When he barreled into the subterranean room and saw Angel about to undergo a headectomy, Spike didn't pause to assess the situation. He rushed the assailant and tackled them to the ground without registering anything more than their size (smallish) and their hair (dark blonde). Not until he had them pinned beneath him did he get his first good look at who it was Angel needed help with so badly.
Spike's heart felt as though a giant had caught it in its grip and squeezed tight. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't remember he didn't need to breathe.
Furious hazel eyes glared up at him
Buffy. Buffy Buffy Buffy Buffy...
His brain was stuck on repeat. How she'd gotten there, why she was trying to kill Angel – none of it mattered. Even when her fists slammed his head into the hard floor, repeatedly, all he could think was: Buffy.
"Spike! Little help?" Angel said from somewhere off to the side, and Spike realized Buffy was no longer on top of him but fighting Angel once more.
He shook himself from his daze, and realized something wasn't right. Buffy – trying to kill Angel? Maybe. If she really thought Captain Forehead had gone evil again. But the way she was fighting, all silent, vicious efficiency, wasn't her style. Something was definitely off. "I don't understand," he rasped. "Is it Buffy?"
Angel couldn't tell him. And even after Spike had carried her through the halls of Wolfram and Hart, her slight form pressed close to his heart, his nose buried in her hair, he still couldn't tell for himself either.
A part of him didn't care.
His words to Xander, outside under the tree after they'd brought her back, circled in his mind. If any part of it was Buffy…
Watching her now, through the bars of the cell, Spike wondered what he would do if the girl sleeping restlessly on the narrow cot turned out to be someone or something other than Buffy. Then again, he wondered what he would do if she did turn out to be the girl he'd loved, and mourned, and started to put behind him. How would he fit into her life? Did he even want to, what with her seeming newfound hatred of all things vampire?
Coming so close on the heels of his encounter with Dana, especially after the sting of Buffy's condemnation echoing through the damaged Slayer's mouth, Spike couldn't begin to sort his tangle of emotions.
He sighed, and lit a fag to give his trembling hands something to do.
Somewhere around his sixth cigarette, Buffy woke from her impromptu nap. Though she lay with her back to him, he could hear the increase in her heart rate. A moment later she was on her feet, eyes wild, shaking the bars with enough force he suspected she just might break free, given time. Then she stilled, gaze fixed on the glow of red in the shadows as he took a drag on his smoke.
"Let me out. Now."
"'Fraid that's going to have to wait a bit. But maybe we can hurry it along if you go ahead 'n tell us what you are now, so's we don't have to do the poke and prod to figure it out."
Her eyes narrowed, and Spike knew she was trying to suss out the shape of him in the darkness.
"I'm pretty sure you know what a Slayer is," she said after a long moment. "Seeing how you've killed two and all."
"Three," he said. "But who's counting. See –" He sprang forward in full vamp visage, using his preternatural speed to get right in her face, only a few thin bars of metal between. "Buffy died. On my watch. And you're looking mighty chipper for a dead girl, love. So you're going to tell me just what the bloody hell you are."
Buffy didn't flinch at his sudden leap, or his roar. Wiping the spittle from her face with deliberate calm, she smiled sweetly and said, "I'm your worst nightmare."
Christ. She'd got that part right.
"Look. Nothing would make me happier than for you to be Buffy," he said, trying for a gentler tone. She rolled her eyes, then tipped her head back, examining the juncture of the bars with the ceiling. "But certain facts don't add up. If you're the real deal, how'd you make it out of Sunnydale? Your chums seem to think you didn't. And speaking of chums," Spike said, ticking his questions off on his fingers, "why didn't you let them know you were alive? Where've you been all this time? And what the hell were you doing with Lindsey?"
"I don't know any Lindseys," she said absently, testing the pliability of the bars.
Spike frowned. "Doyle?"
"Never heard of him."
"Okay, play with me here. Who was the bloke you came in with? Urban cowboy with a penchant for mystical looking tattoos?"
Her brow creased. "You mean my Watcher? Giles?"
He didn't think so, not unless Rupert Giles had suffered a severe personality transplant. "Er – is your Giles a Brit, by any chance? Older fellow, glasses, an unfortunate fondness for tweed?"
Buffy had moved to the corner of the cell and was testing the bars there now. "Nope."
Well that explained… dick all. Spike stared at her in frustration, still bollixed as to what he was dealing with. He could only guess that Lindsey had posed as her Watcher, but as to why he would, or why the potentially real Buffy would believe him, he had no idea.
"Tell me," he said, hoping for some sort of clue. Any clue. "Have we met? Before now?"
