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: Tara calmed Buffy down, while Angel had no choice but to go back to W&H with Ilona to try and solve the problem of waking Buffy, leaving Spike with The Immortal...

* * *

With every step closer to where she had run into her mother, Buffy’s pace slowed. Tara matched without comment, though more than once, she cast a sideways glance that left no doubt she was aware of Buffy’s reluctance.

“You don’t have to do this right now, you know,” she said out of the blue. “Or ever, even. Joyce will understand, and…maybe it’s better if you get some sleep anyway.”

“No, no sleep.” The idea of postponing a confrontation with her mother, however, sounded like a terrific idea. It was just a case of too much, too soon, and she said so out loud. “Can you tell me one thing, though?” Buffy asked, pulling Tara to a halt. “How is it possible she’s still alive here? She had a brain tumor, and then the embolism. She died of natural causes. How could Spike have prevented that?”

“He didn’t,” came the response. “And she did have the tumor. It even got operated on.”

“But…?”

Tara’s hands fluttered to her hair, twisting a strand’s ends between her fingers. “Our facilities for anything that serious are really limited,” she admitted. “Even with the doctors we had, her odds were bad from the start. So when Giles heard Adam had captured a Mohra demon, he went out to bring it here. Spike actually tried to stop him. He said it was a suicide mission, but Giles beat him up and locked him in a weapons chest so that he wouldn’t get in the way.”

Buffy had never heard of a Mohra demon, but that wasn’t the detail her mind got stuck in. “Giles?” she questioned. “Why would he do that?”

“Because that was his promise when you died.” Tara’s smile was gentle. “He couldn’t protect you, so he swore he would protect Joyce. No matter what.”

Buffy only half-heard the subsequent explanation, something about regenerating blood and dying on the operating table and Giles accidentally tearing off the arm of one of the doctors when they wouldn’t let him near the body with the Mohra blood. She had been wigged about the thought of Giles with anyone, but knowing it was her mom? She was practically tucked away in her own bed back in Sunnydale, hearing her mother’s thoughts about what exactly had happened the night of the magicked band candy. The only difference this time was a boatload of experience and way extenuating circumstances to make it…simply weird.

Tara took her silence for what it was worth and stopped speaking, waiting for Buffy to re-gather her thoughts. “So what do you want to do?” she eventually asked.

Taking a deep breath, Buffy looked down the deserted hall, listening to the soft sounds of life around them. “I need to think,” she said. “And I don’t do that so good if I’m cooped up. Can you show me how to get in and out of here so that I can go take a walk? Maybe some fresh air will make this better.”

“I can’t let you do that.” When Buffy’s attention snapped back, Tara flushed in embarrassment, though she didn’t back off. “This isn’t the Sunnydale you remember,” she explained. “You have no idea where the hotspots are, or how Adam’s army patrols.”

“I’m the Slayer,” she replied, enunciating each word slowly as if speaking to a child. “I can handle a few demons.”

“Not like this. They’re very organized. There’s never a team of less than four, and they’re always heavily armed. You can’t go out. It’s just not safe.”

“I’ll take her.”

Spike’s voice from the shadows was more than an echo from the past. It was a reminder of how many times he’d been there for her, watched her back when nobody else would or could. Buffy was far slower than Tara to turn and watch him emerge from around the corner, probably because even now, it was hard to be surprised by his vow of support. She had forgotten how much she had actually missed that.

There was a fresh bruise on his temple, and the corner of his lower lip was split. When Tara rushed forward in concern, however, he brushed her off, his lashes ducked as he looked anywhere but at them. “It’s nothin’,” he grumped. “Stop your fussing.”

“What happened to not wanting anything to do with me?” Buffy asked. She kept her voice as neutral as possible, but there was still the lingering question of why he would change his mind so swiftly to resolve.

