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And I Still Do (Love You) by slaymesoftly

IWSHLY Part 4 (season 7 +)








“Okay, so Mom’s on board with the idea of us getting married while it’s still summer and things are relatively quiet.  But we can’t have a wedding without Willow and Winston!”


“Think Winnie told Rupert he’d be back by early August, but got no idea what’s going on with Willow.”


Buffy frowned. “Neither do I. Giles is being very secretive about it. All he’ll say is that he knows some of the coven members, and he’s sure they’re doing Willow a world of good.”


“Translation—Red isn’t quite reliable yet,” Spike said, raising one eyebrow.


“You don’t know that!” she replied quickly, even though she knew he was probably right.


“Maybe not, but I’ll wager it was a bloody good guess,” he said, blowing her a kiss. “An’ you know it, Slayer.”




He laughed at her and picked up his coat. “Can’t think of a good comeback for that bit of wit, so I reckon I’ll just go on over to help Harris with that pool table he wants in the basement.”


“Fine. Go help him try to brighten up that awful old house. I’m going to go talk to Mom about dates in late August or early September. I’m sure Willow’ll be back by then.”


He waved and left the apartment, leaving Buffy mulling over how much things had changed over the summer. Winston had long since become such an important part of their lives, that with both him and Willow gone, Scooby meetings consisted more of Buffy and Giles comparing notes about what to watch for in the fall than actual meetings, while Spike and Xander had been spending more time together playing pool and drinking beer. Their mutual insulting and bantering had never stopped, but there was less dislike to it now, and more good-humored poking fun.


Xander’s parents had both died, and within a few weeks of each other. His mom succumbed to alcohol poisoning less than a month after a crippled liver had killed his dad. None of them actually knew his parents very well, except as loud voices from upstairs, but they were Xander’s family and everyone tried to be properly sympathetic.  Finally, he’d announced to the small group around the table, “Look. My parents are dead. And yes, I guess it’s sad, but they haven’t been involved in my life for a very long time. I raised myself, with a lot of help from Willow, and then Buffy’s mom. And Giles,” he added, causing the man in question to cough vigorously.


“So, here’s the deal. I’m sad for them, and I’m sad for me that I don’t have parents anymore, but all things considered, they’re better off and so am I. And if that sounds terrible, well­—”


He’d been cut off when Buffy ran over to hug him, saying, “We got it, Xan. We’ll stop acting like you’re going to fall apart any minute and treat you like usual.”


Xander sighed in relief. “That’s all I’m asking. Stop treating me like I might break or something.”


“It’s about bloody time!” Spike said. “I’m not sure how much longer I could go on pretending I give a rat’s ass about your feelings.”


Everyone stared at Spike, then back to Xander who just shook his head. “Leave it to the bloodsucker to know what to do,” he said, giving Spike’s a thumbs up. “Thank you,” he’d whispered, just loud enough for Spike to hear.


Since then, Spike and Xander had spent more time together, shooting pool, drinking beer, and giving both Buffy and Anya some time to “do regular girl-stuff” as Anya put it. The rest of the summer passed relatively quietly and quickly, although not as quietly as normal Sunnydale summers tended to be.




Buffy strolled up Revello toward her mother’s house, surprised to see Dawn walking toward her.


“Going the wrong way, aren’t you?”


“Not if I want to see the ribbon cutting on the new school,” Dawn said. “It’s in an hour.”


Buffy shook her head, but turned around to accompany Dawn.


“That’s a very Willow-y thing to do,” she teased. “Wanting to see the school open.”


“I didn’t say I can’t wait for it to start again, but this is the first time they’ve let anybody get close to it and I want to see what it looks like.”  She gave Buffy a sidelong glance. “And anyway, you know how good my last test scores were. I’m almost as smart as Willow.”


“Interesting how your grades don’t reflect that….” Buffy snickered at her.


“Oh my god! You sound just like Mom!”


Buffy shrugged. “In my time I had to be Mom. I guess it’s still a habit.”


“Well you don’t have to be her now,” Dawn said, tossing her head. “So stop acting so much like a grown-up.”


Buffy snorted, then pointed ahead of them. “Looks like Xander decided not to spend the day playing pool with Spike. I wonder what he’s doing here?”


That question was soon answered as Xander walked past the dais and joined an uncomfortable-looking group of muscular men standing near the colorful tape across the entrance to the campus. None of them looked excited to be there, but they dutifully watched the dais for some sign of why they were needed.


There was some shuffling around in the more formally-dressed group, until one man stepped forward and introduced himself as the superintendent of schools.


“I want to welcome all of you to the much-anticipated, if somewhat delayed, opening of the new Sunnydale High School. While it is not quite complete yet, I’m assured it will be ready in time for school to begin after Labor Day.”


 Explaining Xander’s group’s presence, he thanked the construction workers who’d been building it, and acknowledged they’d had some “unusual” problems crop up that had delayed completion. “But our men continued their task with determination and courage, and for that we should applaud them.”  There was a polite smattering of applause while Xander and his fellow workers looked embarrassed at having attention drawn to them.


Blithely ignoring the puzzled looks at courage being having been required to deal with the “unusual” problems, he continued on, thanking the teachers who would be coming back to teach there, as well as the principal of the other high school for taking in Sunnydale’s students in their time of need.


And then he turned to a tall dark man who’d been standing behind him.


“And now, I’d like to introduce Sunnydale High School’s new principal, Mr. Robin Wood.”


 “Shit,” Buffy whispered. “I thought we’d have more time.”


Dawn stared back and forth between Buffy and the man who was to be her new principal. “What’s wrong?” she whispered back. “Is he evil?”


Spike’s voice behind them startled them both.


“Not so much evil as not a big fan of yours truly,” Spike said.


Buffy nodded her agreement, happy that Spike had long since retired his old leather coat for a newer, slightly different one, although she’d have been even happier if he wasn’t wearing one at all on this warm summer afternoon. His hair usually made him stand out enough without being the only person wearing a coat in July. Fortunately, the big hat he often wore out in the sun hid his hair and much of his face, and Buffy hoped Robin wouldn’t notice him, even though he was dressed so oddly for a warm day.


Dawn looked at him curiously. “You specifically, or vampires in general?”


“Both,” Spike said tersely as the introductions ended with Robin’s short speech about how happy he was to be there. Then he and the superintendent posed while cutting the ribbon and reminded the onlookers that, while the building was officially open, only employees would be permitted inside until the week before school was to begin.


“Let’s go,” Buffy said. “There’s no sense meeting him until we have to.”


The three of them joined Xander at the edge of the parking lot.


“If you two are still going to hang out the rest of the day, I guess Dawn and I’ll walk back to Mom’s. I’ll probably stay there for dinner, it that’s okay with you,” she added with a smile at Spike.


“That’s fine, love. I’ll catch up with you later. Keep your phone on.”


Buffy started to ask Xander about Anya, but a slight headshake from Spike stopped her. She bit her lip, but didn’t say anything about Anya, just followed Dawn down the street, giving a little wave “good-bye”.


Something I need to know?


Nothing that can’t wait. I’ll fill you in later.




After a nice meal in which she and Joyce talked about wedding plans and Dawn reacted to hearing it was going to be a small wedding by rolling her eyes, Buffy hugged them both and left to meet Spike at the gate to Restfield.


“Did you enjoy your meal, love?” he said, giving her a brief kiss and groping her butt.


“I did,” she said, squirming away from him. “And stop that! We’re in public.”


“We’re in Sunnydale, it’s after dark, and we’re standing by a graveyard. There is no public to worry about here,” he grumbled.


“There also probably aren’t any vampires here, since everybody knows you live here at least part time.”


“Humans don’t know that. They still bury people here from time to time in some of the old family plots. But you’re probably right, we should go somewhere busier.”


“Which is pretty much everywhere, isn’t it?” She sighed. “I don’t know if it’s because the First is already making everybody restless, or if all the vamps and demons are too poor to take vacations this summer, but either way, we’re having to work a lot harder than we should be at this time of the year.”


“Now that you mention it….” Spike straightened up and pointed to two vampires dragging a very young-looking but fiercely struggling girl toward the gate while another one trailed behind them looking around nervously. 


They hesitated when they saw Spike and Buffy, then shrugged and kept going, the biggest one letting go of their victim and gesturing at the unoccupied vamp to join him.


“Let’s get them. It’s probably the Slayer and her pet vampire. They can’t be all that—urk!” 


Spike held him up with one hand. “This one’s mine, love.”  He stepped away and began punching the snarling vampire with his free hand.


Buffy shook her head and side-stepped his companion as he leapt at her. She staked him as he flew by, and turned her attention to the one still holding the now-limp girl. Buffy frowned, hoping she hadn’t made a mistake by staking the one she did before freeing his intended meal. But as she approached, the seemingly unconscious girl twisted loose and kicked her captor between his legs, eliciting a very unmanly scream from him as he grabbed for his abused testicles. Instead of running away, the girl brought her fist down on his temple, stunning him.


“Are you okay?” Buffy asked the now-trembling girl. “And that was wonderful. Good for you.”


Using his foot to keep his much-the-worse-for-wear victim on the ground, Spike added his own, “Bloody brilliant that was.” When the girl cringed behind Buffy, he shook off his own fangs, saying apologetically, “Sorry about that, pet. Forgot it wouldn’t be a look you’d want to see a lot of just now.”


Buffy started to stake the dazed vampire, then changed her mind. Shaking him awake, she said, “What the hell is going on? I shouldn’t be this busy yet! Don’t you guys have any respect for tradition?”


“And don’t you know who lives here?” Spike added, still with his foot on the other vamp’s neck.


The one still capable of speech stared back and forth between them, then muttered, “Asshole there said she’d taste like a slayer. We thought it was worth the risk.”


“It wasn’t,” Buffy said as she plunged her stake into his chest. She turned to stare at the bewildered girl. “Are you a potential?” she asked.


“A what?” The girl shook her head, still edging away from Spike and his captive.


“Reckon that’s a no, love,” he said. “Least she doesn’t know it if she is. Why don’t you take her someplace quiet and see if you can find out what’s goin’ on?”


“Where are you going?”


“Your ‘pet’ just got himself a new toy. Gonna play with it for a while.”




“What? You think they weren’t planning to keep her alive as long as they could just so they could have a nip of slayer blood…. or potential slayer blood… whenever they wanted?”


“What’s he talking about? And what’s a potential? Potential what?”


Buffy sighed and began to walk away, gesturing for the girl to come with her. “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”


I don’t want to know anything about this… whatever you’re going to do.


Wasn’t planning to share it, love. This is all demon to demon stuff.


As they left Spike and his now-terrified captive behind, Buffy tried to engage the girl in conversation.


“That was a pretty smart move on your part. Who taught you to think like that?”


“My mother did,” the girl said. “She always tells me I’ll never know when I might need to defend myself against something bigger and stronger. I always though she was just talking about obnoxious boys.”


“Well, good for her. Unfortunately, in Sunnydale that’s not all you have to worry about.” Buffy smiled at her. “We didn’t actually get introduced. Hi, I’m Buffy Summers, and I’m guessing you’re new here.”


The girl gave her a tentative smile back. “Yes. We just moved in last week. I’m Abby. Abigail Anderson.”


“Where do you live? I’d like to meet your mother.”




After confirming that Abby was not seriously injured, scolding her for being out alone after dark, and sending her to get cleaned up, Mrs. Anderson faced  Buffy from across the living room. Buffy smiled in as friendly a manner as she could while obviously being carefully scrutinized.


“So, you’re Buffy Summers,” Mrs. Anderson said finally.


“I am. Are you really Abigail’s mother or just her watcher?”


The older woman flinched. “I’m both. I was raised by my watcher, but when I wasn’t called before I grew up, I was allowed to try to have a normal life.  Abby is a result of that attempt.”


“Is she a potential slayer?”


Mrs. Anderson sighed and sank into a chair, gesturing for Buffy to have a seat.


“I think so, but I’m not sure yet. Since I’ve had all the training, I decided to keep her and handle it myself.”  She stared at Buffy belligerently.  “I never told the Council.”


Buffy gave her a wry smile. “It probably doesn’t matter. I’m sure they know and would have stepped in if they thought you weren’t going a good job.”  She frowned.  “But you never told her about vamps and demons?”


“I was waiting until she was old enough not to be having nightmares. Guess I waited too long,” she said with a sigh. “I think she’s already having slayer dreams.”


“Well, you definitely moved to the right city,” Buffy snorted. “She knows now.”


“Thank you…. for saving her. I’m glad you were patrolling in that area.”


“Actually, we were just getting ready to leave when Spike spotted them coming. You may not be sure she’s a potential, but those vamps thought so. They were willing to take us both on to keep her.”


“We? Us? Was your watcher with you?”


Buffy sighed. “No. I’m…. I work with a vampire with a soul. We’ve been working together for … for a long time, and he patrols with me. Most vamps don’t want to face even one of us, never mind both at the same time.” She remembered that Abby had seen Spike’s true face and added, “Abby can vouch for him.”


Abby’s mother was quiet while she studied Buffy’s face. “I’ve heard of you. You’ve been the Slayer for quite a while, haven’t you?”


“Yes, I have. Even longer than you might think. And Spike’s been at my side for most of that time… and even when we weren’t anything but sworn enemies, we worked together to save the world at least once.”


They were silent for a moment, then Buffy said, “If you don’t mind my asking, why in the name of all that’s holy did you move to Sunnydale?  You do know there’s a hellmouth here, right?”


Mrs. Anderson nodded. “I do. Knowing where the hellmouths are was part of my training. But my job transferred me and I couldn’t afford to quit and start over somewhere else.”


“What do you do?”


“I’m an accountant, and I’ve been with the same firm since I graduated. They’ve been very good to me, and this was a promotion. It won’t be long before Abby is ready for college and I’ll need the money. I couldn’t afford to turn it down.”  She hesitated. “I knew you were here, and I thought between that and what I know about vamps, we’d be safe enough.”


Buffy sighed and took out her phone. “Here’s my cell number.” She waited for Mrs. Anderson to scribble it on a piece of school notebook paper. “If you need me for anything, or have any questions, please call me. Or call the Magic Box and ask for Giles. He’s my… he used to be my watcher. He’ll know how to find me.”


Assuring Buffy that she would call her if she felt the need, and asking her to call her Lois rather than Mrs. Anderson, Abby’s mom walked her to the door to say good-bye.


“Thank you again for saving her. I did hope we’d get to meet you when we moved here, but I didn’t expect it to happen like this.”


“It’s Sunnydale. Things happen.”




Buffy waved at Mrs. Anderson as she left the house and headed down the walk. She briefly wondered if she should go looking for Spike, then decided he would find her if she just went to one of the graveyards they’d talked about patrolling. She’d only staked one new vampire, just crawling from his grave, when she felt Spike’s voice tickling the edge of her mind.


Where are you, Buffy?


I’m at Shady Rest. Not much happening here. I’ll meet you at the gate.


She took a quick glance around, seeing no other new graves and no motion anywhere, then strolled back to the entrance. Where she found Spike leaning against a stone post, cigarette in his mouth. He straightened up when he saw her, flicking the cigarette away and breaking into a smile.


“There she is.”


“Here I is,” she responded. “Did you get tired of your toy already?”


He shuffled his feet and mumbled, “Ended up just askin’ him how he knew what the girl is and why he thought it would be alright to attack her in the Slayer’s hometown.”




“He said word has gone out that potentials are being hunted and are fair game for any vamps that can catch ‘em.”


Word from who? Or what?”


“Couldn’t get that out of him. He just said he heard about it in LA and was told the girl had moved here, so he came looking for her. Apparently he knew there was a slayer here and that you had a vampire helping you, but didn’t know who we are. He figured the slayer probably wasn’t very good if she needed back up muscle, and he didn’t know her back up was William the Bloody.” He snorted. “Thought for a second he was going to ask for an autograph.”


Buffy rolled her eyes. “And then you dusted him.”


“And then I dusted him,” he said, putting one arm around her. “Let’s go see what’s goin’ on in Pine Ridge and you can tell me what took you so long walking the little potential home.”




Leaving Spike sleeping, Buffy was up relatively early the next morning, anxious to tell Giles about what they’d learned the night before.


“So that’s the sitch, Giles. Besides the number of vamps being more than it should be in mid-summer, there’s now a potential living here, and she was targeted by somebody or something that knew what she is.”


“So, unlike the girls in your time, she hasn’t run here escaping the First’s minions, but she’s still ended up in the safest place for her to be. And you say her mother was also a potential?”


“Yep. Aged out, had a kid, and decided she’d train her like a potential just in case.  Except that she didn’t tell her about vamps and demons. Poor kid had to learn that the hard way.”


“Where did they move here from?”


“I didn’t ask, but Spike asked the vamp that grabbed her and he said he was told about her in LA, so maybe they came from there?  I’ll ask her mom the next time I—” The bell over the door interrupted her and she stopped to stare.  “Or, you can just ask her yourself, because they just walked in.”


Giles and Buffy got to their feet and approached the front of the store where Abby and her mother were staring around at the shelves full of candles and jars of herbs.


“Hey!” Buffy said with a smile. “Fancy meeting you here.”


Lois smiled back, somewhat apologetically. “I remembered the name of the shop, and since Abby and I were already down here looking for school stuff….” She switched her attention to Giles. “I thought she might as well have a chance to meet a real watcher.”


She held out her hand and said, “I’m Lois Anderson, and you must be Giles.”


“Rupert Giles, at your service,” he said, taking her hand and shaking it. “And if you have raised this clever young lady and taught her to defend herself, then I would say you are just as real as I.”


“Thank you,” Lois said, blushing. “But that’s really all I’ve taught her. And none of it involves staking vampires or beheading demons, so she’s very lacking in some important things she’s going to need to know if we’re living on a hellmouth.”


“Ah,” Giles said, the real reason for the visit becoming obvious. “Well, perhaps we can work something out for the rest of the summer before she has to begin her schoolwork. I’m sure I can put together a curriculum of some sort for her, and perhaps we can meet a few times a week to catch her up on whatever she might be missing.”


Lois beamed at him. “Oh, that would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, Abigail?” The significance of hearing her full name used obviously wasn’t lost on Abby, but she rolled her eyes anyway.


“Are you talking about me going to school for the rest of the summer?”


“Only for a few mornings a week,” Giles assured her. “Just to help you fill in some blanks in your knowledge about slayers.”


“It won’t be that bad, Abs,” Buffy said. “If you get too bored, just tell him you have to go kill something, and he’ll let you take a break.”


She responded to Giles’s glare with, “What? That always worked for me!”


While the women all giggled, Giles sighed and shook his head.


Anya’s appearance from the store room interrupted them, and introductions were made. Then Buffy took Lois and Abby into the training room where they gasped and marveled over both the equipment there and the weapons hanging on the walls.


“Are those swords?” Abby said, moving closer and reaching out a tentative hand. “My mom has one, but I’m not allowed to touch it. It’s locked up in a gun cabinet.”


Glancing at Lois to see if she’d object, Buffy said, “Maybe in between boring slayer stuff, Giles can teach you how to use a sword…. just in case,” she added.


“That would be so cool!”


Smirking at Giles, Buffy led them back out of the training room to the main part of the store.


“I’ll just leave you guys to get acquainted. I’m sure Giles has lots of questions for you, but I need to go talk to my mom about a wedding.”


Avoiding Anya’s obvious eagerness to discuss wedding plans, Buffy waved her good-byes and hurried out the door.




“So, you really do only want to do this in the back yard?  Or are you just worried about what we can afford?” Joyce eyed Buffy’s smiling face with suspicion. Which eased somewhat when Buffy gobbled the rest of her sandwich to shake her head as she answered.


“No, Mom. I’m not worried about that. For one thing, we’re going to pay for it ourselves, and I’ve told you over and over, we have lots of money. I wish you’d take some from us,” she added with a sigh before continuing, “And for another, there’s just no point in a big wedding. Spike and I have been living together for years now and we’re already as married as it gets in the vampire world, and most of the people we know here already think we are married, so no reason to make it a big deal. Anyway, we don’t really have a lot of friends or relatives to invite. Everybody we care about is right here and we see them all the time.”


“Well, if you’re sure….”


Buffy studied her mother’s expression for a few seconds, then leaned forward to grasp Joyce’s hand.


“Mom. I know this isn’t anything like what you expected when I was a little girl. And I know you’d like to have a big church wedding and look forward to fat little grandchildren. I’m sorry.” She squeezed Joyce’s hand before releasing it and sitting back. “But who knows? Maybe Dawn will want a big wedding someday and you’ll get to do all that wedding stuff for her.”


“Oh, Buffy, no! I should be sorry!” Joyce blinked back tears. “Here you are, getting married and planning your wedding, and I’m making it all about me. I didn’t mean to do that.”


Buffy slid off her stool and hugged her mother until Joyce, gasped out “Air! Air, Buffy!” She let go and shook her head.


“No. I’m sorry, Mom. I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad about wanting a real wedding. But isn’t it more important to know that the marriage is going to be a good one?”


Joyce gave a rueful laugh. “Way to remind me what the result was of my own big wedding,” she said, shaking her head. She sighed and smiled at Buffy, patting her hand. “You’re absolutely right, honey. The important thing is that you and Spike love each other and that you’ve already weathered enough drama to know you belong together.”


Buffy giggled as she thought about her history with Spike. “’Drama.’ That’s one way to put it, I guess.”  


“I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know,” Joyce said with a wry smile. “At least, I don’t want to know any more than I already do.”


“Good decision.” Buffy grimaced and stood up. “Thanks for lunch, Mom. If you’re sure you don’t mind, then I’m happy to leave the catering and that stuff up to you. And if you want help, Anya is dying to plan a wedding, even if it isn’t hers.”


“I got the impression from her the other night at dinner—” Joyce stopped as Buffy’s eyes widened.


“You had dinner with Anya? And Xander?”


Joyce looked uncomfortable for a moment, then nodded as if assuring herself of something.


“I’m not sure how to put this without insulting you and Spike….”


Buffy waited, arms crossed, barely resisting tapping her foot. “Mom?”


“Here’s the thing, honey. Sometimes the… okay grownups isn’t the word I’m looking for,” she said quickly when Buffy’s eyes narrowed.  “But Winston and I and Rupert… and Anya… sometimes enjoy some quiet time when we can talk about things other than….” She waved her hand around. “Whatever it is that young people talk about.”


“You know Anya graduated with me, right? Twice.”


“I know that. But in her mind—and in reality, I guess­—I’m a little shaky on that—anyway, she’s older than all of us put together. And as she and Rupert and I all run our own retail businesses, and your eyes tend to glaze over when we discuss—”


“Okay. Okay. I get it. Spike and I talk about blood and killing things, not shoplifters and overhead. But how does Winston fit in? Aside from being a lot older than he looks, I guess.”


She frowned, then narrowed her eyes again when her mother blushed. Buffy’s mouth dropped open.


“Oh. My. God. You and Winston? How did this happen? When did this happen? Where the hell was I?”


“It’s not like that,” Joyce hastened to assure her, still blushing. “We just enjoy each other’s company and we…  we stayed in touch while he was in England, so it just seemed natural to include him in our occasional dinners once he was back.”


“Uh huh.” Buffy’s skeptical eye roll wasn’t lost on her mother.


