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.
SETTING: Begins at the beginning of "The Girl in Question" and then goes AU from there.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: It is Buffy/Spike, but because of the canon start, there are hints of Buffy/The Immortal.
Buffy’s heels clicked against the tiled walk as she bounced up to the front door of the villa. The sun was getting low on the horizon, but frankly, it couldn’t come soon enough for her. It had been a hell of a day, and now all she wanted was a night of dancing and an attentive boyfriend to forget the badness. And it would all start with a knock on Paolo’s door.
Piercing black eyes stared back at Buffy in surprise from the other side of the threshold. “You are…early, signorina,” the elderly woman said, her hand still on the doorknob.
Buffy smiled. “And thus I continue spreading the mystery that is me,” she replied brightly. She peered over Donatella’s shoulder, into the sparkling grand foyer behind her. “Paolo did tell you I was supposed to meet him here, right?”
“Si, si.” Mention of the Immortal had his housekeeper bustling out of the open doorway, pulling it ajar even further to allow Buffy room to enter without hindrance. The chill of the house made the skin bared by her halter prickle with goosebumps, her hands automatically coming up to her arms to rub them warm again. This was why they spent so much time at her crappy apartment, she thought as Donatella led her to the front room. Buffy could never get over how cold Paolo kept his house.
Donatella didn’t follow her into the plush lounge, lingering in the doorway with her hand on the door. The woman had a serious problem letting go of knobs, Buffy thought with amusement, like she needed to be ready to close a door at a moment’s notice. She kept her comments to herself, though, contenting to curl up in the corner of the white couch.
“You will wait here,” the housekeeper said. “The Immortal…he has not returned yet.”
With a small frown, Buffy glanced at the ornate clock on the mantle. “I’m not that early.”
“Early enough,” came the reply, and the whisper of the door closing finished that particular discussion.
Alone at last, Buffy sighed and closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the soft cushions of the couch. When she had called earlier that day, furious with Angel for having the audacity to have one of his lackeys follow her around, Paolo had been his usual, easy-going self, suggesting a night out on the town with dancing and lots of alcohol to forget her California troubles. Buffy had jumped at the chance. She didn’t want to think about exes going bad, and then good, and then bad, and then good, and then bad yet again.
Angel was his own day of his unlife. He switched personalities almost as much as Marlena. Buffy was beginning to get a little tired of it all.
Deep down, though, it hurt a little to think that he didn’t trust her. Was she sending Slayers out to check he wasn’t trying to destroy the world with memos and Armani? No. She was letting him do his thing, even if it was at the head of Evil Incorporated. The least she expected was the same courtesy.
Dwelling on the issues with Angel brought back the dull throb behind Buffy’s eyes, and she unfolded from her position on the couch to begin wandering around the room for distraction. Think of dancing, she told herself as she skimmed slim fingers along the expensive figurines on display. Think of muscular Italian arms. Think of accented whispers in the middle of the night that make the past disappear.
The last made her pause, eyes suddenly seeing nothing as the other implication of a husky accent came through loud and clear in Spike Surround Sound.
“I've seen your kindness and your strength. I've seen the best and the worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You're a hell of a woman…”
Not for the first time, Buffy answered with her own silent pledge.
And you were a hell of a vamp, Spike. I miss you.
The crystal chiming of the clock on the mantle made her jump, startling Buffy from the memories she tried so hard to keep at bay these days. Officially, she wasn’t early any more, but still there was no sign of the usually punctual Paolo, and her eyes strayed to the closed door as if he would come striding boldly through it at any minute.
He didn’t. The chiming died away with Buffy alone in the room.
She walked to the door, listening for sounds of movement on the other side. For as much staff as Paolo had, his manor was always eerily quiet, people moving around as if on clouds. The only noises that could be counted on were the incessant chimes of clocks throughout the house, striking on the half hour, the full hour, the quarter hour, whatever hour that particular instrument had been tuned to. Every room had one. Well, she thought every room had one. She hadn’t actually seen the entire house, but everything she had seen came complete with its very own clock.
She had long ago stopped thinking it ironic that someone called The Immortal would be obsessed with time.
