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 and Buffy disappeared from the Immortal's house, and Buffy and Other!Spike managed to get back to the high school in spite of his injury...

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In the light of the high school basement, Buffy got her first good look at Spike’s injury and immediately went pale.

He had stripped out of his shirt in the sewers, using it to hold against the bleeding when it wouldn’t stretch enough to tie around his waist. Streaks of scarlet dripped into his waistband, and the hand that had kept the cotton pressed to the wound had blood seeping between his fingers. Worse, in the seconds he had to take his hand away from it in order to climb up, Buffy saw the torn flaps of skin, exposing the sinewy muscle of his stomach.

“Why is it still bleeding?” she asked. She stopped him from moving, helping him lean against the wall so that she could take a better look. “You never bleed this much, and definitely not for this long.”

“There’s poison in Finn’s hook,” Spike explained. “It’s not lethal, but it makes for a slow recovery. Helps him track injured prey. Tara’s got some herbs she uses to fix cuts like this up. I just need to…” His eyes fluttered shut, exhaustion evident in the slump of his shoulder. “…lie down for a bit.”

Carefully, Buffy scooped her arm around his back, feeling him stiffen at the initial contact. She didn’t want to consider the implications of why Tara would have a ready supply of this particular herb. How many run-ins with Riley had Spike had over the years? “I can get us to your room if you give me the directions,” she said.

Thank god for light. It let her witness the debate war across his face this time, lashes finally parting as he nodded in consent.

“Yeah. Sounds good.”

Their steps were slow and plodding as they navigated the narrow corridors. As she bore his weight, Buffy wondered how it was Spike had made it through the sewers without faltering, without letting her know how much pain he had actually been in. It explained more of why he had been willing to talk, though. Pain could be a great equalizer.

The sanctuary slept around them. Gone were the noises of life that had proliferated during her first trek through the halls. The only sounds remaining were those of their feet, and she fought to keep those as low as possible until they were finally standing outside his room. The door was locked.

“Key’s in my pocket,” Spike said without looking at her. When Buffy glanced down, hesitating a fraction of a second too long, he snorted in disbelief. “Don’t be gettin' all dainty on me now, Slayer. It’s just a soddin’ key.”

Under the sting of the scolding, she fished into his pocket, ignoring the half-hard length of his cock against his thigh as she pulled the key out. Spike stumbled across the threshold when she unlocked the door, but all Buffy noticed was that the room was empty.

“Where would Tara be?” she asked. She watched him go straight to the shelves and grab a stained rag, exchanging that for his ruined shirt. “I’ll go get her so you can get those herbs.”

“She’s likely with Joyce and Rupert. Probably goin’ over what we decided on Adam, or brainstorming on how to get you home. She falls asleep over there all the time.” He jerked his chin at a small wooden box, nestled on a bottom shelf. “Kit’s in there. It doesn’t require anything special, just someone to make sure the herbs get into the cut clean.”

His careful avoidance of her eyes told her that was as much as he was going to say on the matter. In light of everything that had transpired, Buffy decided to make it easier for him.

“If I do it, we can get it done now,” she offered.

Spike nodded. He looked relieved he didn’t have to ask. “That’s for the best. Sooner I stop bleeding, sooner I’m ready to help you with Adam.”

Tossing the rag aside, he crossed to the bed while Buffy knelt to dig out the box. When she straightened and turned toward the bed, though, she nearly dropped it again at the sight of Spike pushing his jeans down past his bare ass.

“What are you doing?” she asked in alarm.

Oblivious to his nudity, Spike stripped off the rest of the way before grabbing a towel to lay over the bed. “Better to tend to the cut,” he said without glancing back at her. “And it’s not like you haven’t seen it before.”

She stood frozen, watching as he stretched out on top of the towel. It was one thing to feel his arousal through his jeans. It was something else entirely to see it laid out in all its glory.

Her gaze flickered to his cock. Well, in half its glory. He wasn’t fully hard yet. She thought if he had been excited by their current circumstances, she would have been a little worried.

His eyes were closed by the time she looked up to his face, his lashes dark against his pale cheeks. He had thrown his arm across his brow, and his muscles were twitching in his jaw, all too apparent evidence of his conflict with what he was asking of her. Buffy’s heart softened a little more. Then he spoke again.

“Still bleeding here, Slayer. You can enjoy the peep show after.”

