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 refused to back down on her decision to stop Adam, while Angel confronted Ilona and discovered Wolfram & Hart wanted Spike killed in payment...

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No amount of heaving breast or curvaceous leg was going to tear Angel’s disbelieving eyes away from Ilona’s. “You have got to be kidding me,” he said. “First, they saddle me with Spike because of that damn amulet, and now they want me to get rid of him for them? And they do realize that technically, he’s not even a Wolfram & Hart employee, right? They don’t have to kill him to even things out in LA. All they have to do is throw a Slayer at him. Trust me. It’s like throwing a stick away from a dog. He’ll be too distracted running after her to pay me or them any attention at all.” Hopefully, he added in his head.

A dismissive wave of her hand accompanied Ilona’s casual shrug. “They have tried this,” she said. “The Senior Partners, they were not satisfied with the results.”

His mouth opened to question when in hell they’d sent Buffy after Spike when Angel’s brain made the connection and his jaw snapped shut again.

Not Buffy.

Dana.

An insane Slayer that should have been drugged up on thorazine, suddenly lucid and on the loose, convinced Spike was the object of her pain.

Lindsey was the one who aimed Spike at Dana,” he said carefully.

Ilona smiled. A chill ran through Angel. “Lindsey gained information regarding the Senior Partners’ intents and used it for his own purposes. They were quite pleased when it expedited their wishes.”

His mind raced, thoughts playing through the events of the past few months, all the incidents where Spike had inexplicably been in the path of harm. “What’s the big deal about Spike? All that business with the chalice was a fake.”

“His presence is disruptive to many,” Ilona explained. “He fosters rebellion, he encourages alternative paths. For instance. It was his influence that brought you to London, no? Would you have put Buffy into such a position if it weren’t for him?”

They both knew the answer to that. Spike was far more reckless and impulsive than Angel had ever been. That didn’t mean he was always wrong, though.

“But kill him?” It still seemed extreme. “Can’t I just leave him here? It’ll take him forever to get back to California on his own.”

“You do not believe this. Besides, William has the nine lives. The Senior Partners grow weary of his…complication.” Her eyes narrowed in speculation. “Why is it you balk so?” she asked. “I would have assumed you would be amenable to the payment. After all, did you not pave the way for the Old One? And that vessel was human, not a vampire.”

He hated having to play along that he’d been a part of Fred’s death. The only thing he could be grateful for was that Spike wasn’t around to hear this.

“Spike has a soul now.” A fact he was sure to remind Angel about every single day. “And regardless of how I feel about him, he’s the one upstairs right now helping Buffy. I would think for as many hoops as you’ve already jumped for the Immortal, that that would count for something.”

“Oh, it does. To me. But I am not the Senior Partners, and Paolo…” Her smile faded. “…he has his own reasons.”

“Yeah, I’ll just bet he does,” Angel muttered. He didn’t like this, not even a little. Though he had no qualms about making the trade in lives – and ultimately, he was fairly sure Spike would say the same thing if the circumstances demanded it – he didn’t like being dictated to about it. When he finally throttled Spike, it was going to be because he wanted it, not because a bunch of higher-ups told him to.

Ilona rose to her feet and stood toe-to-toe with Angel, her breasts soft where they brushed against him. “You are not seriously considering refusing their request?” she asked, her voice low and far more solemn than he had ever heard before. “Because this is not a wise decision, Angelus. This will only make your life that much more miserable. As a Wolfram & Hart employee, you must know that no good can come of such independent thinking.”

“Lucky for me, I wasn’t hired for my thinking skills then.”

“Even more reason for you to be careful. You must do this. You agreed to the payment.”

Angel shook his head. “A life for a life. Leave it to the Senior Partners to be so literal. But I think I’ve made my position on Buffy’s well-being perfectly clear.”

“Perfectly. But after? When she is safe and secure? How will you act then?”

“Yes, Angel.” Giles’ matter-of-fact tone behind them took Angel by surprise, and he turned to see the Watcher regarding him steadily from the open doorway. A cocked crossbow rested easily in his arms, trained on both of them, while the mini-Watcher who had let him and Spike in so blithely hovered behind. “Do tell. Should I expect dead bodies in my beds today, or will you save your bloodlust for after you’ve betrayed Buffy this time?”

