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 learned that Ilona was behind the original expedition to get the clock, and Buffy woke up disoriented, but Spike's calming of her was interrupted by somebody attacking the basement...

* * *

Watching Spike rouse the others left Buffy breathless. He moved with a feral efficiency from room to room, waking demons and humans alike, never wasting time, never squandering movement. He never even looked to see if she was behind him, though she was certain if someone had asked, he could have said exactly where she was at any given moment. She heard nothing but the sounds of the compound readying for flight, though every few minutes or so, the distant tinkle of a glass shattering echoed to her ear.

Giles’ door already stood open, a rumpled Tara pulling items from his shelves to bundle into her arms. Buffy caught her mother’s eyes for the second before the older woman turned away and began to shepherd a teenaged girl and a whippet-thin vampire down the hall, but there was no time for anything but the most fleeting of smiles. Even Giles was too busy growling at the steady stream of refugees to give her much notice.

She caught Spike’s arm when he took a load of supplies from Tara. “Where do you go?” she asked. “When the high school gets attacked. Where do you hide?”

He yanked himself away, almost dropping the bag of food Tara had handed him. “Now’s not the time for twenty questions,” he snapped. He jerked his head toward Giles’ retreating back. “Follow Rupert. You’ll see soon enough.”

There was no choice but to comply, taking more of Tara’s load before rushing after the others. Spike was close at her heels, and out of the corner of her eye, Buffy caught his gaze sweeping over her. He didn’t speak, though. He simply kept running.

Her heart leapt into her throat when she recognized the door leading to the sub-basement. Buffy stopped in her tracks, eyes wide with disbelief as she stared at it.

Spike halted almost immediately, scowling as he looked back at her. “Get a move on, Slayer. Takes time to get everybody to safety.”

That’s when it dawned on her. “You’re taking them into the Hellmouth?” she asked incredulous. “Are you insane?”

With a growl of frustration, he stalked back and tried to drag her along, only for Buffy to pull out of his grasp and withdraw a few more steps. “It’s the only place Finn and his boys won’t go,” he explained. “So if you don’t want to end up like the other Slayer, get your ass moving.”

“They won’t go there for good reason!” She couldn’t believe this was their only getaway plan. It had to have been Spike’s brilliant idea, because there was no way she could see Giles coming up with it. “Do you know what’s down there?” she continued. “Don’t tell me you don’t lose people every time you open it up. I’ve seen it, Spike. I know what it can do.”

His eyes burned with new anger. “Know bloody well what the risks are. But what you don’t know, Slayer, is what Adam does to the ones of us he captures. It’s not so much bein’ changed into one of his half-breeds any more. He hates what we represent, how long we’ve fought him. So he makes it a bit more personal.”

“And that’s worth sacrificing people to what’s in the Hellmouth?”

“Nobody who lives here isn’t aware of the danger. And if they’re not when they arrive, they find out soon enough.” He took a step closer. “We had one bloke, name of Andrew. Soppiest git I ever had the misfortune of knowin’. Always whingeing about this or that, but he was a dab hand with the magic and helped Tara, so I put up with him.”

Her blood chilled. Andrew’s face as she’d last seen him, smiling and arguing with Dawn about breakfast cereals, rose before her inner eye.

“We got attacked one night,” Spike continued. “Wasn’t expectin’ it, ‘cause the patrols had been light. Andrew got slowed down gettin' to safety because he’d been havin’ nightmares about the Hellmouth again. One of Adam’s teams got him, and the next time I saw the boy, it was a week later and he was strung up on our front step.” His lip curled with distaste. “There were so many pieces of him, it took us a week to collect ‘em all and get rid of them. There’s still blood on the flagpole.”

In spite of his vehemence, Buffy couldn’t bring her feet to move any closer to the doorway. It had been almost a year since the fight with the First, but the memories were far too fresh, especially faced with the ghosts she’d thought she left behind. There had to be another way.

“What if we stay and fight?” she argued. “You know this place better than anyone, and if we position ourselves right, we don’t have to take on more than a couple at a time. Can’t we do that?”

His astonishment at her suggestion made her wince. “Do you have a death wish I should know about?” Spike demanded. “’Cause it seems to me, you’ve been aiming to throw your life away ever since you got here.”

Tara appeared in the doorway behind Spike, her features tight and wan. “Hurry up,” she coaxed. “I don’t hear any more crystals which means they’ve managed to get through the last barrier.”

She was right. The only sounds Buffy could pick out were the faint pounds of heavy footsteps.

