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HOW TO GET AHEAD IN THE OTHERWORLD 

 

         COZ, THIS TIME, EVERYTHING REALLY HAS GONE TO HELL…

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Strange as it may seem, I don't own Buffy, or Spike for that matter, I don't even own their little friends. That honour goes to that guy who has that company with the funny name, what was it again?  It's on the tip of my tongue, I tell you...

 

Oh yeah, it's...               No, it's gone again...

 

      I'd bet ya Freud would have something to say about this...

 

            Hold on a minute while I go check...

 

                      Just pressing the rewind button here...

 

                               Right, there are the credits...

 

                                         Music by...            

 

 

 No, that's not it...

 

    Key grip (what the hell is a key grip anyway)...

 

        Make-up artist...

 

 

 

Ah, here we go (drum roll please). Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel both belong to...

 

                                                                                   

 Damn, I've run out of ink.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

It was strange really, like that time he and Dru had snacked on those hippy students back in the early seventies in New York. They should have known better, he supposed, anyone who would take a shortcut through Central Park at 2 a.m. in the morning, had to be tripping. It had been a wonderful night though; a real bloody Technicolor vision of a strange world. He had watched in awe as Dru giggled in delight, running through the trees in search of something to play with. She found it, eventually, and what was supposed to have been a quick bite before they went home, suddenly turned into a full-blown bloodbath in Central Park.

 

 LSD and Vampires put together are always guaranteed to see the world coloured in red, with pretty little entrails decorating the duck pond. It had been that, more than anything else, that made that slayer, Nikki, come looking for him. Can't have the naughty Vampires polluting the water now, can we? The memory made him wince, there was that nasty soul again, making him suffer.

 

 He dragged his mind back from where it had wandered and stared at his hand again. He had been 'sitting' there for at least half an hour staring at it, or, to be more exact, staring through it, the world through a flesh tinted haze this time, not blood. The whole experience was surreal, here he was, sitting in Fred's lab - except he wasn't, was he? In order to sit, he'd have to have a body to sit down with, not just a sketchy appearance of one. He was a mind without a body, floating in and out of reality. Is this what that bloke meant when he talked about an existential crisis?  And speaking of entrails, if his skin was transparent now, then why can't he see his insides, Dru would have loved that.

 

"Oh Spikey, my luv, look how you're insides quiver and glisten"

 

He smirked, imagining Dru poking her finger through him and wiggling it around. She'd have probably done one of her little dances as well, she always did that when she was excited.

 

A movement caught the corner of his eye, and Spike raised his hand to observe Fred through his palm, there was a slight distortion, as if the light knew something was there. It was sort of comforting.

 

"Spike? Spike, are you alright? Its just that you keep waving that hand about as if there is something there - there isn't, is there?" Fred asked nervously, as she eyed the room.

 

"Just my own twisted imagination, luv. Don't worry about it," he said, dropping his hand hurriedly. No need to look like more of a ponce than he actually was. "So, how is the... the... experiment going?"

 

"Not very well, I'm afraid. I'm trying to factor in the time differentiation to my equation," she said worriedly. "Trying to amalgamate the dead you, with an undead you from another dimension and time, so that you can have a body again, is a lot harder than it sounds," she chattered

 

"Well, I don't know, luv. I was never under the impression it was going to be easy in the first place," he replied easily. "What with that whole quantum thing and all."

 

 She was pretty when she worried, he thought, as he studied the expression on her face; she had this whole cute way of going on and on. It kind of reminded him of Drusilla, her hair kind of looked like Dru's too, what with the slight curl and all. Very nice indeed, and not at all like the other one, this one was safe, wasn't going to remind him of his broken heart.

 

"Oh, you shouldn't worry," she nattered on, oblivious to Spikes thoughts. "We'll get the kinks sorted out, there's no chance that you'll end up like that pumpkin this morning."

 

"Eh?" Spikes ears perked up as he caught the end of the sentence. "What's that about a pumpkin?"

 

"Oh, it's nothing, really," assured a flustered Fred.

 

"No harm in telling me then, is there?" Spike asked, his suspicions raised.

 

"Well... you know I was telling you about that whole time differentiation problem?"

 

"Whatever luv, go on..."

 

"Well...we performed the test and... and..."

 

"Come on pet, I don't bite...well... not anymore, anyway,"

 

Fred looked at him uncertainly, but carried on. "Everything went fine until we tried to pull it into phase with it's counterpart in the other dimension, but then, everything got kind of twisted and the pumpkin ended up a sort of... overripe."

 

"How overripe are we talking about here, Pet?"

 

" The smelly, mushy kind of overripe," she haltingly admitted, dropping her gaze.

 

"I see, so I'm guessing that doesn't bode too well for me, then," Spike said sarcastically as he jumped off the seat and started pacing the room.

 

"We'll fix it," Fred promised as she dogged his steps. "It'll work, wait 'til you see."

 

"You're damned right I'll wait, being transparent is one thing, being mushy is another thing all together - and will you stop doing that!" he shouted as he turned and glared at her"

 

"Stop what?" she squeaked

 

"Stop shadowing me around the room, it's disturbing!"

 

"Oops, sorry," she apologised, eyeing him fearfully as she retreated behind her desk.

 

Spike looked at her in exasperation and decided to leave before things got ugly. She may have pretty hair, but the girl was obviously a bit too fond of Mary Shelley's literature, and he wasn't looking to be Frankenstein's pet.

 

 "I'm out of here," he muttered, disappearing through a wall before she could protest.

 

 Ten minutes later, he was still wandering through the halls of Wolfram and Hart. In the old days it was simpler - feeling a little bit down? That's okay, just go and find something to beat up, put you in a right good mood in no time - nowadays he'd count himself lucky if he could push over a paper bag.

 

Cursing under his breath, he made for the one room in the building where he was guaranteed some sort of violence, even if it was just the verbal kind - Angel's office.

 

 

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  

 

 

"Oh for crying out loud, I told you to stop doing that" Angel roared, leaping out of his chair as Spike popped out of the wall behind him.

 

"You don't say" Spike drawled, sprawling across the desk. "I wonder why I keep doing it, then?"

 

"Will you get off to the bloody desk? I've work to do, you know."

 

"Oh yeah, being Wolfram and Hart's new patsy must involve a hell of a lot of paperwork," Spike fired back gleefully. This was more like it, almost as good as a well aimed sucker punch. He could practically hear Angel counting to ten in his head. He'd say this for him, he wasn't as easy to goad as he used to be. He must have picked up some patience since he moved to L.A., or maybe he'd just gone soft. Spike decided to share this new revelation with his grandsire.

 

"That's it, you're dead!" Angel exploded. "I've had as much as I can take of you, boy."

 

"I hate to break it to you, but I've been dead for quite a few months now, Peaches"

 

Spike could almost see the light bulb go on over his head, as Angels face lit up in understanding. "That's what this is about, isn't it? Even you're not normally this irritating. Trying to pick a fight so to alleviate some of your tension, are you, my boy?"

 

Shit, he had sussed it. "Who... me...don't know what you're talking about mate, just passing through," this was one of the times when he really wished he were a better liar, he'd give his eye-teeth to say something suave and believable at this very moment.

 

"Oh, is poor Spikey feeling all depressed?" 

 

Could have been worse, Spike supposed, he could have been all consideration and support. He shuddered at the thought, no need to go borrowing trouble. "What is this, you trying to perfect your Harmony impersonation or something? 'Cause I've got to tell you, it was looking pretty good to begin with - what with the hair gel and all"

 

But Angel wasn't about to allow himself be distracted, not until he had a little fun first. "Oh but Spikey, I think we should talk about this," he said, a shit eating grin plastered all over his face. "We can't have you feeling all down now, can we? Maybe we should give you something to occupy your time, I know, how about a job?"

 

"Right then, I'm off," Spike muttered as he made for the nearest wall.

 

"What, you're not going to wait and hear what I'm about to offer you?"

 

For a split second, curiosity got the better of him. "Make it snappy, then"

 

"Well, as it happens I've got a job that's perfect for your unique abilities."

 

"You don't say."

 

"Oh, but I do say!"

 

Spike rolled his eyes as he spun around. "Get on with it, then, you old sod... I've got things to do, you know."

 

Angel decided to let that one slide, he didn't want the fish to wriggle off his hook that easily.  "I want you to do a bit of reconnaissance work for me..."

 

Spike had to admit it, his curiosity was peaked, "Go on then, enlighten me."

 

"Basically, I want you to spy on my employees."

 

Now that he wasn't expecting. "You're having me on, mate!"

 

"I'm not talking about the ones I brought with me from 'Angel Investigations'," Angel explained hurriedly. "Just the ones I inherited from Wolfram and Hart."

 

"Looking for the rotten apples, eh?"

 

I don't think any of them are too fresh from the tree," Angel said wryly. "But I want to make sure that none of them are actively working against me, yes"

 

"And you only just thought of this now," Spike asked suspiciously. "Pull the other one, mate. I hear it's got bells on"

 

"Well... it's nothing really concrete," Angel admitted. "But I've noticed that some of the orders I've given in the last week seemed to have gotten lost along the way."

 

"That's all? Hate to break it to you, peaches, but that is pretty much a given in this kind of place."

 

"I know that! It's just that they've also seemed to have mislaid a couple of documents I wanted to study," Angel explained

 

"What kind of documents are we talking about here?"

 

"Oh, you know, the usual, a couple of prophecies..."

 

"Aw well, that's all right then, we can all go home - what do you mean a couple of prophecies!" Spike yelled. "That sounds pretty fucking concrete to me, mate. A prophecy means only one thing as far as I've seen - it's another bloody apocalypse, isn't it?

 

"Well..."

 

"Go on, tell me I'm wrong, I dare ya!"

 

"You're not wrong" Angel admitted, flopping back into his chair with a groan. "Fire and brimstone, the pits of hell opening, the whole sky caving in, the full package. There, are you happy?"

 

"It's not fair," Spike whined. "We only just had one, isn't there some kind of rule? Only one apocalypse per year or something like that.

 

"That only applies in Sunnydale," replied Angel, with a flash of humour. " Buffy always used to complain about that, she couldn't figure out why someone would always try to end the world in the middle of her finals.

 

Both Vampires smirked.

 

"Yeah, that would be her, alright," Spike said wistfully.

 

"I could give her a call, " Angel suggested gently. "I know she'd be thrilled to know that you're here, she was really cut up when she thought you didn't make it."

 

"That's just the thing, mate, I didn't make it, I'm bloody dead aren't I"

 

"You were dead before, too," Angel pointed out. "She didn't seem to mind it then."

 

"That was different."

 

"How so."

 

"It just was."

 

"You don't give Buffy enough credit, Spike. She'd be glad to see you if you showed up in a tutu and wearing heels."

 

"I wouldn't go that far, mate, even the slayer has her limits.

 

"Okay then, I'll drop the subject," Angel conceded. "So, will you do it?"

 

"Do what? Oh yeah, I suppose so, I've nothing else to be doing after all."

 

"Right then, welcome to Wolfram and Hart, you're now officially in my employ."

 

"I'm what? Oy, I'm not one of your bleeding lackeys!"

 

"Look on the bright side, there's a pay check in it for you,"

 

"And what does a bloody ghost do with a pay check?" demanded Spike

 

"Save?"

 

"Har har bloody har..."

 

 

P.S. Mutant Enemy... Buffy belongs to Mutant Enemy... I'm right, aren't I?      Hello?

 

 


 

 

 

PART TWO

 

 

It seemed a good idea at the time - hide in the filing cabinet, nobody would think to look there. Two hours later, he was ready to tear the bloody thing apart with his bare hands. It was downright unnatural, what with his body being divided up between the drawers and all - and the fact that he couldn't see below his shoulders wasn't helping either; he knew he was incorporeal nowadays, but still.

 

For the tenth time that day, Spike wondered why he agreed to do this. But, of course, he already knew the answer to that one. He had been trying to shut his bloody ponce of a grandsire's mouth up before he stumbled onto the truth. Angel had come way too close to figuring out what had been plaguing him since he had popped back into existence and, as far as he was concerned, that was not a good thing.

 

Muffling a curse, he strained his ears and listened to the conversation that was going on in the library room outside. Same old, same old, they were still quarrelling over some Aramaic text. Two bloody hours spent arguing over whether a word should be translated into 'fog' or 'cloud' - it was the same bleeding thing, wasn't it? He knew William's geography lessons were bit out of date, but he was still pretty sure that a fog was just a low cloud.

 

And yet, there they were, going on and on about it. It didn't really surprise him that the guy with the nasal voice would be this pedantic, but he'd expected better from Wesley, he'd always struck Spike as having some commonsense.

 

The impulse to leap out and roar at them was becoming harder to resist with every passing second. Now he knew how Angel had managed to acquire some patience, lots of bleeding practice. Wincing as he did so, he counted to ten. He had just gotten to six - for the twelfth time - when Wesley announced that he had another appointment to keep. About time! Maybe now something interesting would happen around here, now that Wesley wasn't hovering about anymore.

 

Thankfully, he didn't have to wait long; Wesley was barely out of the room before he heard the squeak of a chair being pushed back. Within moments, the sound of a struck match caught his ears and he cursed the fact that he couldn't smell what was being lit. That was one of the worst things about being a ghost; his nose didn't work anymore. It had terrified him at first; a Vampires sense of smell was one of its most powerful tools and Spike had relied on his for over a hundred years. It was like suddenly losing his eyes. A nasal voice filled the air.

 

"Ad hoc...legerum...anno...."

 

"Oh, shit. It would have to be Latin, wouldn't it. Why did they always do that? It never ended well.

 

"Maximus... pax...notre..."

 

Yeah, it sounded like magic all right, the stupid git was trying to summon something. Spike decided to chance poking his face out for a look; the idiot would probably be too busy fiddling with his herbs to noticed a disembodied head, anyway.

 

Bloody Hell! At least now he knew what the match was for, the room was practically swimming in candles. Spike peered at the would be witch who, luckily, had his back turned to him as he knelt within his circle and droned on in badly pronounced Latin. Spike looked at the circle drawn on the tiles with suspicion, he couldn't be sure, but that looked remarkably like blood. He wasn't summoning anything nice, then.

