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: Buffy found out her Spike was alive, and Angel and Giles argued about Spike's efforts...

* * *

Buffy didn’t realize she had filled a coffee cup with half milk, half blue Kool-Aid, until Tara’s gentle hand wrapped around hers as she held the mug, prising it away with only a small smile.

“Are you OK?” Tara asked. Her voice was soft, warm eyes concerned. “That was…kind of a shock back there.”

“No kidding.” With a sigh, Buffy brushed back a loose lock of hair, settling heavily into the lone chair in the tiny space that served as a kitchen. “I just…he was supposed to be dead. Although I don’t know why I’m surprised. Death seems to be as permanent in my life as Anya’s hair color used to be.”

Tara leaned against the small stretch of counter. “What are you going to do?”

“About Spike?” Buffy shrugged. “Play it by ear, I guess. I kind of want to ask why he didn’t let me know he was alive, but then…well, seeing Spike again – your Spike – has had me thinking about everything that happened in Sunnydale, and everything that happened before, and…I’m sure he’s got his reasons. He doesn’t want me jumping all over him and telling him he screwed up.” She flushed at Tara’s raised brows. “Well, no more than I already have.”

“And there’s always time to talk about it later,” Tara said. “When you get back to your own dimension.”

Mention of leaving reminded Buffy of Spike’s assertions. “Could he be right?” she asked. “About me being the one holding me back. Could that be true, or is that Spike just blowing smoke to make me feel bad about it all?”

Tara took a moment to consider it before shaking her head. “Obviously, he’s not the Spike I know,” she said, “but I think I know enough to see that he cares for you. And what he suggested could be completely true. You’ve found things here that you didn’t have back home. Your mom, and me, and…” Her lashes ducked for a moment. “Spike.”

It was all true, but now that it was brought up, Buffy could see that it was much, much more than that. “There’s this business with Adam and Riley, too,” she argued. “That’s my fault, and I can help you fix it. Make things better around here.” She lifted a hand to cut Tara off when the other girl tried to interrupt. “Yeah, I know, different Buffy. But still. I feel responsible, and the fact of the matter is, I’m the only one who knew what it would take to bring him down. It’s not right for you to have to go on living like this if you don’t have to. And I can’t just walk away until I know I’ve done everything I could.”

“But you might not have a choice. Spike said you only have a few hours left. Buffy, no matter how you might feel, nobody here would be happy about you getting hurt or worse, dying, because you stuck around so long just to help us. In fact, I think Joyce and Spike would be pretty upset about it.” Her smile was soft. “You’ve messed with his head a lot, you know. I don’t think he knows if his Buffy hate is coming or going.”

Buffy returned the smile, though she couldn’t quite meet Tara’s gaze. She couldn’t deny what Tara was referring to. “Yeah, well, we both pretty much agreed it was a heat of the moment thing. And now that my Spike’s here, and alive…”

She was back where she’d started from. Questions upon questions upon questions without an answer in sight. There were others, of course, but she knew those would wait until after she got home again. Had Giles known all along? How long had Spike been back? Did he not love her any more? Was that why he hadn’t told her he was alive?

She thought she knew the answer to the love question. He had been too jealous, too direct for his feelings to be gone. They were still there, simmering beneath the surface, waiting for some kind of ignition from her to be released. Her confession in the Hellmouth hadn’t been enough, obviously. He hadn’t believed her then. He might not believe her now.

Did she even want to tell him?

“We should probably go by Giles and Joyce’s room to let them know about the other Spike being here,” Tara was saying. “If you can disappear at any moment, I think they would want to say good bye. If that’s OK with you.”

Buffy rose to her feet, taking the tray of food that Tara was holding out. “I need to let Giles know we’ve got more muscle for the attack on Adam, too,” she said. She paused, wrinkling her nose as a thought occurred to. “Except I don’t understand Fyarl. If he has questions---.”

“Joyce or I can interpret,” Tara finished. She tilted her head toward the hall. “Let’s go.”

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

He had asked for answers. Spike never expected to get nightmares.

