All About Spike - Print Version
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Love Remembered
By Chris

Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Joss and UPN.
Summary: Buffy’s acting out; Spike’s not happy.
Spoilers: S6 Gone-ish
Rating: NC-17 -- yes, really this time.
Feedback:  Oh yes, please?  I’m a beginner, and I want the next one to be better
Archive: Please ask first. . .and keep the italics -- they are necessary.
Notes:  The first little bit of this made an earlier appearance as “Hungry” – here’s what happens
next. . .Many, many thanks to those who helped!  Loads of leg warmers to Karaoke for appreciating the brilliance of Rick Springfield’s lyrics.  Jni tamrof mth. ni siht tup ll'I ,ylno-txet ot tes si redaer ruoy fI .rettuG eht fo noitces "seliF" eht

Part One: Hungry

Eyes shuttered, head leaning back, feeling the pounding of the music as if it were his frantic heartbeat, he watched.


She extended the glistening pink tip of her tongue, moving it ever so slightly closer to her waiting mouth. Jaw trembling with anticipation, she paused a moment to imagine the sweetness, concentrating on the shape of its hard ridges, the feel of her tongue swirling around, examining the pleasure in minute detail. Nibbling just a bit, she leaned in, letting the pleasure wash over her, swallowing the juices generated by her own mouth instinctively as the suction she created pulled it entirely inward. Manna!

Savoring the sweetness, the strokes of her tongue warmed the cool surface quickly, promising heaven. But she went slowly, mouthing its texture, until she could stand no more. Greedily, she applied pressure with her teeth, causing an explosion of incredible proportions to overflow her mouth. Convulsively swallowing the precious liquor, a drop trickled down her chin.

Leaning her head back in satisfaction, she lifted a hand to avoid letting even a single drop escape. As she sucked the last vestiges from the tip of her thumb, her reverie was interrupted . . .


"Hungry, Slayer?" a low voice growled from across the room.


Starved. Literally.

"Who invited you to the party?" she squeaked, avoiding eye contact. Buffy felt her gut clench as she caught his scent. The sensation sank even deeper as he circled slowly around the chair she was lounging in. Not quite touching her. But far too close for comfort. Completing the circle and coming back around to the table where the rest of the chocolate lay, he leaned in, close. Close enough to feel her hot breath on his face.

"I've got a bone to pick with you, luv." Reaching out with a deceptively gentle touch, he swiped the bits of chocolate goo she'd missed on an index finger and put it into his mouth.

If I just . . .God. He put it in his mouth.

Slowly pulling out a clean finger, he examined it. "Someone needs to teach you a lesson, Slayer. Greedy little girls love chocolate." Tilting her chin so he looked straight into those deep green eyes, he continued, "But you are not a little girl."

Involuntarily, Buffy's head tilted downward as she brushed her cheek against his hand.

Not . . .what? I. . .can't. . . think . . .

"And this," he whispered, sliding the box under his arm, "is not for you. When you're ready act like the grown woman you are,  I've got worlds to teach you about satisfaction."

Circling his finger under her chin again he lifted her eyes to look straight into the keen edge of his stare. No lessons from Oxford, either, pet.

Before Buffy could react, Spike whirled around and headed for the door, calling out as he left, "Enough self-medication, Buffy. It's not chocolate you're craving."


You're gonna crave me . . .Like I crave blood . . .

Still flushed from the encounter, unable to sit still any longer, Buffy stormed onto the dance floor, grabbing the nearest drunken frat boy and dragging him along for the ride into the throbbing bass. Blindly, ignoring the ache in her limbs, she moved into the music as if it were alive, pulsing and pushing, giving her--almost--what she needed.

. . .Hungry to touch, eager to please

. . .Out of control, I hand you the keys

. . .Every night I am burning to make love to you

The words reverberated in Buffy's skull, knocking her insides around, pulling her deeper and deeper into the music. Her hips swayed rhythmically, hands everywhere at once. A thigh, an arm, a breast. She was lost in her own world, forgetting where she was and why, as the music drowned her thoughts.

. . .But don't try to tell me you think it's all physical.

. . .It goes much deeper than that

Bloody Hell! she's going to burn that kid alive. Deep in the shadows of the balcony, Spike mused at his lack of anger at the scene in front of him.

She doesn't even realize the bleeding wanker's in front of her. Those are my hands she's feeling. She was practically writhing on the floor in front of him, but her eyes were closed. She was thinking of him.

But it's not enough. For either of us.

. . .It's an affair of the heart

. . .It's an affair of the heart

. . .Have a little blind faith believe

. . .It's an affair of the heart

I'll fix that little problem soon enough. No more namby-pamby love-slave Spike for you, Slayer. The next time we meet I'm going to show you what *I* want. What you really want, too.

. . . When we make love, it's a passionate thing

. . . Shudder and sweat, sink your teeth in my skin

. . . I almost believe you were made to be played by my hands

His hands. Here. And there. And hers, on him. Ohhhh God. Still grinding her hips in time to the mental echoes of the music, Buffy's memories were at work full force, a live wire in the nerve centers of her brain.

No. More. no. . . MORE

. . .And you got the power; it amazes me still

. . .How you play my emotions with consummate skill

. . .I don't have to look any further than into your eyes

Ever since he caught her lying about his lighter's whereabouts, he'd known he didn't have to tread lightly any longer. She was on the edge of realizing that he was more than a monster, more than a sex toy - and more than a man. It would only take breaking her control, just once, to crumble those walls she'd built.

Guard yourself, Slayer. No more tame kitten for you to stroke at will. The tiger is awake, and he's ready. For you. He wants that hot little body, but he needs your heart and soul.

. . .I'm the

. . .controller

. . .I want to touch you

. . .seize you

. . .make you mine

What seemed like hours later, as the music faded away, Buffy awoke from her delirium quaking, unsatisfied and confused. Looking around and trying to get her bearings, Buffy was startled at the sight that met her eyes across the still crowded room: Tara and Spike, heads bent until they were almost touching. They looked. . .cozy.

Tara lifted her chin up to whisper something in his ear. Something special judging by the way his eyes lit up, and the unbearably sexy grin that spread slowly across his face.

Oh, now that's just peachy. Isn't it cute… Better!Than!Buffy entertaining the poor, helpless fanged one. It's a wonder she doesn't have Dawn with her, too. She's got no time for poor, drowning Willow, but she's got time to--Oh!

Suddenly, he turned his head to stare straight into Buffy's openly antagonistic glare. Smile disappearing instantly, he swept his icy gaze from her eyes, all the way down to her toes.

That oughta do the trick

Flushing from head to toe with heat generated by his insolence, Buffy realized that the frat boy was still clinging to her arm. As she flung him back, she practically ran from the room.

Stomping through the streets home, Buffy muttered to herself, "Overreact, much, Buffy? Way to show him how beneath you this, this - sicko lust thing is. Idiot."

On top, side to side, upside, inside out, and *definitely* beneath me. . . ummmm. Yes. Beneath me. For days.

Still muttering, she slammed through the front door and leaned weakly against the stair rail. If she didn't get control of herself soon, she'd crawl right out of her skin.

and straight up that hard, beautiful body of his.

Stop that!

The mental strain of constant internal conflict was more taxing to her system than a year's worth of slaying. Maybe here she would find some peace. The house was dark and utterly quiet with both Dawn and Willow gone. Only the faint tick, tick, tick of the wall clock broke the stillness. If only there were a way to appropriate just a *bit* of that stillness for herself.

Exhausted, Buffy dragged herself up the stairs and into her bedroom. The knife's edge of her near-constant state of arousal left her feeling strange in her own space. Silently she stripped her clothing off and flopped onto the bed. A tiny squeak disturbed the queer silence of the empty house.

What the ?!?

Head snapping around, Buffy reassured herself that the garlic was still hanging from curtains that hadn't changed since she was sixteen.

Sliding one foot up her calf and arching her back, Buffy stretched her body outward from the center of her spine in both directions, trying to shake the heaviness out of her body from the tips of her fingers to the arches of her feet.

Some of the tension drained from her muscles, and her eyelids drifted wearily closed. No pictures, no sounds. Just images, dancing in her head. Clouds of cool mist, swirling around. Coalescing into white, slender shapes.

Lost in the gentleness of the vision, Buffy's fingers wandered lightly across her thighs, tracing the cool images over her hips and up the sensitive skin along the sides of her chest. Melting the mist. Inevitably reaching out for the fire - to touch it. To feel it. To make it hers and hers alone. Sighing with anticipation, Buffy slid the palm of her hand across the dip in her belly into the waiting heat.

The softness began to slip away once her fingers slid across her engorged lips. She stroked slowly at first, feeling the warm slipperiness of her heat cover her hand. Her nimble fingers stepped up their efforts in rapid circles as she increased the pressure, worrying at her clit with a third finger.

Not. Quite. There. Just. Have. To. . .

Impatiently, she shoved her hips upward, trying to find the rhythm her body demanded. With three fingers buried deep inside, she tried to slow the urging, feel the rhythm. Heat, churning up and down. Another finger sliding in and out, bending and straining to fill the void.

A little more. . .just. a. little. . .

Release continued to elude her, hovering just out of reach. With a small whimper, she twisted her lip under sharp teeth, biting down in concentration. Forcing away unwelcome fantasy. Frantically pushing and pulling and squirming. Then. At last. The taste of salt on her tongue pushed her over the edge. Iron will gave way to desperation as her desire overtook her mind, finally, gloriously supplying the images it needed to achieve satisfaction. Male images. Sharp edges. Wicked eyes. A blond head bent at the nexus of her need, insistent tongue teasing her into a frenzy.


Her wild cry pierced the dark silence as the waves of pleasure-pain washed over her body. Almost before it began, the brief moment of freedom slipped out of her grasp. Buffy returned to reality, sobbing.







Buffy couldn't sleep. Tossing and turning, that feeling of dissatisfaction in the pit of her stomach, almost in her bowels, just wouldn't go away. Her mind -- wouldn't shut off. Meditation was useless now. It had become a constant struggle to maintain a focus, and relaxation was a distant dream.

Is he out there?    Past the tree?    Waiting?

Rosy white mercury light streamed in through the gaps in the curtain.

Can't look.    Won't look.    Something else.    Anything else.

Giving up and throwing off the covers, Buffy got out of the bed and padded over to the door -- noises drifting up the stairs meant Willow was back.

"Will?" Willow was standing in the kitchen, banging pots and pans around.

"Eureka!" Willow triumphantly held up a steel saucepan in her right hand, and a small grocery bag in the other. Turning around to face the stove, Willow smiled over her shoulder at Buffy standing in the doorway as she poured milk into the pan.

"Hey! You're not asleep. Want some hot chocolate?"

"Yummy. I think I'm hungry, though. Couldn't sleep."

Willow dangled the brown paper bag in the air, "I've got marshmallows! It'll be like old times when we used to..." She trailed off when she noticed that Buffy's face had gone ten shades of pale, her eyes jumping toward the back door, away from the paper bag Willow was holding.

"I'm sorry, Buff. Maybe just the hot chocolate for now? I know it's got to be hard with, ummm, your birthday, umm, coming up and all."

Why would she think I'm upset because of my birthday? But wait - why else would I – Oh..

"It's okay, Will... Extra marshmallows for me! In her honor."

And maybe they'll fill this ache inside. God! How incredibly lame is it that I can't even tell my best friend what's *really* wrong?

Stirring in the chocolate, Willow frowned in concern. Buffy was on a hair trigger tonight. Willow thought things were getting back to normal for the slayer after the invisibility episode, but for the last week, Buffy had seemed wound tighter than a clock. That was a familiar feeling. But it was something more than the trauma of her months-ago resurrection or the impending anniversary of her mother's death.

Something. . .blonder and smirkier. Too bad we can't talk like we used to; this would all be so much easier.

Willow put two mugs on the table when they heard the pounding on the door. Buffy shot for the handle, missing Willow's small smile of satisfaction. Tara burst through, hair flying and breathless.

"Buffy," she panted, "You've got to come. Quick! Spike's trapped by a horde of angry Plegoramon demons. He needs your help!"

Not stopping to think, Buffy grabbed a bag of weapons from under the sink, slung it over her shoulder, and ran out the door. Pausing only briefly at the top of the steps, she asked Tara, "Where are we going?"

And why are your relatives after Spike?

RATING:Hard R for sex and a bad word
SPOILERS: Up to Gone for sure, and the passage of time across the story will encompass future S6 eps as well. I’m basically making this up as I go along, so probably AU.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Don’t sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Continues on from Hungry, where we found Buffy compensating mightily and Spike up to something.
DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it's headed.
FEEDBACK: Pretty please? With chocolate Spikes on top?

Part Two: Caught

The tension hung heavily, although neither girl spoke.  As they arrived, Buffy leapt from the SUV almost before Tara turned the engine off.


"Over this way," Tara said quietly, heading in past the treed area onto the sandy rocks.  "There's an entire maze of caverns down here.”

Is she so far gone she won't even ask why I was here with Spike?

"What, exactly, were you guys doing down here, Tara?"

Weird.  This is where all the Greek geeks bring their dates to make out.  OH!

Doing her best blush, Tara stammered, "Well, umm, you know...just investigating some rumors of demonic activity.  You looked so tired when you left the Bronze.  W-we wanted to save you the effort."

Yeah.  You can save it, alright, honey.

"Oh riiiight," Buffy snapped.  "Saved me a lot of time and effort.  He's still on the Big Bad saves the world routine?"

And now I have to save his undead hide *again*.  Jerk.

"You know, I really think he means to help, Buffy," defended Tara.

Now I know why they call it a green-eyed monster.  But the cliché leaves out the blond hair... Now if she’ll just stand still for a minute…

Approaching the entrance to a cave a good distance away from where Tara stood, Buffy said, "It looks like there was some kind of a demon-y struggle here."  There were globs of brownish sludge, and boot prints in the sand around the entrance to one of the openings.  "But no dusty piles -- just your ordinary sandy stuff."

Got it.  What a mess!  I see the gold in there, but, Goddess.  It’s worse than Willow.  This is going to take some time to clean up…

The boot prints and trail of sludge led into the cavern a short way, but about ten yards in, just short of a 6-foot hole in the rock, the sludge disappeared.  The boot prints, however, continued on into the passageway. 

"Looks like Spike got away," said Buffy, heading for the hole. 

"Wait, Buffy.  Look at this," Tara called from the other side of the cavern, holding up what looked like a tattered piece of paper.

Buffy turned around and walked to where Tara was standing.  It was a note, scrawled in a spidery script that would have made a doctor blush in shame: 

No worries, luv.  Everything's handled here.  S. 

Feeling her heart return to a normal beat, Buffy complained aloud, "Dragged my ass all the way down to the beach, and he leaves this cryptic note..."