Pulling the door open, Buffy peered into the hall, venturing out of the front room when she realized she was alone. She found it hard to believe that Paolo was running late. Odds were good that he was merely upstairs, getting ready for their date, in which case she could surprise him by slipping in and helping. That way led much touching goodness and if they didn’t actually make it to the club for dancing, Buffy didn’t think she would really have a problem with that.
Except Paolo wasn’t in his bedroom, either.
Standing at the foot of his king-sized bed, Buffy’s fingers curved around the wooden post while she wondered what to do next. Any other man and she wouldn’t be worried, but Paolo’s compulsive need to be on time for everything was not something to be dismissed. If she knew what his business had been that afternoon, she could go out and make sure he was all right. But he hadn’t divulged any details when they’d spoken, and she was pretty sure that if she asked Donatella, the housekeeper would merely scold her in her broken English and herd her back to the front room to wait.
Buffy glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Five more minutes. She’d give him five more minutes and then try him on his cell. Maybe she’d misunderstood the message to meet at the house, though the fact that Donatella had expected her gave that possibility little credence.
Was a very long time.
With a frustrated sigh, Buffy flounced out the door, ready to head back downstairs and wait in the freezer of a front room. A distant chiming from down the hall, nearly sucked away by the plush carpeting beneath her feet, made her hesitate, her eyes flickering to the row of closed doors stretching away from the stairs. There was so much of Paolo’s home that she had never seen, rooms he joked about storing away the souvenirs of a life that went on for centuries. While she had never pressed the issue, Buffy had always been curious what kind of mementos someone called The Immortal kept around. After all, she had left her entire life behind in a crater. All she collected any more were memories.
What did a man who’d lived dozens of lifetimes collect?
Casting one last glance down the curving staircase, Buffy made sure none of the staff was in sight before creeping to the door next to Paolo’s bedroom. The knob refused to turn in her hand. So did the next two.
The fourth gave her a shock before she even touched it.
Jerking her fingers back, Buffy frowned down at the simple gold-colored handle. It looked completely innocent, but when she pressed her palm to the wooden door, it was hot against her palm. She tested the wall to either side but the heat was contained to only the doorway, running along the hinges and seeping into the carpet at the floor. On a whim, she tried the next door down, but while it was locked, it didn’t have the same defensive mechanisms as the one that shocked her had.
Knowing what to expect this time, Buffy returned to the other doorway, gritting her teeth while she prepared to try it again. There was a moment when a faint voice in the back of her head warned her about breaking in. Things are behind bars for a reason, it said. But her curiosity was louder. While Paolo’s morality was sometimes questionable, he had never been anything but honest with her about what he did or what he was. She found it hard to believe that he’d house something dangerous without alerting her to be careful.
Electricity burned through her veins when she gripped the handle the second time. Surprisingly, this door wasn’t locked.
Expecting to have to force it open, Buffy stumbled inside when the door gave way, falling to her hands and knees. The floor wasn’t carpeted in here, but before she could look up from the smooth wood, the door whispered shut behind her, leaving the room in pitch blackness. She was left with her skin crawling from the dark and the faintest of echoes pulsing around her.
Carefully, Buffy rose to her feet, arms reaching out in front of her as she turned around to make her way back to the door. It only took two steps for her fingertips to brush against something solid and, within seconds of fumbling, she found the switch in the wall for the lights.
What greeted her when she could see made the hair stand up on the back of her neck.
The pulsing she’d felt more than heard was the electricity fuelling a room full of clocks, lots of them, lining all four walls from floor to ceiling, stacked on shelves where the wall was blocked. They were all shapes, all colors, all types, from the tiny digital one that looked like her mom’s old alarm clock to an oak grandfather clock that Buffy would have sworn was the perfect twin for the one she remembered from her dad’s LA apartment.
More oddly, they all had different times.
Her step was hesitant as she moved toward the nearest shelves. None of the clocks seemed to be actually working. While she stood there and stared, the clocks stared back, hands unmoving. Even the digital clock didn’t have its little red dots flashing to indicate the passing of seconds. Each seemed to be frozen in its own little window of time, brought together in this room for…what exactly?
What is Paolo doing?
