Summary: Spike wrote a letter to Buffy before the final battle in Not Fade Away. What happens when Buffy finally discovers Spike is back from the great beyond?
Genre: Romance, Angst
Chapter Rating: R for Violence, Blood and Adult Situations
Warnings: Spoilers for the end of Angel Season 5, After the Fall and up through Issue #23 of Buffy Season 8.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Just playing for fun.
A/N: Special thanks to sueworld2003 for the beautiful banner.
Comics Background Info: This story loosely follows the comics canon but reading the comics is not necessary to understanding the emotional heart of the story. A few points to note:
1) Buffy was never in Rome as shown in The Girl in Question, but rather leading a new Slayer organization of over 500 members in the fight against evil. The "Buffy" that Angel and Spike tried to visit in Rome was actually a decoy set-up by Andrew to protect the real Buffy and keep her true location a secret.
2) Out of the 1800 Slayers that were activated during Chosen and the 500 Slayers that have chosen to work with Buffy, a group of Slayers led by one Slayer named Simone have gone rogue and have been abusing their power a la Faith in Season 3. Want. Take. Have. In Issue #23, Buffy and Andrew go to Rome to try to gain intel on Simone and her gang, only to be forced into a standoff on the island Simone has taken over off the coast of Italy. Andrew's squad of Slayers ("Italy squad" as he calls them) come to their rescue, but Buffy fails to rein in Simone or remove her from power. Simone's violent acts have brought intense scrutiny on the Slayers from the world's media coverage.
3) Angel survived the battle in Not Fade Away and the events of After the Fall, but now everyone in LA knows Angel exists and is a vampire just as they know about the demons that walk the streets. He's become a citywide legend.
4) Vampires are the cool new thing thanks to a reality TV show starring Harmony in LA (Buffy Season 8 #21). A Slayer saw Harmony and how she would feed off her adoring, sychophantic entourage and decided she needed to be stopped. She attacked Harmony while they were filming, failed and was killed by her own stake. The attack was used to make Slayers into the enemy and show vampires as sympathetic victims.
“You arrived quickly,” the Immortal observed. “You had no trouble slipping away? You were not followed?”
The decoy shrugged. “Her people are used to ignoring me.” She pursed her lips, shooting Buffy a glance out of the corner of her eye. “I’m not the real deal to them.”
The Immortal released Buffy’s chin, ignoring her grunt when her head smashed against the floor. He rose and turned to face the decoy. Buffy’s eyes drifted closed and she struggled to keep them open, squinting up at the dark figure of the Immortal. She watched him raise an elegant hand to cup the decoy’s cheek, examining the bruise made from Faith’s fist, musing, “You’re hurt. They hurt you.”
“I’m fine,” the decoy dismissed his concern.
“They hurt you and you come to me,” he continued.
“I belong here,” the decoy breathed.
Buffy grimaced at the sound of her breathless vow. Was it too much to ask that they knock her unconscious so she didn’t have to hear the supervillains macking? She’d wait it out. The tremors running through her body were lessening. Her strength would return soon. She could wait it out.
“Do you? Truly?” The Immortal sounded skeptical.
“You know I do,” the decoy whispered. “You’re the only one who cares. The only one who knows-”
The Immortal moved his thumb to touch the decoy’s lips, quieting her, rubbing back and forth along her lower lip. “Tell me where they are. Nearby, yes? They must be very close. How many? Who has she brought? The witch?”
The decoy nodded. “They’re waiting at the southwest gate. The witch, a few dozen slayers and some watchers. How are you gonna stop them? Willow’s powerful and-”
The Immortal’s grasp tightened around the decoy’s jaw, cutting her off. “You gave her my ring. That was meant only for you.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t-”
“Can we kill her now?” Christy interrupted, almost twirling the cattle prod like a cheerleader’s baton in unrestrained excitement.
The Immortal’s shoulders stiffened, almost imperceptibly, but Buffy was watching his every move. All she could do was watch and wait. He turned his head to stare at Christy over his shoulder, face remote, eyes cold.
“Well, when are we gonna kill her? What are we waiting for? C’mon, she’s just lying there waiting for it. She’s practically begging us. Hello!”
Without blinking, the Immortal raised an eyebrow and said, “Simone, silence her.”