The Other Spike’s tone remained casual, relating fact after fact about the world Buffy’s decision to not take him in had created. Adam. Buffy’s death. Fyarl Giles. The demon hybrids running amok with Adam at the helm. How those that fought back had taken to hiding over the Hellmouth. Part of Spike was proud for being involved in the battle, though he was more than a little surprised that his human partner was Tara. But even more, it sobered him, realizing this was what Buffy had walked into. No wonder she didn’t want to go back. Though it seemed like such a small choice – and honestly, Spike had wondered more than once how his life would’ve been different if he hadn’t gone to Rupert’s that day – it had snowballed to create a world she would ultimately think was her fault.

His only issue with her decision to stay and fight was the matter of time.

“You say you’ve never got close to Adam?” he asked the Other Spike, his eyes narrowed.

“Not without someone losin’ a life or a limb or both,” came the reply.

“And yet, Buffy’s ready to charge in, guns a-blazing, on this harebrained scheme you and Rupes have been hatching on the side when you’re good and drunk and feelin’ kamikaze.”

Other Spike grinned. “What can I say? Slayer’s got stones.”

“Slayer’s got a death wish,” Spike snarled. He bolted from his seat and began pacing around the room. “How the hell can she believe she’s goin’ to get close enough to be able to strike when the time for the mojo comes?”

Some of Other Spike’s amusement faded. “Actually, that’s the part of her plan I was tryin’ to talk her out of.”

Spike nearly rolled his eyes. If this battle-weary, hungrier version of himself didn’t like Buffy’s idea, there was no way it could be good. His voice was terse. “Tell me.”

“Daft bint think she’s goin’ to turn herself over to Finn.”

“What?!?” He stopped in his paces and stared at the other vampire, incredulous. “Riley Finn? Captain of the Corn himself? What the bloody fuck does he have to do with anything?”

He listened as the Other Spike told about Finn’s hybridization, how he’d been sporting wood for Slayers since the change, how Faith had stayed human under his eye, and how he’d stormed the Hellmouth, likely in search of another Slayer to satisfy his obsession. His stomach sank with every detail. While he had hoped that getting it fixed in Buffy’s head was just a matter of convincing her she couldn’t take out Adam, knowing that Finn was in the picture changed everything.

“Bloody hate the idea myself,” Other Spike was saying. He’d pulled out a pack of cigarettes and was playing with it, his eyes straying continuously to the door. “But she got it into her head and I haven’t been able to shake it. Was goin’ to make Rupert growl at her really loud to scare her into backing off the notion.”

“Idiot. You don’t give her a choice! You tie her down if you have to. Chains work really well, trust me. She gets bitchy afterward, and you might get a thump or two, but voice of experience here, mate. They’ll work.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter now, anyway, does it? She’s got a deadline, you said. There’s no way we can get everything ready in time. How long exactly before things go south back where you lot come from?”

Spike glanced at the clock on the shelf, doing the math quickly in his head. “Just under ten hours. Didn’t want to cut it so close, though. Rupert and Angel will have my---.”

“Angel?” It was Other Spike’s turn for shock. “What’re you doin’ hangin’ about with him? Don’t tell me you two decided to form a Soul Club for Vampires or something.”

He didn’t have time for this, but the look on his counterpart’s face said that this was a topic he wouldn’t shake until satisfied. “It’s a long story,” he said. “Suffice it to say, it’s all wrapped up in how I came back and why Buffy still thought I was dead. Right now, Angel needs me. Wanker can’t find his ass with both hands these days.”

The Other Spike slumped back against the bed, tossing the pack of cigarettes aside. “If you ask me, Buffy needs you more.”

What needled was that the same thought had flitted across his head more than once since he’d made his choice to stay in LA, but there was no way in hell Spike was going to let the other vamp know that.

“Buffy can take good care of herself,” he shot back.

“Yeah?” A single brow quirked. “Took up with the Immortal, didn’t she? If that’s not a desperate cry for help, I don’t know what is.”

Growling, Spike pointed a menacing finger at his double. “Stay out of what doesn’t concern you. You don’t know the first thing about what my life is like now, or what Buffy and I have gone through.”

“Know she woke up cryin’ in my bed last night.” Other Spike was completely unperturbed by his level words, though they were like a punch to Spike’s gut. “Know she looked at me those first few hours like I don’t remember anybody ever looking at me. And I know you’d be a bloody fool to think none of what you did matters to her. Even now.”

