Author's Note: Since I've already devoted two fics to B/A, I wanted to mix things up a little and do a B/S fic, since I'm not a "shipper" either way and let's face it, I've got a major thing for James Marsters when he's in Spike-mode (not sure so sure about him in any other mode, but oh well). The fic title is based on the AtS Season 5 episode title (obviously), BA-ers have been warned and as always, reviews make my day.

1. Cold Comfort

Gary Rowlands knew there was something wrong with the guy sitting next to him at the bar. Somewhere deep within his large body, worry ticked in a discomforting rhythm and told him to put more distance between himself and the man to his right. But he couldn't pin it down, couldn't put his finger on what was wrong, and through the haze of thoughts made sluggish by alocohol he couldn't even seem to care.

"Saved the world," the man was saying. His words weren't really slurred, but they were colored with an odd accent that made half of what he said unintelligible anyway. No one else in the bar could tell that he was stone cold sober. "Saved the whole damn world, I did. Twice. At least. An' look at me now. Supposed to be a real bleedin' boy, and instead I'm … not anything. Nothing. Dead meat on legs."

He chuckled half-heartedly, gazing dispiritedly at the surface of his drink. "And then of course there's the soul, but that thing's just … floatin' around in there. Taking up space. Bloody useless, is what it is. Can't even give it away, or sell it to anyone besides the Big Man With Horns. And I'm not really jostling to see him before I have to."

He was silent for a long moment, before picking up an apparently different thread of thought and continuing his rant. "Better off than Gunn, though. Poor sod didn't even last the ten minutes that Blue predicted for 'im. And Blue, she's long gone. Just … whoosh, an' she was gone." He blinked blearily and his entire body slumped just a little more towards the bar counter. "Just me and the poofter left now," he muttered. "Not that he stuck around. Paraded off to see Dog Girl first chance he got, didn't he? Hope she takes another scratch at him. Git deserves it."

Gary attempted a comforting pat on the man's shoulder and missed, nearly falling off his stool. "And I'm alone," the man continued, apparently oblivious to Gary's failed gesture of solidarity. "Haven't been alone in a while actually, though I've felt like it since … forever, to be honest. Was alone before I met Dru, alone while I was with her, and sure as hell alone after that. Only time I felt like I wasn't the only bloody person left on the planet was with … her."

The softening of his tone and the accompanying slight tilt of his head were surprisingly eloquent. They indicated the loss of something acutely and painfully beautiful – or perhaps beautifully painful.

"Not that I'm fooling myself any longer about any of it. I was her drug of choice, her shameful little addiction. She never thought about me the way she did about Captain Forehead. Fat lot of good it did her in the end; he's moved on now, apparently. And he's not even ashamed of it." His fist clenched briefly, and then he shook his head as thought trying to clear it. "Point is – to her, I was just a substandard variety of cold comfort. And to me, she was…" he sighed. "Everything. All of it. The one, the right girl, the love of my life. That whole song and dance." His laugh carried the bitter twang of self-disgust. "And d'you want to hear the saddest part of it all?"

Gary nodded absently. His gaze had momentarily focused on the mirror hanging on the wall behind the bar counter, and suddenly the realization of what had been bothering him earlier hit him like a metal bat to his skull. His own reflection was right there, looking back at him morosely. But in the scene being portrayed in the mirror, there was no one sitting next to him. No one at all.

The stranger slipped unsteadily out of his seat and paused to stare at the mirror in which he simply did not exist. "The saddest part," he said, speaking only to himself in a tone that was suddenly very steady, "is that she still is."

---

Buffy had to hand it to them. For a pair of newborns, they were putting up one hell of a fight. She ducked to narrowly avoid a high kick from one of them and aimed a quick jab at his chest with her stake. He slipped easily out of the way and came back at her with a backhanded blow to the face.

She retreated a few steps to get her bearings, massaging her jaw with her free hand. "Where the hell did they learn to fight like this?"