"Look, Buffy," Tara said wearily; "I really think we'd better see what we can find out about these Plegaramon demons.  There really were a... a...lot of them."

"Alright," Buffy sighed, heading back for the car. "To the Magic Box, then.  And you'd better scare up the others.  I don't suppose we want packs of these things terrorizing make-out queens with their Friday night dates at the beach, but I don't want to be the only one wasting my beauty sleep on the creature feature."

Last chance, Buffy.  Talk to me.  Things would be so much easier if you'd just open up.  If not to me, maybe…

"Let's get going then. Unless y-you want to go by Spike's crypt first," Tara suggested hopefully.

"And why exactly would I want to do that?" asked Buffy defensively.  "I could live an entire lifetime and still think it was too soon to go back there."

At least with you in tow, witch.


Walking into the Magic Box behind Tara, Buffy was surprised to find it occupied. 

"Whoa -- what's with the long face-ness?" she asked upon seeing Anya, Willow, and Xander gathered around the table, staring at her solemnly.  “You guys already working on this Plegawhatever demon thing?”

Tara walked toward the others, but stopped short of the table, looking from Buffy to the group and back again.  "Buffy," she began hesitantly, "there's something else we need to talk about.  There weren’t any demons tonight."

"You're giving me the willies, Tara.  Some kind of crazy wild goose chase for demons?  Come on.  What are you up to?”  Turning in confusion to look at Xander, Buffy asked,  “What's the scoop?"

Xander turned his head down and examined his hands.  "Is there anything you want to tell us, Buffy?  Anything bothering your conscience lately?"  He looked up at her with an unaccustomed hardness in his dark eyes.

Oh man.  What kind of twisty twenty questions is this?

Reacting in a defensive mode without knowing exactly why, Buffy answered sarcastically, "You mean other than my life falling apart around my ears?  Or maybe you mean that my friends seem to have plenty of time for anything but me?  Oh!  I mean that my sister, you know -- the one I died for -- has turned intto some raging hormone monster?

"Or maybe you think I should be happy that I'm practically destitute and have to flip burgers for a living?  Look at me, Responsible Buffy -- all grown up and nothing to show forr it.  Of course something’s . . .”

Wrong.  All wrong.

"No, Buffy," interrupted Anya cheerfully. "None of that.  Xander means we know you’re having sneaky intercourse with Spike!  Is he good in bed?"


Buffy's eyes widened, giving the appearance of a deer caught in the headlights.  Speechless, at least for the moment, she turned pleading eyes on Willow.

"Well, that's not it, exactly," Willow interjected, rolling her eyes at Anya's typical bluntness.  "Or at least, that's not all of it.  You see, we thought you were getting better.  You know: feeling and stuff.  And I know I haven't exactly been best bud of the year, Buffy.  But couldn't you have at least told me?"

You can’t go on this way, trying to control the world and hide from it at the same time.  I wish I’d been able to stop.  Maybe I wouldn’t have lost Tara.

Finding her voice, Buffy denied vehemently, "You're crazy.  All of you.  Where would you get the idea I'd do something like that?" 

"Besides, you'd do better to talk to Tara about her social life with the evil undead than me," she huffed.  "I saw them tonight at the Bronze!  They were, were *cozy*!"

No.  Wait.  I didn’t just do that – Tara’s my friend, isn’t she? 

Standing up now, and crossing the room to put his hand on Buffy’s shoulder, Xander said, "Calm down, Buffy.  That's exactly what we did do.  We talked to Tara."

And you’re farther gone than I’d thought.  Insinuating that *Tara* and Spike…ewww.

Heart sinking, Buffy realized she was trapped. 

They know.  I’ve lost them all…

"And the thing is, Spike's been talking to Tara for weeks now.  She seems to have thought she was doing you a favor, keeping your dirty little secret from us.  But that's over now," said Xander.

"Buffy,” soothed Willow, “we're both starting with a clean slate now.  We can do it together..."

"A clean slate?" Buffy breathed.  Pushing away Xander's hand and falling into a chair, Buffy's eyes began to take on that glazed look they'd all become so familiar with over the past months.  She was checking out. There is no clean slate for me.  You can’t fix what’s not here…

"And that, that checking out thing you're doing right now, Buffy.  That's part of the problem, too.  You can't just run and hide whenever things aren't going the way you'd like.  You're not a child anymore – though you couldn’t prove it by your behavior since Giles left," said Xander. 

"We've been trying to be patient with you," he continued.  "Understanding.  You've had a tough time, but this Spike thing -- it's beneath you.  And it’s dangerous to all of us.  We can't let it go on.  We can't let Dawn take Miss Calendar's place in the annals of Bad Buffy Love Decisions."

Losing the last thread of her composure, Buffy began to wail, "But you don't understand.  You did this to me.  You.  All of you.  With your spells and good intentioned interference, you brought me back.  And you Did. It. Wrong.  Spike knows.  His *chip* knows."

"We know, Buffy.  That's why we had to do it," said Xander heavily. Do it? DO WHAT?

“What have you done?!?” Buffy shouted, eyes wild with fear. 

Ah.  Good.  A reaction.  Will she see it? Is my best friend still there?

"Buffy," pacified Willow, "I know it's hard for you.  But you've got to give up the crutches and learn how to stand on your own two feet again.  All of your crutches.  Spike's been semi-helpful this year, with patrol and all, so we haven't gone all stake-y with him, but Xander helped him move out of the crypt today.  We've told him to leave Sunnydale and never come back.  That'll give you the time and space you need to recover.  And it'll give us time to find a way to fix whatever's wrong with you so you're not in constant danger from him.  You'll see.  It's for the best."

It really is for your own good…even if it’s not what you think it is.

"Do you think I *want* to do this -- with him? I fight it every minute of every day.  He gives me something none of you can, even Dawn.  He makes me feel.  Needed.  Wanted... ashamed..." Buffy's voice died out, head hanging low over the table.  "He's my punishment.  I'm in hell, and he's my punishment.  I'm missing the part of me that feels emotions -- it's only when I'm with Spike that I can see the colors, feel the warmth.  And it's wrong, but I can't stop it."

"Now you'll have to," Xander stated flatly.  "This is the end of the line for Deadboy Jr. in Sunnydale.  And it's the end of the line for your self-involved moping through life.  You'll have to wake up and pay attention, or you'll lose us all, Buffy.  We're not going to help you get around child protective services if you don't at least make an honest effort at really living your life.  Dawn deserves better than what she’s getting from you right now." They can’t take Dawn away.  No no no no no no

Unable to face her demons, her friends, any longer, Buffy stormed out of the room.

-- -- -- -- --

“Well, that went well,” commented Anya. “You wanted to make her feel.  She’s feeling alright – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her that angry.  Is angry what we wanted?”

“It’ll do.  For now,” said Tara quietly.  “It’s a step in the right direction anyway.” 

“I don’t know, Tara.  I really *have* had it with this woe-is-me crap from her,” said Xander.  “I’m not sure I see how Royally Pissed Off Slayer is better than Sneaking Around Slayer.  It’s weird.  Spike is acting more mature than Buffy.  Howzat happen?

“You know, I almost felt sorry for him tonight,” Xander continued.  “I thought he’d give me a harder time about doing the big Vamoose.  But he just kinda quietly packed his stuff up in some little boxes and told me to keep the TV.”

Willow looked over at Tara, catching her eyes as she answered Xander, “Well, Xan.  Maybe he’s tired of being used and abused and just ready to move on.”

Or maybe he’s finally realized that it is going to take more than just being her doormat to break through that mondo denial thing she’s got going on.  It sounds like Tara’s done her job well… she’s had practice, after all.

Almost shyly, Tara commented, “Yes.  Maybe he’s learned that being a crutch to bad behavior isn’t helpful.  And he really does seem to want to help.”

We’ll have to be careful that Xander doesn’t find out what’s really up – doesn’t sound like he’d take too well to the idea of Spike and Buffy together…Maybe Anya can handle that part; if she doesn’t let the cat out of the bag too soon.

“I like Spike,” said Anya.  “He deserves better than this.  We demons have to stick together.”

“You’re an ex-demon, An,” corrected Xander.  “An EX-demon.  Fang face isn’t an EX of any kind.  That chip is still there, but if it isn’t working on Buffy, who knows when it’ll stop working altogether.  And then buh-bye semi-useful undead citizenship, hello Big Bad all over again.”

“So you don’t think Buffy’s a demon?” asked Anya.  “What about her soul?  Is there something wrong with that?”

“We don’t think so, Anya,” said Willow.  “And there’s nothing wrong with the chip, you know, Xander.  We verified that as soon as Spike told Tara about the malfunction.  Tara and I researched the spell I used to bring her back.  It really doesn’t seem possible that she’s a demon.  And she *definitely* still has a soul.  It’s just a little out of whack right now.  Tara checked her out on that count tonight before bringing her here. The chip isn’t recognizing whatever it’s looking for, but it’s still working the same way it always has.”

“Yes, her aura is in a horrible mess,” agreed Tara.  “All this spidery red and black webbing over her usual bright gold aura.  But her soul is still there.  It’s in a funny place, but still there.  Maybe the chip homes in on a soul’s location.  You know, I really think we ought to tell her that – I’m afraid she’s using it as an excuse to dive deeper and deeper into denial.”

-- -- -- -- --

Buffy slammed through the door to the training room, nearly taking the door off its hinges.

"Damn you, Spike," she threatened as she punched the bag in fury. "What did you think you were doing?  Did you think it would be all sweetness and light from them?"

But I went to him... I always went to him. Damn it all to hell, this is not my fault.  Not my fault I came back wrong . . .


Buffy was immersed in the violence, venting her rage and shame into the plastic dummy when she found herself abruptly slammed up against the wall.  He held her hands above her head with his right hand, while his left hand held her chin up, blue eyes staring down at her. 

"Well, now.  That's hardly a proper goodbye, pet", came the sibilant whisper in her ear.

"What do you want from me, Spike?" she screamed in pure frustration.  "Haven't you done enough for one day?"

"See, luv, there's the rub.  It's just not about what I want, now is it? Never has been.  The sixty-four million dollar question is 'What does Buffy want?  What does the Slayer need?'  And until you can answer that question, bloody honestly, you haven't really got anything to give me.  Except for this..."

A second later, she felt his mouth, invading, harsh, demanding.  And, when he felt her begin to give, seductive.  Tongue teasing, lips molding to hers, he released her wrists, one hand cradling her head, the other moving sinuously along her spine, holding her closer, crushing her against him, then slipping lower to her buttocks.  Feeling her limbs begin to succumb to his assault, he lowered her to the floor. 

A desperate moan escaped from her lips as she protested the moment of separation.  The fire, the heat – she needed him to touch her, needed to touch him.  To feel the soothing coolness, the hard, long muscles of his slender frame.  But he held himself apart – brushing her pleading hands away from his chest, holding his chin up to escape the onslaught of her lips, her fire.

“Ah-uh-uh.  Don’t touch lover.  This is my game tonight,” he insisted.

Taking her wrists in his hand again, he pulled her shirt over her head.  Tossing it away, he found the clasp of her bra and released it, her naked breasts straining forward, moving up and down with her heavy breath.  He lay his face in the valley of her breasts, feeling the warmth of her with his cheek, listening to the beating of her heart, feeling her softness brush against his cheek.  Watching her eyes slide into the vacant state that he’d come to know so well.

I’m losing her.  Again.  Come back to me, Slayer.  Buffy.

Coming to his knees, he pulled the rest of her clothing from her, piece by piece.  And when it was gone, underwear here, boots there, socks hanging from equipment, he paused, staring at her almost harshly in the moon's glow.  God, she was so beautiful.  Perfect.  His.  Losing all sense of control, he fell on her.  Taking her mouth, spreading her legs, loosening his jeans to sweep and thrust into her with a raw passion that brought her to the very edge of her existence.

Ohhh God.  How can this be wrong?  How can it be so necessary, feel so right.  To give up.  To give in.

She closed her eyes against the silvery glow of the moon streaming in through the high windows, and simply felt.  She felt the night, the fire, and the knowledge of her world crashing down around her.  Deeply, slowly, he thrust into her heated center, filling the void, stroking the edges of battered emotions, hammering a rhythm into her being – a rhythm more ancient than time: the rhythm of life.  Buffy let herself merge wholly into the rhythm, sweet release washing over her, soothing the pain.


Tears in her eyes, Buffy rolled to her side, hiding her vulnerability from the source of her torment.

What will I do without this?

Silently, Spike arose and fastened his pants. 

Will she ask?  Can she admit she has enough feeling for me to want to know where I'm going?

"Don't come back, Spike", Buffy said quietly.  "I can't do this.  It's nearly cost me everything I have.  It's wrong, and I just can't do this any more."

"You don't seem to understand, luv," he growled, hurt lurking in his eyes behind smoldering anger.  "This isn't your show any more.  Can't be, since you've no idea where you're going or what you need."

"But I will help you out this one last time, Slayer.  I'm going where you won't be able to find me when you want to scratch that bloody itch.  You’ll be able to follow your gang’s instructions to stay away whether you want to or not.  Just never forget:  I've got an itch to scratch as well.” 

Heading for the back door, he made one last promise, "I'll be there when you least expect it.  And I won't need an invitation.  I'm no bleeding love-starved puppy to wait around for you to come a calling -- and I won't disappear.  I'm in this for good."

Only two ways for this game to end, Slayer.  And whichever way it goes, all of you will be there for it, not this self-centered shadow of yourself you've become...


Rising from the mat, Buffy shook herself, trying to regain her equilibrium.  It was nearly 3 a.m. and exhaustion had overtaken her.  Wondering briefly if the gang were still waiting for her, she pulled on her clothes and slipped out the back door, heading for home. 

Half-surprised at not finding Spike lurking outside her house, Buffy closed the door behind her and headed straight up the stairs to fall into an exhausted heap on her bed. 

Tired as she was, she fell into a sleep so deep she didn’t wake a few minutes later when Willow opened the door to peer into the room.  She could see that dreams tormented Buffy, as they had every night but once since her return.  Tossing and turning, she spoke in her sleep as Willow watched over her.  “Oooh, yes.  There. Wait.  NO.  NO.  Spike…wrong…. All wrong.  Not again. Wrong…wrong…wrong.”

Eyes dark with sadness, Willow smoothed the blond hair, murmuring words of comfort: “It’s okay.  It’s going to be okay, Buffy.  We’ll help you.  We’ll all help you.  I’m so sorry we did this to you, but we’ll make it right.  Thank god there’s a way.  It won’t be easy, but we can do it: all of us, together.  You need him the way I need Tara.  And just as she pulled me back from the darkness, he’ll help us put things back where they belong.  Someday soon you’ll sleep peacefully again, I swear it.”

