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 thinks she's hallucinating with a Spike and Tara that are both alive and Adam in full power. Angel and Spike showed up at Buffy's apartment to find out she was meeting with the Immortal that night...

* * *

Chapter Three

Hearing Spike’s announcement was like a punch in the stomach, such firm assurances that not only was she dead but she’d killed her two best friends at the same time making Buffy want to bend over and retch into the grass. She stared at him but didn’t see, lost in images of the world he described where the dead walked the earth and those she knew to live were long buried.

A concerned Tara took a hesitant step forward only to be stopped again by Spike’s hand on her arm. “You didn’t know,” she said instead to Buffy, the familiar gentleness so apparent in her voice that it drew a sting of tears to Buffy’s eyes. “Why didn’t you know?”

She didn’t have an answer. She had more questions. “What about Giles? Where’s Giles? What happened to him?”

Spike frowned, exchanging a glance with Tara before answering. “As not tempting the idea of show and tell is, Slayer, maybe you should just scarper along now. Nothin’ to see here, nothin’ to share.”

“You’re lying.” She knew it was true even before the words were out of her mouth. Buffy took deliberate steps toward both of them, noting the sudden tensing in Spike’s muscles as he prepared to flee, the determined rooting of Tara’s while she refused to budge. “You’ve never been able to lie to me, Spike. Not when you were trying to pretend it wasn’t you who’d written all that poetry I found in the basement and not now. So make this easier for both of us and tell me. Where’s. Giles.”

Mention of his poetry left him speechless, jaw dropped in such surprise that Buffy almost had the urge to laugh. It was Tara who took control then, wresting her arm from Spike’s grasp and confronting Buffy head on.

“You’re not her.” Though her tone was soft, the certainty was not, and a curious gleam came in Tara’s eyes. Lifting her hand, she molded the air around Buffy, feeling some unseen wall, curving fingers to catch dark air for seconds at a time before moving along. Sparks crackled at her fingertips, but neither woman flinched, not even when Tara reached to touch the blood clinging to Buffy’s brow. She drew her hand back, regarding the blood with curiosity. Then she puckered up her lips and blew on it.

The blood dissipated into a pale crimson smoke.

Spike’s eyes widened almost comically. “Bloody hell…” he muttered.

“Not quite,” Tara said. She almost seemed amused, and when she looked up to meet Buffy’s gaze, she was smiling. “She’s not really here, that’s all.”

Buffy waited for further explanation but when none came, finally said, “Huh?”

“We don’t have time for the Delphi act, kitten,” Spike added from behind Tara. “You tryin’ to tell me this one isn’t a threat to us?”

“I don’t think so, no.” Tara edged back so that she could address both of them directly. “Like I said, she’s lost. Caught, actually. Between dimensions. Her aura keeps fluctuating, like…tug of war. We have one end, and---.”

“That stupid clock has the other,” Buffy finished. “Great.”

Spike still looked unsure. “So she’s not the Slayer come back to haunt me into another grave?”

“I think that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along,” Buffy said. She frowned, remembering his earlier comment. “And if this is a dimensional thingy, what do dolphins have to do with it?”

* * *

The high school still smelled like charred demon, but Buffy kept a neutral façade as Spike and Tara led the way through the ruins, down the stairs into the basement and deep into the building’s bowels. Obviously it had never been rebuilt in this version of Sunnydale, but when they had finally agreed to allow her to come home with them, she hadn’t really expected they’d simply walk across the street. Why were they living over the Hellmouth? And what had stopped the school from getting rebuilt?

Much of the basement had been partitioned off into rooms, with makeshift curtains serving as walls where concrete wasn’t available. Buffy caught glances of other people as they navigated the maze, but while curious faces turned to follow the trio pass by, she didn’t recognize anyone other than the two she was with. The fact that it was a community, though, was clear. There were sounds of life, a quiet stereo playing hip-hop, cards being shuffled, and every once in a while, she would catch a whiff of food cooking. There was also blood. Lots of it. And once, she could’ve sworn she heard someone having sex.

It was a strange world she had stumbled into. If it wasn’t for the chance to see Spike alive again, Buffy would have wished that she had never found the place.

They came to a stop before a heavy door. “Maintenance” had at one time been painted across it, but now the letters were faded, a couple of them gone altogether. Pulling a key from his pants pocket, Spike unlocked the door and pushed it open, stepping back so that Tara could enter first. His eyes met Buffy’s, held them for a long moment while neither of them of moved. It was hard not to lose herself in them. While this wasn’t her Spike, and while this Spike had less than zero trust in her, his eyes were exactly the same.

Piercing.

Inquisitive.