Buffy watched the candlelight glint off Simone’s lip piercing as she grinned and stepped forward, her fist crashing into Christy’s jaw, crunching bone and flesh in the span of less than a second. Christy’s frightened shriek ended in a muffled gurgling when she landed face first on the runner carpet, spitting blood onto the deep red fibers.
“I think I broke her jaw,” Simone chuckled. “Oops.”
“Does that upset you?” The Immortal asked, staring at the decoy, ignoring Simone’s gloating and Christy’s moaning. “Do you feel it was wrong to strike her?”
“No,” the decoy shook her head. “I…I don’t know how I feel. I’m working on it.”
“You’re working on it? Get with the program, prom queen. Time to play catch-up,” Simone said, cracking her knuckles. She stalked forward, arms crossed over her chest, chin jutted out. “Maybe you’re never gonna be ready. Can’t cut it.”
“Can’t cut it?” the decoy asked. “It?”
“Yeah,” Simone sneered, leaning in to stare intensely at the decoy, challenging. “I think you’re too weak to get the job done. If we need anyone to go clubbing or do some fancy shopping, I bet you’re the girl to call. But we’re talking about being king of the mountain here. You just ain’t got it. Weak.”
The decoy was the first to drop her gaze and Simone grinned in triumph. The grin didn’t last long as the decoy backhanded her across her mouth with one hand while lunging forward to pull free the knife sheathed at Simone’s belt. Simone fell backwards, tripping over the decoy’s turned foot placed strategically behind her heel. Standing over Simone, the decoy brandished the blade, her body shaking with an erratic, violent energy. “Who’s weak now?” she snarled, her jaw twitching.
Buffy rolled on her side to face the decoy. “You’re not weak…” she struggled to speak, gritting her teeth. “You’re insane.”
The decoy laughed a strident trilling noise that faded into a sigh, her head bobbing. “Insane?”
The decoy strolled forward to stand over Buffy, lip curling. “That’s rich coming from you. I am what you made me.” Her mouth hung open, her face blank in expression while her eyes jerked back and forth. She turned the blade around to point at her own chest, her voice breaking, “Look Ma, aren’t you proud?”
Recovering from her fall, Simone jumped to her feet and lunged at the decoy’s back. The Immortal gripped her shoulder and whipped her around to face him, shaking his head. Simone relaxed her fighting stance, unclenching her fists and turning to watch the two Slayers while standing at the Immortal’s side.
Counting each step the decoy took towards her, Buffy gathered her strength, waiting. She kicked out at the decoy’s knee, hoping to drop her to ground and wrestle away the knife. That was step one. Then she’d toss the decoy into Simone and run for the front room. Her kick weakly bounced off the decoy’s leg, barely shaking her. The decoy laughed and dropped her knees to land on Buffy’s shoulders, knocking the air out of Buffy’s chest and pinning her arms to her side. The knife at Buffy’s throat stopped her from struggling.
“Who’s weak now?” the decoy whispered, her gaze piercing Buffy with an unhinged intensity.
Buffy swallowed, grimacing at the blade cutting into her throat. She felt a trickle of moisture run down the side of her neck. Sweat or blood? The knife pressed down harder against her larynx. Blood. Now what? Get her more angry? Push her over the edge? Or wait for her to finish it slowly? Screw waiting, she decided. “You are.” Buffy glared. “Liar.”
“Aw, I thought that’s what you wanted. A liar. Right? And I tried so hard for you. Do you know how many hours a day I spent thinking about you? Thinking ‘what would Buffy do?’ Or ‘what would Buffy say?’ Telling myself that my name was yours. Forcing my mind to blank on memories that were real. Mine. I watched videos of you. How you spoke. What you wore. How you moved. I recreated your life in my mind until I could almost believe it was mine. I pushed everything that was real deep down until I couldn’t touch it anymore.” The decoy ran the blade across Buffy’s throat. “One day I woke up and I couldn’t remember what my mother’s face looked like. Or the sound of her voice. All I could see was your mom – Joyce.”
