Fic: "I Thrice Presented Him a Kingly Crown (1/2)" by Quinara.
It's just past 1AM at the beginning of my day, but I've got another fic (hopefully) coming after this one that I won't be able to post until the afternoon/evening, so I'm getting this out there now! I'm a little annoyed it won't all fit in one entry...
Title: I Thrice Presented Him a Kingly Crown
Word Count: 11,314
Summary: Spike and Buffy get stuck in ancient history.
Author's Notes: This takes place post-series, with a few comics-influenced touches. I'd be wary of saying it works with comics canon, simply because I haven't read them that closely and this goes beyond their ending. Massive thanks go to gillo for beta-ing this for me, and for inspiring me to find a Shakespearean title for the whole thing. Thanks also to enigmaticblues for organising everything again!
Warnings: Graphic violence, consent/agency issues
I Thrice Presented Him a Kingly Crown.
It could have been any other night. They’d met in the open in the hope it would be neutral, but the streets of Rome felt as aggressively hers as the apartment did, and the conversation wasn’t going any differently.
He couldn’t really bear to look at her, so was gazing over her shoulder instead, at the blurred mass of faces in the busy square. All the colours were muted by the soft lamplight, faces blurred into a tawny wash, all apart from the stark gleam of silver that suddenly appeared directly in his line of vision.
It was a dagger, heading towards Buffy’s neck.
“Christ, watch it!” He moved as he spoke and had her out of the way and down before he’d even finished. The dagger was now deep in his shoulder and the pain was hotter than the air that started rushing around them.
“Spike, what the hell?” By the time she spoke it was unclear she was asking about his manhandling or the fact they were no longer outside her favourite restaurant, crouching instead on the hard floor of some foreign room. “Shit, you’re bleeding – wait, Gino, what?” She looked up, behind him, and had to see what he’d seen: the Immortal on a mission.
“cruore meo uindicatur.”
There was another person in the room; their voice came from his left, from higher up than he was. He turned, but just as he did so the dagger was torn upwards out of his muscle and replaced by thrusting fingers. He jerked away, looking up to catch crazed eyes. They were a woman’s, bright in weathered flesh, and they had him transfixed for a moment before she set them on the Immortal.
“cruore meo sunt immortales posterii mei.”
The Immortal stood frozen, like a moth in amber, and didn’t even blink as the woman smeared her bloody hand down his forehead. Spike stayed crouching.
“cruore meo moriaris.”
The woman raised the bloody dagger once again, and in a flash that Spike could almost see she dragged it hard down her wrist.
Buffy cried out, and he thought maybe he did too, but it was absolutely nothing in comparison to the hellish shriek that echoed from the Immortal. He sank to his knees just as the woman did, mirroring her as she fell forward. Then, as the blood began to slow, he blackened, crumbling inwards until the screaming finally ended and he was left as ash.
Spike tried to take in their surroundings, unsure what else to do. Buffy’s heart was thumping wildly enough for both of them, and the scent of the corpse’s blood was growing headier and headier, but he could tell they weren’t in the standard evil den. The floor they were crouching on was mosaic, black and white, and they were surrounded by spell debris: bones, pebbles, twigs leaves. Red had already engulfed the Immortal’s remains, and it was beginning to leak into the tread of his boots.
At last, then, his brain thawed enough for him to wonder what the hell was going on.
“Spike, where are we?” Buffy whispered tightly, her thoughts clearly similar to his.
“If I knew, love...” He shook his head. “You got any ideas?”
She glanced around them, the low light making her look almost feral. “All I’ve got is evil spa.”
She was right, of course. The tile on the floor, away from the blood, was slick and shiny, and the walls were covered in robed figures, with lyres and wreathes of laurel, leering and gesturing to the recesses of his memory. It was definitely too clean.
“The Immortal was trying to kill me.”
He couldn’t think of an appropriate answer.
Fortunately, or quite probably not, a man rushed into the room. He was dressed in some sort of tunic-and-trousers and get-up, dyed in the same muddy colours as the dead woman’s ritual robe.
“Aurelia, quid agis? Aurelia!”
Spike had nothing to say as the man dropped to his knees, his voice rising to a frenzy as he cradled the body in his arms. The blood splashed the folds of his clothes and seeped deep into the fabric. Spike had to give him credit for not flinching.
Then, as suddenly as he had fallen, his head snapped up. “qui estis?” he asked, eyes flicking between them and the dead woman’s staring eyes.
“You what?” It sounded like he was speaking an Italian dialect, or maybe Spanish. It was the same as the spell at any rate, but Spike couldn’t work it out.
