Chapter Twenty Six
By the time she had countered a surprisingly agile and potentially deadly attack from the deceivingly ancient-seeming vampire facing her, Buffy was more than grateful for Spike’s more vigorous training sessions. Only the stamina he’d forced her to develop kept her muscles fresh and her reflexes sharp enough to prevent the fight from having a short, fatal ending. The Master’s lips parted in a parody of a smile.
“It’s been a while since I was truly challenged,” he purred. “This might be more fun than I expected.”
“This might be more terminal than you expected,” she muttered, attacking with a ferocity that surprised both of them. Visions of being bitten and left to drown in a puddle mixed with scenes of waking from nightmares that he had returned from the grave. Nightmares that she remembered didn’t end until she had destroyed his minions and turned his bones into a fine powder. Fueled by a combination of fear and fury, she pressed her attack, ignoring the blows that she couldn’t dodge and striking the snarling vampire over and over again.
Behind her she could hear the snarling and snapping of the horde of vamps that Spike was attempting to keep away from the dais, and for the first time she worried that she might have doomed them both by refusing to leave when they had a chance. She saw the Master’s eyes light up and risked a glance over her shoulder to find that Spike was being pushed closer and closer to the stage upon which she was facing only one vampire while he was fighting a dozen at a time. Only the lack of space in the long narrow room and his own uncanny ability to sense the direction from which the next attack was going to come kept him from being completely surrounded.
Spike’s ability to keep the outraged and hungry vamps at bay was gradually succumbing to the sheer numbers that kept him constantly facing newer, fresher opponents, even as he dusted the ones closest to him. He was forced back, his arms dripping blood from newly opened wounds, and one eye swollen almost shut from a kick that had got past his usual defense.
When he was forced to use the last of his energy to jump onto the stage where he could use his booted feet to temporarily form a barricade of unconscious bodies, he could feel Buffy behind him.
“Might be time to re-think leaving, love,” he grunted, grabbing the Master’s throne and swinging it like a large, unwieldy mace. “I can hold them off long enough for you to get back to the window.”
“I’m not leaving you here!” Her shocked reply warmed his heart even while it brought a groan from his throat.
“Buffy, I can’t hold them much longer. Either dust that ugly old bugger, or get your sweet little arse out of here while you can.”
She risked another quick look at the exhausted vampire, seeing the truth of his words. He was wielding the chair by sheer force of will; blood flowed freely from wounds both large and small as he tried to remain strong. The moment’s inattention gave the Master the opening for which he’d been waiting and suddenly Buffy was clutched against his chest, her arms pinned, her stake clenched uselessly in her hand. The old vampire’s fetid breath made her gag as he laughed in her ear.
Buffy struggled vainly, the Master’s superior strength making it easy for him to keep her immobile while he gloated loud enough to be heard by the other vampires in the room.
“Look at this. It turns out Slayers are just little girls, with soft skin and warm blood – just like any other piece of food.”
Spike whirled, trying in vain to avoid the hands clawing at him from behind as his deadly feet and fists were no longer facing the crowd. Buffy moaned as she watched him get dragged onto the floor where, still screaming her name, he disappeared under a pile of snarling, snapping vampires.
“Spike!” Her terrified scream had barely left her throat when there was an ear-splitting shockwave that left every vampire in the room clutching his ears and shaking his head. Before they could recover, they began exploding into dust, the survivors spinning around in confusion as they tried to identify their new enemy.
Filling the space behind the Master, who was trying to maintain his grip on Buffy even as he shook his own head in an attempt to clear his ringing ears, was a large, glowing portal out of which came a rain of crossbow bolts and stakes. As Buffy tore herself free of the Master’s deadly embrace, she whirled and drove her stake through his heart in one smooth move.