He drew his thumb across the cut, as if reminding himself it was there. “Got a refresher course from Rupert on what it means to be a team player. Then he stuck Joyce on me. Not much more I can do except promise to keep an eye on you ‘til you get safe back to your own world. That means makin’ sure none of the baddies take a bite of you, as pleasant as that notion sounds.”

Her eyes widened. “Giles hit you?”

Spike snorted. “He thumps because he loves, Slayer.”

“No, he thumps because you argue,” Tara interjected.

“Regardless, he’s a bloody Fyarl demon now. Or have you forgotten that little detail already?”

Any momentary concern faded in light of what Spike’s offer really meant. It would be an opportunity for them to talk again, clear the air of the tension, because even if this wasn’t the Spike she had known, she hated the idea of any incarnation hating her so much. Maybe they could even find a good fight. Buffy mused on whether this Spike would follow her moves as well as hers had.

Tara, on the other hand, still looked doubtful. “The teams are in full force tonight,” she said. “You know that. We barely got away. It’s not safe, even for you.”

Spike smirked. “Got a Slayer to watch my back. How can I go wrong?”

“You know---,” she started, and then stopped, guilty eyes flickering back to Buffy. It was enough to make her wonder what other secrets rested in their history, but now was not the time to pursue the matter.

“We won’t be long,” Buffy promised. “I just need some time to clear my head. Maybe we can work on the plan to get to Adam at the same time.”

Scooping an arm around Tara’s waist, Spike tugged her against his side, brushing a kiss across her temple. “I’ll keep close,” he murmured. “Not about to lose my head now, not when there’s finally a light at the end of the bloody tunnel.”

Nodding, Tara began to hug him back and then stiffened, glancing over at Buffy. Though she knew why the embrace grew awkward, it was hard to feel guilty about coming between them. Tara understood how difficult everything was for her, Buffy reasoned. She was simply controlling the one thing that could ease it.

“C’mon, Slayer.” His tone was back to business, his muscles taut in readiness. “Let’s get suited up. The sooner we get out, the sooner we get back.” Spike lifted his eyes to hers for the first time since returning, and her stomach skipped right past the flipping and went straight to flopping as she saw the belligerent dare gleaming in them. “The happier we’ll all be.”

* * *

The Immortal took the chair at Buffy’s side without a word or glance back at his guest, leaving Spike to approach the opposite side with a wary prowl. “Know it’s over, don’t you?” he commented, adopting his most casual tone. “Between you and Buffy. When we get her up and about again, soon as she susses out why it is she was out in the first place, she’ll drop you faster than you can fix your hair.”

The Immortal shrugged, his gaze still fixed on the bed. “We shall see. Buffy…she can be shown the error of her ways, I think.”

The sheer ridiculousness of the statement had Spike laughing. It wasn’t merely a snort or a chuckle. His sides actually started to hurt by the time the giggles began to ease. He hadn’t laughed that hard since he’d first spied Angel as a puppet.

The Immortal wasn’t nearly as amused, eyes narrowing to slits as he finally shifted his concentration. “I am not accustomed to such responses,” he said. “You and Angelus…you do not seem to appreciate what I have to offer. Not like Buffy.”

That was all it took to sober Spike up. “The fact that you can sit there and say with a straight face she’s not goin’ to be brassed as hell at this is all I need to know you don’t know the first thing about her,” he growled. “And if Angel and I don’t appreciate the fact that you’ve managed to turn our Slayer into a sleeping Buffy, it’s because we know firsthand the way you work. You’re not goin’ to pull the wool over these eyes, not this time.”

“You keep speaking of this…past we share. I’m afraid the details escape me. Did I…” He rolled his hand as if plucking the first, most absurd suggestion out of the air to make. “…sleep with your woman perhaps? Because I have never taken an unwilling lover. I have no need to. Even Buffy was most eager for my affections.” He smiled. “Eventually.”

Spike’s hands curled into fists in his pockets. I’m not goin’ to hit him, I’m not goin’ to hit him, I’m not goin’ to---why the bloody hell can’t I hit him?