His words spurred her into movement. Crossing the room, Buffy perched on the edge of the bed, the herbs ready in her lap, and examined the effects of the poison close up. The edges of the injury were cauterized, as if with a hot iron, and they were streaked with scarlet that faded into spidery threads the further it got away from the cut. It almost looked like it was infected, though she knew that wasn’t possible, not in a vampire’s body.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Riley?” she asked, pressing a pinch of the fragrant herbs into the cut.

Spike’s eyes flew open at the same time his muscles tensed. “Why would I?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because we dated and I might be interested in knowing an ex got turned into a monster.”

He was instantly up on his elbows, staring at her with renewed incredulity. “You dated that wanker? Jesus, Slayer, you have got to have the most soddin’ pathetic taste in men I have ever known. Angel, the Immortal, Finn.” He shook his head. “No wonder you dream about me. I’m the best bloody thing that ever happened to you.”

Her fingers jabbed another pinch of the herbs into his injury, making him wince from the force. “Riley’s a good man,” she said. “That thing we saw tonight is not him.”

His hand shot out to grab her wrist, preventing her from applying any more of the treatment. “There’s a lot in this world that’s not what you know, and the sooner you start accepting that, the better off you’re goin’ to be.”

“I don’t have to accept anything---.”

“And if we can’t find a way for you to get back? If you’re stuck here good and proper? What are you goin’ to do then, Slayer?”

Buffy glared at him, but refused to tear away from his bruising grip and give him the satisfaction of seeing her upset by his questions. “Not that that’s going to happen,” she said, “but I’ll do what I always do. I’ll survive. That’s one thing you and I have always had in common.”

She said it partially because she knew that drawing comparisons between them would bug the hell out of Spike. But she said it even more because it was true.

His fingers slowly uncurled from her wrist, though his gaze remained unwavering on hers. “Know what I hate?” His voice was surprisingly even, though he hadn’t really raised it during the exchange. “How bloody smug you get, thinkin’ you know me so well.” He fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “Not your souled ponce of a boyfriend, no matter how you try to paint me, pet. Though knowin’ you were with Finn, too, least I understand why he probably went and got it.” His eyes shut again. “I’ll wager with that savior fixation you’ve got it was the only way you’d look at him twice.”

Her hands were trembling as Buffy set aside the box and blindly grabbed the bandages he had at the ready. Many of his words had stung, but this, these were too much, if only because they attacked the one thing she’d figured untouchable.

Neither of them spoke as she taped the gauze to his stomach, nor when she rose from the bed to return the box of herbs to the shelf. She was tired of fighting with Spike, tired of processing all the changes, tired of pretending that she wasn’t scared she was going to be stuck here. She was simply tired.

The mattress squeaked behind her, and she glanced back to see Spike grabbing a pair of black sweats discarded near the foot of the bed. Their eyes caught, held, his blazing with defiance.

“You don’t really think I sleep starkers with Tara, do you?” he dared.

She had. Sleeping naked was one of the things about Spike she would have gambled being a certainty.

He turned his back on her again as he slipped them on, the elastic worn and stretched so that they rode low on his slim hips. “I’m goin’ to sleep,” he said. “Been a long night. For both of us. You should get yourself comfortable so you can catch a few hours.”

Buffy looked around the room, debating where would be the most comfortable spot to curl up like he suggested. Soft cotton smacking into her face startled her out of her inspection, and she caught it before it fell to the floor. A t-shirt. One of Spike’s. She lifted her head to see him watching her.

“My money’s on Tara not comin’ back tonight.” Much of the fire in his voice was gone, his lethargy returning. “You can have her half of the bed if you want.” His eyes jumped to where she was twisting the shirt between her fingers. “Provided you can keep your hands to yourself. Don’t fancy fighting off horny Slayer in my sleep.”

He didn’t wait for an answer, choosing instead to turn his back on her and climb into bed. He settled on the outside edge, leaving the sheltered half near the wall for her should she choose to claim it.

“Why?” she asked, her voice faint.

“Made a promise to protect you, didn’t I?” His eyes were closed, the stillness of his body enough to fool anybody who wasn’t her that he was relaxing into slumber. She recognized those taut lines, though. She could spot every worry, every fear, every tension in him from a mile off. “’Course, would help if you stopped tryin’ to live by rules that don’t apply here,” Spike continued. “No more runners. Too risky. For all of us.”

“Because of what happened tonight?”

“Because of Finn thinking there’s another Slayer in town now.”

Her hands stilled in mid-disrobing. “Another?” Her mind raced before coming up with the only name that made any sense. “You mean Faith?”

Spike gave no reaction to it. “Was that her name? Never knew.”

Buffy shoved off her clothes with fingers that had started trembling again. “You didn’t tell me Faith was around,” she accused.