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

Buffy ignored her Spike’s frown as she slipped out of Giles’ room to help Other Spike begin retrieving weapons. It was almost a relief not to be in his presence, not to feel the weight of his gaze as he followed her every movement, not to see the evidence of his responses to their fighting. More than once, she had felt the old pattern begin to slip into place and had to push it away. Succumbing to them with the Other Spike was one thing; giving this one – hers – hopes about what could happen between them was something else entirely.

She didn’t have time to get lost in her thoughts. As soon as they were out of earshot of Giles’ room, Other Spike was speaking.

“It’s not true, you know,” he said. He didn’t look over at her, keeping his stride long and his gaze forward. “Wouldn’t have let you slit your throat on this plan, no matter what the other me claimed.”

“I know. He wasn’t there when you argued with me the first time.” Her mouth canted into a half-smile, soft with memory made real with his presence. “But telling him he missed out on being the first to give me hell about it would probably have made it all worse.”

Other Spike’s response was an awkward roll of his shoulders. “Can’t blame him. If I was in his shoes…”

She kept waiting for him to finish the thought, but it never came. In the end, Buffy decided maybe it was better that way.

When they reached his room, she hung back as he opened the door, suddenly self-conscious of what had happened the last time they’d been alone. It didn’t help when he glanced back at her over his shoulder, head tilted in that dangerous way Spike seemed to have a patent on, his eyes uncharacteristically fathomless as he waited for her to follow. Buffy swallowed and pushed past, refusing to respond when she brushed against his hard arm.

“The more portable the weapons, the better,” she said, going over to the shelves to survey their contents. “Small and lethal. That’s what we want.”

“What we want. Yeah.”

She heard him too late.

Her hair whipped across her cheeks as Other Spike grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, driving her back to a narrow strip of bare wall. Buffy hit with a force strong enough to knock the air from her lungs, and in the seconds it took for her to get it back, he was pressed against her, all lean muscle and powerful hands pinning her to the cold concrete.

“Want this,” she heard him growl. In the next moment, his mouth was fused to hers, fingers questing beneath the hem of her top to explore the soft skin at her waist while his tongue pushed past her teeth to sweep and taste and devour far more hungrily than he had even that morning.

She could have pushed him away. Buffy’s life might have been in chaos, but that didn’t impede her Slayer reflexes that much. He was still a vampire and she still knew what her primary job was. There was enough time for Buffy to shove him off before any kissing ever got started.

She didn’t want to.

She tore into him with every ounce of frustration and pain she’d felt ever since opening the door to a Spike who shouldn’t exist, shouldn’t have stayed away, should’ve done what he always did and stuck around even if she didn’t want him to. Except she had, she had finally accepted just what his place in her life was and he had gone and died on her and then come back without saying a word and how dare he be too scared to fuck things up? It had never stopped him before. Spike did what he wanted and the rest of the world could just go to hell.

That was the way things were. Had been. That was the way she had thought they always would be.

Before her world got turned upside down. Before her eyes got opened about what choices could really mean.

Buffy didn’t know when the kiss changed. One minute, her lungs were burning and her eyes squeezed shut. The next, her eyes burned from unshed tears and she had all the air in the world because Other Spike’s mouth was no longer on hers.

She gulped and swallowed as he moved over her jawline, forcing back the tide of emotion that had momentarily overwhelmed her. Buffy threaded her fingers in the long hair at his nape, ready to pull him off, but the impulse was stifled by the gentler strokes of his fingers, the hunger that had marked his initial assault replaced with that indecipherable need that had blanketed his attentions in the freezer. His hard thigh was wedged between her legs, rocking against her clit in slow, maddening strokes, but all Buffy felt was the cool air against her neck as Other Spike spoke to her in the softest of murmurs.

“Could always stay, you know. Have your mum, have your Watcher, have Tara, all here, all ready to welcome you back.” His mouth settled at her ear, the tip of his tongue darting out to trace the delicate shell. “We beat Adam and his band of merry wankers, and the Hellmouth is yours for the takin’, luv. No reason you can’t get your life back, start it all over, start fresh.”

He’d almost had her.

In the back of her mind, in places she would deny existed until dragged kicking and screaming to confess, Buffy had given more than one thought to what he suggested. Was it alluring to think she could have her mom back? Hell yes. Would it be nice to be needed again, to be unique and powerful and the one the world looked to help banish the darkness? Buffy couldn’t deny the attraction there, either.

But Other Spike made a fatal error in his argument.

This wasn’t her life. Not really. It never had been.

And this wasn’t her Spike.

