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: Other!Spike learned that his chip didn't work on Buffy, but their arguing got interrupted by a chase where they ended up cornered by Riley...
Angel was in the middle of poring through a book on interdimensional spells when the sight of Ilona’s breasts filled the uppermost half of his field of vision. Glancing up, he saw her leaning forward across the narrow table at which they worked, her dark eyes serious as they fixed on him.
“What?” he asked when she didn’t speak for a long moment.
“You and the Immortal,” she said. “You do not like him. Why is this?”
Rolling his eyes, Angel turned his attention back to the book, pretending he was understanding the gobbledygook he usually relied on Wes and Fred to figure out for him. “Because he’s a big, fat jerk?” he muttered under his breath. When Ilona reached out and slid the text away from him, he sighed and slumped back in his chair, folding his arms defensively across his chest. “What? What do you want me to say? I don’t like the guy. Isn’t that enough?”
Her smile was quizzical. “But it makes no sense. The Immortal, he does everything he can to foster the good feelings in people. You see him, and you cannot help but be overwhelmed by his presence.”
Angel snorted in disgust. “You’re confusing that with his cologne.”
“Even Wolfram and Hart, they see the potential in him,” Ilona continued. “So much power and yet, he chooses to focus it on love, on making those around him---.”
“---worship the ground he walks on,” he finished. “I get it. Trust me.” He paused, his dark frown drawing even tighter. “What do you mean, even Wolfram and Hart?”
For a moment, she looked as if she wished she hadn’t brought up the subject in the first place. Her gaze slid to the thick door that closed out the rest of the world from her offices, her long nails clicking against the table as she drummed them absently. By the time she shifted back to Angel, much of her lighter curiosity was gone, replaced with a shrewd scrutiny that took him by surprise.
“Even in Wolfram and Hart,” Ilona said, “there are circles within circles. You have seen this, I am sure. Los Angeles has always been notorious for dissension even amongst its staff.”
Angel refrained from commenting, though he knew full well what she was referring to. Even if he hadn’t known about Lindsey and Lilah before taking over, reading through the employee histories of just the last couple years had shown him enough conspiracies and intrigue to keep Oliver Stone hard for the next ten lifetimes. What did surprise him, though, was the acumen Ilona was showing on the subject.
“Here in Rome, however,” she went on, “we do things differently. It is not so much competition as it is seduction. You gain allies by giving them what they want, and they attempt to do the same. A vampire wants blood; you give him blood. A politico needs votes; you get him the votes. This is how you gain strength. Because this dance, it shows the soft bellies, and this is how you learn where to strike. When the need arises, of course.”
“And what does any of that have to do with the Immortal?”
Her smile was sly. “Because he is the master of seduction. The Senior Partners have been courting him for over a century. Why is it you think I am in charge here?” She leaned forward again, her voice dropping to conspiratorial levels. “Paolo and I, we have an understanding, yes? From many, many years ago. The Senior Partners, they think they can exploit this. Because I know where Paolo’s soft belly is. What they do not see is that Paolo knows mine as well. So we dance, and we hope that, eventually, he will grow weary. I mean, they have eternity to wait for him, do they not?”
His first thought was, Yeah, but Buffy doesn’t. He didn’t know why she was telling him all this, but Angel wasn’t going to argue with good fortune. It was more information than he’d ever gleaned about the Immortal, though after seeing his little clock hobby, he thought it might be just a little bit too much. The only thing he didn’t understand was why it mattered that he didn’t like the bastard. Why had Ilona brought it up in the first place?
He couldn’t ask that question out loud, though. He couldn’t risk losing a potential ally, even if he didn’t trust her completely.
“Did you know about the Immortal’s little hobby?” Angel asked instead.
Her shoulders lifted in a graceful shrug. “What I know, what I don’t know, this is not what matters. Is harmless, no?”
“No.” There was probably a shade too much vehemence in his voice, but damn it, Angel was tired of everybody sweeping Buffy’s condition under the rug. The mages who had been tasked with finding additional counters had acted put out by the responsibility, so much so that Angel had wanted to tear their arms and beat them over the heads with them until they started looking like they cared. Only Spike seemed to appreciate the danger here, and wasn’t that a bitter pill to swallow.
