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 argued with Ilona, but Giles walked in and overheard only the worst part, while Buffy went to retrieve weapons with Other!Spike, only to get found by Adam and Riley...

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Spike had done a lot of hard things in his time. Gone to the Slayer for help when he first got chipped. Fought for his soul. Found the secret level at the top of the native fortress area in Crash Bandicoot. But watching Buffy walk out with his less well-groomed self, smelling her arousal, knowing she had already shagged the vampire once a few hours previous and would now be alone with him again for more than long enough to get off a second – and likely third, fourth, and fifth – time, ranked right up there with the hardest of them.

He sat slumped in one of the chairs at the table, glaring at the door while the others hustled and bustled around him. The new plan was better than the old one, if only because he would be there at Buffy’s side to keep Finn from getting his hooks into her, but Spike still didn’t like it. Everything would be much simpler if she would just accept the fact that she couldn’t control everything in every dimension. Of course, then she wouldn’t be Buffy, and maybe he wouldn’t have fallen in love with her stubborn spirit and her unwillingness to admit defeat. Irony was a real bitch sometimes.

“Get off your ass and stop brooding on her,” Giles growled at him. Spike swiveled his head to see the Fyarl hefting a large chest out of Tara’s way, tossing it aside like kindling. “Unless you want to lose her yet again, in which case, carry on.”

“I’m not brooding,” Spike snapped.

“You are a little,” Tara interceded.

Joyce placed a stuffed duffel on the table in front of Spike, standing in the way of him and the others. “Buffy knows too well what’s at stake. She’s not going to do anything foolish.”

“She’s not the one I’m worried about,” he muttered.

In the background, Giles snorted. “I can’t believe you’re jealous of yourself. She’s leaving with you, isn’t she? Isn’t that enough?”

It should have been. And Spike knew he was being unreasonable about the whole matter, but bugger, they didn’t know how tenuous his relationship with Buffy really was. They hadn’t been there for all the times she’d walked away from him, and they hadn’t seen the look on her face when she realized he’d been back and kicking for months without saying a word to her. They could be as logical and reasonable as they wanted to about this, but those had never been adjectives to describe his relationship with her. He and Buffy would forever be contrary to that.

Spike remained hunched in his seat, stealing glances at the closed door, while the others finished organizing the supplies they were going to take with them. After ten minutes, his heel began tapping against the floor. After fifteen, he shifted so that he faced it more directly. He wanted to be the first thing Buffy saw when she walked back in. After twenty-five, he scraped his chair across the floor and stormed over to tear the door open, stepping into the hall to look up and down it.

“Where the bloody hell are they?”

Tara appeared at his elbow, but instead of pulling him back inside as he expected, she edged past and further out into the hall. “It shouldn’t be taking this long,” she murmured, slim brows drawn into a frown.

“And you lot thought I was being daft.” Without pause, he took off in the direction of Buffy’s scent.

“Where are you going?” Tara said, scurrying to follow.

“To drag the Slayer’s bum back. We don’t have time for her nonsense.”

“I’m sure she’s not---.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure she is.”

He kept his gaze forward, retracing Buffy’s path. It grew stronger with every step, but when they turned the corner that led to the Other Spike’s room, something else joined the smells of Buffy and the other vampire, something dark and demonic.

Something with metallic undertones.

His skin crawled. His thoughts lurched. That couldn’t be right.

Ten feet from the room, he sensed the blood.

Tara called out when Spike broke into a run, but he ignored it, racing to the doorway. He knew before he reached it what he would find, but that didn’t slow him down, and it didn’t stop him from skidding to a halt once he’d thrown the door open. His eyes scanned the room, noting the destruction that looked so much like that back at Giles’.

Shelves torn from the wall.

Glass shards crunched into the concrete floor.

No sign of Buffy or the other version of himself anywhere to be seen.

But there was blood. Lots of it. Smeared across the walls, the door frame, on the floor. Most of it was demon, and though Spike recognized the scent of his own amongst the aromas, it was the very definite shallow pool near the exit that filled him with dread.

“Oh my god…” Tara murmured behind him. She rushed past as he crouched down to more closely examine the blood near his feet and went straight for the broken glass on the floor. “They came back?”