The man seemed to reach some decision and gently laid the body back in its pool of blood. Then he stood, no taller than Buffy as they too rose, but apparently in no way put off by that.
His eyes were still narrow. “estisne Galli?”
“Galley?” Spike wondered whether he was supposed to understand this. “There’s a galley?”
“Arr, me hearty,” Buffy concluded under her breath, possibly shocking him more than anything else since he’d met up with her. Perhaps Italy had been good for her after all.
“uos.” The man pointed at them with a stubby finger, the frown-lines on his forehead clearly framed by a boxy haircut. “Galli?” He lowered his finger to point at the jeans, or at least Spike hoped that was what he was pointing at. “ex Gallia? Vercingetorix?”
“Were-King Gaytoriks? What the hell are you talking about, mate?” A rather terrible light-bulb then lit up in his head, and he felt like groaning. “You mean Vercingetorix. Gallic chieftain.” Ancient Rome. Wonderful. Why did this sort of rubbish always happen to him?
He wasn’t sure what to say. “Well,” he began. “The good news is we haven’t gone far. Spatially speaking.” She raised an eyebrow and he wanted to say more, but the man looked like he was about to blow a fuse. Which wouldn’t even be invented for another two millennia. “How’s it go?” he asked ceiling. “Sum, es, est...” And they said this stuff was never useful. “Es... esne tu Romanus? Dicisne tu Latinam?” Though, really, he wished they’d taught him some holiday Latin, because reciting the Aeneid probably wasn’t going to cut it.
Rather unsurprisingly it took the man a moment, and he screwed his face up, presumably at Spike’s pronunciation, but eventually realisation hit. “Romanus sum! estisne Galli?”
So that was what he was asking. Were they Gauls? “No... non? Non sumus?” He snorted, and turned to Buffy. “Love, he thinks we’re French!”
“Très chic.” She didn’t look amused. “Mai je ne comprends pas a single word you’re saying. What the hell’s he speaking?”
Spike grinned. “Latin.”
She rolled her eyes. Well, of course he is. “Can we just get out of here? Or at least...” Her head bobbed downwards, and for a moment there was a quaver in her voice. His humour evaporated. “Can we get away from the body? And, god, the – ” She had nowhere to look, and was blinking at the dingy, clearly Roman interior. He reached out a hand to her without thinking, but by the time he remembered to pull it back she’d already taken it, squeezing tightly as she raised her frowning face to his.
It was stupid, really, since the way they were standing meant their hands had only moved a couple of inches and the Roman sure as hell couldn’t see, but all the same, she was doing it; making a week of stress and miscommunication worth it. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
Still, he didn’t let go, even as he pulled himself back to the task in hand. Gift horses, and all that.
The man was scowling at them again, and Spike wondered how he was going to explain their situation. “Er - nos... nos sumus ex... futura?” he tried, suddenly realising how rusty he was. “Hic est non nostro, no, noster tempus – no, bastard, third declension neuter – hoc est non tempus nostrum? Ae... aetas? Is that a better word?”
Buffy brought her head a little closer to his shoulder. “Spike, are you making any sense?”
Understanding was completely lacking in the man’s face. “Well, it’s not as if I’ve ever had to speak the bloody thing before, is it?” And he’d never been that good in the first place. “Sumus ex futura,” he said again, gesturing to the corpse. “With magic...cus. Magico. A magico.”
“comprehendere coepi...” The man nodded, and Spike was a little annoyed that it was gobbledygook, rather than his careful declensions, that made him understand. With a glance back to the body he continued, ”estis carmine ab Aurelia arcessi.”
It seemed as though the woman had a name now. “Yeah,” Spike replied. “Aurelia, right.”
“What’d he say?” Buffy hissed, clearly still on edge.
“I think he’s twigged us being here has something to do with our friend on the floor.”
“Don’t talk about her like that.” Her hand clenched even tighter around his, their bones interlocking. Then, with a shiver, she let him go and pressed her fingers into her eyes. “God, I can’t...”
“Possumus exire?” Spike asked, conjugations slipping into place with his urgency. He always did react well to pressure.
The Roman was watching Buffy, so he snapped, “Look at me. We want to go - volumus exire.” He pointed to the door. “Or wolumus exire, whatever penetrates your thick head.”
The man seemed to think for a moment, raising a finger to his temple, before he nodded. “sequamini,” he said, beckoning them to follow as he moved away from the body. They did, and Spike winced with every squelch of blood on the floor. Buffy was trembling, ever so slightly, from the shock and he wanted nothing more than to wrap her in a big blanket until he could make this go away. As if she’d let him.