“He’s a very nice man, Buffy,” Joyce said, her lips tightening into a straight line.


Buffy sighed. “Yes he is, Mom. He’s very nice. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”


“Contrary to what you seem to think, I’m a big girl,” Joyce said with some asperity. “And in case you’re thinking I’m just grateful to him for saving my life…. of course I am. But that’s not what I find attractive about him.”


“Can we just not have this conversation now?”


Joyce laughed. “You don’t think I’m too old to find a man attractive, do you?”


Buffy flushed and dropped her gaze. “No, of course not. I guess I just always thought that someday you and….” She shook her head. “Never mind. Just because you and he…. that was a spell… and also something I’d rather not think about.”


Joyce frowned, then gasped when she realized what Buffy was saying. “Oh Buffy! Even if Rupert and I shared anything more than a parental interest in you… and, as you say, a spell-induced memory….” She shook her head. “Even if adult me had been as interested in adult Rupert as teen-aged me was in the Ripper, I believe his interests lie elsewhere.”


Buffy sighed. “You can see that too, huh?”


“I’m sure everyone except the willfully blind Xander can see it,” Joyce said with a wryly raised eyebrow.


“Yeah, well. I think he’s going to have his eyes opened when he asks Anya when she’s moving into the house with him.”


“I suspect you are quite right,” Joyce agreed, shaking her head as she continued. “Poor Xander. I know she doesn’t want to hurt him, but they just….”


“They just don’t have much in common anymore. Not that they ever did, really, I guess. I mean thousand-year-old ex-vengeance demon and construction worker…. No wonder he has so much time to spend with Spike now.”


Joyce smiled. “It’s nice to see them getting along, isn’t it?”


Buffy nodded and laughed. “They still give each other a really hard time, but you can tell they don’t mean it anymore.  It’s nice. I don’t think Spike’s had a lot of friends in his life, and with Clem not around as much….”  She smiled. “I think he’s enjoying himself. Not that he doesn’t like Giles or Winston; he does, a lot. But he doesn’t get to do things with them unless it involves fighting evil or slaying. With Xander he can just be a guy.”


“Well, I do think it’s nice. It’s probably good for both of them.”




Buffy was mulling over her mother’s words as she strolled back toward the middle of town. It was nice to see Spike and Xander working their way into what seemed like a genuine friendship that didn’t rely on Xander being her friend and fellow Scooby. She vowed to herself that she would spend more time with Willow, doing non-slaying related things that they both might enjoy, although she had to admit she couldn’t think of any.


“We’ve got to have something in common,” she muttered. “Otherwise, why did we become friends in the first place? Maybe we both like to shop?”


Her attention was captured by the display window of a wedding store, and she paused to stare at the lace and pearl-covered gowns in the window.


“I wonder if they have any that don’t scream ‘I’ve read too many Bride magazines?’” she said, as she pushed open the door. Telling herself, and the attentive salesgirl, that she was just browsing for ideas, Buffy soon found herself in a dressing room, trying on one frilly dress after another.  When the sales clerk came back with another armload, Buffy smiled and said gently, “That’s okay. I’m all tried out now. I don’t think I’m going to find anything I can use.”


The young woman couldn’t hide her disappointment, so Buffy said, “Here’s the thing… I’m a little older than I look. And I’m marrying the man who’s been part of my life for many years. I don’t need something that will make people ooh and ahh as I walk down the aisle.  We’re getting married in my mother’s backyard, in the evening. All I need is a really nice cocktail dress. In white.”


“I’ve got this, Suzie,” an older woman who’d been watching from the back of the store said.


Suzie looked a little disgruntled, but it was clear that the other woman was her boss, and she nodded and turned away with her armload of lace and satin.


The elegant looking woman, whose dark hair was in a tidy bun and whose dress fit as if it was sewn onto her body, studied Buffy for a few moments, then said, “You’re the Slayer.”


“I am.” Buffy’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “And you are…?”


“A long time resident of Sunnydale, whose clients come from many different backgrounds.”


There was a pause while she waited for Buffy to understand her meaning.


“Then you’re familiar with….”


“I’m familiar with both what a slayer is, and with her normal antagonists. I’m not sure why you’re older than you should be, but I am sure your future husband is well past puberty.”  She gave what on someone less elegant would have been called a smirk. “My name is Sarah Johnson,” she added. “This is my shop.”


“How do you—”


“You and your husband are hardly a secret in the demon population. Customers talk. I listen. If you say you and he have been together longer than the few years that I’m aware of, I believe you.”


“So you understand then, why I’m not looking for a fancy wedding dress. If I really was the age I’m supposed to be, I probably would want a big fancy wedding, but I’m not and I don’t. So I don’t need a dress for that kind of wedding.”


“Of course not. But you do want to look nice for your husband, do you not?”


“Well, yeah. I’m not saying I don’t want to look pretty. I just don’t see myself in something frilly and poofy. I’m kinda used to thinking along the lines of ‘Can I fight in this?’.”


“Come back tomorrow,” Ms. Johnson said. “I will have a few more appropriate things for you to try.”


Buffy frowned, but agreed. “All right. If you think you can find something for me….”


“I’m sure of it. Please come back. And bring your husband with you if you want him to give his opinion.”


Buffy shook her head. “You keep calling him my husband… but the wedding isn’t for another month. Why don’t you call him my fiancée or boyfriend?”


“Because those very subtle, but very visible marks on your neck tell me you and he are already more than married.”


Buffy’s hand flew to her neck where she could just barely feel Spike’s mark. “You know an awful lot about demons and vampires for a human. Sunnydale born or not.” She narrowed her eyes in suspicion, but Mrs. Johnson seemed unperturbed.


“I’m also somewhat older than I seem,” she said as she escorted Buffy to the door. “And I’ve led an interesting life.”  She smiled and held the door open for Buffy. “Please come back tomorrow to see what I’ve found for you.”


Buffy was still nodding her agreement as she found herself on the sidewalk, promising to return the next day. She stood there for a second frowning at the now-closed door before turning to continue toward the Magic Box.


“She must be from the same place Winston comes from,” Buffy muttered as she began walking away. “I think I’ve just been finessed.”




Chapter Three





After Willow’s return from her time with the coven, the main topic at the first full Scooby meeting was the fact that a potential had shown up in Sunnydale, where she’d almost been killed.  Buffy had, of course, filled Giles in pretty well about the events in her time that had led to the her sharing the slayer powers with all the surviving potentials. And Winston, of course, was familiar with his own version of events.  But many of the details were new to Xander, Anya, and Willow, and they reacted in their own ways.


“So, you were eating rats and hiding in the school basement, huh?” Xander said with a grin. “No wonder you didn’t share that with me.”


Spike just made a rude gesture at him and waited for the comments to end.


Anya had nodded wisely, saying, “The First Evil must still be trying to come up here. Maybe it wasn’t Willow’s spell that rattled its cage.”


“You mean it wasn’t my fault?” Willow looked disappointed and relieved at the same time.


“We don’t know,” Buffy said with a sigh. “But if someone or something is targeting potentials, we need to find out what it is and why.”


“Indeed we do,” Giles said. “I’ll start with the Council. Abby cannot be the only potential to be targeted.”


“She might be the first one—or the first one to be able to tell anyone about it.” Buffy sent Spike an apologetic smile. “I guess we should have tried harder to find out who in LA told those vamps about her.”


He shrugged, but looked embarrassed about his impetuous dusting of their only source of information. “In hindsight, I reckon I should have let him talk a bit longer. But he’d already said he didn’t know who was putting out the word in the vamp world there, just that it was the current exciting rumor.”


“But somebody had to know she was moving to Sunnydale,” Willow protested. “Maybe he could have said who that was.”


“Wesley!” Buffy blurted, having been lost in thought for a few seconds.


“You think Wesley sent vampires after her?” Giles’s wide eyes made everyone laugh.


Buffy shook her head.


“No. Of course not. I was just trying to think of how we could get some information from LA without actually, you know, going there, and I remembered Wes said to let him know if he could do anything for us.”


“That’s an excellent idea,” Giles said, his relief visible in the way his face and body relaxed. “He’ll know how to identify potential slayers, if he runs across any, and he’ll also be able to reach out to sources in the demon world. Shall I call him then, or will you do it?”


Buffy and Spike exchanged glances before she said, “I don’t see why we can’t do it. It’s a perfectly legitimate request to make, and has nothing to do with Angel, so there’s no reason for him to get nosy about it.”


“You know the big poof is going to think he should be the one looking into it, love.”


She frowned. “Yeah, I guess. But he also knows I don’t trust him and don’t want to talk to him, so he shouldn’t be surprised that we called Wes instead.” She bit her lip. “He might actually be able to help too—and as long as I don’t have to be the one to ask him for help, I don’t mind if Wes does.”


There were nods all around the table, with everyone being well aware of what Angel had done to earn Buffy’s distrust. His attempt to keep her attached to him via a weak claim made when she was unconscious, one she hadn’t been aware of until Spike’s more legitimate and accepted claim caused Angel’s to break, was old news by this time. They’d all had well over a full year to get used to Spike and Buffy’s vampire “marriage”, as well as the idea that a more traditional one was in the planning stages. So, while no one tried to encourage Buffy to speak directly to Angel, they also didn’t worry that allowing him to help with information might cause a problem for her.


“If Deadboy is smart, he’ll keep a low profile and just let the ex-watcher be the contact with us… you… I mean….”


“It’s “us”, Xan. If the First is trying to make an entrance, it’s going to be all hands on deck eventually.”


“It was bad, huh?” Willow said. “I mean, I know you’ve told us a lot about what happened, but—”


“It was bad. Badly bad. But if everybody was right about the reason I—we—were sent back here, it shouldn’t get to that point. It’s just kinda… disturbing… to know that potentials are being targeted, ‘cause that’s how it started in our time.”


“Not to mention,” Spike interrupted with a nod toward Winston. “We’ve got a bit more muscle on our side this time around. I suspect if the First tries to raise its ugly head, Winnie and Max will have a good time playing whack-a-mole with it.”


Winston grimaced, but nodded. “I expect we will be able to help considerably when it comes to keeping potentials safe, as well as with the Turok-hans.” He smiled tightly. “I’m actually somewhat looking forward to testing their supposed invulnerability.”


Spike shook his head with admiration. “Where were you when that ugly bugger was having fun torturing me?”


Buffy looked dismayed. “I got you out as soon as I could!” she said. “I had to kill him first, before I could rescue you.” She looked for a second as if she might cry, and Spike was on his knees in front of her before anyone saw him move.


“You did, love. Wasn’t criticizing you. You were your amazing and awesome self and rescued me as soon as you’d sent him to hell. Know that, love. I’m sorry. I was just runnin’ my mouth, and as usual, it said something stupid. Forgive me?”


It was obvious to everyone in the room when they switched to silent communication, and they all watched, while trying to appear not to, as Buffy and Spike had a short, but intense conversation.


I don’t have the words, sweetheart, Buffy, Slayer. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that I made you think for one second that I—


Buffy shook her head. You don’t have to use words, Spike. I can feel you, remember? And I’m fine. I know you didn’t mean that the way I took it. I just had a flashback to all the mistakes I made that year, and—


And not a one of those mistakes included me or anything you did for or with me. You saved the bloody world, again.


I think I had a little help from you… and a gaudy piece of jewelry.


She gave him a small smile, and he took her hand in his, raising it to his lips.


Are we good, then?  He held her hand and planted kisses on her knuckles.


As good as we can be until we get home and you can make it up to me. The visual she sent him had him throwing his head back and laughing.


“You’ve got it, love. As much as you want.”


Still chuckling, he sent her his own warm visual as he went back to his seat.


Giles cleared his throat. “If that’s all settled, let’s get back to the subject. In addition to asking the Council about other potentials, is there anything else I might tell them?” He frowned when Winston, Spike, and Buffy exchanged glances. 


“We don’t know, do we?” Spike said in disgust. “If you tell them their building might be blown up, with them in it, they’ll want to know how you know that. I think ‘William the Bloody is a seer isn’t going fly with them any better than it did with Oxford.”


“We could ask them to look into that disgusting preacher who was working for the First? We could just say we’d heard something about him?”


“That could be a starting point… I like it. Do you know his actual name?”


Buffy shrugged. “Maybe? He called himself Caleb, but no last name and who knows if that’s really it or he made it up? I don’t even know if he was ever even a real preacher or priest or whatever.” She sighed. “I guess that won’t help. Not unless he shows up and we can catch him trying to kill a girl.”  She straightened up and frowned.


“Might be something else to share with Wes, Rupert,” Spike said. “I reckon you should be the one to call him. He can be on the lookout for anyone like that in LA. I doubt anything that bloody evil just all of a sudden popped up when the First needed him. Most likely, he was already killing girls before he got all magically boosted and went lookin’ for potential slayers.”


“All right. I’ll call Wesley tomorrow during business hours and ask him to look into any unusual deaths in the city involving young women and also to keep an eye out for any potentials.”


Giles paused. “It may become necessary to bring Angel into the fold, so to speak, if it turns out potentials are being hunted in Los Angeles. He can get out and try to identify where the instructions to hunt them are coming from, as well as how they are being identified.”


Buffy and Spike exchanged looks, and she shrugged, letting him respond.


“Being as we already had a girl attacked here in Sunnyhell by vamps that came from LA, it should be possible to let him know about that without telling him anything he doesn’t need to know about us. Old grandpa should be all over that one—keeping potentials safe in ‘his city’.” The quotation marks around “his city” were more than obvious and everyone laughed while Buffy rolled her eyes. She nodded in agreement, though.


“Yeah. As long as we don’t tell him how we know that’s what’s going on, it should be okay. Just tell him we know she came from LA and that the vamps were told she was a potential.”


“That should work. I’ll speak with Wesley in the morning.” Giles gazed around the table. “Is there anything else?”


“I looked at wedding dresses today,” Buffy said brightly.


“Anything slayer or evil-related,” Giles sighed.


“Well, the woman who owns the store might be evil…. at least she knows about evil things, and she knew who I was… and who I was marrying.  And that we were already…. that thing that I won’t say.”


Both Giles and Spike frowned. “I can understand how she knew you,” Giles said. “You are, after all, the Slayer. And have been for many years now, but—”


“It’s not just that she knew I was the slayer and that I’m marrying Spike. I mean I know that’s not a big secret. But she knew we were…. mated….” She rolled her eyes at Spike’s grin.  “And she kind of implied…. I don’t know. She just seemed to know stuff she probably shouldn’t, and she totally finessed me out of the store. I think she’s a demon. She said she wasn’t, just that she has customers that are, but I don’t think I believe her.”


“Might she be a witch?” Winston asked with his own little frown.


“I guess… yeah, that might make sense.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “She said she was older than she looked too…. I wonder if she’s like you and Max.”


Winston’s frown deepened. “That seems highly unlikely. Surely one of us would have felt that kind of power by now.”  He shrugged. “I’ll ask Max about it. It’s possible he knows her and isn’t worried, so never mentioned her to me—anyone.”  His expression made it clear he didn’t think much of that idea, and Buffy had to hide a smile while she nodded.


“Yeah. Okay. I’ll let you ask him about her and if he has any questions, he knows where to find me.”




In spite of her reservations, Buffy dutifully showed up at the wedding shop the next afternoon, shaking her head when Mrs. Johnson asked if Spike was planning to join them.


“No. He’s being a good sport about this whole wedding thing, but that doesn’t include participating in anything that doesn’t directly concern him. Apparently looking at wedding dresses didn’t make the list of things he cares about.”


Buffy made a face that she knew probably gave away more than she meant to about the conversation earlier in the day:



“Are you going to come with me later?”


A bleary-eyed Spike had peered at her from the bed. “To a dress shop?” He put the pillow over his head and went still.


“For a wedding dress. For our wedding.” She persisted.


“Am I gonna be wearing it?” he’d mumbled without taking the pillow off his face.


“Don’t be stupid,” she growled. “You should care what I wear.”


The reply was a loud snore, repeated often enough to send his response loud and clear.


“Fine!” she’d said as she slammed the apartment door. “Serves you right if I end up wearing something ugly!”




She plastered a more pleasant expression on her face and added, “What would he know anyway? He’s worn the same jeans and tee shirt since the night I met him.”


“Men,” Mrs. Johnson agreed with a laugh.




Her disposition somewhat improved by their shared low opinion of the male sex, Buffy looked curiously at the rack of dresses outside the dressing room. Mrs. Johnson gestured to it and said, “Why don’t you look through there and let me know which ones you think you might want to try on?”


Contrary to the lace and pearl-covered confections that the clerk had shown her yesterday, Buffy found nothing but tasteful and classic dresses and gowns on the rack.


“Wow. Where were these yesterday?”


“They were in the back, waiting for the right person to come along.” Mrs. Johnson smiled in satisfaction as Buffy went through the dresses, pausing occasionally to examine one more closely. When she’d been through the entire group at least twice, Buffy pulled out three different dresses and held them up.


“Ok, Mrs. Johnson, I’d like to try these on in my size.”


“Please call me Sarah, and they’re all your size, Buffy. I didn’t bother with anything that wouldn’t fit or look good on you.”


“Oh. Okay. Well, here we go!” She took one of the dresses into dressing room with her, while Sarah put the other two on the near end of the rack where she could reach them easily.


Buffy’s first choice to try on was a plain, but lovely, classic silk sheath. It clung to her body as if made for her, and made Buffy gasp. As much as she liked good clothes, and was now able to afford them, she’d never had anything that felt like it had been stitched onto her body.  Even the long sleeves ended perfectly at her wrists and flowed smoothly off the shoulders of the dress. It almost appeared to be seamless.


“Oh my god!” she gasped. “This is it!”


Sarah laughed softly and suggested she try on the other two “just in case…”


Somewhat reluctantly, Buffy shimmied out of the one she was wearing and held it out the door.  It was quickly replaced by another dress, this one somewhat more classically bridal seeming with its lace covered bodice and flowing sleeves.  The skirt fell softly around Buffy’s knees and swished as she moved around trying to see it from all sides. 


“This one is really pretty, but it looks a little too… I dunno. I don’t think it’s me. My mom would probably love it, but….”


“Let’s take a look at this one, then. Perhaps both you and your mother would be pleased…”


Sarah took the dress Buffy had just squirmed out of with one hand, while holding out the last of the three draped over her other arm. Buffy took it carefully, holding it up until she could slip it over her head. As was the first dress, this one, while gown-length, was also more of a sheath that molded itself to her body as far as her mid-thighs, then flowed gently to allow freedom of movement all the way down to where it just brushed the top of her bare feet. This dress also had long fitted sleeves, but unlike the first one, they were attached to the bodice in such a way as to leave her shoulders and décolletage bare.


Buffy smiled as she moved to and fro in front of the mirrors.  She stepped out of the dressing room and twirled in front of a smiling Sarah Johnson.


“I think it’s fancy enough for Mom, but comfy enough for me.”  She smiled at Sarah. “What do you think?”


“I think it looks like it was made for you,” Sarah said. “And with a lace veil, it should be sufficiently wedding appropriate for anyone.”  She smiled again and walked to the back of the shop while Buffy strolled around the main area, enjoying the way the silk felt against her skin. She frowned when she realized that she could feel it so easily everywhere, and ran back to peer at herself in the mirror again. She expected to see her underwear showing through the delicate-feeling fabric, but there was no sign of panties to be seen, just a smooth line from head to toe.  She frowned deeper as Sarah returned holding a beautiful lace veil.


“Why can’t I see my underwear?” Buffy asked. “Anything that feels this good is usually see-through.”


“Ah, you’ve caught me out,” Sarah sighed. “The dress is actually lined with a very delicate, but completely opaque kind of silk. It’s so soft and thin that you can’t feel it there, but it hides anything underneath it perfectly.”


Buffy’s frown didn’t go away, but it did soften. “Even a stake?”


Sarah sighed. “Yes, I suppose so. Surely you don’t intend to be armed at your own wedding?”


“I’m the Slayer,” Buffy said without further explanation.


“Yes. Yes you are.” Sarah sighed again. “And yes, the dress would hide a stake… or any other weapon you felt impelled to carry.”


“I guess a sword would be a little much….” Buffy muttered, mostly to herself as she turned back and forth in front of the mirror.  She caught Sarah’s face from the corner of her eye and whirled to stare at the normally elegant and imperturbable woman. “Did you just roll your eyes at me?”


Sarah shook her head, obviously more at herself than Buffy.  “I’m sorry. I probably did. My apologies, I’m usually more professional than that. It’s just that… you have chosen a lovely dress that allows you to move freely, you will be marrying the man you are already mated to for life who is, himself, a rather formidable fighter, and you will be surrounded by powerful magicians. Even on a Hellmouth, such a wedding is unlikely to require the bride to be armed with a sword.”


Buffy nodded. “Good points – all of them.” Her eyes narrowed. “And not necessarily things the average shop owner should know about me or my friends.”


“I am not the average shop owner,” Sarah said, having recovered her normal serene persona.  “And you and your friends are not average citizens. You are quite well known in some circles.” When Buffy’s frown came back, she added gently, “Not all of them are potential enemies.”


Buffy studied the elegant woman in front of her briefly, mentally comparing her to the Guardian she’d met in her own time, then shook her head at herself.


“If you say so,” Buffy said, softening her suspicious glare to a more normal look of curiosity. “I don’t meet many people like that, unfortunately. It makes me…. something less crazy-sounding than paranoid…..”


“That innate wariness has undoubtedly contributed to keeping you alive all these years. I’m not offended.”  She smiled her normal professional shopkeeper’s smile and said, “Shall I wrap this up for you, then? Or were you planning to wear it home?”


Buffy giggled in embarrassment just as her phone rang. She ran to the dressing room to retrieve it and began to shed the dress while she answered it.


“Yeah, Giles. What’s up?”


Sarah rescued the dress before Buffy could drop it to the floor, lifting it up as Buffy stepped out of it and whisking it away, leaving Buffy to take her call with some privacy.


“I’ve spoken to Wesley and I believe we need to talk about what he had to say. I’ve already rung up Spike and Winston and they are on the way here.”


“Okay. On my way.”


Buffy gave Sarah an apologetic shrug as she tugged her tee shirt over her head. “I’ve got to go. Can I come back to pick it up later? Or tomorrow?”


“No problem, Buffy. I’ll box it up and have it delivered to your home. Should I put a few veils in with it for you to choose from? You can return the ones you don’t need.”


“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks!”


Buffy ran out without even realizing she hadn’t paid for anything or even asked the price, nor given Sarah her address.


Chapter Four







Buffy arrived at the Magic Box only slightly out of breath to find Spike and Winston already there.


“Okay, what’s up? You’re all wearing ‘something needs killing’ face.”


Spike snorted and exchanged a glance with an equally amused Winston, while Giles just sighed and nodded.


“Alas. It’s possible that will turn out to be the case. Although, you must remember, at this point the man may still be completely human….”


“Man? So Wes found him? Caleb?”


“He thinks he may have a lead on a cult religious figure who is suspected of luring young women to his ‘church’, only for them to disappear.  He is coming here tomorrow with more information and photographs to see if you recognize the man.”


“If he’s already a suspect, why don’t the police arrest him?” Buffy glared toward Los Angeles as if she could intimidate the LAPD into doing their jobs.


