DISCLAIMER: We know they're Joss', right? Which really is a shame, because most of the time, we're so much nicer to them than he was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Angel and Ilona had a conversation about the Immortal, and Buffy and Other!Spike managed to get away from Riley...

* * *

It took a phone call and a rather distressed housekeeper to finally pull the Immortal from the bedroom, leaving Spike alone with Buffy for the first time since the collapse of the Hellmouth. He had been acting nonchalant about the entire matter ever since the realization he couldn’t actually hurt the wanker while they were both inside the house, but the second the door whispered shut behind the Immortal, Spike was up, out of his chair, bending over Buffy’s unconscious form.

Her skin was flushed, a sheen of sweat over her brow making her long hair stick to it in thin tendrils. The raised temperature he and Angel had detected earlier was even higher now, and as Spike brushed a cool knuckle over her cheek, the heat transferred to his own flesh, a quiet insurgence that gripped his heart in fear.

“You can stop scaring us any time now,” he murmured, settling to sit on the edge of the bed. The Immortal had insisted he remain in his chair, but without a babysitter, Spike was going to get as close to Buffy as he bloody well could. Maybe all she needed to wake up was a close reminder of the people who loved her.

“Gotta tell you, though…the Immortal?” Spike shook his head. “Angel, I can almost understand. Know that whole brooding thing can be taken as sexy by the bubblegum set even if the rest of us know it’s not nearly so interesting. Don’t tell him I said so, though. His head gets any bigger, and he’ll have enough hot air for lift off.”

He picked up her hand, spreading her slim fingers along his. She had a new scar near the base of her thumb. Something twisted inside Spike at the notion that he had no idea how she had gotten it.

“Finn even makes sense in that twisted Slayer logic of yours,” he went on. “Built like Angel, not quite human for awhile there but without those pesky sunlight issues that always wound you up. Never liked it, but I s’pose I always understood it.”

The next link in the chain was him, but there was no way Spike was going there. When they finally woke Buffy up and she saw that he was alive – had been alive for months – there would likely be plenty of time to argue and dissect whatever it was that had transpired between the pair of them. He would save his energies for then.

“But the Immortal?” Even with the proof in front of his eyes, he couldn’t see it. “The tosser goes through girls like tissue, pet. Uses them for his own nefarious needs and leaves ‘em basking in afterglow too blind to see what he’s actually done. You deserve better than that. Hell, I’d rather see you with Angel again than see you waste yourself with that git. And we both know how bloody much I hate the notion of you with Angel.”

As he spoke, he turned her hand over in his, examining the fine lines of her palm. “All I wanted was for you to take your life back, pet. Got rid of the responsibility of slaying, didn’t you? Not that I thought you’d ever give that up, but at least bein’ one of many took some of the weight off. Gave you a chance to…”

Spike stopped, a dark crescent beneath her fingernail coming suddenly to his attention. The nail itself was flawless, painted in a pale iridescence as befitted her obvious mood in going out that night. But lifting her hand for closer inspection, he could see dried flakes caught beneath it. He sniffed. Blood. There had been dried blood on the clock as well; it was probably only that, getting lodged beneath her nail when she’d touched it.

Something niggled at him, though, more than the slight memory of Giles’ scent attached to the timepiece. Without thinking, he pressed a nail beneath hers, scraping away a few of the flakes and then lifting them to his tongue.

His eyes went wide upon immediate recognition, flying to Buffy’s pinked face as he gazed at her with growing alarm. “Oh, bloody hell…”

*************

Their feet pounded through the echoing tunnels, occasionally hitting the unseen puddle that then splashed up to dampen her jeans. Buffy clutched the weapon tight against her torso, allowing the shifting bones and muscles of Spike’s hand to guide her through the darkness, and tried not to think about the demon she’d left behind, the monster that wore an old lover’s face but carried within in it little of his heart. It was a lot more difficult than she thought it would be.

Though she had never liked how quickly he had moved on – and if she was being completely honest with herself, Buffy could admit to feeling petty dislike for the perfect woman Riley had ended up finding – it still pleased Buffy that Riley had been able to attain some sort of happiness. It was too fleeting in their short existences, and outside of everything else, she really did want the best for him.