"Sure. You tried to kill me. A whole bunch of times. It was a bundle of laughs." She looked him in the eye. "By the way, that last time? When you and Angelus leveled Sunnydale? You failed." Her grin turned savage. "You're going to regret that."
"Leveled – leveled Sunnydale?"
"Well, turned it into a big-ass crater if you wanna get technical about it. But I know it was your fault, so don't bother pretending to be so surprised."
Spike shook his head, hoping her words would make more sense. They didn't. Everything she'd said was true, but twisted into something opposite of the actual truth. Buffy's skewed perspective, and the way she'd accepted Lindsey as Giles, made him sincerely doubt she was the real deal.
She moved closer, studying him. "I don't know what you're playing at here, with this I-don't-wanna-hurt-you shit, but you don't have me fooled for a minute. I know all about you, Spike. William the Bloody. Slayer of Slayers. I know the things you've done. The evil you've committed. And I will put you down, one way or another."
The hatred in her eyes, combined with the not-quite scent of her, had Spike taking several hasty steps backward, until he bumped up against the wall he'd been using as a backrest earlier. The Slayer's burning gaze kept him pinned there for long moments. Despite his unease, he forced himself to hold still. He was damned if he was going to squirm like a bug under her scrutiny.
Dismissing him with a disdainful sneer, Buffy turned her back on him and began to examine her cage once more.
Spike let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and examined her too, from the safety of the shadows. Other than the scent of her, if she was a copy, she was a bloody good one. He'd had years to become an expert in all things Buffy – the way she moved, her various expressions, the way she butchered the mother tongue. Her determination, her loyalty to her friends and family –
Hang on – her loyalty to friends and family. "So, pet," he said, head cocked and eyes narrowed. "I'm sure you've told kid sis the happy news, at least. That you're alive. Know you wouldn't have left Dawn in the dark."
Buffy turned to him, one hand on her hip, brow furrowed. "Who?"
He sagged into the wall, and rubbed his burning eyes.
Mark one up for the 'Not Buffy' column.
"... not going to believe a word I say. But at least hear me out."
Spike stilled, two corners away from Buffy's cell, when he realized the voice belonged to Mr. Manpain himself.
So far as he knew, this was the first time Angel had been down here since Spike had laid Buffy's unconscious form on the cot almost forty-eight hours ago. He'd told the brooding one to go talk to her, more than once. How could Angel insist on sending her away without assessing the situation for himself? It was bollocks, was what it was. But Angel must have finally taken Spike's advice, now that Andrew was on his way back stateside to collect the maybe-Buffy.
Spike understood the sudden visit – he wanted to get his time in with the girl too, before she left. Say a few final words. Try one more plea for her to come to her senses. Not that he wanted Buffy to go anywhere, as Wolfram and Hart's constipated CEO could attest after their latest go-around in the lobby minutes ago. Sending her away like this, it felt like failure on his part. If he loved her, shouldn't he know if she was really Buffy? Be able to fix her if she was?
Angel's low, pained voice caught his attention again. Spike stayed back, wanting to give the other vampire room to say his piece. God knows ol' broodypants needed to get at least some of it off his chest.
"... why Lindsey did it, other than to get to me. I'm sorry he used you that way. I know you aren't going to tell me anything, but I just want you to know that if he brought you back from the dead… again… just to hurt me… You – you don't deserve – he…"
Angel trailed off. Spike could hear his flustered discomfiture, and almost pitied him. Buffy's scorn was excruciating at best.
"Look, we've got people coming for you. Good people – your people. They're going to take you to the real Rupert Giles. I know you don't trust me, but you can trust him. He'll help you."
"Gee, I don't trust the vampire who raped me and took my virginity, then went on a murderous rampage and killed people I cared about? Funny how that works."
Spike could feel Angel's anguished jerk from two corridors over, and knew just how he felt. The girl knew Buffy's history, all right, but a twisted version of it. Before now, Spike wouldn't have thought anything could be worse than the truth of what had happened between him and the Slayer, but that was before he'd been subjected to her interpretation of their past.
He faded back to the elevator, and waited for Angel there. The look on the bigger man's face when he shuffled into the corridor was enough to make Spike reconsider opening his mouth, but his need to know won out.
"You really think Lindsey resurrected her?" He couldn't keep his horror out of his voice. Buffy, who'd suffered being ripped from heaven once already, for far nobler purposes...
Angel's broad shoulders slumped further. "Who knows? He's done it before – he brought Darla back, just to hurt me. Why not stick with the classics?"
