Disclaimer: All characters herein are the brain-children of Joss Whedon. No matter how I’ve twisted them, they’re not mine, no money, and so on and so forth.
The Other Side
The lab where Connor spent most of his time was about the only place Buffy felt welcome, so whenever she needed some company, she dropped in to see him.
Okay, she admitted as she pushed through the doors, that’s not entirely true, but come on. There’s no way I’m going to let Riley have another go after… after what happened the last time. The guilt that still overwhelmed her in the wake of that incident – no matter if they’d actually finished having sex or not – had decided her weeks ago. Riley was cute and so very willing… but he wasn’t Will. And being with anyone who wasn’t Will (even if they hadn’t been together like that in well over a year) was just… wrong. And that’s not just the soul talking.
“What?” Her response was automatic, and it wasn’t until she registered the voice as that of her grandsire that she realized Connor wasn’t alone in the lab today. The whole D-Day gang was there, and her heart sank. Oh, great, she groaned silently, another chance to be the outsider.
“Hey, Buffy,” Connor greeted her a little absently. His attention was focused on the small device he held as he walked slowly around the perimeter of a spell-circle scribed on the floor. There was something inside the circle; if she glanced quickly out the corner of her eye, Buffy could just make out its movement.
“What are you doing here?” Dru demanded, and crossed her arms. She was so close that Buffy knew that she’d nearly bumped into her.
Resentment, never far away when dealing with her grandsire, surged up instantly. “Just making sure that your team doesn’t blow everything up,” she retorted, shoving her fists into her coat pockets. “If it’s all gonna go boom, I want a head start so I can get out before the stampede.” Connor gave her a hurt look, and she winced. “Sorry, cutie.”
“Yes, well, it’s not all going to go boom,” Dru replied shortly. “We’ve already got all the people we need to work on this portal, and if you stayed, I’d probably just have to pull you out of the vortex when you blundered through. Why don’t you amuse yourself trying to pick the lock on my desk again?” she sneered. “It was ever so much fun to see Security march you down to the holding cells.”
Somehow, Buffy managed to keep her expression calm, even as her anger boiled up to the surface. As the bitch intended, probably, she thought. “Okay,” she said with a shrug. “I’ll give that a whirl. You just get on with your spell. I’m sure it’s super-important to the guys in the big evil offices upstairs.” She spun on her heel and strode away, shoulders hunched and hands still in her pockets.
Just before the lab door swung shut behind her, she thought she heard Darla ask, “Why are you always so hard on her?”
Whatever Dru said in reply was lost behind the door. At least Blondie is on my side, she thought, and Connor, too… well, I really should apologize first.
As soon as she was out of sight of the lab, she stopped, and pulled out her hand from her pocket. A small ring of keys jingled merrily, dangling from her fingers. She grinned. “Serves ya right when I get his address, too, bitch,” she murmured, then swung the keys around in a circle around her finger before tucking them back in her coat.
Don’t know what I’ll do with it when I’ve got it, she thought, and her grip on the keys tightened. But at least I’ll have other options then… or maybe just better ones than I got right now.
She was halfway to Dru’s office when it felt like the air pressure intensified around her, going from what had always been normal to very uncomfortable, like the time she’d been on the airplane and her ears had rung until they’d popped.
Something grabbed hold of her and made the world wobble. She stopped and closed her eyes, hoping that would clear her vision, but it didn’t. The pressure around her increased, pressing on her heavily, until she began to fear she would be flattened. It didn’t matter that she didn’t need to breathe; the air was being expelled from her lungs, and blind panic started to set in.
Then, quite suddenly, the pressure was gone. She blinked, panting a little in reaction. Looking around, she discovered that she was still in the corridor, just facing the other way.
Snickering, she turned around. All that just to make me turn around? she thought contemptuously. Someone’s got way too much time on their hands if that’s the spell they’re working on. She’d only gone a few steps when the smell tickled her nostrils and she froze.
Oh, God… that’s his cologne. She closed her eyes and just breathed it in, inhaling deeply, greedily, wearing a tiny wistful smile. Will, oh, Will… I miss you… Her heart seemed to wither inside her at the very thought of him, at the idea of being separated from him, even if it was because of her own choices now.