“This doesn’t bother you?” he pressed. “Buffy’s doing her best Rip Van Winkle, and nobody cares enough to find out where exactly he’s getting all those clocks from. That’s where we should be starting. With whoever is putting together that kind of magic.”
Her full lips tipped, and a slight chuckle came from her throat. “So that is it,” she murmured. “His amour, she is not just a friend. You have feelings for her.” When she reached forward and patted his hand, like a mother consoling a tempestuous child, Angel almost snarled. “This jealousy, it isn’t healthy. Move on. She has.”
That was the last straw. “Oh, yeah, she’s moved on,” he sniped, scraping his chair back across the floor and rising to his feet. “Right into a coma. That’s real healthy.”
When he grabbed his coat and began heading for the door, Ilona rose as well. “Where are you going?”
“Out,” came the terse reply. “I need some fresh air. Call me the second you hear anything.”
The bite in the air was nothing compared to the cold fist squeezing Buffy’s heart. Part of it was because she had never even considered the question of what had happened to Riley when she’d been replaying the events from freshman year in her head. She had just assumed that he’d survived and gone off with the rest of the soldiers to…wherever soldiers went to when they weren’t needed any more. Except they hadn’t, and now that she thought about it, Buffy felt stupid for not making the connection earlier.
Maggie Walsh had always had plans for Riley. Only Buffy’s intervention, and her subsequent romantic relationship with Riley, had saved him from that. With her premature death, there would have been nothing to stop Adam from following through on his creator’s intentions. And now the result stood menacingly in front of them.
“I came out myself when one of my teams said they’d spotted you earlier,” Riley said. “But I didn’t honestly think you’d be stupid enough to not take cover, Seventeen.”
If possible, the muscles in Spike’s arm holding her behind him became even more rigid. “Least I’m still functioning on my own brain power,” he retorted. “Downloaded any good viruses lately?”
Riley ignored the taunts. “I assume the witch did the smart thing and crawled back underground. Since your human harem seems to be reduced to one.” He took a few steps sideways in order to better see Buffy, but when Spike attempted to block her further with his body, she defiantly pushed back against his arm, making herself more visible for Riley’s inspection. Maybe he remembered her. They had to have at least been dating when she was killed. Maybe seeing her could get through the demon part of his brain and diffuse the situation.
“She’s none of your concern, you wanker.” Under his breath, he muttered, “Back off, pet. You don’t want this fight.”
His words didn’t go unheard. Riley laughed. “Finally found somebody with a bigger death wish than you, Seventeen? I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
“You didn’t,” Buffy murmured.
She let Spike grab her arm and drag her to a halt, but it didn’t prevent her from moving into a patch of stolen light, fully evident for Riley to see. There weren’t any more of the soldier hybrids around, not yet, anyway. There was still a possibility they could get out of this if she could just get through to Riley.
His eyes narrowed, and the weapon shifted in his arms. “Declare yourself,” he ordered. “Who are you?”
She heard Spike’s hissed warning, but disregarded it. “Buffy Summers.” She paused. “And you’re Riley Finn.”
If she’d expected some big, Hollywood moment where he recognized her and immediately fell to his knees, clutching his head at the memories or begging her forgiveness, she would have been sorely disappointed. Riley never moved.
“Is this a joke, Seventeen?”
“If only it was,” Spike muttered.
“Do you remember me?” she asked. She winced when Spike’s bruising fingers gripped her even more tightly, a sound that did not go unnoticed by Riley. The weapon came up to a more alert position.
“I think I asked the wrong question,” Riley said. “You’ve got a heat register, so I know you’re alive, but his chip didn’t fire. What are you? Demon?”
“Slayer,” she corrected. “But you already knew that.”
“Now you’ve gone and done it,” Spike murmured behind her. When she glanced back, he wasn’t even looking at her. His eyes were intent on Riley, flickering with every movement. “If you don’t fancy ending up on a slab, now’s the time to run.”
She didn’t have time to move before Riley was speaking again. “Slayers are still human,” he argued. “And Buffy Summers has been dead for years. So I’m only going to ask this one more time. What are you?”
The muscles in Spike’s hand around her arm constricted. The next thing Buffy knew, she was tossed through the air, landing in a heap twenty yards away and closer to the fence. By the time she lifted her head, all she saw was a dark blur as Spike charged at Riley.
