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: Spike learned the extent of how things were different in the other dimension, and the Immortal arrived in London and met with Hamilton, who assured him that everything was proceeding as planned...
Giles’ growls made the walls vibrate at Buffy’s back. She didn’t need to speak Fyarl to know he was annoyed, but it still wouldn’t be enough to get her to go inside. She couldn’t do it. Tara could think all she wanted that saying good bye to Giles and her mother was a good idea. Buffy disagreed. It would mean losing her mom all over again, and after the shock of Spike, she wasn’t nearly strong enough to take it. Not right now.
Her hand rubbed absently over her stomach, trying to quell the nausea that had risen. Halfway to Giles’ room, she had told Tara to make an excuse for her, her body already rebelling against the little bit of food she’d nibbled on in the kitchen. Only Tara’s reluctant agreement had stopped her from throwing up, but still, some of the discomfort lingered. So focused on subduing the feelings, Buffy didn’t even hear the heavy footsteps approach down the hall.
“What’s wrong, pet?”
The sound of Spike’s voice made her look up, her heartbeat skipping a beat when she recognized the bleached hair of her Spike. This dimension’s version hovered a few feet behind him, but the moment she glanced back to meet his eyes, he simply nodded and backed off, melting into the labyrinthine halls. It left the two alone, with only their pasts to guide them.
Sighing, Buffy pushed away from the wall, taking a few steps away from Giles’ door. “I told you we’d be right back,” she said. “What? You went a year without seeing me and now you can’t wait five extra minutes?”
It came out more bitterly than she intended, and there was no mistaking his small wince. He didn’t back off, though. He stood there and regarded her with solemn eyes.
“Came lookin’ for you because I found out about this daft idea of turning yourself over to Finn.” The calmness of his voice surprised her. The topic of Riley had always been a reliable one for unleashing Spike’s temper. “I didn’t expect to find you like this, though.” He tilted his head as he took a tentative step closer. “You goin’ to tell me what’s wrong, or do we set about playing twenty questions again?”
It was the gentility of his approach that undid her. It was those last few days before the final battle in the Hellmouth all over again.
“Tara wanted me to say good bye to Giles.” She swallowed. “And my mom.”
His gaze jumped to the door she’d been standing next to, understanding making them widen in surprise. “He said…” he started, and then stopped, as if realizing more would be redundant. Apparently, the specifics of the living arrangements had slipped through the cracks in the Other Spike’s tale-telling, although this Spike obviously knew about Joyce being alive.
“If you want to go talk to her, you can,” Buffy offered. “Tara’s in there right now, filling them in on all the updates, so she knows you’re here. I know…you liked her. And you never got to say good bye either, so, you know, you can now.”
Something resembling longing passed behind his eyes, but Spike tore his attention away from the door to return it to Buffy. “No need,” he said, shaking his head. “I made my peace with your mum when it happened, and seein’ as how she’s used to my face still bein’ about, no reason for me to do it for her sake.” He took another step. He was within touching distance now, but his hands remained at his sides. When he spoke, his voice was painfully tender. “Is she another reason why you don’t want to come home, luv?”
Tears she had kept at bay for what felt like hours filled Buffy’s eyes, and she wiped them away before they could fall. “Have you seen how these people live?” she demanded. “Underground, like rats, all because I didn’t kill Adam here. Don’t you see how I would want to fix that?”
“Do.” Another step. A hand reached out and caught her wrist, his calloused thumb brushing across her wet fingertips to collect the tears for himself. “Doesn’t mean you don’t also wish you could have your mum back, or Tara, or…” His lashes ducked, his gaze fixed on their hands. “…anyone else you might have lost.”
For all his earlier bravado, Buffy realized that learning the whole story about this other dimension had forced Spike to pay closer attention to the depth of what his return might mean. His demeanor had sobered, perhaps tempered by something else the Other Spike might have said to him, and the animosity and anger and confusion that Buffy had harbored since seeing him at the doorway dissolved into so much dust.
“How long have you been back?” she whispered.
Guilt flashed across his face. “Some months,” he admitted. “Someone sent the amulet to Angel a few weeks after our fight and I popped out of it like a bloody jack-in-the-box. I wasn’t real, and worse, something about it all had me tied to Los Angeles, so I couldn’t leave even when I tried.”
She pulled her wrist out of his grip and pressed her palm to his chest. The familiar solid wall of his muscles both calmed and excited her, her heart fluttering slightly as she remembered how good it had felt sleeping in the Other Spike’s arms. Not because it was the Other Spike. Because it was so close to her Spike.
“You feel real to me,” Buffy said. “I’m guessing something changed.”
Spike nodded. “Last November. And it cut my ties to Angel and LA.”