The door in front of her opened almost soundlessly, and she quickly composed herself, not wanting Dru – or anyone else – to catch her with her emotions so openly displayed.
But that thought disappeared from her head when she opened her eyes… because he was standing right in front of her. She gasped, eyes widening. I’m dreaming, she thought in a vague, distant way. I’ve got to be dreaming…
The way he said her name never failed to make her knees weak – his deep voice with its fading accent, the way it seemed to caress her ears, even when he was furious. It was all she could do to stand upright.
He’d changed his wardrobe, she noticed, in the second before she launched herself at him; he was wearing a long leather coat similar to her own, and a simple black tee-shirt beneath it, instead of the bright colors he normally wore. But his hair still gleamed in the sun, and his eyes were just as blue and bright, and he still had the face of an angel.
Then she was against him, her hands on his cheeks, pulling his mouth to hers, though he didn’t seem to be fighting to get away this time. She pressed hungry kisses against his lips, his cheeks, everywhere she could reach.
His arms were around her, his hands spread wide on her back, holding her close. And oh, best of all, he was kissing her back, with all the intensity of his being, seemingly as starved for her as she was for him.
It was a long, blissful moment before she registered that the warmth she was used to feeling from him was missing, that his skin was cool against hers, that they were the same temperature. She pulled her mouth from his and stared up at him in shock, but didn’t – couldn’t – move away from him. “Will,” she breathed, stroking his cheek lightly, “oh, Will… what happened?”
He seemed to think there was something equally wrong, for he was frowning down at her, brow creased, though his fingers combed through her hair. “Buffy, love,” and his accent was much stronger than she recalled, his voice heavy with the same sadness she felt, “when did it happen?” He didn’t let her go, either; he still held her as if he never wanted to let her go.
Anger simmered through her slowly, though not at him… or maybe just not yet at him; she hadn’t quite decided that. “Who turned you?” she demanded in her lowest, deadliest voice. “Who was it and when and where can I find them? ‘Cause I’m gonna kill ‘em.”
His frown deepened. “You already know who turned me, pet,” he replied, and damn if he didn’t use the very same tone on her that she’d just used on him. “But that was my question.”
“When were you turned? Couldn’t have been more than a few months ago…” Then he trailed off, staring at her.
“Baby, I’ve always been a vampire. You know that.” Now she was equally confused, and starting to become more than a little worried. Whatever had happened to Will when he’d been turned… it seemed to have left him nearly as crazy as her sire. It was breaking her heart, knowing that he could never be in the sun again, but insanity on top of that… it was too much to bear.
Then another thought struck her, causing the rage to flare bright in her chest. Oh, God… please tell me that it wasn’t Dru, that she didn’t torture him like she did…
“You weren’t a vampire in the Hellmouth!”
“I was too!”
“No, you bloody well were not!”
“Hey, I ought to be the one to know!”
He scoffed at her. “Think I would have noticed that, pet! What with the sun beamin’ down through the hole in the ceiling, channelin’ through the amulet and dustin’ all the Turok Han…”
She glared up at him, but didn’t move from his arms. “And that’s exactly what happened, bleach boy!”
“… and then dustin’ me.”
“And, no. It was me. You ran…” She swallowed, trying to get a handle on the pain that still brought her, even months later. “You ran when I told you…”
He was frowning heavily. “No, you ran…”
Slowly, her brain started to turn over his words, and she put her anger on pause. “Wait a minute here. Who gave you the amulet?”
“You did, Slayer.”
She froze at hearing her pet name for him falling from his lips. Understanding dawned slowly. “But… you’re the Slayer.”
Not a second later, they were standing three feet apart, having moved so quickly that Buffy wasn’t sure who had let go first.
And it seemed so utterly wrong to be so far away from him, because it was Will, the man she loved with her whole being. She’d felt that way ever since she’d given in to her feelings. And maybe he is Will, she thought a bit sadly, studying him carefully, but he’s not my Will.
