Spike had had a lot of bad moments in his day. Live for a hundred years, you’re bound to accumulate a couple of encounters you’d rather not relive.
Nothing was as bad as this.
Cecily’s rejection. The chip in his head. Getting hit by a flaming pipe organ. That fucking wheelchair.
All the petty embarrassments and discomforts and inconveniences of a hundred and fifty years fell away from him, the moment he put his hand to that shimmering violet wall, and realized it wouldn’t yield to him.
She was lost to him, forever.
The Doorkeeper wasn’t happy with the trade he’d made; he’d been all set to snack on Hamster Boy, and instead he’d ended up with Spike, who put up a hell of a lot more fight and wasn’t nearly as edible. They’d done some snarling and posturing, but the demon’s heart wasn’t in it, and neither was Spike’s.
Ironic, he’d thought, but strangely fitting as well. After all the poetry he’d spouted, after he’d defied the fates and screamed his love to the skies, he’d finally gotten to put his money where his mouth was. Make a grand, glorious exit.
Be something more than the sum of his parts. Something more than a monster.
Not as satisfying as he’d thought it would be, though. Grand poetic gestures paled next to this ugly cast-iron fact: she loved him, and he’d lost her.
No way out of this place, this godforsaken ghost land.
Just him and the demon here, and that only for as long as the witches could hold on.
The outline of the Tollbooth started to flicker, taking his dreams along with it.
Stupid. He’d still been hoping, against hope, that she’d figure out a way to come back for him.
Stupid. Bloody idiotic.
He turned away.
He couldn’t have said what caught his eyes. What made him turn back around.
She was here. Again.
Girl-shaped silhouette in the light, black shadow against sputtering lavender. Skin weeping, curling, peeling away. Hands clutched to the gouty purple fountain of her chest.
Oh, God, Spike thought. What did she do to herself? He wanted to go to her, but he couldn’t move. Might as well have sprouted bloody roots. Fat lot of good he was. He watched her, helpless to tear his eyes away.
She swayed. Hesitated. Stumbled out of the Tollbooth, falling to her knees on the prairie grass and doubling over an abdomen that wasn’t really there anymore. Spike’s chest lurched in shock and horror and, God help him, sweet singing relief.
Amy. Not Buffy.
“It’s closing,” she gasped. “You’ve only got a second.”
He only stared at her. Unbelieving. Shut down against wayward hope.
She’d done this for HIM?
Unthinkable. He frowned at her, mystified.
“Go!” she snapped, clenching her jaw against the weakness. Behind her, the Doorkeeper was advancing. “Do you want it to be for nothing?”
It was true. It was really true.
Spike felt the hard knot in his chest disappear, clench with a new emotion he was afraid to name.
He fell to his knees. Kissed her bloody hands, her white lips.
“Thank you,” he said, and dived for the portal.
He traveled through space with the last rays of the dying light.
Back to his love.
She was the first thing he saw. A quick three-sixty, a blurry scan of Things That Were Not Buffy, and then she swam into view. Pale. Hollow- eyed. Dazed and gaunt-looking and ten years older with grief.
He said something. Couldn’t remember what. Watched her face change, from that deep-etched sorrow to a sort of shocked, disbelieving joy.
Even as she reached for him, she was collapsing. He barely caught her before she hit the ground.
She fit into his arms like the last piece of a puzzle. He was probably holding her too tightly, but he couldn’t help it.
Arms went around him from behind. He stiffened in surprise. “Willow?”
“Thank God,” she said, and he heard the ragged edge of exhaustion in her voice. “We were so worried.”
“For me?” Keep it light, he told himself. “Red, I’m blushing. I didn’t know you cared.”
Tara, teary-eyed but laughing, tackled him from the other side. “You idiot. You have no idea.”
Funny little circus of four, Spike thought. The disheveled, the weary, the unconscious. The triumphant.
He’d never had a group hug before. It wasn’t bad.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d get used to it.
Things after that were a blur.
“The reversal spell?” he’d heard Anya ask, and Tara shook her head.
Dawn, at the top of the stairs, looking astonished, portable phone in hand.
“What happened? Did I miss something?” Quick, panicked glance to the unconscious girl in his arms. “Oh, my God. Is she okay?”
“Fine,” he said. He couldn’t seem to manage words of more than one syllable. “Just tired.”
“Did you do the spell? Did it work?”
He blinked fuzzily for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. It worked.”
She ran her eyes up and down him again, suddenly seeming to notice that he was swaying on his feet. “You’re tired,” she said, and wrinkled her forehead in pretty concern. It was cute when the Little Bit played Mum, he thought. “You should sleep.”
“Right.” He managed to reach out long enough to rub his knuckles over her cheek. Such soft, new skin. And the trust in her eyes, like a hallucination.
Buffy wasn’t the only one he’d lost and gotten back again tonight.
He shot Dawn a tired smile and turned into Buffy’s room. The Slayer was dead weight in his arms. Good thing she was so little.
He tumbled her onto the bed and kicked off his boots. He was asleep almost before he lay down.
Continued in Chapter Thirteen