 

A red haze filled the room and, for a split second, Spike thought of running to get Angel. The moment passed, however, and Spike looked on as the smoke coalesced outside the circle, slowly pulling itself into form. Truth be told, Spike was a little disappointed with the result, it looked human, he had been expecting something a bit more impressive, maybe a few wrinkly veins or a pair of horns. After seeing the things that Red could do with just a flick of a hand, everything else was bound to look second rate, he supposed.

 

"Why have you summoned me, you insignificant toad?" the apparition hissed.

 

Spike ducked his head back as he did a mental recalculation, this thing may look human, but any doubts about whether or not it was evil, disappeared the moment it opened it's mouth. He practically felt the bugger's voice crawl up his spine.

 

"Forgive me, oh omnipotent one," intoned 'nasal voice' cringingly. "But all the signs have been seen, the day is nearly here."

 

"Is that so," the apparition said softly, his voice almost a caress. "Tell me, have all the arrangements been made for my true return?"

 

"We have the book, my lord, and the sacrifice is safely installed in this very building as we speak. Everything has a gone to plan."

 

"You have done well, mortal, you will be suitably... rewarded... when the day comes," the apparition told the idiotic minion.

 

"Oh, thank you, my Lord, may your name be forever worshipped."

 

Sometimes Spike wondered about humans, he really did. Anyone with a half a brain could see that this git's 'reward' wasn't going to be anything pretty. Chances were, he was going to end up fish food - if he was lucky.

 

"We shall meet again, on the appointed day," the apparition promised as his voice faded away. "Then you will truly know the power of my beneficence."

 

"Yeah, right, I'm sure he will," Spike thought cynically as he popped out through the back wall and made for Angels office. He had barely made it around the corner when he bumped into Fred, or, to be more honest, walked through Fred.

 

"Oh, there you are," she exclaimed. "I've been looking all over for you, we've done it."

 

"Done what, pet?" he asked impatiently. Can't this woman ever get to the point? Normally he would find it endearing, but he was in a hurry, damnit.

 

"We've fixed the time differentiation problem, of course," Fred explained excitedly. "You'll be walking around in your old body before the day is out."

 

"No mushy parts?" Spike asked suspiciously.

 

"No mushy parts," she promised as she tried to grab his arm, forgetting they're was nothing to grab onto. "Oops, sorry. But never mind, we'll soon fix that, come on!"

 

"What, now?"

 

"Why not?"

 

"I have to go and speak to Angel first."

 

"You do? Why? You hate talking to Angel," Fred asked in surprise. "What's up?"

 

He really should remember that, for all her eccentricities, Fred was far from stupid. Obviously, Angel had decided not to tell her about his new job description. Why he hadn't, Spike didn't want to know. He quickly came to a decision. "It's nothing that can't wait, pet, lead on."

 

Fred beamed as she herded him along the hallway to her lab. "It's all set up, all you have to do is stand over there," she explained as they entered the room.

 

"How long is this going to take," he asked as he looked at the platform that Fred pointed to.

 

"Ten to fifteen minutes, no more," she replied as she scooted across the room to the device's controls. "Just step on up."

 

Reluctantly, Spike stepped onto the platform and waited.

 

"You might experience a slight tingly sensation, but don't worry, that's quite normal," she reassured him as she flipped a switch. "Hold on."

 

The platform hummed under his feet and started to glow. "What's with the lighting effects, luv," he asked worriedly, the memory of the amulet's effects still fresh in his mind.

 

"Oh, that's just a side effect of the ionic interference, nothing to worry about," Fred said as she looked up from her monitor.

 

Slightly mollified, he stood as patiently as he could while Fred twiddled at the controls on the other side of the room.

 

"Okay," she said chirpily. "I'm now bringing the time differentiation compensator online."

 

She was right about the tingly sensation, it was strangely invigorating, probably because it was the first true sensation he had felt since he'd died. His sense of touch had gone the same way as his nose once he'd acquired the ability to float through walls. He looked up to share this new revelation with Fred, when he noticed the frown on her face. "What's wrong? I'm not about to turn into a pumpkin am I?" he asked, with growing concern as she started typing away at her console furiously.

 

"I'm not sure," she replied absently. "It could be nothing, it's just that the other you that I'm trying to align you with doesn't seem to be resonating at quite the right frequency. I don't understand it, I've put in all the right parameters - Sunnydale, the Hellmouth, A person who was originally human but then lost it's soul when it became a demon - until it was resouled by it's own volition, date of demise, etcetera, etcetera. It should pull your previous body, just before it died, from an almost identical dimension to this, but it seems to be a little bit off."

 

"How 'off' are we talking about here," Spike demanded as he glared at her.

 

"Well...I can't be positive...but it seems that the body is human!" Fred thrilled. "Oh wow, you're going to be human! Isn't that great? Everyone will be so happy."

 

"I won't, you stupid bint," Spike roared, making Fred take an involuntary step back from the console. "Send it back - now."

 

"But... but... I thought you'd be pleased," Fred protested. "I mean, Angel is always saying..."

 

"I'm not Angel," Spike told her through gritted teeth. "Send it back."

 

"I can't," Fred admitted in a small voice. "Once it has started, it can't be reversed."

 

The tingling sensation was becoming more intense as the seconds ticked by and Spike decided that there was only one thing he could do before it was too late; he stepped off the platform.

 

"What are you doing," Fred squealed as she rushed forward.

 

"I told you, I don't want to be human," he said shortly as he stood back and watched the platform.

 

"But we can't have two Spikes running around, Angel will kill me!" she wailed as she watched the platform with rounded eyes.

 

"If it's human, it won't be me, will it?" Spike reasoned. "It will be William."

 

"Same difference!" she retorted.

 

"Believe me, luv, it isn't," Spike replied with a sigh. "This is for the best, Fred. The only way this thing was going to work; was if I ended up in my old body. A demon running around in a human is not a good idea."

 

"But you've got a soul now," Fred protested.

 

"But I've still got my Demon too, pet," Spike explained. "Believe me, William wouldn't be able to handle it and I should know - I used to be him."

 

As one, they turned to look at the platform. "I'm not so sure about this," Fred said querulously, as a vague form began to pull into focus on the platform.

 

"There is no going back now, luv," Spike informed her. "You said that yourself, remember?"

 

Slowly, the form took shape and they could now make out a human outline.

 

"I could be wrong here, but doesn't that seem to be a bit on the short side to you," Spike asked as he tilted his head and measured it's height with his eyes.

 

"Now that you mention it, it does seem to be a bit petite," Fred replied thoughtfully, hurrying back to her console. "Let me check the diagnostics... oooh..."

 

Spikes head spun around to look at her, and registered the stunned look on her face in an instant. "What's up, luv?"

 

Fred just pointed at the platform in reply. Spike slowly looked back at the platform and watched in amazement as the human took on its final features and became - someone who definitely wasn't William.

 

"What the...where the hell am I," the woman on the platform demanded, holding her sword up defensively - only to lower it a moment later when she spotted Spike. "Spike, is that you? Where did all the Bringers go? Did we win? Are we dead? Is this some eerie metaphorical representation of heaven or something?" the questions slipped out like quicksilver as she looked wildly around the room.

 

Spike didn't answer, he couldn't, he was too busy laughing his head off.

 

"Spike, are you okay, is it some kind of seizure?" the woman asked concernedly as she stepped off the platform and approached the vampire, who was now rolling around on the floor.

 

Fred decided to speak up. "Hi!" she squeaked. "My name is Fred, what's yours?"

 

The woman looked at her suspiciously. "Why do want to know?" she asked. "Are you an agent of the first? If so, I'll have you know that I'm not going to listen to you, I wasn't born yesterday, you know."

 

"Huh?" Fred asked, but the woman had already turned her attention back to Spike.

 

"Spike, Spike, can you talk?" the woman asked uncertainly. Tentatively, she tried to touch Spike's shoulder, squealing as her hand passed right through him.

 

Spike gasped for air as he tried to answer. "Was human... lost soul... regained... voluntari..." it was too much; he collapsed into giggles once more.

 

"Okay, what did you do to him," the woman yelled, as she made a beeline for Fred, her sword at the ready. "I know how to use this, you know. I've had plenty of practice today already."

 

"No...it's alright...I'm okay," said Spike as he pulled himself off the floor. "This is Fred, she's one of Angel's lot."

 

"Angel?" she said questioningly. "But I thought he'd scurried off to Los Angelus, second front and all that."

 

"This is Los Angelus, luv," he told her gently. "And yeah, we won... and no, you're not dead... not anymore anyway," he amended.

 

"Um, excuse me? Could someone tell me what's going on here?" Fred broke in.

 

"It's quite simple, luv," Spike said as he looked at Fred from the corner of his eye. "You forgot to add one extra condition to your 'parameters', you should have mentioned that you were looking for a bloke."

 

"But what difference would that make? I mean, how many resouled vampires were they, at that battle?"

 

"That's another thing, luv," he reminded her with a smirk. "You also failed to add the fact that you were looking for a vampire."

 

"But..." Fred didn't get a chance to finish, however.

 

"Fred, this is Anyanka," Spike explained. " Anya was born human, but lost her soul when she became a vengeance demon. It's a long story, but last year Anya decided to return to her human roots, so to speak - and as humans have souls...."

 

"...Anya regained her's," Fred finished for him. "Oh dear..."

 

 

 

 

PART THREE

 

 

Spike watched with studied disinterest as the 'fang gang' huddled at the other end of Angel's office. He really couldn't see what all the fuss was all about. It was Anya, for pity's sake. Sure, she might be a bit on the blunt side sometimes, but it hardly made her the harbinger of the apocalypse or something. The way that Angel's lot were carrying on, you'd swear she had sprouted horns and a tail.

 

"I still think we should get out of here while the goings good," Anya whispered, leaning in from the next chair. "They've obviously gone over to the dark side. I mean, just look at them, acting all shifty and mysterious over there. I say we slip out the nearest exit and make for the next train out of here.

 

Spike rolled his eyes. "Relax, luv, Peaches was always like this. Likes the image of being dark and mysterious, probably has just rubbed off on the rest of them."

 

"He didn't always work for Wolfram and Hart, though. Even D'Hoffryn stays away from them, he actually put them on his 'Do Not Touch' list."

 

"I've already gone over this with you, pet. Angel is in charge here now, so there's nothing to worry about," he whispered back, his eyes never leaving the heated argument going on at far end of the conference table. What the hell were they up to?

 

Anya turned and looked at him disbelievingly. "What? Has that soul of yours suddenly erased your ability to think? Don't you dare tell me that you actually believe that Angel is in charge of this hellhole just because his name is tacked on the office door."

 

"What do you mean by that?" Spike said, dragging his eyes away from across the room.

 

"It's in the walls, Spike," Anya explained impatiently. "This building is alive, evil incarnate - and still running the show, no matter what you believe."

 

"Yeah, sure," he huffed disbelievingly. "Somehow I think somebody would have noticed that by now."

 

"If you don't believe me, ask them about the 'white room'," she insisted. " Go on, ask them now."

 

"What the bleeding hell is the 'white room'?" he asked.

 

"It's where its mind is housed," she explained hurriedly. "Nothing happens in this place without its say so first."

 

"But it's different now," Spike protested uneasily.

 

"Wake up and smell the apocalypse, Spike," she told him severely. "I say we hightail it out of here and go and find Buffy."

 

"Apocalypse," Spike sat bolt right up in his chair, bloody hell, how could he have forgotten about that nitwit in the library.

 

"Spike...Spike... are you okay? You're not having another seizure, are you?" asked Anya anxiously, noticing the expression on his face. "If it's what I said about an apocalypse, I was only talking hypothetically..."

 

Spike didn't hear her, however. He was already halfway across the room. "Time's up, Peaches. You and I have to have a little natter.

 

"In a moment Spike," Angel snapped, too immersed in his conversation with Wesley to notice the expression on Spikes face.

 

"No, not in a bleeding moment, now," Spike said through gritted teeth, the muscles in his jaw line working overtime.

 

"This better be good," Angel said irritably as he rose from the table.

 

Spike caught his eye and looked at him meaningfully.

 

"Oh... yes... why don't you and I step into my office over here and... and...look at that... file I was talking about."

 

Spike spotted the raised eyebrow on Wesley's face from the corner of his eye. Peaches really had to work on his cloak and dagger routine... it was bloody pathetic, even by his standards. Giving a worried looking Anya a reassuring look, Spike stepped into the other room before Angel closed the door behind them.

 

"What did you see?" Angel said, getting straight to the point.

 

"Watcher type in the library, summoning demons between the stacks," Spike replied, leaning against the desk. "Something about the day approaching for it's 'true return' and there being a sacrifice kept in the building for the special occasion."

 

"That's all we need," muttered Angel.

 

"Oy, that reminds me, what's all this hue and cry about Anya," Spike asked. "Seems pretty straight forward to me, dead yesterday, alive today. It's not as if something like this hasn't happened before, it's practically an annual occurrence 'round these parts."

 

"Wesley thinks there may be a prophecy involved," Angel said. "Something about resurrections and the lunar calendar."

 

Spike smirked. "You’d better tie her down before you tell her, then," he advised. "She isn't very happy, to begin with, about being in a building that has the Wolfram and Hart logo over the front door."

 

"I would have thought that Anya would be pretty laissez faire about the whole thing," Angel commented. "She always seemed to be pretty comfortable rubbing shoulders with her old fraternity... or is that sorority?"

 

"Apparently, Wolfram and Hart are an exception to the rule, she keeps going on about this place being a pit of evil and all that - something about a 'white room'?" Spikes heart sank as he saw Angel flinch. "So I'm guessing, from the look on you face, that she may have a point."

 

"What exactly did she say?" Angel evaded.

 

"Oh, you know, the usual, the office block is alive, the white room is the control centre - sounds like a bloody Stephen King novel, if you ask me," Spike said watchfully.

 

"Anya said the building was alive?" asked Angel curiously. "How so."