Not even waiting for his dust to settle, she dove off the dais and pulled the few remaining vamps off Spike, flinging them aside without even bothering to stake them. She fell to her knees beside the unconscious blond on the floor, holding his head in her lap and begging him to open his eyes and tell her he was going to be okay. Tears fell freely onto his battered face, washing weak pink trickles of blood down his cheeks and onto her lap.
Over her head, the barrage of crossbow bolts was taking its toll on the remaining vampires still trying to get into the room. Those closer to Spike and Buffy were rapidly disappearing as a duplicate Spike and Buffy threw stakes with unerring accuracy and force. Safely behind that Spike and Buffy, as well as Angel and Faith who were continuing the deadly and systematic fusillade of wooden crossbow bolts, Dawn was cheering and shouting.
“See! I told you I’d come up with something!”
None of the attacking vampires had noticed that the reinforcements had not stepped outside the portal’s walls, and, as their numbers dwindled, those that could began to slip away. They retreated through the ruined doorway into what had been the blood disbursing room, only to be met by a group of angry humans wielding holy water, more crossbows, and stakes. Those that successfully ran the gauntlet of vengeful humans quickly disappeared into the woods, vowing to find real jobs and to buy their blood from butchers in the future.
Buffy had paid little attention to the activity around her, raising her head only when she heard Dawn’s triumphant shout. She stared in amazement as her own face stared back at her briefly before the Buffy who was now living in her body returned to methodically dusting the vampires left in the room. To that Buffy’s left, another, somehow softer-appearing version of Spike, winked at her while still throwing his own stakes with competent and joyful accuracy.
Buffy frowned in confusion at the dark-haired girl who was loading and firing a crossbow with calm expertise and a fluid motion that should have been impossible for a mere human. Beside her was a much larger man, his face achingly familiar.
“Angel,” she breathed. He faltered for a second, looking at her and the unconscious vampire that she was holding so tenderly, then turned back to his skillful shooting. On her lap she felt Spike tremble and she glanced down happily, only to find him forcing his abused body off her lap. His face, what could be seen of it, was as closed and unreadable as she’d ever seen it and she recoiled involuntarily from the coldness there.
When she flinched, Spike pulled himself completely away from her and struggled to sit up, leaning his back against the stage and watching dispassionately as the four new arrivals decimated the mob that had been attacking him. Buffy stared at him in confusion, not yet realizing that she had spoken Angel’s name aloud. When he resolutely continued to face away from her, she got slowly to her feet and stepped up on the stage to hug Dawn. The dimension-jumping Key had stepped out from the shelter of the portal as soon as it became clear that she would be in no danger and she was now looking back and forth between Buffy and Spike with a frown on her face.
“What’s with him?” she asked. “It seems to me he should be thanking me for saving his butt, not pouting.”
“I’m not pouting,” came the growl from the floor. The first words he had spoken since awakening on Buffy’s lap to find her staring at his grandsire with her mouth open and Angel’s name still on her lips.
“So, then, you’re just brooding?” The other Spike’s voice carried just a slight edge to it as he recognized immediately what was wrong with his unsouled self.
There was no response but a murderous glare from the battered vampire now struggling to pull himself to his feet. Without thinking, Buffy rushed to his side and put his arm over her shoulders. He stiffened when he felt her touch, but was too unsteady on his feet to pull away.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, not bothering to lower her voice.
“What’s wrong is the stupid wanker has forgotten what I said in the note I sent him and he’s about to do something bloody stupid. And probably for no good reason,” he added, taking a look at Buffy’s anxious face and making a shrewd guess about her feelings for his younger self.
Once Spike had reached the stage again, he sat down heavily and removed his arm from Buffy’s shoulders, giving her a little shove and saying with forced calmness, “Guess you’ll be wantin’ to say some ‘hellos’ then, won’t you?’”
Before she could respond, Angel had walked to the very edge of the portal to stare at the unfamiliar Buffy now frowning at the Spike he assumed was the one he had fought with in Sunnydale. The Spike who had been replaced by the souled version standing closely beside “his” Buffy, now lost to him. He drank in the mature face and body of the woman outside the portal, searching for some sign of the innocent little girl that he’d known before.
