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No Place Like Home

Wesley sighed as he and Lorne continued their search for Illyria. "Sunnydale may be small, but it is still a town. How are we going to find—"

A spate of gunshots rang out close by, cutting him off.

"I suggest we try following the noise, Cheesecake," Lorne said.

"Yes, I quite agree." Wesley adjusted his glasses hurriedly as Lorne trotted off. He jogged awkwardly after the demon.

After a few minutes Wesley was huffing loudly, unaccustomed to such exertion. Presently Lorne drew to a halt in front of a corner convenience store. Wesley nearly bashed into him from behind.

"Easy, Melon. Look there."

Wesley peered through steamed lenses. A crowd of police cars were clustered on the street. A throng of black-clad cops bristling with pistols and shotguns milled about, confronting Illyria. The erstwhile goddess clutched one cop upside down by his leg, another by his gun arm. She shook both insensately until their guns clattered to the ground. She hurled the hapless officers toward their fellows and tossed her head in contempt.

The cordon of cops cocked their weapons and shrieked commands at her.

"Dear lord," Wesley breathed. He ran forward.

A burly cop intercepted him. "Stop right there, buddy!"

Wesley peered at the man over his muggy specs. "Officer … Harrods?" he read the tag on his breast. "That's my wife over there. I can help … um, calm her?"

Harrods looked disbelievingly back at him, thinking as quickly as a typical cop could manage. He frowned, bit his lip then nodded. He waved Wesley on.

The electric rill of several tasers deployed at once ripped the air. Illyria's expression turned to one of amusement as she absorbed the heavy charges. She regarded the wires on her that transmitted the electric jolts that would have killed a human, tracing them visually to the cops who held them.

She shifted her footing for leverage.

"No! Illyria, don't," Wesley shouted, hurrying forward.

A meaty hand stopped him. "You can't go near that nut," a plain-suited captain huffed.

"It's his wife," Harrods told him.

"How stupid are you? If she kills him, we're liable."

"She won't hurt me," Wesley snapped.

"We're not taking chances. Look at her take those tasers and keep standing. That's not human."

Wesley gritted his teeth. "Then why are you letting that man go to her?"

The captain and Harrods turned to look. Wesley ran past them.

"How stupid are you?" he muttered.

Illyria snatched the taser wires in one hand as Wesley reached her.

"Having a spot of fun?" he asked.

She twisted abruptly and tore the wires off. Hauling mightily, she yanked the cords away from the cops and the taser guns skittered around her.

"These mortals put their putrescent hands on me. My form arouses some of them. They said things I don't understand. They're disgusting."

"Illyria, you cannot-"

"The fat ones pointed weapons at me!" She glared at the police with burning eyes.

Wesley heard a hysterical giggle coming from his own mouth and he clamped down, embarrassed. The danger of the situation was making him giddy with trepidation. Okay, with fear. He wanted badly to urinate.

"Illyria, don't you think we should get back to Buffy's house?"

Illyria snorted. "I do not care for that possessive little blonde. She insists on touching my pet."

A loud cop demanded they lay on the ground or he would blow their bleeping heads off.

"Your pet? You mean Spike of course. Well, he… was her pet first."

"I am Illyria, I take what I please." As if to prove it she turned and headed toward the cops.

Wesley grabbed her arm. She turned on him angrily, but he patted her shoulder in placating fashion and pleaded. "This is true, great one. But the blond one makes plans in your absence. Because … because your leadership is not there for all to rely on, you see."

"Halt!" the captain bellowed through the bullhorn. The others were tensed up, ready to blast them both at any threat. After the ass kicking she had dealt their brother officers, they were hot for retribution.

"You don't want to be left out of their plans, do you?" Wesley wheedled, desperation raising his voice to a piping alto.

"Very well." She stopped, grabbed Wesley in her arms and ran away with such speed that the cops reacted, firing at the spot they had occupied. Windows shattered and car alarms went off. When they had emptied their guns, the cops were left scratching their heads and craving donuts.

Around the corner, Illyria set Wesley down. He was dizzy and unsteady on his feet, clutching her for support.

"Ooh," he groaned, twisting his head gingerly. "I think … I believe I have whiplash."

Lorne shrugged. "Sorry, Muffin. But you got her ladyship back, so good job."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The magic left the room, leaving everything dark. Tara scrabbled blindly to Past-Willow and gathered her up from where she lay.

"Willow, baby. Wake up." She shook her gently and put an ear to Past-Willow's breast. The very idea that she might find no heartbeat caused a wet sob to choke her. She could hear nothing over her own panting, and she buried her face against in Past-Willow's blouse, the material blotting her flowing tears.

Past-Angel sat with his legs drawn up, leaning against the wall. He gripped his head in his hands and murmured, "No, God. Please, no. I didn't mean it. I didn't know."