“They have no proof. No bodies and no way to connect the disappearances to him.”


“If it’s really him, I don’t need proof,” Buffy muttered as she sank into a chair near Spike.  “Why didn’t Wes just email us a picture?” she asked as Giles retrieved something from the counter and silently slid a printed out photograph across the table to her.  “Aha!”  Buffy snatched it and stared at the fuzzy copy of a flier for a revival coming up soon. Giles and Winston flinched back as she made a sound that sounded suspiciously like a vampire’s snarl.


“I take it you think that is the same man who was killing potentials in your time?”


Spike took the photo from Buffy and frowned at it. “I only saw him up close once when he was gouging—” He broke off when Buffy kicked him under the table.  “Um, I mean, I only saw him in the midst of a fight and we were just tryin’ to get everybody out of there in one piece, but it could be him. No doubt about it.”  He gestured to Buffy as she took the photo back to glare at it some more. “Slayer saw more of him than I did. And from up close. She’s the one that brought him down even after he’d got himself all enhanced by Evil.”  He snorted. “And after he knocked the big poof on his egotistical arse. Seein’ that was almost worth watching what came next.”


Buffy rolled her eyes at him and shook her head.


“What did you see?” Winston asked, clearly curious about the byplay between them.


“Enough to let the First almost get to me,” Spike growled. “Played right into its hands, letting the sight of the poof with Buffy make me stupid. I went home and left her there.”


“You weren’t with her?”


Spike cleared his throat and avoided Buffy’s narrowed eyes. “Not as such, no. I’d followed her, you know, just in case…. but Angel was there and I….“ He paused, clearly at a loss to explain why he’d left in a way that wouldn’t be embarrassing.


“And he got all jealous of a hello kiss and went home to put Angel’s face on the punching bag,” Buffy said briskly. “All of which is neither here nor there. By this time, I had the scythe—thanks to Spike, by the way—and I was able to slay the bad guy and make sure he stayed slain. So I did it without help from either one of the testosterone-overloaded vampires.”


“Ah, yes. This ‘scythe’ that you’ve mentioned before. I presume it would prove to be critical to defeating the First Evil?”


“Yeah. Big time. It’s totally awesome, and I think we need to go look for it sooner rather than later.”  Buffy sighed. “I would have liked to have it to use against Glory, but even if we could have found it then, it would have changed everything so much… I was just afraid to do it.”


“I feel sure that was a wise decision,” Giles said, smiling when Winston immediately agreed.


“For you to have had such a weapon years before it was actually needed… we can only guess what that could have done to the timeline.”


“Exactly,” Buffy said, her relief at their agreement was obvious. “But I don’t see why finding it a little bit early, if we can, would mess things up too much.”


“You know where it is?” Winston seemed startled that she could have known that all along and resisted the urge to retrieve it.


“Sorta.  I looked for the old winery and mission last year, but I couldn’t find them. I’m hoping this year it will be easier because we did find them then—now, just not quite this early in the year.”


“I suppose, given that potentials are still being targeted, that we need to run down all the events from this year in your time so we know what could happen, even if it isn’t as likely.”


“Yeah, okay. But let’s wait till Wes gets here. Then I don’t have to go over everything twice.”


Giles nodded reluctantly. “I suppose there’s no actual urgency, since aside from the attack on Abigail we’ve seen no sign of danger here yet.”


Winston glanced at Spike and Buffy before saying, “Don’t forget, I have second-hand knowledge of much of what led up to Spike’s sacrifice to close the hellmouth. I hesitate to talk about it because their own knowledge will be more immediate and likely to be correct. However, should we need to be wary of something I know about, I can mention it if or when one of them isn’t around.”


“Sounds like a plan, then.” Buffy stood up. “We’ll see you tomorrow when Wes gets here.”




“Where are we going?” Spike kept pace beside her, but stayed in the shadows as befitted his status as a vampire with more sun tolerance than most. They’d concluded that was as close as they were going to be able to come to explaining his occasional daylight appearances without giving away anything else about the Gem.


“I dunno. It’s a nice afternoon, I haven’t had lunch yet, and I just thought my fiancé should take me out for a nice lunch. Possibly at an outdoor café….”


“In case you haven’t noticed, love, in addition to having a bloody obnoxious amount of sunshine, Sunnyhell is more than bit warm at this time of year. Nobody wants to sit outside to eat.”


“Point,” she admitted, wiping sweat off her brow. “But I also know it doesn’t bother you like it does me.”


“Just lookin’ out for my lady,” he said, nudging her arm. “Instead of an outdoor café, why don’t we find a nice air-conditioned bar?”


She laughed and pushed him away. “I might have known. Okay, just so it’s not Willy’s”


“Wouldn’t do that to you, Slayer. I know just the place.”


“I’m sure you do,” she said, smiling to herself as she allowed him to lead the way to a quiet bar she’d never noticed before, where they settled into a booth to enjoy both the cooler air, and in Spike’s case, a cool beer.


“Look at us. Having a little afternoon break in a nice place where nobody knows us. Just like regular people.” Buffy looked around with a smile, kicking Spike when he rolled his eyes at her. “We are. Regular people, I mean. Just ones that have… unusual jobs.”


“Whatever you say, love. Have a look at the menu and order yourself some ‘regular’ food.”





Spike dodged a claw-tipped paw and dove for the legs of the demon blocking his way to where Buffy was fighting more vampires than he liked to see at one time. With a growl, he went into game face and wrenched the big creature to the ground. He buried his teeth in the demon’s throat and tried to ignore the pummeling his head was taking. With a final snarling shake of his head, he managed to get through the thick neck and rip what he hoped was an important artery. The gurgling noise that accompanied the gush of disgusting green ichor was enough to let him know he’d won, so he leapt to his feet. and raced to Buffy just in time to intercept an obviously older and smarter vampire circling to attack her from behind.


“I don’t think so, mate,” Spike growled as he grabbed the vamp by his unusually long hair. With a yank, Spike pulled him around with one hand and punched him with the other.


“Hey, I’m on your si—”  Without waiting to explain that they were not on the same side, Spike drove a stake through his chest and pushed through the dust to Buffy’s side.


“Hogging all the fun again, Slayer?” he said as he dusted another clueless opponent that assumed Spike was part of the attacking crowd.


“Would I do that?” she said, mentally sending him a grateful smile.


Using their ability to communicate silently to its full advantage, they had soon whittled the numbers down to where Spike could sit on a tombstone and have a cigarette while Buffy took out her indignation on the remaining two vampires.


“What’s wrong with you guys? Don’t you know it’s still summer? I’m on vacation! And I’m getting married. I don’t have time for this!”


With a final “Ha!” she ran her stake through the last of the gang and dusted herself off. “Yuck, I’m covered in vamp dust, and you’re wearing… something gross and smelly.” She cringed away from his playful attempt to kiss her, causing him to laugh. “You’re welcome, love. If I hadn’t done that, I’m not sure you would have noticed that wanker sneaking up behind you.”


“Humph,” she sniffed. “I guess that’s it for tonight then. We both need showers, and I have to do a load of laundry now too.”


They strolled out of the cemetery and down the street, ignoring sidelong looks from the few pedestrians still out.


“I guess we must look as grubby as we feel,” Buffy grumbled when, as they approached their apartment building, a passer-by had actually turned to look at them more closely.


“Reckon so. We get so used to being dusty and bloody, I don’t even stop to think about it anymore.”


He opened the door to the apartment and held it for Buffy as she entered and dropped her stakes on the floor.


“Race you into the shower,” she said over her shoulder as she headed for the bedroom at a jog.


“I’ll be naked first!” He laughed aloud as he zipped past her at a speed she couldn’t match.


Rather than try to catch him, she just dropped her clothes on the bedroom floor and walked to the bathroom in time to see him trying to wrestle his jeans off. “You’ve still got your boots on!” she said, laughing to herself as he growled at her. Still chuckling, Buffy knelt down and untied his boots for him so he could kick them off and wriggle out of his jeans. As she stood up to get into the tub, she ran her hand lightly over his half-erect cock, giggling when that brought on another growl.


Before the water had even become warm, Spike was in the tub behind her and pulling the shower curtain closed. He put his arms around her and nuzzled her neck, saying, “It’s a good thing I love you so much or I might have taken offense at your teasing.”


“But you do,” she said, turning around with a smile. “You do love me… and you still smell like icky demon blood.” She stepped around him and pushed him under the water. She handed him the shampoo, then began to wash his back, giggling when he growled at exploratory fingers lingering over his ass and wandering between his cheeks.


“Playing with fire there, Slayer,” he said. “That’s a good way to get demon slime on you.”  He turned around and pretended to be rubbing his head on her face. With a laugh, she shoved him away, then sponged off his neck and shoulders.


“You scrub it out of your hair while I get rid of the rest of it, and then get out of my way so I can rinse off the vamp dust in my hair.”


“Bossy bint,” he said, rinsing the shampoo out of his hair. “It’s a good thing I like that in a woman.”


“I am the boss,” she said, working her way down to the body part that seemed most interested in what she was doing.  She was spreading the soap over it with her hands, smiling at his gasping growl. “And don’t you forget it.” She continued “washing” his cock until, with a final growl, he spurted into her hands and fell against the tiled wall, breathing hard.


“That you are, love. Always were and always will be.”


“Good, so if that’s settled, help me wash the vamp dust out of my hair…. Please?”  She stood under the water until her hair was wet, then turned around and presented her back to him.


“It would be my pleasure, boss-lady.”  He poured the shampoo into his hand and massaged her scalp, smiling at her appreciative moans. “I think I need to make sure there isn’t any vamp dust hiding in any hard-to-reach places,” he murmured, trailing his sudsy hands down over her breasts and into the neatly trimmed curls between her legs. It took him only a minute with his talented hands to have her whimpering and gasping. Using his right arm to hold her up, he quickly brought her off with his left. He held her spasming body tightly against his until she went limp, then put both arms around her and nuzzled his marks on her neck until her breathing was almost back to normal. 


Spike stepped closer to the shower head and allowed the water to pour over them both until all the suds seemed to have been rinsed away and the water was cooling off.


“Time to go,” Buffy said with a small shiver. She pushed him away gently and stepped out of the tub to grab a towel. After turning the water off, he joined her to towel off his own hair and body. By silent agreement, instead of getting dressed again, they pulled on bathrobes and wandered into the kitchen area.


“Kinda early for us to go to bed, isn’t it?” Spike said. “Not that I’m objecting if that’s the plan….”


“The plan is to have a snack and relax on the couch for a while. And then, yes, maybe go to bed earlier than usual. We might have to get up early tomorrow to meet Wes at the Magic Box if he comes right away.”


“I’m a vampire,” Spike muttered, only half-seriously. “I don’t do mornings!”


“Sometimes you do,” she giggled, sending him a mental image of how she’d awakened him a few days ago.


“I doubt Oxford is going to be that much fun,” he said with a laugh. “But point taken. I can be a morning person if there’s a good enough reason.”


chapter Five

Beta read by the eagle-eyed all4spike



It was several days before Wesley was able to get away to bring them more information about the preacher he’d discovered. Days in which the number of vampires and demons around each night continued to be more than would be expected, even so late in the summer. Buffy had stopped grumbling about it and was beginning to worry that it meant something more than just an early beginning to the normal Sunnydale fall.


“I don’t suppose you know if it was like this in your time?” she asked Winston, after voicing her concerns to him and Giles.


“I’m sorry, I don’t. In my time I was quite tied up with… there was something important I had to deal with at home, and I wasn’t really paying much attention to what might be going on over the hellmouth. Not until much, much later.”


“Oh well. It was just a thought. Maybe all the evil guys just decided to end summer vacation early.”


“Or maybe something is bringing them to Sunnydale…” Giles said, reminding them that the First Evil, while not yet manifesting itself, still existed and might still have to be dealt with.


“Or that,” Buffy sighed. “I guess we need to keep an eye on the new school’s basement and check out that seal closing the hellmouth. If we find somebody messing with it, we’ll know the First is trying to get up here.”  She frowned and muttered, “He’s not going to have Spike to play with this time….”


“Does he need it to be open to manifest up here?” Giles frowned. “I thought he’d done that before.”


“Yeah, I guess he can. He was all into getting Angel to kill me or himself by pretending to be—” She froze, remembering who the First had appeared as when confronting Angel. Trying hard not to look at Giles and give it away if he hadn’t learned about it in this time, she said, “I mean, yes. He has been here. I’m not sure we knew to check the hellmouth back then but I don’t think it had a seal over it when we stopped the Varhals. It was just a big hole.”


“He needed blood dripping in it to bring out one of his pet monsters,” Spike growled. “My blood.”


“And he manipulated  Andrew to try to use Jonathan’s blood to open the seal.”


“Hey, maybe we can get Harris to pour it full of concrete for us.” Spike looked pleased with his half-serious idea, while Buffy shook her head.


“Yeah, I’m sure that’ll go over big with the new principal,” Buffy snorted. “Tell him we want to fill the school basement with cement.”


Spike shrugged. “We know he doesn’t care much for vampires, so he’s already primed to dislike me. May as well give him a reason.” He paused and cast his gaze down at his feet. “Not that I haven’t already done that, I reckon,” he said softly.


Winston studied Spike’s rueful expression, then asked, “You’ve already given him a reason?”


Buffy and Spike exchanged glances. She smiled her support and nodded. He stood up straighter, saying firmly, “His mum was my second slayer. Man’s got a right… not that he knows that yet. In our time, the First got to him somehow and told him who I was. Probably appeared to him as his mum when he did it.”


“Dear Lord!” Giles stared at Spike, then back and forth between Spike and Buffy. “He didn’t try to stake you?”


“In a way, he did. Didn’t work out for him quite like he thought it would, though…”


The hard look Buffy shot toward Giles wasn’t lost on Winston, who cleared his throat.


“Perhaps we should concentrate on whatever we can do now to avoid that possibility?  What do we know about opening the seal? Why Jonathan?”


Buffy shrugged. “I’m not sure. I mean, I’m sure Andrew was easy for him to manipulate using Warren, but before that one of Xander’s demon dates tried to use his blood to open it, so maybe it doesn’t matter as long as somebody’s bleeding over it. I think he might’ve tried it earlier too, with some stupid cult guys. I shut them down and rescued the girl. I didn’t really connect it to the hellmouth, though, because they were in the library not the basement, but I guess it could have been. They were raising a demon and thought that was the best place to do it.” She shrugged again. “Maybe connected, maybe not. Doesn’t matter now.” She glanced at Spike suddenly.


“I guess we need to try to find Cassie and warn her.”


Spike shook his head. “You plannin’ to tell her you know she’s gonna drop dead anyway?”


Buffy pouted. “There’s got to be a way to let her know she has a bad heart. I’ll think about how to do it. Maybe I’ll just ask her mom why she hasn’t had it fixed…. I dunno. I just hate for her to die so young if she doesn’t need to.”


She turned her attention back to Winston who had cleared his throat rather loudly.


“Have I understood correctly that it was Spike’s blood that brought out the Turok-han?” Winston pursued his first line of thought.


“Was,” Spike replied shortly. “The wanker told me I was going to meet ‘a real vampire’. Didn’t mention he was giving me to it as a plaything.”


“I wonder if it required a vampire’s blood to bring it forth, or if that was coincidental?” Giles seemed to be musing to himself, but Spike answered him anyway.


“Dunno, but he could have grabbed any vampire he wanted. Went to some trouble to get me out of Buffy’s basement, so I’d guess it had as much to do with tryin’ to throw her off her game as it did needing my blood specifically.”


“And did it?” Winston asked shrewdly, seeing the expression on Buffy’s face.


“If by ‘throwing me off my game’ you mean being worried and pissed off enough to kick super-vamp ass, I guess you could say that,” she growled, moving closer to Spike. “I wanted him back. And if I had to go through the First’s ugly guard dog to do it….”


Spike put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “Rescued me good and proper, she did. Thinkin’ my girl wouldn’t be able to handle his pet monster was his first mistake.”


Both Giles and Winston smiled indulgently at Spike’s praise. Winston had already known what kind of slayer Buffy was, and by now, this Giles had seen enough to really appreciate her abilities. Buffy basked in the warmth and admiration for a few moments, then shook herself back to the task at hand.


“Okay. So, we need to get into the school basement and figure out a way to check in there as often as we can. There should be some kind of Parent’s Night or welcome program coming up soon. We can work on it then.”


“There’ll be a way in through the tunnels and sewers,” Spike said. “It’ll be easier if we can find a way in and out that doesn’t depend on getting access through the school itself.”


“I believe our priority right now should be bringing Wesley up to speed on why we need to find this mysterious serial-killer of a priest,” Giles said. “He should be arriving shortly.”




Wesley did indeed arrive soon after that, and after tea was served and greetings made, he sat down at the table and laid a large envelope on it.


“This is all the information I’ve been able to find on the man—the members of his cult are very close-mouthed about him. He is, however, on the LAPD radar due to the girls who’ve gone missing after being seen with him.”


“Is there any way to know if any of them were potential slayers?”


Wesley looked uncomfortable. “Yes and no,” he said. He looked around the table at their skeptical expressions and sighed.  “I received a missive from an old friend at the Council, who was inquiring, unofficially, about one of the missing girls. I managed to worm out of him that she is or was a potential who lived with her parents, but who had a watcher in her life in the event she ever became activated. Needless to say, her watcher is as concerned as her parents, and even more puzzled because her training should have given her an edge in a physical confrontation.”


“Being trained isn’t the same thing as expecting to take a knife in the gut from someone you trust,” Spike snarled.


“No. Alas, that’s quite true. There was one other, but she won’t talk to us after—”


“After?” Buffy prompted him when he seemed unlikely to continue.


“We… actually Angel… found her running down an alley followed by two cloaked men. I stopped her and tried to explain that we were there to help, but she was staring at Angel and her pursuers, and I don’t think she was listening to me. They—not men, it turned out—the creatures—” 


“Bringers,” Buffy interrupted. “That’s what they are. They’ve been here before. They work for the First Evil or something. Anyway, they’re connected to him—it.”


Wes nodded his understanding and continued, “They put up quite a fight, and Angel brought his demon out in order to subdue them. The young lady saw Angel’s true face and….”  He paused again, then said with visible embarrassment, “I’m ashamed to say that she was quite strong. She punched me until I released her. She was also quite fast and I had no chance of catching up to her. Our conclusion was that she may also have been a potential and was able to fight off the initial attack. However, we have no proof of that because we haven’t been able to locate her again. “


“With as many girls as there are in LA, what are the chances that this is a coincidence? That two of his victims are potentials?”


Wesley frowned. “But the circumstances are different. The first girl appears to have been a victim of a serial killer, most definitely. But the other one, as far as we know without being able to speak to her, was being attacked by… Bringers? Is that what you called them?”


“Yes. They’re what attacked the house and got Spike out of the basement so the First could use him. They work for the First Evil, just like the fake preacher does.”


“So, at this point, it may actually be a coincidence that one of his many victims happened to be a potential.”


“Maybe,” Buffy said doubtfully. “But either way, between that and the girl we have here, it’s pretty obvious that the First is targeting potentials.”


“I wonder why he would do that?” Wesley asked, almost to himself. He was thinking hard, but he didn’t miss the looks exchanged around the table. “All right. What don’t I know?”




When, after some cryptic conversation among the other four people, Wesley was finally told about the scythe and the spell Buffy and Willow used to activate all the potential slayers in the world, he sank back in his chair in shock.


“Dear Lord,” he muttered.


“Those were, I believe, my words exactly,” Giles said with a wry smile. “I’ve found myself repeating them over and over as these two explain the things they’ve survived and accomplished.”


“And you did this because… there were thousands of some sort of ancient vampire set to burst into our world?”


Buffy nodded. “There had to be a reason the First was targeting all the potentials. I mean, he could have just kept killing slayers every time one was called. It’s not like one girl—” 


“Two girls,” Spike growled.


“Right, Okay two girls. Still, all he had to do was take out Faith and whoever was called after her. He could have had them picked off one at a time. He’d already sicced his first Turok-han on me.”


“But you used this new weapon to kill that one, yes?” Wesley frowned. “Surely it would have been in his best interest to simply destroy the weapon.”


“Buffy didn’t have the scythe yet when she sent that ugly bugger to hell,” Spike said, beaming proudly at Buffy. “She did for him the old-fashioned way.”


Wesley stared at Buffy, his obvious disbelief fighting with the admiration he could tell everyone else in room obviously felt for her. “How did you do it, then? Did you stake him?”


Buffy shook her head. “I’d already tried that. It didn’t work—not with a regular stake anyway—the stake on the scythe works, but I didn’t have it yet. So I had to cut his head off with a piece of wire.” She spoke casually, as if she destroyed super vampires every day. Spike was still beaming with pride, and she poked him. “Stop it,” she hissed.


Why? You were amazing and I’m proud of you.  And bloody glad you won that fight!


Buffy sent him a mental kiss, but turned her attention back to Wesley.


“It got pretty rough around here in our time. If we hadn’t been able to stop those monsters from getting out, I’m not sure how long it would have taken, but the world would have been in trouble eventually. Not just Sunnydale or California. Having all the potentials powered up was a big help, and so was the scythe when it came to killing them, but it was Spike who pulled the hellmouth closed with them in it. That’s what really shut it down. The girls and I were just trying to slow them down as much as we could.”


Wesley shot Spike an incredulous look, but shook his head rather than ask about it just then. “I have to admit, this is all a bit overwhelming. A magical slayer weapon the Council has never heard of—” He stopped and gave Giles a hard look. “I’m assuming so, anyway.”


“To the best of my knowledge,” Giles agreed. He glanced at Buffy. “Did he—I—have any information in your time?”


Buffy shook her head. “Nope. All I had to go on was how hard the First tried to keep me from finding it. Which is what he used Caleb for, by the way. In addition to killing as many girls as he could get his slimy hands on, he was trying to keep me away from my weapon.” She frowned. “That and what little the Guardian had a chance to tell me before he murdered her. I should’ve killed him twice for that!”


“You did ultimately slay him, then? Even though he was human?”


“Wasn’t all that human by the time Buffy finally got her shiny new super-vamp slaying tool,” Spike growled. “The first was powering him up by that time and with him having the ugly buggers for back up, was a bit touch and go for a while.”


“I see.” Wesley’s demeanor made it clear that not only did he not see, he was dying to know more. Buffy looked at him sympathetically.


“I know you’re missing a lot of information, Wes, but we’re really hoping to keep things a little less exciting this time around. Even though we know it’s going make some major changes in the future we’re almost back to. The important thing now, is to find Caleb. He’s the First’s human helper and I’d like to take him out of the picture before he can do more damage, and before he can get a chance to get all scary-strong.”


“Yes, I can see why that has to be your priority.”


“Well, that and finding my scythe. If I have that when the first Turok-han climbs out….”


“So, what do you need me to do?” Wesley gazed around the table, but centered his gaze on Buffy and Spike.


“If you can find this guy for us, we can try to catch him before he gets here.”


“And do what? Assuming he is still fully human at this point?”


“He’s still a bloody wanker that kills little girls for fun,” Spike growled. “He’ll get what’s comin’ to him.”