Buffy smiled back at him tremulously, her heart rate going up as she finally realized what was wrong with Spike. Her eyes darted back and forth between the two vampires, one waiting quietly for her to speak to him, the other staring intently at the ruined doorway at the other end of the room. Biting her lip, she smiled at Angel again and whispered, “Hi, Angel. Thanks for coming.”
Warm brown eyes peered into hers until he saw what he was looking for; then he nodded as if to himself and said with a sad smile, “You’re welcome, Buffy. I’m glad we could help. And I’m glad to see that you’ve survived here...and that you aren’t alone.”
Spike’s whole body twitched at his grandsire’s words, but he stubbornly refused to turn around. While everyone else in the room could see that Buffy’s attention was completely focused on his stiff back, he continued to believe that she was staring at Angel with adoring eyes and a wistful smile.
Angel turned to the Spike within the portal and grinned. “I see he’s not any smarter than you are,” he said with great satisfaction. “Too busy feeling inferior to see what’s right in front of his face.”
With a growl at his grandsire, Spike shouted at the blood-soaked version of himself, “Oi! Quit behaving like a bloody wanker and talk to the girl.”
With a silencing glare at both vampires, Buffy moved closer to her younger doppleganger and said softly, “Just tell him. He needs to hear it.” She had been watching the younger Buffy’s face constantly since the fighting had tapered off, and she knew herself well enough to understand what she was seeing. She also knew that there was no way that Spike was going to believe that she would choose him over Angel unless Buffy made it very clear. And she knew herself well enough to know that it was only a question of time before the vampire’s behavior caused the younger Buffy to lose her own temper and make things worse.
“What if he doesn’t believe me?” Buffy asked the mirror image frowning at her from within the glowing walls. “All I’ve done the whole time he’s known me is talk about Angel.” She saw the dark-haired vampire start to preen and sent him an apologetic smile as she added, “Well, not so much lately, I guess. I’ve kinda...moved on.”
A satisfied, “Ha!” from the older Spike and a growl from Angel had Faith stepping between the two Sunnydale vampires and holding up her hands.
“Easy there, guys. Let B handle this. It’s not like either one of you is in a position to do anything about it anyway.”
The reminder that they could not step outside the portal’s walls without risking serious damage to the fabric between dimensions was all it took to defuse the building tension. Angel’s gradual acceptance of Spike’s soul and his place in Buffy’s life had gone a long way towards reconciling the differences between the two vampires and they no longer looked for reasons to try to kill each other. Most of the time they managed to co-exist relatively peacefully, even though Spike’s soul wasn’t a sufficient hindrance to his constant needling of the older vampire. And Angel’s acceptance of Spike’s place on the side of Good wasn’t enough to prevent him from finding the younger vampire a constant source of annoyance.
Ignoring the conversation going on behind her, Buffy continued to prod her younger self to cross the few feet between her and the still-pouting vampire. “Just tell him,” she urged. “He heard you say Angel’s name and he thinks that’s who you were worried about.”
With sudden understanding, Buffy remembered her gasp of recognition when she’d first realized who was holding the other crossbow. She nodded silently and walked the few steps to where Spike was sitting. She knelt down behind him and put her arms around him gently. When he didn’t push her away, she moved closer and put her mouth close to his ear.
“I don’t love him anymore,” she whispered. “I was just surprised to see him. I have a new boyfriend now, and I...I think I love him more than I ever did Angel. Even if he is kind of a stubborn poophead sometimes,” she added when he didn’t respond to her except to take a sudden surprised breath.
With a snort of laughter, he finally relaxed against her and turned his face to hers.
“I’m makin’ a right arse of myself, aren’t I?” he admitted, gazing into her eyes with a mixture of awe and embarrassment.
“You are,” she agreed. “But it’s okay, cause you just helped me dust the Master and his minions so you get a free pass for being a hero.”
