gathering it up and carrying it away, rather like ants toting away an oversized breadcrumb. Firoud.

“Good eating for them,” Spike explained.

“No wonder I’ve seen hardly any demons the last three weeks!” Buffy looked at him suspiciously. “And what have you been eating, Spike?”

There was a silence.

“Spike!” she exclaimed. “You haven’t been feeding on people!”

“Well, yeah. I don’t kill ‘em though,” he said quickly. “Just take a drink and let them go. Don’t have Slayer blood anymore, right? And really can’t stand that pig’s blood crap. ‘M not Angel, pet. Don’t have a soul. Evil here. Figure I’m doing my bit just by not killing them.”

It was in fact a major concession. And the victims wouldn’t remember having been fed on.

“Angel and Giles are looking for you.”

“Told them, did you?” He looked amazed.

“Angel smelled it. That first night we got back.”

“Oh!” He almost laughed, then bit it back. “Would have warned you if I’d known he was here. Out for my blood, is he?”

“Oh, yeah.”

He grinned. “Never thought I’d get to shaft him like that. Bonus. Frothing at the mouth, huh?”

“Pretty much. How come he doesn’t know you’re here?”

“Didn’t want any of you knowing I was still in Sunnydale. When I saw Angel here, I knew he’d twig to it right off. Would have liked to have taken him on. Got a few scores to settle and would really have enjoyed dusting him. But you wouldn’t have liked that, would you, pet?”

“No.” She didn’t want Angel dusted. And Spike would have done it. Angel was a good fighter, but Spike was the best she had ever seen. Over the last twelve decades, Spike had made battle an art form.

“Didn’t think so,” he said wryly. “There’s this legal firm. Wolfram and Hart. Specializes in demon and witchy affairs. Bought a couple of charms from them. One for the place I’m at, so I can sleep safe. One to carry.”

“It keeps Angel from sensing you?”

“Yeah. Cost me a packet, but I had enough for that. Brian and Harmony didn’t take much from the treasure lying around the Gem of Amara when they took off for France. Got a nice little crypt now too. And enough to set me up sweet for a while.”

Buffy was trying to make sense of his words. “Brian...?”

“Vamp I had working for me. Always had the hots for Harm. Grabbed his chance when I went and disappeared like that for three days. Left a note saying he’d taken only enough of the treasure to set him and Harm up in Paris, so please don’t come after them. As if I would! Feel like sending him a gift basket for taking Harm off my hands. He’ll get tired of her verbal diarrhea soon enough, but until then she’s not a bad lay.”

She was fighting an urge to laugh helplessly. “I see.”

“Oh, here.” He handed her a bank passbook. “This is for you. Was gonna drop it off at Revello Drive, but since you’re here...”

She opened it and nearly passed out at the balance showing in it. “What the hell!”

“That’s from Tariess. Git slipped a little bag of gems into my pocket while we were talking. Said he wanted you taken care of proper. That’ll do it. Wolfram and Hart set it up for me. Buggers nearly had a seizure when they saw those gems. Some of them don’t even exist in our dimension. Rarity. Wouldn’t believe the price they fetched at auction.”

“Spike...”

He hunched his shoulders awkwardly. “Yeah, yeah. Know I shouldn’t have stayed, Slayer. Know you don’t want me around. But...Nothing out there for me, yeah? Heart’s here. Won’t get in your way. You won’t even know I’m here. Could be of use, y’know. Could help...”

He broke off, his lips tight, his face strained and vulnerable.

“Spike...”

“Gonna stake me, Slayer?”

Slayer and vampires were supposed to be sworn enemies. Any connection between them was unheard of, reprehensible. The Council of Watchers would consider it anathema. But suddenly Buffy didn’t care. He was the other side of herself, her right arm, her other half. They were partners in every sense of the word, matched, balanced, equal. With him beside her, she was a better Slayer. He was her heart.

She flung herself at him.

The movement was so abrupt that he flinched involuntarily, a tiny backwards jerk of his head and shoulders. Then he recovered himself and stood his ground, making no attempt to defend himself should she indeed decide to stake him.

Her arms wound around his neck, holding him fiercely tight. She felt his body jolt against hers, heard him gasp in shock.

“Buffy?” he breathed incredulously.

“God, Spike! I’ve missed you! I’ve missed you so much!”

‘Buffy!” His arms closed about her, holding her so tightly to him that she felt their bones would fuse together.

