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A Different Light by dreamweaver
Chapter 2
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The fabulous banner is by the awesomely talented Ben Rostock.

Chapter 2

The bath was an experience.

For one thing, the tub itself was huge. She supposed it had to be when made to accommodate people over seven feet plus. She could nearly swim in it. It was made of some red stone with white speckles and the water in it was thankfully hot. Lighting came from globes on the walls, which shed a warm, yellow light. Her clothes were carried away with many a scandalized glance from the staff at the gauzy, blue top, white camisole and black pants. To be cleaned and pressed, they said at her worried objections; they would be returned in the morning.

Then they wanted to scrub her back.

“Uh, no,” Buffy said and sent them away. But the minute she had finished her bath and stepped out of the tub once again, she was immediately wrapped in enormous towels and swept off to be dressed like a doll in what they considered the correct attire—an exquisite brocade coat that buttoned from throat to hem, over a long, silky skirt and delicate, embroidered slippers. Very beautiful, but completely impractical for her purposes. Still, she wasn’t planning any mayhem tonight.

Her hair fascinated them. The color was unusual for them. They were all raven-haired and she guessed from the reactions that blonde hair was unheard of. They spent quite some time drying and brushing it out, nattering amongst themselves in a speech Buffy didn’t understand. It must be some dialect that Adara hadn’t woven into the spell. They wanted to braid her hair, but even though it fell to her shoulderblades, it was still too short to make what they considered a proper braid. Theirs all fell to their waists, even the men’s, Buffy had noticed.

“I kinda like it loose,” she said apologetically and, with much chatter and laughter, they unbraided it and brushed it out loose again.

“Like sunlight,” one of the staff remarked, stroking it lightly. Buffy smiled at her.

Dinner was being served in what they called the private dining room, which turned out to be nearly as sumptuous as the state one. The door on the other side of the circular salon flew open just as she came out of her bedroom and Spike ricocheted out.

“And I want my own clothes back tomorrow morning!” he yelled over his shoulder to a chorus of giggles from the staff. They were all smiling, including Spike.

He was barefoot and was wearing pants made out of some black cloth and a silky, maroon shirt defiantly open and flying back as he strode forward.

“Wanted to stick me in a sodding brocade straightjacket!” he grumbled. “And slippers!” he added with immense scorn.

Whoa! Whoever thought he would look like that under the T-shirt! Totally ripped, alabaster satin skin, taut sixpack, a really, really gorgeous bod. Grecian statue time. Buffy stared. The staff were staring appreciatively also. Emer’s voice was heard, scolding sternly, and the staff vanished.

“Haven’t been given a bath since I was in the nursery,” he muttered and Buffy giggled helplessly.

“You’re kidding! Did they actually...?”

“The older ones did.” He grinned. “Have to say, I enjoyed it.”

“Oh, I bet you did!”

“Did you get a load of that bathtub? Sodding gold taps!”

“And made of some weird stone that looked like salami.”

“Porphyry. Romans thought that was the Imperial stone. Used it for their emperors. Guess they like that kind of thing here as well. Looking kinda spiffy yourself, Slayer.”

“I feel like I’m playing dress-up,” Buffy sighed. “Can’t fight in these clothes.”

“Yeah, that’s why I wouldn’t let them button me up into one of those brocade gizmos. Told them I’d cut their hearts out if I didn’t get my own clothes back in the morning.”

“Nothing like tact. For God’s sake, Spike! I know it’s almost impossible for you, but don’t offend these people!”

“Oh, they thought it was funny. Know it’s hard for you to believe, but I can be charming when it’s required.”

“Yeah, right,” Buffy muttered, but the staff did seem to like him, incredible as that was.

Dinner arrived, starting with a delicate soup and going through several carefully varied courses.

“Chef’s trying to suss out what we like,” Spike said accurately. He was tasting every dish first, that vampire immunity to poisons valuable here where neither of them knew what was being served. “I wouldn’t touch that meat course, Slayer. There’s something in it I don’t think human stomachs will take kindly to.”

He ate it happily though, but passed on the fish course which was in a white sauce that he found too bland for his palate. Buffy ate that with pleasure though. She was hungry and the food was delicious. After dessert—a cream and fruit confection they both enjoyed—they went back to the living room where Spike poured himself another glass of shibei from the carafe that was now permanently situated there.

