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: Angel and Spike fled to London with Buffy, turning up on Giles' doorstep for his aid in waking her...

* * *

At least Rupert still drank the good stuff. Sprawled in the corner of the couch in the front lounge, Spike sipped at his single-malt whiskey as he watched the Watcher flip through book after book from his shelf, looking for any reference to the Immortal that he could find.

“Can’t believe you didn’t know,” Spike commented with a shake of his head. “Which part of the Watcher job description slips your understanding? Because last I heard---.”

Giles snapped shut the book he held in his hands, effectively cutting Spike off. “Believe it or not,” he said, his tone curt, “there is precedence for Buffy’s behavior. She has never deemed it important enough to tell me of her romantic relationships until well after the fact. For instance, she hid Angel’s return from us for months. And I didn’t learn of Riley for several weeks, and as for you, well, I only discovered your involvement with Buffy after you’d left to get your soul.” He stopped in mid-reach for another volume, frowning as he looked to Spike. “You do still have your soul, correct? This…resurrection brought you back exactly as you were?”

“Except for the part where I could walk through walls for a few months there, yeah.” There had been little talk lingering on his return from the ever after. Buffy’s condition superceded anything not related to that, and Spike had been more than happy to gloss over the details in favor of deducing how to wake Buffy up. Common goals had always been the one thing to draw the two Englishmen together. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

Giles shook his head, taking off his glasses to rub wearily at his eyes. “No. I know I’ve read something on the Immortal, but I can’t remember where. I’m sure it was something when we organizing our information on hellmouths, but for the life of me…”

Daniel’s entrance into the lounge stopped Giles’ reverie and both men turned to look at the young Watcher. He couldn’t meet Spike’s gaze, still pink with embarrassment for having invited him in so cavalierly, and instead fidgeted under his superior’s attention.

“Did you get a hold of Andrew?” Giles asked.

Daniel nodded. “He’s taken Dawn to the safe location. They haven’t heard from the Immortal, but he was quite adamant that Buffy should have been safe with him. He claims the Immortal is quite the gentleman.”

Spike snorted. “Yeah, he gentled her right into a coma, the wanker.”

“Well, at least we can be assured he won’t be able to use Dawn as leverage against us,” Giles said. “What about Buffy?”

“Settled. And the doctor is on his way.”

Suddenly, Daniel scuttled to the right as Angel appeared behind him in the entrance, his cell phone in his hand. Spike thought he was going to snap the phone in half from the force of his white-knuckled grip, and sat up, setting his tumbler onto the table.

“Well?” he demanded. “What did Wesley say?”

His mouth was a grim line, his eyes barely hiding his fury. “There was an expedition,” Angel said. “Two days after the Sunnydale Hellmouth collapsed. It happened right before we moved into Wolfram & Hart, so the reports slipped under our radar.”

“And Knox?” Spike didn’t know why he was asking; he’d recognized the bastard’s blood. The memory of its scent was all too clear from the stand-off with Illyria.

“Part of the on-site team. It was his job to catalog everything for further scientific study.” The venom in his last words betrayed Angel’s distaste for the whole thing. “There were pictures of everything that was taken in the file Wes found. The clock’s one of them. The crack in its face was already there when they dug it up, so Knox probably cut himself or something while he was handling it.”

“Does the report say why they were conducting the expedition?” Giles queried.

Angel shook his head. “But it doesn’t have to. Every single item the team walked away with was a timepiece of some sort.”

The room lapsed into a heavy silence. The implications of Wesley’s discovery were staggering. It meant the Immortal’s interest in Buffy hadn’t started when they had first met; it meant it had started months earlier. Who else would have so much interest in a bunch of clocks?

“I don’t suppose the report detailed who was responsible for the dimensional magic,” Giles hinted. “Or perhaps…had a copy of the spell itself?”

“No. It had something almost as good. It had the name of the person who received all the so-called artifacts from the dig.” His eyes met Spike’s. “Ilona Costa Bianchi.”

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

It was the fact that she couldn’t move that woke Buffy up.

Fighting through the veil of sleep, it took several moments for her to remember what had happened and where she was. Her brain was thick with fuzzy disorientation as she tried to sort out all the sensations surrounding her, some familiar, some not, some like revenants from long-forgotten dreams. She thought for a moment that she had fallen asleep at Paolo’s, but it was the powerful arm clamped around her waist that pulled her free of the confusion. Paolo liked to fall asleep holding her, but he always let her go some time in the night. It made him claustrophobic, he said.