Taking a step closer, Buffy held Spike’s fervent gaze, hoping she could get him to understand. “I can’t go back down there,” she said, her voice low. “I told you my Hellmouth was closed, right? Well, part of why it’s closed was because of you, Spike. You didn’t want to hear this, but that’s where I lost you, and if you think for a second I’m going back and facing that, you have got to be the stupidest vampire to ever walk this dimension.”

The confession made him pause, his head tilting as her words sank in. Behind him, she heard Tara move closer, but Spike made no attempt to join her, too busy searching Buffy’s face for whatever answer he was seeking.

“Spike…?” Tara prompted.

His teeth clicked together as he straightened. “Get back inside,” he ordered. Turning on his heel, he thrust the supplies he carried into her arms, reaching back to take Buffy’s as well. “Keep the others safe.”

Tara’s sharp intake of breath was audible. “You can’t. It’s suicide. They’ll kill you.”

His gaze locked with Buffy’s. “And they’ll kill the Slayer even faster if I’m not here to help,” he replied, his voice flinty. “I mean it, pet. Get back inside.”

The rush of relief that flooded Buffy shocked her, but she swallowed down any temptation to let it show as Tara left them alone in the dark hall. “If there’s more weapons---,” she began, but the sudden circle of his fingers around her arm cut her off.

“Not fighting,” Spike said. He began to pull her along, down through twisted metal pipeworks that she didn’t recognize. When she tried to stop him, he added, “We can’t win. If we don’t go with the others, the only chance we have at survival is to hide. Be smart, Slayer. You know I’m right.”

She did. It didn’t make it easier to swallow, but this was his world, she had to yield to his better judgment.

She let him lead, disappearing into the darkness.

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

Dawn was beginning to break in London, but the tall buildings surrounding Giles’ home kept the deadly sun from encroaching, allowing Spike to follow Angel outside onto the front stairs. “Don’t s’pose you have a plan,” he commented, watching the other vampire toy with his phone.

“We can’t count on the jet to get us back to Rome,” Angel mused. “But we need to get to Ilona. And you heard Giles. If we had the clock, it would be easier for him to dissect the spell that was used on it.” He cast Spike a glance. “You couldn’t have stolen that, too, when you got Buffy out of the Immortal’s house?”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Because an armful of Slayer wasn’t nearly enough. You couldn’t have sussed out Ilona had something to do with this before we scarpered off?”

Mention of Ilona had Angel looking at his phone again. “At least she’s finally stopped calling. I feel better about ignoring her if she’s not making me vibrate every five minutes.”

Spike ignored the easy poke at the vibrating phone and simply asked, “How long has it been since the last one?”

“Two hours.” Angel glanced at his watch. “Maybe she fell asleep.”

“We could only be so lucky,” Spike muttered. The two vampires stood in silence, watching the sky lighten in the distance. They would have to go back inside very quickly, though Spike didn’t fail to realize that months of living behind Wolfram and Hart’s specially treated windows was making him reckless with actual sunlight. The thought of retreating to darkness was less than appealing.

“I still think there was a reason she wanted to know about my problems with the Immortal,” Angel said, breaking the calm. “She was the one who brought it up. That can’t be an accid---.”

The door opened behind them, cutting him off. Daniel hovered on the threshold, fidgeting with the door knob as his gaze jumped between the two vamps.

“We’ve found it,” he stammered. “Well, Mr. Giles has, though I was the one who remembered where he had moved the Vama Antiquities---.”

What did you find?” Spike interrupted. He had no idea how Rupert discovered these boys. This one was almost as bad as Andrew.

In spite of his nerves, Daniel’s eyes were bright. “How to break the dimensional stasis Ms. Summers is in, of course.”

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

They hovered around the bed, each positioned as Giles had ordered. Spike was having a difficult time standing still, the nervous energy in his limbs making the candle he held flicker in the darkened room. Angel stood on the other side of the bed, while Daniel was at the foot, allowing Giles the leeway to do whatever hocus pocus he needed with Buffy herself.

Her temperature hadn’t risen any more, but her heart rate was still too quick. In the throes of sex, it would have been more than acceptable, or even in the heat of battle. Lying comfortably in a darkened room, fast asleep, it was more than frightening. Spike didn’t know a lot about the specifics of human anatomy, but he did know hearts. If it kept working at this dangerous strain, Buffy risked having a heart attack, even as healthy as she was. As dangerous as her fever could get, that prospect was even more terrifying.