They stepped from the gloom into a shaded courtyard, bright and airy with a colonnade round the sides and an elegant pond in the centre – for rainwater, he remembered that. The man crossed the courtyard, heading towards another doorway and Spike passed a foot into sunshine before he realised what the hell he was doing.
It was careless, he thought as he stepped back. Utterly careless. He should have realised he’d still be paying for a year behind necro-tempered glass.
Back in the shade he tried to cradle his hand, but when he looked up the man had a stake in his hand, so he stepped further into shadow and waved the slightly fetid air across his fingers, forgetting about the pain. He might have spent a year behind necro-tempered glass, but he’d spent a hundred in the gloom, and sure enough he could feel a map of shaded escape routes growing in his mind.
The man approached and Spike bounced on the balls of his feet. For a moment he realised he was surrounded by blood: that in the man and that, still warm, in the room behind him. It made him feel a little more ready.
Then, with a thump, the man was shoved into a column, his stake arm disabled behind his back by Buffy, who was golden in the sunshine. Her blood had barely registered. “Hey!” she shouted in his face. “I don’t know who the hell you are – and if you’ve got a stake you’re probably of the good – but, dammit, he is not dangerous.”
“uae daemonibus!” the man spat.
“No, not demons,” she said, shaking the mane of hair she had now round her shoulders. “Not me anyway. And he has a soul.” She shoved him again, and Spike tried to hold back a smile. He couldn’t tell whether he liked being protected. “Souls? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?”
“Animus,” Spike said at last, shaking his feelings away. The man’s eyes pierced his. “That’s not the right word, is it?” He looked to Buffy, and she seemed to tell him in no uncertain terms to make the man understand. Spike sighed and tried again, placing a hand on his heart. “Bonus, intellegis?” It seemed too simple to be true, too simple that he was ‘good’. “Non malus. Non modo malus, anyway.”
The man shook his head, something like fear or reverence now in his face. “ho eudaimon? habes ton eudaimona kai ton kakadaimona?” And suddenly he was speaking differently, his pitch undulating everywhere.
“Wait, what the hell are we speaking now?”
“ho eudaimon?” The man’s voice rose, and he laughed. “nequit! filii Lamiae eudaimonas habere non possunt! mentiris!” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself it wasn’t true.
Buffy shoved him again. “We don’t have time for this.” The man protested. “Hey! I have a sister at a party with a bunch of horny Italian guys, and I will be there to yell if she misses curfew.”
“et quis es?” he spat. Buffy glared at him and he turned to Spike. “quis est tua... amica?”
“Buffy? You want to know who Buffy is?” He glanced at her, almost certain he didn’t even have the words in English. “She’s the Slayer.” Nothing. “A fighter. Miles, pro Bonus. Bonum. Pro bono. No, wait.” That wasn’t what he meant. “Ea est miles pro... the Powers? Deus? Ablative plural, er, pro deis? Pro bonis hominibus?”
“estne propugnatrix?” Another laugh, though this one was a little more strangled than the last. “nequeunt propugnatrix atque Lamiae filius!”
“Oh, save it,” Buffy said, letting the man go as he continued to shake his head. “If you’re saying what I think you’re saying I’ve heard it all before. Slayer and vampire, never going to work, completely incompatible, blah blah blah. Even Dawn tried that one after we got the phone call.” She rolled her eyes. “Thinks she’s all mature just ‘cause she’s never had a boyfriend try and suck the world into hell. Who does she think she is?”
She stood with her hands on her hips, stake clutched in her right fist. Spike made eye-contact with the now bewildered Roman and shrugged.
“Yeah, well, anyway,” Buffy continued, blushing slightly. “I think it’s time you told us who you were.”
“Yeah,” Spike echoed, picking up the thread again. “Quis es tu?”
“quis sum?” He stood up straighter. “Lucius Aurelius Cotta.”
Spike felt like he should know the name, apart from the obvious Aurelius coincidence. He didn’t know why, though. “Well, Cotta – ” He would not call him by that poncy name. “ – how do you know about us?” Oh yeah, they were talking Latin. “Right, like, quo modo... scis tu de – nobis? De demonibus? Et propugnatrix? Is that what we’re calling the Slayer this century?”
“sum tutor.” This seemed to make him even prouder.
“Is a two-tore like a tutor?” Buffy piped up, her face pinched with concentration.
“I’d say it might be.”
“What does that mean, then?”
“Dunno.” Spike tried to remember what a tutor actually was in ancient Rome. It wasn’t just a teacher, it was something else, he was sure of it.