His jaw ached from how tightly he was clenching it. “They came back.”

“There’s no dust.” Tara’s voice was shrill, her eyes wild as she turned to Spike. Even across that distance, the sudden race of her heart pounded into his skin. “Tell me they didn’t kill him. Tell me!”

He shook his head. “Some of this blood is his.” Bracing himself, he dipped his finger into the pool and lifted it to his mouth, licking off the still-warm fluid.

The blood sent an electrical shock through his veins. His cock jumped.

Buffy.

Adam had both of them.

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

For a brief, furious moment, Angel wished he had forced Spike to stay behind in LA. This was all his fault. If he hadn’t come along, Angel would still be in Rome, working with Ilona to find the cure for Buffy. He wouldn’t have run away in the middle of the night, and he wouldn’t have had to make a deal with such a high price, and he definitely wouldn’t be facing the wrong end of a Watcher’s crossbow. Everything bad that was happening was all because of Spike. Angel should have tossed him into one of the holding cells like Pavayne to keep him from coming.

Except Spike was the sole hope they had in waking Buffy up in time.

Which left Angel scrambling to try covering his ass. Again.

Spike was going to owe him big time.

“It’s not what you think, Giles,” he said, turning his back on Ilona. She was a problem he’d deal with later.

“Oh?” The crossbow never wavered. “So I didn’t just hear you contemplate killing Spike?”

“No, you didn’t. You heard me debating the payment.”

“Oh, there is no room for debate, Angelus,” Ilona said, gliding up to his side. “You agreed, therefore it must be done.”

Giles’ eyes grew colder. “Spike’s our only hope for Buffy. I’ll dust you myself before I let you touch him.”

Angel snorted. “Since when did you become his champion?” he challenged. “I heard what you did last year, setting him up with Nikki Wood’s kid. You’d like him out of the picture just as much as I would.”

“I did what I thought was best for Buffy at the time.”

“Yeah, and how’s that working out for you? Buffy’s living the high life in Rome, you setting up shop here all the way across the Channel.” He didn’t really like the idea of baiting Giles, but the longer he kept the man talking, the longer he had to put Ilona off. “Face it. She wrote both of us out of her life a long time ago. And we both know the reason why.”

Giles’ mouth thinned. “For someone who claims not to wish to hurt Spike, you’re making a very good case against that,” he said. “Perhaps I had my issues with him in the past, but I can’t deny the fact that he’s still willing to do whatever he must for her wellbeing. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about you, Angel.”

“I would never hurt Buffy. You know that.”

“Do I?”

“You should. Haven’t I done everything I can to prove that? I even left Sunnydale because it was in her best interest. That’s a hell of a lot more than Spike ever did.”

“Spike gained his soul for her. You now run an evil law firm. Yes, I can see exactly how you would think that in her best interest.”

He stared at Giles, wondering how to respond. A distant knock at the front door took all four of them by surprise.

“Go answer it,” Giles said to Daniel without looking away from Angel.

The smaller Watcher slipped away, but already Angel was relaxing. “What you think of me doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just because they want me to kill Spike doesn’t mean I’m going to.” When he heard Ilona’s intake of breath to speak, he held up a hand to cut her off. “Best way to piss me off is to tell me what to do. The Senior Partners should have warned you about that.”

“I believe that’s the first thing you’ve said that I agree with,” Giles said softly.

Ilona sighed and returned to her seat on the couch. “You make a serious mistake, Angelus. I do not wish to be in your shoes when the Senior Partners discover you will not comply with the agreement.” Her gaze flickered to his feet. “Especially those.”

Giles hadn’t moved. “If you weren’t going to agree with her, why did I hear you even discussing the matter?”

“I believe he was stalling.”

Angel didn’t smile, though the quick start Giles made at the sound of Wesley’s voice behind him was definitely on the humorous side. “Took you long enough,” he complained to Wes.

Giles stepped back, allowing room for the new arrivals to enter, though the crossbow remained at the ready. Daniel was the first to scurry past, taking a post in the far corner, followed by Wesley carrying a small box, and then Illyria.

“He is not accustomed to interdimensional travel,” she said to Angel. “We were delayed by his weak constitution.”