Buffy closed her eyes at her mother’s name. She wasn’t sure if the pain in her chest was from the broken ribs or the ache that always surged through her whenever she thought about her mom. She resisted the urge to swallow against the sharp edge of the blade and instead opened her eyes. Returning her stare with hawkish intensity, the decoy reached down into the front of Buffy’s dress and pulled out the velvet bag holding the last crystal, gripping it in her fist. Buffy’s eyes widened in response, but she remained silent.
“I gave you everything I had until there was nothing left. And then you…” The decoy reached up to brush her fist against her bruised cheek. “Would you have killed me if you had to? Tortured me? I bet you would have. You’d probably think I deserved it, right? I would have done anything for you. Anything. But now I see you’re not worth it.” Placing the velvet bag in her pocket, the decoy leaned back and raised the knife from Buffy’s neck, gripping it tightly, her arm tensing for the downward plunge. “You were supposed to be the hero,” the decoy whispered sadly, her eyes wet with tears.
Buffy flinched when the knife jerked down, then stopped mid-air. The Immortal gripped the decoy’s wrist, holding her still, whispering, “Shhh, not yet. It isn’t time.”
The decoy nodded numbly, staring past the Immortal with eyes blank. “Right. Time. There isn’t enough time.” Her gaze refocused and her head jerked to stare at the Immortal, her voice now urgent. “They’re coming. How can we stop them? Willow is too powerful.”
“You worry without reason. I have not forgotten the witch. Her power will be weakened inside these walls. The sooner she enters, the sooner her end comes. She is the one who will be forgotten.” The Immortal gave a small smile.
“Forgotten…you mean…?” The decoy paused, waiting for the Immortal’s nod before continuing. “Oh. Good. That’s good. Nothing to worry about then, is there? Everything’s under control.”
The Immortal lifted the knife from the decoy’s grasp and handed it over his shoulder to Simone. The decoy’s hand went limp under his firm touch. He rubbed her shoulder, encouraging her to breathe more deeply. Buffy lay beneath them, ignored, forced to watch. “There is nothing to worry you, amore mio.”
The decoy nodded and allowed the Immortal to help her stand, stepping away from Buffy lying on the floor. Buffy reached up and touched her throat before lifting a weak hand to see it covered in blood. Close. Too close. Turning her head, she looked at Christy lying unconscious a few feet away from her, still bleeding into the red carpet. A wave of dizziness swept through Buffy and she closed her eyes to stop the room from spinning. The sound of footsteps approaching prompted her to squint at two men, probably demons, who lifted Christy and carried her out of the room.
“Simone, see that Buffy is taken down below and secured,” the Immortal directed. “No, amore mio, stay here.”
The decoy shook her head and bent down to retrieve the cattle prod Christy had dropped. “She’s a Slayer. Simone and your servants won’t be enough.” The decoy glared at Simone who opened her mouth to protest. “Two Slayers against one. Better odds. You need me to do this. I need to do this. I need to see her behind bars,” she finished quietly.
The Immortal stared silently before nodding his agreement.
Simone and the decoy hauled Buffy to her feet and dragged her forward, each with an iron grasp on her arms. “Get a move on, you waste of space,” Simone taunted.
Buffy groaned quietly, her head lolling forward to stare down at the carpet. She didn’t have the strength to lift her head even though her neck burned underneath the press of her chin. The decoy was silent, her hand clenching Buffy’s arm in a punishing hold. They passed through a labyrinth of halls, Simone leading the way with a nod to the left or the right. A large demon with glowing red eyes dressed in black unlocked a heavy oak door, revealing a dark stone stairwell leading down below. The demon handed Simone a set of keys and stepped aside to let them pass, closing the door behind them. The faint light from the torches mounted on the walls allowed them to barely see the steps in front of them. Buffy’s toes scrapped against stone as her feet were dragged down behind her in the open-toed stiletto heels.
“Hold her, I’m losing my grip,” the decoy ordered, pulling Buffy down and to the side as she raised the cattle prod and tried to jab it into Simone’s midriff.
Simone caught the decoy’s wrist and growled, “He told me to watch you.”
The decoy dropped Buffy’s arm and punched Simone with her right fist while they struggled over the cattle prod, each trying to push it away from them. Buffy slammed down on the steps and fell forward, tripping the decoy and Simone, forcing them to tumble down the stairs. She heard grunting and cursing and the slap of punches at the base of the stairs. Crawling down the stairs on her stomach, her bare elbows and knees scraping against stone, Buffy hurried after them. At the bottom step she saw Simone struggle to her feet, the bloody knife that had cut Buffy now in her hand. The decoy lay on her stomach at Simone’s feet, a huge gash bleeding on her forehead.