“These last three weeks, I’ve felt like I’ve been missing half of myself.” She felt whole again now, feeling that cool, strong body vibrant against hers, the texture of his neck against her face as she clung to him, the scent of his skin, all those myriad tiny details that made up the reality of him. “I need you with me.”

“Need the dark side, do you, Slayer?” he said wryly.

“The dark side! What a crock! There wasn’t a dark side to it. Not for one moment. There was always light. And joy and happiness.” She drew back to look at him and see the wonder and bewilderment in his eyes. “You’re not a monster hiding in the shadows for me, Spike. You’re a person. Just like that dragon was a person. You’re a freaking Champion.”

He laughed involuntarily, then leaned his forehead against hers, his eyes closed, his breath shuddering against her mouth. “Still got no soul, pet.”

“Got a heart. You don’t need that soul. You do better with that heart of yours than Angel does with his soul.”

He looked at her in amazement. She kissed him tenderly and felt his mouth respond helplessly to hers.

“Evil here, pet.”

“Are you? You’re not acting like it. What’s with the patrolling and the no eating people ?”

“That’s for you, luv. You know that. Can’t claim to be good.”

“Maybe doing good is enough. It is for me.”

“Buffy...”

She kissed the corner of his mouth and then the flat plane of his cheek beside one arrogant nostril and then his eye, felt the tremble that went through him when her lips pressed against his lashes. Tenderness hurt him, he wanted it so badly.

“Can’t do without you,” she whispered. “I found that out these last three weeks. God, I’ve been so lonely for you! Need you with me—fighting and laughing and loving. We’re partners. In everything.”

He seemed to be beyond words. His hands stroked her hair, delicately, disbelievingly, cupped her face.

“Why didn’t you claim me?” she asked. “Giles and Angel were so terrified of that. It would have been so easy.”

“Wouldn’t have been right. Would have been a kind of rape. Told you. I don’t do rape. The claim—any connection at all, for that matter—it’s meaningless unless it’s willing.”

“And with full consent and knowledge of all the facts.”

“Yes.”

Yes. If she had needed anything to prove to her how different he was from Angel, this would have done it. He wouldn’t do things to her without her consent for her own good. He wouldn’t trick her into anything. He might use all his powers of persuasion maybe, might yell at her and call her a stupid bint perhaps, might flatly defy her if they disagreed—but he would never lessen her by taking her decisions out of her own hands. She could trust him. With more than her life.

Angel’s love was selfish. She saw that now. Spike’s was unselfish and unconditional.

“I’ve been thinking a lot over the last three weeks,” she said. “I’ve been making some changes in my life. Angel and Giles haven’t accepted them yet. But they will. They’ll have to. Do you remember saying that I let other people’s opinions matter too much?”

“I shouldn’t have...”

“No, you were right. I did put all their opinions ahead of mine. I’ve made a few adjustments there. Decided to trust my judgement ahead of their opinions. The people I love, right? Well, I found out my real hierarchy there. And you know who comes right at the top of the list, Spike? You do.”

His lips parted, shaping her name, but he couldn’t make a sound.

“I love you,” she said and kissed him.

Buffy!

He kissed her desperately, crushing her to him. She could feel him shaking.

“This isn’t happening,” he said blankly.

“I love you,” she repeated, smiling.

“I have to sit down,” he said suddenly and thumped down onto a gravestone and sat there staring at her.

She laughed and stepped between his legs, leaned against him, tilting his head back between her hands and running her lips all over his face. He seemed to be in shock, his breath shuddering in his throat.

“You love me?” he whispered. “Me! No one ever...”

“Always wanted to be loved, never was, right?” she murmured. “Well, you picked the wrong ones, sweet. No flaw in you, just in your choices. Cecily and Dru? They don’t deserve you. They’re not good enough. They’re not worthy. I only hope I am.”

“Christ, pet! You’re my North Star!”

“Your guiding light? No. Unless you’re mine. We’ll light each other’s way, dear heart.”

“God, I love you so much!”

He caught her to him, pressing his face between her breasts. She felt his lashes fluttering against her skin in the vee-neck of her loose shirt, the shudder of his breath in his open mouth, kissed the top of his bright head.

“I want you to claim me,” she said and felt the jolt of shock and utter disbelief jerk through him.

What?

“Giles and Angel were afraid of a one-way link. I looked that up. That’s like a minion link, isn’t it? But there’s another type of claim. A mutual claim. That’s like a marriage. We’d belong to each other.”