“sum tutor senati tutorum.” The little man was still declaiming with all the dignity he could muster. “propugnatricem ducentes seruamus.”
It was a guardian. Spike groaned. If you had guardians and Slayers... “I think he’s a bloody Watcher, pet.”
“Oh, yay.” She sounded as impressed as he was.
“uobis ad senatum mecum eundum est –” He drew himself up taller, and Spike tried to follow along. “– ut uos princeps inspiciat.”
Spike met his eyes and tried to see the intention there. “He wants to take us to his leader,” he said, not turning away. Whether it was because his thoughts were in a different language or simply because he was a watcher Spike didn’t know, but the man was inscrutable.
There was the sound of air as Buffy sighed. “It’s not as if there’s anywhere else we can go.”
“Go on then.” Spike nodded before he could decide it was a mistake. The man nodded in return.
After some quick conversation with another man (a slave, perhaps?) Cotta led them out of his house and not so far downhill, to what had to be the forum. Spike barely had time to find the next shadow, let alone look at the sights, but as he ran between the people and the temples he could feel the overbearing weight of the masonry. It was less grand than that of the buildings he knew now stood in Buffy’s Rome, but the air was still heavy with a sense of institutional religion, the kind he’d barely remembered from being human.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t been so hard to remember the smell of shit and sweat in the street, and now he was going to remember it for another hundred years. That he wasn’t so happy about.
They left the centre, dodging between houses until they turned a corner and came face to face with a rather impressive building. A temple, perhaps, or something anyway that stood aloof from the dingy backstreet. As the sun dropped behind clouds Spike ran up its steps, into the shade of the portico.
Cotta pushed past him, opening the doors and walking through. Behind him Buffy seemed to follow, but then she stopped at the threshold, turning to him with a thoughtful look on her face. “Do we think this is a good idea?”
Spike shrugged, resisting the urge to scratch his face or his hands, dry as they were from all the sunshine. He needed some blood. “Good a bet as any, innit?”
“I guess.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I feel like we’re clutching at the first straw that came along. I mean, have you even managed to process where we are yet?”
“Ancient Rome, seems to me.” She was right though. It didn’t feel real. Still, maybe it didn’t have to. “Look, for all we know, this was just a standard balls-up in a Watcher-ordained plan. Mix-up of components or some such. We’ll go inside, the head honcho’ll click his fingers and we’ll be swapped for the poor gits they really wanted, back home in time for another go-round of that thrilling ‘where we stand’ conversation.”
She made a face. “Won’t that be fun.” It seemed as though she’d been enjoying them as much as he had. So much for them being adults.
They stood for a couple of seconds longer. “Go on, then,” he said at last, indicating with his head before following through the door.
It wasn’t that unfamiliar, as a hall. The colours were bright, flooding his eyes with contrast through the gloomy light, but it was hard to shake the feeling he wasn’t just in a neoclassical bank.
The buzz of chatter didn’t stop for Buffy, but as the men caught sight of him they began to fall silent. He wondered how much Cotta had told them; he hadn’t had long.
“filius Lamiae.” The call rang around the chamber, bringing complete silence in its wake. Spike tried to locate its source, but then in his eye-line one of the Watchers stood, rising from his bench on the other side of the room and letting the folds of his toga fall around him.
Spike met his gaze, raising his chin. He knew when he was being addressed. “Yeah?”
“Lucius Aurelius Cotta tutor te ton eudaimona habere dixit. probationem itaque postulamus.”
They wanted probation? “What?” It was probably best to be polite. “I mean, me paenitet – non intellego tu –” Neuter plural. “ – tua verba.”
“probationem postulamus, fili Lamiae. demonstra te sic dicis esse.”
“You want a demonstration?” Well, that didn’t make sense. “A display? Proof?” Bingo. “You want proof!” They didn’t seem that impressed.
“Spike,” Buffy hissed at his side. “What the hell is going on?”
He turned to her and shrugged. He had no idea.
“dic, fili Lamiae!”
The chamber rang again, and Spike realised he was being frowned at by a hundred Gileses. It was probably best to hop to it before they tried to off him. “non scio quid pro...bationem vos volo-tis.” It was all very frustrating. “propugnatrix – ” He thrust an arm in Buffy’s direction. “ – haec dixit me esse quid dico.”
“Don’t look at me, pal.”
“qui es? quae est familia tua?” The man looked as frustrated as he was.
“My name’s Spike.” He put his hands on his hips.
There was a murmur, and a rather more audible, “Uh, we’re trying to get home here? Maybe you could try less with the macho posturing?”