He dove over the bed, clearing the mattress without disturbing Buffy. But before he could slam into the other man, something electric sizzled through Spike’s body and sent him flying sideways, barely missing the wooden post at the foot and crashing him into the wall next to the closed door. He slumped to the floor with his ears ringing and blood trickling from his nose.

The Immortal never blinked. “Surely you know I cannot be harmed in my own home,” he said. Spike could’ve sworn the bastard was smiling, if not on the outside then most definitely on the in. “Especially by…unwanted guests.”

He staggered to his feet, wiping away the blood and sucking it off his thumb. It made sense that the sanctuary spell he’d heard Lorne talk about with his old club was used elsewhere. And the Immortal was notorious for hiding away, letting other people fight his battles for him. It was yet another reason why Spike loathed the man so. Deep down, he knew the wanker to be a coward.

The door flew open, the housekeeper poised on the threshold with a heaving bosom. “There was…an alarm,” she panted in explanation for her abrupt entrance.

The Immortal shook his head. “It was nothing. A simple misunderstanding. Our guest and I have come to an agreement…” His eyes bored into Spike’s. “…have we not?”

What was he going to do? Say no? Well, the thought was appealing, but without being able to lay a finger on him, Spike knew he had to play nice. He was simply disappointed he wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Angel’s proposition of hurting the Immortal if he looked at Buffy wrong.

With a glare, Spike grabbed the only other chair in the room and hauled it back to his original spot next to the bed, sitting down with his arms folded over his chest and his boots propped up on the mattress. “So what do you have to eat around here?” he said, his voice too loud. “I’m peckish.”

* * *

He had to wait until Ilona left him alone to attend to an uproar that had occurred while she had been out, some black mass ritual that had gone awry and deformed the priest in charge. But as soon as Angel could do so without an audience, he whipped out his phone and punched in the international number.

He didn’t let Wesley finish his greeting before speaking. “I’ve got a problem I need you to make your top priority,” he ordered. Briefly, he described Buffy’s situation, glossing over the personal details about her and the Immortal and omitting the specifics of his decision to leave Spike behind. He hadn’t had a choice, Angel kept telling himself. Someone needed to watch Buffy, and if nothing else, Spike never let a woman down on his watch.

“Those are very specialized magics,” Wesley commented when he was done. “I can’t imagine there are many practitioners who would be capable of creating such talismans.”

“Can you make a list and cross-reference it with the Immortal?” Angel asked. “I like Ilona, but something tells me she’s not exactly the most unbiased party in this. I can’t trust that she’s going to give me whatever I ask for.”

“Of course.” The sound of his pen scratching across paper came through the line, making Angel almost smile at the familiarity. Wolfram and Hart had all the technical gizmos in the world at their disposal, and good old Wes still took all his notes by hand. “That should only take me a couple of hours to determine. I’ll ring as soon as I have anything useful.” He paused. “Not that I don’t believe you’ve already considered this, but what are you going to tell the Council? If Buffy’s condition continues unchecked, there will be questions raised. I’m certain her sister---.”

“It’s not going to get that far.” Memories of Giles’ brusque tone when he had tried to get help for Fred made Angel’s grip tighten around his phone. “And if for some reason, Buffy isn’t awake by morning, I’ll send Spike to take care of Dawn.” His voice grew bitter. “She always liked him more than me.”

Wesley’s quiet agreement faded when Angel disconnected the call. He sincerely hoped that he wouldn’t have to rely on his own team’s input on this, but Ilona’s behavior around the Immortal had him doubting her loyalties. Plus, there was always the fact that she was the head of a Wolfram and Hart branch. Not everybody was going to have the same motivations for taking that position as he had.

Even if he would be forced to live with the fact that the others were now all too aware of exactly why he had made the choice he had.

 

To be continued in Chapter 9