“Yes,” he whispered, staring up at her. “We’d own each other. But that’s forever, Buffy. That’s irrevocable. Only death would break the link and the death of one is always the death of the other. Are you sure you want it?”

“Yes. Do you want it?”

“God, yes! With you? I’d give anything for it! But... Buffy, you don’t have to do that! You already own me. I thought you knew that.”

“Oh, I do.” She brushed his lips with hers. “You belong to me. But I want to belong to you as well.”

“Oh, God, Buffy...!”

“Can we do it now?” she purred.

“Now?” he said incredulously.

“Yeah.” She laughed against his temple. “Kinda miss the marks of your fangs on my neck.”

“Oh, pet!”

“I was sorry when they faded. Thought that was all I had left of you.”

“God, woman! Do you know what you’re doing to me?”

She kissed him. “Have an idea.”

He stood up and caught her face in his hands. “Buffy. Be sure. There’s no going back.”

“I’m sure,” she said quietly, not laughing now, meeting his intense stare with grave, steady eyes.

He bent and she felt his lips against her neck, the cool exhalation of his breath against her skin, then the prick of his fangs above the vein. But he didn’t bite, waited, as if to be completely certain that this was what she wanted.

“I want it,” she said with calm certainty and pressed his head to her neck.

His fangs slid smoothly into the vein and she shivered with pleasure as she felt the slow, careful draw. He took no more than a sip, then retracted his fangs and licked the puncture marks to seal them.

“Mine,” he said breathlessly.

“Yours,” she agreed, then caught his head in both her hands and pushed it sideways to expose his neck. She heard his breath catch sharply. She bit him as hard as she could in the junction between his neck and shoulder, tasted the coppery tang of his blood. “And you’re mine.”

“Always,” he whispered.

She could feel something sliding and clicking into place between them, like hands interlinking, like jigsaw puzzle pieces interlocking, a link that was absolutely sure and precise and unbreakable joining them together. Suddenly, everything felt incredibly right, unbelievably perfect.

Somebody howled behind them.

***

Giles had had a very exasperating three weeks. First, Buffy had started acting very strangely, not listening to him and talking back in an unacceptably rebellious fashion that she had never done before. Buffy had always given him backchat. That was only normal. That’s what teenagers did—back talk and wisecracks. But behind the quips, she had always been compliant, willing to do what he said, follow his suggestions. She wasn’t doing that anymore, kept questioning his judgement, refused to listen to his strictures and insisted that he accept her decisions instead. It was all very worrying.

It hadn’t been difficult for Angel to persuade him that Spike had done something to her. The idea of a Slayer claimed by a vampire and obeying his orders, was terrifying to Giles. If he and Angel could not free Buffy, either by forcing Spike to relinquish his claim or removing him from the face of the earth entirely, Giles was fully aware that the Council of Watchers would take matters into their own hands and send their hired killers out to eliminate Buffy. A Slayer controlled by a vampire could not possibly be allowed to exist. But Giles loved Buffy like a daughter and would do everything he could to see that did not happen. And if that meant dusting Spike, he would do it.

But as time went on and the bite marks faded from Buffy’s neck and Spike didn’t seem to be anywhere around, Giles started to get the niggling idea that he might be mistaken. Buffy was in college now, finding her own feet, moving towards independence and adulthood. Maybe he should be listening to her opinions, instead of insisting that she follow his.

And Angel’s motives were certainly not pure. Giles was well aware that what Angel wanted was revenge on Spike. Giles was just there to give Angel legitimacy, so that if Buffy was angry at him for dusting Spike, Angel could say with perfect truth, “Well, your Watcher thought that it was necessary.”

But after three weeks, even Giles’s patience was coming to an end. As Angel and he walked through Shady Rest cemetery, Giles was trying to find a way to say politely, “Angel, this is getting us nowhere. Spike’s gone. And you should go too, back to Los Angeles.”

He was just opening his mouth to say that when Angel’s head snapped up.

“Did you hear that? It’s Buffy! She’s yelling! She’s yelling, ‘Spike!’”

“Oh, dear Lord!” gasped Giles. “Is he hurting her?”

“I don’t know!” Angel broke into a run, dragging Giles panting after him. “We’re in the wrong cemetery! They’re in Restfield! Come on, man! Run!”