This was not Paolo’s arm.

At some point, Buffy had rolled onto her side, facing the wall, while behind her, Spike had done the same. Though she couldn’t see it in the pitch black, she recognized the weight of his arm around her waist, how he reached all the way around her and tucked his fingers under her ribcage in order to hold on, as if he feared she would get up without him. There had been months of waking up exactly in this position, and it made her eyes prick with tears at the thought that this Spike did the same thing.

There was more. There was the nuzzling into her hair, his nose resting just behind her ear. There was the hard line of his erection firmly against her bottom. There was the occasional sound, almost a sigh, faint from the back of Spike’s throat, as if in response to his dreams.

It was all so familiar that this time, Buffy didn’t stop the tears. She laid there, silent, motionless, and let them fall.

One of his sighs seemed suddenly higher where it floated across her skin, and Spike’s arm stiffened around her waist. It lasted for only a fraction of a second, however, and then his hand was brushing back the hair that hid her face.

“Don’t cry, pet,” he murmured. His touch was gentle, a bird wing’s caress, but it only managed to exacerbate her sadness. “Ssshhh…know it’s a bit much, but we’ll get you back.”

She wondered why he wasn’t pulling away, but didn’t question her good fortune. In spite of the heavier rush of tears, it was soothing to have him so near, to be able to pretend that this wasn’t a nightmare and Spike really was alive.

“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” she whispered. Any louder seemed a sacrilege in the darkness. “Just ignore me. Go back to sleep.”

“Can’t.” His voice was just as soft. “Conditioned to wake up whenever Tara does, in case of danger. I can’t sleep until you do.” His fingertips skimmed across her damp cheeks, capturing some of the wetness. “Bloody hate seein’ a woman cry. Even if it’s a Slayer.”

His words brought a chuckle through the tears, and Buffy turned her face into the pillow, hating that she had bothered him with her weakness. “You can’t see me anyway,” she said, her voice muffled. “Too dark.”

“Can see all I need to,” came the soft reply.

His hand fell away, and she felt the pillow shift as he laid his head back down. When he began to roll onto his back, slipping his arm from around her, however, Buffy grabbed his wrist and held him still. Silence followed.

“It’s not what you think.” His voice was almost in her ear, but he didn’t fight her hold on him. “It’s how me and Tara sleep half the time. Warm body in the bed…just did it on instinct, Slayer. Doesn’t mean anything.”

She doubted very much he slept with Tara so intimately, with his arousal so pressed so close to her, but Buffy held her tongue. Instead, she said, “I know.”

It took nearly a minute of their holding pattern for Spike to relax his arm, slipping his hand back beneath the t-shirt to curl around her side. It was higher this time, his fingers dangerously close to her breast, but Buffy didn’t think he was aware of it. But then she realized he hadn’t moved his hips, either, so maybe he was.

“Were you dreaming?” he asked softly. He didn’t have to clarify his question. Based on what she had already told him, there could only be one meaning behind it.

“No.” The tears were flowing again. “I woke up.”

When she felt his cool lips press to her neck, Buffy squeezed her eyes shut. This was wrong. She shouldn’t be letting him do this. She should never have agreed to sleep in this bed, and she should have let him roll over when he wanted to. Because this wasn’t her Spike. He didn’t care about her tears, or about how much she had missed him, or how proud she was about what he had done. By his own admission, she was a warm body, one he didn’t even particularly like.

So why were those words of reassurance coming from his mouth?

She opened her eyes back to the dark, listening to his whispers, listening to him paint pictures of how he imagined her life back in Rome was like. Talk of the sun, and the crowded streets, and the thrill of a good slay, and knowing she had a safe home to return to. And he spoke of how important she was to Giles, and to Joyce, and how neither of them would rest until she was happy again, returned to the life she knew best. Returned to the life she loved.

“You said before…you weren’t sure I’d be able to go back,” she broke in.

Behind her, Spike chuckled, and her body vibrated from the rhythm. “You know me so well, and you don’t know how my mouth runs away from me when I’m brassed off? Shame on you, Slayer.”

She smiled. “I also know how you have a way of cutting through the bullshit. It’s OK. I know it’s a possibility.”