“Because she’s not. Bird’s been dead for years.” His eyes opened at the exact moment she was dropping her shirt from her shoulders, watching her steadily. “Way I heard it, she lasted six months once Adam’s boys pulled her out of the coma. Gave ‘em all hell the entire time. Only reason they never changed her was because Finn put his foot down.”

Her Why? was muffled by the swift yank of the t-shirt over her head. Spike’s gaze was still dark and impenetrable when she could see him again.

“Because the git’s got a hard-on for Slayers. Actually makes sense now, knowing you and him had a thing.”

What also made sense was how protective Spike had got with Buffy as soon as he’d seen Riley. And everything he had said to her during the confrontation.

Slowly, she walked over to the bed, his scrutiny heavy upon every step. She didn’t say a word as she crawled over his legs, nor did he as he reached to turn off the light. Neither said anything until the room flooded with darkness.

“Thank you,” Buffy whispered. “I know you’re hating every second of this, so…I want you to know I appreciate what you’re doing for me.”

He was quiet for so long that she thought he’d finally passed out.

“Go to sleep, pet,” Spike murmured. The angle of his voice meant that he was at the very least looking at her, if not facing her. A whisper of fingertips across her cheek told her it was probably the latter. “Save the worries for tomorrow.”

She closed her eyes. Within moments, in spite of her anxieties, in spite of her fears, in spite of the tumult inside her head, Buffy Summers was sound asleep.

*************

The night was still thriving around Angel as he finished his untold revolution around Wolfram and Hart’s block. Young people were out in packs, laughing and drinking and smoking as they danced from club to club, building to building in search of a few more minutes of gaiety before the dawn came and disrupted their fun. Any other time and he knew that it would be somewhere to relax, something to enjoy. But not tonight. Tonight, his thoughts were too wrapped up in Buffy and the Immortal and Spike and all the history he’d been trying to ignore.

In his pocket, his phone chirped at him, prompting him to pull it out and look at the display before answering on the first ring. It wasn’t Ilona.

“Mr. Angel?” The smooth voice of the pilot came over the line, though he didn’t sound nearly as composed as he normally did. “I have a…situation I need you to deal with.”

Angel rubbed his eyes. He didn’t need to worry about international flight plans right now. “Can’t it wait?”

“Um…no. Not really.”

There was a sudden thud in his ear and then muffled crackling as the phone that had obviously been dropped was picked up again. The next voice Angel heard was the last he would have expected.

"If you don’t fancy gettin' left behind,” Spike said, “might want to get your ass in gear and get down to the plane. I’m givin’ you fifteen minutes, and whether you’re on board or not, Lindbergh here is gettin' us out of Rome.”

A torrent of furious questions refused to be held back. “What the hell are you doing on the plane?” Angel demanded. “Why aren’t you with Buffy? I gave you a direct order, Spike. Is it so much to ask that you actually listen to me once in a while?” He stopped, Spike’s wording finally sinking in. “And what do you mean…get us out of Rome? Who’s with you?”

“Who do you think?”

Angel lost Spike’s tirade about the Immortal and the clocks and snatching Buffy from the palazzo. All he could think about as he grabbed the first taxi he saw was the problem this was going to cause in keeping Ilona as much on their side as she was.

“…and if you think I’m goin’ to sit back and let the belly of the beast swallow Buffy down without putting up a fight for her,” Spike was saying, “you don’t deserve to be on this bloody plane in the first place.”

“Slow down, Spike.” Angel tossed a fistful of cash at the driver, letting his eyes flash amber as he ordered him to get to the airport as quick as he could. “What happened after I left? Ilona assured me that the Immortal, as much as we might loathe and detest the man, would take care of Buffy. That’s what he does, after all. Remember how he got Dru and Darla to---.”

Don’t be bringing that up,” Spike warned. “I had to listen to Dru for months after we got out of Rome. Rather not get the instant replay again, thank you very much.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that Buffy should have been safe. Ilona said---.”

“Ilona said, Ilona said. And did she happen to say that Wolfram and Hart’s behind the Immortal’s little clock fetish? I’ll wager not, since you’re still tooting her horn.”

The accusation had Angel scrambling to replay every conversation with Ilona he had had, how she had evaded answering his questions about the clocks, deflecting the topic of conversation back to him and away form his inquiries. “How do you know that?” he asked. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because it’s always about the blood. This case, the blood Buffy picked up from touching that damn clock. If it doesn’t belong to that tosser Knox, I’ll eat my coat.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 13