“So,” she said, attempting a cheerfulness she didn’t come close to feeling. “I’m thinking that those folks who said that there were only hell dimensions – oh, and that one dimension without shrimp – had no idea what they were talking about.” Then, recalling what she had felt just before her world had been knocked out from under her, she snorted. “Huh. Guess that spell or whatever it was that was trying to make me flat was more effective than I thought it was.”
The way his lips twisted could only be called a smile if one were feeling especially generous. “Guess so.” He couldn’t meet her eyes.
And the sight of his pain and discomfiture touched her, as it always did, and she reached out without thinking, trying to comfort him. “Will…” She caught herself before she made contact, her fingers hovering over his leather-clad arm. Damn it, it’s not wrong! she thought fiercely. He’s not my Will but it’s not wrong to want to make him feel better…
Still, the guilty feeling that she was somehow betraying Will by touching his look-alike here wouldn’t leave her, even as she stepped closer to him again. Her hand on his arm wasn’t enough, and she leaned against him, wrapping her arms around him. Before she realized what she was doing, she had her nose against his neck, breathing in the aroma of him again – so familiar and yet somehow different from what she remembered. His face was in her hair, and she could hear him inhaling her scent as well.
Buffy had no idea where the tears came from. She just knew that without warning, she was clinging to Will-but-not-Will, her fingers digging into the grain of his coat, sobbing quietly into his shoulder. His hands threaded through her hair, stroked down her back, large and familiar and soothing.
She was drawing a trembling breath, about to step away and apologize for her breakdown, when she felt him shuddering against her and noticed a tell-tale dampness against her scalp. Instead, she wrapped her arms around him even more tightly, trying to let him know that no matter how he felt, he wasn’t alone.
It was only a moment before he pulled back, wiping away the evidence of his tears with the heel of one hand. The look he gave her from beneath his lowered lashes – half boyish embarrassment, half manly bravado – melted her. She smiled warmly at him, feeling affection for this vampire she barely knew (and yet, knew all too well) fill her heart.
She wanted to brush away his tears herself, could see that same desire in him by the way his hands twitched.
This isn’t going to be easy, she thought, and took a deep, steadying breath. Softly, she said, “I think we really should talk.”
He nodded. “’Spect you’re right, pet.”
“Got any good hidey-holes around here?”
He flashed her a smirk that was heart-wrenchingly recognizable and took her hand. “I know just the place.”
Buffy looked around the lavish suite approvingly. “Just like the ones back home. I guess dimensions or universes or whatever doesn’t matter – evil law firms just gotta have the best.” She kicked off her shoes and curled up in the corner of one of the plush sofas, watching as Will – no, she reminded herself sternly, Spike, his name is Spike – removed two mugs from the microwave.
She reached eagerly for the mug he held out to her, wrapping her hands around it to let the warmth seep into her for a moment before taking a sip.
“That’s gonna take some gettin’ used to,” he commented, and sank down onto the opposite end of the sofa. For a moment he stared at her, the mug in his hand clearly forgotten.
“No more so than from this end,” she replied, and briefly savored the taste and heat of the blood before gulping the rest of it. She hated it when it got cold.
Spike tilted his mug, watching the blood swirl around in a lazy circle before nodding. “Fair enough,” he replied, and tossed it back in a few swallows.
Neither of them looked at the other, and the blank television on the wall across from them reflected an empty sofa.
“So,” Buffy said, setting her empty mug next to the sofa’s leg, where she knew she’d be sure to forget it. “Now that we’re all hidden away and out of sight, what do we do? I mean, I said we should talk and yet here we are, not saying anything.”
“Not sure, pet,” he replied, and put his own mug down. “Guess I don’t know either.”
“Do you suppose,” she began slowly, tracing one finger over the fabric of the sofa’s arm, “that it might help if we could, you know, actually look at each other?”
Spike’s chuckle sounded the same as Will’s. “I suppose it might.”
“I mean, I already had my breakdown out there in the hallway, so how could I possibly be any more embarrassed than that?”
“If I’d had any doubts before, I don’t now. Seems like Buffys always have the same kind of babble, no matter what dimension they’re from.”
“I do not…”
“Yeah, you do.”