 

"Don't bleeding ask me mate," shrugged Spike. "That's all the detail she went into, we can call her in here, if you want?"

 

"No...we'll leave that 'til we sort out what is happening with your 'watcher type' in the library," said Angel, thoughtfully.

 

"Right then," Spike declared, jumping onto the balls of his feet. "Who do we hit?"

 

"We," enquired Angel with amusement. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

 

"Oh, yeah," Spike muttered, deflating on the spot. "Okay then, you hit them. I'll do a running commentary from the sides."

 

"What else is new," snorted Angel as he reopened the office door. "Come on then, lets root out our summoner of doom and 'convince' him to turn over a new leaf."

 

"What's going on," said Wesley and Anya simultaneously as they walked through the door.

 

"You're little friend in the library from earlier on is up to something," explained Spike as he headed for the outer door.

 

"Who? Albert? He's harmless," Wesley replied, surprise written all over his face.

 

"But that thing he summoned earlier on isn't," Spike told him smugly.

 

"Summoned, Albert summoned something?" Wesley said disbelievingly. "I didn't think he had it in him."

 

"We'll debate that later, " Angel announced. "For now, I want to make sure that he isn't about to bring this building down about our ears.

 

"Actually," Anya piped up. "That wouldn't be such a bad idea. The world would be a better place as far as I'm concerned.

 

"Listen Anya," Angel said impatiently. "I know you have your reservations, but things have changed around here."

 

"The only thing that's changed around here, is you," Anya replied heatedly. "Listen to me when I say this, Angel. Don't try to take this building on, better people have tried and failed. Oh sure, they think they're winning at first, but one day they wake up and realise that they have become what they were supposed to oppose. That's how it does it, it doesn't leap out at you and say 'hey, here I am, I'm the big bad', it lets you do all the work. It pushes and prods you until you reach the stage that you begin to think like it, even begin to understand it, and only then does it pounce! This building doesn't get its kicks from killing its enemies, it much prefers to turn them."

 

Spike saw from the look in Angel's eyes that he knew exactly what she was talking about. With a shudder, he remembered what Dru had told him a few years back about Angel setting her and Darla on fire.

 

"She may have a point, Angel," Fred piped up. "And its not as if you haven't suspected something along that lines already."

 

"That maybe so, but I think we should deal with one thing at a time for the moment, and the first thing on my list is Albert," declared Angel as he swept from the room.

 

Giving Anya an apologetic look, the others trooped after him, leaving only Spike and Anya in the room. "You coming," he asked her, looking longingly after them.

 

"No thank you," she snorted. "I think I'll stay put, if it's all the same to you. You go on ahead."

 

Looking at her uncertainly, Spike held a short inner debate about whether or not he should stay, but the lure of some serious ass kicking won out in the end. "Are you sure you will be okay here, you won't go running off, will you?"

 

"I'll be right here when you get back," she reassured him. "Now run along and watch the violence like a good little vampire."

 

Spikes eyes narrowed a little as he heard the tone of her voice but decided to let it pass, she'd had a rough day, after all. Later on, looking back, he realised that he should have known what she was up to, but you know what they say about hindsight having twenty - twenty vision.

 

No sooner had he passed through the wall, than Anya was on the phone asking for an outside line. "Hello operator, I'd like to make a collect call to Britain... yes, the number is 221 5453 6778... this is Anya Jenkins calling for Rupert Giles...

 

 

 

                   - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  - - - -

 

 

Meanwhile, oblivious to Anya's conversation with the other side of the pond, Spike was busy cooling his heels off in the library. As fights go, it was a bleeding sorry affair... one flash of Angel's fang and Albert was spilling the beans left, right and centre. Spike was actually beginning to feel sorry for the poor blighter - until he produced the book, that is.

 

"What is it?" Angel asked when Wesley whistled as he read the title.

 

"It's the book of Aelemus," Wesley explained. "He's supposed to be the ruler of the second circle of hell, a rather nasty little demi-god, if memory serves me right."

 

Spike saw red. "A HELL GOD, let me at him! I'm gonna tear him apart limb from limb..."

 

"Ahem..."

 

Spike turned and glared at Fred. "You've got something to say?"

 

Fred gestured at his transparent hands.

 

Spike grinned nastily. "I mightn't be able to hit him, but I could still possess him - just think of all the damage I could do while I took his body around for a test drive..." Spike added, his face becoming dreamy as he drifted off mid-sentence.

 

"You've been thinking about that possibility for quite a while, haven't you," observed Angel.

 

"Well, what can I say, idle hands and all that," said Spike with a shrug. "Now, where was I..."

 

"No, no, I'll tell you everything," screeched Albert as he wriggled in Angel's grasp. "Just don't let him near me."

 

"Obliging little fellow, isn't he?" Wesley said with a grin.

 

"You can say that again," drawled Gunn.

 

"Where is the sacrifice?" demanded Angel, lifting Albert off the ground by his lapels.

 

"There... he's right there," stuttered Albert as he tried to raise his hands to point.

 

Reluctantly, Angel dropped him. "Where?"

 

"It's him," Albert said in a small voice. "The souled vampire, the other one, that is," he said, gesturing at Spike.

 

"Who, me?"

 

And then, because that sort of thing always seemed to happen when they had better things to do, the building began to shake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART FOUR

 

"The master shows his displeasure, all bow before the almighty," screeched Albert, clinging to the wall as the library shook from its foundations up.

 

"Would somebody shut that wanker up," shouted Wesley, dodging once again as yet another bookcase toppled over.

                                          

"Happy to oblige," Gunn told him as he knocked Albert over the head.

 

"Was that really necessary?" Fred scolded, bracing herself in the doorway as the tremors got more violent.

 

"Oh yes, yes it was," Wesley said fervently.

 

"What the bloody hell is going on here?" roared Spike.

 

"Your guess is as good as ours," Angel replied, shouting over the din.

 

"Do you think Albert may have been right?" asked Fred.

 

"I doubt it," supplied Wesley as he struggled to keep on his feet. "If Aelemus already had this much power in our realm, he would have no need to manifest himself in his 'true form', would he?"

 

"Here's hoping," muttered Spike, looking at Albert's unconscious form suspiciously.

 

"The tremors seem to be abating," Wesley said hopefully. A few moments later, the ground stood still once more. "There, that's more like it," brushing himself off, Wesley looked around at the others. "I'm not sure what caused that, but it seemed to originate from below."

 

"It could have just been an earthquake," suggested Gunn. As one, they all turned to look at him. "Okay, forget I said that..."

 

"Bugger this for a game of soldiers," grumbled Spike. "I'm off to have a look." Slipping down through the floor, Spike disappeared from sight.

 

We're going to have to do something about that," muttered Angel, as he watched Spike drop through the floorboards. "It's unnatural."

 

By the time Spike made it to the lobby, the place was at def con 3. "Oh god, oh god, don't let her in here," whimpered the receptionist, cowering behind the lobby desk.

 

"Don't let who in, luv?" asked Spike as he spied the mass of armed security guards gathered by the front entrance.

 

Wordlessly, she pointed at the glass doors, and Spike stepped through the nervous guards to have a better look. There, outside, floating about three feet from the ground, was Willow.

 

"Oh well, that's just bleeding perfect, isn't it," muttered Spike cynically. "I wondered who called her, then."

 

Right on cue, a breathless Anya ran into the lobby. "Are they here yet?" she asked. "That was them, wasn't it?"

 

"Its Willow, if that's what you're asking," Spike replied with a sigh, eying the witch hovering outside the door.

 

"Only Willow, but where are the others? Giles said they'd all come," Anya complained as she screeched to a halt beside him.

 

"She's on the move," roared one of the security guards. "Get ready to fire on my mark!"

 

"What?" spluttered Spike. "Don't fire, you twits. She's one of us!"

 

"Umm, Spike," muttered Anya. "These guys mightn't consider that such a good recommendation..."

 

The lobby fell silent as the doors began to glow and a black eyed Willow floated through the window pane.

 

"Doesn't anyone around here know how to use a doorknob anymore" asked a voice from behind. Spike turned around and spotted Angel shaking his head in exasperation as he strode up to join them.

 

"Hi guys," said Willow breathlessly as she dropped to the ground. "Sorry about the dramatic entrance, its just that..."

 

"Here it comes," muttered Spike as he watched her eyes widen with surprise.

 

"Spike! You're alive!" she squealed. Spike braced himself for the inevitable as she ran forward. "Did they bring you back too? That's great, Buffy is going to be so... oh... I see..." Willow halted mid-step as she gave Spike a closer look. "Oh dear, that must be a real bummer," she said sympathetically.

 

"You win some, you lose some," replied Spike with a shrug. "So, what brings you to Los Angelus, Red."

 

"Oh, you know, the usual," said Willow with a shrug. "Bright lights, big city, impending apocalypse. Just your normal Scooby holiday."

 

"Figures," muttered Spike.

 

"Enough chitchat," Interrupted Anya, stomping her foot. "Where's Giles?"

 

"Ooh, yes, stand back everybody," Willow directed. "The rest of this translocation spell is a bit tricky."

 

"Translocation spell?" asked Angel. "I didn't know that such a spell existed."

 

"It didn't," Anya explained. "It's a little something that Willow cobbled together a couple of years back when she flipped out."

 

"Hey! Standing right here, you know," Willow reminded her.

 

"Well, its true!" Anya said defensively.

 

"Anya, forgive and forget, remember?" mumbled Spike, nudging her in the arm.

 

"Speak for yourself," sniffed Anya. "She didn't throw you across a room."

 

"Oh no, she's at it again," moaned the receptionist. "Could someone stop her doing that?"

 

Spike and Anya watched Willow as her eyes darkened once more. "Assume crash positions," Spike announced, taking a step back.

 

Willows feet left the ground as the air around her began to hum. "Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes..." The rest of the spell was drowned out as the air surrounding her began to swirl and hiss, spinning around Willow in a vortex of power.

 

"Bloody hell," hissed Spike in awe as the walls began to vibrate around them.

 

"Guess that clears up the mystery surrounding the earthquake then," shouted Angel above the din.

 

"Oh my, is that Willow?"

 

Spike spun around on his heels and came nose to nose with Fred, who was trying valiantly to remain upright amidst the force eight gale that was now whistling through the lobby.

 

"In the flesh," Spike shouted. "Now get down, I've a funny feeling this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better." His words proved to be prophetic and they all watched in disbelief as the marble reception desk ripped loose from its moorings in the floor and flew through the air, punching a hole through the ceiling as it continued its path upward.

 

"Are you sure she said translocation spell?" shouted Angel, hunkering over Anya. " I mean, could we have heard her incorrectly? Maybe she said 'tornado spell',"

 

"Its Willow," Spike shouted back. "Same difference."

 

Angel nodded resignedly; he'd had some experience with Willow's magic before.

 

"Hit the dirt, the windows are about to go!" came an order from the direction of the guards. Sure enough, the windows blew inwards as Willow's spell sucked in all the air from the room into the gathering storm around her.

 

"Is it my imagination, or did I just see a little lightening bolt hit the wall?" asked Fred as she crouched behind Angel and Anya on the floor, dusting the glass off her clothing.

 

"No, that was real," Anya assured her, popping her head up for a second. "Side effect of messing around with that whole space time continuum thingy."

 

"Oh, right, that makes everything okay then," grumbled Angel, unconsciously echoing Spike's words from the day before. "How much longer is this going to go on for?"

 

"Depends on how many she's translocating," Anya replied.

 

"I think I can answer that one," said Spike, pointing at the shadowy forms that were beginning to appear in the vortex. "I count five."

 

Slowly, the storm began to ease, and the air cleared to reveal their new visitors. "Well, well, well, if it isn't the whole gang," Spike said to himself as he hung back uneasily while everyone ran to greet each other."

 

"Spike..."

 

He lifted his head reluctantly to greet her, inwardly steeling himself for what was to come. She didn't disappoint him. Wincing inwardly, he watched her face flit from one emotion to another. First came surprise, followed briefly by joy, then came uncertainty, with worry following swiftly on its heels. Then, last, but not least, the most familiar expression of all - anger.

 

"Spike..." Like a flash, she had bridged the distance, her fist already flying as she reached him.

 

"Umm, slayer..."

 

Too late, her fist had already passed through his face and Buffy stumbled forward, unable to stop her momentum. The look of shock on her face was heartbreaking and Spike cringed as he watched the pain flash in her eyes.

 

"Oh God," she moaned, backing away in disbelief.

 

"Its all right, luv. I'm just a ghost," He said, trying to sound as reassuring as he could. "It could be worse, I could have been the 'first' coming back for a return visit or something."

 

"Ooh, I never thought of that," exclaimed Anya. "How come I never thought of that?"

 

"Anya," Xander said warningly, wrapping his arms around her as he watched the scene unfold in front of them.

 

"You're a ghost?" whispered Buffy, the shock still evident in her voice as she began to circle him.

 

"Afraid so, luv," he said softly, standing his ground as she reached out her hand and waved it through his chest.

 

The entire lobby fell silent as the Slayer came to halt and stared wordlessly at him. "You didn't believe me," she eventually said, breaking the silence.

 

This was the moment he had dreaded for the last month. The moment when she confirmed what he'd suspected all along, that she didn't love him. He resisted the urge to close his eyes against the blow as he watched her take another deep breath.

 

"I tell you that I love you, and you tell me that I don't?" she asked.

 

"What?" squealed Dawn. "You never told me that!"

 

"Dawn," whispered Willow, leaping from Kennedy's side to put a hand on her arm. Dawn subsided reluctantly.

 

Spike shrugged in answer, what was there left to say?

 

"Well, don't you have anything to say for yourself," Buffy demanded. "Aren't you going to tell me why you called me a liar?"

 

"I just didn't want you to feel obliged," he mumbled, staring at his feet uncomfortably.

 

"Why don't you repeat that, Spike. Except, this time, try saying it while looking me in the eye."

 

Anger sparked in Spikes eyes as his head shot up. "What is this Buffy, some new form of torture? Are you trying to make me admit that I believed you? The world isn't coming to an end here, Slayer, and you don't have to offer false platitudes to a dead man. Just leave it."