Slowly, carefully, Buffy moved her hands to his chest and pushed, breaking the contact between their bodies. It took Other Spike by surprise, and he stumbled back, dark brows drawn together into a thick line as he gazed at her in confusion. It took only a moment for him to see what he was looking for.

“He’s a bloody fool, you know that, right?” he said, taking a further step away.

“Maybe,” Buffy conceded. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she pushed her hair off her face, grateful for the balm of space to clear her head. “But he’s my bloody fool.”

“Oh?” Seeing the truth and accepting it were apparently two very different things to Other Spike. “You haven’t even kissed him. You want him back in your life so bad, why is it you’re snogging me and not him?”

“It’s not that easy---.”

“Bollocks. For somebody who’s always been so quick to paint demons in black and white, you sure as hell are quick to look for the gray in your sad excuse of a love life, Slayer.”

She pulled herself straighter. “My love life is not sad!”

“Really? Three words for you.” He ticked them off on his left hand, starting with his thumb. “The. Soddin’. Immortal.”

“Leave Paolo out of this.”

“Your precious Paolo is the only reason I’m in this, if you care to remember.”

With a cry of frustration, Buffy shoved Spike out of her way and marched back to the shelves. “I am so not having this conversation with you again,” she said. “Let’s just get the weapons and get back to the others, OK?”

“No, it’s not OK.”

This time when he grabbed her shoulder to whirl her around, Buffy reacted without pause. She twisted with the flow of the movement, swinging her right fist around to connect with his nose. The force of the blow sent Other Spike reeling back, but he caught himself from stumbling long before he hit the bed.

“Damn it,” Buffy muttered. Some of her anger evaporated seeing the thin trickle of blood dribble from his nose, but when Other Spike wiped it away and then promptly sucked it off his thumb, she snorted.

“Glad you get your jollies from my discomfort, pet.”

“Do you see us?” Buffy said. She gestured between them. “This is exactly why my Spike and I haven’t jumped in each other’s arms. Because if you think you and I have baggage, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

“I didn’t say---.”

“Yeah, you pretty much did.”

She folded her arms over her chest, lifting her chin as she waited for him to continue the argument. Because he would. No version of Spike could stop fighting once it got into his blood.

Only…he didn’t. Other Spike’s finger came up, jabbing at her as if to make a point, and his mouth opened to speak…but then he froze. The dark gaze that had been glaring so furiously at her slid sideways, over her shoulder, and fixed on something so intently that Buffy couldn’t help but turn around to see what was so fascinating.

Shards of glass littered the shelf behind her, small fragments of the crystals that had been their early warning system for the attack that morning. Other Spike’s footsteps were heavy as he marched across the floor, shoving Buffy out of his way as he stood and stared at the small pieces.

“What is it?” Buffy asked.

Other Spike didn’t say a word. With a broad sweep of his arm, he swept the other debris off the shelf, ignoring the mess he made on the floor as he studied the crystals. When apparently that wasn’t enough, he moved to the shelf below it, clearing it in the same manner, and then to the one below that, until the entire unit was empty except for the pieces of glass.

“I’m glad I’m not your roommate,” she commented dryly, looking at the mess he’d made.

“Where are they?” Other Spike said. He stood back up and reached for one of the shards, turning it over in his fingers. “Do you see them?”

Buffy frowned. “If you’re talking about the crystals, you’re holding one. C’mon, Spike. I didn’t hit you that hard.”

“No, you daft bint. The two that didn’t break. There were two left when we came back down. Me and Tara cleared away the broken pieces, and we left the ones still intact here.” He scanned the shelves again, but nothing magically appeared. “Where’d they go?”

“Maybe the hybrids broke them.”

“Not possible. Tara fixed it so that the only thing that breaks ‘em is---.”

“There you are.”

The low, even voice made goosebumps erupt along Buffy’s bare arms. Knowing Adam was still around was one thing; hearing his chilling voice after four years was something else entirely. She and Other Spike turned their heads at the same time to see him and Riley blocking the doorway.

Adam smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “And here I thought my brother was mistaken about Hostile Seventeen and the Slayer he was protecting. I believe this is the first time I have ever been grateful to be wrong.” He glanced at Riley. “My apologies for not believing you.”

Riley’s gaze didn’t break away from Buffy, boring into her so intently that she had to fight not to take a step back. Though she didn’t see it, she heard the unmistakable sound of metal being unsheathed. “Let’s do this,” he said.

“Yes.” When Adam shifted his attention back to Buffy and Spike, his smile was gone. “Let’s.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 24