“You love me?” he asked, abruptly changing the subject. “Did you mean that?” His eyes searched hers with an intensity that was almost frightening.
She nodded, forcing herself to maintain eye contact. “I meant it. When I thought you were going to be dust, I wanted to die too. I couldn’t be here without you, Spike. I wouldn’t want to live without you.”
“I’m sorry I’m such an insecure wanker,” he whispered, brushing his lips against hers. “I just love you so bloody much, and...”
“You can show me later,” she smiled against his mouth before moving back and standing up. “Now we’ve got people to thank and then I have to get you home and start taking care of you.”
She extended her hand and, with more effort than he cared to admit to, he got to his feet and stood beside her to face the curious group in the portal. Dawn ran over to him and hugged first him and then Buffy, exclaiming, “I was so afraid we wouldn’t get here in time; and when I saw you go down...”
“Ah, I’m tougher than that, Little Sis. But thank you for bringing in reinforcements. Came in right handy, they did,” he said with a nod at the two slayers and older vampires facing them with grins on their faces.
He studied the Buffy inside the portal, recognizing the more rounded body and wiser eyes that he’d first seen what seemed so long ago.
“You’re lookin’ good, love,” he said softly. “Bein’ with a vamp what has his soul seems to be agreein’ with you.”
“You look good, too, Spike,” she responded with a warm smile. “Or, well, you look happy anyway. Good probably isn’t the right word for the way you look right now, but...I’m stopping now. It’s nice to see you again,” she finished with a flustered laugh.
He laughed too, and pulled his Buffy into his side. “Nothin’ like the love of a good woman to make a man – or a vamp - feel like he could take on the world.”
“You look like you did take on the world,” Dawn said dryly. “I think I need to get you guys home so you can lick your wounds. I’ll just return the reinforcements to Sunnydale and be right back.”
“Why don’t you take everybody back to our house?” Buffy asked, smiling as Spike squeezed her hand. “Then I can patch Spike up while you explain who she is,” she said, pointing to Faith, “and how you did this.”
Dawn shook her head. “How are you going to get back without me? He can’t drive in that condition.”
“I bloody well can,” Spike growled indignantly, his bravado not quite making up for the fact that he was swaying on his feet and leaning heavily on the Slayer.
“You can not. You can barely stand.” Dawn dismissed him with a wave of her hand and turned to the others waiting in the portal. “How about if I take you guys to their house and then come back and get them? It’ll only take an hour or so to drive them home.”
“Why doesn’t one of them drive us?” Buffy scrunched her face up, wondering why, with four other adults present, Dawn felt she needed to drive them home.
“They can’t step outside the portal,” she explained. “I can, for some reason, but if anything else bigger than say a rat or a maybe cat does it, bad things can happen.” She shuddered and didn’t elaborate on what those ‘bad things’ might be.
“Yeah, big ‘Oh’. Okay, you guys ready to go?”
Without waiting for an answer, she stepped into the portal and pulled it around herself and her four companions, disappearing with another louder than normal clap of thunder. Buffy felt Spike wince and she began rubbing his ears while he groaned at the additional insult to his already battered body. He leaned on her briefly, then forced himself upright.
“Let’s go then, love. Where did you leave the car? Do you think Little Sis will be able to find it if we wait for her there?”
“I’m sure she will. She’s the one who drove it here. But we need to find some blood for you first. Stay here.”
She lowered him to the floor of the stage again, smiling at his attempt to look disgruntled about being babied. She brushed her lips across his and said, “I’m going to go see if there’s any blood left in those vats out there. Okay?”
He nodded, closing his eyes and resting his head on his knees.
“Go on, pet. I’ll be fine here. I’ll jus’ rest a minute...” He slumped forward and Buffy grabbed him just in time to lower his head to the floor and turn him so that he was lying on his side.
“You do that,” she whispered, kissing his forehead.
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