 

"Platitudes?" Buffy said disbelievingly. "You think I was offering you platitudes, since when do I sugar-coat anything for you, Spike?

 

"Oh come off it!" snorted Spike. "If you were so in love with me, why were you off snogging Angel the moment my back was turned?"

 

Willow squeezed Dawn's arm reflexively as she noticed her taking a step forward.

 

"I've already explained that," she said angrily, blithely ignoring the look on Angel's face. "It was a 'hello' kiss, pure and simple."

 

"Oh sure," Spike said snidely. "And what exactly were you trying to say hello to? His tonsils?"

 

"We've already been through this," Buffy said heatedly, lifting herself onto her toes so as to look him directly in the eye. "It still doesn't change the fact that I love you, you stupid...you stupid vampire!"

 

"That's the best insult you could come up with! What's the matter, luv, has the well suddenly run dry?" Spike paused. "Wait a minute... did you just say that you love me?"

 

"Hello? Earth calling Spike, what did you think I've been trying to tell you for the last ten minutes?"

 

He had imagined all the scenarios... except this one. He hadn't dared, even for a second, to imagine that she really did love him. Quite frankly, he didn't know how to handle it - so he didn't; he disappeared through the floor instead.

 

"Now that is beginning to become really irritating," Angel muttered angrily, eying the gob-smacked expression on Buffy's face.

 

"Well I, for one, am glad that the little melodrama is over," drawled Kennedy.

 

"Kennedy," Willow whispered softly.

 

"Hmm?"

 

“Shut up.”

 

 

FOOTNOTE: 'Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditionis habes' roughly translates as 'if you can read this, you're overeducated!'... Well... I thought it was funny...

 

 

 

 

 

PART FIVE

 

Spike eyed the dank wall that he leaned against, he really didn't know what had possessed him to hide down here - habit, he supposed. If in doubt, head for the basement. Looking at the exposed plumbing that dripped around him, he briefly thought about changing venues, but decided against it after a moments pause. This hellhole was as good a place as any to hide in, if he didn't wish to be found.

 

He hadn't been this at odds with himself since he'd first gotten himself the soul. He'd spent the last two hours arguing with himself, literally, about why the hell he was lurking down here in the basement when he could be upstairs basking in the slayer's new found ability to say she loved him. Nevertheless, try as he might, he couldn't quite shake the terror and confusion that suddenly had seemed to have taken up residence in his heart - sometimes free-will really was a bitch.

 

A lot of things were easier in the bad old days. 'Want, take, have,' had been the motto to live by, and Spike had practiced it with undisguised relish. He had wanted the slayer so he had gone about taking her, then having her, simple. Nowadays, however, he found himself worrying over little things like consequences. He found himself thinking not only about what he wanted but what Buffy wanted too.

 

And so, here he was, him and his 'little voice', having a heated discussion in the basement. There was a decided feeling of déjà vu to the whole thing. Of course, now he knew the correct term for describing this voice, it was called a conscience, and it went a little like this:

 

 "You can't possibly expect her to waste her life by being attached to a dead undead guy, it would be worse than that whole mess with Angel. At least he'd been able to hold her hand, touch her face, hold her when she was worried. What are you able to offer her?"

 

He really wished it would just bloody shut up, he had enough problems as it stood. With a snort, he pushed himself away from the wall. Time to face the music, he supposed. Cringing, he remembered the look on Buffy's face when he decided to pull his disappearing act. He was going to pay for that one - and pay, and pay, and pay. With a shrug, he decided to reintroduce himself to mess he'd left behind him. First, he would pay a visit on Fred, she wasn't the type for reproaches and she would fill him in on what had happened in the last few hours.

 

It was a decision he almost immediately regretted; no sooner had he floated up into her lab, than he was caught by the piercing glare of Kennedy.

 

"Oh, it's you again," she muttered. "Decided to grace us with your presence, did you?"

 

Rolling his eyes, he decided that the question was rhetorical and ignored it, peering over her shoulder; he noticed Willow huddled with Fred over a computer console. "So, what are they up to, then," he asked, trying sound casual as he strained to hear what they were talking about at the other end of the room.

 

"As if you don't know," snorted Kennedy. "Tell me, are they actually any evil entities out there that don't want to use you as its lap dog."

 

For the second time that day, Spike counted to ten. Eventually, he felt he could speak. "So I'm guessing that this has something to do with that Aelemus bloke, then."

 

"Are they any other Hell Gods out there that want to use you as sacrifice? If so, now would be a good time to speak up. Then again, I suppose you could just run away once more."

 

"Cranky love? What's the matter, thing's a bit awry in the love department?" he bit out. He had tried, honestly he had, but this woman was getting on his last nerve.

 

"What do you mean by that?" she asked defensively.

 

Spike eyed the cosy picture Fred and Willow were making at the other side of the room, and turned to look at Kennedy again with a smirk. All thoughts of landing the final blow disappeared, however, when he saw the hurt look in her eyes. "Nothing, luv, don't mind me," he sighed.

 

Kennedy flinched as the soft sound of Willow's laughter floated across the room, and Spike felt his heart go out to her despite himself. Loving someone you knew wasn't meant to be yours was an experience he was well acquainted with. Even after all these years, the way Dru had left him still stung, and Buffy? Well, the jury was still out on that one.

 

"Spike!"

 

Reluctantly, he looked over to the source of the cry. "'lo Fred, how are tricks?"

 

"Oh Spike," she said. "Thank goodness you're here, we have to work fast. Giles and Wesley have been pouring over the Book of Aelemus and it appears we don't have much time."

 

"Is that so, pet," Spike said dryly. "Perhaps you should tell me what exactly do you mean by that."

 

"Well, it seems that the reason they wish to use you as the sacrifice is because they need the distilled essence of a ensouled vampire..."

 

"...And, apparently, the original use of the amulet that you used to defeat the first was to do the distilling," continued Willow. " The destruction of the Hellmouth was just a happy side effect."

 

"Champion, my arse," Spike muttered under his breath.

 

"You know, this throws a whole new light on why Wolfram and Hart were so keen to help out," Fred said thoughtfully. "They probably thought that Angel would volunteer to wear it. They would have killed two birds with one stone, Angel would have been 'contained' and they also would've had what they needed to raise their hell god."

 

"They were right, he did volunteer," admitted Spike.

 

"He did?" asked a surprised Willow. "Then how did you end up wearing it?"

 

"It was Buffy's decision - and she decided," Spike told her shortly.

 

Willow wisely didn't comment on that. Fred, however, ploughed on regardless. "It really makes one wonder how genuine Wolfram and Hart's offer of this agency was. I mean, if they thought that Angel was due to die at the Hellmouth, they must have hoped to had this branch back in their control within the week."

 

Spike looked at her askance. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, luv. But if you've just figured out that these guys have an ulterior motive, you're a lot dumber than I took you for."

 

"Hey!" protested Willow, putting her hand on Fred's shoulder protectively. "Less of the attitude, mister!"

 

Disbelievingly, he glared at her. "Fred can speak for herself, luv, she and I have an understanding." It was obvious to Spike, though, that Willow had absolutely no understanding of what her body language was trumpeting at the top of it's voice. What was Willow thinking, acting like the offended lover? Didn't she see the hurt in her girlfriend's eyes?  It was then he had a flashback to that time he kidnapped her in order to create a love spell for Dru. If memory served him right, she had been up to some hanky panky that time too. Sometimes Willow acted dumber than she looked, too.

 

Oblivious to the rising tension in the room, Willow was rubbing Fred's back comfortingly. "All the same, it wasn't nice," she said worriedly.

 

Kennedy was a bristling ball of slayer outrage; Spike noted how she had already subconsciously risen onto the balls of her feet - classic attack mode. He realised, with a sinking feeling, that this could get out of hand fast; why couldn't Willow look up from her smitten haze and realise what she was doing? Fortunately, Fred had stopped sunning in Willows attention long enough to see that all was not well in the room. Giving Kennedy a guilty look, she nonchalantly stepped away from Willow's touch - at least, that's what she attempted to do. In reality, it looked more like a quick dash for the border.

 

"No, Spike is right," Fred said. "I already had my suspicions, it's just that this is the first piece of concrete evidence I've come across."

 

"Right then," Spike said gamely, he might as well help her smooth things over. "What was it you were going to tell me about Aelumus?"

 

"The ceremony is at Dawn and you're on the menu," said a grim voice from behind him.

 

"Slowly he turned to face her, inwardly grimacing as he noted the royally pissed off look on her face. "'lo, luv," he said quietly.

 

Buffy didn't even bother to look at him, directing her next words to Willow. "So... are you ready?"

 

"Ready as I'll ever be," the witch said with a nod.

 

"Ready for what?" Spike asked with a frown.  "Oy, what is going on here?"

 

"Listen Spike," Fred told him quietly. "I know you're not going to like this, but this hell god is really bad news. Not only is he incredibly powerful when he is in true form, he's also a lot easier to raise than we originally thought. We thought we were safe as long as we had the book we confiscated from Albert, but Giles has informed us that it is merely one of several copies."

 

"That means," broke in Willow. "That it's quite possible that there is another Wolfram and Hart employee out there with another copy, we've discussed it and have come to the decision that it is too dangerous to allow you to run around in your present state."

 

Spike looked at the determined expression on Willow's face and fear took root in his stomach. "What exactly is that supposed to mean?"

 

"Just hold still, this won't hurt a bit," she said, sticking both of her hands into his chest.

 

"What the... just one minute, here," Spike protested. "What are you trying to do to me?"

 

"I said hold still!" Willow told him crossly. By this time, she was literally up to her elbows in his chest. Her eyes had fallen shut in concentration but, somehow, Spike knew that they were as black as midnight.

 

"I thought you'd sworn off this kind of thing, Red," he said reproachfully. "Messing around with other people's innards, and all."

 

Willow opened one obsidian eye. "I'm nearly done," she replied softly, pulling her hands out slowly.

 

"Done what, exactly?" Spike asked crossly.

 

"Why, fixed your little problem, of course!" she said cheerfully, patting him on the cheek.

 

Spike's eyes widened in shock, his hand flying up to his face as he touched his nose gingerly.

 

"Told you," Willow said smugly.

 

Wonder filled him as his old senses came flooding back through his body. He could smell again! Cautiously, he sniffed the air and was instantly greeted by all the tiny scents and smells that wafted around the room - so that is what Fred smelled like...peaches and cream... very tasty. Pervading it all, though, was the heady scent of the slayer. Funny that, Kennedy's scent didn't come over half as strong, maybe a slayer's scent got better with age. There was something else, though, something extra hiding in her scent today. Catching her eye, he smirked knowingly.

 

"Nice perfume you have, Slayer."

 

He always did like it when she blushed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART SIX

 

His first instinct had been to run after her when she stormed out of the lab, but that plan was dashed to pieces when Wesley snagged him in the hall.

 

"Let go of me you bloody ponce," he snarled at the former Watcher, ripping his coat out of his grip. "Can't you see I'm in a hurry here?"

 

Wesley ignored Spike's game-face and grabbed his arm again. "You're needed in the conference room, Spike," he explained calmly. "Come on."

 

Spike glared at him and showed his fangs, but the annoying little git wasn't phased. "You'll have to do better than that to get rid of me, Spike. I've had a vampire as a boss for the last four years, remember?"

 

Reluctantly, Spike allowed himself to be dragged off to the conference room. Ignoring the dirty look he got from Xander, he slumped onto the couch beside him. A moment later, Willow and Fred entered the room, Kennedy following closely behind. Rolling his eyes, Spike looked around the room for someone more interesting to talk to and caught Dawn's attention.

 

With a tremulous smile, she crossed the room and perched on the end of the couch beside him. "I see Willow's spell worked, Buffy is going to be so pleased, she totally freaked out when she realised that you were a ghost."

 

Spike smiled noncommittally, deciding to keep his mouth shut for once. Pity he couldn't have managed that earlier. Aw well, it could have been worse, he supposed. He could have told her she had stupid hair. Sniffing the air, he braced himself as he turned to look at the door. A split second later, Buffy walked through it. Glancing sideways at Dawn, he saw her expectant smile turn into a frown as Buffy ignored the couch and marched to the other end of the room.

 

If anybody else noticed the cold shoulder treatment, they didn't comment on it, instead they talked about apocalypses and prophesies. For some strange reason, this lot always found death and world endage easier to talk about than the more mundane problems of life. Having said that, he wasn't in a position to throw stones - in fact, it seemed that he'd lost his stones altogether, somewhere between here and the basement.

 

And so, the argument wore on about what their plan of action would be, the only two people in the room who had nothing to add to the debate were him and Buffy.  Nonchalantly, he studied his boots; this whole avoiding eye contact thing was really hard work, the prospect of an imminent apocalypse was actually becoming attractive.

 

"So, you're back among the undead, then,"

 

Spikes head lifted at the sound of that familiar British accent. "Hello Rupert, how are things in merry old England."

 

"Wet."

 

"Hmm." That pretty much dried up all they had to say to each other, they hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms last time they'd met. Reluctantly, he tuned into the conversation around him. Apparently, Willow and Wesley had come to the conclusion that Aelemus mightn't give up just because he didn't have his ready made sacrifice on tap anymore. On top of that, Anya wouldn't leave the matter of the white room alone.

 

"Why won't you listen to me?" she asked exasperatedly. "If Aelemus is about to rise, its because the white room wishes it. Do something about it, close it down or something."

 

"Anya, honey, calm down," Xander said soothingly.

 

"No, I will not calm down, Xander," Anya said crossly, folding her arms as she stood. "I may not be well versed in the way of mortals but I do know a thing or two about the demon world. In case you have forgotten, I was a demon for over a thousand years and if there is one thing I learned during that time, it's how to spot the evil mastermind behind the curtain!"

 

Anya's speech had one effect; it woke Buffy up from her grey study. "You really think this white room is that dangerous, Anya?" she asked worriedly.