Xander's flashlight knifed through the darkness as he came into the room.

Buffy moved to comfort Past-Dawn. Spike lay on his back, holding his majorly bleeding wound with both hands. Willow regarded the scene helplessly. She kneeled down by Tara and her own doppelganger, unsure of her next move.

Xander turned the flash on them and saw Past-Willow lying limp. He stomped furiously to Past-Angel.

"You sonofabitch!" He swung the flashlight and cracked Past-Angel's across the temple. He followed with a fist to the same spot, and recoiled in pain, clutching his hand to his stomach.

"Xander, knock it off," Past-Buffy ordered. "Leave him the hell alone."

Xander pointed. "That … mmmonster. You want to let him get away with it? I'm hunting up a stake." He shook his head resolutely. "No. No way he gets out of here."

"Leave, Angel," Buffy told Past-Angel. "Get out. Now."

He nodded mutely and wobbled to his feet. He started to speak, thought better of it and wearily plodded out the door.

Xander glared after him for a minute, speechless with outrage. "You … wonder why I don't want Spike around?"

Spike eyed him from where he lay. He said nothing.

"Soul or no soul," Xander went on. "It doesn't matter. Pain and – and disaster always follow these lousy demons. Karma. Maybe fate. Whatever.

He flashed the light on Buffy's face. "They'll get us all killed."

Past-Spike walked pensively over to his double. His eyes were faraway, stuck in thought.

A dissenting voice shook him from his reverie.

"He's wrong."

Past-Spike looked down at the mirror image. "Is that so? Seems on the money to me. Pain follows us, mate."

Spike said, "Probably. Along with everyone else."

"You think we'll be the death of this lot?"

"No," Spike gritted his teeth and reached up. With Past-Spike's help he grunted to his feet.

As he drew straight he leaned in and whispered in his counterpart's ear.

"I love her. Lost her twice now, but we keep finding each other. Why? Because true love is meant to be, mate."

Past-Spike shook his head and answered, "She's the Slayer. If you love her, stay away. Otherwise, you just might seal her fate."

Spike shook his head. "I know better." He gestured at the Buffys. "Tell me you don't feel it when you're holding her. When you kiss her?"

"I mostly hurt," Past-Spike sighed. "Loving her is heaven, and hell."

"News flash, love hurts like a bitch. It's worth it."

Past-Spike looked at Tara, crying over Past-Willow. "I don't know if that's true."

"All a part of life. Don't let yourself stop living."

"When did I get so wise?"

Spike smiled ruefully. "Sometime between now and the future. I'm just as surprised as you."

Willow watched Tara helplessly. She wanted to touch her, to connect with her sorrow.

"Tara?"

She looked up, and before Willow knew what was happening she had Tara in her arms, weeping miserably.

"Shh," Willow breathed. "It'll be all right, baby."

"Wil, can you save her?"

Willow craned her head toward Xander. "What?"

"You saved Buffy, brought her back. Can't you do the same for this Willow?"

Willow's arm tightened around Tara. "No."

Xander's lips presseds together. He steepled his fingers under his chin. "Maybe you don't want her back, mmm? I'm just askin'."

"Xander!" Buffy shot sternly.

"He's right," Past-Buffy said. "Why can't she bring Willow back?"

Buffy gently lifted Past-Dawn off her lap and laid her down. She rose got up. "How dare you?"

Willow protested, "You think I wouldn't bring her back if I could? I'd do it, I'd do

anything …"

"Except bring her back?" Xander shrugged.

"Wh-what if she's in Heaven?" Willow retorted, bristling. "Xander, listen. It wouldn't be right. You really want me to pull her away from Paradise?" Are you that selfish?"

Xander dropped his gaze. "No," he said hoarsely.

Past-Buffy said sadly, "I'm the one who failed. I should have saved her."

Spike looked expectantly at Past-Spike. He made an almost indiscernible movement with his head.

Past-Spike raised his brows in response and went to Past-Buffy. He patted her elbow. Slowly, she moved into his embrace.

"Not your fault, Luv. You'll grieve for Red – we all will, but don't blame yourself. It's just dishonest to do that. Self-indulgent, you know."

She clutched him very tightly, and once again Past-Spike was reminded of the Slayer's preternatural strength. He felt her tears soak into his shirt, and moved his hand to the back of her neck. Her grip was hurting, but he would not complain for the world. True love is meant to be. It dawned on Past-Spike that these words were pretty damned meaningful. Pretty damned true, as well. Way to go, me, he mused

Angel walked in. A hand cupped his ribs, and his grimace betrayed the agony he felt.

"What'd I miss?" he groaned.

Xander tossed a malevolent glance and otherwise ignored him.

"Tell you later, Peaches," Spike said.

"You're bleeding."

"Yes, like you. I'll be fine, soon as I get some blood."