“Come and take a look at this, Slayer,” he said from out on the balcony where he had wandered, restless as usual.

She joined him and found him looking, not at the tiled roofs of the city sweeping outwards in all directions, but at the Hasjarad itself. They were on the highest point of it and the building was enormous, an amazing collection of towers and domes and flying buttresses..

“A city in itself,” said Spike. “Gonna see whether I can get a look around this pile tonight. You go to bed, Slayer. You’re looking tired and I’m a creature of the night, ain’t I?”

He grinned at her.

“What are these lights?” Buffy asked, stopping beside a globe as they stepped back in again. “It’s not electricity.”

“Gas lamps. Coal gas, I’d say. That’s what heats the bath water too. Real modern and up to the minute it was when I was a boy. Allowed people to work without worrying what season they were in. No more short winter days. Can see whenever you want. Candles are lousy at night when you want to read or work.”

“Never even thought of that.”

“Never had to.” He laughed at her. “Born to all the twentieth century miracles, you were.”

“What a change that must have been!” she said, suddenly seeing how much he had adapted to in his unnaturally extended lifetime. “From gas lamps to electricity and computers.”

“Rollercoaster ride. But it was fun! Wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

She looked at him with interest. “You like being a vampire.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Angel doesn’t.”

“Oh, well, that wanker! Never did know how to enjoy life.”

“Is that because of the soul? Y’know, the guilt and all that?”

“Maybe. But he was a Grinch before that anyway. Wasn’t happy unless he was busting some poor sod’s ass or fucking with their minds. Never knew how to have fun.”

Say what you would about Spike, he had an enormous zest for life.

Emer came into the room and bowed. “Lady Adara asks if you would be offended by Guild protection, nefa’in. It is customary and she has sent two individuals for your approval.”

“Protection for us or against us, I wonder,” Spike murmured in Buffy’s ear. “Take ‘em on, pet. Won’t be hard to get away from them if we have to.”

“Thank Lady Adara for us,” Buffy said formally. “We are pleased to accept their protection.”

The guards were one male, one female, both in black leather and with the calm, cool, impassive faces and the air of quiet professionalism that Buffy was starting to recognize as belonging to the Guild.

“Cadhi and Dehren,” Emer said and both guards bowed.

“Dehren, is it?” Spike said to the man. “Guess you’re mine. Right then. I want to take a look around this place. Will you show me?”

Dehren bowed. “Yes, aver.”

“Wait one.”

He turned and headed back to the bedrooms, tilting a brow at Buffy as he passed. He had an amused look in his eye and Buffy guessed he was about to test where exactly the man’s loyalties lay.

“I must set up the post, avera,” Cadhi said, bowing, then headed for the guard post beside the foyer.

“Don’t wait up for me, Slayer,” Spike said, coming back with his duster and Docs on. He grinned at her. “Gonna keep this git on the hop most of the night,” he said softly in her ear as he passed.

“Can I get you anything else, avera?” Emer asked as the two men left.

Buffy shook her head. “No, thank you. I think I’ll go to bed. It’s been a long day. Just make sure I have my clothes back in the morning.”

“Yes, avera. Only...they are not very seemly for one of your position.”

Buffy looked down at herself. “And these are?”

Emer nodded. “If you don’t like them, we could make others...”

“Oh, they’re beautiful! Only they aren’t good for my purposes. Champions need other garb,” she said dryly. “Wait!”

She strode into the foyer and called Cadhi out from the guard post.

“Now these!” She walked around Cadhi. Cadhi was wearing the usual buttoned-to-the-throat coat, but it was slit to the waist and worn over pants and boots, not skirt and slippers. “How well can you move in that, Cadhi? Can you kick?”

Cadhi smiled, her impassive face suddenly betraying a pleasant personality beneath the formality.

“Shall I demonstrate, avera?”


The foyer was tiled and almost bare of furniture. Cadhi had plenty of space to show how her clothes would move to any kick, bend or jump.

That’s what I want,” said Buffy.

“But only the Guild may wear that,” Emer protested with a nervous glance at Cadhi.

“It would be permissible in another color, nefai,” said Cadhi imperturbably. Buffy grinned at her and she smiled back.

“Whatever you think is suitable, Emer,” she said. “Just cut like that.”