He turned and glared at her, but she simply tilted her head. Annoying bint spoiled all his fun. He looked back to the Watchers, sitting on their benches like rows of puppets. “Well, I’m also called William the Bloody, but I usually kill people who call me that..”
He sighed. In what way was this going to be helpful to anyone? They could whistle if they wanted his real name. “Family, right? You getting trouble from a gang or something?” And the stony silence returned. He sighed again. “I’m a member of the Aurelius clan, but since that probably doesn’t...”
There was chattering, like a swarm of wasps. Possibly happy wasps, which was even weirder. “Aurelius?” the old watcher asked again. “uero?”
“Yeah.” The Roman said it like Nest had used to, with a poncey European ‘ow’ sound, but it was clearly the same word. “Aurelius.”
“tutor eras!” The buzz continued, smiles now gracing everyone like they were in some bizarre horror flick. “per mortem etiam propugnatricem seruas, uelut Aurelios quidem decet!”
What was that? Looking after the Slayer, even through death... “Now wait just one bloody minute.” He held up a finger, but the smiles still continued. “I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the damned Council of Watchers! Rather have my bollocks cut off. If you think you can just make some rash assumption – ”
He was interrupted as Buffy took his raised hand in hers, lowering them back to their sides. She didn’t let go, and it made him a little speechless. “Just go with it,” she said, patting their joined hands with her other. He looked at her and she smiled, tightly. “Let’s cling to the pluses.”
He scowled at her.
As the day wore on, the pluses seemed to become fewer and further between. The council’s proprietary way of seeing people was apparently timeless, and he and Buffy spent the afternoon being herded from one part of the council’s labyrinthine complex to the next. They were inspected like pieces of taxidermy, and Cotta seemed perfectly happy to carry out lengthy conversations while they waited, utterly unfazed as he discussed things that clearly had nothing to do with them. As far as Spike could tell, he spent most of his time talking about his relatives, informing people of Aurelia’s suicide, as well as discussing some dead Caesar, though which one of the multitude wasn’t entirely clear.
By the time they returned up the hill it was dark, and Spike’s shoulder was sore from being poked by so many Watcher-fingers. Cotta led them to another room off the courtyard, rather small but with lush, vista-like landscapes painted on the walls. Two couches stood next to each other in the centre of the room, like twin beds, complete with cushions and throws, while a table in the corner held a flickering oil lamp. It looked like this was home sweet home, Roman style.
Spike didn’t catch Cotta’s farewell, and as Buffy kicked off her shoes and clambered into bed he did the same, extinguishing the lamp as he went. It then became very dark.
He lay on his back, a throw pulled up to his chest, feeling it in his bones as the night stilled. Buffy’s breathing settled slowly beside him. Minutes passed, until the situation almost seemed familiar, even if what passed for a mattress beneath him was far too hard.
“Things are still awkward, OK?” Her voice shattered the silence, a little high and girlish again, like it had been all week. Of course they couldn’t let a night go by without it coming back to this. “Just because we’re all alone here doesn’t mean things are gonna get all cabin fevery.”
“You know what cabin fever is, right? Besides the movie?” He liked her playful, he did, but some of it seemed so fake. ‘Less you really are talking ‘bout gnawing at the walls.”
“You know what I mean.” She took in a breath. “You’ve still been avoidy for over a year, and we’ve both grown... up or apart or in some sort of direction, anyway. Sharing a bed in Ancient Rome doesn’t change that.”
“I get it,” he ground out. She acted as though he was actively trying something on. “No need to hammer it home.”
He felt unnaturally still, arms straight at his side, exposed to the cooling night air. It made his fingers itch, which in turn reminded him that he really wanted some blood. “You didn’t pull the beds apart though, Slayer.” He tried to keep the accusation out of his voice, but there was something of irritation all the same. He couldn’t help that.
“Well, yeah.” She sighed. “I still – like you, you know? And I trust you with my sleeping body or whatever. But we’ve got to remember this isn’t some Vegas-like trip where we can do whatever we want and forget about when we go home. There are issues. There are ex-boyfriends who tried to kill me and conned you into suicidal missions – ”
And here they went again. “No offence, but I wasn’t conned by anybody.”
She shifted, making the couches creak beneath them. “Played on your natural stupidity then, I don’t know! What the hell did you think you were doing?”
Anger set his jaw in a way that wasn’t entirely comfortable. “I was trying to ‘fight the good fight’!” He felt like such an idiot every time she forced him to air it out loud, but it had to be said. “Make myself worthy of my soul, of any belief you’d given me!”
