DISCLAIMER: We know they're Joss', right? Which really is a shame, because most of the time, we're so much nicer to them than he was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Other!Spike found the necessary spell to kill Adam, while Spike successfully ended up at the high school, only to run into Tara...

* * *

The soft knock at the door surprised both of them, both heads turning to stare at it at the same time. It took only a moment for Spike to reach and stub out his cigarette. “It’s Tara,” he said in explanation.

Buffy hopped up from where she sat on the floor. “She’s probably got her arms full with breakfast. I’ll help her while you try and pretend you don’t smoke in your room behind her back.”

Spike’s low chuckle followed her to the doorway. Her step was lighter than it had been earlier, some of the tension about the situation dissipated. Though they hadn’t talked about the sex any further, Spike’s admission had paved a smoother path for their conversation, allowing them to discuss strategy about getting to Adam without rancor. Keeping a physical distance had helped as well. Buffy couldn’t ignore the fact that being in Spike’s presence – other dimension or not – had always had an effect on her. They didn’t need a repeat of the cafeteria freezer.

“I hope you brought enough,” she joked as she pulled open the door for Tara. “I’m so hungry, I think I could eat a…” Her gaze fell not on the alternate version of her friend but on the blond standing behind her, and Buffy’s world constricted. “…Spike.”

He looked mostly the same. The coat was gone, but he still wore his black t-shirt and jeans, forearms pale and muscular where they were exposed. His face was slightly fuller, like he’d had an opportunity to gain back some of the weight he’d lost those last two awful years in Sunnydale, and there was a solidity to him that made her stand up straighter.

The eyes were what killed her, though. Soft, fixed on her as if he was drowning and she his only rescue. There was that same wariness that had accompanied most of their interaction that year with the First hanging around. There was the flare buried beneath the blue, the passion he’d kept veiled so closely after the soul.

And there was life.

Spike. Her Spike.

Was alive.

The bed creaked, the steady footfalls of this dimension’s Spike coming up behind her audible, but she couldn’t tear her gaze away from the spectacle at the doorway

“Well, this just got buggered all good and proper, didn’t it?” said a dry voice behind her.

Her Spike looked up then, past Buffy’s shoulder. His nostrils flared, and the sudden snap of his eyes back to hers brought a charge of heat up the back of her neck.

“I know what this looks like…” Tara’s voice was smooth and gentle, but it did little to alleviate the hammering of Buffy’s heart. “He’s from your dimension, Buffy. His aura is exactly like yours.”

She wanted to say it wasn’t possible. She wanted to say she had watched him die, and that if Spike had found some way to survive the collapse of the Hellmouth, he would have found a way to tell her. She wanted to say a lot of things.

Her Spike spoke first.

“The bloody Immortal?” he said, in obvious annoyance.

The snort from behind was cut off with a quick elbow to this dimension’s Spike’s ribs – and god, she was going to have to sort out some kind of naming system for these two or her brain was going to go even more screwy than it already was. It served a valid purpose, though. It helped her snap out of the fugue that had settled around her at seeing another ghost made real, this one more deadly in its power to hurt her than all the others combined.

Stepping out into the hall, Buffy grabbed her Spike’s arm and pulled him away from the doorway.

“Not counting the fact that you’re not supposed to be alive,” she hissed, “but how the hell are you even here? Did you do something to Paolo? How did you get into his house?” Her eyes widened. “Oh god. Please tell me there weren’t cattle prods involved.”

Another snort, this time from her Spike. “Cattle prod’s too good for the wanker,” he said. “And I’m here to drag your ass back before it’s too late.” Though he didn’t shrug off her grip, his strong hand wrapped around her elbow in some weird sort of fraternity handshake. “Let’s save show and tell for after Rupert magics us back, all right? I’ll answer any question you’ve got then.”

Buffy yanked herself away, disengaging completely. “I’m not going anywhere. Not yet.”

“What? Why?” He stared at her in disbelief before his eyes flickered to the pair she knew stood and watched. With a malicious curl of his lip, Spike jerked a thumb at his counterpart. “Because of him? Hate to break it to you, pet, but when it comes to sharing your stage, he’s the soddin’ understudy.”

The other Spike’s “Oy!” and Tara’s offended “Hey!” was a chorus behind them that Buffy easily ignored. She was too busy getting pissed off at the vampire she still had standing in front of her.