“I knew you couldn’t cut it, bitch,” Simone sneered, kicking the decoy in the ribs as she tried to stand.
Buffy crawled forward onto the dirty floor and felt the brush of metal against her hand. The cattle prod. Fumbling for the switch, she turned it to high voltage and lunged at Simone, hitting her in the ankle before the blade plunged into the decoy’s back. Simone shuddered and fell to her knees, giving Buffy a bigger target as she stabbed the cattle prod into Simone’s side, keeping up the high current until Simone slumped to the ground, unconscious.
The decoy rolled to her knees, gasping, “Is she dead?”
“No. It takes more to kill a Slayer,” Buffy said, rolling onto her back in exhaustion.
The decoy rose to her feet and stumbled over to Buffy, yelping in shock when Buffy kicked her legs out from her. One second later, Buffy was on top of the decoy and had her throat in a chokehold, her arms shaking with the effort of using all her strength.
“What the hell kind of game are you playing?” Buffy snapped. The decoy groaned incoherently, unable to answer. Buffy relaxed her grip and transferred her hands to holding the decoy’s shoulders down on the ground.
“I’m helping you. I had to…” The decoy coughed and rubbed her neck. “I had to make him believe I was against you. So he wouldn’t suspect me.”
“So you’re on my side now? Can you even tell what side you’re on anymore?”
“Yeah, I think so.” The decoy shot Buffy a questioning look. “Can you?”
“Funny. My bloody neck doesn’t make me think I should start braiding a friendship bracelet,” Buffy gritted out. Shaking her head, she continued, “Why change the plan? Everything was going fine until you blew your cover.”
“My cover was already blown. We realized just as you’d passed into the estate’s boundaries. Willow tried to contact you, but the mystical wards kept her out. She teleported me to the back entrance and I called him to be let inside. He already knew it was you coming and not me.”
“How? How do you know?”
“At first, I wasn’t sure. But when I called he knew.”
“You risked my life because you had a hunch? Are you kidding me?”
“It was more than hunch. We knew he’d stepped up his game. Your friend showed up looking for his son and-”
“Uh, tall, dark-haired. His name…I can’t remember, but it’s kinda girly and his hair sticks-”
“Yeah. Angel was looking for his son and said that he’d been kidnapped by the Immortal and was inside the palazzo. I’d already been trying to figure out how the Immortal could have tricked all of us while I was supposed to be fooling him. Then I realized he knew all along. Things he’d say. The way he’d look at me. And her –” The decoy nodded at Simone. “I’d seen her before leaving here, we passed in the hallway. I didn’t think anything of it. Didn’t connect her to the face on the news, but she’s the one who-”
“Commandeered an island. Kicked all the residents out.” Buffy leaned back, letting go of the decoy’s shoulders. “And if the Immortal is so connected in Italy, he’d maybe have a way to keep the government out of it. Cover it up.”
“The Immortal is the government in Italy. They call it a democratic republic, but it’s all for show. The Immortal runs this country. Everything. He has for centuries.”
Buffy struggled to her knees, bracing herself as she tried to stand, watching in envy as the decoy effortlessly rose to her feet. Apparently the decoy’s Slayer healing was working better than Buffy’s at the moment.
“Can you walk?” the decoy asked, leaning down to grab Simone by the ankles and drag her into the nearest cell. Buffy heard the clink of chains and assumed the punk Slayer wouldn’t be causing trouble anytime soon.
“Yeah,” Buffy grunted, eyeing the decoy as she stepped back into the hallway, a pair of iron keys twirling on the girl’s finger. “Hey, you’re going the wrong way! We have to stop the Immortal!” she called after the decoy when the girl walked deeper into the dungeons and away from the stairs.
“We’ve gotta rescue Spike and Angel’s son first,” the decoy tossed over her shoulder.
“Spike?” Buffy gasped, pushing herself up with one hand on the stone wall. She grimaced at the shooting pain in her ribs when she hurried after the decoy, limping into the shadows.