She risked a look. He still looked like Will, but now – now that she knew what she was seeing – she noticed the heaviness in his eyes, the weight on his shoulders comprised of hundreds of deaths, and knew that it was the same as her own. Different from the burden the Slayer had to protect the world. Not Will, she affirmed to herself. Spike.
That seemed to make it a little easier to swing around on her cushion to face him. “Yeah? So I guess Williams are skinny and snarky in every universe, then?” she said, and grinned.
“Not skinny where it counts, ducks,” he said, and curled his tongue behind his teeth.
She cast an appraising eye over him, lingering over his skin-tight black jeans. “No, you definitely aren’t.”
He shifted under her gaze as if uncomfortable. “An’ now I know you’re from another universe,” he said, looking away again. “My… this dimension’s Buffy would have rolled her eyes an’ been disgusted.”
She sighed. “Oh, doesn’t that sound familiar. Actually,” she went on with a frown, “it sounds like we’ve been swapped. Like… I’m you, kinda, and you’re my… er… you’re Will. Or something.”
“Brilliant,” he snorted.
“Oh, like you’re the great brain here,” she shot back. “I don’t know for dimensions, but I know who does. Skinny young kid, blue eyes, shaggy dark hair. The real brains behind it all. His name’s Connor.”
“Connor? Can’t say as I know him,” he replied, then, seeing her face fall, quickly continued. “But then, whoever’s in Wolfram and Hart where you’re from is probably not going to be the same as who’s here.”
She sighed. “I suppose. And look, we’re still dancing around all the issues we brought up in the hall.” She studied him, then studied her fingers where they clenched in her lap. “You wanna ask the tough question or you want me to?”
She wasn’t really keen on asking, and didn’t think he was either, from the way he swallowed almost convulsively. Then, his voice very flat, he asked, “So… your Slayer said he loved you, did he?”
Relieved and upset all at once, she nodded, and went on with the story of them. “And you told yours that she didn’t, but thanks.”
“And you came back as a ghost, tied to that bloody stupid Liz Taylor bauble.”
“And now you’re solid, but you’re still here, caught up in helping the others do the impossible.”
“And you want to be with him…”
“But you don’t know how.”
“Yeah.” He glanced at her from the corner of one eye. “Your grandsire do a head-case on you like mine does on me? All this ‘she’s too good for you’ thing?”
Her mouth twisted. “Oh, yeah. She’s one of the best for that.”
“The thing… the bloody stupid point of it is… I can’t say he’s not right.” The way he was slumped into the cushions, Buffy thought she had never seen a man look so very defeated as Spike did.
She leaned back into her own corner, drawing up one knee and wrapping her arms around it. “That’s it.”
They said nothing for a long moment. Then, his voice tight, Spike asked, “Right, so there’s the big confession. Now what?”
Buffy shrugged. “I have no clue. I was hoping you would.”
Slowly, he relaxed. “Sorry.”
“Believe me, it’s all right.”
Again, silence descended on them. It was a long while before Buffy spoke again. “I wonder sometimes,” she said, and startled herself at how loud her voice sounded. “You know,” she continued in a quieter tone, “what would have happened if I hadn’t said… what I said.”
“He would have stayed,” Spike said, answering the question she hadn’t known she was asking. “He would have stayed, because he wanted to be loved.”
She nodded. “That’s what I thought. I’d rather that he be alive. He was dead once, and…”
“And it was utter Hell.” He offered her a crooked smile, and suddenly, she wished she could see Will’s rare smile, the one that melted her heart with its absolute sweetness. “Been there, love. I know whereof you speak.”
“Do you get all tangled up in your own thoughts, too? Like… is it better to stay here and fight on the inside and be away from her… or should you go to her and…” She shook her head, unable to finish that thought aloud. Instead, she said, “And you know what? I never thought I was a coward before, but I know I am now. I mean, I’m not gonna slingshot back here if I try to leave town now, right? I proved it when I peeled out for Nevada and the Cup of Eternal Stupidity. I want to be with him, but… I’m afraid too, you know?” she finished in a whisper.