“Contrary to popular belief and your many grand delusions,” Buffy ground out, “not everything revolves around sex. Sex doesn’t have to mean I love you, or be the big confession of undying devotion. Not even sex with you. Or him. Or any of you.”

“So you did shag him.” He looked so smug, she wanted to slap the smirk off his face. “Bet your beloved Immortal will love to hear about that. ‘Bout bloody time he got some of his own back.”

“Some of his own…?” She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation. She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with Spike. “This is so not about any of that,” she argued. “You have no idea what this place is about. If you did---.”

“Know a hell of a lot more than you think. Always did.” He jabbed her in the shoulder. “Your so-called boyfriend has a fetish for storing up dimensions like snowglobes from Disneyland. This place? The answer to some choice you made that Thanksgiving I got used for bullseye practice and you went hunting for bears.”

Buffy went pale at his all-too accurate assessment of the situation. He’d obviously seen the room, seen all the clocks keeping their silent, frozen times. And he knew without having to interrogate half the local inhabitants when the timelines had diverged. It didn’t quell her rising anger, though.

“And yet, in spite of knowing all that, you’re still jumping to conclusions.” She shook her head. “Gee, and here I thought those near-death experiences were supposed to give people fresh outlooks on their lives. Obviously, I’ve been the victim of Hollywood manipulation.”

His mouth opened to retort, and Buffy braced herself for the gibe to come flying back at her. Instead of letting loose the harsh words she expected, though, Spike closed his mouth again, a sly gleam appearing in his eyes. He lifted the same finger he’d used to poke her with to mirror the slow shake of his head.

“I don’t think so, pet,” he said, amusement in his voice. “Maybe these are the games you’ve been playing with Spike Junior back there, and yeah, maybe I am tempted to stand here and argue with you until you’re so wet I can taste you. But I’ve been down this merry road before, remember? And if you think I’m giving you the excuse you need to fob me off when you’re done with me this time, you haven’t come quite so far as I thought you had. ‘Course, you’ve been bedding with the Immortal, so far is relative. But still…”

Buffy was stopped from slapping the smirk off his face for real this time by Tara’s gentle hand on her arm. “Maybe you and I should go get that breakfast,” Tara said. “Give everybody time to cool off a little bit.” She glanced at Spike. “Can taking Buffy back wait fifteen minutes?”

“I already said. I’m not going---.”

“Yeah,” Spike interrupted. “But it’s not so much about me taking her away as it is Buffy bein’ willing to go back. We’ve been tryin’ to get her out of here for hours now, but she’s fighting us every step of the way.” His gaze returned to Buffy, that smile still lingering. “Know you wouldn’t be you without a little fire in your belly, but you’ve only got a matter of hours before your body back in our world can’t take the stress any more, pet.”

Her head was spinning from all the explanations flying back and forth, not to mention the fact that she was discussing dimensional hopping with a vampire who shouldn’t even exist. Buffy grasped onto the one detail that she knew she could always rely upon.

“My body?” Her hands felt over her torso. She felt real enough. Everything felt the same. A little sore, maybe, from messing around with the other Spike on a hard, concrete floor, but those kind of bruises wouldn’t be visible through her shirt, torn as it might be. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh!” Tara brightened. “Remember how I said it looked like your aura was trapped? You’re probably in both places.”

Well, that made more sense. Though she sincerely hoped that her body back home hadn’t been acting out what she was doing here. If Giles really was trying to get her back, the last thing he would want to see was her unconscious body writhing around someplace as she came.

She needed time to think about this. “You said I have a few hours yet, right?” Buffy pressed Spike.

“Well, yeah, but---.”

“Then we’re going to go get something to eat while Spike…” She gestured back to where this dimension’s Spike lounged in the doorway, watching the exchange. “…can fill you in on what’s going on. Because I’m not going back until I’ve done what I have to, and as long as you’re here, I’m putting you to work. More muscle is always good. Especially when it comes to Adam.” She tucked her arm into Tara’s. “We’ll be right back.”

* * *

Spike wanted to grab Buffy’s arm and demand she not go, but getting into a fight with her – more than they already had – was the last thing he wanted. The last thing he’d expected was to see her with another version of himself, and to think that that was at least a contributing factor to why she might not be willing to let go of this dimension had made hope flare deep inside his heart. Unfortunately, Spike had always had problems expressing hope properly, and it often found its way into his words via inappropriate means. Like bragging. And smug satisfaction. And sarcasm.