“There –” Her voice was loud, and seemed to make her jump. She lowered it. “There is a difference. There is a difference between fighting the good fight and... throwing yourself into the belly of the beast wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Eat Me’. You don’t go looking for apocalyptic battles.” She paused. “You were in Hell, Spike. Hell. Do you have any idea...”
“I did the best I could.” He couldn’t bear to hear how she would have finished that sentence. “I haven’t been at this gig very long, you know.” He pushed a hand into his hair. “I thought I was doing the right thing, making my resurrection mean something before I started rubbing it in your face.”
Her response was quiet, whispered. “Just having you back would’ve been enough.”
“Really? For the world?” He sighed, his own voice subdued now. “Enough for all the other people dead and gone while I ponced along regardless?” That was the truth of it. “Bloke that brought me back had a name and a social security number, far as I can tell it. Lindsey McDonald. Didn’t even know who I was, ‘part from an Angel clone he could use to piss the big man off. Not exactly the return your conquering heroes dream of.” He sighed. “Bloody meaningless, the whole thing.”
She shuffled closer, and then her small hands were suddenly clasping his. “It’s not meaningless,” she said, thumbs pressing into his fingers. “It’s not. Is that what you think?”
She’d reset the boundaries, as usual. He was too miserable to care. This wasn’t the first time he’d thought it would’ve been easier if he’d just stayed dead, and he’d hated it then, too.
She squeezed his hands. “I figured it out. Took me more than a year, but the failed-apocalyptic-death shtick?” A harrowed breath. “I figure it’s like buying a gift, you know? When I threw myself into that portal I wanted you all to be safe – my death was my gift. And, OK, Willow – she too of having the social security number – she took it back to the store, but... I’d still given it.”
“And it’s the thought that counts?”
She snorted, oddly elegant. How had he found her annoying, again? “Yeah. It took a while for me to believe it, but – it’s true. For me and for you. What you did meant something. It meant – ”
He didn’t let her finish, ducking his head. “How’d we get onto this, anyway? Thought we were talking about sleeping arrangements.”
“We were talking about issues.” Her hand glided from his wrist to his cheek. “And selfish Buffy forgot they weren’t all hers.” He could almost make out her features now, the brightness of her eyes. There was far too little light in the ancient night, but she still shone.
Suddenly she retreated, settling about half a foot away from him. “She also forgot that she was the one bitching about keeping away from each other, and has just acted like the biggest hypocrite in the world. And continues to talk about herself in the third person.”
He’d had about enough of this. Knowing full well he was risking a slap he darted out a hand, caught her around the waist and flipped her squealing so that her warm back was pressed against his front, sweet hair tickling his nose and brushing his eyelids.
“Not trying to do a Vegas, love,” he muttered into her ear, relishing the warmth she kindled within him. Let her try to be vapid and distant now. “But do we really have to spend another bloody year getting to the blushing and occasional hand-holding stage?”
“You’re the one who pulled us back,” she grumbled, turning closer still to nestle her forehead against his chest. She hooked an elbow over his and rested her fingers under the sleeve of his t-shirt. Something was still missing though, and she felt oddly like a butterfly, fluttering and fragile beneath his fingers.
“Should I simple things up?” he asked, unable to resist nosing her hair again. “Way I see it’s this: I’m an idiot, but I still love you. Wanted to come see you, but… Thought it was better to stick with Angel’s gang and make a go of it with what I’d got. Came to find you, only to get landed in it by your most recent honey – to whom you say you were never that attached.”
“To whom...” she snickered nervously.
He tried to get a better grip on her. “Boils down to you, Buffy. How much grief and guilt you got spinning in that head of yours? What’ll it take for you to get over me being a bit of a git?”
She shook her head, and could feel her hair brushing across his hands. “Guilt is slim-to-none.” All the humour was gone from her voice, and she continued, “We were over a month ago because of his shadiness, and I think he might have had it coming. But...” She tensed, holding him fractionally closer. Maybe this wasn’t how he wanted her. “You think you were justified in your... git-dom, don’t you?”
Spike sighed. There was no point lying, no matter that he’d been trying to gloss over it. “I do at that.”
“Then it’s not about getting over it, it’s about accepting it, accepting you.” She was definitely holding him more tightly now, and her heart was starting to thump audibly. “And I think I do, but it’s hard.” Her voice lowered, and in a moment it was dark and truthful. “I’m really, really pissed, Spike. And I can’t work out whether it’s in a way that means we can still work or not.”
“Buffy...” He sounded like he was begging. He hated that.
“I love you,” she said, hunching up into his chest. It made him seize up. “And part of you, maybe all of you, knows that. But what if all we make is pain? I thought love was heartache when I was younger, but I can’t live my life with that. I can’t.”