 

"Yes, yes I do," Anya told her excitably, pulling her by the arm towards the door. "Lets go and put a stop to it!"

 

"Hold on a minute, Anya," Buffy said, amusement colouring her voice. "I'd like to have a few facts about this room first - Angel, can you help me out here?"

 

"There's not much to say, really," Angel reluctantly admitted. "We kind of inherited it, part of the package deal, so to speak."

 

"Package deal with the devil, you mean," retorted Anya. " What the hell is wrong with you? You've got a room in the basement that houses one of the nastiest evils on the planet, and all you do is shrug your shoulders."

 

For a moment, all awkwardness was forgotten, as Buffy and Spike caught each other's eye and smirked.

 

"Hey, I saw that!" Anya protested defensively. "I'm not blind, you know!"

 

Buffy shook her head resignedly. "Lets have a look at this den of iniquity, then," she said. "Where in the basement is it, exactly?"

 

"It's a bit more complicated than that, I'm afraid," piped up Fred. "The room may not allow you to enter."

 

"What, does this room have some kind of mystical bouncer or something?" Buffy asked sarcastically. "I promise I'm over twenty one - I've got ID and everything."

 

"Well, there is this elevator, you see..." started Fred.

 

"...And when you get in it, sometimes it brings you to the right floor and sometimes it doesn't." Wesley finished for her.

 

"Okay, you know that is way creepy, right?" Buffy asked disbelievingly. "What exactly happens when it doesn't bring you to the correct floor?"

 

"We're not exactly sure," muttered Angel. "Nobody has returned to tell us."

 

A determined look spread across Buffy's face as she turned to face the rest of the room.  "Seems that I'm going on a little mystery tour, then," she declared, picking up her weapons bag. "Which way is the elevator?"

 

In a flash, Spike was on his feet. "Hold on a moment, you're not seriously thinking of going down there by yourself, are you?" he asked incredulously, blocking her way through the door.

 

Buffy gave him an irritable look as he refused to move out of her way. "Its my job, Spike," she said. "Now get out of my way."

 

"Bugger that! I'm going with you." Spike told her. Taking a deep breath, he waited for her to object, but all he got was a single, inscrutable, look before she nodded in assent.

 

"Shall I come too?" asked Willow eagerly. "You know, in case you need some mojo." Leaping to her feet, she wiggled her fingers suggestively in the air as she looked at the two of them hopefully.

 

"No, the fewer we put at risk, the better," Buffy decided, after giving her friend a lopsided grin. "Besides, I'll feel safer getting into that elevator if I know that you're up here and ready to pull us out if we get into trouble."

 

Spike observed that Willow didn't look too happy about being left behind, but, with a rueful smile, she sat down again. Angel was another matter, however.

 

"I'm going too," he declared. "It seems only fair, seeing as I'm supposed to be the one responsible for the darned thing."

 

"My decision is made, Angel," Buffy told him firmly. "Only two of us are going, no more, no less. Now - which elevator is it?"

 

Wordlessly, Angel strode out into the hall and pointed at a nondescript elevator at the end of the hall. Turning to look at Buffy, he said softly, "You press the bottom button once you're inside."

 

Nodding in understanding, Buffy made her way silently to the elevator doors, Spike hard on her heels.

 

"Here goes nothing," she murmured under her breath, pressing the button. With a hiss, the doors slid open. "Oh good, no wait, no fuss," she remarked wryly as she stepped inside.

 

 Cautiously, Spike poked his head inside before he stepped in beside her. Once he was sure nothing was going to leap out of the panelling, he gestured at the control enquiringly. "Will you do the honours, luv?" he asked. "Or shall I?"

 

Buffy's hand slammed on the button and the elevator jumped to life. Spike's felt his stomach do a little somersault as his feet lifted from the carpet. The box was descending at a phenomenal rate, gathering speed as they fell further and further into the bowels of Wolfram and Hart. Nervously, he backed away from the walls as they began glow.

 

"I'm beginning to get a real bad feeling about this," muttered Buffy.

 

"You don't say," drawled Spike. "Why is that, I wonder?"

 

"Shut up, Spike," Buffy replied absently as she studied the control panel closely, was it her imagination or were the buttons beginning to change colour?

 

Spike frowned; usually Buffy's insults carried a lot more bite. "What's the matter, luv?"

 

Buffy glanced up at him. "Look at the buttons, they've gone black."

 

Spike peered at the panel; she was right, they had darkened in colour. "Might be nothing...just a mystical elevator thing," he supplied cautiously as he examined it closely.  Warily, his hand hovered over the panel as he looked at Buffy for permission.

 

"You might as well," she said with a shrug. " It doesn't look as if this elevator is slowing down anytime soon."

 

Extending his index finger, he gingerly touched the bottom button. "Doesn't seem to be doing anything differe..." with a gasp, he stopped mid sentence.

 

"What is it, what's wrong," Buffy asked anxiously as she watched the pain flash across his face.

 

"I don't know, exactly, it just doesn't seem to want to let me go," Spike admitted.

 

"Huh? Lemme see," she said as she hunched over the panel, her eyes widening as she saw how the button had melded itself to Spikes finger. "Whoa, now that is just plain weird."

 

"You should try looking at it from my end," muttered Spike as he tried in vain to remove his finger from the button.

 

"You had better stop pulling, Spike," Buffy advised. "It just seems to be making it worse."

 

Spike froze and looked down at his hand, sure enough, the button had now crept up his finger and spread over the back of his hand. "Great," he muttered. "Death by black elevator ooze, at least the last time I died with a bit of class."

 

"Don't you dare talk like that," scolded Buffy. "If anyone is going to kill you around here, it's me. I think I've earned that right by now."

 

"Whatever you say, luv," Spike said, smirking at her frowning face.

 

Rolling her eyes, Buffy turned her attention to the panel. "What do you think it is? And please don't say 'black ooze'"

 

"At a guess, I'd say that we've accidentally triggered some security precaution," suggested Spike. "Its probably an automatic response to touching the panel before its reaches its destination."

 

"Well' isn't that just peachy," grumbled Buffy.

 

"In all fairness, luv, I don't think that Angel had anything to do with this," Spike joked.

 

"Spike, I don't think this is the right time to discuss your Angel issues," Buffy sighed. "How about we stick to the problem at hand?"

 

"It was just joking," mumbled Spike. "Can't blame me for lightening the mood, what with me dying here and all."

 

"I told you to stop saying that," Buffy protested. "I didn't go to all the trouble of having Willow returning you to solid form so that you can up and die on me before the day was out."

 

"I thought Willow did that to prevent Aelemus from using me as a sacrifice," said a surprised Spike.

 

"Umm yeah, that too," muttered an embarrassed Buffy. "Lets change the subject, shall we?"

 

"Whatever you say, Slayer," replied Spike smugly, eyeing her flushed cheeks.

 

"Oh, stop that!" she snapped.

 

"Stop what?"

 

"Stop looking at me like the cat that ate the canary, that's what," she retorted. "This is...you are...you have stupid hair, you know!"

 

Spike smiled knowingly as she crossed her arms and pouted. This time yesterday, Buffy's inability to admit that she cared for him would have hurt like hell. But many things can happen in a day, like a slayer making a declaration of love for a certain vampire, for instance - oh yeah, life was sweet, black ooze not withstanding.

 

"Does it hurt?"

 

"What?" with difficulty, Spike tore his eyes off her pout and raised them to meet hers.

 

"Does it hurt, your hand, I mean," she asked, her mouth twitching in amusement.

 

"Oh...that...not really, they're was a twinge when it first attached itself, but nothing since. In fact, it seems to be having the opposite effect, my hand has gone numb."

 

"Ooh, that doesn't sound good," she said worriedly. "And look, its still growing!" By now, the ooze had managed to wrap itself around his wrist. "That's it," Buffy declared, "I'm ripping that panel off the wall!"

 

"Careful, luv," Spike warned. "We don't want you to get caught too."

 

"Don't worry," she said reassuringly. "I'll use a sword to pry it off - no touching with hands for Buffy," grimacing, she stopped mid-sentence. "That so didn't come out the way I meant it to."

 

"Its okay, luv, I promise I won't tell anyone," sniggered Spike, curling his tongue suggestively.

 

"Yeah, because everyone knows that you're just the epitome of discretion," she grumbled as she rooted around in her weapons bag and drew out a two handed bastard sword. "Now, move to the right a bit, I'm going to need a little elbow room here."

 

Spike obediently moved out of her way as she slid the sword around the edges of the panel and began to lever it off the wall. "Better hurry up, luv, this ooze stuff is getting a bit frisky," he said, as he flexed his forearm. The ooze was slowly, but surely, making its way to his elbow.

 

"Nearly...there..." she huffed as the panel creaked under the pressure. "One more push..." With a pop, the panel flew from he wall and dropped to the floor, taking Spike's hand with it.

 

With a shudder, the elevator stopped dead in its tracks, sending them both flying to the other end of the elevator. They barely had a second to catch their breath before the lights died and the room filled with a dull red glow as mist started to flow in through the air ducts.

 

"Oh please," grumbled Spike. "The least they could have done was be a bit more original. Its like a cheap knock off of a 'Hammer Horror' film, next thing you know we'll have organ music playing in the background."

 

"You know you've just jinxed us," pointed out Buffy. " I hate musac, I still get flashbacks from that time I worked in the double meat."

 

"Ooh, is the poor little slayer afraid of the big, bad, piped music," teased Spike.

 

"Don't start," Buffy warned. "I'm having a bad day...and you know what happens when I have a bad day."

 

Spike grinned, but kept his mouth shut.

 

"How's your hand," Buffy asked briskly, getting to her feet and brushing herself down.

 

Tentatively, he tried to pull his hand from the ooze. Breathing a sigh of relief, he watched the ooze shrivel up and turn to dust as he pulled his last finger free. "Well what do you know, it worked!"

 

"Great, now all we have to worry about is getting out of here," she said. Looking up at the roof, a thoughtful expression settled on her face. "I suppose we could always try going up?" she suggested. With a sickening lurch, the elevator began to drop again. "Okay, scratch that plan, it looks like we're on our way down again."

 

A low growl filled the room. "Um, Buffy," Spike said, as he eyed the gaping hole that had been hidden behind the control panel. "I think we have company."

 

"But of course we have," Buffy said with a sigh.

 

As one, they leaned forward to have a better look inside the hole. "Oh look, it has glowing eyes," Spike muttered sarcastically. "Who would have guessed."

 

"Its not his eyes I'm worried about," Buffy told him. "Can you make out the rest of him? All I can see is black."

 

"Ah, luv, the black stuff is him," Spike replied, looking at the ooze that spilled out of the hole and dribbled onto the floor."

 

"Yuck, ooze with eyes, how the hell are we going to kill this thing?" asked Buffy.

 

"Frankly, luv, I think this is one those situations where we run away."

 

"I hate to point this out to you, Spike, but we're trapped in here, there's nowhere else to run."

 

"Oh Bugger..."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

It dribbled… yet it slithered as well; it was a formless mass but it also exuded intelligence. It set off every alarm bell in his vampire senses but when he stared at it, he couldn’t pin down why.

 

And, try as he might, he couldn’t shrug away the feeling of dread that washed over him as Buffy approached the hole.

 

“This is not good…this is not good…” he muttered under his breath as he resisted the urge to pull her away from the creeping mass.

 

“Relax, Spike, I’m not going to touch it,” Buffy said reassuringly as she crouched down to have a better look at what was pouring onto the floor.

 

But Spike couldn’t relax, he didn’t know how to explain it but he knew that they were in big, big trouble. A low hiss caught Spike’s attention and his eyes were drawn to the yawning blackness of the hole. Amidst the darkness, the glowing eyes snapped open, turning its malicious gaze upon the slayer.

 

”Step away, Buffy – NOW!” Grabbing her by the shoulders, he pulled her back against him. A low rumble came from the blackness and both of them glared at the destroyed console.

 

“That’s right, you tosser,” Spike growled at it. “You’re not going to get her that easily.” Pulling at her hand, Spike dragged them both to the far corner, away from the now growing pool on the floor. “We have to get out of here,” he told her as he tugged her closer to him.

 

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You know that’s not possible, Spike…we’re stuck here, remember?”

 

“Then we’re just going to have to figure out a way to get unstuck, aren’t we?” Spike answered sharply as he examined the elevator walls for a weakness.

 

Buffy eyed her companion worriedly; usually Spike would be up for this kind of thing but not this time…this time, he looked scared. “Spike, what’s wrong?” she asked anxiously as she studied his panicked face.

 

“I don’t know, exactly,” Spike admitted. “But everything I am tells me that we have to get out of here now or…” lost for words to describe it, he let the sentence trail off.

 

“Or what?” pressed Buffy, he was really beginning to worry her.

 

“Or nothing, luv.” Spike reluctantly admitted. “I don’t think there is an alternative, not one that we could live through, anyway.”

 

The elevator carriage shuddered. “Oh, what is it now?” Buffy grumbled. As if in answer, the elevator tumbled to a halt.

 

“You did have to ask,” Spike growled as the elevator creaked ominously. A low hiss drew his attention once more to the console. The black ooze had risen from the floor and now floated midair. Like liquid suspended in a vacuum, the fat little globules bounced into each other and formed larger ones. It would’ve been fascinating to watch if it didn’t terrify him so much.

 

Holding the pommel of her sword in a tighter grip, Buffy pulled away from Spike and inched her way around the ooze until she reached the door.

 

“What are you up to, luv,” asked Spike worriedly as he crept around after her, ignoring the malicious hiss that came from the console.

 

“Well, I figure that, as I managed to pry open the console, I should be able to do the same with the door,” Buffy explained as she inserted the sword into the tiny gap between the doors.

 

Stepping in behind her, Spike laid his hands over hers on the pommel. “On the count of three, then,” he suggested.

 

“Three,” replied Buffy promptly. As one, they pulled on the sword. The door creaked in protest and opened a crack, letting in a brilliant light from the other side. Spike let go of the pommel and slid his fingers into the gap; throwing the full weight of his strength into his hands he pried the doors further apart.

