Buffy bit her lip and shone her flashlight across the dirty pavement one more time. She had already walked up and down the alley three times. There was no sign of him. Could be he had already gotten back on his feet and gone off. He was quite resourceful that way. Always bouncing back even if he was knocked senseless. But what if he was still there, hidden by the shadows? It was only a few more hours until sunrise. A fluttering feeling told her he was, lying somewhere in the alley, hidden in the shadows. Buffy turned around to search the alley a fourth time when suddenly the beam of her flashlight revealed a strand of silver-white hair peeking out from underneath a pile of cardboard boxes. Buffy exhaled in relief. How canny of him. For some reason, he must have known he wouldn`t make it home, bruised and broken as he was. He must have sought shelter from the impending sunlight underneath those boxes. Maybe it would even have worked.
Buffy kneeled down on the pavement and carefully unstacked box after box until she uncovered his unconscious body, crouched in a foetal position to fit under the leather duster he had pulled over himself for further protection. She took his hand in her own, holding on to him for a brief moment before she started to shake him awake.
"Spike! Spike! You have to get up. You can’t stay here. Come on, I'm gonna take you home but I need you to put your arm around my shoulder to help me lift you."
Spike stirred, then licked his sore lips. Once. Twice. Finally, he drew a ragged breath and opened his left eye. The other one was swollen shut.
Buffy ran her fingers through his hair and gave him a tentative smile.
"Buffy … luv. You’ve come back. You didn’t turn yourself in." Buffy shrugged: "Strictly speaking, I did. But I walked out when I heard them say that the dead girl was Warren’s girlfriend."
"Warren …? The geek who …" Spike’s voice trailed off as he clutched his hands to his head.
"Hush now. Stop talking, you dope. You need your strength to get back to your crypt. I will sort this mess with Warren out later but let’s get you home first."
Spike nodded wearily and tried to push himself up. He groaned in pain but managed to get into a sitting position, resting his back against the wall. Buffy silently watched him struggle, then leaned closer and put her hand over his. "Can you put your arm over my shoulder, Spike?" she asked.
Spike had briefly closed his eye but opened it again now, looking at her questioningly "Why are you making such a fuss about me, pet? It’s not like you at all."
Buffy pressed her lips together. "I am not making a fuss. It’s you who's being a pain in the ass. As usual," she said sharply. "I have to go back to the Magic Box to research this Warren situation with Xander and Willow. And afterward, I have to go back and talk to Dawn. She was mad at me too when I left to go to the police."
"Hmph. At least one Summers’ girl who's got half a brain." He endeavoured to smirk, then knitted his brows together in confusion: "Why did you change clothes, pet?"
Buffy shrugged, "They got dirt all over them, so I changed them when I got home from the police station."
She put a hand on his shoulder, "Come on, Spike, don’t drag this out any longer." Buffy got to her feet, carrying most of his weight until he managed to stand himself, slightly swaying. Slowly they started to make their way out of the alley behind the Sunnydale police station.
Buffy stopped at the door of Spike’s crypt and as if caught up in a memory raised her hand to touch the wooden surface with the palm of her hand. Spike glanced at her sideways, "What’s up, luv? Haven’t we played this game already tonight? You standing outside my door, not coming in?"
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him then firmly pushed the door. It opened with a creak. Entering the crypt, she scanned the interior then smiled in relief and pointed to the trapdoor in the floor. "I'm gonna get you downstairs and into your bed. As soon as you’re settled, I'm going to heat some blood for you. Do you have some in your refrigerator?"
Spike nodded and slowly followed her to the door leading to the lower level. He hesitated a moment, not sure how he was supposed to get down the ladder with his bones broken and his head concussed. But Buffy moved swiftly as if she knew exactly what to do. She climbed halfway down the ladder then called, "Sit down, Spike, then scoot over the edge and put your arms around me. I can carry you, don’t worry".
Spike hesitated again, not sure what to make of this unusual proposition. Finally, he shrugged and carefully lowered his body down the opening, firmly closing his arms around Buffy’s waist and holding on to her. He had no doubt she was strong enough to hold his weight. Still – it was such an extraordinary thing for her to do.
Buffy reached the bottom and gently let him slide onto the satin sheets of his bed. Without hesitation, she started to untie his laces.
"Slayer, what’ ya doing? Are you off yer crust? I won’t have you take off my boots,” he said wearily.
"Don’t be an idiot. You have at least two broken ribs. You can’t bend down to fiddle with those knots. They’re a tangled mess, by the way. How do you normally untie them?"
Spike gave her an astonished look and kicked off his left boot with the right one, then the other boot using his bare foot.