“You won’t, love. Please.” Then he stopped himself. He wouldn’t fall into that again. He continued, matter-of-fact and a little stilted, “I don’t think all we make is pain. That year with the First, it felt like we were making something new, something alive.” He remembered laughing with her after she’d come back from the Guardian woman, just happy that she was happy and that he was. In that moment he hadn’t cared about Angel or about any of it. They’d been together, despite the clothes between them and the Scoobies over their heads, for one elusive moment and it had been good. He’d felt free.
The memory made him pause. No matter how close he held her now he couldn’t force a bond between them. And so he let her go slightly, trying just to hold her, softening his touch and ignoring the itch in his eyes.
“Maybe things will make sense in the morning,” she said, loosening her own hold and retreating further into herself, away from her skin. “We need to get some sleep. Got a lot of stuff to fix”
They didn’t speak again, but Spike knew that they both lay awake for a long time.
When he woke up, Buffy was gone. He sighed. He should have expected it, really.
There was a basin of water on the table now, so he padded over it, trying to push thoughts of Buffy from his head. Putting his hands into the cool water realised that, obviously, a slave had put it there. He’d noticed the slave yesterday, but actually being confronted by their presence gave him a bit of a turn. After all, how did the ethics work here? There wasn’t any way he could avoid slave labour – everything he touched would be tended to by their hands, fashioned out of something from a mine. He knew how empires worked, if this Rome was yet one. It was a little terrifying.
There was still water on his face when Buffy came back, wearing some sort of smock-dress over her jeans. The yellow of it wasn’t that bad a colour for her, but the shape was awful, and he wondered if it was that that had put her in a bad mood. She clearly wasn’t happy.
“You sleep like the dead,” she said.
He shrugged. “Might as well.” He didn’t know how he was supposed to treat them now; for some reason he was more confident in the dark, could play the seduction when she was close enough to him. It was far too dangerous in the daytime. “What you got?”
She held up her hand, showing him a twisted bundle of leaves and sticks. It was laurel – he could smell it – and the fading tang of blood that also hit him put his mind straight back into the room of yesterday, with its beating hearts and burning incense.
“They – I mean – you know, the, uh, slaves?” She pulled some hair back from her face. “They were cleaning, so I snagged it. Figured it could be useful for our little mystery.”
“Good thinking.” He nodded. It was, after all. Though he wished she would have waited till he woke up.
“I think someone’s coming to visit. They were putting a bed in the room. A proper one, you know?”
She looked away from him, clenching her fist around the talisman. “About last night.” Her voice was gritty, bitter, and he could feel his heart rise in his throat. “I’m sorry, OK?” The smallest glance and then she was gone. “I shouldn’t have...”
“a, surrexistis. prodest.”
Cotta entered behind her, and Spike felt like wringing his neck in frustration. If it weren’t for the soul he probably would have done. As it was there was simply a moment of hideously uncomfortable silence.
Looking between the pair of them, Cotta waited a moment before speaking again. “eamus ad forum,” he said, a little more slowly. “necesse est mihi sagam consulere.”
“What did he say?” Buffy immediately tailed the comment. She had her business-face back on, but Spike could see something brewing, suppressed, behind the mask. He recognised it, just like he always did.
It would have to wait. “We’re going to the forum,” he said, resigned. “Cotta wants to see a witch.”
Just like the day before, Spike saw the forum as glimpses between shadows, mousy brick buildings over the shoulders of other people. It really wasn’t as impressive as the modern remnants, but in many ways it was alive, open and breathing, the air filled with smells of food and incense. The mood was ruined, however, by a gathering crowd not so far away. The hiss of their conversation was angry, too angry, and Spike had seen enough mobs in his time to know that something was brewing. He was beginning to think that maybe this wasn’t the best time to be in ancient Rome.
Cotta was still with the witch he’d come to see and Buffy was at his side, watching like he was. She was taking it in silently, her gaze drifting from place to place. She would never see as much as he had, but she’d seen her fair share, and he could tell it was with those eyes she looked, working out the slave-master relationship, cataloguing everything that could be used as a weapon. The crowd made her as edgy as it did him.
Suddenly she grabbed his arm. “Spike, that’s the Immortal.”
He looked to where she was looking. There was a group, not far from the crowd, skulking in the shadows of the temple. “Love, that’s a Roman.” He dearly hoped she wasn’t fantasising.
“Yeah, and it’s also the Immortal.” She nodded her head pointedly, clutching harder. “Look.”
He looked, and finally pinpointed the one she meant. The face was the same, and the way he held himself was the same, if you shaved off two millennia of arrogance.