“But you stayed away.”
He backed off from her touch, shoving his hands into his pockets as he leaned against the wall. His head was bowed, his shoulders slumped. She didn’t need to press on how this shamed him; it was written in every defeated muscle of his body.
“Had all these grand plans,” Spike said. “How I’d show up on your doorstep, how you and the Bit would make me stay with you. None of it was real, of course, just castles in the clouds. You’ve got your lives to lead and don’t need a soldier around for the fight that’s not yours any more.”
“Let me finish.” When he lifted his head, his eye were a dark stormy shade, the emotion in them reaching out to her and yanking her to a silence. “Thinking on that got me scared, and I came up with an excuse to stay in LA for a little bit longer. And then a little bit longer. And then a bit longer after that. And pretty soon, it was too long. Because I knew I’d have to have this exact conversation, and I knew I’d have to look into your eyes and see the disappointment, and for all my grand talk and all my big words…I couldn’t do it. Because…you were proud of me, right?”
He phrased it as a question, seeking out confirmation in such a hopeful tone that Buffy could only say, “You know I am.”
The corner of his mouth lifted, and Spike nodded in gratitude. “A lot was said those last few months. Between us. Told you things I wouldn’t have dared before the soul, and you…”
Buffy’s smile was soft. “I made a lot of speeches last year.”
“And not just the ones to the slayerettes. Some of the stuff you said to me…I couldn’t let myself believe, as much as you wanted me to.”
Buffy nodded. She knew exactly how he felt. That was how she had been with Spike’s words that entire year after her resurrection.
“Not all our decisions are good ones,” Spike said. “All I can ask is that you let me try again. If nothin’ else, pet, I’m a dab hand in a fight. If you want me around, that is.”
“Stupid vampire,” she muttered good-humoredly. “I always wanted you around, even when I didn’t want it.”
He grinned, some of the slump in his body hardening as the mood shifted. Jerking his head in the direction the Other Spike had gone, he said, “But you had me around, didn’t you? At least since you dropped through the looking glass.”
Buffy looked down the hall, reliving the time she’d spent in this twisted version of her world. “In a way,” she conceded. “I think seeing you with Tara this morning would’ve been a lot harder if I hadn’t seen him first last night. He thought I was some trick of Adam’s and I was convinced I was dreaming. Turned out we were both wrong.”
“Can’t believe I ended up back in the bloody basement.” When she glanced back, Spike was looking up and around, drinking in his surroundings. “Always hoped I’d seen the end of this place.”
“Do you know, they actually open the Hellmouth to hide in there when Adam does his raids?”
His head snapped back to her. “What? Are they crazy?”
“That’s what I said!” Relief at having someone on her side regarding the issue, someone who saw immediately how stupid the notion was, made the adrenaline surge through her veins. “When Riley attacked this morning, that’s where everybody went to hide. Tara and Spike said it was the only place Riley wouldn’t go.”
His eyes narrowed. “So you went back down there?”
“Oh, god, no. Spike and I hid in the freezer in the cafeteria until the coast was clear.”
“Good. I didn’t go through all that with the amulet just to lose you again to that place. It’s been tough enough, thinking we weren’t going to be able to wake you up from the Immortal’s spell.”
Mention of her state back in their world brought Buffy back to the most immediate topic at hand. “So you get why I have to stick around now, right?” she said. “They need me here.” She laid a careful hand on his arm. “They need us.”
It was a deliberate ploy, but she had to use every trick she could. There was no way she could leave without doing everything in her power to help. Spike had to understand that.
“I get the need, luv,” he said slowly. “But you don’t have that luxury. The clock’s tickin’ on you back home. Your body’s only goin’ to last ten more hours of this magic before it gives out, and that’s not enough time to put this foolish plan of yours into action.”
“Then I have to change the plan.” She lifted her jaw, staring at him defiantly. “Because I’m not going anywhere until I know for sure Adam isn’t a threat to these people any more.”
Angel put off venturing downstairs for as long as he could. Another attempt to wake up Buffy had proven useless, and Giles had disappeared with Daniel to start making phone calls, to Dawn, to Willow, to Xander, to anybody he thought might have other ideas when it came to rousing Buffy and Spike. There was nothing left to be done except wait, which Angel was finding increasingly difficult. He was too used to getting fast results now, the consequence of being in charge at Wolfram & Hart for as long as he had, and this slow burn was beginning to wear on his last nerve.
It didn’t help that he was caught inside. What he really needed was a good fight to work off some of the tension. If he’d thought for a second he could get Spike to wake up, he would have pushed the other vampire out of bed himself in order to get a tussle in.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. With Ilona waiting in the downstairs study, Angel didn’t have to worry about taking unwanted calls, and when he pulled it out, he saw Wesley’s private line written across the screen.
