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: Buffy and Other!Spike bonded, returning with fresh determination to put everything to a stop, while back in London, they decide Spike is the only choice to go in and let Buffy know what's going on so that she'll let go and return to her real time before it's too late...

* * *

She lasted for an hour before her ass started going numb and her mind started to wander. It was hard not to listen to the sounds of reconstruction happening around her, voices rising in laughter in spite of the horror that had spread throughout the community just that morning, furniture being scraped along floors and walls being jostled as things were placed upright. Spike and Tara seemed oblivious to it all, though. They simply sat on their bed, backs against the wall, and passed books back and forth without a word when they were done with them.

Buffy watched them out of the corner of her eye. They moved like an old married couple, answering requests without words, changing paths instinctively to avoid collision. It made her wish it wasn’t the three of them in Spike and Tara’s room, but Giles had gone off to help the others clean up. Apparently, it was decided that his strength was of better use there than the clumsiness he had in going through their few remaining books. She would have made the same excuse, but one dark glower from Spike had made her jaw snap shut. She wasn’t in the mood for fighting with him right now.

The sex had been a bad idea. She knew that. She was pretty sure Spike knew it. Buffy wasn’t sure if Tara was aware of what had happened, but she had caught Giles’ narrowed stare more than once on their trek back into the basement, so she was mostly certain he knew, too. All she needed now was a sign to hang around her neck declaring, “Wanna sleep with Spike? Ask me how!”

“I’ve got it. I really think this is it.”

Buffy’s head snapped up at Tara’s voice, but Spike was already taking the book away from the witch, skimming the passage she was marking with a slim finger. His mouth settled into a firm line, and as Buffy rose to cross the room to the side of the bed, that line curved into a tight smile.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered.

“Let me see,” Buffy said, holding out her hand for the book.

Wordlessly, he passed it over. His eyes were dark with unspoken emotion, and a shiver of nervous fear slithered down Buffy’s spine. She recognized that face. It was the grim face of determination, the same he wore before a fight he knew would be hard but win-able, the same she’d seen more than once when he’d taunted her about their relationship. This time it wasn’t for her, though. This time, the force of his emotion was directed at Adam and his hybrids. Hell was about to be repaid.

One glance at the spell was all it took for Buffy to realize that she was of little to no use on this front. It was in whatever non-English language it had been the first time around; she’d forgotten about that little detail. Still, she nodded as if she could understand what it said.

“So the next step is to get close enough to Adam to actually use this,” Buffy said. “We’re going to have to coordinate with Giles about our battle plans.”

“Who’s going to do it?” Tara’s eyes were wide and curious. “The spell, I mean. You said…it was Giles, Willow, and Xander?”

Buffy nodded. “I figure Giles can still do it. And you can take Willow’s place.” Her gaze flickered to Spike. “You OK being the third?”

His mouth was a thin line. He looked like he wanted to argue with her, but after a long moment, he simply nodded in kind.

Tara was the first to move, climbing from the bed with book in tow. “I want to go show this to Giles,” she said, slipping on her loafers. “And then I’m going to grab some breakfast and bring it back here. You want something, Buffy?”

She didn’t miss the lack of invitation to join Tara. “Whatever you’ve got. Thanks.”

Her heart began pounding as soon as the door clicked softly shut behind her.

“Hate it when she does that,” Spike grumbled. Stretching, he grabbed his jacket from the chair at the foot of the bed and fumbled around in the pocket, pulling out his lighter and cigarettes.

“Does what?”

His gaze was flinty as he stuck one cigarette between his lips. “She thinks she’s helping us work out whatever it is she thinks needs working,” he said around it. His mouth tightened as he lit up, the sudden flare of scarlet flushing the dark shadows of his face. “That whole Mother Earth vibe she cultivates can be bloody annoying sometimes.”

“Do you…” She stopped. She had always sucked at talking to Spike, except when she got into the big speeches that last year before he’d died. And then, it wasn’t so much talking to Spike as it was talking at him. “So you’re telling me she knows you and I…” Her cheeks pinked, and she sank onto the edge of the mattress. “Great.”