 When Wesley frowned at Spike as if not sure he’d heard him correctly, Winston surprised everyone by answering the unspoken question on Wesley’s face.


“The man in question is already a serial killer, is he not? While it may seem to you that we’re unfairly targeting him because of things he did in our timelines, it seems he has already earned his place in hell in this one. Buffy may have some reservations about putting him down like the mad dog he is, but neither Spike nor I have those same issues.” 


Winston’s expression sent Wesley flinching back from man he’d only known as someone who “dabbled in magic.”


“I see,” he said, looking around and seeing nothing but agreement on the faces staring at him. “Well, let me take this information back with me and look into the matter further. We do have a few contacts in the police department who may be willing to share what they know about the man. They may even know how to find him.”


“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy said. “If it stays quiet here, maybe Spike and I will decide to take our honeymoon in LA. Kill two birds with one stone…. Um, maybe that wasn’t a very good way to put it….” Buffy bit her lip, then shrugged. “But, you know what? We are what we are.” 


“Honeymoon?” Wesley’s expression went from serious to astonished.


After filling him in on their planned wedding, and assuring Wes that he was more than welcome to attend it, they just hadn’t sent formal invitations out, Buffy thanked him for the information and got his promise in return that he would email Giles frequently to keep them apprised of how the search was going. And that he would be delighted to come to the wedding. Somewhat reluctantly, Spike agreed that putting Angel to work looking for Bringers and removing them when he could might be a good way to keep him out of their hair and busy.


“If he feels like he’s being useful to Buffy, it might make him less worried about how often you talk to us.” Spike grumbled as he spoke, but nodded at Buffy’s smile of approval.


“I’ll be in touch.” Wes stood up, shook hands with everyone, then let himself out the door.


“What do think?” Buffy asked of no one in particular.


“I think it’s the best we can do right now. I find it a bit concerning that the Bringers are already targeting potentials,” Giles said with a sigh. “If it’s happening in our own backyard, so to speak, what might be going on in the rest of the world?”


“A good question. I guess we’ll find out.”


“Not till after my wedding!” Buffy said firmly.



Chapter Six



Plans for the wedding proceeded. As promised, Buffy’s dress and a choice of veils had been delivered to the apartment office and Max smiled as he handed them to Buffy.


“Will you need assistance getting them down to your apartment?” he asked. “Not that they require a great deal of physical strength, but it could be awkward managing a long garment bag as well as this interesting box.”


After Buffy struggled for several minutes to hold the dress up high enough not to drag the bottom of the bag on the floor, and at the same time to hold a lightweight, but quite large box with one hand, she gave up and smiled sheepishly at Max.


“If you don’t mind…. Or, no, never mind. I can just take the dress down and run back up here for the box.  I’ll be right back.”


She got herself and the dress bag through the door Max was holding open for her, and carefully made her way down the steps and around the corner to her apartment. As soon as she’d hung the bag containing her dress on the back of the closet door, she ran back out, not bothering to close the outside door, and up the steps to take her box of veils.


“Thanks, Max. I really appreciated knowing there would be a safe place for the delivery guy to leave this stuff.”


“You’re quite welcome, Buffy. If there’s anything else you need from me to help with the preparations, just let me know.”


Buffy bit her lip. “I kinda wish the woman who owns the shop had delivered it herself. I’d like to know how you’d react to her.”


He frowned. “Is there something evil about her?”


“No. It’s just me being all paranoid and slayery. I’m sure it’s fine. I don’t think she’s evil, just… maybe not… as human as she could be?”


“Well, it would be difficult for me to visit a bridal shop as if I was just casually window shopping, but if she worries you….”


Buffy shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. After I pick which of these veils I want, I’ll have to return the rest of them and I’ll have another chance to look at her. Maybe I’ll take Spike with me. He’ll be able to tell if she’s not human, I think.” She looked at Max from the corner of her eye. “I thought she might be magic, you know, a really powerful witch or something like you and Winston, but he told me there was no way she could be like either one of you without you knowing it.”


Max’s brow wrinkled as he started to frown, then changed his mind and shook his head. “I suppose he’s right. I could certainly feel the disruption when Glory was here, and I could sense Rack’s malevolent presence always in the background. Although, it’s not as though I could have followed a trail right to his door. But I haven’t felt anything unusual since he was sent on his way. If this woman does have a magical presence, it must be a benign one that doesn’t call attention to itself.”


“That’s good to know. I don’t have any reason to think she’s evil, she just gives off a ‘I’m more than you think I am’ kinda vibe, you know?”


Max smiled and quirked an eyebrow at her. “Somewhat like yourself, perhaps?”


Buffy blushed and mumbled, “Yeah, okay, maybe like that.”





After Buffy had modeled all the veils for Spike—naked, at his request—and after she made it clear she was not going to wear it while he made love to her until after the wedding, a disappointed Spike still managed to bring them both to a state of mutually satisfied drowsiness. Leaving the discarded veils folded on top of the box they came in, they drifted off to sleep.  Buffy had carefully hung her chosen veil, made of soft, draping lace to coordinate with the gown, in the closet before she joined Spike on the bed.


 In the morning, she packed up the rejected veils to return them to the store.


“You should come with me,” she said as she got dressed.


“Why? You’ve got everything now, haven’t you? Got your dress, got me to help you decide on the veil…. know you don’t need me to help you pick out shoes.”


“I want you to meet her,” Buffy mumbled. “The shop owner, I mean. I want your opinion about her.”


He frowned. “You want my opinion, or you want me to sniff out if she’s evil?”


“I don’t think she’s evil evil, just maybe not quite as human as she looks?” Buffy bit her lip. “She’s nothing like the Guardian I met in our time. I mean she couldn’t be more different… but it’s almost that same kind of vibe, you know?  Like she’s been around forever and knows stuff.”


“All right, love. I’ll come with you to meet the mysterious shop keeper. Did you say she knows what I am?”


“Yep. And she knew about the claim. Recognized the bite for what it is right away.”


“Reckon she does know some stuff, then,” he agreed. “Let’s see how she handles an old vampire.”




Sarah raised a well-groomed eyebrow when Spike followed Buffy from the sun-warmed sidewalk into the shop, but she didn’t say a thing. She just smiled and took the box of unwanted veils from Buffy.


“Just let me put these away and I’ll be right back,” she said, making no attempt to act like they weren’t planning to stay awhile. She handed the box off to her assistant, who disappeared into the back of the store with it, then turned to beam at Buffy and Spike.


“So, which one did you choose?” she asked Buffy as she walked toward them.  “Was it the Irish lace with the soft drape?”


Buffy made a face. “Why do I think you already knew I’d choose that one? You could have just said ‘Here, this is the one he’ll like’.” She tried to grumble, but ended up smiling instead as she remembered modeling the veils for Spike.


“Ah, but then your handsome mate wouldn’t have had a chance to participate in the choosing, would he?”  Sarah glanced at Spike and winked.


“There is that,” he agreed, responding to her wink and tone with a grin, in spite of having entered the shop fully prepared to appear as intimidating as he could. 


Buffy giggled at his immediately obvious annoyance at himself for being so easily sidetracked by the reminder of how he’d helped her decide, but Sarah ignored his soft growl to turn her attention back to Buffy.


“So, you’re all set now? Dress, veil…. shoes?”


“It’s outside, so I’m thinking shoes need to be something that won’t sink into the ground like heels, or get grass-stained. I’m actually kinda leaning toward sandals or even flip flops, to be honest.” Buffy smiled apologetically at having to reject whatever silk or satin shoes Sarah may have had in mind.


“Ah. Well, let me see what I can find in the back. Why don’t you and… William, is it?... sit down? I’ll be right back.”


Neither Buffy nor Spike made any attempt to argue, just sinking into the comfortable chairs located near the dressing room.


“Why are we sitting here?” Spike muttered. “I wasn’t planning to do that.”


Buffy giggled. “We’re sitting because she told us to. Now you know why I wanted you to meet her.  What do you think?”


“Don’t know what to think, love. She definitely reminds me of Winnie when he’s charming his way into somebody’s good graces. But… I’m not getting that same vibe that I get around him.”


“You get a vibe from Winston? You never said that before.”


“Didn’t notice it when we first met him. Think he may have been hiding his magical side just a bit until he got to know us better. But now? Yeah, I can feel the magic… and the danger, if I’m honest. Just never mentioned it because he’s on our side.”


Buffy gave him one of her “we’re going to talk about his later” looks before asking, “Can you sense Max?”


Spike laughed. “You know I can’t. I suspect Max keeps his secrets right close to his chest, no matter how much he might like or trust the people around him.”


Their conversation was interrupted when Sarah returned holding a pair of thong sandals on a pillow. Buffy’s gasp of appreciation made both Spike and the shop owner smile.


“So, you like them?” She held the cushion out so that Buffy could take the sandals from her. “Why don’t you try them on?”


Quickly shedding her sneakers and socks, Buffy glanced from her painted toenails to Sarah. “Don’t you want me to put some kind of footies on? So I don’t get them dirty?”


“It’ll be fine,” Sarah said with smile. “I can clean them if need be. They are much more durable than they look.”


Buffy frowned dubiously, but picked up one of the delicate-looking sandals to look at it more closely. The bed of the sandal, while sparkling white and smooth, seemed to be contoured to a foot shape and had actual small tread on the sole. Almost like a dressy version of a hiking sandal. The top, however, was made of a diaphanous white lace strap arrangement that managed to appear incredibly delicate and yet, when Buffy slipped it on, turned out to hold her foot quite firmly. She quickly slipped into the other shoe and got up to walk around the store. The sandals seemed to be fitting themselves to her feet as she walked, and by the time she got back to Spike and held one up for his perusal, they felt like an extension of her body.


Spike’s expression when Buffy held her shapely lace-clad foot up to his face made her blush. She suddenly remembered that his Victorian roots gave him a more than normal appreciation for the sight of a foot or ankle. She heard Sarah laughing softly behind her, even as she brought her foot back to the floor and watched Spike shake himself back to reality.


Spike! Focus. And wipe that expression off your face!


Sorry, love. Couldn’t help it. You put on those shoes and the veil after the wedding, and we’re never comin’ back from the honeymoon!


Blushing again, Buffy shook her head and sat down to take the sandals off. She handed them to Sarah saying, “I guess you can tell we—I’ll take them.  How much do I owe you by now?”


“It’s not a problem,” Sarah said as she slipped the sandals into a tissue filled box. She put the box into a small shopping bag and handed it to Buffy. “You can decide what you can afford, and­­—”


Spike stood up abruptly, suddenly looking much more like the old vampire he was and less like a besotted husband-to-be.


“We can afford whatever it is,” he said, his eyes flashing amber just long enough for Sarah to flinch before she recovered herself.


“Of course you can,” she soothed. “I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t able to take care of the Slayer’s wants and needs, William. I’ll work up the bill and mail it to you, if that’s all right?”


While Spike looked mildly ashamed of his outburst, Sarah beamed at Buffy. “You’ve made such a wonderful choice for your life partner. So much more appropriate than that other vampire you once dated.” 


“Too bloody right!” Spike agreed, his disgruntled expression replaced by a smile.


“Well, I’m sure you two have important things to do today. Perhaps a tour of local wineries? I hear there may be some new wineries and vineyards open since the last time you looked around.”  As Sarah herded them toward the door, even though they hadn’t actually intended to leave yet, she smiled at them, saying, “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been to help with this wedding. Please don’t hesitate to call on me if there’s anything else I can do.”




“Well, that didn’t go the way I planned,” Spike grumbled as they walked to the car, still trying to decide if he’d been magicked out of the shop, or just charmed into leaving with Buffy.


“I told you. She’s better than Winston,” Buffy said smugly as she got in the passenger side. 


“She’s a lot better lookin’. I’ll give her that.” He snorted. “I’m just wondering what her other secret power is and if it’s as scary as Winnie’s.” He put the car in gear and pulled away from the curb. “And what did she mean by she thinks the vineyard is open now? How the bloody hell does she know we’re looking for a vineyard?”


Buffy shrugged. “I wish I knew, but it could mean she’s on our side and not that she’s trying to send us into a trap…”


“Could be…. or not. You’re not goin’ looking without me. I know you fought your way to that Slayer weapon by yourself in our time, but it’ll be a lot easier with both of us.”




After a couple of hours of looking at perfectly innocent wineries and vineyards, they had just decided to give it up for the day when they simultaneously spoke as they passed a patch of woods.


“Isn’t that it?”


“Where’d this one come from?”


Buffy shook her head. “I would swear we drove right by here yesterday and there was nothing here but trees.”


“Didn’t get out to check, though, did we?” Spike growled, his anger at himself perfectly clear to Buffy through the claim connection. He was already swinging the car into a U turn, heedless of any potentially dangerous other traffic.


“Nope. We didn’t. We just thought it was woods. That was dumb.”


Spike pulled into the now-visible parking lot and stopped the car. They stared at the old building in front of them, remembering the first time when they’d followed a Bringer right into a trap.


“Well, what do you think, love? Is our mysterious shopkeeper trying to help you find your weapon sooner, or is she sending us down to meet the First’s right-hand man?”


“It’s way earlier in the year than it was when we went in here for the first time back then. And according to Wesley, Caleb is still in LA, so I think we should go in. If I can get the scythe now….” She didn’t finish her comment, just pushed her door open and got out, patted her pockets to make sure she had stakes, and hanging a sword down her back.


“Let’s go then.” He opened his own door and stepped out into the fading sunlight.





Chapter seven



They approached cautiously, even though, this early in the year, they had no reason to think there was anything down in the cellar but spiders, and maybe a few bats.  Buffy yanked on the sagging door, leaving it hanging open while she stepped into the dimly lit entryway beyond. She immediately spotted the stairs leading down to the wine cellar.


“Let me go first, yeah?” Spike said, going into game face and peering into the darkness at the bottom of the staircase.


“I brought a flashlight,” Buffy grumbled, but got behind him anyway, resting her hand on his shoulder as he navigated the steps. By the time he’d stopped and was gazing around, her eyes had adjusted to the dimness. With the remaining outside light penetrating some distance into the big room, it was possible to make out the shapes of kegs and equipment.


“If we came here when the sun was up, I could see as much as you could.” She frowned suddenly. “Weren’t here some kind of lights before? I remember we could see just fine… except maybe back in the corners….”


Spike frowned also. “Good point. We should’ve needed torches and lanterns, but we didn’t.”


Buffy shrugged. “Good thing, since we didn’t think to bring them back then. But it’s weird that we didn’t.”


She watched Spike as he walked around the room, peering at the walls and the old light fixtures set high up on them and hanging from the ceiling. He stopped when he got back to the steps. He stared hard at the stairs, then jumped half-way up and reached forward to hit a switch. With a few flickers, several of the long unused lights settled into providing enough light to see around the big room.


“Now that I think of it, the fact that we had enough light to see by should have been our first inkling that it was trap. What the bloody fuck were we thinking?”


Buffy stiffened. “You’re right,” she said softly. “I should have realized the lights were on for a reason. Xander called it. He said it sounded like a trap, but I blew him off. Another way I screwed up that whole trip….” Her shoulders drooped as the full weight of what she’d just said sank in, and she shuddered. “It really was all my fault those girls were killed… and Xander lost his eye…. Even if I didn’t listen to him before, I should have realized about the lights and turned around…. ”


Spike had his arms around her before she even finished speaking, holding her tightly against his chest.


“There were plenty of other people there with you, love. Including yours truly. Not a one of us stopped to question why this old building still had working electricity or why the lights were on. Shake those thoughts off right now.  We’re here to fix things so it’s different this time around. And we will. Harris can thank you for his two good eyes once we’ve kicked First Evil arse.”


Buffy turned her head around and smiled sadly at him. “What would I do without you to talk me into doing the right thing?” She rubbed her face against his neck. 


He squeezed even more tightly and said, “Oh, you’d muddle along without me, sweetheart. I’ve got faith in you.” He nuzzled the top of her head. “Of course, your life would have been a lot more boring….”


“Very funny,” she said, turning around in his embrace to face him. “And possibly very true. I love you, you know.”


“I know,” he said, suddenly serious. “Still struggle to believe it sometimes, but I know it.”


“Just so we’re all straight about that.” She pulled loose and turned to go farther into the room. “Now, where is that trap door that leads down to my scythe?”


Spike followed Buffy as she tried to picture in her mind the route she’d taken to get to the scythe. Weaving her way past the kegs of the, by now, very well-aged wine, she came to an opening in the floor. One that led into complete darkness. She pulled out the heavy flashlight she’d brought with her and pointed the beam down into the hole. The stairs disappeared into more blackness, but she started down them anyway.


Grumbling about letting the creature of darkness go first, Spike was right behind her, using his own darkness-piercing vision and his enhanced hearing ability to search for any sign that the scythe, if it was down there, had any sort of unpleasant protection.


Even as his ears registered the sound of breathing, Buffy was already bringing her flashlight around to strike the face of the Bringer that had risen up in front of her. She used the few seconds that blow bought her to snatch the sword from its scabbard on her back and remove the creature’s head all in the same continuous motion. She was bending down to retrieve her light when Spike’s snarl alerted her to another presence. He hurtled over her to tackle another Bringer, his charge carrying them to the floor behind her.


Buffy straightened up, already swinging her sword in an arc to clear space in front of her.  The flashlight was still at her feet and only illuminating the space directly ahead of it. But between the dim light coming from the top of the stairs and what the flashlight was able to make more visible, she could make out the dark shapes coming out of the shadows.  Spike had ripped the head off his opponent and was now standing with his back to her. He had no trouble seeing into the shadows himself, leaving her to do what she could with the light she had.


I don’t hear much movement, Slayer. I think the ones we can see are all we have to worry about. I’ve got three in front of me, how about you?


Just the dead one in front of me and two more trying to get me to come to them.


“Not as dumb as they look, then?” he said aloud.


“Maybe not,” Buffy grunted as she met the simultaneous charges with a sword and a fist. She ripped the sword free of one Bringers chest, hoping that it was at least mortally wounded if not dead. The one she hit with her fist was quickly on its feet and attacking again, but a spin out of reach and a swipe with the sword took care of it.


Meanwhile, Spike was in a snarling, biting tangle with two of the three that had been approaching from behind Buffy. The third one tried to attack Buffy from the side as she moved around trying to find a way to strike a killing blow without accidentally beheading her mate. With the confidence born of having already survived the First and its minions, and with even more years of ordinary slaying under her belt, Buffy quickly showed it that her peripheral vision was working just fine. As were her reflexes when she met its charge with the point of her sword. She kicked the body out of her way, then stepped over the one she’d stabbed in the chest, pausing to remove its head when she thought she saw it twitch, then picked up her flashlight.


She turned to the ongoing melee to see that Spike had managed to rip the throat out of one of his opponents, and it was trying to crawl away from the now much more even battle between Spike and the remaining Bringer. Buffy put the bleeding creature out of its misery and stepped closer to Spike. 


“Say when, Spike,” she said, leaning on the sword.


“I’ve got this,” he growled, as he sat up and twisted the head off the Bringer now beneath him. 


Buffy shined the light around the area, shuddering a bit at the headless and bleeding bodies.  “Why can’t everything go poof like vampires do?” she whined, only half-seriously. She raised the light and sent the beam out into the darkness, turning slowly until she’d illuminated every corner of the area as far as the beam could reach.


“I don’t see any more of them, do you?”


“Don’t see any and don’t hear anything, but doesn’t mean they aren’t just biding their time…”


“Maybe. But if their boss isn’t expecting me yet….”


“They were just-in-case guards. Could be right, pet, but let’s not hang around to find out.  Do you see any sign of the scythe?”


“It should be just about…..” As she spoke, Buffy’s gaze was following the beam of light to a pile of dirt from which they could just make out a familiar-looking handle sticking up. “Here!” 


Without further conversation, she gestured to Spike to stay back and keep watch, then walked up to the dirt pile to grab the handle. Which didn’t budge….


“Damn! It’s stuck in there. It was easy last time.”


“Last time it wasn’t buried in a pile of hardened clay mud, was it?”


“No,” she sighed. “It was stuck in a big stone, but just the blade, and it came right out for me.”


“Just like Excalibur, yeah?”


“Something like that.” She looked around for a tool to use, finally locating a pick and shovel nearby. “Do you think they were trying to hide it?”


“Hide it or get it out so they could put it somewhere you wouldn’t find it. Doesn’t matter, it’s yours now. Let’s get diggin’, love. It’s already dark outside. No sense staying here any longer than we have to.”


Without further discussion, Buffy propped the flashlight up on one of the Bringer bodies so that it illuminated the mound of hardened dirt which she started whacking at with the pick.  Spike attacked the other side with the shovel, and eventually was able to begin tossing dirt over his shoulder into the shadows. After some time, where the only sounds they made were grunts of effort, they had managed to uncover more of the scythe. Buffy stopped swinging the pick, afraid she was going to hit the scythe with it.


She gave Spike, who was still throwing shovelfuls of dirt over his shoulder, an apologetic smile.


“I’m afraid to hit it.”


“I’m pretty sure you can’t hurt it, but better safe than sorry,” he agreed. “So, dig with our hands now?”


“Maybe…. or maybe we’ve loosened it up enough to….” Buffy grabbed the handle and pulled as hard as she could. She flew backward and landed face up, holding the scythe up triumphantly.  “Ta da!”


“On your feet, love. You can celebrate after you try it out.”  Spike stood between her and a Turok-han that had suddenly appeared out of the darkness.


Buffy was on her feet, weapon in hand almost before he finished speaking. The Turok-han backhanded Spike out of the way as if he was just a human, its gaze focused on Buffy and the scythe. She could feel the power flowing from the weapon into her body, and she waited, balancing on the balls of her feet, for the attack. Which came much faster than she was expecting, sending her to the ground again while the Turok-han tried to wrestle the scythe away from her. Clinging to it with everything she had, Buffy glared back into the yellow eyes challenging hers.


“Not on your life, you ugly bastard,” she gritted out. Unable to do anything to him without releasing her two-handed grip on the scythe, she was reduced to exchanging hate-filled glares as he also used both hands to try to wrest it away from her. From the corner of her eye, Buffy could see Spike, shaking his head to clear it as he approached them, his demon to the fore.


Little help?


He didn’t respond, just leapt onto the old vampire’s back and began trying to twist its head off. With no choice but to relinquish his grip on the scythe, the Turok-han gave a guttural snarl and let go to reach behind him and grab Spike’s head. Buffy didn’t waste time on quips or thought, only turning the scythe until she could shove the stake through the Turok-han’s chest.


Released from the painful grip on his head, Spike fell back and lay there for a few seconds, taking unnecessary breaths. Buffy sat up and shook the dust away, still hanging on to the scythe with all her strength.


“Are you okay?” she asked.


“I’m fine. But really glad we didn’t have to test the ring’s ability to repair me if something pulled my head off.”  He stood up, rubbing his neck as he held out one hand to Buffy. “Don’t know about you, love, but I’m ready to get the hell out of this bloody place.”


“Right behind you,” she said, allowing him to pull her to her feet. “Or in front of you….” she amended when he pushed her to the stairs and boosted her up by putting both hands on her butt.  “Hey!” she yelped when he pinched one cheek.