RATING: Series NC-17, this part PG-13
SPOILERS: I started this series after Gone and it’s AU but spoilery in general for S6.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Don’t sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Part three, in which we find out more about Buffy’s problems and what Spike’s doing about them.
DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it's headed.  This is posted along with a couple of other stories at
FEEDBACK: Yes please.  Constructive criticism is most welcome.

Part Three: Imprinted

Music filled the air in the Bronze on Friday night as Xander, Anya, and Willow watched Buffy on the dance floor.  This was supposed to be a group bonding night, but Buffy was out there alone and obviously lost in another world -- shaking and twirling and slinking around with strangers. 

“I don’t understand it,” complained Xander.  “I thought when we kicked Spike out of town, she’d start coming back to normal.  But it’s getting worse.  I mean, look at that guy she’s dancing with.  You’d think Angel was here or something…”

“She looks feral,” said Anya.  “I told you there was more to her problems than Spike.  She’s in heat.”

So dense.

“Well, I’m going to do something about it,” Willow announced as she stood up.  “Xander, go tell the DJ to switch to something, umm, peppy.”

“All-righty.  Pep squad music, coming up!” said Xander.  “What do you think, Anya?  Katrina and the Waves?”

“I want rockabilly music, Xander.  I’ll choose.  We can practice our swing dancing for the wedding,” she replied. And I know just the group to send you a hint…

Willow made her way to the dance floor as the music shifted to the “Stray Cat Strut”. Groaning inwardly, Willow began bopping to the music, singing along, “…well I’ve got cat class and I’ve got cat styyyyyyle.”  But when she grabbed for an arm to swing, Buffy jerked back, as if she’d been burned. 

With confusion in her eyes, Buffy stopped moving to the music and stared ahead, tilting her head as if listening to something other than the music.  Seeming to find what she was listening for, she said, “I’m thirsty.  Going to get a drink,” and wandered off.

Willow watched Buffy’s back in bewilderment until Xander and Anya joined her on the dance floor.  

“Where’s she going, Will?” asked Xander.

“I don’t know Xander.  She said she was thirsty.  Interesting musical choice...”

“I thought it was very appropriate,” giggled Anya.  “She’s probably off hunting in the back alley as we speak.  Now let’s dance!  We’ve only got a month until the wedding.”

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

After finishing her glass of water, Buffy wandered trancelike from the bar to the stairwell, and up the steps to the balcony.  An almost predatory quality entered her eyes as she scanned the shadows.

Here.  Somewhere – There.

Having located the blond vampire against a column in the corner, she approached steadily, taking in the contrast of pale skin, shining hair and black as night clothing.  Near enough to touch, she stopped.  For a moment, clarity shone in her eyes and she poised as if on the edge of flight.  But her vision clouded over instantly, and she took a step forward instead.

“Like what you see?” Spike queried quizzically.

“What . . . what are you doing here?” she asked, leaning ever closer. “You’re supposed to be . . . ”

“I told you I’d be back, luv,” he said, tilting his head slightly to one side. “Have I ever lied to you?”

Does it matter?

Primal instincts took over.  Closing the space between them, Buffy reached for his head, pulling his lips fiercely down to hers.  Biting and groaning like an animal, she took possession. 

Spike allowed it, briefly, reveling in the lightening that ran through his body at her ferocity.  “But this isn’t how the game goes,” he said, pulling back from her.  “You’re in the shadows, now, Buffy.  And the rules are different here.”

Leading her over to the balcony, Spike took hold of her shoulders.  From behind her, he leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Look at them.  Only a few feet away, but they might as well be on another planet for all the good they do you now.  Do you remember your lessons, luv?”

Can’t you see that you need them? Even more than they need you?

Buffy flexed her body against his with a feline stretch.  Rolling her head back into the crook of his neck and closing her eyes, she breathed, “Lessons?”

Lesson the first – a slayer must always reach for her weapon.   He already has his. 

He waited a moment for it to sink in, trailing his hand across her chest and then lower… She began to shiver slightly, when the words he hadn’t spoken penetrated her consciousness.


Buffy jerked away from the hand now caressing the skin of her inner thigh, fire in her eyes.  “Why won’t you leave me alone?” she growled as she shoved him away.

“Lesson the second,” he called as she fled down the stairs.  “Ask the right questions.  You ask why I won’t go; you should ask: why do I stay?” 

To keep you alive, luv.  To keep you sane.

Pulling his duster closed, Spike took a deep breath and followed her out the back door and into the alley. 

One more lonely night of following, luv.  Don’t know how much longer I can keep this up

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

”I told you that you had to stop enabling her denial, Spike.  I did not tell you to tease her into a complete frenzy,” Tara lectured as she moved books from a stack on the floor to the bookshelves they’d just built.  The cavern was turning out to be a very homey place, now that she’d installed the Tinkerbell lights.

The vampire seemed to be listening, but only with half an ear.  He was a bit distracted – Tara could tell by the faraway look in his eyes.  He’d seemed off in general these last two or three days. 

He’s got to start paying attention.  If we don’t all work together, we’re never going to get her back to normal.  She should have been tearing down Willie’s to find him by now…

“Listen. To. Me.,” said Tara, thoroughly exasperated with the vamp.  “We thought that having you out of the picture for a while would help Buffy stand on her own two feet, maybe even give her a little push in your general direction.  But it was not part of the agreement that you’d keep paying her these little ‘visits’.  You’re making things worse, Spike.  Much worse.”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Spike answered with an intent look in his eyes.

It’s not my visits making her worse – it’s the lack of them.

“I *can’t* stay away from her.  Not completely.  Lord knows I’ve bloody well tried.  No matter where I go, I can feel her.  Feel her pain, almost as if it’s my own.  Could have been my own, you know -- if she hadn’t come back.  If I leave her now, if I really leave her, she’ll break in two.”

Pausing for just a moment to see if Tara was hearing him, Spike heaved a huge sigh.  

“I’ve tried every way I know how to bring her back.  Truth doesn’t cut it.  She won’t talk, at least not since the bloody songfest.  And she’s torn apart inside. I don’t care if you say she didn’t come back wrong – there’s a huge black hole in there, sucking the life out of her.  How’m I supposed to… oh bloody hell!”

Dawn stood in the makeshift doorway to the cavern that was Spike’s new home, glaring. 

Catching himself, Spike toned down the expletives, “You’re not supposed to be here…” How much did she hear?

“Oh, no,” the teenager remarked snidely.  “I shouldn’t be here.  I’m away on a field trip for a week and you disappear, all because of her?  All hail Queen Buffy.  God forbid anything should be hard for her.”

“Now, Bit,” he said.  “You really ought to give her a break, you know.”

More than a little flustered at Dawn’s presence, Tara stammered, “I’m going to go get the rest of the bookshelves from the apartment, Spike. Sounds like you and Dawn need to have a chat.”

Tara rose from the bed and walked toward the exit.  “And Dawn?  Don’t stay long.  She can’t find you here.”

“You’d better do some more checking into that spell before you come back, Tara.  There is more going on here than a psychic suntan,” he called after her. 

And I can’t fix it alone.

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

“What psychic suntan, Spike?” Dawn asked after Tara left.

“Nothing to worry your head about,” said Spike.  “You’re here because you’re mad at me, remember?”

With a pout, Dawn sat down on the edge of his bed.  “I’m not mad at you.  Not really.  It’s her.  Missing-In-Action Barbie.  Why does she have to drive everyone away?”

“And don’t treat me like a kid,” she shot.  “What’s this psychic suntan business you’ve got Tara scurrying after? 

He gave her a piercing look.  “I suppose you’re not, at that.  But if I’m going to explain this to you, you’ve got to bloody listen.  None of that teenaged eye-rolling bollix...”

“As if!” Dawn grinned, pleased to be having a conversation with someone who wouldn’t treat her like a kindergartener.  “Lay it on me.  I may be a self-involved teenager, but I do love her.  And I know something’s wrong, Spike.  The bot was more like Buffy, than Buffy is like Buffy, since she came back.”

“Right, then.  So you’ve got a good head start on the issue.”  Taking a deep breath, Spike began, “How much do you know about how they brought her back?”

“Only that Willow cast some kind of spell and almost messed it up.  And that it was such Big Hocus Pocus that it overloaded Willow’s circuits and made her go all addict-y with magic.  Are you saying that the spell has something to do with why she’s acting all ‘I’m not really here’?”

“Hum.  Well, yeah.  That’s part of it.  I asked Tara to look into the spell to see if something else could be wonky with her.  Mojo that big never comes without a price, especially if it wasn’t worked properly to begin with.  But more than the spell, Dawn, you need to go easy on her because you’re her sister.  Blood bonds are the strongest.” 

“What do you mean, something else?  There’s something?”

Spike shifted uncomfortably on the bed.  “Yeah.  There’s something.”

“So tell me already.  It can’t be that bad…” said Dawn.

“Well, it’s not all that bad.  Really – and this isn’t what I meant to tell you about.  But, “ Spike cleared his throat and looked away from her questioning eyes, “Icanhurther.”

“You can hurt her?  Well duh.  She’s half in love with…Oh.  Wait.”  Dawns eyes grew huge as she realized, “You mean your chip doesn’t work anymore?”

“No.  I mean yes, the chip still works, just not on Buffy.  I figured she must have come back demon or something.  But Glinda says something’s off with her aura or some such – that it’s like a psychic suntan.  Not anything really wrong with her. But Glinda’s wrong.  There *is* something wrong with Buffy.”

“I’m confused, Spike,” said Dawn.  “First you say I should give her a break, then you say there’s nothing wrong with her.  Then you say there is something wrong?”

“Well, maybe I’m putting it wrong, Bit.  See, Big Sis is hurting.  She’s hurting so bad I can feel it from here, right now.  None of you folk who’re supposed to really love her seem to see it . . .  Only soulless demon here, apparently, gets the big pain from her.”

“What do you mean, ‘the big pain’?”

“I don’t quite know how to explain it to you.  I can feel her.  Down deep inside.  Back after the Big Forget, I only felt it a little.  But lately, it’s like I’m getting zapped by the chip, but in a steady stream.  It gets better for her, sometimes.  Like when she’s with you.  Or the scoobies.” Or when she’s hunting, whether it’s beasties or me

“But she’s never, ever with us, Spike.  I don’t think she wants to be here at all,” Dawn said sadly.

“I know, Bit.  I know.  She can’t help it.  But for her sake, you can’t stop trying to make her connect.”

And neither can I.

“But what can I do, Spike?  I try talking to her, and she’s not really there.  She’s always leaving to go patrolling.  There can’t be a big nasty left anywhere this side of LA by now. And besides,” Dawn began to pout a bit again, “Isn’t she supposed to be taking care of me?”

Spike moved closer to Dawn on the bed, drawing her head to his shoulder.  “That’s the thing, pet.  She’s not capable of it at this point.  I don’t really know why, exactly, but we’ve got to take care of her right now.  Before it’s too late.”

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

Returning with the missing bookshelf, Tara found Dawn, sleeping in the vampire’s lap, Spike stroking her hair with his hand and humming a soft lullabye.  Poor things.  It’s so hard on them… I wonder if they have strength enough between them?

“Did you find out how she got here, Spike,” Tara asked quietly.  “We’ve got to get her home soon, or Buffy will come hunting.”

“Little Bit hitchhiked her way out here,” Spike replied. ”I told her she’s too tempting a morsel to be riding around with strangers.  Some boogiemen have hearts that beat and ride around in the light of day, but she said she figured I’d take care of it if there were problems… Still thinks I’m her protector…” he trailed off softly as Dawn began to stir.

“Wake up, little sis.  It’s time to go home… you have work to do,” he said a little louder. 

To his consternation, Dawn gave a little bounce and hugged him. 

“Go on, then.  Get,” he growled.  “And witch, you’d better fill her in on all the details.  She’s bound to muck things up trying to help if you don’t.  I’ll come find you after sundown to finish our conversation.”

RATING: Series NC-17, this part PG-13
SPOILERS: I started this series after Gone and it's AU but spoilery in general for S6.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Part four, in which Buffy reaches a critical point
DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it's headed. This is posted along with the rest of the chapters at
FEEDBACK: Yes please?

Part Four: Catalyst

The radio filled the uncomfortable silence between the two women in the car. "Aren't you going to yell at me for going out there or something?" Dawn asked.

"Why should I yell, Dawnie? I know things are strange for you right now. And coming back to Spike missing had to be hard. But you had to know you could come to me." said Tara.

"Yeah. I knew. But I wanted to see his new place," replied Dawn.

"You shouldn't have hitchhiked, though. It's dangerous, and I don't want to see anything happen to you."

"Nothing bad was going to happen. It's not like I'm the key any more. No need to worry about freaky Dawn. No keyness, no demon boyfriends. No friends at all, in fact."

Tara pulled up to a stoplight and turned to catch her eyes. "I wish you didn 't feel that way. You're still important. And you might be young, but you' re our friend. Not just Buffy's sister."

"Awww. I know, Tara. I'm sorry. Sometimes I just can't help what come out of my mouth," Dawn apologized.

"But what's going on, Tara? You have to tell me what's going on. Or were you planning to leave me out again? I'll just find out the way I found out where he moved," she threatened, chin jutting forward.

Tara turned onto Revello Drive and said, "I'm going to tell you Dawn. Everything I know, at any rate. But we're almost home now - will you come to the Magic Box later, after Buffy leaves for work? We'll be doing research, and I can fill you in then."

I hope you mean it this time, Tara. I might just know a thing or two you'll need.

"See you later," Dawn said as she stepped out of the car. "I'll be there after while. I want to talk to Buffy and then take care of a few things, then I'll be over."

"Be careful what you tell her," warned Tara. "She's not herself right now."

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

Peeking into the living room, Dawn saw Buffy sitting on the couch, staring off into space. Her head was leaned to one side, and that oh so familiar vacant look occupied her eyes. "Buffy," she called tentatively. "I'm home."

Startled, Buffy snapped upright, eyes coming into focus. "Dawn. Where were you? It's barely afternoon; I thought you were still upstairs."

"No, I got up early to meet Tara for breakfast. We talked a long time." Taking a deep breath, Dawn continued in a whoosh, "I need to talk to you about something. It's important."

"I can't talk now," said Buffy. "I have a shift at the Doublemeat. Can we talk later? Maybe after patrol?"

The robot again. Spike said I have to shake her out of it when she's like this. Well, here goes nothing.

"I miss him, Buffy," Dawn whispered.

Softly, Buffy replied, "Me too."

She can't mean *him*. How would Dawn. . .Willow. I'm gonna kill her.

For a split second, their eyes met and the sisters shared their sadness. Then Buffy broke the connection. "Nothing is the same without Giles," she covered, turning away to hide the tears blooming in her eyes.