 

Dropping the sword, Buffy ducked under his arms and slipped through the narrow gap. Hearing a muffled gasp, Spike looked up and peered through the gap after her.

 

“What’s wrong, luv.”

 

“Nothing that can’t wait,” she replied as her hands slipped through the gap and grasped the edges of the doors. “Your turn now…”

 

With a screech the doors flung open and Spike fell forward, sending him and Buffy flying onto the floor.  A deep roar echoed around them, and they scrambled to their feet, their eyes searching the room that they had fallen into.

 

“Guess we found the white room, then,” observed Spike as his eyes took in the gleaming white walls.

 

“You think?” Buffy asked sarcastically as she dusted herself off.

 

“Still don’t know what the fuss is about, though,” mused Spike. “The elevator was scarier than this place.”

 

An answering growl came from beyond the elevator doors.

 

“Speaking of which,” muttered Buffy as she peered into the elevator.

 

The ooze was now one pulsating mass, twisting and turning in the air as it sucked the last remainders of itself out of the console.

 

“I don’t suppose that there is a back stairs out of here,” Spike asked as the black mass twisted into itself and groaned painfully.

 

“Nope,” answered Buffy shortly as she crept forward slowly and grabbed her sword and weapons bag, darting back as the floating mass moaned and edged forward.

 

“Ugh, that is just gross,” she said in disgust as she retreated back to where Spike was standing. “Here,” she added as she handed him the weapons bag. “Arm yourself.”

 

“I don’t think there’s anything in this bag that will be of use here, luv,” Spike told her ruefully.

 

“Humour me,” Buffy retorted, her eyes nervously darting towards the elevator as the growling grew louder.

 

Pulling a machete out the bag, Spike moved closer to her as the mass moved slowly forward. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like it was not only growing, but mutating.

 

Long oily tentacles stretched out from beneath it, touching the floor as it moved into the room. The central mass arched into one long backbone, a shape vaguely reminiscent of a snout formed in the front and two glowing eyes snapped open.

 

“Oh look,” said Spike snidely, “The big bad shows it’s true colours.”

 

With an ear splitting roar, the black mass became a blur as it leapt forward. Throwing themselves to the ground, they ducked their heads as the mass flung itself over them and landed on the other side of the room. With a low, purring growl, it turned lightly on its newly formed feet and crouched low to pounce. Its eyes glowed in predatory anticipation as its new, muscled, panther-like form gleaming blackly in the light.

 

Rolling onto her feet, Buffy lifted the sword defensively as Spike scrambled up beside her.

 

A deep, rumbling, laugh came from deep within the beast, its lambent eyes narrowing in amusement. “That sword isn’t going to help you,” it hissed. “This is my world, not yours…and here, only my rules apply.”

 

Spikes eyes narrowed suspiciously. When a bad guy started warbling on about how all-powerful they were, it usually meant they were bluffing. “Your rules, eh,” he drawled, juggling the machete from one hand to the other as he glanced at Buffy knowingly. “Do tell.”

 

“Don’t test my patience, vampire,” it hissed back. You are here under sufferance.”

 

“Oh really,” Spike muttered. “Silly me, I thought we were here because we thrashed your elevator and vandalised its doors.”

 

A noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh came from beside him and he sneaked a look at Buffy’s face; the slayer was trying in vain to keep a serious face as she brandished the sword threateningly at the ‘panther’.

 

The beast gave a low, purring laugh as it relaxed back onto its hind feet and started grooming itself. Exchanging a puzzled look, Spike and Buffy watched him cleaning his fur. Eventually, Buffy cleared her throat and the beast looked up to study them through narrow eyes.

 

“You’re still here?” he asked disparagingly as he resumed his grooming. "I had hoped that you would’ve realised by now that this was a diversionary tactic, I suppose you're a bit slower on the uptake than I thought."

 

“A diversionary tactic, eh,” snorted an unconvinced Spike. “Divert us from what, exactly?”

 

“Oh…you don’t know?” the beast teased as it studied its newly cleaned paw. “I wanted to make sure that you were safely occupied elsewhere while I ended the world.”

 

“Not going to happen,” Buffy stated flatly as she advanced on the beast.

 

A low rumbling laugh came from the beast as he dodged out of the way of her lunge. “You’re a bit late, my dear,” it purred, its tongue lolling out in amusement. “Didn’t you notice my use of the past tense?”

 

“Pull the other one, mate,” Spike said derisively. “There’s no way you could have known we would come after you.”

 

The beast gave a feline shrug. “I would have thought it rather obvious, even to you, that she would inevitably come here once she knew of my existence - of course, I hadn’t been expecting her little visit for another few months, but never mind, all I had to do was move up the date a little.”

 

“You…you couldn’t have…there hasn’t been enough time,” whispered Buffy.

 

“Time!” it snorted. “Whatever made you think that I’d be constrained by something as inconsequential as time? A little twist here, a little nudge there and voila, the end of the world as you know it.”

 

“Oh please,” said Spike sourly. “It takes more than that to bring about an apocalypse.”

 

“Who said anything about an apocalypse?” replied the panther languidly. “I’m not one of your little hell gods, children. I’ve no need for parlour tricks to end this reality, I merely made it come to pass that your reality never existed in the first place. Welcome to the brave new world, I think you’ll find it a challenging new existence.”

 

“But why?” asked Buffy. “What can you possibly to gain from this?”

 

“Lets just call it scholarly interest,” the beast told her. “I want to see how you fare.”

 

“You make it sound like a science experiment,” observed Spike dryly.

 

The ‘panther’ raised its head and studied the vampire keenly. “Bright boy, it seems you do have a few brain cells to rub together after all – although it would probably be more accurate to describe it as a test... after a fashion.”

 

A chill of foreboding spilled down Spikes chest. “What kind of test are we talking about here, mate.”

 

“Now, now,” the beast purred. “That would be cheating. Its up to you to choose what the test will become.”

 

“Oh no you don’t,” protested Buffy. “I’ve had it up to here with bad guys who spout riddles…you’ve got two seconds to tell me what you know before I ram this sword down you throat!”

 

“Tut, tut, such language,” the ‘panther’ grumbled as it turned its gaze on the slayer. “You’re a rash one, aren’t you? Well, child, it’s really quite simple, the powers-that-be has had a little cabinet reshuffle. They’re reanalysing their policies and they’re wondering if they may have made a mistake by creating your reality. You’ve been stirring up quite of lot of trouble of late; causing disturbances in the other realities that cannot be overlooked. It has occurred to the upper management that maybe your kind have been given too much of a free reign.”

 

“Huh?” uttered Buffy bemusedly. “What on earth are you talking about?”

 

The beast started cleaning its whiskers fastidiously. “I’m talking about free will, Slayer,” he explained patiently. “The ability to choose your destiny, the one thing that makes your reality so unique…the one thing that sets it apart from the dimensions of Hell and Heaven.”

 

“Uh oh,” whispered Spike.

 

“Uh oh what?” demanded Buffy, turning the full impact of her glare on Spike.

 

“Seems that your little vampire friend has figured it out,” came a lazy reply from the direction of the beast.

 

“Well, maybe you should let me in on it because I’m lost here!” she grumbled.

 

“He’s talking about souls, luv,” Spike explained uneasily.

 

“I’m going to need a little more than that, Spike,” she answered exasperatedly.

 

“Let me see if I can explain it to you in terms that you can understand,” interrupted the Beast as it clambered up onto its legs. “Once upon a time, long, long ago there was the beginning…”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know this story,” Buffy said impatiently. “Giles used to rattle it off on a weekly basis.”

 

“Somehow I doubt you’ve heard this version, slayer,” the ‘panther’ disagreed. “Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…long, long ago there was a beginning and at the beginning reality, as you’ve come to know it, came into being. This reality was ordered, a place for everything and everyone - a niche, if you will. It was the nature of this reality that for every yin there was a yang, for every ray of light there was a shadow, for every good there was an evil. This was not regretted for it was accepted that this was to be, for they were the two halves of the same creation…”

 

Buffy rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Very poetic, cat, now get to the point already!”

 

“…I’m getting to it!” the Beast irritably replied, its fur bristling in response. “The point is that, though both two sides need the other for the creation to be whole, they could not live in harmony - for just as it was in the nature of the ‘darker’ beings to create destruction and chaos, it was in the nature of the ‘lighter’ beings to turn the other cheek. An imbalance began to show, so it was decided to break up reality into many, different, smaller realities – what you refer to as the heaven and hell dimensions. This worked well for a while but soon it was evident that it was not enough. It was with some trepidation that we noticed that, although ‘good’ and evil’ could not live in harmony, they could not live apart either; the dichotomy was wrenching creation apart at the seams.”

 

“You’re sending me to sleep here,” Buffy pointed out.

 

“Okay, okay,” sighed the Beast. “Here comes the relevant part... the powers-that-be decided that the only way to restore the balance would be to create a new reality which was inhabited by a being which had both good and evil within it. In order to do this, they first had to clear some land, the original inhabitants weren’t too happy about this, as you can imagine. I believe you recently met one of the first tenants? I hear it refers to itself as the first evil.”

 

“Been there done that,” Spike said impatiently. “The slayer has a point, stop with the bleeding lecture and tell us what we want to know!”

 

“Well, in order to integrate reality, the powers-that-be not only gave humanity the ability to love and hate, but also the ability to choose between the two. What you humans so lovingly call free will - or a soul. ”

 

“And you’re here to take it away,” guessed Buffy.

 

“Not exactly, I’m here to figure out whether or not we should,” admitted the furred entity.

 

“But…you’re evil,” protested Buffy.

 

“Your point?”

 

“How come you get to choose?” she asked.

 

“I don’t…you do,” he answered smugly.

 

“Choose what?”

 

The beast gazed at her placidly. “Time’s up – I hope you’re ready,” he added slyly as the room began to darken.

 

 

“Now wait just a flipping moment… oomph!” The floor gave way and, with a thud, Spike fell forward into the darkness, ending up with a face full of dirt for his troubles. “What the hell…” he thought as he raised his head and looked around.

Where the hell was he, and where the hell was Buffy?

 

Panicked, he jumped onto his feet and peered into the darkness. “Buffy…oomph!” Once again, he found himself prostrate on the ground – except, this time, he had an armful of slayer.

 

“Where are we,” she gasped, peering down into his face from her perch on his chest.

 

“Search me, luv,” he admitted. “I’m as clueless as you are.”

 

With a sigh, she rested her forehead on his shoulder. “We’re in big trouble, aren’t we?” she muttered into his coat.

 

Lifting his hand to her hair, he gently stroked it as he gazed at the strange night sky above. “I think we can take that as a given, luv.”

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8

 

The meagre campfire crackled as the twigs shifted in its blaze, it gave out little warmth and next to no light but it had been the best they could manage, given their materials. At least it was something to look at, Spike mused,

huddling in front of it, something other than that bloody sky, that is.

 

Hours had gone by since they had found themselves stranded in this dark wilderness. At first, they had tried to explore, but even Spike’s eyesight was limited in this murky mess. They seemed to be stuck in some sort of wasteland, not as forbidding as a desert but still pretty barren. No trees, so grass, just low lying brambles and rocks. Uneasily, Spike worried about how they were going to eat, he had sensed no life since he had arrived, not even the twitch of an insect. Also, there was the not so small problem of water, from the state of the brambles; he figured that this place hadn’t seen water in a very long time.

 

Glancing up at the sky, he winced; it was that, more than anything that really rammed home the fact that they weren’t in Kansas anymore. One moment, the moonless sky twinkled dimly with its stars; the next, it…well…jumped! It was

like a badly projected image, the sky literally wobbled every few moments; the effect was not unlike looking at normal sky through a shaky hand-held camera, for a few moments the stars literally streaked across the sky like

comets and then, just as suddenly, jerked back into place.  Before she had dozed off, Buffy had complained that it was making her seasick, he had to agree, he definitely felt a bit queasy looking at it too. It was if the rules of

the universe had suddenly been changed, and maybe, Spike admitted to himself, that is exactly what has happened.

 

Looking down, he watched Buffy’s nose twitch in her sleep, that usually meant she was dreaming, he hoped it was a pleasant dream because he had a funny feeling real life wasn’t going to be pretty in the near future. Shifting his legs

carefully so as to not wake her, he threw another bramble twig into the fire. He had volunteered to do first watch so Buffy had settled down for a nap, using Spike’s lap as a pillow.

 

There was one subject that he had refrained from bringing up as they made their plans earlier, sunrise. Looking around, he figured that he was done for, there was no cover whatsoever and no means to construct one, the bramble

branches were neither long enough nor strong enough, the only option open to him was burying himself in the ground. Even the thought made him shudder, he hated being buried, all the earth choking him up as he lay there with all that

weight on him. He’d had to do it a couple of times in the past when he’d caught out in the open too near dawn, but it wasn’t something that any vampire relished – too many memories about the less pleasant aspects of their fist

death. There was also the fact that Buffy wouldn’t be too pleased with the thought either, her experience with her coffin was still too fresh in her mindbut he didn’t see any other options, it was that or a dusty death.

 

For a moment, Spike briefly entertained the idea that there mightn’t be a dawn, hell, there mightn’t be any sun…there was no moon after all. Then a second, worse, idea came to mind. What if there was a sun but it acted like the stars? His stomach did a summersault as he imagined a big yellow sun doing cartwheels through the sky.

 

Mumbling in her sleep, Buffy moved her head on his lap and Spike pulled his coat tighter around her shoulders. Thankfully, the night air wasn’t that cold or else they might have been in real trouble, he didn’t relish the idea of Buffy suffering from hypothermia to top everything off. Absently, he stroked her hair as he mulled over what the panther had said before he had thrown them into this hellhole…that this was a test. “A test of what, exactly,” he muttered to himself. “Is this the demonic version of getting your Boy Scout’s ‘survival skills’ badge or somethin’.”

 

“Spike?”

 

Spike looked down into open eyes of the Slayer, her gaze still soft with sleep. “It’s still night, luv, go back to sleep,” he said gently as he continued to plaY with her hair.