“Get that luscious arse up those stairs and out of this place, Slayer. Then you can yell at me for pinching it.”


They went through the wine cellar quickly, with Spike slapping the light switch on the way out and plunging them into more darkness.


“Now, I’m leadin’,” he said, waiting for her to grab on to his coat and follow him to the car. Once safely inside, they sighed in relief and exchange rueful smiles.


“We did it,” Buffy said. “And nobody got hurt or killed.”


As he turned the car on and began drive away, Spike shook his head. “Nobody we know got killed. We don’t know what brought that meant-to-be-extinct vamp out here. And, I don’t know about you, but I’m bloody grateful for this ring right now.”  He shot a sideways look at her. “Protection you don’t have, I’d like to point out.”


“Pffft. I’ve got slayer healing. Almost as good.”


“Is not,” he growled. “You need to get into a hot bath and then get a good night’s sleep.”


“I want to show the scythe to Giles and Winston,” she said with a distinct lack of conviction in her voice.




“Tomorrow,” she agreed, leaning back and caressing the scythe.


“You keep petting that thing like that, I’m liable to get jealous,” Spike said with a smile in her direction.


“I don’t think I realized how much I missed it until I got my hands on it again.  I mean, I knew it would have come in handy to have already, especially when Glory was around, but I didn’t physically miss it. Now I can’t believe I wasn’t jonesing for it for the past three years.”




A much rested and recovered Buffy preceded Spike into the Magic Box the next morning, the scythe carefully tucked into an extra-long duffle bag. She smiled at Winston and Giles, saying, “I’ve got a surprise!”


“Shall we assume from the size of the bag that you are not referring to shoes for the wedding?”


Buffy blinked for a second, then laughed. “Well, I did get beautiful sandals to wear at the wedding, but that’s not the best thing Mrs. Johnson gave me.”


She plopped the bag on the floor, opened it, and pulled out the scythe, laying it on the table for them to admire. Before putting it in the bag, she had carefully cleaned off all the dirt still sticking to it and it now gleamed. Even the wooden parts seemed clean and shiny.


“Dear Lord,” Giles whispered. “Is that….” He walked around the table looking at it from all angles. Meanwhile, Winston was doing his own visual inspection. He glanced at Buffy, his hand hovering over the weapon.


“May I?”


“Huh? Oh yeah. You can touch it. But Willow said she didn’t feel—”


Before she could finish her warning, Winston had placed his hand on the scythe, then snatched it back with a shocked, “Bloody hell….” He stared at Buffy. “I don’t know when I’ve felt such power in an object.”


“Huh. Willow couldn’t feel anything in our time. I can feel its power, but it’s meant for me. It’s made for a slayer to wield.”


“And wield it she can,” Spike said. “Even if I hadn’t seen her in action back in our time, the way she used it last night would have convinced me.”


“Last night? Is that when you got it?” Giles spoke as he rested his own hand on the handle, trying to feel the power for himself. “Are you saying that the wedding shop owner gave this to you yesterday?” He removed his hand and, in response to his raised eyebrow, gave Winston a disgruntled shake of his head.


“Not so much gave it to me, as hinted very strongly that the vineyard we’ve started looking for, but haven’t been able to find yet, would be findable. And she was right. We found it, walked in, found the scythe where it had been buried for a long time, dug it out, and—”


“And then had to fight our way out past a Turok-han that came runnin’ to try to stop her.”


Giles got paler. “A Turok-han. There’s one here, in Sunnydale?”


Was one here. The Slayer and her shiny new favorite toy did for him.”


“So, you had no trouble then? Not like in your own time?”


“Oh, we had trouble. It was guarded by a bunch of Bringers, so we had to get rid of them before we could dig it out. And the Turok-han showed up just as I pulled it loose. But between the two of us, we took care of all of them.  It wasn’t as bad as it was in our time, when it was a trap and Caleb was already powered up, but it wasn’t exactly easy peasy either.”


“But you were able to find and retrieve it in your time, isn’t that what you said?”


“I did, but it took a couple of tries and a lot of bruises before I was able to take it out of there.” She smiled at Spike. “I had my own sort of power-upper person, and he gave me the confidence I needed to go get my weapon.”


Giles and Winston looked to Spike for an explanation, but he just shrugged, saying, “All I did was remind her of how special she is. She did all the rest herself.”


“What are your plans for it now?” Giles tried not to stare at it too eagerly, but Buffy noticed and put a proprietary hand on the scythe.


“I’ll use it when I need it. If we don’t get to Caleb before he gets powered up, I might need it for him. And if any more Turok-hans show up… it’s about the only thing that can dust them easily.” She glanced at Spike. “We need to get down into that school basement and see if the seal has been broken.”


They all nodded, although Winston offered, “It’s possible the Turok-han has been there guarding the weapon for centuries. Never leaving its post.”


“Maybe, but we’re going to check anyway.”



Chapter Eight





A perusal of the old basement under the high school showed no signs that the seal over the hellmouth had been disturbed, and after looking around carefully for any sign that there had been visitors to the area, Buffy and Spike made their way back out through the well-hidden tunnel entrance.


“Tell me again why you know how to do this?”


“Lucky guess, pet. Plus, a look at a town map and a less-than-fun time being crazy down here and having nothing else to do. Didn’t spend all my time hiding in one room before you found me. The rats and mice didn’t come to me, so I had to go looking for food, didn’t I?”


“Ugh! And yeah, I guess you did have time to figure out how to get in and out without going through the school.”


“Wanted no part of being around people. Visits from the First in the form of dead ones was more than enough socializing for me.”


Buffy shifted the scythe to her other hand. Since getting it out of the winery, she hadn’t let it out of her sight except to put it under the bed when they were sleeping. She knew chances were pretty slim she would find anything requiring that kind of a weapon, but having to fight a Turok-han so early in the year had spooked her more than she wanted to admit. Spike of course, saw right through her.


“I suspect Winnie’s right, love, and that ugly bugger had been snoozing away for centuries waiting for someone to try to take that shiny new toy of yours. You aren’t going to need that thing for a good while…. or if ever…. if we’ve done our job.”


She sighed and gave him a smile, sending a mental I love you even as she shook her head. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “But Caleb is still out there killing girls, and the Bringers are still running around killing potentials, so I think we have to be ready for anything.”


“We–you’ve got a lot more muscle on your side this time, Buffy. I’m not dancin’ to the First’s tune this time around, and you’ve got Winnie… and probably Max if we need him.  For all we know, the bloody LAPD will do its job and arrest Caleb before he can do too much harm or get powered up.”


“According to Faith, the First has accomplices in prisons… which make sense, I guess. Evil—evil-doers, kind of go together, don’t they?”


“You’re right, pet. We need to be prepared.” He gave her a sideways look and nodded at the scythe. “But if you think you’re carrying that thing down the aisle when we get married, I’m callin’ it off. Don’t care how shiny it is.”


Buffy laughed. “Note to self, ask Mom to hold the scythe… or maybe Abby. I wonder if she can feel the power or if it’s just activated slayers?”




“Spike, honey, sweetie…. you know I love you, right?”


“Uh oh. This doesn’t sound like a conversation I’m going to enjoy….”


“I just… I mean… you are who you are, and I do love you… but I have this amazing dress and—”


“And you don’t want to be embarrassed by walking down the aisle to a man who looks like he’s there to cut the grass?”  He gave her a disappointed head shake. “Do you think I’m that stupid, love?”


Buffy sighed. “No. I don’t think you’re stupid. I know you wouldn’t do that to me, but…” She waved her hand around the very small bedroom with its tiny closet. “I don’t see anything for you here.”


“Do you trust me, sweetheart?”


“Yes….” Knowing she sounded dubious, she quickly flashed him a warm of course I do! before he could take offense.


“Then trust me that when you come out of the house on Saturday and walk toward me, you won’t be embarrassed. Alright?”


“All right. I trust you. I’m sorry I mentioned it.”


“No worries, love. I’ll have on my best clean tee-shirt and jeans.”


“Very funny… not!”


He just laughed and waved her out the door. “You go to your mum’s and finish whatever planning has to be done, and don’t worry about me.”




When Buffy got to Joyce’s she saw that her “wedding committee” as she referred to them, were already gathered and working out last minute details. She watched with bemused affection as everything from seating the small number of guests to who was in charge of which refreshments was given to someone who dutifully made note of it on small pads of yellow paper that Willow had brought with her and handed out along with colorful pencils.


“So, you don’t really need me here, huh?” Buffy teased, causing everyone but Anya to look embarrassed.


Anya simply nodded and said, “That’s right. We’ve got it all under control. All you have to do is show up on time.”


Joyce broke in with a warm smile. “I’m hoping you’ll at least want to get dressed here. Is that all right with you?”


“Absolutely, Mom. I was already planning on it. I’ll bring the dress and veil over tomorrow and they can just be hanging in my old room, waiting for me….”


Joyce beamed and turned to Dawn. “You see, Dawn? She’s way ahead of us.”


“Shee-ah,” was the disbelieving reply. “I’ll bet she just thought of that now.” Dawn snorted and stuck her tongue out at Buffy.


Who retaliated with her own tongue, leading Willow to remark that neither of them seemed old enough to be getting married. There were giggles all around and Buffy found herself basking in the sounds and wondered what she’d done to be allowed such a moment of complete contentment.


“Penny for your thoughts?” Willow asked, her small smile making it clear she had a good idea what they were.


“I was just thinking how perfect this is, and how nothing could spoil it for me.” 


When even her mother gaped at her in amazement and apprehension, she realized what she’d done.  Turning her eyes skyward, she gasped, “I didn’t mean that! I really didn’t. It’s all awful! I don’t know how I’m going to cope!”


Everyone shook their heads in dismay, while Buffy just repeatedly smacked her forehead on the kitchen counter, but no one actually answered Joyce’s “Buffy? Who are you talking to?”.


“Well, let’s hope that worked,” Anya said briskly. “It never has before, but hey, the Powers really like you and Spike, so who knows?”


Changing the subject, Dawn asked, “Um, Buffy, did you talk to Spike about….”


Willow answered for Buffy. “Xander says he and Spike have it all under control, so we’re not to worry about them.”


Buffy nodded. “Yep. I did and he pretty much told me the same thing, so….”


“I presume we’re talking about Spike’s normal manner of dressing… which is wildly inappropriate for a wedding,” Anya said. “Giles might have been a better choice to help him with that, but Xander may be able to be useful.”


Willow stood up for her best male friend, glaring at Anya. “Xander will be just fine. He knows about things like wedding suits.”


Anya gave a dismissive sniff, which was followed by silence as everyone absorbed her complete lack of interest in her former fiancé. Joyce struggled to get the meeting back on track before it deteriorated any further.


“So,” she said brightly. “Are we all squared away now? Everybody knows their job, and everybody who needs to be there has been told what time it will be and where, right?”


There were nods all around, as the very small list of people to be invited was outnumbered by the participants.




“Where are you going….” Spike mumbled from where he had a light-blocking pillow over his face.


“I’m going to my mom’s,” Buffy said as she pulled the scythe in its new case out from under the bed. “Remember?  I’m going to help with any heavy lifting she needs with furniture and stuff, and then I’m going to have a relaxing bath, wash my hair, and get myself all dressed and pretty for our wedding.”


“Oh yeah. That’s today, isn’t it?”  He sent her a warm vision of herself modeling one of the veils to take the sting out of his words. How could I forget?


“It is today, smartass. See that you and your best man show up when you’re supposed to. And don’t spend the day drinking beer!”


“Oh ho. I see how it’s going to be. I’m not sure I’m going to like this marriage thing.”


His laughter was silent, but the amusement came through the claim loud and clear.


“Tough luck, for you. It’s going to happen. At six this evening, to be exact. So be there.”


Looking much like she was a musician carrying her instrument, Buffy took her scythe and walked out the door into the sunlight. In spite of Spike’s desire for more sleep, it was actually already noon and she hastened to her mother’s home to get there in time to be useful.




After being chased out of the downstairs and yard by her mother and Dawn, Buffy took herself up to her room and stretched out on her old bed. She contemplated the familiar ceiling for a few moments, wondering idly if she was going to be able to keep if from collapsing with the rest of the city this time around.


Wow. That puts this into perspective, doesn’t it? If we fail this time, the whole world might go down with us. No amulet means no burning up Spike’s soul to close the hellmouth forever. And no house full of potentials means no army of girls to empower if it comes to that. This could actually be worse instead of better….


No sooner had she had that thought, then Warren Mears suddenly appeared in her room.


“You think you’ve got this, don’t you,” he sneered. “Little miss goody-two shoes and her tame vampire, getting into everybody’s business.”


Buffy’s heartrate went up until she realized what was going on.


“Take a hike,” she said, sitting up and slowing her breathing. “You’re not gonna make it out of there this time either.”


Warren frowned in confusion for a second, causing Buffy to take note that the First apparently didn’t know where or when she was from. She smirked at it and shook her head.


It hesitated, then continued in Warren’s smarmy way, “I can do this the hard way if I have to. I can pick those wannabe slayers off one at a time until you’re the only one left. And then I’ll get you. I might even give your boyfriend a little nudge and he’ll do it for me. Poetic justice. You spread your legs for him, and he bites you until you die.”


“You let me know how that works out for you, huh?” Buffy said, getting to her feet and moving in its direction. “In the meantime, get the hell out of here, I have to get ready for a wedding.”


As she reached it and waved her hand in front of its face, it disappeared with an audible popping noise. She shook herself and debated about calling everyone, then decided she’d just wait until the wedding was over to remind everybody that the First could appear to them as anyone who was or had been dead.


She didn’t enjoy the hot bath quite as much as she might have if she wasn’t spooked by the idea of the First peering in at her. But she scrubbed and exfoliated and then moisturized anyway, prior to doing her make-up and hair. When she looked to herself as good as she thought she could, she went downstairs in her bathrobe to make sure everything was all right.


“It’s all fine, Buffy, we were just getting ready to come upstairs to get ready ourselves.  And Willow is here to help you get dressed.”


Buffy smiled at Willow who was holding her own bridesmaid dress in one hand, and a small cosmetic case in another.


“C’mon up. We need some best-friend time.”


As Willow followed her up the stairs, she said, “I kinda thought Spike was your best friend now?”


Buffy halted at the top and turned to stare at Willow’s frowning face.


She started to deny it, then sighed. “I’m sorry, Wills. I guess it seems that way now. And to be honest, he is my best friend, as well as my partner in slaying and my lover. But, he’s a guy, you know? It’s not the same, trust me.”


Willow’s expression brightened. “He is, isn’t he? A guy I mean. Just like Xander’s my best friend, but also a guy. And guys like guy things.”


“They do. I just hope they don’t get so busy liking guy things that they forget to get dressed and be here on time.”


“I’ll turn them both into frogs if they do,” Willow vowed. “Stupid, ugly, little frogs.”


They giggled together and then went about the business of getting dressed. As they stepped from Buffy’s room, they ran into Dawn, who was wearing a blue version of the soft green dress Willow had on. In order to blend with Buffy’s gown, their own dresses were knee-length sheaths of slightly less amazing fabric than Buffy’s body-hugging, yet modest gown. Courtesy of Mrs. Johnson and her shop, both girls had been fitted with dresses appropriate for an outdoor evening wedding. Similar in style and fabric to Buffy’s white, full-length gown, but less gasp-inducing, the dresses had both Dawn and Willow agreeing that they loved them, and that they didn’t look at all like ordinary bridesmaid wear.


At the last second, Buffy told Willow to go on and ran back into her room to grab the scythe. She frowned for a second, then picked up an old sword that she hadn’t taken with her when she moved into the apartment. Carrying her weapons, she walked down the stairs slowly to be greeted by rolled eyes.


“What? I just want them close by,” she said. “It’s Sunnydale. You never know….”


She set the scythe case down by the kitchen door, flicking the clasp open as she did so, and then put the sword on top of it. She walked back to where Anya was waiting impatiently for her.


“You stay here until Giles comes for you,” Anya demanded, taking her self-assigned job as wedding coordinator very seriously.  “Willow, you’ll be in front of her, and Dawn will be first in line.”


She bustled outside to check on the guests, all of whom seemed to be present and accounted for and already seated on either side of the short aisle between the back porch and the small tent at the end of the yard.  There, Spike and Xander, backed up by Clem, were waiting with a justice of the peace, who was half-demon and quite comfortable with the unusual wedding party members.


The tent was unneeded on the lovely late fall day, but they’d decided to use it just in case anyone was watching who might wonder why Spike wasn’t on fire from the just-setting sun. The caterers had delivered and set up the buffet dinner before Clem or Spike arrived, so they weren’t around to remark on the bridegroom’s pallor or the other attendant’s unusual skin condition.


Buffy peered around Willow, trying to see who was there. Of course, her mom was seated in the front row, with Winston sitting next to her, Buffy noticed with a small sigh. Max was seated on the other side of the make-shift aisle, talking to someone it took Buffy a moment to realize was Wesley. Behind them were Abby and Lois Anderson, looking somewhat bewildered by Clem, but gamely smiling and nodding when anyone spoke to them. Behind Buffy’s mother were two chairs, one of which Anya was sitting down in while gesturing for Giles to go into the house.


He entered the kitchen, his eyes going immediately to Buffy. His “You look lovely, Buffy,” was almost whispered and she blushed as she waved him to her side.


“I think you’re doing the honors,” she said softly. “If you don’t mind, of course. I mean, if you do, I can walk just fine by myself and—”


He stopped her before she could work up a good babble.  “Of course, I don’t mind. I’m honored to be the one you chose.”


Anya put her head in the door, hissing, “You were supposed to tell them to start out now.  Come on, Dawn, You’re first.” She ran back to her seat and nodded to the officiant.


Dawn came out on to the porch and walked carefully down the steps and across the grass to stand opposite where Spike, Xander, and Clem stood in a line. Willow came next, staring straight ahead and avoiding eye contact with anyone except Xander.


Then, at a signal from Anya, Buffy and Giles began their own short walk down the steps and across the lawn. There was a collective gasp as everyone saw Buffy in her non-traditional, but still obviously a wedding dress. She felt it flowing around her legs as she walked, marveling once again at how something so delicate could feel so much like it was sewn onto her body, almost like beautiful armor.


They reached the tent and Giles took the hand that had been resting on his arm, handing it to Spike.


“Take good care of her,” Giles was able to get out before succumbing to his emotions.


“I’ll do my best,” Spike replied, taking Buffy’s hand and raising it to his lips. “Forever.”


Giles turned away and went to sit beside Anya, dabbing at his eyes with his handkerchief. 


The officiant had just begun to read from his book when there was a muffled shriek. Everyone spun around to see Abby being dragged out of the yard by a Bringer, while other Bringers blocked her mother’s valiant attempt to rescue the struggling girl by hitting them with her folding chair. Buffy abandoned Spike and her veil to bolt for the kitchen where her weapons waited, but Winston got to his feet first.


“I’ve got this,” he said with a gleam in his eye. Although no one had seen him do anything other than stand up, the Bringers were now frozen in place. He walked up to the one holding Abby and stared into where it should have had eyes. “Let her go,” he said quietly.


The Bringer gave a moan of distress, but immediately released his hold on the girl who ran back to her mother. With a wave of his hand, Winston forced all four of the attacking creatures out of the yard, down the driveway, and into the street. Ignoring all the people now trailing him from the back yard, he muttered something they couldn’t hear, then turned to go back to the wedding, making shooing motions with his hands. Behind him, the unfortunate Bringers burst into flames and quickly burned down to piles of ash.


As if nothing had happened, he settled down next to Joyce and smiled at her. She gave him a tentative smile in return, but her eyes were troubled. 


Everyone returned to their seats or positions in front, but with nervous glances around the yard. Buffy looked from Winston to Max, and watched them nod at each other.


“Does that mean we’re okay now”? she asked, holding her veil in one hand until she was sure it was safe to put it back on.


“Indeed it does,” Max said with a sigh. “And my apologies for not reinforcing the wards before the event. I had assumed those left in place from years ago would be sufficient.”


The justice cleared his throat. “If we can assume that will be the only interruption, shall I continue?”


“Let’s get on with,” Spike growled, taking Buffy’s hand again. “And make it quick.”


Knowing an order when he heard one, the man immediately began to rattle off the expected vows to which they were expected to swear. He paused and turned to Buffy, “Do you, Buffy Anne Summers, take this… man for your lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold as long as you both shall live?”


“I do,” Buffy said, meeting Spike’s eyes and seeing the tears just lurking there. “I do, and I will.”


“And do you, William Pratt, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold as long as you both shall live?”


“I do. With all I am and have, I promise.”


I love you.


I love you more.


“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride,” the JP said with a sigh of relief.


Spike lifted the front of Buffy’s veil to indulge in a kiss that lasted long enough that spectators began coughing and muttering.


I guess we need to stop kissing.


Fuck ‘em. I’m kissing my wife. They can just wait.


Buffy gave a mental giggle, but pushed him away gently. They turned around and walked into the yard to be greeted by hugs and good wishes from everyone there.


“Thank you, Mom,” Buffy whispered as she hugged her mother so tightly that Joyce had to remind her that she wasn’t a vampire. “I love you.”


“I love you too, sweetheart.” Joyce turned to embrace Spike. “Take good care of my daughter, William.”


“You’ve got my word, Joyce. Would do it even if you didn’t ask me.” He grinned at Buffy and whispered, “What is it with all these people asking me to take care of you? Don’t they trust me?”


“They don’t know you like I do,” she replied, nudging his chin with her nose. “And anyway, I think that’s just something you say when somebody is marrying your daughter.”


“Should I be offended that nobody worries about if you’ll take care of me? You’re the superhero in this relationship.”




In spite of Buffy’s concerns about Anya’s obvious preference for being with Giles, Xander seemed reasonably content to hang out with Abby and her mom, doing a good job of seeing that Lois didn’t feel like an outsider in the small group of close friends and family. He spent time with Willow, chatted with Joyce and even attempted to follow Abby and Dawn’s example when they demonstrated the latest high school dance fad.


It was only when he was briefly alone, with no one to talk and laugh with, that it was clear he was well aware of the true situation. Buffy found him leaning against the kitchen door and staring wistfully at Anya as she buzzed around the yard, still making sure things were going the way she planned.


“She’s not coming back, is she?” he said as Buffy stepped up beside him and gave his arm an affectionate squeeze.


She sighed, letting her silence answer his question.


“I’m sorry, Xan. I know this sucks.”


He shook his head. “Hey, it just means I’ll have more time to spend shooting pool and drinking beer with Fangface. And hitting on women. He can be my wingman.”


She just rolled her eyes at the idea that a consummate flirt like Spike would make a good choice as a wingman, but refrained from saying so, just grateful that what could have been a really awkward situation seemed to be under control. The only time she saw Anya and Xander actually speak was a very animated conversation near the driveway that ended with Anya pointing and Xander throwing up his hands in defeat before disappearing around the side of the house. Buffy frowned and wondered if she should go after Xander, but he was back before she could decide, so she shrugged it off as none of her business.


Spike joined her in staring in that direction, saying “It’s going better than it could have, yeah?”


“I guess so. But where to you think she sent him? And why?”