Taunting.

She had forgotten about the grey corona that surrounded his pupils. It saddened Buffy to think that she was losing details of Spike.

His head tilted toward the open doorway. “You waiting for an engraved invite, Slayer?” he asked. Something flashed across his face, and her eyes widened slightly when she realized it was anger. “Pardon me if I don’t feel the inclination.”

Buffy swept past him before she said something she would regret. She didn’t want to pick a fight with Spike, not now, and she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of succumbing to whatever residual hatred he had for her counterpart. But when she saw the furnishings of the room they’d brought her to, she came to a dead halt.

Everything was soft, well-worn, with tapestries covering the concrete walls and Oriental rugs over the floors. A double bed was pushed in the corner, buried under pillows, and shelves crammed with books, candles, and magical supplies hid two of the other walls. Clothes both men’s and women’s hung neatly from a rail, and when Tara kicked off her shoes to sit cross-legged in the middle of the bed, Buffy realized with alarm that this was their room.

Spike and Tara’s.

One bed.

Her head snapped back to see Spike watching her, waiting to gauge her reaction.

“Tara’s the best witch we’ve got left,” he said. “If there’s a way to fix your problem, she’ll find it.”

When she glanced back to the bed, Tara was ducking her head, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. “Spike’s exaggerating. I’m not that---.”

“Yes, you are,” Buffy finished. “I’ve seen it.”

Spike began moving around behind her, crossing the room to the shelves and pulling candles out by the handful. “The usual, luv?”

It took Buffy far too long to realize the question and endearment weren’t directed at her.

“I’m going to meditate for a little bit,” Tara explained. She patted the space in front of her, indicating Buffy should sit down. “By focusing on your aura, I can determine where exactly the rift was made. That’ll give us a starting point to help us figure out how to get you back.”

“What do I have to do?”

“Nothing. Just relax.”

Tara’s hands were surprisingly cold when they took Buffy’s, but she stiffened against the involuntary shiver that ran down her spine. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike start lighting the candles he’d placed around the bed, but by the time she shifted her attention back to Tara, the witch already had her eyes closed, her breathing slow and even as she seemed to go into a trance.

Buffy waited until Spike was done before speaking.

“How long do you think this is going to take?” she whispered, afraid to shatter whatever spell had been woven.

Tara didn’t answer.

“She’s not goin’ to be able to hear you anyway,” Spike commented, his voice at normal tones. Pulling over a chair, he straddled it as he regarded her with narrowed eyes. “And the way she usually goes, I’d say you’ve got a half hour, forty-five minutes of sittin’ in front of you.” His gaze dropped to her folded legs, and he smirked. “Good luck with that.”

“That means you’ll have lots of time to answer my questions.”

“Goes both ways, Slayer.”

His attitude was a lot less confrontational, she realized. Though it was obvious he wasn’t thrilled with her presence, some of his initial fear had been rubbed off, probably due to Tara’s influence. Now he simply seemed poised for anything. Another knot in her stomach untied.

“I want to know where Giles is,” she said softly. “Did he die, too?”

Spike’s jaw ticked. “No,” he replied. His brusque tone said more about his reluctance to satisfy her curiosity than the shift of his eyes to the doorway. “He’s here. Fighting with us.”

“What are you fighting?”

The shake of his head was quick. “Oh, no, you don’t. Tara might be sucked in by old times’ sake, but I know you, and just because you’re from another dimension or some gobbledygook like that, that doesn’t change the fact I know you’ll try to get something for nothin’.” He leaned forward, forearms resting on his knees. “So it’s goin’ to work like this. I give you an answer, you give me one. I run out of questions, so do you. Got it?”

Buffy nodded. “Quid pro quo.”

Her response seemed to startle him. “Didn’t figure you for knowin’ Latin.”

“I don’t. I know Silence of the Lambs.”

The lightness of her tone seemed to take him aback, like the last thing he expected was for her to joke with him. To his credit, though, he didn’t retreat again.

“You knew about me and my poetry,” he said, skipping past the pleasantries. “How?”

Her hands were warming, heat spreading down her arms. She wanted to break the circle Tara had created and go over to Spike, be the one straddling him instead of him on the chair, but that would wig him out even more than friendly conversation, she knew. This wasn’t her Spike, she had to keep reminding herself. This was Tara’s, apparently.

“You told me.” Her voice was nostalgic. “You wouldn’t let me actually read any of it, though. You always said it wasn’t ready.”

“And why the hell would I tell you something like that?”