"Don't look at me when you say that."

"Are you mad? You couldn't pay me …"

"Admit it. You yearn for it. My blood would hit the spot!"

"In your dreams, gramps."

Spike sank to the floor again. His chin sagged onto his chest. Buffy moved to him and squatted. She felt his cheek, then recalled that vampires don't get fevers.

"Hey, Spike."

Spike looked sidelong at her. "Worried 'bout me? I'll continue being unalive, don't worry."

"Good. You did promise to lock me up where we won't be disturbed. Can't do any fun stuff if you're dusty."

"I'd bloody well come back from dust. Not gonna miss that."

Buffy leaned in and kissed his forehead. "But I think we're stuck here."

Spike tried to shrug, the movement causing him to wince. "We'll figure somethin' out."

A sudden whirring noise drew their attention. A stirring formed against the far wall, a stirring that blew dust up from the floor, then picked it up in a vortex. The vortex grew. The noise increased to an ear-splitting shriek. Giles stepped out of the swirling dust, his thin hair blowing wildly. He held his eyeglasses to his head and looked back. The vortex calmed, its whirling slowing, halting, letting the dust settle back to the floor.

"Giles!"

"Buffy - er. Why are you shirtless?" Giles averted his gaze.

Buffy rushed to him and gave him a hug, ignoring his embarrassment. "It's a bra, Giles. Just like a bikini. My shirt's serving as a bandage. But forget that, I'm so stoked that you're here."

Spike struggled to get to his feet. He sank back, frustrated that he lacked the strength.

He snorted in frustration and said, "How'd you find us anyway, Rupes?"

Giles escaped from Buffy's death hug. "It took every wiccan at the Council's disposal. Angel told me that Buffy went gallivanting after you, so I wanted to lend some help. Wesley informed me that Willow opened a door to the dimension. The wiccans reopened the portal."

"Then let's use it to get home," Buffy said eagerly.

She hauled Spike to his feet, taking the bulk of his weight.

Angel glanced around the room. "Where're Wesley and Lorne?"

"Don't forget the royal pain," Spike said.

Past-Buffy told them, "Wesley and Lorne are out looking for her, the blue chick."

"Illyria," Spike corrected her.

Angel harrumphed and headed for the front door. "I'll find them. But if the portal leaves while I'm gone, Illyria is dead."

"How dare you threaten my life. I could crush you like an insect," Illyria said, striding in through the kitchen.

Wesley sagged with relief at sight of the portal. "Ah! We're going home."

Giles took his glasses off and polished them on his shirt. He stepped toward Wesley and put out his hand.

"Believe it or not, I'm glad to see you again, Price."

Wesley took his hand. "Indeed? Giles, I don't mind saying I'm ecstatic to see you. I cannot wait to get back to normal time and space."

Giles put his glasses back on. "There's nothing holding us back, so I believe we should—" his eyes fell on Past-Willow's body. "Oh, dear."

Tara said softly to Willow, "Don't go." Her voice was husky. "Stay. With me. Please?"

Willow stroked her shoulder. "I will."

"Willow," Buffy started.

"I can't lose her, Buffy." Willow's voice rose in pitch. "I – I just got her back."

Buffy blanked on what else to say. She looked from Giles to Spike, from Xander to Willow then on to Tara. Finally she shrugged.

"Bring her with, then."

"What?" Willow and Giles spoke in unison, disbelief in Giles' voice countered by hope and relief in Willow's.

"Yes," Buffy said resolutely. "Bring her. Why not? For once let's have this madness we're always getting messed up in deal us a little happiness."

"No!" Past-Dawn yelled. "I don't want her to go. She doesn't belong with you."

Past-Spike scooped a soothing arm around her.

"I don't want to lose someone else," Past-Dawn whined.

"Okay, Li'l Bit. It'll be okay."

Past-Dawn deflated in his embrace. She rubbed her nose and turned her eyes toward the ceiling.

Willow took Tara's hands. "Come with me. We can come back to this dimension to visit. All the time, if you want."

Tara closed her eyes. Slowly, reluctantly, she shook her head. Willow's mouth turned down at the corners, and an anguished expression filled her face.

"I'm needed here," Tara explained. "I – I'm from this world."

"Then I'll stay here, too."

Tara ran her hand over Willow's cheek. "We both have our own destinies. Our correct place on Earth and in Nature. Your place is in your own time, with your friends. You can't abandon them."

"Don't … you w-want me?"

"More than almost anything. I want you to come back. But we can't go against the flow of life's stream. It isn't right, and we'd never be happy. Couldn't be. I think if you're honest with yourself, you'll see it's true."

Willow said hopelessly, "I'm losing you again."

Tara caught Willow's tear on her finger. She brushed the finger against her lips, then kissed Willow's cheek. "You'll never really lose me."