It was a little schizophrenic, arguing with another him. Menacing didn’t work because there were no tricks to be hidden. And in spite of their divergent past four years, their brains still worked the same. The same logic and observations Spike had used on everybody surrounding him were now being tossed back at him, whether he liked it or not. How the hell was he supposed to argue with that?

“I came after her, didn’t I?” He glanced at the door. Why was breakfast taking so long? “And I mean to talk her out of this rubbish plot. She has to know it’s suicide.”

“That never stopped the Slayer I knew. Or the one I’ve got the chance to know now.”

With a frustrated grunt, Spike marched over to the door and threw it open wide, stepping out in the hall. He looked up and down it, sniffing at the air, but other than the same distractions that had permeated upon his arrival, he found nothing. The chuckle from the bed within only irritated him further.

Where the hell are you, Buffy?

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

The plane touched down on the damp Heathrow tarmac, its wheels hissing where they made contact and rolled along in a blur as the brakes squealed beneath the engines. Above, the sky was a dull gray, the last vestiges of an early morning rain, but the air was crisp and spring-cool, even with the scent of oil hanging in the air. As the plane slowed to a lazy taxi, a dark Bentley with its windows blacked out shadowed behind, following it to a private terminal set apart from the rest of the airport.

It took several minutes for the small plane to come to rest, and a few more after that before the doors opened. Behind, the Bentley waited, its motor now quiet. A somber chauffeur stepped out and went around the vehicle’s rear, waiting at the back door for whoever would disembark from the plane.

First came a tall, gaunt figure, impeccably dressed in a white suit. He didn’t even glance at the Bentley, choosing instead to march in long strides toward the terminal doors. The next, however, drew the chauffeur’s attention, and he lifted his head to squint up and watch the Immortal step gracefully down the ladder.

He didn’t smile. His black eyes were hard and cold, missing any of the warmth from the previous night. To the casual onlooker, there would have appeared to be lines creasing his mouth, but a second look would have shown that to be an illusion. The Immortal did not have wrinkles or obvious signs of aging, nor did sleep usually mar his smooth features. The history books could prove that.

His step was agile as he walked slowly toward the Bentley, nodding at the man as he approached. “Good evening, sir,” the chauffeur said, opening the door. His British accent was clipped and sure.

The Immortal didn’t reply, choosing instead to slide into the back seat. As soon as he met the broad features of the man sitting opposite however, something loosened in his aspect, a hint of relief softening what absolutely wasn’t tension.

“Signore, so good of you to meet me,” the Immortal said.

Marcus Hamilton held out his large hand, an amiable smile splitting his features. “It’s most certainly my pleasure,” he replied. “After all, you’re very important to the Senior Partners. And these recent developments with Angel are…unfortunate.”

“Do you know where she is?”

Hamilton continued to smile, even as the front door of the car opened and closed, the chauffeur’s shadow appearing in the front seat. “Ms. Summers is currently in the Watchers’ Council’s custody, as we expected would be the case when Angel and Spike fled Rome.”

“And Ilona?”

“Has delivered both the spell and the clock to them safely.”

With a heavy sigh, the Immortal leaned back against the smooth leather, turning his face toward the darkened window. Through the shaded glass, the faint outlines of the terminal edged away as the Bentley began to move, but more visible was his reflection.

“I do not like such unpredictability,” he murmured. “Anything can happen.”

“Anything won’t happen,” Hamilton assured. “Should Angel balk at Ilona’s payment, the Senior Partners have made my instructions very clear.”

“Yes, I am certain they have.”

The pair lapsed into silence as the car maneuvered away from the airport, and soon they were merging with traffic on the M4. Hamilton was the first to break.

“You seem perturbed,” he said. “Is there something I can do to ease your mind?”

Dark eyes slid back to Hamilton. “This is not how I do business, signore. It does not please me to know Buffy is still in the hands of those…vampires.”

“A temporary but necessary measure. Rest assured, by the time you return to Rome tonight, this entire matter will be resolved, and Ms. Summers will be at your side once again.”

“And the vampires?”

“The Senior Partners have their own plans for Angel, but Spike holds absolutely no interest of them. He’ll be disposed of appropriately.”

For the first time since getting into the car, the Immortal smiled.

“This is excellent news. Thank you.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 21