His fingers began stroking along her side. “Better to focus on gettin' you out of here,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish this life on my worst enemy. Not even you, pet.”

Another reminder that this wasn’t her Spike. But this time, it didn’t make her cry.

“Do you think…” She stopped, sure it was the stupidest question to ever be asked by anyone in any dimension. “It won’t be that bad once we kill Adam,” she said instead. “Everybody will get their lives back, and you can all move on.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

She tensed at the uncertainty in his voice. “Isn’t that what you want?”

His soft exhalation made her hair tickle across her cheek. “More than anything,” Spike confessed. “But there’s still the chip. Can’t go back to the way things were. And Tara deserves more than bein’ saddled with me more than she has been.”

“Somehow, I don’t think she’d mind.” Buffy settled her arm over his, almost hugging him closer. “She loves you, Spike.”

“Doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve more,” he repeated. “I can’t give her what she needs. Not really. And I’m not goin’ to be the reason she holds herself back. What kind of life could she have, hangin’ about a vampire? Maybe if I was a girl, I could see it, but no. I want Tara to have more than that.”

Buffy had to bite her cheek to keep from speaking. This Spike might have balked at the notion of a soul, but he still exhibited the same concern and level of emotion that had driven her Spike even before he’d gone to Africa. In spite of everything, he wasn’t that different.

“Do me a favor when you get back to Rome.” For some reason, his arm around her tensed, as if he feared her response. “Know he’s your so-called boyfriend and all, but give the Immortal a good thump for me, would you? Whatever his reason for having Rupert’s clock, it’s bloody dangerous and you deserve a hell of a lot better.”

Hearing him reference Paolo had put her on the defensive, but the sentiment in his request eased it away again, drawing a sleepy smile back to Buffy’s lips. “I think a little thump in his direction wouldn’t hurt,” she agreed.

“Oh, well, it’s no fun if it doesn’t hurt him.”

This was banter she could take part in, a familiar shoe to slip on as if she’d never taken it off. “Well, maybe it can hurt a smidge. Just for you, Spike.”

He chuckled. “If it was really for me, you’d tear his bleedin’ head off. Git always thought he was so superior to the rest of the world. Would love to see you dismantle him piece by piece, Slayer.”

She was stopped from answering by a crystalline crash somewhere behind them, splitting the calm air. Buffy bolted upward, but Spike was already out of bed, turning on the lamp, before she could kick the blankets away from her legs.

The sudden illumination made her blink, squinting as she watched his pale form stalk across the room to the shelves, stopping short of the shards of glass that were scattered across the floor. More littered the waist-high shelf that it had originally rested upon. “Did something fall?” she asked.

Spike bent to pick up one of the larger pieces, the muscles in his back corded with tension. “In a fashion,” he murmured.

As he crouched, another of the spherical crystals on the same shelf spontaneously shattered, showering his hair and bare back in glass. Buffy leapt from the bed, to his side, brushing the fragments away before they could cut him, but Spike tore away from her attention to straighten. His brows were drawn, his body ready for a fight, and her stomach churned at the flickers within his eyes. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t anything familiar in Spike at all.

It was fear.

“Get dressed,” he barked before she could say anything.

He knocked her aside as he headed back to the bed and the clothes he’d discarded earlier. “What is it?” Buffy asked, grabbing her jeans and slipping them on. “What’s going on?”

“Need to get the others and get out of here,” he replied. He wasn’t looking at her, too busy with his clothes to bother. “The crystals are part of Tara’s security in this place. When they break, it means someone’s tryin’ to get in.”

Another crystal shattered behind Buffy. She glanced back and saw two remaining in the original grouping.

“Fuck,” Spike muttered. Opening the chest, he grabbed a battle axe and tossed it at her without looking. “Time’s wastin’, Slayer. They’re gettin' through, which means we don’t have much time left.”

“They?” She followed him out in the hall, hopping on one foot as she struggled to get her shoes on while balancing the weapon in her other hand. “Who do you think it is?”

His mouth was a thin line as he looked back at her over his shoulder. “Considering our little adventure earlier, my money’s on Finn. Told you he had a yen for Slayers. And if I can’t even resist a morsel like you, you can bet your perky little bum he’s come to get you himself.” Spike’s mouth stretched into a mirthless smile. “Welcome to my world, luv.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 15