Galvanized by fear, Giles did manage to keep at least within sight of Angel, who slowed down at the gates of Restfield, where Giles caught up with him.

“I can’t sense Spike!” Angel exclaimed in frustration. “I don’t know why! I’m trying to home in on Buffy.”

He was going slowly enough now, relatively, that Giles, running his hardest, was able to keep up with his flapping coattails. Then Angel stopped short. Giles almost ran into his back, recovered himself, then realized that they had found Buffy and Spike. The two of them were standing in front of a crypt, their arms around each other and their faces bent to each other’s necks. Angel howled.

Giles stumbled to a stop, shocked into stillness by that animal sound of rage and anguish tearing from Angel’s throat.

“What?” gasped Giles. “What?”

Buffy and Spike turned to look at them. Giles saw blood on Buffy’s lips. She licked it away.

“Oh, dear Lord!” he gasped. “He’s turned her! She’s a vampire!”

“Don’t be silly, Giles,” said Buffy, amused. “No such thing! That takes a whole lot longer.”

“He claimed her,” Angel said in a dead voice.

“He what? No! We have to... we have to...” Giles yanked out a stake and headed towards Spike, then was brought up with a jolt when Angel’s hand grabbed his wrist, holding him back.

“You can’t,” Angel said with deep and painful regret. It killed him to have to say that. “You can’t dust him. If he dies, she dies. If you dust Spike, you’ll kill Buffy.”

“What!”

Mutual claim, Giles,” said Buffy happily. “Spike claimed me and I claimed him back.”

“Oh, no! Oh, no!” exclaimed Giles, appalled. “Buffy! Why?

“Because I love him.”

Giles’s legs folded under him and he sat down hard on a tombstone.

“How can you?” Angel shouted at her furiously. “He’s a...He doesn’t have a...”

“He’s a vampire. He doesn’t have a soul. And you know what?” said Buffy joyously. “I don’t care. I love him.”

“No,” said Angel numbly. “No.”

Buffy felt Spike shift a little against her. Still leaning against him, her arms around his waist, she drew back slightly and looked up into his face. He was looking at Angel and the corners of his mouth were deeply indented, holding back a tight grin. He said nothing, made no sound at all; but she could feel the crazy yell of triumph and wild laughter thrumming through him.

“Payback time, huh?” she murmured. “Payback for what, a hundred and twenty years of shit?”

“Oh, yeah,” he murmured. “Couldn’t be a better revenge. It’s gonna burn him every time he thinks of this. It’s gonna chew him up proper. You choosing me over him. You loving me. Sodding berk. And he’s a vamp. He’s gonna live forever. It’s gonna burn him forever. Bonus!”

“You’re evil.”

“Damn straight.” He looked down at her, dismissing Angel completely from his mind, focusing solely on her. “I’ll try to be a champion for you, pet. I really will. But doing good isn’t being good, if you see what I mean. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to be that, luv.”

She tiptoed and kissed him softly. “What you are right now is what I want, Spike.”

She could feel his happiness, the love and devotion coming from him.

“I can feel you,” she murmured. “I can feel what you’re feeling.”

“That’s the claim.” He leaned his forehead against her temple, his breath shuddering against her face. “And I can feel you. Loving me. God! My heart’s so full, it hurts!”

Angel made a disgusted, disbelieving sound and they both looked around, surprised. They had forgotten that there was anybody else here.

“He doesn’t have a soul,” said Angel. “He can’t love. You’re a fool if you believe that, Buffy.”

“Angel,” said Buffy patiently. “We’re claimed. I understand that you’ve never claimed or been claimed by anyone, so you don’t know what it’s like. Take my word for it. I don’t need to believe that he loves me. I know it. I can feel what he’s feeling.”

“Never could believe anything you haven’t experienced, could you, you stupid pillock,” said Spike. “Go back to L.A. and help the whatevers. You’re not needed here. Sunnydale’s already got two champions.”

Angel gave him a look of purest hatred, then spun on his heel and stalked away. Spike laughed out loud behind him.

“Giles,” said Buffy and Giles looked up dully. “Are you going to tell the Council?”

“No,” said Giles. “You may not believe this right now, Buffy, but I do care for you. I’m not going to tell them. What I’m going to do is make every effort to ensure that they never find out.”

“Thank you, Giles.”

“This is going to take a lot of getting used to,” Giles sighed. He got up stiffly, shaking his head.

“It’ll all work out, Giles.”