Buffy looked amused, "Yes. Right. I should have remembered that."
She turned to the wall and lit some of the wax candles on the books shelf. Soon the room was bathed in a soft orange glow.
Then she climbed back up the ladder calling over her shoulder, "Stay put. I’ll be back with your blood in a minute."
On the upper level again, she used the lighter to ignite Spike's camping stove. She smiled when she touched the stove’s familiar surface, remembering how her mom used it to heat canned soup for them while they were on a hiking tour. Dad had said it would be fun and a great adventure for them as a family. That had been years before the betrayal and the shouts and the arguments had started. So little was left of her childhood nowadays that even a dented gas stove could make her get lost in memories. She smiled once more and turned the knob to adjust the gas flow.
As soon as the flames formed a nice burning cycle she searched for a pot and a knife and took a plastic bag out of the refrigerator. She sliced the bag open, poured the red liquid into the pot, and threw the emptied bag aside. She waited for the blood to simmer, pulled back the sleeve of her sweater, and quickly drew the sharp blade along her forearm. About half a pint of her blood flowed into the pot before she pulled a hanky out of her jeans pocket and pressed it to the wound. Only moments later the blood stopped flowing and she pulled the sleeve back down.
The sound of footsteps on the gravel outside caught her attention. Someone was approaching quickly.
Her eyes searched the dim-lit room for a place to hide. There really weren’t many options. The upper level had always been spartan. Neither the telly nor the armchair would conceal her and there wasn’t enough time to lift the heavy top off the sarcophagus and seek shelter underneath the skeleton of Ethel Hawley. The massive door was already moving on its hinges. Buffy hastened across the room, ducked behind the opening door waiting for the intruder to enter, then scurried outside like a fleeting shadow just before the door slammed shut.
"Spike? Spike? Are you down there?" Buffy called out loudly. Damn it, he hadn’t been in the alley. He better be here or otherwise, she would really stake him this time for making her worry about him. He couldn’t be … he wasn’t ... no. He easily would have held his own if some nasty demon had gotten near him. He wasn’t that badly injured, was he?
Buffy exhaled a deep breath, when she heard him call back at her from the lower level, "‘M still down here, pet. What’s up?"
She crossed the room and suddenly wrinkled her nose. What was that smell? Ewww, burnt blood. She hastened to kill the flame underneath the gas stove. Wait, that stove looked oddly familiar. Didn’t her mom have one just like this? It was probably stuffed away in some forgotten box the basement. Or maybe not anymore. Buffy suppressed a sudden urge to punch Spike’s nose and decided to give him a pass. Just this one time.
There was a mug on a rickety table next to the stove and she poured the blood in, carefully trying to not stir up the burnt part at the bottom. A blood-stained hanky had carelessly been tossed on the table. Buffy curled her lip but since there wasn’t a kitchen towel she grabbed the cloth to pick up the steaming mug. The risk of catching a disease from a dirty handkerchief was probably a lesser evil compared to the risk of burning her fingers. That particular crisis averted she noticed that Spike had also left his lighter on the stove. She took it and stuffed it into her jeans pocket.
Climbing down the ladder she saw that Spike had lit up the candles in the lower level before heating the blood and leaving it to burn on the stove. Buffy felt a wave of relief. He couldn’t be seriously injured if he was still able to move around. She put the mug down on the nightstand at his bedside.
"Hey, I just saved you from a fiery death."
Spike looked up. He was obviously stunned. Okay, maybe she was a bit too chipper considering everything that had happened tonight. "You left the pot on your gas stove and forgot all about it", she explained. He looked even more stunned. Maybe he did have a concussion. Just a very slight one of course. Vampire, after all. Was it even possible for vampires to get concussions?
"Blood. Pot. Gas stove,” she said slowly as if talking to a two-year-old. Then she waved her hand dismissively and said, "Forget it, Spike. Just drink your blood. You’ll need it. I mean … of course, you need blood. It's what you always drink. It sustains you. So, there is no reason not to drink blood right now. Not that there is a special reason for it. Just plain daily blood-drinking routine." The part about needing blood had been a slip of her tongue. She shot him an embarrassed glance but he didn’t jump on her lapse at all. Nor did he try to push her into any kind of admission. Admitting that going to the police had been a stupid idea, for example. He didn’t even demand an apology. Not that she owed him one. Seriously? Him? Of all people?!
But he remained eerily silent.
Usually, he loved to run his mouth but tonight he was just sitting on his bed with a furrowed brow and stared into the candle-lit room. Still deep in thought he lifted the mug to his lips, took a sip, and choked on it. He nearly spat the blood over his sheets. "Bloody hell, Slayer. What did you do? You spiked my drink!"