. without either of them. Nothing will ever be normal again.

Giving herself a little shake, Buffy continued, "Maybe we should call him soon. But not now," she breezed as she headed for the stairwell. "Time to make the donuts!"

Good idea. Very good idea. I wonder how many hours the time difference is?

Watching Buffy disappear, Dawn began to scrounge around for the address book with Giles' contact information.

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

Buffy let the spray of the shower wash over her, the pattern of the hot water providing a mesmerizing beat inside of her skull. The counterpoint of the water to the pounding in her head was a blessed relief, a numbness that let her reach the void. That space inside where nothing and no one mattered. The only space she felt safe.

In the void, she called him to her. Silently, she tried to call the calming images. No words, no clothing between them, she saw his form shimmering before her. Willing it, she felt long, cool fingers sliding up her rib cage, thumbs grazing the sides of her breasts. The image shook, his blond form hazy, barely there. And the stillness faded as she reached out, to touch what wasn't there.

The tears began to slide, invisible in the cascading water. Even the images failed her now.

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

The books were stacked around them, four heads, each buried in a tome, flipping through page after page looking for clues.

Closing yet another book, Xander groaned, "I got nada. Is it time to get snacks yet? "

"Snacks are good," said Anya. "Maybe we should go fix some cheese and crackers. And some chips and dip."

Looking at the pair unbelievingly, Willow said, "I'm not sure we're going to find what we're looking for in these books, guys, but.snacks? Why don't we try going over what we know again? Maybe something will click into place."

What planet do they live on these days, anyway?

"We know that Buffy's zoning out, big time. She patrols alone every night, but it looks more like hunting to me. And now we know it's not because she was, umm, recreating, with Spike. It gets worse every day, too," she said.

"And we know that her aura is messed up in a major way, maybe because of the resurrection spell," said Tara. "But we still don't know how or why."

"And we know that she was getting better, too, before Willow cast that spell to make everybody forget." Four pairs of eyes swiveled to see Dawn walking toward the table and glaring at Willow.

"Why do you say that, Dawn?" Tara asked.

"Spike told me," she answered confidently.

Xander exploded, "What do you mean, Spike told you? Why would he tell you and not us? And how would he know anyway?!?"

"Well, Xander, you know they were, umm, close. He was basically the only person she talked to at all right after she came back," said Tara.

Oh rats. I should have found a way to tell Dawn that Xander doesn't know Spike's still around. She'll let the cat out of the bag for sure..

"Dawnie, can you come help me find another book up here?" Tara asked, crossing the room and pointing to a row of books.

Dawn joined her near the shelves, and Tara said quietly, "Look, Dawn. I know we should have talked to you about all this before now, but.Xander doesn't know that Spike is still around. Anya is trying to work up to telling him, but we couldn't figure out a good way to do it. You know how protective he gets about her."

"Yeah. The knight in shining armor. I know just what you mean. I don't guess he'd take too well to having the wool pulled over his eyes by the three of you. I know I didn't. You know you're going to have to tell him eventually," Dawn pointed out. "In fact, you still haven't finished telling me."

"Alright," said Tara. "It all started that night that Buffy and Willow both stayed out all night - you remember, the night Willow was out with Amy . . ."

As Tara spoke, the teenager's mind began piecing together the bits of information slowly, as a pattern began to emerge.

Spike hasn't told her about the bond.

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

"Have a nice day."

"Would you like fries with that?"

"Thank you for coming."

"I hope you enjoy your meal."

Buffy straightened her hat in the mirror as she worked up the courage to return from her break. She continued the monotonous litany under her breath as she moved from the break room back to her station at the front. The dinner rush of customers was over, so she reached for the washrag under the counter to begin wiping the sticky remains of soda and ketchup from the stack of orange trays in front of her.

Top, bottom, back, front, clean.

Top, bottom, back, front, clean

Top, bottom, back, front, clean

Like a robot, she worked her way through the stack from the top to the bottom, wishing the door would open, that someone would walk in to break the tedium of the night. Restlessness moved her from the spot she stood rooted to, and she turned to the back line, scanning for intelligent life.

"Oh. Buffy. You're back from your break," said Lorraine. The perky blond was annoying, and a little Stepford wife-y, but tolerable.

"Yep. All refreshed, ready to work, work, work," Buffy chirped at her boss.

"Actually, Buffy, I was hoping you'd be willing to take off early tonight. I know you need the hours," she apologized, "but everyone else has had a turn this week already. The Mardi Gras carnival downtown has been drawing away a lot of our business lately, and corporate is breathing down my neck to cut back on the staffing levels when our sales are so low."

Give up on my grease quota for the night? So not a problem.

"No problem," said Buffy. "Who's gonna complain about a Saturday night off? Want me to clock out now?"

"Yeah, you better," said Lorraine. See you on Monday bright and early!"

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

Buffy headed back home to shower and change, then slipped out the back door before anyone could come home and question her plans.

Time to hunt. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum.. Watch out demons, here I come.

She'd gotten over the loneliness of patrolling alone, and was even beginning to enjoy the solitude of the hunt and the darkness that surrounded her.

It was a good night for patrol, dark as midnight although it was only 8pm, with a bright moon and a sprinkling of stars to light the way. Shadows provided protection to their denizens as she worked her way comfortably through them, eyes scanning for a target.

The thrill of the hunt was thrumming through her body as she rounded a corner into the cemetery, slayer senses extended. Almost instantly, she located two vampires near a mausoleum and stealthily made her way near. Her eyes slanted upwards a bit as and she crouched down, tensing her body to dive in for the kill. In a flash, she had first one vamp, then the other dusted. So absorbed was she in the flush of victory, the power of the kill, that she didn't notice him in the shadows.

Watching from a safe distance, Spike pressed a hand to sooth the pain in his temple as he watched her move gracefully from shadow to shadow, a sleek lioness on the hunt.

Ah, luv. What a pair we'd make. but it's bloody dangerous, what you're doing. If the blood lust grabs hold, you'll never return to us as you once were. I should know.

Suddenly, she straightened up, looking into the distance across the cemetery toward his former home. She began stalking toward the crypt, obviously after something or someone he hadn't yet sensed. Looking forward, he saw what she was after. There were two teenagers, spray painting the crypt.

Ah, well. Doomed to disappointment this time, pet. But hang around a bit. The night's catch will improve.

Expecting her to turn away when she got close enough to see that they were just boys, Spike broke into a dead run when he saw her swoop in. Stake in hand, she seemed unaware that her prey, this time, was human.

Reaching her just before she struck the boy through the heart, Spike shouted, "Slayer! They're not bloody demons."

She hissed in anger as he grabbed her hand, pulled her back from the boy and tossed aside the stake, "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" he questioned as the two hoodlums ran away. "They're people. Human beings. Like you."

He looked into her eyes, searching for the humanity in their depths, but finding nothing. There was no spark of recognition as she began to fight him wildly, claws and teeth taking the place of surgical punches and kicks. Her strength matched his own, but lacked precision or control; he soon had her pinned to the ground beneath him.

"Lovely as this is, Slayer, having you beneath me," he said as her jerking and twisting began to slow, "I can't let you do this to yourself any longer." He drew back his fist, intending to knock her unconscious.

Just as his blow was landing, she let out a mewling cry and said, "Spike. help me."

Gathering her crumpled form in his arms and pulling her in to his chest, he pressed his lips into her hair, promising, "I will, luv. Tonight."

RATING: Series NC-17, this part PG-13
SPOILERS: I started this series after Gone and it’s AU but spoilery in general for S6.  We’re pretty much to the plain old AU part now.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine.  Don’t sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It gets a little weird here, Buffy is unconscious and the scoobies have to figure out what’s been going on around Sunnydale. The ‘puter ate the original chapter 5, and this is only the first half of the grand finale. There’ll be one more part as I painstakingly recreate the work…
DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it's headed.  This is posted along with the rest of the chapters at
FEEDBACK: Yes *please*!

Part Five: Reminded

The wind blew cold gusts into the Magic Box as Spike slammed through the door, holding the unconscious Buffy in his arms.  Icy blue eyes flashing fire, he confronted the astonished group still huddled around the table.  “Bloody hell, Witch.  Did you even stop to think *maybe* it might be a bad idea to use blood magic in bringing her back?  Get the Watcher on the phone.  Now.”

Chaos erupted into the room as four of its inhabitants burst into speech at the same time.

“What’s wrong with her, Spike?”  Dawn demanded as she sat up, ramrod straight.

“You!  You've hurt her... We told you to leave.  Tonight you go the dusty way,” promised Xander, crossing the room to confront Spike.

“Spike -’re glowing.  What happened?” wondered Tara.

“How did you?  But I..." started Willow before slumping down into her chair.

“The blood of the mother,” finished Anya.  “I knew it.”

Xander reached the vampire and came up short.  He couldn’t attack while Spike was still holding an unconscious Buffy, and the moment’s pause was all he needed to process what had just happened. 

“Wait just a gosh darned minute here,” he said as he turned to face the four women.  “You knew--all of you.  You should have been as surprised as I am that..."

He turned again to face Spike. "Would you put her down?!  I’m all dizzy from trying to figure out whether to stake you or yell at these four first.”

Spike cleared his throat, “Harris.  Sit down.  Worry about staking me later.  Right now, we have a bigger problem to deal with."

“And you,” the vampire said, gesturing at Willow as he headed for the training room, “Get over yourself.  Your guilt didn’t help before, it isn’t helping now.  You and Glinda over there better get to digging in your books.  She has blood lust, or something like it,  and it’s connected to that thrice-damned spell you used. Tonight two human vandals almost found that out. . .”

Buffy moaned softly in his arms, reminding Spike that he was still holding her.  His frown of concern deepened, and he quickly stalked  from the room.

Tara watched intently as the vampire carried the Slayer to the training room.  The glow she’d seen when Spike first arrived was flaring again, all red and purple around the edges, green and rose nearest his body.  It wasn’t purely Spike’s aura, though.  A ribbon of purple, surrounded by a muted, muddy red and black, pulsed as if alive between the two of them, the only brightness touching Buffy’s murky personal aura--right where her soul should have been, but wasn’t.

What’s going on here?

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

Quiet re-asserted itself in the room with the vampire’s departure.  No one knew what to say first.

Xander shifted in his seat, watching Willow climb the stairs to retrieve the books on Egyptology.  “How could you lie to me, Anya?” he asked her.

“It was really very easy,” she replied matter-of-factly.  “You didn’t want to know.”

“Besides,” added Willow, returning with an armful of books, “you would have done that knight in shining armor thing again.  That always works so well...”

“Like you’ve got room to talk about plans that work so well,” he returned.  “Blood lust?”

Willow had the grace to look ashamed of herself, but answered him nonetheless, “Another great example of ‘you didn’t want to know’,” she said.  “None of you did.  When Buffy left, everybody just expected me to take over, to solve the problems and find the answers.  Just like she always did.  So I found one.  I knew I would suffer the consequences,” she said, scratching her wrist. “I just didn’t think she would have to suffer them, too.”

“Truthfully,” she asked. “Would you change anything if you could?  Would you send her back?”

The question hung, suspended in the atmosphere of the room as they considered their answers.  Guilt of a dozen varieties crossed their faces, and the tone in the room changed from anger and resentment to worry.

Tara was the first to speak.  “It doesn’t do any good to worry about what’s already done,” she said.  “Now we have to find a way to fix it.  There’s something in her aura . . .and his.”

“Giles had an idea,” said Dawn.  “I called him today.  She was all out of it at home this afternoon, and I called to tell him about Spike and how freaky she’s been acting.  He wasn’t too happy...”

“You called Giles?” Anya asked with a worried look on her face. “He can’t come back.  Not now!  The shop is mine now.”

“I don’t think he’s coming back,” said Dawn, “But he said something sounded familiar and he had to do some research.  I’ll bet he finds something that will help.  He doesn’t know about this blood lust thing, though.  Is that why she’s patrolling so much?”

“Maybe, but blood lust is something that vampires normally get, not humans” Tara said absently.  “Giles said something sounded familiar?  What exactly did you tell him, Dawn?” Tara wondered as Willow picked up the phone and began to dial.

Dawn blinked, and then it all came out at once. “Well, you know.  Just that Buffy’s still all ‘not-here’, worse now than before.  I told him that Buffy and Spike were doing it, but they’re not any more, and now she’s patrolling all the time again.  And that she misses him terribly.  Spike, I mean.  Well, Giles too.  But… Oooh.  And I told him that Spike has this pain bond thing with her now.  He didn’t really say much back.  Just all ‘Umm.  Well.’ and ‘I see’. I could practically hear him wiping his glasses...”

“The what bond?” Tara interrupted.

“The pain bond.  You know – that thing that lets Spike feel what Buffy’s feeling?  I guess he’d be following her around even without that, but...Oh.  I meant to tell you about this earlier.”  Dawn’s face was crestfallen. “I did it again, didn’t I?”

“Pain bonds? Blood lust?” questioned Xander. “When did David Lynch start directing our lives?  And what’s Spike doing back there with her anyway?  Am I the *only* person who remembers he’s a vampire?”

Dawn gave a little snort and turned on her hero. “Xander, get over it.  He loves her.  What, exactly, is so wrong about that?”

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

Moving the weapons out of the way, Spike lay Buffy carefully down on the mat.  He looked around the room for something like a blanket, but finding nothing, he removed his duster.

This’ll do for now.  But where are you, luv? I didn’t hit you that hard.

He arranged the coat over her still body, then sat down.  Gently, as if she could break, he lifted her head and shoulders onto his lap, forming a pillow of his body.  With wonderment in his eyes, he stroked his thumb against the line of her jaw, stopping at the point of her chin.  The connection between them was palpable despite her unconscious state, maybe because of it.

The pain in his head had dissipated, only to be replaced by a strange buzzing that affected his vision as well as his balance.  Spike dropped his hand onto her chest and leaned back against the pommel horse.  Closing his eyes, he hummed an unnamable tune that seemed to calm the vibrations, and waited.  When the darkness claimed him, he welcomed it, sliding into its warm embrace and bidding farewell to consciousness.

Worlds they cannot understand.   I’m coming, Buffy.

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

Darkness surrounded her, but it was not cold.  A warm mist permeated the air.  Buffy sat up, looking for something familiar, but it was difficult to see.  She wasn't in the cemetery any longer.

The silence of this place was eerie, and she couldn't see anyone or anything.  But she felt something, a presence.  It seemed non-threatening, even familiar.  Slowly, she stood up, trying to get her bearings; suddenly, the darkness became all encompassing, and even more familiar.

"Who are you?" she called into the mist.

"You know who I am," echoed a disembodied voice.

Confused, Buffy tried again. "Why did you bring me here?"