Dawn would've shrugged if she hadn't been busy fending off the second vampire, who was grappling with her in an attempt to get hold of her stake. "Maybe they took karate classes while they were alive," she said nervously. The vampire managed to knock the stake out of her hand and as Dawn dove to pick it up, the vampire caught her around the waist and had her in a swift headlock before she could get away from him. "Uh, Buffy? A little help here!"

Buffy turned in Dawn's direction and the vampire she was fighting took the opportunity to punch her in the jaw again. "Li uccideremo!" he crowed triumphantly, and the other vampire bared his fangs in a malicious grin, apparently agreeing with him.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Like we haven't heard that before." She lunged forward suddenly and the vampire she was facing barely had time to be surprised before she caught his head between her hands and gave it one short, sharp twist. He was dust before his body hit the ground.

She approached the other one, casually swinging her stake. "Still think you're going to kill us?"

"Sì," he hissed, tightening his grip on Dawn's neck. He was clearly planning on delivering some kind of evil villain speech before sinking his teeth victoriously into the Slayer's younger sister, but sadly, this plan was foiled when the sound of an arrow whistling through the air was followed by his immediate disintegration.

---

Both of the Summers sisters turned around to see a large and well-muscled man, clearly a native Italian, holding a crossbow and grinning at them. He wore an expensive-looking ink black suit with a vivid crimson handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket. "Buona sera, signorina Summers."

"Hello, Ciccio," Buffy said wearily. Dawn had already run ahead and, with a brief relieved smile in Ciccio's direction, slipped into the limousine waiting for them outside of the graveyard. Buffy followed more slowly, with Ciccio walking barely two steps behind her and keeping an extremely alert eye on her the entire time – presumably to make sure that she wasn't attacked again.

Buffy hadn't expected to find anyone besides Dawn waiting in the spacious backseat of the limousine, but she was wrong. He was there, leaning back comfortably into the white leather-clad seating, giving her that penetrating look she knew so well with those impossibly blue eyes. In some lights they were a darker ocean blue, and in others they were the pale blue of floating ice. Collar-length hair the color of corn silk framed a gorgeous face in curls that were just messy enough to be perfect.

There was no doubt that appearance-wise at least, the man who called himself The Immortal was on an entirely different plane.

And even though the mere sight of him was enough to melt away some of her irritation, it didn't dispel it entirely. "I thought we'd been over this, Tom. I don't need to be rescued from vampires, or demons, or … any other non-human ugly thing that needs to be killed. It's my job, and I can do it without back-up."

She was the only person who called him anything other than The Immortal. He had asked her to give him a simpler name, and she had chosen Tom because the letters were already there and because it had no connections whatsoever to any of her previous lovers.

He smiled wryly and leaned in to giver her a gentle kiss on the mouth. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should," he whispered. "Besides, I am not only sending them out for your sake. The time you spend patrolling the streets is time spent away from me, so someone else might as well be doing it for you."

Her laugh turned into a brief gasp as his lips found her neck. "So it's all about you?" she asked, struggling to keep her tone light despite the fact that his hand was wandering slowly along her thigh.

"Oh, yes. I am a selfish being." He pulled back a little to look into her eyes, smiling at the glaze of desire that had settled over them, darkening their irises to a deeper shade of green. "But then, you knew that already."

Dawn, who had nabbed a bowl of fresh strawberries from the limo's miniature fridge, grimaced lightly and turned away to avoid watching the inevitable make-out session between her sister and The Immortal.

Buffy had never been comfortable kissing any of her boyfriends in front of Dawn before, but with 'Tom' she had no such inhibitions. Dawn tried to be happy for her – after all, weren't PDAs the trademark of any passionate relationship? – but in truth she was worried. Because the Buffy that she knew and loved, and the Buffy that The Immortal knew and loved, seemed to be two entirely different people.

And in no love story Dawn had heard or read about was that ever a good thing.