Oh, he really must be joking. There she was being samaritan-ly nice to him. Florence Nightingale was her middle name. She had not only saved him from burning to death in the fiery hell that would undoubtedly have become his crypt had she not turned off the gas stove. She had also brought him blood. And what did she get in return for her good deeds? He was being picky and complained because his stupid blood got burnt. "It's not my fault it tastes awful. I tried to keep the burnt stuff inside the pot. Since when are you so dainty anyway? Just swallow it down and get it over with," she said scathingly.
Spike studied her carefully. Abruptly he said, "You changed clothes again."
"Yeah. My other stuff got dirty and muddy while we were fighting …" She paused, then added hastily "I changed them, okay? No big deal."
He gazed at her for a long time, then asked softly, "When exactly did you change clothes, pet?"
"When I got home from the police station. Oh, I haven’t told you about what happened when I walked into the police station. You are not going to believe what I found out about ...”
She broke off mid-sentence at his look.
"You left the police station because you found out the dead girl was Warren's ex-girlfriend."
His words left her baffled. "Did you follow me into the police station?" she asked.
Keeping his gaze on her face he reached out to the nightstand, took the mug, lifted it to his mouth again, and drained it in one long swig.
Buffy had a nagging feeling he was keeping something from her. She brushed it aside and stood up. "So … I'll be off then. I have to meet the others at the Magic Box. We’re gonna …"
"… research the Warren situation?" Spike finished her sentence for her.
Buffy stared at him. "Yes, of course. It’s obvious, isn’t it?"
She turned to head for the ladder, stopped, pulled the lighter out of her jeans pocket, and tossed it on his bed.
"You left your lighter upstairs, Spike. I thought you might need it. In case you want to smoke."
She didn’t say: “I brought it downstairs for you so you would have it handy if you want to light yourself a cigarette and have a smoke. I did it because I wanted to be kind to you.” There was this thing about words once they had been spoken. You couldn't take them back.
She waited for a moment as if to give him the chance to push his luck and try to force her to open up. However, he remained silent and she finally climbed up the ladder. She was halfway up when she paused and said softly, "Anyhow, I hope you’ll get better soon, Spike."
The next moment she was gone.
Spike hadn’t owned a watch since his human days. Watches were a status symbol back then and he had owned several of them. Heavy silver and golden pocket watches on chains, ticking down the seconds. Since he had become a vampire, time was of no importance to him any longer. He was immortal. He didn’t care about the passing of time as mortals did. His senses told him precisely how long he had before the sun would rise and set in a way that was so much more reliable than any device manufactured by humans to measure time. However, Spike now sat on his bed and began to count the seconds.
Forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine … bingo! He would have missed the faint creak if he hadn’t been waiting for it. Someone must have opened the door at a very narrow angle. Just enough to allow for a slim person to sneak through. 'I really should get a lock on that bloody entrance,' Spike thought. The sound of footsteps above him was muted. She must have taken off her shoes and searched his crypt barefooted. Cautiously at first, but after a short while, the sound of her steps became more frantic.
Spike chuckled and called out, "You might wanna look down here, luv."
Buffy slowly climbed down the ladder. She eyed the lighter on his outstretched palm with an odd look but her face was inscrutable. "Why would I look for your lighter, Spike?"
"See, pet. That’s the thing. This is my lighter.” He pulled a silver lighter from the pocket of his black jeans.
Buffy contemplated him for a moment. Then a smile suddenly lit up her face. "Looks like the game is up, doesn’t it? It's been a while since you caught me red-handed. Though I have to admit leaving the lighter on the stove was rather dumb of me."
"Care to fill a bloke in?"
Buffy winked at him. "Oh, come on, Spike. Give me your best guess."
"I was thinking shapeshifting demon until I had Slayer's blood for dinner. It’s been quite a while but it’s not a taste I’m likely to forget. Ever."
He searched her face carefully. "I’ve never heard about time-traveling. ’Course apart from the Doctor that is. But I doubt you came here by Tardis.”
"Since I don’t even know what Tardis is, you are definitely right about that.”
"Which leaves you being - what exactly?"
Buffy settled down on the edge of his bed and tucked one leg under her. "I am Buffy. I am still a vampire slayer." Spike raised his eyebrows at her use of the indefinite article but remained silent. "I am also traveling dimensions. It’s nothing to do with my calling. I am doing it on my own."
He knew her eyes would be glistening with tears when she looked up. If it wasn’t for the faint salty scent in his bedchamber, the grief in her voice at least gave it away.
