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Previous Chapter: Chapter 9
Next Chapter: Chapter 11

Willow stared blankly at where the portal had been. They’d done everything right this time. Giles and Tara had done most of the work while Dawn stood in the middle of the prepared circle. They had set up in Buffy’s training room for the spell, those not directly involved waiting on the outskirts to welcome her home. But Buffy wasn’t home.

She’d been right there. They’d opened the portal, and Buffy had been right there. But instead of coming through, she’d run away. Willow shook her head in bewilderment. Why? Why would she have done that? Maybe she’d been embarrassed by the skimpy outfit and boyish haircut? No, Buffy could get kind of self-conscious about her looks, but that wouldn’t have been enough to keep her from coming home. Maybe…

Willow felt tears prick at the back of her eyes. What had happened to her friend during the time it had taken for them to replace the book? This is my fault. I did this. I…. No. No, she’d just tried to do the right thing. She’d made a mistake, but they’d get Buffy back, and everything would be okay. It would–

“What happened?” Dawn wailed, sounding close to hysterics. “Where are Buffy and Spike?”

“I’m not certain,” Giles answered with a slight frown. “But the spell clearly worked. After a short rest, we should be able to try again.”

The spell clearly worked…. Guilt gnawed at Willow again. It had worked this time, because they’d had all the right ingredients and they’d taken the time to prep things. If she’d just taken the book back to Giles when she’d discovered the spell, they could have had Buffy back then instead of having to wait four more days. Five days. Buffy had been trapped in some other dimension for five days, and they could have gotten her out after only one.

She’d managed to work herself into a deep funk when Riley suddenly got in her face. She’d always thought of him as solid and reliable, but he’d been kind of flaky lately, even before Buffy had vanished. Standing them up for patrols and doing all kinds of dangerous things by himself and getting hurt. She could even see the edge of a bandage peeking out beyond his turtleneck. Wait, why would he have a bandage on his neck? And why had he been wearing turtlenecks and long sleeves so much lately?

“Could she see me?” he demanded.

“What?” The question seemed to come pretty out of the blue.

“Could she see me?” he repeated, grabbing her by the upper arms and shaking her slightly. “Buffy. Did she see me before she ran?”

“I… I don’t kno-”

“Hey!” Xander grabbed Riley by the arm and tugged him away from her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I just want to know if she saw me before running off from her chance to come home,” Riley said, bitterness in his voice. It was in his face too for a moment before a bland, good-old-boy expression wiped it away. “I’m sorry, Willow. I just…. I’m worried about her.”

“W-we’ll get her back,” Tara said, coming over and standing between Riley and Willow. There was nothing threatening in her stance, but her body language made it clear that he would have to go through her to grab at Willow again. “Just, just calm down, and we’ll try again soon.”

The tears built up at the back of Willow’s eyes again, though for a different reason. She’d messed up, but Tara still loved her and was willing to defend her. She’d even been willing to keep Willow’s mistake a secret. Giles, too.

Willow took a deep breath and glanced over to where Dawn was sitting with a glass of water. She was looking a bit better and could probably act as the empowered object again in about twenty minutes or so.

Whatever it takes, she vowed to herself. She’d messed up, big time, but whatever damage had been caused, she’d find a way to fix it.

 

 

He typically abandoned them before even getting halfway through, but Spike was a bit of a planner. Despite that, he’d kept his mind completely, deliberately blank when it came to what to do about the portal Senka had seen nearly a week ago. Wasn’t exactly easy, especially not with Buffy crying in her sleep every night since then, but even a speck of a plan would lead to disaster. Slugs didn’t much care for thoughts on escape, after all. Senka had gotten a warning tingle a time or two in the past few days, likely from thinking too much about the possibility. With the slug and the chip working together, Spike couldn’t afford to do the same.

Anytime his own mind started down that path, he set it along another, letting himself think on some of the parts of slavery that weren’t all that bad. He’d Senka, for one. Someone who loved and was faithful to him. Maybe the love was something what would last beyond this dimension, but then again, maybe it wasn’t. What happens when you perform together as a sodding Vegas show bloody well stays in demon dimension Vegas or somesuch.

There were other things, though. The blood for one. Taken from multiple sources and all mixed about with animal, but it was still human and still gave him a bit of a buzz. That was definitely a plus. And then there were the arena fights. Bloody brill, those were. Couldn’t kill anything other than the bloody yaktopi, but the screams of the crowds made up for that a bit. All of them up there, the stands filled to bursting and the noise near deafening as they cheered him and Senka on, throwing down coins and flowers and other random bits and bobs in their appreciation for the show. Heady stuff, it was, being recognized and admired. Couldn’t get anything like that back home. Just a punch to the nose for trying to help out.

He wasn’t thinking on any of that – was just laid out on their bed watching Senka do some stretches – when another portal showed up. Senka froze, staring at it like a deer caught in a pair of headlights. The ripple of colors opened up, revealing Willow in the foreground and the fuzzy images of Cardboard and the boy somewhere behind her. Some thoughts – ones that were abso-bloody-lutely not a plan, especially not one to escape – began to take shape.