Giles nodded dumbly and walked slowly away.

“Alone at last,” said Buffy and grinned at Spike. “So, do I just yank you straight down to the ground here or what?”

“Losing all those inhibitions, are you, Slayer?” He laughed down at her.

“You pretty well destroyed them back in the Hasjarad.”

“Got a bed,” he purred.

“Where?”

“See that crypt over there? That’s mine.”

“Ooh. Convenient.” She bit him softly, just over the mark she had left on his neck, and felt him shudder violently against her. She shuddered too. Biting the claim mark had sent a flash of intense pleasure through both of them. “Three weeks has been too long.”

“Tell me about it,” he muttered and scooped her up.

A flash of vampire speed had them in the crypt. He kicked the door shut hard enough to jar the bar down, locking them securely in. Buffy got a glimpse of a dusty, cobwebby ground floor in the light of one burning candle, then he was dropping them both through a hole in the back down into a lower level.

He set her carefully on her feet and went around lighting lamps. She looked around with interest. All the work had been done here. It was luxurious—big bed, comfortable furniture, rich hangings, expensive rugs...

“All bought by the Amara treasure, right?”

“Oh, yeah.” He raised his brows at her meaningfully. “Got a Jacuzzi built for two as well. Might not be porphyry, but it’s got some interesting jets and things.”

She laughed involuntarily. “Were you planning more seduction?”

“Was.”

“You never give up, do you?”

He came and took her face gently in his hands. “Not when it means this much.”

They kissed slowly, tenderly. She leaned against him helplessly, her bones going liquid with the sweetness of it.

“I love you,” she said.

“God! Never thought I’d hear that,” he muttered. “Never even hoped for it. All I ever hoped for was that you’d be with me sometimes. That you’d come for the dark side sometimes.”

They were stroking each other’s clothes off, hands running caressingly over each other’s bodies.

“Never thought you’d be so dumb,” she murmured. “It was never dark. Not once. Not ever.”

The link was picking up every touch, every caress, relaying it to each other.

“I can feel you feeling me,” she said in wonder. The sensation echoed back and forth over the link, like two mirrors set to reflect each other; but in this case the feeling doubled and re-doubled, deepening and strengthening with each pass. “Is that the claim?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. They were both drowning in each other. “God, pet! I’m so happy, it hurts!”

She knew what he meant. Every caress went deeper than the body and caught straight at the heart. Her heart was so full it felt as if it were going to burst.

“Love you,” he said. “Love you so much.”

Emotions came across the link too, a flood tide of love and joy and passion, engulfing them.

All clothes gone now. They fell onto the bed, bodies sliding and coiling about each other.

“How’d we get here so fast?” she muttered. “It was only seventeen days in that other dimension! But by the end of that time, I couldn’t do without you.”

“Don’t know about you, pet. But me?” He purred as her mouth slid down his throat. “Wanted you since the first time I saw you, dancing in the Bronze. Thought it was just lust. But it wasn’t. It was more than that. Know why Dru dumped me? Because she said that she saw you floating all around me, because she said I was covered in you.”

“Back then?” she exclaimed in astonishment.

“She knew. Way before I did. Didn’t want to believe her. Wanted the Gem of Amara so I could kill you, prove her wrong. Never could kill you, y’know. All those times we fought, I think I wasn’t really trying.”

That fight they had had when he was wearing the Gem. He could have killed her then several times. He had had the advantage. He had knocked her about, but hadn’t really made a killing move, subconsciously holding back without even being aware of it.

“Wish I could say the same,” she murmured. “Didn’t really see you until that other dimension. Didn’t know what you really were. Saw you there. Saw what we were, what we could be. Partners, lovers, the dearest of friends.”

“Everything I ever wanted,” he said very low, his face in her throat.

“You knew by the time I gave you my blood, didn’t you?” she said. She remembered the way he had said, ‘I have a fatal attraction to the best’ and the way he had looked at her. She had never realized. “I’ve been so blind.”

“We both fought it.”

His eyes had gone yellow; his tongue had turned rough, like a cat’s. She shuddered helplessly as it rasped over her, setting her nerve ends on fire, sliding down her spine, along the inside of her thigh, across her breasts to linger on and torment her nipples until they hardened to the point of pain. She caught at him, arcing to him, little moans of helpless delight purring in her throat. He smiled down at her, his eyes soft with pleasure at her pleasure.