Spike growled. “I think I know. Told him we didn’t want­—but I guess he’s still used to following orders from her…”


He didn’t explain what he was talking about, and Buffy’s attention was drawn away as Dawn began demanding more picture-taking.


Chapter Nine

The idea of a magical Inn and its Innkeeper has been borrowed from a wonderful series of books by Ilona Andres. Hoping that giving credit where it's due will be enough to keep me out of trouble. This Inn bears only a superficial resemblance to hers, and serves a very different purpose.




Later in the evening, when food had been eaten, toasts toasted, and general relaxation and a sense of comradery had set in, Buffy glanced around and tapped on her glass until everyone fell quiet.


“I hate to do this when we’re all here having such a nice time, but our late, not-so-lamented, guests earlier helped me remember what I need to tell you. I probably mentioned it before, but it’s really, really important for me to remind you of what the First likes to do.” She paused for effect, then said, “This afternoon I had a visit from Warren Mears.”


She waited, knowing Spike would get it first, which he did, giving a loud snarl. The puzzled frowns gradually changed to understanding frowns as those who knew about the First realized what she was saying. Only Abby and Lois were clearly still puzzled.


“Yes, Warren Mears is dead. And yes, I saw and talked with him today. It only took me a second to figure out what was going on, but he almost got me. I can’t over-emphasize how important this is—the First can appear as anyone who is, or has been, dead. And he will. Appear. To anybody he thinks he can influence or trick. Just a reminder that those people he can appear to be will include me and Spike. And Angel,” she added, glancing at Wes. “Anybody who is, or has ever been, dead.”


She stared around the rapt group, paying particular attention to those she knew hadn’t heard about the First before.


“Please, please remember that. And if you see me or Spike or Angel, or anyone else you know should be dead, and it doesn’t feel right, get away from them. The First isn’t corporeal; he—it—can’t actually hurt you physically, but it can and will try to mess with your mind. It will know things you think it couldn’t know about you and your fears, and it will use them against you. If you’re in doubt, try to touch it. And if your hand goes right though it, tell it to… whatever your favorite way of telling someone to shove off is.”


“Did you say it was here?” Joyce stared around the yard, her eyes wide.


“Yes, Mom. But just in my room, and only for a few minutes. I think the fact that I knew what it was right away set it back on its heels a little bit. It wasn’t expecting that.”


“What did it want?” Winston frowned, having forgotten about the First’s ability to imitate dead people, and seeming more than a little disturbed at his lapse.


“He—it—just wanted to rattle my cage and tell me he was going to keep killing potentials until I’m the only one left. I wished him luck and told him to get the hell out of my room.” She sighed.  “But he isn’t going to stick to just annoying me. He’ll try to use his tricks on everybody. Especially if he thinks we’re getting too close to shutting things down. So, be careful if one of us” she gestured between herself and Spike “pops up and tells you to do—or not do—something. Make sure it’s us before you believe anything it says.”


“Especially if somebody you trust appears and gets into your head and makes you doubt yourself or your friends. Take it from me, that won’t go well for anybody.” Spike drained his beer and set the bottle down. “And now, I think it’s time for my wife and I to take our leave. If anybody needs us… well, just don’t need us for a few days, alright? We’ll be busy.”


He took Buffy’s hand and said, “Say good-night, love.”


“Good-night, love,” Buffy parroted with a grin, but she willingly followed Spike out of the yard to where his Desoto was parked in the driveway.  


They were almost in the car, waving to the well-wishers who’d followed them to the driveway, pelting them with bird seed, when Buffy noticed the big “Just Married” sign on the back of the car.


“Really?” She glared at Spike, but he shook his head.


“Not me, Slayer. Had to be what Anya was giving Harris such a hard time about. I’d already warned him we didn’t want anything like this.”  He shook his head and laughed. “Guess we should just be grateful there aren’t a collection of shoes and cans with it.”


Buffy shook her head and sent the glare back at Xander, but he just shrugged helplessly in apology.


“Get in, love.  We’ll stop and take it off as soon as we’re out of sight.”


Which they did. Stopping as soon as they were out of sight, Spike tossed the sign into the trunk, pulled off his tie, and got back behind the wheel. He began driving again, going in a different direction from what Buffy expected. She looked around to assure herself he wasn’t just taking a different route home, then poked him.


“Are you lost?”


“Nope. Just taking my new wife on a honeymoon trip. Just for the night,” he added when she frowned. “Thought it would be more romantic if we had ourselves a little getaway.”


“Well, that’s just….”


“Brilliant, romantic, thoughtful, amazing….”


Buffy laughed and slid closer to him so she could rest her hand on his leg while she pecked his cheek. “All of those things.”


“Just hold that thought, love.” He put one arm around her and pulled her closer.


“How about if I hold this?” she purred, moving her hand to the growing bulge along his leg. It immediately hardened in her hand and she squeezed it appreciatively.


“You little minx,” he growled, moving his free hand back to the wheel. “How am I supposed to concentrate on finding this place with you doing that?” In spite of his words, he pushed on the accelerator and began to weave through traffic much faster than he had been.


It didn’t actually take long for Spike to get them where they were going. Rather than head for one of the hotels along the coast as she’d expected him to, he drove up into hills, not stopping until he pulled up in front of what seemed to be a very small inn. Even though it was now well past 10 p.m., there was a light on over the door, and they stepped into a pleasantly warm lobby to be met by a smiling, plump, middle-aged woman.


“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt. Here you are. And please accept my congratulations on your marriage. I hope everything went well?” As she spoke, she was shaking Buffy’s hand and beaming at her. Spike managed to avoid having his hand shaken by picking up the small bag Willow had packed for Buffy and holding his own duffle bag in his other hand. Buffy, of course, was only holding her scythe in its guitar case. The veil she’d taken off during the reception now rested in there with it.


Buffy smile back, saying, “It went just fine, thank you. I’m sorry you had to wait up for us.”


“Not at all. I’m a night owl myself, so I wouldn’t have been to bed yet anyway. I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m the Innkeeper here. Let me show you to your rooms.” She bustled ahead of them, leading the way down a long hall to an open door. “Here you are. I know you can’t tell just now, but in the morning you’ll see that the view is spectacular.”  She smiled at Spike. “The ocean is to the west, so the sun won’t be coming in the window until late in the day. Not that it matters. It’s good glass.”


Ignoring the way Buffy was staring at her, she wished them a good-night and left the room, pulling the door closed behind her.


“Did she just tell you it was going to be safe for you here in the morning?”


“She did. Apparently I’m not the first vamp customer she’s had.” Spike sat down and took off his shoes and socks, shrugging out of his jacket. In spite of his eagerness to get there, he now seemed ready to relax.


“How did she know? And why isn’t she freaking out?” Buffy shook her head and answered her own question. “She one of those half-demons you’ve told me about, isn’t she?”


“Well, that— maybe—and this is…. It’s a bloody unusual inn. Not your average B & B, and she’s not your average host.”


“’splainy, please,” she said as she kicked off one of her shoes. Spike’s “Uh uh, Slayer. The shoes and the veil, remember?” stopped her in mid-kick. She rolled her eyes at him, but put the sandal back on and opened the scythe case to retrieve her veil. She paused to look at the scythe, but Spike shook his head.


“You won’t need that here, love. This is a very special kind of place. Nothing evil can get in, or even get very far on to the property. If something did mange to sneak in somehow, the Inn would make short work of it.”


“The Inn would make short work of it? What is it? Magically alive?” Buffy laughed to show she was kidding, but when Spike didn’t laugh with her, she stopped and stared around. “It’s alive?”


“Not exactly. At least not like you’re thinkin’ it is. We haven’t been swallowed up, and we won’t be. We’re guests here, and the Inn will make sure we have a good experience.”


Buffy stared around apprehensively, but the walls and furniture seemed appropriately inanimate and she finally relaxed.


“You’re going to have to explain this to me….” she said, as she slid the dress off her shoulders. “…. later.”


As she spoke, she was hanging the dress in the closet, walking across the room wearing nothing but her sandals and a scrap of lace around her lower hips. She smiled over her shoulder as she bent down to pick up the veil, her butt cheeks peeking out from under the flimsy panties.  She draped the veil over her head, letting part of it cover her face and the rest hang gracefully down her back. The look on Spike’s face when she turned to face him sent any thoughts about the mysterious Inn out of her head.


Is this what you wanted?


Wanted. Want. Will want forever.


He walked up to her, raising a hand to lift the veil far enough to meet her eyes.


“You are the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said, worshipping her with his gaze.


“You’re not so bad yourself,” she murmured, beginning to unbutton his shirt. As she pulled it out of the pants he was already unzipping, she began to kiss her way down his body, pausing to suck on each nipple.  Dropping to the floor as she went, she kissed her way down from there, until she got to the body part sticking up in front of her.


“Hi there. Have we met?” She giggled and went all the way to her knees, taking him in her mouth as far as she could.


He groaned and reached blindly behind him for something to lean against. “Not exactly what I had in mind, love.”  One hand located the back of the chair, and he gave a relieved sigh as he steadied himself and felt around for the wall.


“Oh? Do you want me to stop?” She nibbled on his cock and giggled again when it twitched. “I don’t think you do….”


His growl vibrated all the way through his body and into her mouth which was once again attached to his cock and sucking vigorously. Giving in to her clear intentions, he leaned against the wall and muttered endearments and obscenities until she completed what she was doing.  She smirked up at him, licking her lips as she said, “Ha! Bet you thought you’d be all ‘I’m the husband, and I’m going to be in charge tonight’ didn’t you?”


He stare down at her, taking deep unnecessary breaths, then pulled her to her feet and kicked his pants the rest of the way off.


“My turn, wife. Be prepared for the honeymoon of your dreams.” 


Rather than throwing her on the bed as she’d half expected him to, he walked over carefully, holding her in traditional groom carries bride fashion.  If it was traditional for the groom to be wearing nothing but an unbuttoned shirt and the bride to be clad in nothing but a veil, a scrap of lace, and a pair of sandals that made her feet look even more delicate than usual.  He laid her down gently, giving her a chaste kiss.  While he was taking his shirt the rest of the way off, Buffy arranged herself on the bed so that she was lying in the middle of the veil, surrounded by soft delicate lace.


She held up one foot and waved it in front of him. “Do you want to take my shoes off for me?”


“Indeed I do. It would be my pleasure,” he said, falling into the accent he rarely let her hear.


He took the foot and began to undo the delicate straps, kissing her toes and working his way up to her ankle and lower leg. When he’d dropped that shoe on the floor, she held up the other leg and he repeated the process with the other foot. Holding her two ankles together, he nibbled on her toes as he gazed up the length of her legs to the lacy scrap of panty barely covering the neatly trimmed curls that were already looking damp.


He prowled up the bed until his face was level with the lace, then glanced up at her. She smiled her permission.


“They’re meant to be worn only once….”


Permission to destroy the expensive underwear having been given, he shifted into vampire mien and sliced through the crotch of the panties. He shook off his fangs and buried his tongue in the moisture he found there.  Buffy’s gasp as she opened her legs wider soon grew into whimpers and cries as he worked his tongue from her clit to her vagina, creating different sensations but never quite remaining in one area long enough to bring her off.  When her cries of pleasure began to sound more like actual crying, he pulled her clit into his mouth and sucked on it until he felt her arch her back and give a muffled scream.


While she was catching her breath and lolling bonelessly, he pulled the now-crotchless scraps of lace off, completing the job of ripping them apart. He held himself poised over her on his hands and knees until she opened her eyes and smiled at him.


“C’mere you,” she said extending her arms and wrapping them around his back as he lowered himself onto her body.


Without any unnecessary fumbling around, his cock slid into her waiting warmth and they gave matching sighs of happiness.


“I love you, Mrs. Pratt,” he said, nuzzling his marks on her neck. “I think I always have, and I know I always will.”


“I’ll love you just as long as you love me,” she said as she exposed more of her neck and felt their connection flowing between them.


“That would be forever,” he growled, licking his marks and beginning to move his hips.


“Forever works for me,” she gasped, clenching her legs around him and pulling him in even more deeply. “Forever is good.”


They were soon testing the strength of the bed as they used their super strength to bring each other higher and higher. They’d barely relaxed after their first mutually vocal orgasms before they were moving again, changing positions without needed to say a word, the connection between them being all they needed to anticipate each other’s next wish. After a few hours of alternating vigorous and sensual love making, they were back to having Buffy’s legs wrapped around Spike’s, effectively pinning their bodies together. By mutual silent agreement, Spike struck his marks and began deep pulls of her blood. Buffy allowed herself to enjoy the extra boost to her pleasure caused by act of giving her life’s blood to her mate for much longer than she had since the original bonding ritual. She felt herself begin to weaken, but before she could say anything, Spike had already sensed it and was licking the marks closed.


I’m sorry, love. Never meant to take so much, you just seemed like—


Like I was enjoying the hell out of it?  Her lips twisted in a wry smile. I knew you weren’t going to let me die.


Without any mental or vocal warning, she raised her head and latched her teeth on to his neck, biting down until she’d drawn blood from the scar there.


“Mine!” she said with quiet satisfaction.


“Was there ever any doubt?”


“Just covering all my bases,” she muttered, licking the few drops of blood before they could drip onto the veil, which, while much rumpled and possibly torn, managed to still be more or less beneath them. He rolled off to the side, pulling her with him to drape herself across his body.


Consider them covered, sweetheart. The wave of warmth and affection that accompanied his unspoken words brought a smile to her face as she snuggled into him


I’ll bet you’re all charged up on slayer blood now and think you can just go all night, huh? Her thoughts, while warm and loving, began drifting off into incoherence. There’s no five straight hours for this girl…. I’m just gonna have a little nap….


Spike enjoyed the sensation of having her curled into his side until he noticed she had goosebumps. He slid her off his body, stood up, and held her with one arm while he pulled the veil out and yanked the bed covers down. The whole time, Buffy never stopped her slow breathing or lost her limp feel. He frowned, listening hard to make sure her heartbeat was regular and she was truly asleep, not unconscious. He laid her gently down on the bed and pulled the covers up over her chilled body, tucking them around her like a cocoon. He dropped a soft kiss on the top of her head before straightening up stretching with a happy groan.


Buffy hadn’t been wrong about what having so much of her blood had done to him. He was wide awake and full of energy. As much as he normally enjoyed sleeping with Buffy in his arms, he knew she wasn’t going to know if he was there or not, and he had additional energy to expend. He glanced around the spacious room, checking for food or drink. Unlike a hotel, there was no mini-fridge or microwave to be seen. He frowned and pulled his jeans out of his bag, putting them and a tee shirt on before venturing out of the room.


“Got to be a kitchen in here somewhere,” he muttered, on a mission to be sure he had liquids and food to provide for Buffy when she woke up.


“Is there something you need, Mr. Pratt?” The Innkeeper had appeared so quietly, he gave an unvampire-like gasp of surprise, followed by a growl at himself.  Her narrowed eyes made it clear that she didn’t expect to find a demon wandering around her Inn in the wee hours of the morning, and wasn’t particularly happy about it.


“I’m sorry,” he said as sincerely as he could. “I was hoping to find some water or juice to have on hand for my wife when she wakes up.” He gave one of his little boy smiles, but Catherine appeared to be immune, so he shrugged and went on, “Was just lookin’ for a kitchen or a vending machine or something like that.”


“A vending machine?” She sounded horrified. “In my Inn?”  She inhaled and exhaled, clearly calming herself. “If you’ll go back to your room, I’ll see that there will be some nourishing snacks and drinks outside your door within fifteen minutes or less.”


“I don’t want to put you to any trouble….” His lack of sincerity was pretty clear, and she just huffed to herself and pointed down the hall.


“Go back to your bride,” she said.


Spike started down the hall, then stopped. “If I can’t sleep, would it be a problem if I went for a run outside?”


“Yes,” she said tersely. “It would be a very bad idea. And not just because there are other, bigger, predators here in the mountains.”


Spike just nodded. “I suspected as much, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ll just read or something.”


“Good idea.”


She watched until he had let himself into the room, where he turned and waved at her before closing the door.


Chapter Ten







As Catherine had promised, when Spike peeked outside the door twenty minutes later, there was a small cart waiting for him. With a soft, but grateful, “Ta, Innkeeper,” he pulled it into the room and looked it over. In addition to a large pitcher of ice water and a glass, there was a bottle of orange juice resting in an ice bucket. Peering under a lid, he saw cheese, an apple, and a slice of delicious-smelling bread. He put the lid back on and smiled in satisfaction. He was a bit curious that there was no blood for him, but shook his head at himself. 


“Don’t doubt she knows exactly why Buffy needs this stuff, and why I don’t. Get a grip, Spike. You got what you asked for.” “

There was one more rather large container and another glass on a lower level, but close inspection showed that, rather than blood, it contained what proved to be a very smooth rye whiskey.


“Worth every penny of what this is costing me,” he said with a smile. He poured himself a tall glass of the liquid meant for him, then settled into the comfortable chair with a book he’d found while prowling around the room.


After taking a couple of breaks to do jumping jacks and sit-ups to take the edge off, he finished the mystery novel and noted that it had to be getting close to sunrise. His body was no longer demanding he do something with the blood singing through it, so he dropped his clothes on the floor and slipped into bed behind Buffy. He was happy to see that she’d recovered enough to come partially awake.


“Where’d you go?” she murmured, draping herself around him. “I missed you.”


“Don’t try to pretend with me, Slayer. You were out like a light. I could have gone out and slaughtered a whole town, and you’d have snoozed through the whole thing.”


“Hmmm. Good thing you wouldn’t do that, then, isn’t it?”


His chest shook under her head as he chuckled. “I reckon it is.”


“Is it time to get up?” she asked querulously. “I’m not ready to wake up yet.” Throughout their short conversation, she had yet to open her eyes, making him laugh again.


“No, love. Just time for all good vampires to catch some kip. Go back to sleep.”


“No such thing as good vampires….” Belying her words by snuggling even closer to him, she drifted back to sleep, his soft chuckle and “Whatever you say, Buffy,” murmured into her hair.




Several hours later, when Buffy had awakened thoroughly and could see that it was bright daylight outside, Spike was still well into his normal early morning semi-coma. She got out of bed, putting the covers up over his head to block out the light. She went into the bathroom to find that her favorite shampoo and body wash were already in the shower stall, and her normal deodorant and lotions were on the sink.


“Huh. I guess I didn’t need to pack so much,” she said as she gazed around the well-stocked and pleasantly warm room. She quickly peed, then stepped into the shower and allowed the warm water to wash over her. Feeling much revived when she got out of the shower, she wrapped herself in a towel and dug around in her bag for clean underwear and something more appropriate for morning in the mountains than the beautiful dress hanging in the closet. A quick glance at the cart that she didn’t remember from the night before reminded her that she was both very thirsty and somewhat hungry.


She wrinkled her nose at the smell from Spike’s empty glass, but immediately poured water into the clean one and began to gulp it down. While she held the glass in one hand, she was checking the covered plate and happily grabbed the fresh-smelling bread. Without pausing to wonder how it managed to be not only fresh, but warm, she enjoyed chewing on it as she walked around the room, still only wearing her towel. As Catherine had said, the view out the window was amazing. In the distance, Buffy could see what she thought was the ocean, although the rolling hills between it and their inn were enough of a distraction that she couldn’t be sure. She tried to see what was below the large window, finally realizing that their room must have been cantilevered over the side of the mountain.


“Whoa!” Buffy backed away from the window, to pick up the cheese and refill her glass.  While she nibbled and drank, she combed out her wet hair and got into her jeans and a hoody sweatshirt. She giggled at the incongruous sight of jeans and her beautiful, but surprisingly sturdy, sandals, but decided they would do for a walk around the inn. Checking that Spike seemed to be sleeping the sleep of the undead in daytime, she brushed her hand over his head and left the room to wander around their home for the day.


She hadn’t gone far when Catherine appeared, smiling a greeting.


“Good morning!” she chirped. “Did you sleep well?”


“Like the dead,” Buffy replied, then coughed. “I mean, yes, I slept really well. That bed is wonderful. And thank you for the tray of goodies. They really hit the spot.”


“You can thank your husband for that. He was worried about you and came out to find the kitchen. I stopped him just in time.”


“Just in time? From finding the kitchen?” Buffy frowned, remembering what Spike had implied about the Inn.


“Finding the kitchen can be…. tricky….” Catherine said. “It’s always better to just let me know what you need, and I will see that it gets to you.” She gave another cheery smile before continuing, “Speaking of which, if you’d like some tea or coffee, you can find it in the dining room. The brunch buffet should be set up by now also, if you’d like something more substantial to eat.”


“Thank you. I am hungry,” Buffy said, choosing to ignore Catherine’s giggled, “I’ll just bet you are.”


She easily found the nearby dining room, smiling at the few other guests as she got her coffee and carried it to a small table by a window. Unlike their room, this window looked out upon a small patch of grass surrounded by flowerbeds and colorful shrubs. Oddly enough, the greenery only went so far, and then the more normal dry, desert-like landscape could be seen beyond it. Buffy was getting the distinct impression that there was more to the Inn and its Innkeeper than even Spike knew.


She was just tucking into her second helping of pancakes and eggs when the room got very quiet. She glanced up to see Spike standing at the entrance, mug of something in hand, and eyes obviously searching for her. She waved at him, then watched as the other patrons relaxed and returned to their own meals.


“I think you rattled some cages,” she said as he sat down. “How would they know what you are?”


“Maybe they were just admiring how good-looking I am,” he said as he sipped from his mug.


 She just rolled her eyes. Since no one had run out screaming, she decided it didn’t matter.


“Is that what I think it is?” Buffy frowned suddenly at the pleased expression he wore.


“It is, but take that look off your face. It’s plain old cow. I just thought it would be rude to turn it down.” He smirked at her. “Doubt I’ll be hungry any time soon, to be honest.” Still smirking, he turned his gaze to the peaceful view outside.


Buffy snorted, causing him to take his attention off the view out the window to raise an eyebrow at her amusement.


 “You know that’s not gonna happen very often,” she said. “As good as it felt, and as happy as it appears to have made you, I can’t afford to be out of it like that. You’ll have to make withdrawals from your live-in blood bank the usual way.”


He stared at her, his emotion obvious. “I know that was a bloody gift, love, and I’ll be grateful forever, but I don’t expect it to be part of our day-to-day life. You’re not food to me, and you never will be. That was about feeling like you were giving yourself to me in a way you never have before. I’ll treasure it forever, but I won’t be expecting to do it ever again.”


“Well, I didn’t say never,” she giggled, remembering how good it had felt when he was pulling on her. “I just meant we can’t make a habit of it.” Giving him time to compose himself, she changed the subject, asking, “Does the Innkeeper know I’m the Slayer?”


“Dunno, love. I didn’t tell her I was bringing the Slayer into her establishment, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know who you are. Aside from the wife of William the Bloody.” He laughed quietly and shook his head.




“It’s just funny,” he said, taking her hand. “All the fuss I made about us being mated, and how it’s forever and we didn’t need… and here I am, just as chuffed about being Mr. and Mrs. Pratt as I would have been when I was a worthless human wanker.”


“So, Mr. Pratt, how do you plan to amuse Mrs. Pratt today? Are we going hiking?”


Spike glanced around the room at the other guests, all of them carefully avoiding his eyes.