“Buffy,” Willow called out. “Please don’t run. I don’t know what you’ve been through, but we can hel–” She cut off abruptly as Spike stood up, her expression going from confusion to a slowly dawning horror.

His not-a-plan was momentarily disrupted by sudden self-consciousness. He couldn’t look that terrible, could he? Senka was always calling him pretty and such. ‘Course, love was blind and all, and Senka was convinced Spike was a woman despite the physical evidence to the contrary, so there was only so much faith one could put into his opinion on things like that. He shook the thought out his head and went over to the closet for his coat.

He liked his coat, after all, and could bloody well put it on whenever he bloody well wanted to. And he was taking the stuffed piggy Mrs. Gordo with him because he’d made the sodding thing, hadn’t he, and liked to cuddle it a bit when Senka wasn’t. Nothing odd or escape-y in any of that.

Right bit of a mess we’ve got here, don’t we? he thought as he put his coat on. All sorts of coins and trinkets and gemstones laying all strewn about on the knicknack table near the closet. He didn’t feel like doing a full-on tidy at the moment, so he just started stuffing things into his pockets right quick while Willow yammered on to a noticeably shaking Senka. Bloke needed a hug, no doubt. Well, Spike could see to that. He stuffed Mrs. Gordo into his pocket with the other things and went over to Senka, firmly thinking on the hug he was going to give him….

And then he rammed into Senka, shoving him through the portal as the slug finally sussed out what he was up to. It shrieked out full force in disapproval, sending white hot lances of physical and mental agony through Spike’s head. And then the chip joined in, the added migraine pushing him down into the darkness as a hand tangled into his hair and yanked him through the portal.

 

 

Riley wanted to believe Buffy hadn’t seen him. Even though he’d been able to see her face clearly in the portal, it was possible she had seen some other part of the room. He wanted to believe it had been the key, that the few days she’d spent in a different dimension had broken Buffy’s brainwashing and she’d realized what a dangerous and horrible thing it was. He desperately wanted to believe all that, but he knew the truth. She’d seen him, and she’d run away, just like always. But this time, it had been physically instead of emotionally. He loved her with all that he was, but she didn’t love him back. She didn’t need him. But there were those who did.

While Willow started the spell back up, Riley’s hand absently rubbed at the crook of his left arm, where the sleeve of his gray turtleneck hid the bandage covering a fresh vampire bite. The break to let the key rest had given him just enough time to sneak out and call one of the vampire girls he knew and have her come to the alley behind the store. The feel of her fangs sinking into his flesh, the jolt of euphoria as she’d taken what she needed and had given in return…. It had steadied him and helped lock away the bitterness and hurt.

Once the samples he’d sent to Graham were analyzed and Dawn’s inhumanity proven, the military would come and help him contain or destroy it. And then Buffy would be free of its influence and realize that she did need him. It wouldn’t be an instant thing, of course. She’d rage and scream and beat her fists ineffectually against him at first, but then she’d realize how she’d been used. She would collapse against him, sobbing and thanking him for….

The room was unnaturally silent for a moment as Willow, Tara, and Giles finished the chant. Then a ripple of light formed and slowly opened, revealing Buffy. He stared, drinking in the sight of her as Willow called out. Whatever she’d been through in the past five days had left its mark, changing her more than just the shorn hair. Her face was a little thinner, making her seem slightly older than before, though she could still pass for a high school student. Not really hard considering she was nineteen, but he’d just as easily believe she was at least twenty-one now.

For a few minutes, she just stood there, looking frightened and confused. Then someone pushed her into the portal. That got through to her. She twisted like a cat, reaching back and pulling her pusher out by the hair. Willow had to hastily back out of the way as they fell to the floor of the training room together.

“Rehva!” Buffy called out frantically, scrambling up and onto her knees and lightly shaking the other person. Blood had started to leak from his nose, ears, and closed eyes.

Was that…? Riley blinked in confusion at the unconscious vampire. That was Spike, but his hair had somehow grown by at least two feet. However that had happened, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was Buffy. Riley strode forward, pulled her to her feet by her arm, and kissed her passionately. Sometimes, if he caught her off guard, she would be stiff and unresponsive for a second before melting into his embrace.

This time, though, the melting never came.

This time, Buffy hit him hard enough to send him staggering across the room, stars exploding across his vision and a feeling of nausea rising up. But she was the one who went down, falling to her knees and clutching her head in pain.

This wasn’t his Buffy. This wasn’t something she would do. Riley didn’t know what Spike had done to her, or how he’d done it, but he was going to make the vampire pay.


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Table of Contents
Previous Chapter: Chapter 9
Next Chapter: Chapter 11

Reviews ( 1 )

kasumi
January 9, 2021 19:07

Well, they got through the portal, but now they have to get rid of the slugs and figure out how to deal with this new and different world. And look, it's Riley... being Riley. Excellent chapter, as usual.