"You know why," the voice replied.  "The answers are within us.  Seek them out.  You cannot cross into the fields again; you must accept your gift."

“Gift?  My gift is Death.  Been there, done that.  Twice, even.  Enough with the freaky riddles; can't you at least turn on the lights? I have to see if I'm going to find anything."

"The answers lie in darkness," it answered. "The light blinds you. Death is your Gift.  You must accept it."

"Remember what is precious. Memory is the key," the voice urged.  "The hole widens, and manus is twinned.  You must find the balance and stem the flow. "

Bewilderment suffused Buffy as the darkness closed in around her, comforting her, making her safe.  Loving her. 

Awareness faded to nothingness.

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

“Give me the title of the book again,” Willow said into the phone.  “Vehicles of Consciousness: the Concept of Hylic Pluralism, Poortman. Got it.  I think I know where that one is.  And The Book of the Dead, Egypt-flavor?  Okay.  Anya should have everything else we need in stock.”

Willow paused for a moment, listening to Giles. “Yes.  I understand… Giles, I’m so sorry.   Of course we’ll call you when it’s done.”

Willow hung up and turned to Tara with unbearable sadness in her eyes.  “I made this mess, and I can’t even help clean it up.  How will I ever make amends?”

Tara regarded her with steady eyes.  “You’re already forgiven, Willow.  But you have to find a way to forgive yourself.”

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

Standing in the doorway of the training room, Tara watched the energy move around the still form of the vampire asleep against the wall with Buffy in his lap.  Light and color danced against their absence, snaking tiny flashes all around them. 

How is it that I never saw this before?  Seeing the two of them together, it’s obvious. 

The cord was the key – it should be clear and bright.  Giles had been partially right.  The energies flowing along the connection between them were of a sexual origin, opened by Tantric energies flaring when the soul-wounded Slayer and the heart-wounded vampire connected on a root level.  But the channel itself, that was not sexual.  The deep purple glow indicated a much deeper connection.

No question of it:  the ritual couldn’t happen without Spike. This was definitely going to complicate matters. Tara squared her shoulders and walked over to shake them awake.

RATING: Series NC-17, this part PG-13
SPOILERS: I started this series after Gone and it’s AU but it could be spoilery in general for S6.  Best to assume it starts somewhere after Gone and finishes before the birthday.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Don’t sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I give up, it’s still not finished, though I really do know how it ends... hopefully I can wrap it up in 8 parts. More mysteries are explained, and the scoobs make a plan for helping Buffy. Warning, this is strange and definitely AU. There’s nothing in canon that supports my little theory. I still like it, and hope you do too.
DISTRIBUTION: Wherever. Please ask first, though. This is posted along with the rest of the chapters at
FEEDBACK: Yes *please* Whether it makes you happy, sad, glad, or mad, I wanna hear about it.

Part Six: Puzzles

“She’s not gonna wake up yet,” said Spike, raising his arms and arching his back to shake the stiffness from between his shoulders. “Bloody buzzing won’t stop. Might as well let her rest. . . ”

Tara replaced the duster with the blankets she’d brought and eased a pillow under Buffy’s head. “I should probably get some smelling salts,” she said, a small frown wrinkling her forehead. “It can’t be a good thing for her to be wandering off in the astral planes alone.”

“The astral planes, is it? So are we going to play twenty bleeding questions, or are you going to explain to me what you know?” he asked.

“I only know part of it, Spike,” said Tara. “Willow talked to Giles about the, ummm, problem Buffy had tonight. And the spell we used to bring her back. But I don’t have the whole story, yet.”

“But you bloody well know something,” he pressed, voice lowering in urgency. “What is it? What’s wrong with her? We can fix it, right?”

“Maybe,” she said, fidgeting nervously with her hair. “But you may not like some of what you hear. It all started with the resurrection spell, but you’ve complicated matters for her tremendously.”

“Me? Right. I haven’t done a bloody thing to her - least not that she didn’t want. How’s this my doing, again?”

“Spike, this bond you have with her. . .  You haven’t. I mean. . .  you didn’t. . .  Did you. . . ” Tara spluttered.

“Oh spit it out. What is it you think I’ve done to her?” demanded the vampire.

Tara drew in a deep breath. Looking him straight in the eyes, she asked, “Did you bite her, Spike?”

“Did I. . . ? You honestly believe I would... Well, I guess you’re not far off at that. I’d love to claim her. But not until she right out asks me to,” he huffed.

The tension visibly drained from Tara’s body. “Oh. . . Oh,” she said in a small voice. “Then what is it?” she mused. “It couldn’t be. . .  could it?”

“Oh bloody hell! Get on with it, would you?”

“Spike, you’ve got a bond with her that’s physical -and metaphysical. I thought it might have been because you’d fed from her. . . It’s that “pain bond” that you told Dawn about. There’s an open channel of energy between the two of you. It’s clearly filled with sexual energies, and it’s full of violence, pain, and blood. If you didn’t bite her, though, I don’t know where the pain and violence are coming from,” Tara said.

“I do see more there than just the red and black from the ookie stuff,” she continued. “This channel - it’s something that I would only expect to see between two souled human beings. It’s connected to Buffy where her soul ought to be. And - I’ve never heard of anything like this before - it’s connected to you at the heart. But your heart isn’t beating. . .  It doesn’t make any sense.”

Spike looked at Tara with a stunned expression on his face.  “Where her soul *ought* to be?” he whispered. “Is it really gone? Is she a demon, then?”

“No,” answered Tara carefully. “We don’t think that’s it. Willow is researching it now in the sources Giles recommended. Her soul is still there - it’s just doesn’t look quite like we expect it to. And it’s kind of in pieces, instead of whole. We think it’s at least partly because of the spell having been interrupted. Maybe the blood Willow used had something to do with it, too. The karma is always bad when the blood is unwilling or coerced, and interrupting the spell might just have let loose some of this venom. . . ”

“So we gotta fix her soul?” Spike queried. “There’s a spell for that?”

“Not exactly, Spike. Willow’s working on that part. But that’s not all of the problem. If you are somehow feeding all of this pain and violence, though your demon to Buffy - we’re going to have to sever the connection.” Tara warned.

“You’re going to what?”

“We’ll have to end the bond, Spike. Otherwise, whatever we do will only be temporary. Losing the connection shouldn’t harm Buffy if we wait until after we get her soul sorted out, but I don’t know what it might do to you.”

His face took on a determined set, but his eyes -- Tara had never seen such bottomless grief as when he faced her and said quietly, “Whatever it takes to make her whole again.”

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

Willow poked her head into the training room. “Isn’t she awake yet?” she asked. “I think we’ve figured it out. . . ” Noting the serious looks on their faces, she added, “Unless there’s still more to find out. We’re *going* to get our Buffy back.”

“It’s good news/bad news,” said Tara. “The good news is that Spike hasn’t bitten Buffy. The problems aren’t coming from that. The bad news is that if we don’t figure out where it’s coming from, they’ll have to be permanently separated. And the worst news is that if it’s not coming from him, we don’t know *where* it’s coming from.”

“Oh,” Willow said heavily. “I don’t think this could be all of it, but I think I know at least part of what’s wrong.” Willow walked over to where the vampire was sitting with Buffy still on his lap and sat down, drawing her knees in to her chest and wrapping her arms around them as if they were a blanket.

“Well,” she began, propping her chin on her knees and looking at Tara. “It goes something like this. . .  The spell I used was a spell to call a warrior back with the Urn of Osiris. You know about Osiris, right?”

She paused to wait for Spike’s nod. “Egyptian god of immortality or some such. . . ” he said.

“Okay, that’ll do. Here’s the thing. All those souls over there have been ‘completed’ - all of the etheric parts of the soul rejoin upon entrance to Osiris’s, ummm, dimension, where they live forever.”

Spike looked puzzled, “Etheric parts? Can the witch-talk, Red. You mean a soul is a puzzle with bits ‘n pieces? And when you die, this guy Osiris does a Humpty Dumpty with ‘em?”

“Close enough,” said Willow. “According to the Egyptians, people have several parts that make up their whole selves - kind of like we talk about people having minds, hearts, and spirits. . .  Except they say all the bits aren’t tied together until you die. The heart is tied to the body, even after death. The mind is in the body until death, when it heads off into the ether to find the spirit. And then, when they find each other, they come back to get the heart and they all go off to live happily ever after in Osiris-land. That’s why they did the whole mummy thing, to preserve the body in case it took a while for mind and spirit to catch up with each other”

“Anyway, that’s not really the problem. I’m sure Buffy did just fine with all the puzzle-making, but she’s not just your ordinary kinda gal. She’s got this slayerness thing in her. And it’s possible, maybe even likely, that when I called for the warrior, what got sent back included that eternal slayerness. Which could have been okay, ‘cause she’s always been the slayer and stuff. But I had to go and mess up the spell. Between the karmic backlash from the blood magic, the demons interrupting the spell and destroying the urn, and the first slayer, I think she came back different. Not wrong, exactly, but both wounded and more. . . ”

Tara blinked in disbelief. “You mean that, that thing in Buffy’s dream? The one that tried to kill us all? It’s living inside her now? How are we going to ‘fix’ something like that? And this bond with Spike - how does it fit in with all of this?”

Willow shrugged her shoulders a bit. “I don’t know if it does, Tara. Except that the bond might not exist if she’d come back the same as she was before. Something about the way her parts have been rearranged - it must have left a vacuum that needed to be filled...”

“Doesn’t matter now, anyway,” said Spike. “It’s broken, needs fixing. Can’t have the slayer running around threatening normal folks. You got the means to fix it, witch?” he asked Willow.

“Yes,” she replied. “We do. It’s a reunification ritual. We’ll need her heart, mind and spirit represented - and Buffy herself. That means we’ll need you, Tara. And Anya and Xander.”

Tara thought for a moment, realizing that Willow hadn’t named herself. “What kind of ritual are we talking about, Willow?”

“It’s similar to something we’ve done before,” Willow said. “Well, Giles, Xander and I, anyway. When Buffy had to fight Adam, we joined with her to give her greater powers as a whole than she had on her own. This is a similar ritual, but the purpose is different. This time, it’s not to call down power, but to re-organize and heal her spirit. I know you can do it, Tara. . . ”

“You know I’ll do whatever I can to help,” said Tara. “But Willow, Spike will have to be with us, too. This connection - with all the energy flowing through it right now, it could be dangerous to try to work any rituals without having him there too. If it’s severed suddenly, before we clear the energies, I don’t know what effect it might have.”

“I’ll be there,” he stated flatly. “If she needs me, I’ll pay the price. Now wake her up already and let’s get on with this.”

RATING: Series NC-17, this part PG-13
SPOILERS: I started this series after Gone and it's AU, but spoilery further on into S6.  You can safely assume that this is taking place between the end of Gone and the beginning of OaFA.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine.  Don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I give up, it's still not finished, though I really do know how it ends. . .   Here's part 7.  Warning, this is strange and definitely AU.  There's nothing in canon that supports my little theory.  I still like it, and hope you do too.
DISTRIBUTION: Wherever.  Please ask first, though.  This is posted along with the rest of the chapters at
FEEDBACK: Yes *please*  Whether it makes you happy, sad, glad, or mad, I wanna hear about it.

Part Seven: Acceptance

Xander held his head in his hands as he stared morosely into space.  "I just don't get it.  This thing gives ‘fatal attraction’ a whole new meaning.  Why can’t she do *anything* the ordinary way?"  He chuckled softly at himself, then - he knew there was nothing normal about Buffy.

Fatal Attraction.  That was a good movie,” said Anya.  “Glen Close had a real talent for vengeance - and I love it when bunnies get what they have coming!”

Dawn just shook her head, a wry smile on her lips.  Not even married yet, and they acted as if they were ready to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary.  When they weren’t busy hiding in their food, anyway.  Amazing, really, the amount of comfort they seemed to find in eating.  Dawn wondered briefly how two such innocents had ever found each other.  They seemed to live in different planes of reality, but somehow it worked.  Maybe it *was* the bunnies.

“Guys,” she began.  “It’s getting awfully late.  Should we go see what’s keeping them?”

“I don’t want to know.  I don’t want to know.  I don’t want to know,” Xander chanted as he reached for the cheese and crackers.  “If I pretend it’s not happening, will it all go away?” he whined through a mouthful.

“Not likely,” said Willow, returning from the training room.  “Hiding out in the food isn’t going to help you, Xander.  There’s no way that tux is going to fit if you keep on at the snack foods this way.  Denial is an unhealthy state, you know,” she finished with an ironic twist to her lips.  “And it’s not going to get you out of your part in this, either.”

“Ignorance is bliss,” Xander intoned.  “A really, really wise man said that, you know.”

“To each his suff'rings: all are men,
Condemn'd alike to groan;
The tender for another's pain,
Th' unfeeling for his own.”

The British accent lilted across the room as Spike entered behind Willow and alongside Tara. “You really sure you want to go there, Harris?” questioned the vamp, with a smirk on his face.  “Old Thomas didn’t have such a peachy outlook on life . . .”

“Shut up, Spike,” said Xander, straightening up and pushing the plate of cheese and crackers away.  “I don’t need lectures from a vampire on the misery of the human condition.  Is she awake yet?”

“Not yet,” Willow said as she rummaged around to find smelling salts.  “As soon as I find these. . .  Aha!  This’ll do the trick.  I’ll be right back, with Buffy.  Xander, will you give Tara the rundown on the ritual so we can get the wording worked out?  And Spike, if you have anything you need to, you know, take care of. . . ? Now’s the time.”

Spike stared hard at Willow, absorbing the implications of her statement.  The set of his jaw tightened, and he ducked his head a bit as he said, “Back in a bit, then,” and swept out of the shop, duster flapping

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

“Buffy.  Buffy!” Willow shook her friend’s shoulders and waved the small tube of salts under her nose.  “You have to come back.  Now.  We need you. . . ”

“Wha..huh?  Willow? How’d you. . . ” Buffy struggled to sit up and orient herself.  “How’d I get here?” she asked.  “This isn’t the cemetery.”

Willow stretched out a hand to smooth the hair back from Buffy’s forehead.  “You were on patrol.  Spike brought you here.  Do you remember what happened?” she asked softly.

“I finished my shift early,” Buffy replied, rubbing her eyes and straightening up.  “Lorraine said it was my turn.  I wanted to do patrol early tonight--there were a few vamps in the cemetery.  Nothing unusual.  I dusted a couple, and then I saw. . . ”

Her words trailed off, and her eyes grew wide in horror as the memories came flooding back.  “Oh my God. . . they were.  I almost. . .  And Spike.  He was there.  Where’d he come from?”  Buffy’s voice quavered with a swirl of emotions - fear, anger, guilt. . . helplessness.  “How did he know that I was. . . that I needed help?”