“As much fun as that sounds, love, I’m not sure we want to blow my vampire image just now. I’m not the only demon that ever went looking for the Gem of Amara. There’s no sense making it obvious to people we don’t know that I may have found it.”


“Good thinking. I don’t know what the First knows, but the less his minions know about you, the better off we’ll be.” She frowned in concentration. “Well what are we going to do today? And how long are we going to be here?”


“We have the room until midnight tonight. And as for what to do with the rest of the day….” He wiggled his eyebrows at her.


Buffy laughed. “Well, you can stay in and be all can’t-go-out-in-the-sun guy, but I’m going to go out and enjoy the sun and the views. I’ll come back in by lunch time…. dinner at the latest.”


“If you go hiking by yourself, you come inside first to get plenty of water and a map of the trails. Don’t want you getting lost out there, and you probably still need fluids.”


“Yes, Mom,” she said, but she smiled, his very real concern for her coming through the claim. “I’ll be careful.”




Buffy tried not to notice that some of the other guests worked very hard to not be wherever she was. They all looked human to her, but it was pretty obvious that was not the case. She enjoyed basking in the sun in the little garden for a while, going so far as to close her eyes for a short nap. When she awoke, she went inside and asked the girl at the desk if she could have some bottled water so she could do some hiking.


Water and map of the trails in hand, she spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around outside, trying very hard never to get out of sight of the Inn for long. Her wedding sandals, as she’d expected, held up just fine for the walking she did on the smoothly groomed trails. As she made her way back, she paused to enjoy the view and to study the Inn. From her perch on a big rock, she could see that one side of the building did protrude out into space, and she determined that must be their room. She gave up trying to mentally describe the rest of the building to herself as she would have sworn it occasionally grew wings or lost rooms just when she’d figured out where they were.


Her musing was interrupted by Spike’s intruding thought.


Where are you, Slayer? I miss you.


Stand at the window and I’ll wave to you.


She strained her eyes to see if he was standing in the window, but couldn’t see anything except the sun reflecting off the glass.


Can’t see you. It’s too sunny. She waved anyway, but couldn’t tell if he was waving back or not.


Guess you’ll just have to come back to make sure I’m here then. I’ll be waiting. He sent her an image of himself lying naked in the big bed, stroking his cock.


No fair starting without me! She sent her own image of herself bouncing on him, her head thrown back in delight.


Leaving him to contemplate that image, she made her way back to the Inn, having no trouble with anything except a curious cougar that halted a good distance from the Inn’s manicured grounds. Buffy paused to breathe evenly and extend her senses. When she did that, she could feel it when she crossed the magical barrier into the Inn’s protected space.




After a late afternoon love-making session that was more lazy and sweet than vigorous, and a delicious evening meal for Buffy and more warmed blood for Spike, they agreed that they’d probably been away long enough.


“Do we need to check out? Or will the Inn know we’re leaving?”  Buffy asked as they left the dining room after dinner.




Her question was only half-serious, as she’d seen enough of area around the Inn, as well as the public areas inside it, to know it was not just a normal building with magical wards to keep it safe. In the lobby, a belligerent drunk guest had been accosting the other guests as they approached the dining room, but a shake of Catherine’s head stopped Spike’s obvious desire to take the man up on his need to fight somebody. The Innkeeper had approached the man, broom in hand, and somehow swept him away from the other guests. When he was staring around in bewilderment at finding himself separated from everyone else, he disappeared behind a wall. A wall that Buffy knew hadn’t been there when they walked into the lobby.


Catherine had smiled at Spike and Buffy, saying, “You and your lovely bride are here to enjoy yourselves. The Inn and I will take care of any problems.” She’d bustled away toward the back of the building, leaving them to continue on to dinner.




“You didn’t answer my question,” Buffy said. “Will we need to check out?”


“Bill’s already covered. But I’d be surprised if the Innkeeper didn’t see us out herself.”


“Does she ever sleep?”


“None of our business if or when she sleeps, love.” He smiled at her, but his voice was very serious.


“I suppose not,” Buffy agreed. “As long as she’s not evil….”


“Not evil, love. And that’s all you need to know.”


He picked up their bags, leaving Buffy to bring the scythe, and walked out the door and down the hall to the lobby.  As they left the room, it seemed to Buffy that the hall got shorter, but she shook her head at herself and kept walking. She told herself she wasn’t turning around to see if their room was still there only because she was in a hurry to get home, and not because she was afraid to find out it had disappeared.


As Spike had said she would, Catherine greeted them in the lobby and walked with them to the open door, through which Buffy could see Spike’s car had been parked just outside.


“I hope you enjoyed your stay,” Catherine said, shaking Buffy’s hand again. “Please come back another time. You don’t have to be honeymooning to be welcome here.”


“Thank you,” Buffy said with a smile. “We’ve had a wonderful time. We’ll be back someday, I’m sure.”


“And now we’re off to save the world… again,” Spike said, holding the car door for her so she could put the scythe case into the back seat with the duffle bags. While Buffy was putting it away, Spike turned to Catherine. “It’s everything I heard it would be, Innkeeper. Thank you for having us.”


“Thank you for saving the world… again,” she said with a wink and a genuine smile.


She stood at the entrance waving as they pulled away and Spike started down the mountain and back to Sunnydale.




The drive home took a little longer than the trip up, but not so long that it was all that late when they parked the car behind their apartment building and let themselves in. Buffy hung her dress up in the waiting garment bag in the closet, and stretched.


“Do you think we should patrol? It isn’t even midnight yet.”


“Wouldn’t hurt, I reckon. I could use a little exercise.”


“Are you saying I didn’t wear you out?” She gave him a mock pout as she took the scythe out of its case.


“I’m sayin’ the blood I got from you last night is still singin’ it’s way through my body, and I feel like fighting something.”


She laughed and ducked under the arm he was holding the door open with.


“You really wanted to fight the drunk guy, didn’t you? Catherine spoiled all your fun.”


“She did. But her Inn, her rules. Anyway, he was mostly human. It wouldn’t have been much of a fight.”


“It’s a very... different… kind of place, isn’t it?”


“So it seems. I didn’t really know a lot about it when I made the reservation, but I knew we’d be safe there and could relax and enjoy our little vacation. If and when we get a reason to go back, I’ll try to get a little more information about the Inn and its Innkeeper.”


“Hard to believe we’ve never heard of it. It’s not like it’s a gazillion miles away or something.”


“I suspect all the guests are a bit unique, just like us, and not interested in giving it a lot of publicity. And as special as it is, the Inn probably doesn’t need or want a lot of attention.”


“Well, if we didn’t have a First Evil and a girl-killing priest to worry about, I’d be more curious. But it’s obviously not evil, so none of my business.” 


“Unlike these wankers,” Spike said, pointing toward a small group of vampires standing at the entrance to Restfield.


“Yep. My business. Find your own,” Buffy said as she strolled toward them. She could see them staring at her in surprise.


“Hey guys. It’s a little late for loitering, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t you be like… I dunno… dust or something?” As she spoke to the confused vampires, she managed to stake one and remove the head of another before the remaining three caught on.


“Slayer!” A tall vampire, staying well away from her, spoke loudly.


“What? Where?” Buffy pretended to be looking around. “Oh. You meant me. I’m the Slayer.” She staked the one that jumped at her first, which sent the other two running into the cemetery. “Oh crap! I let them get away. Shame on me.”


She began walking down the winding drive, knowing full well that Spike had disappeared in time to be waiting for the runners. Sure enough, there he was, fighting with the tall vamp while the other one lay on the ground moaning.  Buffy walked up to the moaner and whacked his head off, then settled herself onto a tombstone to watch Spike work out his excess energy.


His opponent was a good bit bigger than Spike, and not as young as Buffy had first thought. She frowned as she watched Spike having to work harder than usual. She could tell he wasn’t just toying with the other vampire as he so often did when he was up against someone not in his league. Although he was still enjoying himself, he’d actually had to let his demon out in order to keep his edge over this one. But keep it he did, landing a final punch to the vamp’s temple that sent him reeling to his knees. Spike pulled a stake from his pocket and plunged it into his back.  He stood up and smiled at Buffy, who wasn’t trying to hide her relief.


“Don’t tell me you were worried about me, Slayer.”


Buffy shrugged in embarrassment. “I forgot for a second that you have that ring, and I thought he was really going to hurt you.”


Spike rubbed his jaw. “He tried. I’ll give the wanker that. Don’t know the last time I had to work that hard against another vamp.”


“Not exactly a fledge, huh?”


He shook his head. “No. But not as old as I am. Just old enough to have some smarts and a bit of fighting ability. It was a good workout.”


“I’m glad it made you happy. Let’s go home and try to get used to not being on vacation anymore.”


“Honeymoon’s over already?”


Buffy laughed and began jogging.


“I guess that depends on how long it takes us to get home.”



Chapter Eleven
Beta by all4Spike





Buffy found herself anxious to be back on Caleb’s trail, so after a quick phone call to assure Joyce that they’d had a wonderful weekend and were safely home, she left Spike pretending to be sleeping and hastened to the Magic Box; where she found Giles in a phone conversation with Wesley.  He waved his hand at her to hold her questions as he nodded as if Wes could see him.


“Yes. Yes. I understand. Buffy has just arrived, so I’ll discuss it with her and then get back in touch with you. Will that be all right?”  He frowned. “No. I don’t believe anyone has told him about their wedding, although he obviously could have found out somehow. It wasn’t exactly a secret, just not a public event.” He sighed and pointed at a chair for Buffy to sit in.


She made a face, but obediently sat down and tried to concentrate on his end of the conversation. Which turned out to be nearly over.


“Yes. We’ll get back to you as soon as we know something, but I think you can assume Buffy and Spike… and perhaps Winston?” He glanced up as Winston pulled up a chair next to Buffy and nodded. “Yes, at a minimum, it will be the three of them. Please suggest to Angel that he be elsewhere.”


He hung up and sighed again.


“So, what’s up?”


“It appears that Caleb has murdered enough young women now that the police are looking for him. However, he seems to have gone underground. His ‘church’ has been shuttered, and he is no longer seeking acolytes.”


“At least not human ones,” Buffy grumbled.  “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a small army of Bringers to hide behind.”


“Quite true,” Giles agreed. “Hence the need to send all three of you, just in case.”


“Define ‘underground’,” Winston said. “Literally? Or is it just that they can’t find him?”


“I’m not sure. Possibly both? The police haven’t been able to locate him, and his attorney, a man from Wolfram and Hart, has managed so far to keep them from legally entering the closed up building.” He frowned. “Wesley seems to think there may be something under the building, more than just the church basement that is indicated on the plans registered with the city.”


Spike? Wake up, lazy bones. You need to hear this.


On my way, love. I caught a glimpse of your reaction to whatever’s going on there. Be there in a few.


“Spike’s on his way,” Buffy said. “As soon as he gets here, we can decided when to leave and who all is going.” She glanced at Giles. “What was all the stuff about Angel? What’s he got to do with anything?”


“Wesley seems to think he knows about your wedding. Perhaps by having Wesley followed, or some other means, but it may be a bit uncomfortable around him. Especially for Spike.”


“Ohmygod, it’s been almost two years!< I’m still mad at him, but he’s had plenty of time to get over having his stupid, sneaky claim broken.” She shook her head. “We thought he’d finally gotten over it when he stopped sending people to spy on us.”


“Apparently he isn’t ‘over it’. Wesley seems to think having Spike there may create such a distraction that nothing will be accomplished.”


“Then I guess his knickers are going be twisted up pretty good, because there’s no way I’m not going with Buffy.” Spike’s voice carried from the top of the basement stairs as he emerged into the shop.


“What he said,” Buffy agreed. “Maybe we can meet with Wes somewhere Angel isn’t? I really want to find Caleb before he gets all powered up, and I don’t need to be distracted by Angel’s idiocy.”


“Much as I hate to cater to my bloody grandsire’s temper tantrums, I could maybe not attend any meetings you have to have with him. I’ll be there to back you up when it comes time, but if you’re just getting information….”


“Who are you? And what have you done with Spike?” Buffy’s surprised reaction had both Giles and Winston smothering smiles.


“I’m your lawful wedded husband, as well as your mate for life. I can be magnanimous if I need to.”


“Well, let’s hope you don’t need to,” Buffy said with a smile. She turned to Winston, asking, “When do you think you can go?”


“I have plans for this evening, but I could leave any time tomorrow.”


Buffy remembered that the “adults” had their weekly dinner meetings on Monday nights, and sighed at his attempt to avoid saying he was having dinner with her mother. She rolled her eyes at him, earning a sheepish grin.


“Okay, well, I probably have some vamps to slay tonight anyway. I guess we’ll handle those, and hope we knock the numbers down enough to be okay if we end up being gone overnight.”


“I’m sure it will be fine. Perhaps I will take Abigail and her mother out for some practical lessons.”


“You’re going to make them slay?”


“Only if it’s feasible. Her mother is quite well-trained, and Abigail is doing very well. She was only lacking in weapons training, so she has advanced quickly. As long as we don’t overreach ourselves, we should be fine.”


“Giles! I know you know all kinds of watcherly stuff, but you’re still just regular humans. I think it’s too dangerous.”


Winston cleared his throat. “I believe Rupert may have picked up a few tricks from me that would even those odds a good bit.”


Buffy stared back and forth between Giles, who was attempting to appear innocent, and Winston, who was trying not to smirk.


“You’re teaching him how to set people on fire?” she almost shrieked, while Spike nodded his approval.


“Not exactly. But he wouldn’t be as helpless as the average human.”


“Huh. And wow. I go away for one little honeymoon weekend, and my watcher turns into a sorcerer.”


“He always was,” Winston said. “The Council just tried to convince him otherwise when he used his gifts inappropriately. Rather than take the time to train him, they did what they could to smother those gifts except for what they needed him to have as a watcher. All I’ve done is provide some of the training he should’ve had when he was much younger.”


“So,” Buffy said, looking at Giles with different eyes, “Summoning Eaghon wasn’t an accident, huh?”


“No,” he said. “It was a mistake. But not an accident. And I’d rather not discuss it,” he said firmly.


“Okay then. We’re set. You’re going to call Wes back and tell him all three of us are coming, and that Spike will try to be inconspicuous if Angel’s around.  Might be a good idea to tell him Angel shouldn’t try talking to me, either. I’m no longer thinking big dust bunny, but I’m definitely not past punch in the nose.”




By early afternoon the next day, Spike and Wesley were arguing about whose car to take to Los Angeles.


“Mine keeps me safe from the sun,” Spike insisted.


“You don’t need to be safe from the sun,” Winston said. “And my car is newer, nicer, and has air conditioning.”


“Don’t want the great poof, the Bringers, or those wankers at Wolfram and Hart, to know about my lack of sun allergy,” Spike argued. “It’s my secret weapon.”


“We’re meeting Wes in a parking garage,” Buffy said, trying to make peace. “You can pretend you were hiding in the back under a blanket, sleeping or something. That can be the story we tell anybody who might be listening.”


“Fine,” Spike growled. “But it better be a nice blanket.”


Winston laughed and threw a worn quilt at him. “Here. Don’t be such a baby.”


“It’s a good thing for you, I know you could set me on fire with your eyes,” Spike grumbled.


Buffy ignored them both, knowing that the past few years had given them a firm friendship and admiration for each other’s abilities. She pointed at the back seat for Spike, and climbed into the passenger seat herself. “I called shotgun!” she said, when he glared at her.


“You bloody well did not. I have vampire hearing and I would have heard it.”




In spite of the rocky start, the trip went quickly, and Spike did actually take a nap for a while. He sat up with his quilt as they pulled into the parking garage Wesley had suggested they meet in.


“Are we there yet?”


Buffy pointed ahead of them to where Wesley was leaning against a dark car parked back in a corner. Winston pulled into the empty spot beside Wesley, and shut the engine off. All three of them got out, Spike conspicuously tossing the quilt onto the back seat. Wes shook his head at him.


“Do you really think by now I haven’t noticed that you seem to be sun-proof? I’m not sure how you’ve done it…” He sent a quick glance at Winston, who shook his head that it wasn’t something he’d done, then continued, “…but it seems that you are. Who were you expecting to fool with that?”


“Whoever needed foolin’,” Spike growled, glaring at Winston as if it was his fault Spike spent the trip napping on the backseat.


“Ignore him, Wes. He’s grumpy because he just woke up.” She smiled at Wesley, hoping he would just accept Spike’s ability to be in the sun longer than most vampires, and not pursue the issue.


Wesley shook his head, but didn’t ask any more questions. His sigh said he’d added it to those things that Buffy and Spike weren’t going to share with him, and Buffy gave him a sympathetic shrug.


“So. What do we know? And how do we know it?”  Spike’s question reminded them that sometimes sources of information about evil weren’t always reliable.


“Well, from our contacts in the LAPD, we know that your priest is a strong suspect in the ongoing investigation into the missing or dead girls. And that he has disappeared from sight. His building is locked and shuttered, and so far his lawyers have been able to keep the police from being able to break into it.” He gave a small smile. “However, I’ve been led to believe that they will not be trying terribly hard to prevent any break-ins by vandals….”


“I’m kinda surprised there haven’t already been some break-ins. Given the part of town the place is in.…” Spike gave Wes a questioning eyebrow.


His response was immediate. “There may have been one. However, the potential burglars in question haven’t been forthcoming about what they found. Saying only that one of their group that was first into the building, never came back out. And that it felt ‘creepy’ to them.” He gave a wry smile. “Needless to say, they did not report this disappearance to the authorities. It’s information Gunn picked up on the street.”


“Okay then, so what’s our plan?” Winston smiled at Wes, including him in any decisions.


Buffy spoke first. “Get in, find him, slay him, save anybody he’s holding there….”


“May I ask what we might be expected to encounter?” Winston asked.


Buffy and Spike exchanged glances, but she let him answer. “Bringers, for sure. They’re the minions that do most of the dirty work. Possibly a Turok-han, but we think that’s unlikely. They seem to need a hellmouth. Winnie thinks the one Buffy had to slay to get her scythe had probably been lurking there for centuries as insurance against a slayer coming across their weapon.”


“These Bringers, are they bullet-proof?”


“Huh. Dammed if I know,” Spike said. “Don’t think the idea of shooting them with anything but a crossbow ever came up. If they aren’t, that’s a bloody important thing to know.” He snickered and nodded at Winston. “Although we all know they aren’t fireproof.”  


“How about the Turok-hans?” Wes persisted.


Buffy answered that one. “Nope. They’re just as dead as regular vamps, just harder to dust. My scythe is pretty much the only way to stake them, although taking their heads off works too.”


“So, we need guns and swords, and Buffy’s scythe,” he added, nodding to the weapon she was already holding. He looked to Winston. “Shall we assume they are not fire-proof?”


“I’m assuming so,” Winston said, rolling his shoulders. “I’m actually quite eager to test my theory.”  He looked at Spike. “That is how you closed them into the hellmouth in your time, is it not? With fire?”


Spike looked uncomfortable, but nodded. “The fire came from the amulet, that channeled it through my soul somehow. It wasn’t normal fire.”


“That’s quite a soul you’ve got,” Wes said in admiration. “It can shoot out cleansing fire?”


“It pretty much ‘cleansed’ me,” Spike said as Buffy moved closer to him and took his hand. “Burned me up from the inside out, it did.”


Wes frowned. “But… you’re here….”


“Amulet brought me back somehow,” Spike said. “It kept my… essence? I dunno. I just know a few months after I thought I’d died to save the world—and Buffy,” he added, lest there was any doubt. “I popped up in the poof’s office when he opened an envelope. Was all ghostly for a while, but then I was solid. Solid enough to be sent back in time to help prevent things from going as bad as they did in our time.”


“That sounds like a fascinating story,” Wesley said, his curiosity palpable. Which reminded Spike of Wes’s role in his time travel, and that they hadn’t shared it with him.


“I’ll fascinate you some other time,” Spike growled. “Let’s just go get this killer of little girls and take him out of the game.”


Wes nodded and gestured to his car. “I suggest we all travel together to prevent attracting too much attention to the site. There’s room to park one car behind the building, but not more than one.”


“What about the poof?”


Wes gave Spike a long look, then said, “Angel thinks I’m just meeting with Buffy and Winston to show them to the building. He is, I believe, planning to meet us there once the sun is down a bit further.”


Winston and Spike exchanged glances, then Winston tossed his keys into the hand Spike was holding out.


“I’ll just follow you, then, and stay out of sight until we know what’s what. Buffy can tell me what’s goin’ on and when she needs me.”


“Sounds like a plan,” Buffy said. She turned a hard eye stare on Wesley. “But when we go in, Spike is coming too. Angel or no Angel.”


He nodded. “I assumed he would be. But those few extra minutes to make it clear to Angel that you are not here to talk about your marriage may be enough to keep him from being….”


“A wanker?”


“A jerk?”


“An unnecessary distraction?”


Wes tried to smother a smile, but failed. “All of the above, I guess.  Shall we go then?”




As soon as Wesley’s car disappeared around the back of the boarded up building that housed Caleb’s “church”, Spike drove past the building and parked on a quiet-looking side street. He locked the car and put Winston’s keys in his pocket, smiling to himself as he thought about the unpleasant surprise he was sure any potential vandal or thief might be in for. “It’s worth hanging about just to watch that,” he said to himself, as he walked to the corner and loitered against the side of a building. From his vantage point, he could see the church building, but not whatever may have been going on behind it. The newly lit street lights were enough that he didn’t feel any need to go into vamp face, but something about his demeanor was discouraging enough that none of human creatures of the night now venturing out felt any need to bother him.


When he hadn’t heard anything from Buffy after a good fifteen minutes, he sent her a quietly concerned, Good thing I can tell when you’re not  alright, or I might be getting worried….


It took me a while to convince Angel that I’m quite happily married and still pissed off at him for trying to claim me. She sent Spike a mental image of Angel clutching his nose and glaring at her from a safe distance away. I think he’s got it now, though.


Spike made no attempt to hide his laughter from her.


Okay, Winston says he can feel some weak wards on the building. And Angel says he can hear some sounds, but they’re muffled, like maybe coming from another floor of the building. I guess we’re going in.


On my way, love. He took a look back at Winston’s car, smirking when a curious boy abruptly turned and walked away from it.


It took only a couple of minutes for him to reach the building and walk around it to the rear. He took his time, listening hard, but not picking up anything he could identify as human or not.  He walked up to Buffy and Winston, pretending not to hear Angel’s surprised growl.


“Are we ready, then?” he asked. “I can’t hear anything I can put my finger on, but there’s definitely someone or something inside.”


“What are you doing here, Spike?” Angel said, avoiding Buffy but getting closer to Spike. “I’m Buffy’s extra muscle on this mission. You should have stayed in Sunnydale.”


Spike shrugged. “It’s boring there. The Slayer goes where the action is.” He waited until Angel had started an angry reply, then went on calmly. “And Buffy is, in case you missed the memo, both my legally married wife and my thoroughly claimed mate for life. She doesn’t go into danger without me.”


He waited, ready to fight if he needed to, but mentally reassuring Buffy that he wouldn’t start it. After a long silence, Angel shook his head and backed away.


“Not the time or place,” he muttered. “But we will be discussing this.”