Spike’s hands were clenched so tightly into fists his knuckles had turned white. “Yeah, love,” he replied in the same tone. “Yeah, I do.”
“So I stay here with the bitch, and I miss him like all the damn time, but I never actually do anything about it. It’s like… like I’m stuck on pause. He said he loved me, and now I can’t move on from that. Completely stuck there, because…”
“Because as long as I don’t see her, she can’t take it back.” He looked at her, and his eyes were brilliantly blue, shining with tears again.
She swallowed, trying to hold back her own tears. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Yeah. I knew you’d get it. Sucks, don’t it?”
“Beyond the telling of it, as the Slayer would say.”
Buffy managed a tremulous smile. “Yeah, that sounds like me. Her. Me.”
One side of his mouth curled upward slightly, a hint of humor she desperately needed to see. “Dimension hopping is hard stuff, innit?”
“You got it. All kinds of weirdness and emotional distress… and it’s not easy on me, either.” She blew out a breath and watched her bangs flutter. “I, for one, could use a hug.”
“A… hug?” Spike blinked at her, and she thought he might have gone a shade paler.
“Yeah, a hug. You’ve heard of them, haven’t you? You put your arms around another person and squeeze gently?”
“Oh, ha bloody ha.” He turned away, crossing his arms.
“Hey,” she said softly, just to get his attention. Then she lifted a hand to point back and forth between the two of them. “This? This is hard. You’re like him, but you’re not him, and it’s the same for you with me. And we haven’t seen them since everything went down in the Hellmouth, and we’ve only got someone else’s word they’re okay, and…” Her voice broke a little. “And I, for one, would really just like to pretend for a little while,” she finished, her words barely audible.
Immediately, Spike opened his arms, and she pressed herself against his side, inhaling the scent of him once more.
It wasn’t right.
It’s nice, she thought, no disputing that, but it’s just… not the same.
Because her head on Will’s shoulder, his arm around her… that should have felt right.
It must be because it’s not really Will, she decided. And it wasn’t any easier for Spike, or so she guessed, because his muscles were just as tense as her own.
“So,” she whispered, “this is really awkward, isn’t it?”
Spike huffed a short laugh. “It is at that, pet. Want I should let you go?” He made no move to lift his arm, though.
Immediately, she shook her head. “Nah. It’s good to be held for a little while.”
His embrace tightened slightly, and slowly he relaxed against her. “Yeah, you’re right.”
After only a few minutes, however, the suite door flew open and they scrambled away from each other in automatic reaction.
“Spike!” Angel stormed in, leaving the door open behind him. “Haven’t you heard the alarms going off? There’s a…” He looked at her and stopped mid-tirade. “Buffy?”
Here was a danger she felt she knew well, at least, and she let herself slip back in time a little. “Hi, Angel,” she said softly, getting to her feet. “It’s been a while. How are you?”
Angel stared at her in confusion. “Buffy? Is that you?” His mouth slowly dropped open, and he blinked.
She quickly bit back the Well, who do you think it is that leapt to her tongue. “Yes, it’s me. What’s going on?”
Behind her, she heard Spike unhurriedly standing up, and then his hand descended on her shoulder, the lightest of touches. “Pet…”
As soon as Spike moved, however, Angel’s attention diverted back to him, and without warning, he vamped out. “You!” he hissed through his fangs. “You did this!”
“There’s a vampire loose in the building,” Angel said, advancing on them. “An unauthorized vampire, which means it isn’t you or me, and that means it’s evil. I come up here to get your help, and find you with Buffy… and she’s a vampire!”
“Duh!” Buffy muttered under her breath, trying unsuccessfully to get in between Spike and Angel. She wasn’t using her full strength against either of them, though. Like Will, Spike wouldn’t back down, and Angel was close enough that they were nose to nose. “Back off, Angel!”
“So, if she’s a vampire,” Angel went on, “and she’s here in the building where there’s an unauthorized vampire, that means she’s the one the alarms are about… and you did it! You turned her, you son of a bitch!”
“I bloody well did not!”
Buffy chuckled, and drew both sets of eyes back to her. “I’m sorry, Spike, he’s really off today.”