She stopped in front of an old-fashioned mantle clock. Its hands were frozen at three-seventeen, the glass covering its face cracked as if it had been dropped. Ornate whorls decorated the domed top, and dust was embedded in the grooves, as if it had been packed away in a musty attic for decades. Peering more closely, Buffy frowned when she saw dull brown flakes caught in the spiderweb crack. She had seen too much violence in her lifetime not to recognize dried blood when she saw it.
Glancing back at the still closed door, Buffy debated for a moment before reaching to pick up the clock. Maybe there was a name or something on its bottom, she thought. Something that would explain where it had come from, who might have owned it.
She didn’t anticipate the same shock that had jolted her at the doorway to surge through her palms and into her body.
And she definitely didn’t expect to fall unconscious to the floor.
Buffy groaned as she rolled over onto her back. Every muscle in her body screamed in protest at the movement, aching as if she’d fallen from a second floor window, but as she opened her eyes, ready to curse whatever magic Paolo had placed on the stupid clock room, she froze.
A velvet sky stretched above her, stars faintly visible in the dark. The silver streak of an airplane caught her attention, and when she turned her head to follow its path, Buffy’s gaze landed on a low, stone building only yards away.
Her heart thudded in her ears.
That wasn’t possible. The crypt was long buried in the Sunnydale crater. She must have hit her head harder than she’d thought.
Easing herself up into a sitting position, Buffy lifted a hand to her head to search for injuries. Her fingers came away wet and sticky from her brow, and when she probed further, she winced when a fingernail slid into a deep cut.
For a hallucination, it sure as hell hurt.
She wasn’t wearing her clubbing clothes any more, either. Instead of the flimsy halter and dark pants, Buffy wore jeans and a dark sleeveless blouse with sturdy boots on her feet in place of her strappy sandals. She didn’t recognize them specifically, but they were certainly her style, appropriate for those times when she would still go out slaying for the new Council. As she wobbled to stand, she wondered why it was her imagination had chosen this particular milieu to keep her entertained while she was unconscious.
A scream piercing the air kept her from wondering too long.
Alert before the pained cry had died away, Buffy took off in a dead run in its direction, winding gracefully among headstones long ingrained into her body’s memory. The sound of footsteps not as careful as hers guided her way and within a few hundred feet of where she’d woken up, Buffy saw a shadow disappear over the cemetery walls. She didn’t chase after it. She was far more interested in the group of four men verging on the spot the shadow had chosen for its exit.
The nearest went down in a heap when Buffy tackled him from behind, the pair rolling in the grass before being forced to an abrupt halt by a large headstone. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the others stop in their chase to see what had happened to their friend, but the full force of her attention was focused on the husky body between her legs.
“I’d tell you to pick on someone your own size,” she said, pulling her stake from her waistband. “But…”
The quip faded away when his head whipped around to glare at her. It wasn’t a vamp. It was one of the demon half-breeds that Adam had created so many years earlier.
Her shock gave him the opportunity to throw her off his back, sending her flying against the cast-iron bars of the cemetery wall. Stars exploded in front of Buffy’s eyes at the contact, and she felt a fresh trickle of blood drip down the side of her face as she struggled to extract her arm from where it had slid between the bars. Damn it, she didn’t have time for this, even if it was just a hallucination. And the next time her brain decided to play games with her, Buffy was going to demand a Bermuda vacation. It was the least she deserved.
The others were rallying behind their friend, their other prey forgotten. All four were part of Adam’s experiments, Buffy realized. Though mostly human, they had the same skin grafts and odd scars that had characterized the few she’d killed when they’d destroyed the Initiative. Odd that her subconscious would conjure them now. She hadn’t thought about the Initiative in years.
Her arm finally came free of the wall, but as she turned to face her now-attackers, she heard a soft rustling behind her. The next thing she knew, a powerful hand was wrapped around her bicep and she was being lifted through the air, over the fence, onto the ground on the other side before she could respond.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Buffy demanded, whirling to face her would-be savior.
She was met with crystalline blue eyes that widened the moment they made contact with hers.
“Slayer…?” Spike murmured.
To be continued in Chapter 2…