“Yes, well, my constitution aside…” He stopped, noticing the weapon in Giles’ hands for the first time. His suddenly wary gaze jumped back to Angel. “Is everything all right?”

“It is now.” He nodded to the box. “Were we right?”

“We were.” Reaching inside, Wesley pulled out an ornate carriage clock, so small that it rested comfortably on the palm of his hand. “Knowing about the sanctuary spell helped tremendously. It meant the housekeeper couldn’t stop us once we were already inside. Then it was only a matter of locating what we wanted.”

Angel frowned. “The Immortal didn’t try to stop you?”

“He wasn’t there, actually. Should he have been?”

That was a detail that Angel didn’t like, but before he could question Ilona about it, she was standing and brushing past his arm, approaching Wesley with her gaze fixed on the clock.

“How did you find it?” she murmured.

Before Wes could reply, Angel hurried around to cut her off. “We don’t have time to worry about the how,” he said. “The important thing is, the Immortal can’t control you with it any longer. So this is the deal, Ilona. You help us, you get the clock. You fuck around with us any more, and I’ll turn it over to the Senior Partners myself. I’ll bet they won’t be nearly as charming about it as the Immortal has been.”

Her gaze jumped between Angel and the clock more than once. It was the first time he had ever seen her look less than composed, but by the time her attention fixed back on him, her jaw was set and her eyes resolute.

“Agreed.”

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

Her head was killing her. And her eyelids were vibrating from the force of her headache. And Buffy was pretty sure that if she opened said eyelids, she would throw up.

Part of her was tempted to do it anyway, if only to see the look on Adam’s face when he got regurgitated blue kool-aid all down his front.

As she gradually became aware of her surroundings, Buffy felt the gentle rocking that had woken her up – as much as the headache had – come to a stop. There was the sound of a door sliding open, followed by heavy steps against metal. Her world tilted, and her stomach lurched. Someone was picking her up. She tried to move, but her limbs refused to obey her commands, and it wasn’t just the heavy chains she could now feel weighing her down. Her muscles weren’t listening to her brain, and she scrambled frantically to try and figure out why. Or how. But all she got were random images from the fight.

Spike leaping forward to attack Adam.

Adam batting him away like a fly.

Riley approaching her, his eyes dark and dead.

The shelves crashing into his jaw when she tore them down and swung at the last minute.

The rest was a muddle. She had fought with everything she had, but in the end, against both Adam and a demonic Riley, she hadn’t had a chance.

There was one up-side to this, though. She was alive, and they had obviously taken her away from the high school. She was going to be able to strike Adam from within. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to do it the way they’d originally planned, but she knew where his power source was. If she was smart about it, she could still finish this once and for all.

She just had to get control of her muscles first.

The arms that held her were strong and hard, and when the air shifted from warm to cool, Buffy took a risk and peeked through her lashes. Sterile white surrounded her. It was the Initiative all over again.

And it was Riley who held her.

Buffy closed her eyes again and focused on her breathing. This could work to her advantage. Riley obviously had a thing for her, hence the second direct attack. If she could manipulate him, get his guard down, she could still get to Adam. Nobody back in the high school would like that plan, but then again, nobody back in the high school was in her unique position.

Nobody except for Spike.

Was he still alive?

She couldn’t remember what had happened to him.

A door opened. The temperature changed again, this time going back to warm. Too warm. The door shut again.

“You can open your eyes,” Riley said. “I know you’re awake.”

She refused his command. A low growl rumbled against her cheek, and his steps became long and jagged as he carried her further into the room. When he dropped her unceremoniously onto something soft, she reacted on instinct, struggling against the chains that fell across her throat and blocked her air, but her arms and legs were still refusing to cooperate.

“Open your eyes and I’ll move the chain.”

Buffy knew she didn’t have a choice. This time, she obeyed.

He stood over her, dark against the white. Large gashes split his brow and jaw, and there was dried blood where his lip had split. As soon as their eyes met, Riley bent down and slipped the chain away from her neck, letting it rest along her collarbone.

“See?” His mouth curved. If it hadn’t been for the grafted demon skin on his face, she would have called it a smile. “Do as you’re told, and you and I will get along just fine…” He reached and brushed a loose strand of hair from her cheek. “…Buffy.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 25