Shaking her head, Buffy couldn’t help her smile. “Now who’s not playing fair?” she scolded. “It’s my turn. Why do you live like this?” She looked pointedly around the room, nodding toward the doorway. “I’m guessing it’s both demons and people down here, but you guys act like you’re in hiding. And I’m not even going to touch the whole freakiness of this kind of commune. That’s weird, even by Charles Manson standards.”

With a sigh, Spike rose from his chair and began pacing around, running his fingers through his long hair. “Live like this because we don’t have much say in the matter,” he said. “Those half-breeds you saw above ground? All over the place. And Adam’s always on the lookout for makin’ more. He’s got such a stranglehold on the Hellmouth that if you’re not willing to hide, a bloke’s only choices are to let Adam play Frankenstein, turn against your own kind to do his dirty work, or leave town.” He stopped, his eyes shockingly somber as he turned back to her. “If you know me as well as you say you do, you know I’m not the sort to do any of those.”

“No, you’re not,” she murmured in agreement. The memory of him standing over the Hellmouth, burning gold from the power of the amulet, made her suddenly regret asking the question. Though part of her loved him for what he had done, there was another, smaller, more petty part that was furious he had left her. Spike didn’t leave; that was what had always set him apart. “You stay and fight, even if you know it’s going to kill you.”

His head tilted, eyes softening. “There’s a ring of ease to that that makes a vamp more than a tad uncomfortable,” he mused. “’Cause if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were nattering on about your own fight, not a bit of rough and tumble for kicks’ sake.”

She didn’t reply. This Spike wasn’t ready to hear the truth about what had happened to his counterpart. Buffy wasn’t entirely sure he would ever be ready.

When it became obvious she wasn’t going to rise to his bait, Spike sighed, returning to his chair. “You said something about Sunnydale bein’ buried. And before you popped into this place, you were in Rome. What happened? Adam blow the town up for good?”

He kept coming back to Adam. Buffy made a mental note to make that her next question. “We closed the Hellmouth,” she explained. Clearly, by the sudden shooting of his brows into his hairline, it wasn’t the answer he was expecting. “My Sunnydale has been gone for almost a year now.”

“Didn’t know you could do that.” His eyes slid sideways toward the door, a sharp cunning making them brighter.

“And I don’t recommend you find out. Seriously, Spike.” She waited for him to glance back. “You keep talking about Adam. He’s not dead here? When I died, I didn’t…kill him?”

His snort of laughter showed how ludicrous he thought her question was. “He didn’t even break a sweat gettin' rid of you and your lot. The only good thing that came from you tryin’ was that it got the rest of us out.” His lip curled into a sneer. “S’pose I should thank you for that.”

Before she could retort, Buffy felt Tara’s hand stir against hers, her head snapping back to see the young witch open her eyes. They gleamed with unshed tears, and as Tara broke the contact between them, she shivered.

“What’s wrong?” Buffy asked.

Tara shook her head. “I…I…I can’t…” When Spike appeared at the side of the bed and tried to reach out to her, Tara jerked away from him, slithering around Buffy to clamber off the foot of the bed. “I need a few minutes,” she said in a rush, and before either of them could stop her, ran out the door.

* * *

Only the soft rap at the bedroom door could draw Paolo’s attention away from Buffy on the bed, and he rubbed his brow as he crossed silently to answer it. “Yes?” he asked Donatella, waiting on the other side.

“There are visitors, sir,” she said in rushed Italian. “Two vampires asking for the Slayer. They’re making quite the scene.”

Paolo frowned. “They asked for Buffy by name? Did you tell them she was here?”

She was already shaking her head in denial before he’d finished voicing the question. “Of course not. But they’re insisting she has to be here, that her family has said she was to meet you here.”

He looked back to Buffy’s recumbent form. Her breathing was shallow, her cheeks a pretty pink from the raised temperature of her body. He had never dared to think that she would ever find his little hobby, so to find her unconscious amongst the stolen moments had been disconcerting. She had gone wandering, of course. Bored, most likely, waiting for him. It was difficult not to be amused by that. Buffy Summers was constantly a delight to him.

But still. This was a problem. In all the time he’d been collecting these moments, he had never had the object of his affection stumble across them before. The paradox her contact created was an interesting puzzle, but not one he had the luxury to ponder, not with people already looking for her. He had to find some way to wake her before her absence became noticeable.

“Get rid of them,” he said in reference to the vampire problem at the door. “Explain that I called and asked for Buffy to meet me at the club. That will divert them sufficiently for the time being.” Already done with the mild disturbance, he headed back for his seat, his mind turning over potential solutions to his dilemma. “When they’re gone, get me Ilona Costa Bianchi on the phone. I suspect I will need further assistance in reviving Buffy than my own meager talents.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 4