Willow gulped against the lump that formed in her throat. She felt the realization that Tara was right invading her consciousness uninvited. Her mind raced for some excuse, some argument to counter that unwanted knowledge.

Tara leaned forward and pressed her lips against Willow's.

"Tara," Willow said, supplicating. "I-I love you. I can't -"

Buffy made a stricken sound and turned away, wiping tears away. The others turned away also, giving the two girls a moment.

Willow took Tara's goodbye with tremendous regret. When she joined the others, her face was downcast.

Past-Spike tapped Spike's arm. "Thanks, mate."

"For what?" Spike asked, leaning on Buffy.

"If you hadn't been such an ass and tried to steal my girl, I never would have gotten my soul." He put his arm around Past-Buffy. "You saved me."

Spike waved a dismissive hand. "You're a right smart bloke. You'd have been fine without me."

"And don't forget the handsome part."

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Conceited, much?"

Xander walked wordlessly from the room.

Past-Dawn followed. "Xander, you okay?"

"No, Dawn, so not okay." He looked at the sky. "You think she can see us?"

Past-Dawn leaned her head on his good shoulder. "I'm sure she's watching right now."

"I miss her, Dawnie. With every breath."

She hugged him around the waist. "I know."

"I wish I knew, you know, what's happening to her."

"I bet she's learning the answers to all the questions she ever asked. That'd be the first thing she does."

Xander barked a small laugh. "Yeah, you're right."

A meteor – a shooting star shot across the sky and Xander fancied it was Past-Willow, verifying her okayness.

"So right."

Anya watched them from the doorway, telling herself it was stupid to feel jealous of Dawn. "Are you two going to come in? We're saying final goodbyes."

Xander nodded they went in.

Past-Buffy gave regular Buffy a sad smile. "Thank you." Her eyes shifted to Spike. "Thank you both."

The future group filed into the portal. Willow gave Tara a last, long look before turning away. She strode purposefully through the portal.

The others followed, and the portal quickly collapsed.

Past-Buffy stared at the body of her best friend. "I don't know what to do, Spike. I've never…"

Past-Spike nodded sympathetically. "I know, Luv. I know."

Xander grabbed the phone. "We'll say she fell. I'll call for an ambulance."

Past-Spike nodded and drew Past-Buffy from the grisly scene, up to her room. "You should go have yourself a lie-down."

She met his eyes and they locked together. "Lay with me for a while?"

He nodded and they headed upstairs.

XxXxXxXxXxXx

Spike nearly fell over as they exited the portal and stepped into Lorne's bar on the other side.

"Bloody, buggering hell."

Buffy said, "Hey, I might have to wash your mouth out, Spike."

Spike sank onto a barstool. "Lorne, think I can get some Jack and blood?"

"Of course, Blondie Cakes." Lorne went behind his bar and commenced mixing.

Buffy settled herself on Spike's lap. Surprised, he acted cool, as though he expected such a move. He kissed her irresistible neck, giving in to impulse. But he stopped short of nipping her.

"Soon," he told her, "I'll be good as new, then we'll head to this nice little place I know. Far enough away we won't be bothered, but not so far we can't order food."

"Mmm, sounds nice." Buffy rested her chin on his shoulder and nipped at his neck. "We have to make up for lost time."

Angel grunted unhappily and turned to leave. Buffy called after him. "Angel!"

"Yeah?"

She held out the small stone. "This gave Angelus his soul. Think Wolfram and Hart can figure out where it came from?"

Angel nodded and took the stone. "Shouldn't be too difficult. Why?"

"I don't know, maybe this way doesn't give a happiness clause. You deserve a happy ending, Angel."

He sighed. "Seems someone else got my happy ending."

"You can make a new one." Buffy smiled encouragingly. "I'll always love you, you know."

He stared back gloomily and nodded. "Thanks."

He turned and hastened out the exit.

"I'll be going, then." Giles said.

"Back to England?" Buffy asked.

"No. There's someone, I er, need to see. I'll be in touch."

He headed out.

Illyria strode to the exit. "Come along," she told Wesley. "I do not like it here. You lied to me."

Wesley hurried after her, giving the group a last stricken look.

"Good luck, Puddin'," Lorne called after him.

Spike gave Buffy's hand a squeeze. "I still can't believe you chose me. Sometimes I think I'm going to wake up and all this will be a bloody dream, and you'll be with that poor, brooding beetle-brow again."

Buffy twisted so she could see his face. She touched his well-defined cheekbone. "I guess I'm going to have to convince you that this thing between us is really real."

She kissed him deeply.

Spike purred contently. He knew that everything they had gone through, all the misadventures past, present and whatever, all of it didn't matter. He had his Slayer – Buffy was finally, inarguably, his possession. His alone. Angel was out.

Past-Spike said it, and he was right.

True love is meant to be.

FIN

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