She was back on her feet, racing for the pair of men before reason could tell her not to.
Spike’s tossing of Buffy and subsequent charge had taken Riley by surprise, and the two demons were grappling on the ground when Buffy reached their sides. It took only a second for her to see it wouldn’t be a long fight. Riley had fifty pounds of muscle, six inches, and some wicked hook thing on the back of one of his hands to outclass Spike’s lithe form, years of fighting expertise, and lack of weapon.
Her foot shot out and slammed into Riley’s jaw just as the demon hook he sported slashed across Spike’s midsection. The force of it drove him backward, keeping him from completely eviscerating Spike, but the hook still made contact, leaving a scarlet trail in its ripping wake. Buffy curled her hands beneath Spike’s armpits and dragged him out of the way, looking back in time to see Riley push himself awkwardly back to his feet.
The weapon he had dropped when Spike had charged rested on the ground between them.
They dove for it at the same time, Riley slicing through the air in the same way he’d attacked Spike in an attempt to draw blood and slow Buffy down. Her speed gave her the advantage, though, and she grabbed and rolled out of the way, feeling the heavy butt jab into her ribs as she cradled it against her. Spike was already back at his feet, fangs snarling as he danced around Riley in the opposite direction. But it wasn’t enough to distract his attention from Buffy.
She shot without thinking, an electric blast going wide. Machinery so not my thing, she thought. It did manage to send Riley ducking for cover, though, with Spike leaping over his prone form and grabbing her by the wrist.
“Run!” he hissed.
Buffy was about to ask why they were running now, when she was armed and Riley was down, when two half-breeds appeared at the cemetery gates.
Everything else was a blur.
The air whipping past her cheeks.
Spike’s hand grabbing hers.
She ran, trusting him to lead. She had no idea where they were going, but he had pulled her free of the first patrol that night, and Buffy trusted that he would do it again.
Until his pace began to slow.
She dared to cast a look over. His shirt was soaked in blood, and the hand that didn’t grip Buffy’s was clutched to his stomach. Spike wasn’t saying a word about his pain, but the hard set of his jaw was all she needed to know he was in a great deal of it.
She dragged him to a halt behind a mausoleum, glancing back to make sure the hybrids were far enough back to warrant a few seconds reprieve.
“All that blood is making it easier for them to track us,” she said before he could speak. “We have to get to the sewers. Can you get us to the closest entrance?”
He nodded without saying a word, but when she tried to look at his injury, he brushed her hand away. “No time for that.” Blue eyes burned into hers. “You should’ve run.”
Buffy shook her head. “I fell for that once and lost you. I’m not doing it again.”
His mouth opened to argue, but a nearing shout set their feet back on their path. Spike wasn’t going for speed this time but angles, darting in and among the headstones. Blood splattered with every step, making their trail unclear, but when he stopped at a mausoleum, she stopped him from smearing more blood on the door and opened it herself.
The stench of rotting corpses filled her nostrils, and Buffy choked back the bile that rose in her throat at the sight of the dead bodies huddled in the corner. Somebody else had been driven into the mausoleum at one point, only they had not known of the sewers running beneath their feet. Or if they had, they hadn’t figured out how to get to them.
Or Spike had the wrong building and they’d just been cornered like a couple of rats in a maze.
“Over here,” he said without hesitating like she had.
She followed him to the farthest sarcophagus, grabbing the opposite end and helping him slide the stone to the side. Dust billowed in the air, making her cough, and Buffy held her hand over her nose and mouth in an attempt to stifle the sound.
“Are you sure?” she asked through her makeshift mask, gazing down at the bundle of clothes inside.
“Don’t trust me?” he countered.
He shoved aside the clothes aside on his end and revealed a trap door cut into the bottom of the sarcophagus. Buffy’s eyes widened, but she helped him pull it open, taking his silent cue to be the first. Dropping through the hole and down the twenty feet into the swelling water below, she stood back and watched as Spike sat on the edge, pulling back the lid before jumping down to join her.
The smell was worse in the sewer, but she knew it was what they needed to cover their tracks. It was also pitch black, and she stood frozen for what felt like eternity before she felt Spike’s cool fingers wrap around her wrist.
“This way,” was all he said.
To be continued in Chapter 11…