 

“Not sleepy,” she told him with a small grin that got even wider as he tried to frown at her disapprovingly.

 

“You need your rest, pet,” he scolded her as he resisted her attempts to sit up, resistance was futile, however.

 

“I can rest later,” she told him, swatting away his hands as she pulled herself up and sat cross-legged beside him, rearranging his coat upon her shoulders as she did so.

 

Raising his hands in surrender, he contented himself with throwing a few more twigs in the fire. “It’s going to be dawn soon,” he told her in a carefully neutral voice as he stared into the flames. “I’m going to have to start digging

myself some shelter…” Looking up, he tried to gauge the expression on her face, sometimes the woman’s face was so hard to read.

 

Pensively, Buffy stared back. “There really isn’t any choice, is there,” she replied in a hesitant voice. “I…I don’t have to like it, though,” she added.

 

“That makes two of us,” he admitted. “But it’s either that or…”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know, seeing you go up in a ball of fire once was enough for me…I don’t want a repeat performance…” she answered dully. “Well, let’s get a move on, then. We don’t have all night.”

 

With a start, Spike realised she was offering to help. “You don’t have to do that, luv,” he protested. “I can manage it on my own.”

 

“Don’t be silly, Spike. As you said, dawn is coming soon and we don’t exactly have a shovel to help us, we’re going to have to dig with our hands and I don’t think you have enough time for you to do that by yourself.”

 

Wincing, Spike remembered her bloodied knuckles after she dug herself out of the grave. Instinctively, he knew that this wasn’t easy for her. “It only needs to be a shallow hole, pet, not…”

 

“…not six foot deep,” Buffy finished off his sentence for him. “Its okay, Spike, no biggie. Responsible and adult Buffy, here – let’s just do it, okay?

 

Silently, they scrambled to their feet and hunted around for a likely spot. Eventually, they came across a spot that wasn’t overrun by rocks. The earth was packed tight and Spike began to worry that they mightn’t have enough

time with even two pairs of hands.

 

The sky was beginning to lighten to a dull, red, glow when they eventually had managed to hollow out a hollow grave. Spike settled himself into it and Buffy pulled his coat of her shoulders to cover him with before she started to cover

the hole in. “So that you don’t get too much dirt in you clothes,” she explained shyly as she tucked the collar of his coat under his chin. Spike raised an eyebrow but managed to keep his mouth shut for once.

 

Spreading the dirt evenly over him, she left the head and shoulders for last. Frowning, she chewed her lip. “I don’t have anything to cover your face,” she said worriedly.

 

“Don’t worry, luv, I’ll keep my mouth closed.”

 

A grin spread across her face. “Well, that will be a first!”

 

“Just cover me up, will you, you daft bint,” he complained. “The sun is coming up, you know!”

 

Sure enough, the sky was getting redder. Grabbing a handful of dirt, Buffy spread it carefully around his shoulders, leaving the face for last. Grabbing another handful, she leaned forward, an impassive expression on his face.

 

“Anytime soon slayer….”

 

Warm lips shut him up as Buffy kissed him fiercely on the mouth. In a daze, his lips opened to her assault as her tongue slid inside his mouth and began to explore. Hazily, he wondered why she had waited until now; this would have

been a lot more fun earlier on…or maybe not.

 

Shifting, she climbed onto his ’grave’ for better access as her hands entangled themselves in his hair, soft little appreciative moans escaping from her lips as he began to kiss her back in earnest. It was a good thing he was

undead, he thought dizzily, or this grave would be beginning to get uncomfortably hot - although there was other forms of discomfort he was not immune from… Eventually though, she came up for air.

 

“Have to cover you up,” she panted.

 

“Oh, I don’t know…you seemed to have done a pretty good job of covering me already today,” he said suggestively.

 

Rolling her eyes, she smirked down on his grinning face as she put the last of the dirt on his face.

 

 

***************************************************************************************

 

 

 

As the sun to clear the horizon, Buffy shift uncomfortably on the rock she was sitting on. “Well, at least it isn’t doing the tango along the skyline,” she muttered to herself as she eyed the large red orb that glowed dully in the

sky. Something about it, however, was nagging the back of her mind. “Let me See,” she thought. “It’s big, red, dull…dying,” the word came unbidden to her mind and Buffy groaned as she remembered why this sun rang an inner alarm

bell – high school physics, this sun was a perfect example of an old and dying sun. Buffy tried to comfort herself with the fact that it will probably be millennia before it went nova, but who knows, on this world it could implode tomorrow.

 

Grumbling, she turned her gaze to the freshly turned earth that covered Spike’s body. She tried to not let it show but burying Spike had been one of the most difficult things she had done. Logically, she knew that he was okay;

it wasn’t as if he needed to breath, but looking at the fresh mound brought back memories that she tried very hard to suppress, she had faced demons and hell gods but the one thing that terrified her the most was that night she woke up in her coffin. It was a wonder that all vampires weren’t a bunch of nervous wrecks, she mused.

 

It was then that she noticed the shift in the light., looking up, she squinted at the sun, it was still just as dull and red as it was a moment ago…then how… Turning around, she looked at the horizon behind her, peeking up from the low mountains behind her was another sun. “We’’ I’ll be damned,” she thought, jumping up with a startled gasp. “Two suns!”

 

Staring at the new sunrise, an idea began to form in her mind. Remembering a story that Cordelia had told her over the phone about a trip she’d taken to a dimension called Pylea, she stumbled over to Spike’s grave. “I’ll just uncover a hand first,” she reassured herself. “In case I’m wrong.”

 

Scrabbling at the dirt, her fingers eventually felt the soft leather of his coat. Groping around underneath it, she grabbed his hand and pulled it out carefully, ready to push it back under at a second’s notice. Turning his pale hand onto its palm, she watched excitedly as it failed to burn. “Yes!” she cried triumphantly, digging at the grave furiously.

 

The grave began to shift as Spike began to move under the earth. Spluttering wildly as Buffy scraped the dirt from his face, he struggled against her hands. “What are you doing, you stupid bint,” he roared. “The sun is still up…”

 

Smugly, she waited as the import of his words sunk in. “I’m not burning,” he said in wonderment.

 

“Two suns,” Buffy explained, pointing at the second, brighter sun that had risen over the far horizon.

 

“Like Pylea,” said Spike, nodding in understanding, having heard the tale himself. Suddenly, a slow smile spread across his face. “Like Pylea,” he reiterated slowly as he leapt to his feet.

 

“Yeah, cool, isn’t it?” Buffy replied with a grin. “You might even get a tan!”

 

“Oh yes, that’d be the first thing to come to mind,” he purred, advancing on a startled Slayer.

 

“We don’t have time for this,” she protested as he grabbed her.

 

“And, of course, we had plenty of time earlier on,” he argued. “When we thought I had only seconds to go before I burned to a…”

 

“Oh, shut up and kiss me,” she growled, pulling his down to capture his mouth.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 9

 

Under any other circumstances, Spike thought, this would have been one of the happiest days of his undead life. There he was, strolling along, holding hands with his slayer in the sunlight…or is that ‘sunlights’?

 

Penny for your thoughts?” asked Buffy, an amused smile on her lips as she spotted the small frown marring his features.

 

“Um…nothin’, luv,” he replied embarrassedly. “Just a little problem with semantics.”

 

“Oh yes, those darned semantics,” she teased. “I can see how they would be a problem. We’d better call a halt to the world-endage until you’ve wrestled them into their place.”

 

“Ha, ha,” Spike retorted, giving her a mock growl. “You think you’re very funny, don’t you?”

 

“That’s me,” she told him cheerfully as she swung his arm. “Buffy Summers, she of the mean left hook and the witty repartee!”

 

“Oh yeah, and that was a classic example of it earlier on, I suppose, – oh, shut up and kiss me!” Clutching his other hand to his chest he gave a squeaky rendition of her Californian accent, batting his eye lashes for good effect.

 

“Oh stop that,” she told him, slapping his shoulder. “Or there will be no Buffy loving for you, tonight.”

 

“And I suppose that was supposed to be an example of your mean left hook, you’re slippin’ slayer.”

 

“That’s it! You are so going down!” she told him, hand on her hip as she glared up at him.

 

Spike smirked, curling his tongue as he pulled her up against him. “I’m going down, am I?” he whispered suggestively into her ear.

 

Buffy’s cheeks grew hot as she mentally rewound what she’d said. “That is not what I meant and you know it!” she blustered, her voice wavering as he nibbled gently on her ear.

 

“Oh, all right, then,” he said, stepping back abruptly, a wide grin on his face as he looked at her astonished face.

 

“Ooh, you are so dead,” she declared.

 

“Spot on, slayer,” he teased. “You’re obviously a master at stating the obvious, too.” Luckily, he was ready for it; he was already on the move when she pounced - the chase was on.

 

“Come back here, you evil vampire!” Laughing, she sped after him, leaping over the rocks and brambles as she gained on him. He really wasn’t trying too hard to get away, she realised; he kept slowing down as he looked over his shoulder.

Ooh, naughty vampire, were the words that flew through her mind as she leapt onto his back and sent him flying.

 

“You’ve got me,” he said, laughter lacing his voice as he went limp underneath her. “Do what you will with me.”

 

“Sorry, no can do,” she told him, struggling to keep a poker face as she spoke. “I left my stake in my other jacket.”

 

“Why you…” Springing back to life, Spike threw her off his back and pinned her to the ground before she could protest. “Say you’re sorry,”

 

“Nope,” she replied, looking up at him through solemn eyes. “My Mom taught me never to lie, you see.”

 

“I’ll bet that Joyce also told you not the tease the boys,” he retorted, growling softly as she wriggled under him. “It doesn’t seem to stop you, though!”

 

“She also told me not to make them cry,” agreed Buffy. “Fortunately for me, you don’t fall under the category of ‘boy’ – having been born during the civil war, and all”

 

“Hey, I’m not that old…” Spike’s voice trailed off mid-sentence as he cocked his head, his body suddenly stiffening. Leaping to his feet, his eyes narrowed as he peered into the distance.

 

“What’s up?” Buffy asked as she scrambled to her feet beside him.

 

“’heard something,” Spike said softly.

 

“Someone’s out there?” Buffy asked excitedly, shading her eyes as she tried to make out what he saw.

 

“Not someone, luv, something,” he corrected her, grabbing her hand. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.” Tugging at her arm, he tried to pull her after him. Buffy pulled back, however, glowering at him as she stood her ground.

 

“What’s out there, Spike, and don’t tell me that you don’t know,” she demanded, crossing her arms as she waited for a reply.

 

“It’s a vampire,” he eventually blurted out reluctantly. “Nothing to worry about, now let’s start moving…”

 

“Oh no, not so fast, buster,” Buffy told him, pulling on his arm once more. “Since when do we run away from a vampire?”

 

“Since you’ve become the only thing within a hundred mile radius with a heartbeat and that vampire would be more accurately described as an uber-vampire?” he ventured.

 

For a moment, Buffy stood there nonplussed before realisation set in. “You mean, its one of those Turuk-han thingies?”

 

“Afraid so, luv, wanna get a move on, now?” Dragging her by the hand, he tried to haul her away from the direction of the uber-vamp. He was not in luck, however.

 

“Hold on,” she told him, her eyes searching the distance as she resisted his attempts to move her. “I wanna see what he’s up to.”

 

“I already know what he’s up to, luv,” he muttered back. “He’s lookin’ for a little light lunch – and that would be you, in case you’re wonderin’ “

 

Rolling her eyes, Buffy pinned him with another glare. “So what? I can take him,” she said confidently, pulling a stake out of her jacket as she spoke.

 

“I thought you said you left that in your other jacket!”

 

“I lied.”

 

“Tut, tut, telling fibs were you, what would have Joyce said?” Spike asked, cocking an eyebrow as he grinned at her unrepentant face.

 

“That’s easy – she would have told me I was a smart girl!” Buffy retorted “My mother didn’t raise fools, you know.”

 

This time, it was Spikes turn to roll his eyes. “Okay then, but all we have is that stake and the machete I had when we got here,” he reminded her. “All the other weapons got left behind in that room.”

 

“How could I forget,” Buffy muttered. “Get ready, here he comes.” Sure enough, the uber-vamp had stopped any pretence of subterfuge and was now speeding silently in their direction. “Wow,” breathed Buffy. “How come I never noticed how quick they were?”

 

“You’ve never seen them move in the light of day before,” Spike reminded her, pulling out his knife. “Lets get this over with, if there’s one of ‘em, they might be more.”

 

Buffy nodded grimly, stake in hand as the uber-vamp closed in. Taking a deep breath, her eyes did a quick scan of the terrain before the vamp leapt. Ducking sharply, she quickly turned on her heels as the uber-vamp sailed over

her head and landed on the other side, its movements easy as it twirled and kicked at her head. With reflexes long honed in battle, her hand came up and grabbed it, turning his ankle as she stepped within range and tripped his other foot.

 

Spike bounced around the edges of the fight, watching nervously. “Need any help, luv?”

 

“No…I’m good,” she said lightly, flipping back as the uber-vamp regained his footing and took a swipe at her with its clawed hand. Twirling the stake in her hand, she circled the snarling vamp as it eyed her warily, its whole posture

screaming resentment and surprise. Parrying another blow, Buffy concluded that the uber-vamp had never, until now, come across a dinner that could fight back. “Surprise,” she said softly as she saw her opening and stepped in

to strike.

 

“With a scream of rage, the uber-vamp clawed at her hands as the stake slid through it ribs. Ignoring the pain, Buffy put her full weight behind her blow and pushed the stake home. The vamp still wouldn’t die, however. “Darn…I’d

forgotten how hard these things…are…to…stake…” Suddenly, the vamp slammed into her, turning into a cloud of dust as she stumbled back.

 

“Are you alright, luv,” asked a worried Spike, standing in the spot that the uber-vamp had just ‘vacated’. “I didn’t mean to push you; I just thought that a little nudge from behind might speed things along.”

 

“It did, thanks,” replied a relieved Buffy, wincing as she examined her hands.

 

“Here, let me see.” In a flash, he held her hands in his as he examined them.