“I’m not a lady, Emer. I’m here to do a job and I will be carrying weapons and more than likely using them. These clothes I’m wearing are beautiful, but impractical. Those are practical. So if the Guild has no objection, those are the clothes I need.”

Emer looked dubious, but nodded reluctantly and Buffy went off to bed with a relieved mind.

She didn’t know what time Spike came back, but when she woke up, his bedroom door was shut and the staff said he was still sleeping. They sounded worried and she had to explain that he was naturally nocturnal and had been up most of the night.

Her own clothes were back, neatly cleaned and pressed, but beside them were laid out another lovely brocade jacket and silk skirt. She laughed, then decided to wear the ‘seemly’ clothes until circumstances called for the others.

She had breakfast by herself, then wandered around the premises, feeling rather bored and wondering what these people did for entertainment. She opened a book in the library, but found that she couldn’t read the language; Adara’s spell apparently operated on sound rather than sight. She flipped through the book, glancing at the color plates, then looked up with relief as voices in the foyer announced that a visitor had arrived.

It was Adara and her inevitable guards. The four Guild members remained in the foyer, chatting, while Adara came through into the living room.

“May we use the study, avera? There is a table there where I can unroll these maps,” she said, holding up the thick cylinder that she had brought with her.

Buffy nodded and they went there. Adara explained everything clearly and concisely, and Buffy had arrived at a good understanding of what these people’s problems were when Spike tapped quietly on the study door.

“Slayer, I need to talk to you.”

He was wearing his own T-shirt and jeans again though his feet were bare, and his face was oddly grim. Buffy glanced at Adara who nodded, then followed Spike to his room. At the door, she balked, wondering whether the staff would get the wrong impression if she went into his bedroom.

“Just get in there, Slayer,” he said harshly. “Not going to jump your bones, okay?”

“Wasn’t thinking that,” she muttered.

His room was the match for hers, except in gold rather than cream, down to the enormous bed and gilt and silver-washed furniture.

“What’s up?” she growled.

Spike jerked his chin at a glass of blue liquid that stood on a table.

Buffy frowned at it. “What’s that?”


Her jaw dropped. “Blood? But it’s blue!”

“Noticed that, did you?”

“But...Oh, come on! That can’t be blood! Blood’s red!”

“On Earth. In this dimension, blood’s blue. Not hemoglobin. Hemocyanin.”


“Copper based. Not iron based. Some molluscs and limpets have it on Earth. I think they even make some kind of cancer treatment out of one of the limpet bloods.”

“But...” She suddenly realized why he was looking so grim. “Can you drink it?”


“Have you tried?”

“Yes. Threw up,” he said simply.

“Oh, God!” She plopped down on the edge of the bed and stared blankly at him.

“Give me the Gem,” he said.


“The Gem of Amara. Don’t need to feed if I have the Gem. Impervious to everything, including starvation.”

She shot to her feet. “Spike, if this is a ploy to get the Gem of Amara...!”

“Isn’t. Want me drink that stuff? I will. Then you can watch me throw it back up again.”

She looked narrowly at him. “You’re serious.”

“Dead serious. Literally. Think I’d kid around about something like this? Not looking forward to turning into a living skeleton. Like those famine pictures from those dusty countries, only not half as funny.”

His jaw was set hard and his lips were tightly compressed. She could tell by the bleak, desperate look in his eyes that he was telling the truth.

“I don’t have it, Spike.” Strangely, she was sorry to have to say it.


“I don’t have the Gem of Amara.”

“You took it off me right before they pulled us over here! What do you mean, you don’t have it!”

“I dropped it when the darkness hit us.”

“You dropped it in the void?”

“Yeah. Sorry,” she said weakly.

“Oh, bollocks!” This time he plopped down on the bed and sat there, staring into space. “After all that work,” he said blankly.

“That’s all you can think about? The work it took to find it? Damn it, Spike, if you can’t feed, you’ll...you’ll...”

“Dust. Yeah. I know. Well, that’s a kick in the slats, innit? Thought I’d live forever. Immortal.” He grinned wryly. “Oh, well, all good things must come to an end.”


“Not the way I thought I’d go, though. Thought I’d go out fighting. Wanted to. Fists and fangs. That’s the way to go, yeah. Not starving to death. It’s funny really.” He gave her a twisted smile. “You must be getting a charge out of this, Slayer. Don’t have to raise a finger to get shot of me. But we were good enemies, weren’t we?”