Surprise at her own thoughts crept into her tone.  “And why would he help me now, after all I’ve said and done?”

“Shhhh,” soothed Willow, wrapping her arms around the now sobbing slayer.  “It’s going to be alright.  We’re going to fix this.  I promise you.  This time, we aren’t going to lose you.”

When her uncontrollable shaking began to lessen, Buffy whispered, “There’s more, Will.  After I was knocked out, I went. . . somewhere.”

“Somewhere?” questioned Willow.  “What do you mean?  Tara said she thought you might be traveling because of all the energies that were flaring.  Did you have a dream?”

“It wasn’t exactly a dream.  It was more like a vision.  Except I couldn’t see anything.  This voice - it spoke to me.  And I thought I felt something familiar - but I couldn’t see what it was.”

Willow sat back on her knees, a small frown appearing on her lips.  “What did the voice say, Buffy?  This could be important if you were in the ether - you’ll have to go back there in the ritual Giles said would help you.”

“It was more mumbo-jumbo, Will.  It repeated that whole ‘death is your gift’ business - like I don’t get *that* already.  Told me I couldn’t go into the fields again.  And it said something about plugging up holes and ‘manus’ being twinned.  What does that mean?  What does it have to do with what’s wrong with me?” Buffy’s shaking had stopped, but the light of understanding in her eyes was slipping away.

Willow’s eyebrows nearly touched her hairline as her words sank in.  Excited, she said, “It means we’re on the right track!  Come on, Buffy, we’ll finish talking in here,” she said, extending a hand to help her friend to her feet. “We have work to do.  You have to explain this to the gang, and I need to talk to Tara about the words.”

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

Spike opened the door quietly, wondering what he’d find upon re-entering the Magic Box.  The sight that greeted him was both beautiful and frightening:  she was pacing the room, stalking back and forth from stack to stack, like an animal caged.  Such beauty and grace - but not quite right.  The attitude was primitive, and threatening.   The softness and generosity of spirit he knew to be a part of Buffy seemed overtaken by ferocity and focus.

He hoped they knew what they were about - the price for this kind of magic was invariably high, but the pain in the price depended greatly upon the intentions of those using the power.  Scanning the room, he saw Willow, Tara and Anya gathered around the counter, heads bent over books and papers - working furiously at something.  Xander and Dawn sat talking at the table, Dawn gesturing furiously at Buffy and then Anya, as if making a point, Xander looking exasperated and worried by turns.  There was only love and concern in the room, and the powers knew - his motive was clear.  If a price had to be paid, he was determined to pay it.

As Spike closed the door with a small click, a hush fell over the room.  The electricity in the air was almost tangible - popping and crackling so that even those who couldn’t see it felt it.  Buffy stopped her pacing and turned to stare at Spike.  Standing perfectly still, each of them eyed the other.  Wariness predominated in their expressions, but there was more.  No one could miss it - the depth of love in his face was unmistakable, and colored with a despair not dissimilar to that which haunted Buffy’s predatory look.

Taking a deep breath and lurching forward just a bit nervously, he broke the stare.  “So are we ready, then?”

“Whaddaya mean ‘we’, kemosabe?” asked Xander.  Before Spike could answer, though, a book came flying out of Anya’s hand, crossing the room to strike Xander in the forehead.  At just the same moment, Dawn grabbed his ear and yanked downward hard.  “Ow. Ow. Ow.  Okay. All right.  I get the point,” he conceded.  “What I meant was:  what are we supposed to do now?”

“That’s better,” muttered Anya under her breath.  Aloud, she said, “We’re almost finished with the chants.  You and Spike can go set up for the ritual in the training room.”

Tara picked up where Anya left off.  “Dawn, why don’t you and Buffy go make a pot of tea with the chamomile.”  She turned to Buffy to explain, “We need you to be as relaxed as possible, Buffy, and you seem a little, umm, distracted.”

Buffy tilted her head to one side and gave Tara a curiously blank look, then slumped against the nearby bookshelf, eyes glazed over.

“She looks relaxed now,” commented Anya.  “Maybe we can skip the tea?”

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

“After you,” Xander snarked, waving Spike through the door.  “I don’t want you behind me.”  They exchanged a hard look, then headed into the training room to clear the floor for the night’s work.  They worked silently side by side until only the pommel horse and the punching bag remained to be cleared.

“Y’know what your problem is?  You need to grow up,” said Spike as he began to disconnect the punching bag from its rope and move it to the side.  “We’re on the same side in this, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.  Once upon a time, you considered my help worth having, but I guess it was different when you needed me to stay alive, huh?  It’s not the fact that Buffy wants me as has your knickers in a twist.  It’s that you’ve got issues with your bird being a vengeance demon, and you’re taking them out on me.”

Xander grunted as he leaned in to shove the pommel horse back against the wall.  Having accomplished his task, he brushed his hands off and turned to face Spike.  “We’ve had this coming for a long, long time,” he said as he rolled up his sleeves.  “Too bad you really can’t do anything about it, now, isn’t it?  And none of the girls will stop me this time,” he smiled.  Advancing on the vamp, he commented further,  “I might not get away with staking you, but I can get away with working off a little aggression.”

“Yeah, go ahead, you stupid git,” said Spike.  “If it gives you your jollies, go right ahead.  I’m not going anywhere until Buffy is safe,” he finished as he ducked Xander’s first punch.  “Might be a little tougher than you thought, eh?  And did you stop to think,” he said, circling around to avoid the next attempt to land a blow, “that I might just . . . ” Spike looked just a little uncertain as he swung with his right fist, landing a blow squarely on Xander’s nose.  “. . . hit you back?”

“Ow!  That . . .  hurt! Me?”  Xander stopped dead in his tracks, regarding Spike with a mixture of curiosity and fear in his eyes.  Backing away quickly, he stuttered, “But.  But.  But y-you.  The chip - they said.  It was. . .”

Spike watched Xander’s retreat with amusement in his eyes.  A small grin played across his lips as he said, “Consider yourself honored.  The first to know the chip stopped working - ‘less you’re a demon, too.”

Xander fell back onto the floor, catching himself with his arms just in time to prevent a truly ignominious pose.  Staring, he watched Spike move slowly closer to his position on the mat.

“It’s funny, that.   Didn’t know it for certain myself until just now.  That funny buzzing in my head. . . can’t explain why, exactly, but I thought it might have some effect on the silicon conscience. . .   That and what Dru said.  But I owe you thanks for the proof, Harris.  Couldn’t have found a better way to test it out if I’d planned it.”

Spike stopped a good yard away and looked straight at the flummoxed carpenter, sincerity mixing with the amusement still present in his face. “You can hit me now, if you still want to,” he said quietly.  “I won’t hurt you, you know.  Seems I could have any time I felt like in the last few weeks.  Buffy’d kill me if I hurt you - but that’s not even it.  There’s something. . .  different.  I thought I’d have to fight the urge to kill, to feed.  I’ve been such a very long time without my happy meals on legs.  But it’s gone.  Well, for doughboys like you, anyhow.  Instinct’s as sharp as ever when the darkness is present in a body. . .   You want some help getting up?”   Spike extended a hand to Xander to help him up.

Xander considered his options for a moment, briefly wondering how long it would take him to make it to an exit.  Finally, after a long pause, he took Spike’s hand and pulled himself to standing.

“You gonna say something, or should I run for my life?” asked Spike with an uncertain grin.

Floored by the very idea of having a civilized conversation with *Spike* about anything, Xander didn’t answer straight away.  “Something.” he finally said, rather stupidly.  As his brain began to recover, he continued, “I think the desire to hit you has fled somewhere south of the border.  But I really *don’t* understand this.  Your chip doesn’t work!  Why don’t you want to kill me?  Are we like your pet humans?  You’re a little attached, so you don’t want to eat us?”

“Now a fellow just might find that insulting,” said Spike, “if he expected intelligence out of you.  Why would you think being a vampire means free will is nonexistent?  Oh just forget it, Harris.  Go get the girls and tell them we’re ready.”

Rating: PG-13 (no worse than on the show, but a little racy...)
Summary: The scoobies try to fix what's wrong with Buffy. AU, finished!!
Distribution: Wherever, just ask first. These will be archived with the rest at
Author's note: Special thanks to Zola for help in rewriting the pieces of the ritual preparation and to MW for late night wonderful beta'ing.

Part Eight: Reconstruction

In the middle of the room, Tara drew a large circle. Satisfied, she murmured the blessing and added a triangle, being careful to have the points just touching the inner edge. Moving gingerly to avoid smudging the chalk marks, she picked up a small, dark disc and placed it in the exact center of the circle. She bit her lip in concentration as she drew the final circle around the disc, just large enough to touch the lines of the triangle without overlapping them.

She placed and lit a candle at each intersection of the triangle with the outer circle, saying another blessing as each wick caught flame. Once all the candles were burning steadily, she called the others to take their places.

Dawn helped a nearly catatonic Buffy to the inner circle, putting an arm around her sister to keep her upright. Xander took up a position at the bottom of the triangle to the left, while Anya stood opposite him on the right.

Tara handed each an intricately drawn Tarot card and took her place at the top of the triangle. "Dawn," she said, "your part is first. Remember to leave the circle as *soon* as you're finished - there's danger if you stay too near her during the ritual. The energies raised by the portal will hold her up if she can't stand on her own."

Dawn raised eyes dark with fear and worry to Tara's, and with a resolute jut of her chin said, "I'm ready." At Tara's nod, she lit the candle she was holding and set it on the disc. Placing her card in Buffy's hand, she spoke: "I come as manus, twin, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," and quickly walked out of the circle, over to where Willow and Spike were watching intently.

In turn, each of the others held up a card. "I come as Ka, heart, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," Xander intoned.

Next was Anya's turn. "I come as Ba, mind, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," she said, her voice shaking a little.

"I come as Akh, spirit, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," Tara finished. As they held their cards toward the center where Buffy stood erect and alone, she continued, "Isis, divine mother of all things, we call upon you to open the portal - admit this newly reborn daughter of eternity to seek healing from beyond." She completed the summoning with a final word. "Manifestus"

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

Answering an urgent summons from deep within her gut, Buffy groggily shook herself awake into the dark mists. “Again with the darkness,” she said aloud. “All right. I know you’re here this time. Come out come out wherever you are!”

The familiar voice spoke from the darkness, seeming to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time: “The time for games is past. Your final test is at hand, and should you fail, you may not return to being. Make your choice. Follow the path to your gift - if you can. Remember my words to you once before…Love. Give. Forgive. It is within you, if you but allow it.”

A loud boom reverberated through her head, and striations of light and color began to break up the darkness, illuminating a broken pathway forward. Buffy remained still for a moment, recalling all that Tara and Willow had told her about the problems she faced. Screwing up her courage, she stood, and with a last glance around, moved forward on the path toward what looked like a shining hole in the dark.

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

A bright light streamed from the disc in the training room, forming three pillars of light around Buffy's standing figure, twining together above and beneath her center to form two conical whirls of light, like mirrored tornados touching tips near her solar plexus. Two strands of the light flared ever brighter, taking on vivid red and yellow hues, but the third seemed to falter at a pale, pale blue. A wind with no apparent source whipped through the room as Tara leaned in to whisper to Xander, "You have to concentrate. She needs the strength of her heart to succeed in the journey beyond."

"I'm trying," said Xander through gritted teeth, "but there's a force - something won't let me hold on."

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

When she reached the blindingly bright hole, she stopped, realizing she had no weapons with which to protect herself. The First Slayer could be waiting for her on the other side, ready to leap. No point in wasting worry on it now, though. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to step through, into the light.

An unseen barrier blocked her path, and Buffy felt her strength waning. Unwilling to give up yet, she tried to walk around the barrier, but found translucent barriers of yellow and red light blocking the pathway. A light blue glow appeared around the opening briefly, but flickered in and out, stealing her resolve and energy with every blink. Impotent to change things, Buffy pounded her fists against the invisible wall, sinking to the ground as the unseen force drained her strength.

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

The ribbon of pale blue light began to separate from the others, winding its way across the room. It seemed to be following some unseen path in the direction of Willow and Spike.

"Aaaaaaauuuuuugggh," moaned Spike as he involuntarily leaned forward into the path of the light. He held his head in both hands, as if he were in pain. "Bloody hell!"

The strand of light flared from pale blue to brilliant royal purple as it connected with Spike's body and instantly he slumped to the ground, apparently unconscious.

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

The barrier suddenly gave way, tumbling Buffy forward into the light as a word echoed through the space between: “Heart.” The scenery changed dramatically with her passage through the gateway and Buffy knew that the warrior beast would not be in this place. The path of lights remained before her, winding through a forest glen filled with sunlight and shadows towards a large black opening on the far end. Wide expanses of green grass and wildflowers called to mind a fairy tale, leading Buffy to expect fawns frolicking with rabbits among the trees. It would be easy to stay in this place of beauty and peace. A sudden movement to her left broke her reverie, and she turned to see what moved in this woodland paradise.

Just beyond the grove, she could see a figure coming towards her. Without thought for the path or her mission, she moved to the figure, drawn to something she recognized in its motion. As she approached the willows, she heard the tinkling of water flowing over stones. Sunlight sparkled in the background, and she discovered that the figure was no more easily seen up close than from a distance. A sense of intense longing gripped her as she neared the misty form, now clearly visible as a man, not a beast. She could not see his face, but was drawn nearer still as she reached a hand to touch the misty outline. A warmth spread from her stomach outward, suffusing her with pleasure unlike any she’d known before. Surely this was where she was meant to be.

His words should have been jarring, unexpected, but when Buffy heard the softly spoken, “Welcome back, love,” she realized she’d anticipated them with joy. A thousand images flitted through her mind, awe and love lighting her face in ways unimaginable. Moving closer still, she held her breath as the misty figure invaded her being, soaked into every pore and pulse of her living form, completed her.

The memories flooded back, memories of a love forgotten, torn away by the violence of resurrection and rebirth. This is where she’d been, a conscious portion of her mind remarked. Here, with him. For that nearly endless summer he was hers and she his. In this place of love and contentment, they’d spent unending days and nights embracing one another-- loving the way only twin parts of a single being could. She remembered her arrival now, the greetings of the guide, the explanation of the universal wholeness sought by every soul seeking its perfect opposite, the darkness within the light and the light within the dark. She recalled the wondering recognition of her opposite in the soul which languished through decades, waiting for the arrival of its third part, as well as for her, the light of its essential darkness. Decades which, though long, were shorter than the several lifetimes it would have taken if not for her untimely death and his predestined descent.