 

“Hmmm…they’ll sting for a while, but I think you’ll be okay. I don’t see any dirt on them or anything”

 

Buffy gave him a small smile, pulling her hands gingerly out of his. “Hey, its not a problem, slayer healing, remember?”

 

Spike didn’t feel too reassured but decided to take her at her word. “Right then, we’d better get a move on, I suppose.” Looking around, he picked a direction. “How about we head for those hills?” he asked, pointing at the sky

line to the east. ” We should get a good idea of the lay of the land from there.”

 

With a relieved smile, Buffy put her arm through his. “Sounds good,” she said breezily. “Let’s go.”

 

 

                                                ~~*~~

 

They reached the foot of the mountains by late afternoon, or at least they thought it was late afternoon. With two suns, it was hard to definite about that kind of thing. Spike gave an anxious glance sideways as Buffy stumbled

slightly on the gravel. He hadn’t commented on it but he’d noticed how her footsteps had slowed as they walked. Worriedly, he wondered how long she could last without food or water. Dehydration was the biggest problem, he

thought, especially as they had the heat of two suns to worry about.

 

Cocking his ears, he listened out for the telltale sounds of running water. He had hoped that they might run across a spring once they’d reached higher ground; he had read in a book somewhere that they were more common in hilly

areas. Scanning the hinterland he noticed, with some relief, that the plant life was starting to look a lot healthier, some of them even had leaves – admittedly, they were a strange purple-grey colour…but still, they were leaves, weren’t they?

 

Buffy stumbled again and Spike’s frown deepened. Looking around, he spotted a boulder and steered Buffy towards it. “Here, luv, you sit down for a couple of minutes while I have a look around.”

 

For a moment, a glimmer of protest shone in her eyes, but her shoulders quickly slumped as she realised that she didn’t have the energy to argue. “Oh, alright then - but only for a couple of minutes,” she added, with a little of her usual heat.

 

“Right you are, then,” Spike told her, trying to keep the smile of relief off his face. “I’ll just go and have a look around and…” The earth shook - actually, it heaved but that phrase reminded him a little too much of the stars from the night before, so he decided to stick with shook.

 

“Oh great, that’s all we need - an earthquake,” muttered Buffy as she struggled to keep her seat on the rock.

 

Spike cursed, falling onto his backside beside her as the earth heav...shook once more. “Somehow, I don’t think that this is just an ordinary earthquake, luv,” he roared over the tumultuous din.

 

“What makes you think that?” Buffy asked.

 

Spike pointed at the sky in answer. Looking up, Buffy’s jaw dropped as she saw a rolling black cloud belting across the sky, lightening piercing its dark mass as it changed direction and sped off again. “What the heck is that?” she cried as she tried to get to her feet

 

“I’ve got a sneaking suspicion, luv,” he answered as he watched the ‘cloud’s’ progress. “But it looks like we’re about to find out first hand.” Looking up, Buffy noted that the ‘cloud’ had changed direction again and was now heading their way.

 

“Should we try to take cover?” she asked.

 

“Don’t bother, luv,” he said. “Here she comes.”

 

“She?” repeated silently to herself before her eyes widened in understanding. “Oh my God, of course, it’s…” her next words were drowned out as the storm cloud came to a halt over their heads and loomed. With a sharp, crackling,

snap, it ballooned outward, swallowing Buffy and Spike for a moment before it shuddered and ‘popped’.

 

The silence in the aftermath was almost deafening as Buffy looked dazedly around for Spike, she didn’t have to look far, he was lying on his back beside her with a big foolish grin plastered on his face. “What are you grinning at?” she huffed.

 

Spike shrugged his shoulders as he sat up on his elbows. “It just seemed like the thing to do,” she told her, the grin still lurking on his face.

 

“Hi guys, I hope I didn’t shake you up too much,” a voice interrupted them. As one, the slayer and the vampire turned and glared. “So…are you glad to see me?” asked a sheepish Willow.

 

CHAPTER 10

 

"So...let me get this straight, Red - we haven't moved dimensions after all?"

 

"Uh huh."

 

 Stirring the fire that he'd lit when the suns had gone down, Spike glanced up at Willow once more. "Sorry, Red, I still don't get it - you're going to have to go over all that again."

 

Well, you see it is not us that have moved dimensions but the dimensions themselves that have moved," Willow explained eagerly, her eyes shining as she went into 'lecture mode'.

 

"Ah well, that's all explained, then," Spike muttered sarcastically, shaking his head in exasperation. "Now everything has become as clear...as mud!"

 

"Okaaay," Willow sighed. "Let me put it another way. Once upon a time, long, long ago..."

 

"Oh bloody hell, not again," moaned Spike.

 

"What! What did I say?" asked a bewildered Willow.

 

"Let's just say that we've heard that line one too many times this week already," Buffy dryly informed her. "Pay no attention to the complaining vampire, Willow, explain away"

 

"Um, well, yes," muttered Willow. "Well, as I was saying... long, long time ago, our dimension didn't exist. Instead, our dimension was a part of a larger, demonic reality. Then, for reasons unknown, the powers that be cut that dimension in half and created our reality from one of the pieces."

 

For a moment, Buffy's mind flitted back to the 'panther' in the white room and what he had told him about the origins of their reality. "Okay, I've heard a rather longwinded version of this story before, so you don't have to go into details, Willow," she said aloud.  "What I wanna know is what has that got to do with here."  

 

"'Here' is that reality, Buffy," Willow said softly. "Or it is that dimension if it had never been split apart. Someone, or something, has warped reality so that the two halves have become one again...why, I don't know."

 

"A test," Spike muttered under his breath.

 

"Hmmm?"

 

"I said that it is a bloody test, Willow," Spike told her tiredly.

 

"I don't understand..." began Willow.

 

"It's the 'Powers That Be', luv," Spike interrupted. "Apparently, we've been bold little children and now we're going to have to prove that we're worthy of getting our old lives back - lovely, innit?" Silence reigned in the night as Spike's words sank in.

 

"Oooh, this could be bad," Willow eventually said, her voice small, as she hugged her knees. "We're going to have to find the others quickly."

 

"The others?" Buffy's head snapped up. "What others?" she asked sharply.

 

"Oh, didn't I already mention that," Willow said, looking away from the slayer's narrow gaze. "Well, you see, when whatever happened...happened, I figured out that something big was in the offing. I mean, the earth actually groaned, Buffy. I've never felt anything like it, the power was..."

 

"Willooow!" The warning tone in Buffy's voice brought her back onto the subject.

 

"Sorry," she muttered. "Well, I wasn't sure exactly what was going to happen so I didn't know how to go about stopping it, all I knew was that it was going to be something big, so I did the only thing that came to mind. I cast the most powerful protection spell that I knew so as to isolate us from what was going to happen - it worked too," she added

excitably. "While everything changed around us, everything inside my barrier was unaffected. That's why I'm here; I managed to prevent us from being subsumed by the changes."

 

"You said 'us', Willow," observed Buffy. "Where is everybody else?"

 

"Um, you see..."

 

"Spit it out, Red," Spike grumbled impatiently. "I know I'm immortal and all but there is

only so long I'm willing to wait."

 

"Well, something kinda happened as we made the final transition into this reality," Willow reluctantly admitted. "I'm not exactly sure what, exactly. I had those protection barriers as solid as I could make them, but at the moment final moment, when we phased into this reality, parts of the barrier began to crumble and break away. I...I...couldn't hold

everybody together. As far as I know, they've been scattered all over this continent..."

 

 "It's going to be okay, Willow," Buffy said softly. "We'll find them, everything will be fine."

 

Spike didn't look so sure, however. "A continent is a lot of ground to cover, luv," he said. "And this world isn't exactly what you would call people friendly..."

 

Buffy glanced up sharply and glared at him warningly. "We'll find them," she bit out. "And everything will be fine!"

 

Spike raised his hands up in surrender, looking at Willows bowed head and with a mixture of wary commiseration and impatience. "Whatever you say, luv," he muttered, leaning back onto his elbows.

 

"It's not as bad as all that," Willow eventually mumbled. "I did a locator spell and I actually got a couple of hits - that's how I found you," she added.

 

"See," Buffy said brightly. "We've already got a game-plan, Willow can point out where everybody is, that way we don't have to waste time covering ground we don't need to."

 

"Or I could translocate them here," Willow suggested. "I was thinking of doing something along those lines before I found you."

 

"That sounds good too, Willow," Buffy said comfortingly. "We'll start on that first thing in the morning."

 

Spike frowned but kept his mouth shut as Buffy threw him another warning glance. Muttering under his breath, he leaned forward and gave the fire another stir.

 

"Anybody hungry?" Willow suddenly piped up. "Coz my stomach has suddenly gone all grumbly...I could whip us up some sandwiches...and maybe a cup of blood, too."

 

"Bloody hell!" Spike said, perking up. "I never thought of that. You could manifest a three course meal if we wanted, couldn't you, Red?"

 

"Well...yes," Willow replied hesitantly. "But I wouldn't want to conjure up anything too overboard...I have to do all those translocation spells tomorrow and I'll need a lot of my strength for that."

 

"At this moment, luv, bread and water would seem like a feast," he told her. "As long as you remember that mug of blood while you're at it," he hurriedly added, after a moment's consideration.

 

"I think I can manage something a bit tastier than that," Willow said with a small smile as she waved her hand and muttered under her breath. At her feet a small platter of sandwiches and three mugs, two filled with orange juice and one filled with blood, appeared out of thin air.

 

"Food," sighed Buffy, grabbing a sandwich with one hand as she picked up a mug of orange juice with the other.  Spike closed his eyes in appreciation as he leaned back against a boulder and took gulp of blood. For a split moment, he relaxed.

 

"I wonder what the test is?"

 

Spike eyes snapped open and studied Willow's thoughtful face. Watching her frown into her mug, he realised that she didn't know she had spoken aloud. "I would have thought that surviving this bloody place was enough of a test for anybody," he growled, ignoring her startled face. He knew he had been acting like an absolute ponce all evening but he

couldn't seem to help himself, the last time he had been this much on edge was when he'd been newly turned and was still living under the same roof as Darla and Angelus. A sharp dig in the ribs pulled him out of his memories and he turned to look at Buffy's frowning face.

 

"Could you take it down a few notches, Spike," she warned him. "What has gotten into you anyway?" Unable to come up with an answer, Spike shrugged and turned away, glaring into the fire silently. Pursing her lips in disapproval, Buffy glanced over at Willow, who seemed to be a million miles away. "What was it that you were going to say, Willow?" she asked gently.

 

"I was just thinking aloud, really," Willow admitted. "It's just that...well...I know that this world is bad and everything but it's not exactly a test, is it?" she mused. "Somehow, I think there is more to it...I think this dimension is merely a stage," she said, spreading her arms to gesture at the landscape. "It's like a really big, very dangerous arena..."

 

"...And we're the gladiators," Spike glumly finished her sentence for her; it did make a horrible kind of sense. "Great, I can't wait to see the lions."

 

"Maybe we already have," Buffy piped up. "I mean, there are those uber-thingies roaming about."

 

"There are uber-vamps here?" asked Willow, her eyes widening nervously as she peered into the darkness around her.

 

"Relax, luv, they only come out in the daylight hereabouts, not in the darkness," Spike told her. "Personally, I don't blame 'em, that night sky is enough to put anybody off their

food..."

 

Buffy snorted as she helped herself to another sandwich. "It doesn't seem to have curbed your appetite," she said, pointing at his empty mug.

 

"That's different, I was bloody fading away with the hunger here," he protested.

 

"So was the uber-vamp," Buffy replied smugly. "But you don't see them trawling around in the dark, looking for a meal..." Buffy's voice trailed away as her words sunk in. "Hey, why aren't they hunting for food at night?" she asked. "I mean, I know that they can travel during the day here but all the same, that vamp was really malnourished looking. I

doubt it had eaten for at least a week. If food is that scarce here, I somehow don't see them giving up the hunt merely because the sun had gone down. It doesn't make any sense.

 

"Unless they know something we don't," Spike suggested, as he sat up straight and eyed the darkness suspiciously.

 

Willow looked nervously around. "You mean, like something bigger and meaner than an uber- vamp?"

 

"Willow..." Buffy interrupted gently.

 

 "Something that can only come out at night and is so terrifying that it would send a Turuk-han scurrying for cover?

 

"Willow..."

 

 Something..."

 

"Alright Red, we've got the picture," Spike snapped, getting to his feet. "Damn, why didn't I see it before? We've even lit a bloody beacon for it. From this hill the bloody fire can probably be seen for miles around. We might as well have rung a bloody dinner bell." As quickly as he could, he smothered the fire with dirt, ignoring Buffy's and Willow's protests. "We've gotta get out of here," he said, folding his arms as he glared at them. "We need to put as much distance as possible between us and this campfire before whatever the bloody hell is out there comes looking."

 

"Why?" demanded Buffy, getting to her feet to meet his glare. "If this is the thing we have to beat in order to pass the test, why should we run?"

 

"Because we're not ready!" he roared in frustration. "Because that bloody thing in the white room was fully aware of how powerful you are yet seemed perfectly confident that he could beat you!" Grabbing her by the arms, he pulled her closer, his voice lowering as he whispered urgently into her ear. "Listen to me, luv, I know that we can beat this thing. We've always won before and I don't believe for a second this time is going to be any different. But we're not going to win like this; we need to know what we're up against before we strike. Slayer...Buffy...trust me..."

 

"Okay, Spike, I'll wait a few days, but you know as well as I that sometimes there is no such thing as being properly prepared," she muttered softly, relaxing in his grip before  pulling away to look at Willow. "You said that you had more than one result when you performed that locator spell, Willow. Which direction would we have to travel to get to

the nearest one?"

 

Willow pointed west. "As far as I could make out, the nearest one is that way."

 

"West it is, then," Silently, Buffy slipped her hand into Spike's. Glancing sideways to study his face, she tilted her head questioningly, a small smile on her lips.

 

Squeezing her hand in his, he smiled back, hoping that his fear wasn't showing on his

face.

 

TBC...