“Don’t use the past tense!” she yelled at him, surprising both herself and him.

For a moment, they both stared at each other, then:

“Stay here,” she snapped and stormed out of the bedroom and back into the library. “Lady Adara!”

Adara jumped. “Yes, nefai?”

“Is all blood blue in this world?”

“Yes, of course. What other color would it be?”

“Are there no animals, fish, birds, anything, that have red blood?”

“Of course not. Red? Red blood is impossible. Unnatural.”

“Guess it would be.” She whirled to the foyer. “Dehren!”

“Yes, avera.” All four Guild members were on their feet. “Is something wrong?”

“I know this will sound ridiculous, but would you prick your finger?”

Dehren gave her an astonished glance, then drew his dagger out of his belt and pricked his left forefinger. The drop of blood that welled up was blue.

“Thank you,” said Buffy numbly. “I’m sorry for disturbing you.”

Leaving them staring, she went back to Adara who was on her feet, waiting for an explanation.

“What is it?” she asked. “What is wrong?”

“It’s Spike. He can’t drink the blood of this world. He’ll die. You have to send him back.”

Adara gasped. “But, nefai! We can’t!”

“You must! I’ll stay. I’m the one you want. The one girl. The champion. All that rot. You don’t need him. You have to send him back!”

“But we can’t, nefai! The passage will not open for sixty days!”

“In my world, portals open whenever we want. I mean,” Buffy corrected hastily, “whenever a witch tells them to.”

“Your adepts must be more skilled than we are. We only learned to work with the Void a year ago. It is such a new art! And Baniel, the adept who found how to open the passage, died doing it. He was very old and very wise. He might have found how to open the passage whenever he chose, but we do not have the ability. We are just stumbling in his footsteps. Even his notes were burned when he burned and we had to do all from the memories of his apprentices.”

“Sixty days,” said Buffy numbly.

“Fifty-nine now,” Adara proffered hopefully. “Perhaps...he could...hold out that long?”

“Perhaps. He is a vampire,” Buffy muttered, almost to herself.

“I’m so sorry! We never thought...We never intended...”

“You couldn’t have predicted this. No one could. It’s not your fault. You didn’t mean to. We’ll figure something out.”

She saw Adara and her guards off, then went back and tapped on Spike’s door before opening it.


“I heard.” He was lying flat on his back on the bed, one knee bent, smiling crookedly up at the ceiling.

“I’m sorry.”

He had an odd look on his face when he turned his head to stare at her. “You really are, aren’t you?”

She gave him a rueful smile. “Well, y’know. What you said about being a good enemy. And an honorable one, Spike. This doesn’t seem right.”

“Ah, well. Can’t complain about the way the dice fall. Had a good run so far.”

“Can you hold out that long?”

“Maybe. Won’t be good for much by the end of it.” He sat up suddenly, an arrested look on his face.

“What?” she asked.

“Y’know, we should see what we can do about this problem of theirs while I still can be of some use.”

Her brows rose. “You’d help with that?”

“Why not? Rather keep busy. Better’n lying about brooding like the great poof.” He cocked a mocking eyebrow at her. “Hate to have anybody think I was like him.”

“Okay, what’s up?” she asked suspiciously. “Altruism doesn’t become you, Spike.”

He grinned. “Don’t have throw insulting terms like that about, Slayer. It just occurred to me. They brought us here by magic, didn’t they?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Said they had a problem, did a spell asking for a champion and bam! We get yanked here.”

“With you so far.”

“Well, if we solve the problem, we should get sent back bam! Right? Spell might do that, without waiting for the sodding sixty days.”

There he went again. Looking for solutions. Never gave up, did Spike.

She grinned at him. “You really are an optimist.”

“Rather that than going into a funk.”

“No guarantee it’ll work that way.”

“No harm trying. Y’never know. Anything can happen. If not, we’ll make it happen.” He bounced to his feet and snapped his fingers at her provokingly. “C’mon, c’mon. Let’s get a move on. What’s the gen on this pickle they’re in?”

“Uh, well, seems about a year ago, something started attacking their villages and farms, even small towns. Places totally destroyed, like a bomb had gone off. No survivors to give any clue about what caused it. Just charred bodies.”