"I … lost you. Where I come from, you’re gone. What happened tonight in the alley … the same happened to … I did the same. And I didn’t go back to check upon him. I left him in the alley."
Spike looked at her with sudden horror. "Bloody hell. Are you saying I dusted with the sunrise?"
Buffy shook her head. "No. He made it home alone. He was a survivor. Or at least he once was, back then. Or maybe … I have sometimes wondered about that. Maybe he didn’t make it home on his own. Maybe another Buffy came from another dimension and took care of him and looked after him and he never told me. But maybe not. More likely not. Because, you know, when I told him I loved him he didn’t believe me. He was dying and he thought I was just throwing him a bone. Out of pity. And he told me "No you don’t, but thanks for saying it."
"Holy crap, that must have been quite a blow, Slayer."
"It was. And it still hurts. But it's not even the worst."
Spike snorted. "Seriously? What’s worse than that?"
The look in her eyes silenced him. "I think he could have … I mustn’t tell you what happened. Dimension hopping 101. Don’t change any major events. That’s why I can only drag your sorry ass to your crypt instead of stopping myself from beating you up at all or preventing Katrina’s death. I mustn’t save my mom. Or stop Willow from going …wherever she will go. Or Ta... Ta- Tabula Rasa. You know? That spell? I mustn’t prevent the spell from happening.”
Spike raised a scarred eybrow. “Doesn’t seem to be such a major thing to me.” he said carefully.
Something had visibly rattled her but she shook it off now. “I wouldn’t want to miss Randy.” she admitted ruefully.
“Anyway, I think when push came to shove, he could have made it out if he had wanted to. But he didn't. He had given up hope. On me. On being loved. On being worthy. And one thing I know for sure is he was."
After a moment Buffy continued, "It still haunts me after all these years. That he wouldn’t have felt this way, had I come back tonight."
Spike asked slowly. "’S that what ya doing? Coming back and checking on me in other dimensions?"
Buffy nodded. "In a nutshell? Yes,” she said in a small voice.
He was at a loss for words and if she had expected – hoped for – comfort or sympathy her face did not betray her disappointment. At long last, Buffy straightened her shoulders and got up. She took the lighter, carefully pocketed it, and smiled at him softly. "It’s been nice meeting you, Spike."
He called out to her just as she reached the ladder. "Slayer. Buffy. Wait." She willed herself for composure before she turned around to look at him. He hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "I can’t give you what you are looking for. I can’t be what you need. I can’t be him. Not even for one night. But there is something I could do for you."
Silently she waited for him to continue.
"I could just hold you."
Her eyes widened in surprise and she clapped a hand over her mouth to subdue a sob. When she flew into his arms she was already crying.
Buffy cursed under her breath. It had been a long night and of course, it was all Spike's fault. No surprise there. At first, he had kept her from patrolling by luring her to the door of his crypt. Then he interfered in her fight with the Rwasundi demons as if she wasn’t slayer enough to hold her own, and finally, he had tried to keep her from going to the police station and doing the right thing. He had no one else but himself to blame for … no. He wasn’t to blame for getting beaten up. But she would never have hit him if he hadn’t been there in the first place. There you go. His fault entirely.
And after that she had tried to be nice to him because she might have felt the tiniest pang of remorse although there was clearly no reason at all to feel guilty. No sir, not a shred of a reason. But she had been nice to him and he had the nerve not to be grateful at all. Instead, he behaved peculiarly. Almost weirdly. It had been nagging at her for the last hour or so. Maybe vampires could get concussions after all. Maybe he did have one. Possibly he was unconscious. Which meant he was entirely helpless if a demon randomly walked into his crypt and staked him.
A whimpering sound snapped Buffy out of her inner monologue. She looked up and realized she had been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she had already entered Spike's crypt without even noticing it. Another whimper startled her. It wasn’t in Spike’s warm baritone voice. It was clearly the voice of a girl. There was a girl in Spike’s crypt. And the sounds were coming from his bedchamber. Spike had a girl in his bedchamber and he was making her moan and she would… yet another whimper made Buffy realize things were even worse. The girl wasn’t moaning.
She was crying.
It sounded almost pleading. As if someone was in pain. Buffy went rigid. Her fury evaporated and an ice-cold hand gripped her instead. She had never checked up on Spike’s claim his chip had stopped working on her alone. She had simply trusted him. Had believed his words. What if his chip had been completely defunct ever since? What if he had been killing all the time? What if he was killing a girl right now?
Buffy darted to the doorway in the floor and gripped the rails, swinging down her body in one swift movement without bothering to use the rungs. She landed on her feet like a cat and reached for the stake in her waistband.