Spike eyed the other version of himself warily. Without Buffy to distract him, he could measure the differences, the grown-out hair, the gaunt appearance. The other him looked ready to attack at a moment’s notice, like a feral cat brought into a private residence, but there was no fear in his posture. If anything, Spike thought he almost looked curious.

“Slayer said…” Oh. The other him was speaking. “…you got a soul. That true?”

Spike tilted his head, eyes narrowing in speculation. “Buffy talked about me, did she? What else did she say?”

Other Spike snorted. “Precious little in the end. Spent too much time telling me how we’re different, tryin’ to remind herself that I’m not the one she cared about.” He jabbed a finger at Spike, taking a step closer. “And you still haven’t answered the bloody question. Don’t think I didn’t notice that.”

“Yeah. I have a soul. She tell you why I got it?”

“Said ‘cause you loved her. That you two never really talked about why you got it.”

The response made sense. Though so much had been settled between them after his return to Sunnydale, he and Buffy had never had a heart-to-heart about that awful night in the bathroom. For some reason, the fact that she’d admitted that to this version of himself filled Spike with even more hope about what might happen when he got her back home.

“Just out of curiosity,” Spike asked, “whose idea was the shagging?”

Other Spike smirked. “Bit of both, really. Though she was the first to kiss me last night. Never would’ve considered it, but she’s rather a good armful once you’ve got a hold of her. Drove me to distraction with bein’ so wet all the time, and then every time she got good and brassed off…” He clapped his hands together in a sudden burst of noise. “Hard to argue with her when she’s got her mouth glued to yours, isn’t it? Is that a trick you taught her?”

There was a small part of Spike that was jealous as hell at all the kisses Buffy seemed to have bestowed on this other Spike, thoughts of how easily it seemed that she would jump into his arms when he had struggled to get her to even acknowledge the kisses they did share.

But that small part was squashed quite thoroughly by a swell of smug pride. Because, ultimately, it was about Buffy wanting him. It might take some time when they got back, and it might take some doing, but Spike knew he could get her back to his way of thinking. Maybe they could have a real future together. Maybe they could start over. Hell, if nothing else, he’d make sure she’d never want to shag the bloody Immortal again. It wouldn’t be his top choice, but it would more than do in a pinch.

Getting Buffy back would best, though. Without a doubt.

“So,” Spike said, his mood lifted, “what’s this I hear about Adam?”

* * *

Angel stared at Buffy’s sleeping form, trying to ignore the heavy sighs coming from Giles or the way the Watcher took off his glasses to rub his eyes. At the foot of the bed, Daniel was blowing out his candle, keeping his gaze well away from the others as he scurried to gather up the bit from the spell. Thank god they’d banished Ilona to the downstairs study while they attempted to rouse Buffy again. Angel was pretty sure in his current mood that he would have snapped her neck.

“It’s not working, Giles,” he growled. After tossing his extinguished candle onto the bed, Angel shoved his hands into his pits in order to keep from lashing out. “Why isn’t it working?”

Another sigh. “I suppose the obvious answer is that Spike hasn’t found Buffy yet,” Giles replied. “He has only been gone for half an hour. We’ve no way of ascertaining where he might have entered the dimension, or even, if it was the correct dimension.”

“So, let’s wake him up and ask him.”

“He’s only been gone for thirty minutes,” Giles reiterated. “We have to allow him time to do what needs to be done. And besides…” He lifted his tired eyes to meet Angel’s. “…do you honestly believe he’ll respond to the waking spell without Buffy already back?”

Angel scowled. It was exactly what he’d told Ilona when she’d pressed the issue. It didn’t mean he had to like it, though.

“According to Ilona’s assessment, and based on Daniel’s calculations, we have ten hours before Buffy’s fever reaches critical levels. We’ll simply attempt the recovery spell every half hour until she wakes.”

“And if she doesn’t wake up?”

Giles came around the end of the bed to pick up the tea that he had left sitting on the desk. He grimaced at its cooler temperature, but drank it down anyway while Angel waited for a reaction.

“Well?” Angel demanded impatiently.

“There is no ‘well’,” Giles snapped. His teacup rattled from the force he put it back down on the desk. “As much as it might pain us to admit it, Spike is our best chance at getting Buffy back. If he doesn’t succeed…” He stopped, taking a deep breath. When he spoke again, his voice had returned to its normal softer tone. “He’ll succeed.”

As he watched Giles leave the room with Daniel close on his heels, Angel wondered who it was Giles was trying to convince – Angel or himself.

 

To be continued in Chapter 20