“Could it be a bomb?”

“They don’t seem to have discovered gunpowder. Unless someone has and this is the first use of it.”

“Unlikely. What about Adara and her lot? These ‘adepts.’ If they can get people across this Void, surely they can get a lead on whatever this is.”

“Looks like the void thing is the only thing they’re good at and most of that seems to be this guy Baniel’s work. They’re more like scholars or hedge witches. Jenny Calendar or Willow seem to have more power than they do. I understand that it took the whole convocation of them to open the portal and bring us through. Adara certainly can’t do it herself.”

“Great. Any pattern?”

“Not that I can see. She’s got all the places that were hit marked on the maps. Come and take a look.”

They pored over the maps.

“Every place that was targeted is on the northern side of the mountains,” Spike remarked. The mountains ran like a belt three-quarters of the way down the continent. “Aside from that, there’s no pattern. It looks totally random. What’s on the south side? Another kingdom?”

“Nope. Belongs to Tariess, like the rest of the whole enchilada.”

“Rebels, maybe?” he suggested.

“Politically, everything’s just golden. I asked. Tariess is perfecto-boy. Nobody’s got a down on him. Revolutionaries are out.”

“Never know. But they’d target cities, wouldn’t they? Not smallish places like these. That’s the capital, isn’t it?” He put a finger on the star that marked it. Neither of them could read the writing on the map, but that was the only place with a star. “We’re here, aren’t we?”

“Emladris. Yeah.”

“The closest disaster area’s, what, three hundred miles away? Let’s go take a look.”

“This culture might not be capable of long distance travel.”

“Don’t see why not,” he shrugged. “Railroads were contemporary with gas lamps in the England of my time.”

“Well, the China of your time didn’t have either.”

Spike let his jaw drop. “You were awake in history class?”

‘Idiot!” She hit his shoulder and he laughed.

“They must have some means of transportation, Slayer.”

“I’ll ask. Wonder if they’ll let us go.”

He grinned. “Tell them their champion insists on it.”

Dehren and Cadhi showed no dismay at the request, just said they would pass the message along.

“You were right. They do have trains.”

“Thought they might.” He poured himself a glass of shibei.

“Take it easy with that stuff.”

“You have no idea of my capacity for drink, Slayer.”

“Saw you stone-blind last year,” Buffy said scornfully and he tilted an amused eyebrow at her.

“And you wouldn’t believe how much it took to put me there.”

“DeSoto carpeted with empties?”

“Door to door.”

Cadhi came back with Emer at her side. “Tariess lord has placed his personal carriage at your service, avera. We can leave whenever you say.”

“Private train?” murmured Spike in her ear. “And a message reaching the High Pooh-bah so fast? They’re giving you carte blanche, Slayer.”

“You will wish to change your clothes, avera,” Emer said.

Buffy looked down at her fragile and impractical coat. “Oh, yes.”

Emer, with triumph, showed her the clothes that the palace tailors had come up with overnight— an exact replica of Cadhi’s clothing, except in honey colored leather.

“This is perfect! How did you do it so fast?”

“We are accustomed,” said Emer proudly.

“Well, well. Golden girl,” said Spike dryly when she turned up in that. “Appropriate.”

Emer looked hopeful. “We could...”

“Oh, no, you don’t!” said Spike at once. He pointed at Dehren’s outfit. “That’s his uniform? This is mine.”

Emer sighed.

“Where’d you put those swords we liberated?”

“It is our job to protect you, nefa’in,” Dehren said.

“We protect ourselves.” Spike looked at him thoughtfully. “Or don’t your bosses trust us with weapons?”

“The Guild finds most civilians have not the skill,” said Dehren, a clear understatement.

Spike grinned nastily. “Have to prove ourselves, do we? Right then, we will, once we get back from this little expedition.”

“We don’t really need weapons for a train ride,” Buffy said diplomatically.

“Or ever,” murmured Spike with a flash of fang in her direction, hidden from the others. He looked back at Dehren. “You’re evading the issue.”

“No,” said Dehren stiffly. “We are Guild. We have been assigned to you, therefore we are yours. You may trust us.”

“Right. We will then,” said Spike to Buffy’s surprise.