He looked for a moment as if he was going to push her off the bed, but instead moved further from her reach, plucking a broken mug from the floor to use as an ashtray. “Didn’t mean anything,” he said. His voice was almost too casual. “We both know that.”

“Right,” Buffy said quickly. “You made that clear before we…in the middle of…after, well, yeah. You made that clear.”

Spike took a long drag from his cigarette. Though he turned his head to exhale, his eyes never left her face. “You have a different opinion?”

She didn’t know what her opinion was any more, but she shook her head anyway. “It’s like you said. You’re not the Spike I know.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. His long lashes ducked, his fingers rolling his cigarette as he seemed to contemplate his next words. When he spoke, his words were hushed. “But you’re not the Buffy I know, either.”

Her heart clenched. She didn’t move. She couldn’t.

“I’m not sayin’ that makes things better,” he went on. “I’m sayin’…if you’re stuck here good and proper, won’t do for me to keep thinking of you as her. We should…start over. Fresh.” He smirked. “I can hate you all over again for brand new reasons.”

Buffy laughed, grateful for the release of tension. “Sounds like a plan. But only if I get stuck here, of course.”

“Of course.”

Waiting for Tara to come back with breakfast was a hell of a lot easier after that.

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

It pissed Angel off a little bit that it ended up being so easy. Giles did a little chant, the Watcher wannabe burned some incense, and there it was. A dimensional portal. Those kind of things should have been harder, damn it. People’s lives could be turned upside down and inside out by those kind of places. Connor was proof of that, not to mention Lorne and Cordy and…

He had to snarl at Spike in order to stop his thoughts from getting any darker. And even then, the bastard merely flipped him off, reached out and touched the clock, and went down for the count. The only satisfaction Angel got was in carrying Spike’s unconscious body into another room. There was no way in hell he was laying him down in the same bed with Buffy.

“Now what?” he growled at Giles.

Giles sighed, rubbing wearily at his face. “Now, we wait.” His gaze flickered to Ilona. “Would you care for some tea?”

Angel only half-heard her accented agreement, too busy staring at the broken mantle clock to care that Giles didn’t offer him any blood. The door opened and closed as the Watcher left them alone, but not even the soft press of Ilona’s breasts to his arm could spur Angel to move from his spot.

“Don’t start with me,” he menaced. “You and I aren’t done.”

“Oh, no,” she agreed. She edged around to face him. “There’s still the matter of my payment to discuss.”

“Not now, we’re not. You get nothing until Buffy wakes up.”

An amused smile canted her mouth. “You do not mention Spike’s return. Do you not worry about him?”

Angel rolled his eyes. “Like there’s any point to that. Spike has a way of showing up, whether you want him to or not. He doesn’t need me turning on the porchlight for him.”

“But you and the Watcher…you did not discuss waking him. Why is this?”

His gaze flickered to Buffy. It took everything he had to ignore the flushed scent of her skin, how it heated her blood and made her smell so delicious. Worrying about the death of your ex was not the right time to be considering how good she smelled. “Because it’s pointless to try waking Spike before we bring Buffy back,” he answered. “Giles and I both know that.”

“Oh? Why is this?”

He folded his arms across his chest, shoving his hands into his pits to hide his balled fists. “We might not know what’s tying her to that other place, but the second Spike goes through, he’ll be stuck for as long as she is. The thing that’s going to tie him there is Buffy.”

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

It could have been worse. The clock could have dropped him in the middle of downtown Sunnydale, turning to ash in the few seconds he’d be exposed to the bright morning sun. Spike could feel the heat through the jagged walls of the high school, smell the evidence of a blooming spring just feet away, but as much as the familiar scents washed over him, telling him without a shadow of a doubt where he was, all he could think about was find Buffy.

This wasn’t the school he last remembered. When he had resided in its bowels, it had been shiny and new and smelling of fresh concrete and paint. This was the hollowed shell that he’d returned to Sunnydale and found, the carcass left when Buffy and her friends had blown it up. For whatever reason, its reconstruction had been ignored in this dimension. Spike wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

He crept silently through the debris-filled hallways. The smell of blood was heavy in the air, fresh and newly spilt. He didn’t need to see bodies to know that it was both human and demon, but it still put him on edge, senses alert for anything that remotely resembling Buffy. Being around her for the past eighteen hours had imprinted her body’s scents and rhythms anew on his brain; he had little doubt he could find her even under these circumstances. There was nowhere she could hide. It was only a matter of being thorough in his search.