This Riley, however, had never known Sam. He might not have known Buffy all that well, either; she really had to find out from Spike when it was exactly she had died in this world. It was bad enough to think his future had been denied him, but to consider that he was now at the disposal of a monster like Adam? She shuddered at the thought. Before she left this place, she was going to do everything in her power to end what he would have hated. Adam was going to go down, but so was Riley and anybody else who had been changed in her absence. She owed him that at the very least.

After what felt like forever, Spike’s pace finally began to slow, and the distance between them closed as his arm grew less stiff in his pull. “Need to stop,” he murmured. “Just…for a sec.”

His fingers disappeared, leaving Buffy isolated with only the stale air of the sewer and the cool metal of her weapon for company. “Is it your injury?” she asked. Her voice sounded hollow, and when she heard the faint slosh of a puddle a few feet ahead, her hand shot out and grabbed Spike again. “Is there anything I can do?”

Without illumination, she was at a loss for what could be going through his mind in the silence that followed her query. She had never realized how much she relied upon his visual cues before. It was almost like he was dead again.

“No,” Spike said. “Nothin’ for you to do.” His fingers rested over hers and uncurled them from his arm. He didn’t let go, though. He simply led her a few more yards until pressing her hand to the solidity of the tunnel wall. “Catch your breath,” he instructed, letting her go. “I’m fairly sure we’ve lost ‘em and I need a minute or two to get this to stop bleeding.”

“Oh. OK.”

She leaned against the cold wall, molding her back to the slight curve, and pretended not to be a little wigged. It wasn’t that she was scared; it was the remoteness of it all, knowing Spike was only inches away, doing…something to see to his wound, but unable to see or hear or smell or do anything to know exactly what it was. All she could hear was the faint echo of water dripping, and all she could feel was the growing cold. The sanctuary of the high school was going to be a welcome reprieve after the events of the past half hour or so.

“I loved you.”

Though she knew he stood somewhere nearby, the darkness made it seem like his hushed voice was all around her. Her eyes pricked with tears; in that moment, he sounded so much like her Spike that she was transported back to the night the gang had turned on her, deciding Faith was the better leader. All the things he’d said to her, the vows about his feelings independent of expectation. And she had never had the nerve to tell him exactly how she had needed to hear them, how they had opened up so much inside her, until it had been too late.

“I can’t imagine it, you know.” He was still speaking. Buffy had no idea why he was talking to her when he supposedly wanted to tend to his injuries. “There was a lot I did for Dru, a lot I put up with, because I loved her. But a soul?” She could almost see him shaking his head. “After Angel, that became a dirty word. It was everything that was wrong. The excuse made for what he didn’t want to face. Always seemed like fancy footwork for him to stop trying, you know?”

She didn’t, but she was sure it made complete sense to Spike. “So you can’t believe you’d get a soul, but you can believe you loved me?” she added quietly.

He snorted. “Fall for a woman I can never really have, who’s beautiful, strong, and loyal to the bloody death? No, can’t see that at all, Slayer.”

She had to ask. “And that doesn’t bother you?”

The silence returned, weighing heavy and wet against her skin. Answer me! she wanted to scream, anything to make the isolation go away. She knew it was wrong, knew she shouldn’t be seeking out these moments with him. This wasn’t her Spike, and never would be, and to try and recreate that was badness on so many levels that it made her head spin when she tried to think about it.

But she kept coming back to the same conclusion. He’s all I’ve got.

His heavy tread stepped through a puddle, the sound of the water bouncing off the walls. Buffy felt the cool touch of his hand on her arm, but before she could reach for more, Spike was leading her away from the wall, his pace slower and more measured.

“Did you love him?” he asked out of the blue.

Their steps didn’t falter, and she could tell from the direction of his voice that he wasn’t looking at her. Could he see her in the darkness? Wasn’t it natural instinct to turn toward people when you talked to them?

“Not when we were together,” she admitted.

Spike made a sound that she would have called a sigh if it had come from anybody else. “Of course not.”

His response put her on the defensive. “It was…complicated.”

“Is that why I – he – got the soul?”

Buffy fell silent, contemplating the question. She knew why he was asking all of them; he couldn’t wrap his brain around voluntarily turning himself into Angel, which was how he would see it even though it was far from the real case. But she didn’t want to share all the details of that night in the bathroom, or the months of violence beforehand, or the months of loneliness afterward. This Spike didn’t need them.