“Off?” Angel demanded, still in his fangs.
“What do you mean, pet?”
“Extra with the crazy today. I mean, I haven’t seen him this bad in a long time, not since what happened in Budapest. For a while there, he had days where he didn’t make any sense at all, just mumbled all day about hearing the banshee, and seeing fae creatures in the cobwebs… One time, he swore up and down he saw a waterhorse. That was a bad day, and it was all I could do to calm him down. He was almost all right when he came to Sunnydale a couple of years ago… but I’m kinda out of practice at deciphering what he means… what?” Suddenly she became aware that they were both staring at her strangely. Angel’s human mask slid over his features again.
“Slay…” Spike paused, then started again. “Buffy, do you mean to say that…”
“My sire is nutty as a fruitcake? You betcha.” She looked back and forth between them again. “What?”
Spike was biting his lip, and his smirk could absolutely not be contained. “Pet… you do remember you’re not in your dimension, right?”
Buffy blinked, then groaned and covered her eyes with one hand. “Please excuse me while I wait for the ground to swallow me up.” Taking a deep breath, she turned back to Angel and said, “I’m so sorry, Angel… er… you are Angel, right? ‘Cause in my dimension – which, as Spike has so thoughtfully reminded me, is where I am not – you are… well, a little bit on the insane side. With an extra side of visions, which is why my grandsire turned you in the first place, but she drove you crazy when she did it. Dru always had to go for the gusto,” she muttered.
Angel put a hand to his forehead, which was wrinkled in confusion. “You’re not my Buffy?”
“Not your Buffy at all, you ponce,” Spike mumbled.
Buffy grinned briefly as Angel glared past her at him, but forced herself to resume her most earnest and innocent I’m-not-really-in-trouble-am-I? expression when that dark gaze slewed back to her. “No, I’m not from this dimension at all,” she replied cheerily. “But I am Buffy. Pleased to meet you?” She held out one hand hopefully.
Spike coughed behind her, and she fought the urge to jab him in the stomach with her elbow. I’m working here, she thought with some exasperation, and you’re not helping!
But she hadn’t developed any psychic powers in the past few minutes, and this dimension’s Angel, over whom she had no control whatsoever, damn it, had finally had enough of the subtle fun that she was poking. Moving lightning fast, he grapsed her wrist.
“Hey!” She struggled against his hold, but he only tightened it until she could feel the bones grating against each other. “Okay, ow…”
“Angelus!” Spike swung a blow the arm by which Angel was holding Buffy captive, trying to take him by surprise, but Angel swiftly blocked it, then used Spike’s surprise to push him away. He stumbled a few steps back. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m sorry… Buffy,” Angel said, not sounding a bit apologetic as he dragged her out of the suite. “But until we can confirm your story, we’re going to have to lock you up.”
“Oh, no!” she said, and dug in her heels once more. “Go ahead and break my wrist,” she went on when he tightened his grip once more, “but you are not locking me up!”
“Let her go!” Spike followed them into the corridor, and leapt at Angel, tackling him from behind.
At the moment that Angel hit the floor, Spike snarling and game-faced on top of him, the elevator doors opened, and a squad of security guard stepped out, each one armed with a crossbow. Buffy, about to go to Spike’s aid, froze, half a dozen wooden quarrels aimed at her heart. The rest had Spike in their sights.
Seeing that, Spike growled and reluctantly lifted himself off Angel. One of his fists was smeared with blood across the knuckles.
Angel was a bit unsteady as he climbed back to his feet. Blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. He blotted it with the back of one hand, and gave a glower promising a comeuppance at Spike. Then he sneered quite nastily at Buffy. “Ladies first.”
Less than five minutes later, Buffy was staring at the walls of a cell that was barely big enough for three steps across. A camera watched her every move from just outside the invisible barrier, and she was reminded almost forcefully of the Initiative.
With a sigh, she sat down one corner and tilted her head back to rest against the wall, staring at the white corridor through slitted eyes.
She’d already thought up and discarded about six escape plans, none of which she knew would work. Now all she could think was, At least my crazy Angel never would have locked me up like this…