"Lindsey brought Darla back?"
"It was Wolfram and Hart's idea, their mojo, but he was part of it."
"And if he did it with Buffy… It might explain why she's like this." The implication sickened him, but they had to consider every possibility. She was so cruel. So unlike herself. "Maybe she came back –"
Don't you get it? Don't you see? You came back wrong –
He shut his eyes against the memory, the pain almost enough to send him to his knees. Angel was right. They weren't the ones to help Buffy. Christ, what he'd done to her the last time. The cockup he'd made of trying to give her what she needed. Soul or no, how could he even think she needed his brand of help?
"It's possible," Angel said. "Anything's possible at this point. But she's going to Gile –"
Angel squinted at him. "Did you – did you just agree with me?"
Spike considered needling him, for old time's sake, but the impulse died almost as soon as it was born. "You're –" He still couldn't say Angel was right. He really was incapable of it. "Even in her right mind, Buffy would choose to go with her Watcher and friends, not stay here with us. They'll sort her." He sniffed. "Maybe I'll go with. Seeing as I don't have any grand destiny here after all."
"If you think you should," Angel said, a strange catch in his voice. They eyed each other for a moment, and Spike wondered if the other vampire didn't want him to go. He contemplated throwing out a casual offer to stay, if he was needed 'round these parts, but then Angel nodded back the way he'd come. "Were you going to go see her?"
Spike shrugged. "Was going to check in, but if you were just there… She can be a bit vicious, you know? Gets hard to be around her when she's laying it on."
"I noticed," Angel said, and Spike remembered what she'd said to him. As much as he normally enjoyed hearing Angel's sins rubbed in his face, Buffy's twist on their history had been a bit much even for him.
He decided he could stand to wait a little longer before being subjected to the same. When Buffy would really get going on his evil ways, he'd have to bite his tongue to keep from reminding her of just far she'd fallen herself at times. But this new him, this souled him, would never do that to her. Never again.
At least she didn't seem to know the worst of what he'd done to her. He carried enough guilt over that already.
Spike rode the elevator up with Angel, each of them lost in their own thoughts. For his part, Spike was wishing he could follow Lindsey to hell and drag him back. He wanted answers, and the other man seemed to be the only one who had them. Their questioning of Eve had been fruitless – she'd claimed to know nothing of Buffy's existence, only that Lindsey had had a backup to the failsafe plan. She'd seemed just as surprised as they were to find it was the supposedly dead Slayer.
"We need Lindsey," Spike said as they exited the elevator. "We need to drag him back here and beat the answers out of him."
"Trust me, I wouldn't have let the Senior Partner's take him if I'd known." Angel lowered his voice. "I've got Wesley looking into it. Where he might be."
"Well – good."
Looked like the old man wasn't as removed as he pretended to be after all. Spike tipped him a salute and wandered off to find some trouble to occupy himself with until he felt up to facing Buffy and her vitriol once more.
Spike lit another cigarette. Buffy wrinkled her nose, but didn't say anything, which was fine by him. She'd quit commenting somewhere after his first pack.
He knew the considerate thing would be to allow her fresher air, but smoking was the only outlet for his jitters. Spike felt as though he were the one in the cage, not Buffy. His nerves had long since frazzled from waiting for the cavalry to arrive and take her away, and he'd discovered the tiny corridor didn't allow for satisfactory pacing hours ago. Hence the chain-smoking, whether Buffy liked it or not.
Seeing as the girl didn't seem to know much about Buffy's friends and family, Spike had taken it upon himself to fill her in while they waited. If she really was Buffy, he didn't know why she was in the dark about her own history, or at least about the existence of her sister, but it made him feel like he was helping her in some small way to describe the people waiting for her.
He thought she appreciated it. Though Buffy was steadfastly pretending to ignore him, she seemed to be intent on his words. At any rate, she'd quit reviling him, which made it almost semi-pleasant to be in her company. She was going to be gone soon; whether she was Buffy or something else, he wanted these last, almost-friendly moments with her. The illusion of Buffy, alive and well, was far too enticing for him to turn down.
"Back to Dawn," he said. "She's fierce, like you. Have to be if she was made from you, eh?"
Buffy shifted, turning her head a little so she could hear better, Spike reckoned. The thought made him smile, and he fell silent for a while, puffing away on his smoke and taking note of the way she strained to hear his next words. He still hadn't sorted if she was his Buffy – bit of wishful thinking, that, calling her his Buffy, but what the hell – but times like this, he supposed she just might be after all.
Either way, no matter who or what she really was, right now she was just a nervous girl awaiting an unknown fate. Spike could sympathize.