She didn’t question him about it until they were on the train and seated at a distance from Dehren and Cadhi who had automatically taken up guard positions close to the door. Their party was able to board without even leaving the Hasjarad, since the train station was immediately under it. The coach itself was, unsurprisingly, the usual exercise in opulence, all red velvet hangings and gold fringes and its own steward. shibei and tea were immediately provided.

“This Guild,” said Spike when they were under way and the sound of the wheels covered their lowered voices. “I’m starting to get the way it works. Not exactly like our police or army. Once they assign a person, that person’s loyalties seem to transfer to the new employer. I got Dehren to show me all around the palace last night and he never jibbed, not even when I insisted on being shown the armories and other sensitive places like that.”


“They seem to operate even independent of this Tariess git and I thought he was the ruler.”

“Different branch, you mean? Like the separation of Church, State and Judiciary?”

“Mm. And I getting the feeling that they might be the Judiciary part, strange as the thought might be.”

Buffy grinned involuntarily. “Lawyers with swords? Come on.”

He laughed. “Vigilante justice. Trial by combat. Have a dispute, fight it out, death or defeat of your opponent is proof of the rightness of your claim. But don’t fight yourself. Hire the Guild to do it for you.”

Buffy frowned. “Like hiring a cop? Don’t know about the ethics of that.”

“Seems to work for them.”

“Dehren told you this?”

“Yeah. Has been done, y’know, in Britain, Japan. Various times, places.”

Buffy gave him a narrow glance. “What are you getting at?”

“Might be good to get them on our side.”

“We have sides now? Everyone seems awful friendly.”

“Didn’t like some of the vibes I picked up last night. That Lehren git has, not followers exactly, but people who agree with him. Best to watch our backs.”

Vampire. Used to being at odds with the whole world, distrusting everyone.

“Haven’t survived this many years without being careful,” he said and she nodded.

“I hear you.”

It took to mid-afternoon to get to the town that had been hit by the weird whatever. It had been burned to the ground, utterly devastated. Nothing but ash and cinders, all vegetation gone, even the checkerboards of field and pastures that would have surrounded the town no longer discernible. Dehren and Cadhi said that people, cattle, farm animals, every living thing within sight of the town had been charred to a crisp and vanished. Even the railway line had had to be replaced because the rails had been melted into slag.

“Haven’t seen anything like this since Churchill had Dresden firebombed in World War II,” Spike remarked as he prowled through the ruins. “Or what you Yanks did in Korea or ‘Nam. Nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning.”

“But this culture doesn’t have napalm.”

“Jellied gasoline?” said Spike to Dehren and Cadhi, and got totally uncomprehending looks in reply. “Guess not.”

“No tracks of anything coming into the town,” said Buffy when they had made a complete circuit of the area. “Or if there were, they’ve been completely wiped out by the fire. Was there anything in the town itself that could have ignited such a firestorm?”

Both Guild members shook their heads.

“No obvious cause,” muttered Buffy in frustration.

“We’ve looked, avera,” said Cadhi.

“By ‘we’, you mean the Guild.”

Cadhi nodded. “It started with small farms and it was at first thought that some resident had been careless with a lantern in a hay barn. But then the numbers grew, then became not only farms, but whole villages. That’s when the Guild began to investigate. We have been searching for the cause for a year, but...”

“Don’t need a champion,” muttered Spike. “Need Sherlock Holmes.”

“Yeah,” sighed Buffy. “Champions fight things. Can’t fight it if you don’t know what it is.”

“These incidents started a year ago?” Spike asked suddenly.

Cadhi nodded.

“That Baniel git died a year ago, just when all this started. Didn’t Adara say he burned? He burned, Buffy!”

“Like everything here! It’s an unusual way to die!”

“He was opening passages through the void. How did he burn? Why?”

“Adara didn’t say. Cadhi, do you know?”

Dehren and Cadhi looked bewildered.

“He was the mage,” Cadhi said slowly. “The Eldest. He found the passages through the Void. He died finding them. I know no more of him.”

“Something from the Void.” Spike was rocking back and forth on his heels, his hands on his hips. “He opened a passage and something came through. The way we did.”

“But something deadly,” Buffy said.

“Something inimical.”

They stared at each other.

“This is speculation,” Dehren said. “You make a leap with no thread for a bridge.”

“It makes sense though,” muttered Spike.

“We need to talk to Adara,” Buffy said. “We need to talk to someone who saw him die.”