He was supposed to be immortal.
“Cotta,” he hissed, and the man sent the witch away, tucking a pouch of spell ingredients into his toga.
Spike nodded over to the Immortal, making sure not to jog Buffy away from his arm. “Quis est illus vir?”
Cotta seemed to recognise him immediately, his eyes narrowing and his right hand reaching back towards the pouch. “uae sicario,” he spat. “est Marcus Iunius Brutus. filium sororis meae interfecit.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Spike shook his head, not expecting to hear that. “Brutus? The Immortal’s Brutus? Et tu, and all that? And you’re, what, old Julius’ uncle? That’s bloody ridiculous.” Cotta went from angry to confused, so Spike shook his head, waving a hand.
Cotta walked away, and Spike turned back to look at her, the small frown edging between her eyebrows. She knew this history, he knew she did, and she was as confused as he was. “Looks like your old boytoy fancied himself an assassin.” He felt like laughing, he really did.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “And more than once.”
He thought for a second, marvelling at her mind. “You thinking he was Tarquin’s Brutus too?” It made an awful amount of sense, if they were going to go with this. “They were related, if I’m remembering my stuff.”
She looked blankly at him. “Huh?” Maybe American high schools didn’t cover as much as he’d hoped.
“Tarquin the Proud? Last king of Rome? Done in by yet another uppity Brutus?” The more he thought about it the more it really fit.
“Oh.” She shook her head, then blushed towards the sunlight. “I kinda meant me, but I guess that’s more your standard murder than assassination.”
That stopped him thinking. “Bollocks,” he said. “Oldest Slayer on the books? You’d be the prize of his collection.”
She didn’t look convinced, but there was a spark, as though she’d like to be. He wished he could make her self-image match his of her. “But why now?” she asked. “I signed off from Scotland. I mean, I had to, after what happened.” He’d heard about that massacre; it hadn’t sounded pretty. “I don’t lead any girls anymore, and – he seemed fine with the whole Giselle thing.”
Spike really wanted to ask what she’d been thinking, going out with someone who knew her from some peppy double, but he couldn’t bring himself to. The sun was getting higher, and there were more important things to focus on. He was hungry, after all, and if they weren’t careful they’d get an earful of ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ and be in one hell of a mess.
Then, in a snap, it came to him – the link. “Change of regime.”
“What?” she replied. “Oh, you mean like communists?”
“Like revolution.” It made so much sense. “Our friend Morty likes getting himself in the history books. The kings are on the way out, he’s there; the Republic’s on the way out, he’s there; the world loses its final solo Slayer, he’s there.”
She snuck another look across the crowd, leaning back. “He’s not that vain.”
Yeah, right. “Believe what you want, love, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s bit’s solved.”
Something crossed her face, and it looked like shock. She soon covered it up, and crossed her arms. “You just want him to have had ulterior motives.”
“For what?” he asked, not sure what she was thinking.
It was an odd reversal, veering violently away from things that actually mattered to ‘them’. And yet he couldn’t help but go with it. “Why would I want that?” Maybe in ancient Rome she’d suddenly understand. “In case you never worked it out, Summers, I think you’re a pretty fanciable bird. The Immortal’d be a tosser not to want you.” Without thinking, he went on, “It’s not his side of the equation I have a problem with.”
She stared at him, open-mouthed for a few seconds. “I am so not talking about this with you!”
“Fine then.” If that was the way she wanted to play it. “Let’s get back to the mystery.” It wasn’t the time for this conversation anyway.
“Fine!” She put her hands on her hips, her voice raised enough that a devotee on the temple’s steps stumbled and then turned away. “Let’s do that. What was Aurelia doing with her crazy spell? What did she want Gino for?”
“She was Cotta’s wife, wasn’t she? Or sister? Revenge for Julius seems the obvious.” She rolled her eyes. “What?”
“Things are never that simple.”
She thought she was so clever. “Why the hell not?”
“Revenge doesn’t make you drag bystanders two millennia into the past.” The ‘duh’ was written into every fibre of her body.
“And what exactly do you know about revenge, Slayer?” Why did she ignore everything he said? It was always the same. Obviously being around for over a century meant that he had nothing to say, nothing useful to add.
“Oh, I know plenty about revenge.”
“Please,” he scoffed. “You just turn it back in on yourself.”
“And you don’t!” She was going to say something else, something he would hate her for, but then Cotta was back, scolding them and ushering them away from the temple. He forced them to move quickly, casting a worried glance over his shoulder at the speaker that rose before the crowd.
Spike tried to redirect his anger onto the little man, he really did, but it wouldn’t work.