Giles cleared his throat before beginning to read the incantation he had copied. In all his vampire existence, Spike had never known anybody who kept as many seemingly worthless books lying around, but for once, he was glad that the Watcher’s incessant need for arcane knowledge had paid off. He had found a plethora of spells regarding dimensional crossing in the Vama Antiquities Daniel had located for him, easily narrowing it down to the one most likely to pull Buffy back. Well, the most likely with the ingredients he had on hand. There was one or two that might have worked better if they had a bit more time and a few other magical relics lying about.

As Giles spoke, the air began to shimmer around the bed, like looking through crystal clear water that was being slightly disturbed. The hair stood up on the back of Spike’s neck when he caught a whiff of stale air, dank and familiar with nightmares, and his hand shook as it held the candle. Angel’s head shot up, a frown on his face as he wordlessly chastised Spike for daring to move, but Spike was too wrapped up in the tendrils of trepidation crawling along his skin to care.

He knew that smell. Had lived with it for months while the dead danced around him. Had drowned in it while he waited for hell to swallow him up. Few scents could elicit such strong reactions in Spike, but then again, those first few months after he’d regained his soul would forever be pivotal in his existence.

Giles’ voice grew louder, the air thicker, and Spike felt like the world was pressing in around him. His ears buzzed with the magic, and in the miasma now surrounding Buffy, he could’ve sworn he felt the distant tattoo of marching footsteps. Against the pillows, Buffy began to twitch in her sleep, her breathing turning into rapid pants as if she was running, hard, in flight of some sort. Every instinct in Spike wanted to scream at Giles to stop, but he couldn’t move, locked in his own delusional stasis where the Sunnydale High School basement loomed around him, and the rats in the walls were determined to feast on him instead of the other way around.

A loud crack split the air.

All three candles blew out at the same time.

Something cold slithered around Spike’s bare forearms, and he snatched his hands back, dropping the extinguished candle onto the bed. He rubbed furiously at his skin, trying to get the feeling back, trying to banish the memories of the basement at the same time. The lights came on as Giles turned on the lamp, but when Spike lifted his head to see if Buffy was awake, he found all eyes on him.

Angel was the first to speak. “What’s wrong?”

“You didn’t see it?” His eyes jumped from one man to the next, before returning back to Angel. “Don’t tell me you didn’t bloody notice something.” At Angel’s continued blank stare, Spike prodded, “The smell? The marching?”

“The only thing I saw was Buffy beginning to stir,” Angel said. His eyes turned to her. “But she’s still out cold.”

“What exactly did you see?” Giles prompted.

Spike’s hands stilled, suddenly self-conscious about the way he was attempting to rub away the effects of the magic. Had they really not noticed? How could he have been the only one?

“Think I know where she might be,” he said. Briefly, he described what he’d experienced, leaving out the details of his own time spent in the basement. He knew Giles was mildly aware of what had transpired, but there was no reason for Angel to know any more than he already did. The insanity that had plagued Spike was a cross he bore mostly in private.

“Why would Spike experience that and not us?” Daniel asked Giles.

Giles shook his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Perhaps because of his ties to the location. He’s the only one of us to have intimate knowledge of the school’s basement, though, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why Buffy would be there. The school was destroyed years before the Hellmouth collapsed. If I understand correctly, the spell on the clocks merely captured dimensions, not acted as a conduit back in time. Is that right?”

“Yeah.” Angel tossed his candle aside. “Though considering how much else the Immortal and Ilona held back, maybe we can’t trust that.”

“Do you think that’s it?” Spike asked. “We don’t know what the original mojo was so your stasis spells won’t work?”

Giles sighed and set the incantation aside. “No. I think the spell is exactly what we need. I couldn’t see or hear what Spike did, but I could feel Buffy. It felt like…” He sat on the edge of the bed, gently picking up her wrist as he checked her pulse. Spike didn’t know why he didn’t ask. He could’ve told Rupert it was still racing like a bunny with a fox at its tail.

“It felt like a tug of war,” Giles tried again. “I was pulling her out of the stasis, but there was resistance, as if something was pulling her back. If I didn’t know better, I would say…I would say it was Buffy who was stopping me.”

“Buffy?” Angel echoed. “Why would she be trying to stop you from bringing her back?”

“I don’t know.”

All attention focused on the Slayer in the bed, and Spike wrapped his arms around himself, his nerve endings prickling. He didn’t want to consider the implications of why Buffy wouldn’t want to come back.

He only knew he was going to do whatever he had to to make sure she did.

 

To be continued in Chapter 16