“What they should have called is a witch, not a champion,” growled Spike. “Someone with real power who can track this thing down. Shit, even someone like your Red. How much you wanna bet it’s something magical? Some kind of force or something.”

“Please don’t say that,” groaned Buffy. “I’m great with the physical. I don’t do forces. Forces aren’t physical. What am I supposed to do? Stake it?”

Spike grinned at her. “Maybe we can short it out. Lightning rods, anyone?”

“So comforting,” she sighed.

“You’ll figure it, Slayer,” he said gently. “That’s what you do, isn’t it?”

“I guess.” But something in her relaxed.

It was the simplicity of his confidence in her, which was nothing like the Scoobies’ reliance upon her. The Scoobies laid all their problems on her and waited for her to tell them what to do or fix things for them. She was used to having to carry all the burdens. Spike, on the other hand, was sure she would figure things out, while at the same time planning on figuring it himself, and then, when one or the other of them found the solution, had every intention of helping her implement it. He had somehow become a partner. A partnership was something she had never experienced before, not even with Angel who would tell her about a problem, but never fight the fight with her.

She watched him curiously on the trip back. They had never talked much, had always been at daggers drawn, too busy trying to kill each other for any real communication beyond threat and counter-threat. The only time they had ever really talked to each other was these last two days. She found she was enjoying it—his mockery and his laughter and his complete enthusiasm.

“What’s with this obsession of yours with killing Slayers?” she asked idly. “Most vamps would head for the hills, but you? You go looking for trouble.”

“It’s the challenge, Slayer,” he said, amused. “Never could resist the challenge. Like to live life on the edge. To the fullest. What’s life without risk? Boring. Like to test myself against the best. And you Slayers, you’re the best.”

“Like winning Olympic gold,” she said dryly. “Except no medals.”

“Oh, there are medals,” he mocked and held up the lapel of his duster. “This is a medal, Slayer. Got it off that Slayer in New York.”

She hadn’t known that. She looked at the duster in distaste. “A trophy.”

“To remind me of a really good day. She was good, that Slayer in New York. Almost as good as you. She had something of your style. And hot? Could have danced with her all night.”

“But you killed her.”

“She wasn’t good enough in the end, was she? I was better. That dance? That was all about speed and strength. The one in China was different. She was all about skill.”

“Did you get a ‘medal’ from her too?”

He laughed and brushed the scar on his left eyebrow. “Right here. I’ll always have it. The sword she used was blessed. You should have seen her with it. Absolute precision. Fluid, like water flowing. A delight to watch.”

“But she lost.”

“She had a flaw. She depended on her weapon too much.” He went into gameface mockingly. “I always have mine.” He shook off the gameface before anybody else could see, just in case it disturbed them. “When she dropped her weapon, she reached after it. Shouldn’t have. That second gave me my chance. The Slayer is the weapon. Anything else is just an extension of yourself and can be discarded. You, the Slayer, are the weapon.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes. You understand. That’s why you’re the best.” He tilted his head to her, like an accolade. “The best I’ve ever come up against. You beat me yesterday, Slayer. And I had the Gem too. You beat me fair and square.”

“I did, didn’t I?” They smiled at each other. “And are you going to keep on trying?”

There was a little silence. He looked down suddenly.

“Not in this dimension,” he said lightly.

“We are coming to the city, nefa’in,” the steward said, pausing beside them and bowing. “If you wish, there is a good view on the right side of the carriage. The rails make a curve here.”

They both stood up and went to the right side of the car, balancing against the rocking of the train, and bent to peer out of the window. The city sprawled before them, roof tiles flashing in the sunlight, the geometric grid of its streets clear at this distance and this elevation.

The car lurched. Buffy lost her balance and Spike caught her with one arm. She found herself leaning against him, his body strong and cool against hers, his eyes very blue as he looked down at her. His pupils were dilating, folding open like the petals of a flower over an intense, burning darkness. She found herself falling into that blackness.

She heard his breath catch, then felt it shudder against her face. His lips were parted and suddenly she had the intense desire to know the inner shape of his mouth.

The car lurched again.

“You’d better sit down, Slayer,” he said roughly. “You’ll get just as good a view sitting down and you won’t have to worry about breaking an ankle.”

“Yes,” she said and pulled away hurriedly.

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