Spike was still lying on his four-poster bed, his back resting against the headboard, propped up with a cushion. Apparently, he hadn't moved from the spot since she had left him earlier. But he was now holding a woman in his arms. A woman who had her hair pulled back in a short ponytail nestled her head into his shoulder and sobbed desperately.
Spike raised his head. His blue eyes found hers and he gently put a finger to his mouth, silently pleading with her. It took a moment for the meaning of his gesture to sink in. Finally, Buffy nodded, turned around, and climbed back up.
The early morning fog was drifting over the grassy verges of Restfield Cemetery when Buffy left the crypt. She pulled a cellphone out of her jeans pocket, briefly touched the screen, and waited.
"Geez, Buffy. You really freaked me out this time. Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone?"
"I’m sorry, Dawnie. I got held up. But everything’s fine. You can open the portal. Co-ordinates are just outside Spike’s crypt."
"One person coming through?" Dawn asked.
There was just the slightest hint of a tremor in Dawn's voice. Buffy would have missed it if she hadn’t known her sister as well as she did.
Buffy's face however was calm and her voice clipped as she replied, "As always."
She put her cellphone away and a gleaming light appeared in midair. Buffy impatiently tapped her foot on the ground, waiting for the beam of light to grow bigger until it formed an arch. By the time the portal and grown to the size of a cathedral window Buffy had already stepped in, been swallowed by it, and was gone. The portal hovered, glowing for another moment, then folded in on itself and disappeared in a blink.
Buffy slowly rose from the spot behind a tombstone where she had been sitting and waiting.
When she entered the crypt, Spike was rummaging inside his refrigerator. He came up with a bag of blood in his hands and grinned at her. "Stayed to watch the show, pet? She gone then?"
Spike tossed the bag back into the fridge. "So, what brought you back to my humble abode?"
"I can hardly believe I’m saying this but I thought you needed looking after. It seems I was wrong." Spike leered at her. "I needed a lot of looking after, pet. Still do, at that." He closed the gap between them. Buffy put her palms on his chest, not shovi
ng him away but keeping him at distance.
"Why do you think she came here?"
Spike’s expression softened.
"I think she’s looking for something."
"For something? Or rather … someone?"
"Mhmm … mhmm." The low timbre of his voice resonated somewhere deep inside her body and she felt like a tautly strung violin. Still, her mind wandered back to the other Buffy.
"You didn’t go with her," she pointed out.
Spike did not look as surprised as she had hoped he would.
"No," he said simply and waited. Buffy briefly considered a glaring contest but decided rather to give in.
"You are asking me why I didn’t leave this plane for a brighter, shinier world, in the company of a beautiful woman who adores and - may I say it? - loves me instead of languishing in a damp crypt, yearning for a daft chit who keeps our dirty little affair a secret and would never ever lower herself so far as to look at me with something other than disgust?"
Buffy chewed on the inside of her cheek. "Yeah, I think that kinda sums it up. Why didn’t you?”
His mocking tone was gone and he spoke softly now. "Because she isn’t you. And stupid as it might be, I am in love with you. Not her."
He gently stroked his thumb across her temples. "C’mon now, Slayer. Stop with the frowning. It puts wrinklies on your forehead... She’s gone. I’m still here." But there was something else nagging at her.
"Did she … I mean you and her … did you …?"
"Did what? Cheat on you? With yourself? Now, why didn't I think of that earlier? I could have bedded my second Slayer tonight, pet. Two killed and two fu..."
He stopped himself at Buffy’s warning look.
"No, we didn’t. That’s all you wanna know? No inquiries about how to avoid the next apocalypse? When to expect the world to end? What shoes to wear next autumn? And most importantly, what happened to my other self?"
"Did she tell you? I mean, not about the shoes. But everything else?"
"Nah. She was disappointingly tight-lipped, pet. She said it’s existential not to mess with the delicate fabric of time or the twisted course of fate or whatever."
"Oh. That feels rather anticlimactic now."
Spike leered. "I can think of doing something that’ll be very climactic." He lowered his head and she felt his soft, cool lips on hers.
They were already downstairs and he was unhooking her bra when he suddenly said, "Wait. There was one thing she told me."
Buffy waited for him to finish his sentence and for his fingers to proceed. When he kept grinning at her with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, she finally let out an exasperated gasp. "Come on Spike. Stop teasing me. What did she tell you?"
"Don’t trade demon eggs."
His fingertip lightly touched her shoulder blade and followed an invisible trail down the soft curve of her breast. She bit back a moan and asked, "What is that supposed to mean?"
His tongue followed the trail of his finger as he bent over her.
"Haven’t got a clue, luv."