Sinking down onto the mossy ground beneath a large willow, Buffy closed her eyes, trying to deepen the connection, yearning for the communication and completion her memories told her was possible. Frustration gathered as she reached but could not touch, spoke but remained unheard. Something was…wrong. She opened her eyes at the realization, seeing the shimmering form once again in front of her. The sadness emanating from the glowing figure was tangible as he said the words she most feared to hear: “You cannot stay. I am but two parts of a whole - the third, belonging to you, drew us together when last you came to this land. But with you, it returned to the living, and we may not be together without it. You must go now - for love. He is waiting, and he cannot win the battle without you. Remember.”

She sat motionless, staring sightlessly at the bubbling brook. “I’ll remember,” Buffy said softly as his image faded to nothingness. A single tear made its way down her cheek, glistening against her pale skin. No more tears, she thought. Determination returned with the strength of memories, and she stood up to face the path once more. The distance seemed short, but every step along the glittering path of lights was a chore as she worked her way towards the ominous circle of darkness at its end. Instinct urged her to turn around, to take a last look at paradise lost, but the memory of love carried her resolutely into the dark portal.

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

“Oh no!” Tara exclaimed, upon seeing what the lights had done to Spike. “We have to get him into the circle. Hurry! Willow, you and Dawn have to get him to the heart point of the circle right away. We could lose them both…”

Xander’s face fell as he absorbed the message of the lights, confronted with replacement by one he held in such contempt. Spike was taking his place in Buffy’s inner circle. The rejection he’d always feared from Buffy was staring him in the face, indisputable in its meaning: she needed Spike. A soulless vampire was more in tune with her heart than he would ever be.

The moment that Spike’s body reached the tip of the triangle, the wave of purple joined with the rest of the lights swirling around Buffy in a complex dance against a background of interior darkness. Sparking light and color in snaky swirls lifted the slayer’s body until it was suspended in the air, precisely between the two tornadoes of light and color, anchoring the dark thread that wove itself around the whirlwind’s interior. Regardless of the state of his consciousness, it was obvious that Spike’s presence answered the ritual’s demands. A mystical calm descended outside the circle, the whipping energies now contained as intended.

Xander withdrew from the circle, mesmerized by the dance of energy from Tara, Anya, and Spike. His eyes met Willows in a mute understanding of her pain - each loved Buffy dearly, but because of choices made unthinkingly, was helpless to assist in healing her wounds. They were paying the consequences of selfish acts and in a most painful way - separation. Giles had recognized the price and paid it willingly. At last, accepting their impotence, the two sank back against the wall to watch, and to pray that the new inner circle would be able to rectify the mistakes of the old.

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

As she passed through the second gateway, Buffy struggled against an emotional onslaught. Remembrance of life before she jumped from the tower flitted through her mind and mixed with flashes of pure contentment and unending rage at having been ripped from her rest. The distance to the other side of the gateway seemed interminable, every millisecond reminding her of all that she’d lost, all that she’d forgotten. The echoes of familiar voices seemed to bounce inside her skull as she walked through nothingness into the dark, chanting: “Mind”. Reaching the other side and feeling solid ground beneath her feet, Buffy collapsed in a heap, sobbing.

She was again surrounded by darkness, but a bright moonlight shone against the mists. Her path gleamed ahead, twinkling lights of red, yellow and purple highlighted against the darkened earth. She closed her eyes, but knew she was not alone -- he was here, waiting. How would she face him, with the memories so close at hand? Shame engulfed her as the litany in her head named every kindness and generosity, each drop of loyalty and love he’d shown her - both before she jumped, and after her return. “Give,” the voice whispered through her mind.

Could it be as simple as that? Was giving all that a return of rationality demanded? She choked back laughter at her own thoughts -- *all*. Giving entailed receiving. It was no small thing this dimension asked of her. To strip away the layers of protection, to give up the walls she’d so carefully built to keep reality at bay. To admit once and for all that she’d been wrong, that she needed him.

Buffy jerked and shivered when his hand touched her shoulder as it had so many times. “Slayer,” he said quietly. “You rang?”

She tipped a tear-stained face upward to face the source of her terror, her opposite self. Silently, he reached out with a thumb to wipe the wetness from her cheek. His eyes, so deeply blue they were almost the color of the night surrounding them, locked onto hers, questioning - demanding answers.

“You’re here,” she breathed. “Really here?”

His hand dropped from her face into the deep pockets of his coat. A quizzical expression entered his eyes as he replied, “I’ve told you before, and I’ll say it again. I love you. I know it’s wrong, but neither heaven nor hell will keep me from watching your back. If you call me, I’ll come. Why *did* you call me here, Buffy? Do you need help finding that bloody warrior beast the witch was yammering about?”

She stood and turned her body to face him directly. Looking him straight in the eyes, she reached out to touch his cheek. “I think you’re here for this,” she said, then stood on tiptoe to kiss him gently on the lips. “I love you, Spike.”

He pulled back from her touch involuntarily. The play of emotions across his face was remarkable - first astonishment, then joy. Then sadness, a deep, abiding sadness expressed in a small, tender smile. “Ah, luv. If you only knew in how many of my dreams I’ve heard you say that very thing. For it to come now, after all this time. . . it might be more than what’s left of my heart can take. You must know it can’t be. This, here - it’s all we’ll ever have. I can’t go back, can’t stay in Sunnydale. This thing with you - it’s disabled the chip.”

Panic, followed by an eerie calm, invaded Buffy at his pronouncement. “Remember,” he’d said. “Give,” the voice had advised. She knew what she had to do. Closing the space between them, she lifted one arm over his shoulder and wound the other tightly against his waist. She lay her head on his shoulder, taking in the spice of his scent; she watched his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed jerkily. She gave him her trust.

Uncomprehending at first, Spike simply stared at the small, soft figure plastered to his chest. His eyes traveled from the shining blond hair, to the crest of her jaw line, and down the graceful curve of her neck. When they landed on the tiny pulse leaping just beneath the tip of that stubborn chin, it hit him what she was offering, what he’d never believed possible.

“You can’t leave me, Spike. I need you too much. Do what you have to now - here, where no one will stand in the way.” Buffy repressed the fear rising in her heart, willing with all her being that she was not wrong about this man - her vampire. Her demon half.

In the next instant, she knew. Her body thrilled to the knowledge as his lips touched her neck lightly, caressing the sensitive skin at the base of her throat, moving sensuously up to press the tip of his tongue into the pulse just behind her ear, his hand drawing slow, lazy circles at the base of her neck as he nuzzled the sweet silk of her hair. The low growl came next, as he pulled her into a full upright position and claimed her mouth with his own. “I will never,” he breathed as he crushed her so tightly against his body that the very air left the space between them, “turn you. One of us has to live.” For a moment, or an eternity - neither of them would ever know -- they stayed that way, locked in an embrace that was meant to be.

Then, before she realized it, he was gone - vanished into thin air. Surprise was uppermost in her mind, but with bone-certainty, she knew he’d be back. When she finished her tasks. Her rationality had returned, and she was able to think more clearly now than she had in many, many months. Only one gateway remained, bound to be the most difficult yet. Swinging her arms and humming a sprightly tune, Buffy headed for the bright spot at the end of the moonlit path. This would be the confrontation she’d been waiting for, a confrontation that she knew had to be with herself, the Slayer. And now she had the weapons with which to win her spirit free. Resolutely, Buffy took the last step into the abyss.

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

Weariness built lines of tension in both Tara and Anya’s faces as the light battled with darkness in the circle’s center. Determination won out in the end, and the fierce struggle began to abate. Staring with unseeing eyes, Tara and Anya missed the moment when it started to change, but Dawn could see it all from her viewpoint outside the circle. Against all expectation, the light was not achieving dominion over the darkness. Instead, what was happening was a melding of the two, the give and take of light and dark, pulsing through the whirlwinds.

The patterns slowed to an orderly beat around Buffy, and Dawn gasped as Spike begin to stir. He shook his head from side to side, then, realizing his position, he rose slowly to his feet. Dawn couldn’t put her finger on it, exactly, but something had changed. She pressed her hands to her lips in anticipation, worry warring with excitement in her face. The atmosphere became charged with electricity again, promising a climax to the ritual in the near future.

Willow and Xander seemed to sense the difference as well, moving to stand on either side of Dawn, waiting with tense anticipation and yelping their surprise as Tara collapsed in a heap on the floor, followed immediately by Anya. At the same moment that Xander dove to gather Anya into his arms, Willow rushed forward, unthinking, and cradled Tara’s head in her arms. Dawn stood rooted to her spot, trembling in horror.

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

Stepping into the final gateway, Buffy prepared herself for the relentless attack she knew would come. Images of Willow, performing the spell, dragging her back into a closed grave; Xander - running away at every turn, diving into sarcasm and food as an escape from guilt; Dawn, abandoned, screaming her rage at the world. Buffy held tightly to the knowledge and love she’d gained in her journey and let go of the anger and rage she’d been holding onto so dearly. The images continued, searing moments of misery, heated rage, and violent sex onto the surface of her brain. The guilt of having left them nearly overwhelmed her, as she struggled to reach the other side of the chasm.

In a moment of clarity, she realized what she had been missing all along. Not one of them held her responsible - they’d forgiven her almost before she’d left them. Forgiveness. As the truth dawned on her, as she let go, bit by tiny bit, of the crushing guilt that was so strong it was nearly a living entity inside her mind, she reached the other side. She crossed out of the final gateway keeping time with a voice breathing, “Spirit,” into the wind.

A wide desert landscape greeted her entrance into the realm. She took a step forward in the sand and gathered her strength about her. Standing tall, not wanting to waste a moment, she called out to her other, “I’m here. Let’s do this. Now.”

“I am surprised,” came the hissing whisper from a dune to the east. The dread-locked warrior walked with cat-like grace toward where Buffy stood. “You came more quickly than I’d thought. But do you know what you must do now?” questioned the beast.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Buffy stepped forward. Chin held high, she faced her ancestor head on and replied, “I do.”

“You know what you give up?” the dark-skinned female queried as she crouched and circled slowly around her adversary.

“Anger? Fear? Guilt? Oooh! Oooh! I know: season passes to Water World? Bad hair or not, you don’t scare me. Death is my gift. Yada yada yada. We going to talk about it all day, or get right to business?”

“Foolish child, do you think it is that simple? You will not die. Nor will I - together, we will live on, forever.” With that, the First Slayer dove at Buffy, dragging her to the ground with a fierce pull. The energy surrounding them came alive as they battled, sending blinding flashes of light streaking across the wide blue skies. Thunder clapped, and the lightening raged on as the two halves, light and dark, struggled against one another in a search for supremacy - existence.

Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The storm seemed to withdraw in upon itself, and quiet descended over the horizon. A lone woman lay sprawled on the sand, arms spread wide, head hung to the side, feet limp but together at the ends of outstretched legs.

Rating: NC-17
Summary: The end...just read. Way AU.
Distribution: Wherever, just ask first. These will be archived with the rest at <>
Author's note: Oh my goodness, I can't believe it's finished. Who'd have thunk it? Thanks for hanging in there with me, I know I'm slow. Feedback is most welcome -- happy, sad, mad, or glad, I'd love to hear about it.

Part Nine: Isomorphic

"What's happening in there, Spike?" Willow pleaded. "Where were you -- and where's Buffy? Are Anya and Tara with her?" she questioned urgently.

Xander's hoarse voice joined with Willow’s in questioning, the anguish in his eyes shining clear through unshed tears. "Is she alright? Will she be okay?"

Spike seemed unable to respond, standing stock still, mesmerized by the patterns of light surrounding Buffy's elevated form. His lips moved to form the words of an answer, to tell them he didn't know. No sound escaped, however, before a sudden flash of brilliance caused a negative image to burn, then collapse inward, leaving the eerie calm and broken figures of the slayer's friends and family behind.

At Buffy's disappearance, Dawn let out a harsh cry and ran to the center of the triangle, demanding her sister's return. “She’s still here,” Spike whispered. “I feel her.”

Slowly, the others began to wake, first Anya and then Tara. “She did it,” said Tara.

“Did what?” asked four voices simultaneously.

“She made it through her journeys - I was there at the last. I. . .I can’t remember what happened, but I know that she’s here somewhere.” Tara turned from Willow to look at the dazed vampire, and a slow smile spread across her face. Excitement built in her voice as she said “She’s okay. She’s really okay. Look, Willow - can’t you see it?” Tara raised a finger to point at Spike and trace a path in the air towards the door. The ribbons of energy that marked the connection between vampire and slayer had calmed. No longer a writhing snake containing a seething mass of violence, the energy in the channel flowed smoothly, purest gold entwined with royal purple, from his heart across the room to a crumpled figure near the door.

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

With a strangled sound, Spike strode towards the fallen slayer. Dawn began to follow, but dropped back to sit near Willow when Tara’s outstretched hand restrained her. As he drew near her still body, he knelt carefully to the ground, lifting a limp hand and pressing it to his cheek. Tears pooled in his eyes but did not spill. Ever so gently, he moved her limbs into a more comfortable position. Sitting back on his feet, Spike watched for long minutes as Buffy’s breath lifted her chest up and down in the rhythm of life.

Anya’s gasp of shock at what the vampire did next was the only disturbance in the room. Spike stripped off the black leather coat and spread it across Buffy. One final, tender touch of his lips to her forehead, a nearly inaudible whisper, “Goodbye,” and he rose to leave the room.

As he reached the door, Spike addressed Tara: “Do what you have to do to make her safe.” Turning then to catch Xander’s eyes, he instructed: “You explain. And take care of them.” The sound of the door closing carried a terrible mark of finality with it.

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

Dawn bit her lip in agitation. “Why is he leaving? It’s over -- Buffy’s back. What does he mean, Xander? What are you going to explain? Tara? Whatever you have to do? That doesn’t sound good. Somebody tell me what’s going on!”

Xander’s eyes wandered to Buffy’s still form across the room, back to Dawn, and finally to the sight of Willow stroking Tara’s hair. It should be easy to tell her - he’d been right. An ‘I told you so’ was definitely in order. Spike was a vampire, and the chip was broken. So why did he hesitate?

Anya poked Xander in the ribs.

“Ouch! What’d you do that for?” he griped.

“Go. Go now. Hurry - she’s waking up! You won’t catch him if you don’t hurry!”

Roused from his contemplation, Xander looked at Anya. Really looked at her. Instinctively, he stood to obey her command. Then it sunk in. Her urgency translated into Xander-terms was an epiphany: She loved him, and he didn’t want to disappoint her. And Spike loved Buffy.

He crossed the room as if demons were chasing him, while Dawn repeated her question, “Explain *what*, Xander?”

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Xander answered as he exited the room. “Got knight in shining armor business to attend to right now. Take my car to get her home if you need it. I’ll pick it up later.”

“Yes, Tara,” said Buffy as she raised up on a bent elbow. “What else do you need to do to me? And who’s Xander shining after?”