She stroked him too, lips and hands sliding over every inch of his skin, feeling him thrill and shiver to her touch, felt the depth of his pleasure over the link and delighted in it just as he was delighting in hers. He was surrendered to her as much as she was surrendered to him.

They twisted around each other like snakes, limbs twining, mouths and hands demanding and devouring, friction building a rising spiral of exquisite sensation that the link caught up and raised higher and higher until it was almost unbearable.

“Want you,” she gasped, arcing to him.

“Not yet. Not yet.” His hands raked and kneaded over her body, and she keened helplessly. “Not going to give this up yet. Not half through yet.”

“God, Spike!”

His fangs were out, their tiny pinpricks across her body hopelessly arousing as he twisted and turned her to his mouth. Her brain was shorting right out. She arced and writhed mindlessly against him.

“You’re killing me, Spike...”

She clawed involuntarily at his back, bit at his mouth, and heard him laugh. Then he was coming into her hard. She cried out in satisfaction, clenching upon his thickness within her, and heard him groan with pleasure. He filled her to the utmost, made her feel so utterly complete. Absolute perfection, the deep drives of his cock, the draw of his fangs sliding into the claim mark on her neck, that unbearable, excruciating rapture going on and on and on.

The link flared wide abruptly. They surged against each other, drowning in that tsunami of feeling, bodies locked and mouths locked and minds locked. The claim bound them together, merged them, made them one being. She felt him judder and pulse within her, felt his mind blank right out, blanked out herself from the unendurable perfection of it.

“OhmiGod,” she muttered, staggering back to consciousness an eternity later. “Thought I’d burn right up...”

“Thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he agreed, limp and heavy upon her. He licked the claim mark on her neck to seal the puncture wound and they both shuddered.

“Is it always gonna be like that?” she asked in amazement and disbelief. It had been wonderful before, but it was unbelievable now.

“Think so.”

“God, we’ll never survive it!”

He laughed breathlessly and slid downwards a little to burrow his face between her breasts. She wrapped her arms around his head.

“What a way to go, huh?”

“I’m so happy,” she murmured.

“Yeah.”

They could feel the depth of each other’s contentment.

He raised his head suddenly. “Got something for you.”

He pulled out the drawer of the night table beside the bed and reached for a little box within it. She saw the Order that Tariess had given them lying neatly in a transparent case to one side.

“Thought you were going to hock that.”

Spike looked embarrassed. “Didn’t need to. What with the treasure and all. Will if I ever have to.”

She laughed. “Sure you will. Big softy. I’m keeping mine safe too. You liked it in that dimension, didn’t you? You liked them and you liked them liking you. You were accepted there. Valued. Are you sorry I made you come back?”

“I’m valued here too, aren’t I? By you. That’s what matters. Being with you.”

They kissed softly.

“If we’re married, you need a ring,” he said and held one out to her.

“What...?”

The stones looked similar to emeralds and diamonds, but they weren’t. The green of the large central stone was at once warmer and richer than an emerald and the diamonds on either side of it had a strange rainbow sparkle.

“Thought of you the minute I came across it among the gems Tariess gave me,” he said. “Wolfram and Hart had a stroke when they saw it. No equivalent for that in our dimension. Then they had another stroke when I said I was keeping it. Had it sized for your finger. Will you wear it?”

“You know I will,” she said and kissed him, then smiled at him as he slid it onto the ring finger of her left hand. “Got something for you too.”

She reached for her jeans lying on the floor, opened a zipped pocket and dug into it.

“Here.”

He looked at the Gem of Amara lying on her palm.

“Want you safe,” she said. “The Council might come after you if they learn about us. Don’t want you dusted.”

She slid it onto the ring finger of his left hand.

“Come full circle, haven’t we?” he said and they grinned at each other.

She couldn’t even visualize it anymore. There they had been, such a little time ago, trying with all their might to kill each other on the campus of UC Sunnydale. And now...

He reached out and gathered her up against him.

“Best thing that ever happened, our falling into that other dimension,” he murmured.

“Oh, yes,” Buffy agreed, holding him tight. “If it wasn’t for that, I would never have seen you for what you are. My dearest friend, my partner, my...”

“Mate,” he said with profound satisfaction. “My mate.”

“In every sense of the word,” she purred and kissed him.


The End
End Notes:
Glossary: aver: sir / avera: ma'am / averin: plural / nefai: gentle being / nefa'in: plural / ri: 3 miles
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