"You and Dawn, you'd do anything for each other. And you did. You died for her once. To save her from a Hellgod."
As he went on with his tale, Buffy edged around her cot, until she was half-facing him. Fred had brought her some spare clothes, and she'd chosen a simple blue v-neck tee that dipped between her breasts and left her arms bare. She was rubbing her hands over her exposed arms now, hugging herself as she listened to him, and Spike longed to go in there and give her the comfort she seemed to crave.
He wasn't stupid enough to think she'd let him live if he tried, but it made for a satisfying fantasy. Those last few nights they'd spent together in Sunnydale, wrapped in each other's arms, were his most precious memories. Spike's chest ached with the desire to relive them, almost overwhelming his sense of self-preservation. To be able to hold her, just one more time…
His voice faltered, and he had to light a new fag before he could go on.
He'd been speaking of Dawn for so long, he didn't realize it was her actual voice he heard coming down the corridor until she rounded the corner with Andrew and stopped dead, eyes wide. She stared at him for long minutes, lower lip trembling, and then she brushed past him without a word and reached through the bars to her sister.
"Buffy," she said. "Buffy. God, is it really you?"
"So they tell me," the girl in the cage said. "You're… Dawn?"
The smell of Dawn's tears and the sound of her little, hitching sobs, so familiar from that long summer, made Spike's eyes burn. He grabbed Andrew, who was watching the two women with rapt fascination, and hauled him out of there before either of them could make a fool of themselves. Spike stayed within hearing range, though.
He didn't quite trust this version of Buffy not to hurt Dawn.
"Nobody told me Dawn was coming," he growled at Andrew. If he'd known, he could've prepared himself for the shock of seeing her again. Maybe the way she'd snubbed him wouldn't have hurt so much either.
Andrew tittered. "She wasn't supposed to, but you know Dawn. Try telling her no."
Spike shook his head. He did know Dawn, Bitty Buffy that she was. "Girl understands that might not be Buffy back there, right? She has to be on guard."
"Mr. Giles explained the situation. And my own, um, research suggests it may not be Buffy. We've taken precautions against treachery most vile..." Andrew craned his neck around the corner. "We all want to believe the fates have returned her to us, though. Especially Dawn."
"Know what you mean," Spike sighed.
"You came back, right? Maybe there's some great prophecy in the making. An epic role you two have yet to fulfill... The World's Greatest Slayer and her Vampire Consort!"
Despite the tempting picture the boy's words evoked, Spike said, "Don't be getting any funny ideas in that twisted little brain of yours. Your job is to get the girl back to Giles so he can fix her up, or figure out what to do with her, without Dawn getting hurt along the way. Nothing else." He rapped his knuckles on the top of Andrew's head. "You got it?"
"Like I said, we're prepared for just about anything."
Spike eyed him, wondering why Rupert had put this git in charge instead of coming for his Slayer himself. Then again, the lad had handled Dana well enough. Could be he was man enough for the job.
Still. Maybe Spike should go with them. Make sure Buffy and everybody else got there in one piece.
The low susurration of the girls' voices ceased, and then Spike heard Dawn's determined stride. He threw his head and shoulders back: can't hurt me with your snubs, little girl. But when she rounded the corner, eyes rimmed red and face blotchy and tear-streaked, he sagged. Stupid to posture with this one, when she undid him so.
"Dawn…" he said.
She stopped several feet away and crossed her arms. "Don't. Don't you Dawn me. You – you knew I thought Buffy was dead. You knew how much I would be hurting. And you decided you should continue to play dead too? Let me mourn the both of you for no reason?" Her pitch rose with each word, until she was near-screaming. "You wanted to be dead? Fine! You're dead to me!"
Turning to Andrew, she said in a much lower, but still trembling voice, "I explained the situation to Buffy, and she understands. Let's get going." She threw Spike a venomous look over her shoulder. "I want to get out of this evil place as soon as possible."
"Dawn," Spike tried again. "Maybe I should come with you. You lot might need my help."
"We don't need you. Haven't since Sunnydale. Haven't ever needed you." She walked away as she spoke, spine rigid. At the corner, she paused, back still to him. "We don't need you in our lives, Spike, so I'll thank you to go now. Andrew and I can take care of Buffy from here."
Sodding hell. Bitty Buffy indeed.
I, what? He wanted to say goodbye to Buffy. Wanted to apologize to Dawn. Wanted to go with them, to help, to atone for his mistakes. But Dawn was right. They didn't need him in their lives. All he did was cock things up.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, and walked away.