For an instant, no one moved a muscle or made a sound. And then, all at once, Buffy found herself buried under an avalanche of hair and giggles and hugs. “Guess you missed me a little, huh?” she said with a lopsided grin as they pulled her to a sitting position on the floor.

“You’re really back!” squealed Dawn. “You’re the really real Buffy!!” Her elation dimmed a touch as she looked at Tara for confirmation.

Tara gave a quick nod, then looked back at Buffy. She chewed on her lower lip as she tried to decide how to approach the subject of the bond with Spike, and the need to break it. Buffy had been so out of it, and things had been so rushed that no one had explained any of it to her.

“I’m really thirsty; let’s go get a drink,” Buffy said as she struggled to stand and failed. “Hey, where’s Spike? I think I’m done with his coat now. It’s all toasty in here. Can’t believe he’d let it out of his sight!”

Tara’s eyes didn’t quite meet the slayer’s as Willow nervously interjected, “Great googly moogly, Buffy. Let me get you a drink. You’re all tuckered out from the dimension jumping and stuff. Dawnie, why don’t you and Anya come with?”

Willow jumped up, grabbed Dawn’s arm, and headed for the door, when she heard Anya tell Buffy, “Xander went after Spike. When he left, he didn’t seem to think he was coming back. That’s why he left you his coat. I think it might have something to do with breaking the bond.” And with that, Anya followed Willow and Dawn out of the room and closed the door behind them.

Buffy clutched a handful of the leather in her hand and began to knead rhythmically. Her expression was stricken as she looked at Tara and said, “Looks like you’re nominated spokesperson Tara. What did Anya mean? Why is Xander chasing after Spike?”

Tara looked away from Buffy’s face, answering questions with a question, “Have you noticed, Buffy, that you can ‘sense’ Spike?”

“Hello! Slayer here. He’s a vampire. Of course I can sense him.” Seeing the implication in Tara’s eyes when she looked up, Buffy realized what she meant. “Oh. You mean something more. Yes. A lot more. What does that have to do with Spike leaving and Xander chasing, though? Color me very confused. And not a little worried…”

“I don’t think you need to worry about Xander, Buffy. Spike can take care of himself on that count, even with the chip. But Spike’s leaving…I - I just don’t know how to tell you this. This closeness you’ve been feeling is more than just slayer-vampire stuff. There’s some kind of an energy channel between the two of you. And truthfully, we think it might have contributed to your, ummm, anger issues. If we don’t sever this connection, his demon could send you right back where you were before we did the healing ritual. We should do it tonight, Buffy.”

“Still not understanding why he would have left, then, Tara. What’s the bottom line here?”

Again Tara looked down at the floor rather than face Buffy. “We just don’t know how it might affect Spike. There was some pretty powerful stuff running around in there - to remove the bond won’t hurt you now that your aura is whole, but it’s attached to Spike in a strange place. It comes straight from his heart.” Tara hesitated before she finished, looking straight into Buffy’s waiting eyes. “It could dust him, Buffy. And he knows it. I think that’s why he left.”

Surprise colored Tara’s expression as Buffy lit up from tip to toe. “I know what the bond is, Tara. There won’t be any severing action here tonight. Can you go find Xander, make sure Spike is okay? I’ll get Anya to drive us home.” Buffy groaned as her words landed in the air. Well, it couldn’t be any worse than what she’d just been through, could it?

Tara tilted her head to one side and considered her friend. Maybe it would be okay after all. “Alright, Buffy. But if you change your mind… I’m here for you. Let me help you to the car.”

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

Xander came crashing back into the Magic Box, nearly knocking Tara over in his haste. He grabbed her by both shoulders and shook her as he said, “Tell me you didn’t do any bond breaking yet!”

Tara smiled in relief. She hadn’t been wrong about Xander after all. Removing his hands from her shoulders, she said, “Not to worry, Xander. Buffy wasn’t having any more ‘mojo’ tonight.” She giggled a little, then, and said, “I guess you’re finally in on the secret, huh?”

Xander looked blankly at Tara for a moment, then threw up his hands. “Women! And speaking of women…where’s mine?”

“You just missed them, Xander. Anya just left with Dawn and Buffy. She was going to take them home and get them settled for what’s left of the night. Buffy’s too worn out to do anything other than sleep, and Dawn needs someone there in case there are any residual issues from the ritual. Why don’t you go over, too. I’ll lock up here.” She reached out to give Xander a hug. “You did good tonight, Xander.”

Shaking his head in wonder, Xander hugged her back. “It feels better this time, Tara. Bringing her back. It’s as if we’ve fixed something that’s been broken since long before Buffy dove off that tower.”

“I know what you mean, Xander. Just what you mean.”

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

Buffy peered around the edges of the curtain into the cave he’d made his bedroom. Dawn was right--the place had definite possibilities. Cute tinkerbell lights, too. There were open cardboard boxes strewn around the room. It looked like Xander was right, as well, Spike was obviously packing up. She wondered why he didn’t realize she was present when she noticed the whiskey bottle in his hand. A few minutes to contemplate-- good.

For the first time with a clear conscience, Buffy let her eyes travel over the lounging vampire, soaking in the sheer pleasure of the view. That shining blond hair, thick and soft under her grasping fingers. Broad, unlined forehead, a vast expanse of unexplored skin that made her fingers itch to wander across and down the baby soft line of his jaw. And, ahhhh. Those eyes. Those incredible, bottomlessly blue eyes. Without effort, they could go from the twinkling baby blue of a clear summer day to the murky depths of a stormy midnight sea - and take her along for the ride. A wild ride, to be sure, but nothing compared to the ride those lips and that tongue - Oh! that tongue -- invited her to explore. She felt the clenching in her gut, a wave of heat tearing through her as memory brought to life the shivers of sheer pleasure that mouth could awake in her. Her breathing became shallow and fast as her eyes traveled across the square, powerful shoulders encased in a dark blue shirt. She could hear the suction of his lips leaving the bottle, see the pale pink tip of his tongue caress the glass rim as the hollows of those amazing cheekbones became momentarily deeper. Imagination took over completely, and her eyes closed involuntarily when the shock of his voice roused her even farther. A shudder ran through her from stem to stern, and stepping fully into the room, she opened her eyes to meet his.

"Come to rub it in, Slayer?" he slurred. "What did you think I'd do? Hang around so you could watch me turn to dust? I told you I was through with your games."

"I don't quite know what I think," she whispered. "I don't want you to... I mean... Don’t you remember, Spike?"


The trial wasn’t quite over yet, then. With a roll of her eyes and a small toss of her hair, Buffy sat on the trunk at the end of the bed with her back facing Spike. She pulled off her shoes and Spike’s duster, heaving a huge sigh. “We’re going to have to go through all this again, aren’t we?”

"What’re you talking about, slayer? You come back more of a loon than before? What a wasted lot of effort. . ." He got up from the bed and walked around to face her. “Don’t like it when you don’t look at me when you’re talking,” he said.

“I’m not talking.” Buffy stood up and turned, bending over to open the trunk. The skirt was pretty short -- maybe an eyeful would wake him up. She tossed things around, searching amongst the junk. She knew they were in here, somewhere. Aha! Old habits die hard, it seemed, and there were the boots she needed. Closing the trunk, she sat down , eyes locked on his as she pulled the tall black boots on. “There. That’s better,” she said.

“I must be insane,” she muttered to herself. Then, to the befuddled and semi-drunk vampire, “Let’s try a little role reversal, shall we?” Licking her lips, she began a slow catwalk to where he now stood.

Spike was mesmerized, and more than a little confused. But his instincts were still working, even if his brain wasn’t. And it was becoming very difficult to pretend he was unaffected by her presence. The very air seemed to sing her arousal at him - that had to be the whiskey talking. Kinda nice that the “severing” didn’t dust him, he thought, but the damned chip was still out of commission. Must be busted forever. Was she out for kicks before she staked him, then? His mind continued at a fevered pitch while his eyes were glued on her slow approach.

Time for rationality passed when she stood within breathing distance and poked a finger straight at his chest. Pushing emphatically at each stop to punctuate her words, Buffy said, “You. Are. An. Idiot.” Shoving him back against the wall with the flat of her hand and looking up so that her nose was at chin level and her breath on his neck, she finished, “But you are *my* idiot.”

Following that pronouncement, she pinned him to the wall with her body, straddling her legs on either side of his. She reached up and pulled his head downward, as if to whisper in his ear.

Utterly incapable of resisting, he cooperated. What could she say that would be any worse than he’d already heard? It was almost too much when her words emerged, hot and wet and real against the sensitive skin behind his ear. She lay her head on his shoulder and nuzzled: “And I love you.”

A magical force descended on the scene, and time stood still. For a second, for a minute - forever.

Buffy pulled back to see his face, to be sure that he’d heard her. She watched the questions that filled his mind play across his face - the wonder in his eyes, so beautiful. And all for her. Wordless, now, she stepped back a hairsbreadth to catch one hand in hers and bring it in to her heart. She reached up to touch his cheek, her eyes imploring him for a response.

His mouth moved, and he swallowed air as if trying to speak. But no words passed his lips. Buffy was entranced by the movement of the small knob in his throat, and unable to resist, leaned in to place a small kiss there. As her lips touched his skin, he dropped her hand and pulled her tightly to his chest. “I remember,” he breathed, pulling her head up to reach her lips. “And this is where we left off.”

Waves of pure joy and relief washed over her body as she dove headlong into his embrace. The world disappeared, completely this time, and a new one opened up, dragging them willingly to experience love as it was meant to be.

Somehow they made their way across the room, his lips devouring her every step of the way, her tongue demanding as much as it gave in the heated dance. As they fell back onto the bed, Buffy splayed her hands across the midnight silk of his shirt, popping buttons, grasping the cool fabric and pulling it rapidly away in her urgent need to feel hands on flesh, to revel in the smooth marble of his torso. Needy fingers played across the hard muscles of his chest while teeth and tongue explored the peaks and valleys of his collarbone. Delight filled her body at his tense reaction to her discovery of his nipples. They hardened to small pebbles as she licked her way around the slightly darker skin. Circling her tongue around and around again, she began to suck, first lightly, then with more force, until he bucked up and away in reaction.

“Too. many. clothes,” he whispered. He pulled her shirt over her head, trapping her arms in the process. Keeping a light hold on the shirt with one hand, he ripped the black skirt in two with the other. Clothing dealt with, he pushed her down into the bed to trace his tongue up the gentle curve of her belly. He stopped for a moment to pay careful attention to her navel, dipping his tongue in and out again and causing Buffy to squirm wildly beneath him. She pulled her arms free of the shirt and grabbed at his shoulders. His mouth continued its journey up her body, that clever tongue sliding beneath the wisp of black silk that served as her bra while his fingers worked to release the clasp. She wanted to demand that he give her hungry mouth occupation, but he snatched the thought from her head by focusing on the work of kissing her breasts. His tongue brushed over one nipple, and she thought she would die from the exquisite torment, when he began to suckle. She threw her head back whimpering, “Spike!”

He raised his head a bit to say, “Shhhh,” an evil little grin on his face. “Turnabout’s fair play, isn’t it?” Then he bent to his task again, fanning the flames of desire to a white-hot frenzy in her very core. Just when she thought she could stand no more, his lips began to burn a trail of fire and ice over her shoulder and up her neck, finally reaching her mouth while he slid a hand down her side and over her hip.

Dancing fingers teased across the tops of her thighs, over the band of her panties, and up the center of her abdomen. The muscles of her stomach spasmed at his touch, driving her to fold a foot beneath her buttocks to catch the edge of the black silk and drag it back down her legs. Furiously, she lifted her hips, grinding against the soft denim and cold buttons covering his groin while her hands pushed ineffectively at the waistband.

She heard a little chuckle escape his lips as his hand moved lower, dragging slightly bent fingers across the source of her heat. “Not yet, luv.” At the first touch of his finger in her core, Buffy dragged her mouth away from his, throwing her head violently back into the satin bed-sheets. A single finger dipped in at first, sliding in and out, then back in again. She lifted her hips, swallowing first that finger, then another deep within her. Her entire body began to shudder when he bent one finger at the knuckle, dragging it rhythmically against her engorged clit as he dove inward again and again. She dangled on the precipice of climax, holding on by sheer will, his head moving downward, a wicked glint in his eye. She mewled her displeasure when his hand ceased it’s arousing dance, then nearly flew out of the bed as it was replaced by the wet touch of his mouth. Caught up in the rush of ecstasy his mouth and his tongue evoked in her, she arched up against him and raised her knees, crying out her pleasure as the waves of climax wracked her body for unending moments.

Rational thought returned despite the continued lapping of his tongue against her heat, and Buffy pulled her hands back from their ballet with the muscles of his back and gave a great shove, flipping their positions on the bed. Determined now that his pleasure would equal hers, she tore open his jeans and pulled them slowly down his legs. The offending garment dealt with, she remained still a moment, allowing her eyes to travel down his glorious length. Excited by the knowledge that he was watching, she bent to kiss the inside of his knee. She continued on her path, running a trail of fiery kisses up the rough inside of his thigh while her fingers danced just out of reach of his erection.

A shudder ran through his body as her head neared the hand now drawing lazy circles in the wiry hairs covering his groin. Buffy raised her eyes to see the haze in his deep blue eyes, shooting him a deliberate look as she took his length into her mouth. His hands gripped her head as she moved slowly up and down, feeling under the ridge with her tongue, squeezing with the suction of her cheekbones while her hands traced a pattern back and forth over the sensitive skin beneath his scrotum. She felt his body tense as she increased her pace. Knowing that he was near release, she opened her eyes once again to catch his gaze, squeezing his sac and drawing him in far enough to touch the back of her throat.

Spike roared his pleasure as the first spasms of orgasm began to shake his body. Unwilling to ride the crest alone, he slid his hips out of her reach and jerked her body beneath his in a single fluid motion. He couldn't wait to be inside her any longer. He knelt between her thighs, lifting her hips as he entered her with one powerful thrust. Spike wanted to be gentle, to take it slowly this time, but control deserted him. Her sweet cries and her passionate kisses drove him on. It was impossible to hold back.

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

“It’s beautiful. Thank you for bringing me here. I needed to see this.” Dawn put her head on Tara’s shoulder as they watched the colors light up the nighttime sky. “Do you think they’ll be okay now?”

Tara put an arm around Dawn, “It’s hard to say, Dawn. There are so many things stacked against them. But you know - some things are just meant to be.”

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

Eternities passed as Buffy and Spike moved in timeless rhythm. Yin and yang, twinned manus, over and over through the night, light surging into darkness and fire into ice. Soaring from the depths of their passion to the heights of pleasure and back again, they moved together. The balance of color and dark merged, over and back, flowing and restless. Always seeking.

Loving. Giving. Forgiving