“We never really talked about why he got it,” she answered. That much was true. She and Spike had spent that last year doing everything they could to pretend that night had never happened. “Things got scary the months before he died. There wasn’t time for anything but training and fighting and…and then it was too late.”

“I don’t want to know how,” he said, suddenly vehement. “Know Tara saw it, know you want to have your own show and tell with it, but leave me out of the sharing when you feel like dissecting my death, all right? It’s not me, and it takes all I bloody have to do what must be done in my own life, let alone worrying ‘bout the choices another me might have made.”

“I can do that.” Buffy agreed without hesitation. She had a feeling there would be plenty of time when she got back to relive Spike’s death over and over inside her head, just like she had in those first few days after it had happened. And as long as this Spike was talking about it---.

“Just tell me one more thing,” he said. “Then I’m droppin’ this.”

“Go for it.”

There was a light far ahead, filtering through a grate in the ceiling. Spike didn’t speak again until they were standing in the pool of illumination, and his eyes were darkly intent on hers.

“If you could go back and save him,” he murmured, “would you do it?”

Of all the questions he could have asked. She knew why he had waited to ask it, too. He wanted to see her reaction, gauge for himself the veracity of her response without having the cover of darkness to hide behind. But like so many of his other questions, there really was only one answer she could give him.

“I would want to,” Buffy confessed. “More than anything. But no, I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.” She left the rest of it unspoken. Because Spike did it to save the world, to save all of us. He would hate me for taking that away from him.

Spike’s jaw was tight, his features even more harshly etched from the shadows cast across them. He gave no outward reactions to her reply, but his fingers relaxed from the grip he’d had on her arm.

“Leg up, luv,” he said, jerking his chin toward the grate over their heads. Apparently, he wasn’t going to give her an oral reaction either. “We’re home.”

*************

The phone call with Ilona lasted far too long for Paolo’s comfort. She was over-reacting, he was sure, and her concerns about the vampire Angelus were colored completely by her attraction to him, but Paolo listened to her anyway, arguing her points with as much precision as he could allow. She had been with Wolfram and Hart for too long; she was losing her delight in life that had made her such a joy in her youth. Perhaps he would make the suggestion she take a vacation during their next lunch together.

He hung up the phone with a vague sense of disquiet, though. Angelus’ inquiries were really of no import in the long run; the clocks were harmless and always had been. It was merely an unfortunate accident that Buffy had encountered one, and one he would ensure could not be repeated once she was awake again. But the fact that the vampire would so relentlessly pursue their creation, as if Paolo had done something wrong in appropriating them, left him worried that he would pry elsewhere. That might prove a trifle more alarming than Ilona’s anxiety about Angelus roaming the city.

“Is there anything you need for me to do?” Donatella asked, hovering at his elbow.

Paolo shook his head. “Ilona has the matter well in hand. Her mages will find the answers we need to wake Buffy.” He turned back to the stairs, then stopped, another thought springing to mind. “Alert the grounds people to be wary of any more unannounced callers. Angelus may decide to return without warning. I do not hold hopes that he will be as accommodating this time.”

She bobbed her head in compliance and asked, “Do we need to do a disinvite?”

It was a tempting suggestion. “Unfortunately, this must wait. Until Buffy awakens. We shall simply be more careful until she does.”

He left Donatella to her duties, mulling over this newest development as he slowly climbed the stairs. He was not accustomed to so much disruption in his routine, and once life had returned to normal, he was going to have a long conversation with Buffy about her vampire friends. He was not concerned about her romantic history – after all, she was with him now – but their appearances into his life created chaos. Disorder. These were things Paolo had spent his entire existence fighting. He would not allow his life to be altered unnecessarily, simply because of a single liaison.

He had banished all worries of Ilona and Angelus to the back of his mind by the time he reached his bedroom door. Before opening it, he took a deep, calming breath. William the Bloody gave him a headache, with his obnoxious behavior and his constant brash commentary. Paolo would have loved to hit the vampire back, but the unfortunate side effect of the sanctuary spell meant he couldn’t harm others as well. It was a shame. The vampire could use a good beating to show him his true place.

His temporary calm disappeared the second he opened the door.

Buffy and the vampire were gone.

 

To be continued in Chapter 12