The trail grew stronger the closer he got to the basement door. He should have known that it would eventually lead him there, but in his need to know he wasn’t missing anything, Spike had avoided it. He didn’t really fancy going down there. It wasn’t the memories of those post-soul months where the First turned him into its handpuppet. It was the memories of that last day, of Buffy’s liquid eyes gazing up at him as he tried to get her to go, of the searing pain and the incredible joy that accompanied going up in flame, of the relief that it was all over. He wasn’t ready to face that again.

He didn’t have a choice.

The door itself was in surprising good condition compared to the rest of the building, though the top hinge had been torn from its mooring. Spike stopped to examine it, eyes narrowed as he took in the deep gouges in the charred wall. Something with strength had ripped it free. Something with strength had been determined to get downstairs. He leaned in and sniffed.

Something with strength had been mostly demon.

He kept his footsteps quiet as he descended the stairs, senses alert for any impending attack. Halfway down, the faint rhythms of a multitude of heartbeats began to thrum against his skin, making him pause. People. A lot of them. Fear hung in the air, palpable and pungent. They were hiding. On top of the bloody Hellmouth? What the hell had happened here?

What confused him were all the demons he could smell, too. It didn’t make sense.

It was simple to follow deep into the throng. Beneath the fire and smoke and blood that still lingered in the air, life breathed and filled it. There was sex, and tears, and food, and in spite of his trepidation, Spike found it oddly calming. He passed doorways and watched people cleaning debris, righting furniture, bringing order to chaos. Nobody paid him any mind. They were too involved in their own drama to care about his.

He found Buffy’s scent in an unfamiliar corridor, bereft of inhabitants. It wasn’t alone, but he didn’t have time to try and decipher the other aromas, in spite of the lurking belief that he should know them. Spike traced it back to a previous hall he’d disregarded, careful to remain in the shadows and avoid any direct contact with the community’s residents. Because that’s what it was. Buffy had found refuge amongst these people, others driven below ground for whatever reason this dimension provided. She had probably been drawn by their need. It was just like her.

“Spike?”

The soft voice came from behind him, and he whirled to see the confused face of a long-dead Tara gazing up at him. The second they made eye contact, however, everything in her sharpened, and she took a step away, her heart suddenly hammering inside her chest.

“No,” she said. “You’re not him. Did…” The question faded on her lips. Something about him had struck her, and Spike stood there motionless, wondering how Red had managed to save her lover in this world, wondering why the witch looked at him with such knowing. “Oh. Oh.”

Before he could speak, her hand came out and sculpted the air around him, small sparks leaping from her fingertips as they encountered something unseen. Spike flinched on instinct, but Tara was unfazed, smiling softly by the time she pulled back.

“You came for Buffy.”

He frowned, head tilting in curiosity. “How’d you know that?”

“Your aura. It’s just like hers.” She faltered. “But…she said you were dead.”

“She would. To her, I am.”

Her brows shot up. “And you came anyway? I don’t think…” Her gaze slid sideways, the wheels visibly turning inside her head. “I think maybe you should wait here. I’ll bring Buffy to you.”

His hand shot out to grab her arm, keeping her from walking away when she began to turn. “I don’t think so, luv,” Spike said. “Clock’s tickin’, and no offense, but I’m not larking about. I came to suss out whatever it is holding Buffy here, and if you’re not goin’ to be straight up with me, I’ll find her on my own.”

Tara frowned at his words. “What do you mean, whatever’s holding Buffy? You know how to get her back?”

“Yeah, except she’s fighting us. Something’s making her want to stay here instead of comin’ home.”

He couldn’t miss the faint flutter of her pulse, or the way she licked nervously at her lips. “All right,” she conceded. “But if you’re expecting a Brady Bunch reunion, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s…not going to be what you expect.”

Spike let her go so that she could start leading him through the labyrinth. “It never is,” he muttered.

 

To be continued in Chapter 19