“You’re up late,” he said in lieu of a greeting.
“I’ve been going over the spells you sent me,” Wesley said. “Fascinating, really. Once I had the full text of the original, it was quite simple to find other references to it. Were you aware it was originally commissioned for D’Hoffryn, the master of the vengeance demons, over a thousand years ago? Apparently, he wanted it for---.”
“You didn’t really call me in the middle of the night to give me a history lesson, did you, Wes?” Angel interrupted.
“Actually, I did. More recent history.” There was a shuffle of papers, and Angel heard the distinct slide of a chair across the floor. “In light of Ilona’s offer to aid us, I decided to find out what exactly I could about her, in hopes of discovering what her payment might be in advance. Were you aware that she shares a history with the Immortal?”
“Yeah, she mentioned something like that.”
“Did she tell you they were lovers?”
Angel frowned. “No, she didn’t.”
It wasn’t a huge surprise to hear. Ilona had been possessive of the Immortal ever since this entire debacle had begun. And she had admitted to being intimately aware of his weaknesses, which Wolfram & Hart wished to exploit. Being his lover was certainly one of the best ways to gain that advantage.
“And doesn’t the Immortal’s clock collection stem from his relationships with his lovers?”
That was when it clicked. Ilona had talked of the Immortal’s soft belly, his weakness, and all the while, avoided the topic of her own. Somewhere, somehow, the Immortal had to have power over Ilona, something that he could threaten her with to get her to cooperate with him, something Wolfram & Hart didn’t even know about because otherwise they wouldn’t have put her into such a position of power, given her such a task as recruiting the Immortal to their ranks.
Wesley’s prompt broke through his ruminations. “I’m here. I’m thinking.”
“Has Ilona told you what her payment is yet?”
“No.” Angel began to pace around the room, blocking out the scents of Buffy’s body as his mind continued to work. “I’d thought she might be working independently, but there’s no way she’d risk riling the Immortal by taking the clock. That means he knows.”
“Which also makes it highly likely that whatever payment she intends to exact is connected to Wolfram & Hart,” Wesley finished.
Angel snorted. “They already have me running their LA office. What more can I…” He stopped. There was plenty more. The possibilities were daunting. “We need to get Ilona out from under the Immortal’s thumb,” he said instead. “If she’s allowed to act independently of him, maybe we can get her to play for our side, if only for a few hours.”
Wesley’s hesitation was palpable. “Are you sure that’s wise? I know you liked her, Angel, but she’s been a Wolfram & Hart employee for years now, not to mention, by your own admission, having softer feelings for the Immortal.”
“I never said she’d be happy about it. Now, this is what I want you to do.”
Plaster showered around his powerful fist as Riley withdrew his hand from the wall, his armored fingers uncurling, then flexing as he shook off the dust. His accompanying growl had already faded by the time he resumed his pacing around the large room Adam used as his primary living quarters, but every once in a while, a silent snarl would twist his features into a death mask.
“Your failure still troubles you,” Adam commented. Seated at his computer, he held himself still as his download continued, the wires forcing him to merely watch Riley’s tirade. “Why?”
“Because I know she’s there, damn it!” Another swing punctuated his frustration, this time smashing a small wooden statue into shards. “They’re hiding her, and we should have had her. She should be here already.”
“Perhaps you were mistaken---.”
“No.” Riley stopped in his paces, his jaw tight as he glared at Adam. “It’s her. I know it is.”
For a moment, Adam looked as if he might argue, his normally calm eyes flickering in annoyance. It passed and he only tilted in head in curiosity. “The Slayer has been dead since our freedom. How is it you think this girl can be her?”
Rational argument brought a slight sag to Riley’s broad shoulders. “Maybe it was the witch,” he argued. “Hostile Seventeen was protecting both of them last night, and we know her powers are strong enough for resurrection spells. Maybe they brought her back as a way to fight against us.”
Adam almost smiled. “Because she was so effective the first time? That does not make sense.”
“Neither does hiding in a Hellmouth or thinking they’ll win. Since when do any of them care about sense? Especially Hostile Seventeen?”
It took a few seconds for Adam to respond. “I do not pretend to understand your fascination with the Slayer line,” he said, “but this continued agitation serves no good to me. Are you certain this is the same Buffy Summers you knew?”
Riley pulled himself straight. “Yes.”
“Then I shall get her for you.” Reaching across the desk, Adam punched a few keys on the computer before disengaging the wire from his chest. “If the Slayer is what you want, then the Slayer is what you shall have, my brother.”
To be continued in Chapter 22…