Spike didn’t bother to respond, just shrugged and turned to Winston. “Are we going in the fun way, or are you in charge of it?”


Winston laughed. “Sorry to spoil your need to kick down the door, but I think we have a better chance of surprising him if we enter as quietly as possible.”


“Relax, honey,” Buffy said to Spike, poking his arm. “I’m sure you’ll get to break something sooner or later.”


A glance from Winston was all it took to unlock the padlock holding the rear doors closed, and they all moved to follow him into the silent building. A wave of his hand removed the wards that had made the building so frightening to the only other humans to have entered it, and Buffy followed him in, scythe at the ready. Spike and Angel spread out on either side, using their enhanced hearing and vision to scan the large, dark room. With Wesley behind her, Buffy made her way to the front of the room, where there seemed to be some kind of altar. She was about to step up to it when a sound from beneath it made her freeze. Spike and Angel were already moving, their hearing having picked up the noise just before she did. They flanked her on either side while Winston stood some distance away, but very focused on the altar.  With a loud hiss, it seemed to slide back from where it was positioned, leaving a dark opening with stairs leading down.


“Well, this just has ‘trap’ written all over it,” Buffy muttered, glancing at Spike when he snorted. “What? Somebody had to say it, and Xander isn’t here.”


“I’m afraid I have agree,” Wesley said. “We have no idea what’s down there.”


“Nope, we don’t. But whatever it is, it probably isn’t expecting a slayer, a powerful mage, two master vampires, and an armed demon fighter.” Buffy started forward, motioning Spike to come closer. “C’mon owl eyes. Take a look.”


“We can do better than that,” Winston said, peering down into the darkness. He flicked his hand down the stairs, and there was immediately bright light as far as they could see.  Shaking their blind heads, the Bringers that had been poised at the bottom of the staircase, milled around in confusion.


“Let’s go, Angelus,” Spike said. “Looks like there’s enough for both of us.” He leapt into space, not touching the stairs as he landed at the bottom and grabbed a Bringer by the neck. With a growl, Angel jumped down after him and began to fight with the creature he’d landed on. Buffy came down the stairs carefully, holding her scythe and looking around for any sign of a Turok-han. She didn’t see any, and trusting in Winston and Wesley to keep watch for her, began to work her way past the tangle of snarling vampires and Bringers toward the area they were obviously protecting.


She shuddered a bit when she noticed the dead girl lying at Caleb’s feet, but continued to advance on him.


“Hello there, little girl,” he said, eyeing the scythe with nothing but normal curiosity. “Are you the slayer I was promised?”


“I’m the slayer you’re going to get,” Buffy said. “If the First promised me to you, I don’t think he meant exactly what you think he did.”


Caleb frowned, clearly taken back by both her lack of fear and her knowledge. “Who are you?” he said.


“Hi. I’m Buffy. The Vampire Slayer? Ringing any bells?”


“You’re not ready for me yet,” he said, too confidently to suit Buffy. “I’m supposed to get to you after I’ve taken care of all the dirty girls here that want to be you someday.”


“Well, that’s me. Just never doing exactly what I’m supposed to. You can complain to the Watcher’s Council. They’d be happy to agree with you.”


“Watcher’s Council.” He frowned. “I know that name. They’re on my list.” He stared at her in some confusion. “But you aren’t on my list yet. And neither are they,” he said, glaring at the scene in front of him where Spike and Angel were still breaking necks and biting Bringers. Behind them, Wesley was beheading the wounded ones they left in their wake, and Winston was watching avidly, his eyes alight with something Buffy wasn’t sure she wanted to know about. Telling herself he was just looking for Turok-hans, and not really enjoying watching the bloody mayhem in front of him, Buffy turned back to face Caleb.


“So, are we going to do this or what?”


“You can’t fight me, little girl. It’s not your time.”


“Yeah, yeah. Kinda the point of this whole trip, if you must know.”


Chapter Twelve







Showing that he had already received some powers from the First, Caleb leapt at Buffy, knocking the scythe from her hand. His confusion when the scythe flew off the floor and back to Buffy’s waiting hand was genuine, and she could see the first hint of fear on his face.  She grinned at him, mentally thanking Winston for that little bit of theatrics.




She swung the scythe at his head, not really surprised that he was able to duck away from it, but disappointed.


“Suck it up, Buffy,” she grumbled to herself as she and Caleb circled each other. “If it was going to be easy, anybody could have done it.”


“Afraid to face me without that weapon?” His attempt to goad her into putting it down made her roll her eyes.


“That is such a guy thing to say. Does that usually work for you? ‘Cause I gotta tell you, girls are smarter than that.” She moved toward him, holding the scythe with the stake end out and poking it at him.  He jumped back, tripping over the body of his latest victim.  Buffy was on him before he hit the floor, running the stake into his chest and pinning him there. She watched his eyes blacken, and pulled the stake out to switch ends, but he was already regaining his feet and he knocked her to the side with more force than he’d shown yet. With black coals for eyes, and blood dripping from the hole in his chest, he suddenly looked much more like what he was, the human extension of the First Evil. He glared out at the carnage in the room, where his army of Bringers were down to the last two facing off against Wesley and Spike.


“All yours,” Spike said when he saw Buffy struggling to her feet as Caleb turned his gaze back on her. He flew across the room and was on her left before Caleb had completed his turn.


“A vampire. I might have known a dirty girl like you would be spreading her legs to get help from a demon.” He sneered at Spike. “Not that you’ll be able to help her.”


Moving with unexpected speed, he leapt toward them, slapping Spike out of the way and using his other hand to knock the scythe loose again. Buffy’s gasp made him laugh, although he stopped laughing when she punched him into the middle of the room. Without even looking behind him, he knocked an advancing Angel off his feet and into a wall. Before Spike could rejoin Buffy, or Winston could get the scythe back to her, she was punching Caleb again, dodging around him, avoiding his blows and hitting him as often as she could.


“I don’t need help from anybody to kick your disgusting ass,” she grunted as she continued raining blows upon his head and body. When she’d punched him back to the area where she’d dropped the scythe, she paused just long enough. In one smooth motion, she bent, grabbed, and came up with it between his legs, just as she had in her own time. She watched in satisfaction as he split into two halves, both of which fell to the floor.


There was silence in the room as everyone gazed at the now bisected body bleeding out onto the floor. Buffy walked up and kicked one of the body halves far enough away to be sure they two parts couldn’t go back together. Just to be sure, she whacked the remaining head parts off both bodies and kicked them to separate corners of the large room.


“I think you got him, love,” Spike said into the stunned silence.


“Well then, I guess we can go home now, huh?” She looked at the other men in the room, all of whom were trying very hard not to look at the body she’d split in two, from the groin to the top of his head. “What?” she asked, arms akimbo.


“Nothing. Nothing at all. Just… good job, Buf-Slayer.” Wesley gazed at her with a mixture of admiration and awe. The others hurried to add their congratulations as she frowned at them.


“What do you think will happen now?” Wesley asked innocently. “We’ve taken him out of the equation for good, it seems. Will that be it?”


“Don’t know, do we?” Spike said. “We can hope so, but the First is a stubborn bastard. And he’s still got a hellmouth to play with.”


“There is that,” Winston said. “We don’t know what awaits us.”


The reminder that Angel had no idea why they might have been thinking about what to expect next, brought some embarrassed throat-clearing from Spike and Wes, and a glare from Buffy. Angel looked at Spike and growled.


“I suppose this is one of those things that Spike ‘the seer’, told you about,” he said to Buffy with a sneer. “I don’t know why you believe him. For all you know he’s been making it up as he goes along, just to keep you interested.”


“Well, it’s working. I’m interested enough to be married to him,” Buffy snapped back. She sighed and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Angel. And if I wasn’t still pissed off at you for claiming me… and for keeping it going without telling me anything about it…” She paused to glare at him. “If I wasn’t still mad about that, I might be willing to tell you why I believe everything Spike says. But I am, so I won’t. Just trust us that we know something about what we’re dealing with. I appreciate the help you gave us tonight, and I hope you can explain all this to the LAPD, but we’re going back to Sunnydale now. We might even get there in time to get some sleep tonight… if Winston lets Spike drive….” She giggled at Winston’s expression and rapid head shake.


“Will you be alright?” Spike’s question was directed at Wesley. Although Buffy’s anger at Angel was an excellent excuse for the ex-watcher becoming the contact person between Sunnydale and LA, they still weren’t sure if Angel trusted Wes or not. Only Spike had much of an idea about what was going on at Angel Investigations while they were all busy in Sunnydale trying not to end the world. And he only knew bits and pieces gathered from ghostly chats with Fred and Harmony, as well as gossip around the offices of WR&H. 


“I believe I’ll be fine,” Wes said. “But thank you.”


“Of course he’ll be fine,” Angel said. “What kind of a stupid question is that?”


Spike just stared at Angel with no expression until the older vampire narrowed his eyes.


“What do you think you know? Why don’t you mind your own business?”


“Takin’ care of my friends is my business,” Spike said mildly. He transferred his attention to Wesley. “Good to know. Thanks for the information and help.”


“Yes, thanks, Wes,” Buffy said as she joined Spike. “We really appreciate all the help. This is going to make things a lot easier…. I think.”


“We can certainly hope that is the case. And you’re more than welcome, Buffy. You know you can call upon me at anytime.”


Angel’s face was a study in confusion and anger, but he didn’t ask any more questions, just growled, “Let’s go, Wes. We have our own criminals to worry about here in our own city.”


Buffy rolled her eyes at him, but didn’t argue. She just followed Winston up the stairs. She could feel Spike right behind her and worried briefly about the wisdom of turning his back on Angel. Some of her concern bled through, and Spike gave her a reassuring pat on her back.


It's alright, love. We got a lot of our need for violence out working through those Bringers. It was like the old days. Family is family. Even when one of them is a wanker. He isn’t going to stake me in the back.


You’ve got more trust in him than I do. Buffy didn’t even try to hide her grumble.


Known him a bit longer than you have, love. It’ll be fine.


Apparently Spike was right, as they all emerged onto the main floor without incident. He cocked his head at Winston, asking quietly, “Do you feel alright?”


Winston took a deep breath, exhaled, and smiled at Buffy, who was frowning as she realized why Spike was asking.


“I’m fine. I’ll admit I was hoping for a bit more of a workout, but you and Wes… and the other vampire,” he flicked his hand dismissively in Angel’s direction, “were handling things just fine. And the priest was Buffy’s to slay. I’m all right.”


Buffy could see Angel and Wes exchanging puzzled looks, as Spike and Winston walked out the door.  She watched Wes’s eyes widen as he obviously remembered how Winston had handled the Bringers that interrupted the wedding. He turned to her.


“Did he—”


Buffy shook her head. “He was here in case we needed him. We didn’t… well, except for that nifty trick with the scythe. That was pretty cool. Anyway, like he said, you guys were handling the Bringers, Caleb was mine, and there weren’t any Turok-hans to make toast, so he didn’t have to do much.”


“And that’s a problem?” Wes asked, indicating he might have more knowledge about destructive magic than she’d expected.


“He says it wasn’t. I trust him.”  She gave Wes and Angel a tight smile. “And if it was, I’m not sure any of us could do anything about it. Just let it go and pretend you never heard Spike ask.”


Neither Wes nor Angel had been able to look at Winston while they were busy fighting, so they had no idea about the expression on his face while he was watching them. And only Wes seemed to understand why Spike might have been worried. Angel just blustered and glared around.


“I don’t see why you brought a mage with you, anyway. We didn’t need him for anything except to open the lock on the door. Either Spike or I could have broken that lock easily.” He snorted. “Spike probably could’ve picked it open. I don’t get what you expected him to do.”


“And you should probably hope you never find out,” Buffy said as she left the building and followed Spike and Winston. “Thanks for the help, guys. We’re going to head home now.”


“But, Buffy, we haven’t had a chance to talk about—” To Angel’s surprise, Wesley stepped on his foot. “Ow! What the hell—” He glared at Wes.


“Do you really want to remind her that she’s still angry at you for that attempt to claim her?” Wes hissed. “Get over yourself, Angel. The man/vampire in her life is Spike. Accept it.”


Angel narrowed his eyes at Wesley. “You know more about them than I do, don’t you? Like, how they could go from sworn enemies to… what they are now. And how they seem to know what’s coming. I still don’t believe Spike is a seer.”


“In a way, he is,” Wes said. “That’s all you need to know. Maybe if you can get over your tantrum about their relationship, and apologize to Buffy for what you did to her when she was so young, they’ll take you into their confidence.”


Angel and Wes watched as Buffy joined Spike and Winston at the end of the alley. Spike having heard everything they’d said, had been telling Buffy about their short conversation. She sighed deeply and turned to face them.


“It is what it is, Angel. Wes is right. Accept it.” She turned to walk away, then spun back around. “And that apology would be a damn good idea, if you can do it sincerely. Think about it.”


Without another look or word, she took Spike’s hand and they disappeared around the corner, following Winston toward his car.  He didn’t seem to need any help from Spike to find it, going directly to the street it was on.. As Spike had expected, the car was untouched, although the small group of men watching from a near-by porch seemed unnecessarily interested in them.


As Winston unlocked the doors and got into the driver’s seat, the men came off the porch and surrounded Buffy and Spike. However, one glimpse of Spike’s true face sent them running back to the safety of the house, and Buffy snickered at his, “Cowardly wankers”.


“You know you were hoping you’d get to do that,” she said as they went around to the passenger side. “You can ride shotgun on the way home. I’m going to take a nap.”


Chapter Thirteen



Given how late it was when they got back to Sunnydale, the “nap” turned out to mean Buffy only woke up long enough to tell Winston “good-night” and “thanks” when he dropped them off at home. Even Spike was yawning as he felt dawn approaching, and without any discussion, they dropped their clothes on the bedroom floor and fell into bed.


It was well into the next day when Buffy’s phone woke her up, and she stumbled around hunting for it among the things on the floor.


“Umm. Hi, Giles. I mean, good morning?..... Oh. It is, huh?..... Yeah, yes we did…. No Winston’s fine. He didn’t have to do much, but he drove there and back so he’s probably sleeping too….. Uh huh.  Okay. Sounds like a plan. See you this afternoon.”


She dropped the phone, but elected to visit the bathroom before deciding if she was up for the day, or just taking a pee break before going back to sleep. She remembered what Giles had said about what time it was already, and with a sigh, reached into the tub and turned on the shower.


When she came out, towel wrapped around her head, she ran into Spike’s chest as she tried to leave the bathroom.


“You didn’t wait for me?” He sent her a mental pout.


“You don’t usually want to be awake this early. Go ahead and get cleaned up.” She slipped past him, giving his morning wood a little pat. “I’ll wait for you out here.”


“You’d best still be naked,” he grumbled, attempting a half-serious grab at her still damp body.


“Depends on how long it takes you to get clean. It’s kind of chilly out here….”


In spite of her words, she just towel dried her hair as well as she could, and combed it out with her fingers.


“Grab my hair dryer!” she yelled as she heard the shower go off.


When Spike appeared, dryer in one hand and brush in the other, she beamed at him and sat on the edge of the bed. In a routine that was becoming almost a ritual for them, he sat behind her and began to brush and dry her hair. Buffy’s sigh of contentment seemed to make up for the lack of immediate sexual activity he’d been looking for, and she smiled as he settled into a steady rhythm of brushing and blowing until her hair was settled around her shoulders in a silky cover.


“That what you wanted, love?” he murmured in her ear as he dropped the tools on the floor.


“Mmmm hmmmm,” she agreed, leaning back into him. “Thank you.”


“Was my pleasure… as you well know,” he said. “I’d almost rather do that than….” He stopped when she snorted, breaking the spell of quiet contentment. “I said almost,” he growled, pulling her back against his body. “But now that it’s done with…..”


With them both still naked from their showers, it took very little time to find themselves in one of their favorite positions, with Spike on his back and Buffy impaled on his cock.  She wriggled her hips, earning a groan from him as he pushed up into her. “Are you in a hurry?” she gasped, beginning to rock back and forth on him as he continued moving.


“Wasn’t before, but I am now,” he growled, holding on to her hips and pushing up harder and faster.


Buffy leaned forward and rested her hands on his shoulders as she let his motions bring her to a whimpering finish that preceded his own shout of completion by only a few seconds.  She fell onto his chest, leaving her legs on either side of his, and murmured her appreciation as he put his arms around her and held her even closer.


After a few moments of mutually happy snuggling, Buffy sighed and pushed herself off his body.


“Well, that was a nice way to start the day,” she said, standing up and avoiding the arm he tried to grab her with. “I hope the rest of it goes that good.”


“What rest of it?” he grumbled, accepting that she wasn’t coming back to bed with little grace.


“We need to go over to my mom’s gallery to thank her again for having the wedding for us, and to see if she needs help with anything. She said she was expecting some deliveries. And then, I think we need to sit down with Giles and Winston…. and maybe the others….I guess they have a right to—”


“If you want to discuss what I think you do, I’d say we just talk with the watcher and the wizard before we bring anybody else into it. If we decide it needs to be done, then we can bring Red and Harris up to speed.”




By the time they’d both eaten breakfast, it was well past noon, and they opted to drive to the gallery to help maintain Spike’s, by-this-time-not-so-secret, secret that he could go out in the sun.


“I’m not sure we’re fooling anybody with this anymore,” Buffy commented as Max waved to them when they drove past the front of the building. They’d long since begun parking Spike’s car in the small designated area in the back, knowing it was perfectly safe there.


“Maybe, maybe not. Half the people who know I can get about in the sun think it’s because I’m just a really pale human, and most of the demons aren’t around in the daytime enough to catch me doing it.” He stopped and frowned. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do about Wood yet. Might be a good idea if he did see me walking around in the daylight.”


Buffy groaned. “Speaking of….” she said. “He asked Dawn about me. I guess he saw me when I went after that talisman before it could cause a lot of trouble, and he heard one of her friends call me Buffy.”


Spike nodded. “That’s right, isn’t it? He came here looking for you…. and me?”


“I dunno. It could be coincidence that he showed up here where you live….”


“Or it could be he already knew that William the Bloody was the vamp that did for his mum.”


“Well, by now Dawn has probably told him I’m married, so he won’t be asking me out, and if he sees you out and about, maybe he won’t realize who you are.”


“Uh huh,” he said as he parked near Joyce’s gallery. “And maybe I’ll get a suntan this weekend.”


They entered the gallery and busied themselves walking around while Joyce waved and continued an animated discussion with a customer. Her assistant  smiled timidly. The poor woman, while grateful that they’d been saved from the robbers the previous year, had never quite been able to get over having seen Buffy beat one of them almost to death. And, while she hadn’t noticed Spike’s fangs at the time, she had seen him pick the other robber up in one hand and hold him there quite easily. Joyce’s explanation, that Buffy and Spike were “different” but on the side of good, not evil, had been accepted as part of Sunnydale’s unusual culture, but she still wasn’t as comfortable around them as she had been when she thought they were normal humans.


As soon as Joyce was free, she came over and hugged them both, commenting on how relaxed they looked after their short honeymoon vacation. Buffy shrugged as she struggled not to think about how much killing Caleb had to do with how relaxed she was now, and Spike smirked as he felt her thought.


“So, Mom. What do you need us for?”


“Just a couple of things. There are two big crates on the loading dock. If you two could just bring them in and open them for us, that would be great. I don’t think there’s anything really big and heavy inside, just a lot of smaller things that for some reason got shipped in the same crates.”


“We’ve got it, Mom. Be right back.” 


It took Buffy and Spike only a few minutes to wrestle the crates into the back room and pull them apart.


“No Acathlas this time?” Buffy said, as she emptied out her container.


“Nope. Not even a bloody naked woman. How about yours?”


Buffy pulled the last heavily wrapped item out and placed it on the floor. “None here either, unless this is one—hey, maybe it will be a naked Acathla!”


“Ugly bugger was naked, if I’m remembering right,” he growled. “What is that?”


Buffy pulled the last of the wrapping off and shook her head. “Beats me. Must be some kind of modern art thingie.”


They both stared at the odd-looking arrangement of geometric shapes, but couldn’t figure out what it was meant to be. Joyce came into the big room and frowned at it.


“Huh. It’s bigger than I expected. Spike, would you mind carrying it into the front and putting it on that empty shelf with the light?”


Spike did as he was asked, dutifully admiring it as it sat in its new place, looking just as strange as it had before. Buffy added her, “Yep. That’s really interesting, Mom. We’ve gotta go now. Talk to you later, Bye!” and pulled him out the door.


“Havin’ trouble deciding what to say about that piece, weren’t you?” He laughed as he held the door open for her.


“I hate to hurt Mom’s feelings, but that was just ugly. Nobody’s going to buy that thing!”


“Stranger things have happened, love. Taste in art is a funny thing.”





As they all sat around the table at the back of the Magic Box, finishing up the last of their lunch, Giles leaned back in his chair and smiled.


“I’d like to hear more about this unusual inn you stayed at,” he said. “It is quite intriguing.”


“It’s not for everyone,” Spike said, giving the humans an apologetic shrug. “Don’t think any of you have the right DNA….” He glanced at Anya. “Not anymore, anyway.”


“I know what it is,” she said. “I’ve never been to this one, but I tried to do a vengeance at one… once.” She visibly shuddered.


“You tried to do a vengeance spell? And it didn’t work?” Winston looked appalled and fascinated at the same time. “What happened?”


“Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. And the Innkeeper had the nerve to laugh at me before the Inn put me outside and slammed the door.”


“You mean there’s more than one like the one we stayed in?” Buffy’s eyes grew big. “How could we not know this?”


“Because,” Spike growled, including everyone in his glare, “they aren’t evil, and they don’t allow it on the property…. Not for long, anyway,” he added, as he remembered Anyanka’s profession. “It’s a place for non-human people to stay in a peaceful setting and mingle with whomever they want to mingle. Peacefully and safely.”


“If you’re saying humans aren’t welcome, what was Buffy doing there?” Giles frowned. “She’s just as human as I am.”


“The Slayer is human… but a bit more than. And clearly not evil. An’ this one was having her honeymoon with a souled vampire.”


“A souled vampire who’s saved the world several times already,” Buffy added, glaring at Giles as if he was going to argue.


He shook his head and raised his hands in a peaceful gesture. “Quite right you are. Both of you. You are not an ordinary human nor is Spike a normal vampire. My apologies. I didn’t mean to imply that either of you might not be worthy.”


Winston cleared his throat. “If I might… I find myself as curious about the Inn itself as the Innkeeper. I take it there was magic involved?”


Spike shrugged. “I reckon so. But not magic the way we think of it. And I think the Inn building is the source of it, not the Innkeeper. If I had to guess, I’d say they aren’t from this dimension. And I doubt there’s very many of them.”


“There are only three on this plane,” Anya said. “And don’t ask me how I know that.” She put down her duster and went down the stairs to the store room, leaving silent expressions of surprise on the faces of the remaining people in the room.


Giles recovered first. “Yes. Well. Interesting to know. I’ll do some research on this. Perhaps the Council will know something about these places.”


“Or you could just mind your own business and leave them be,” Spike growled. “They aren’t harming you or yours.”


Winston smothered a small smile, but not before Giles caught it. He glared, then sighed and shook his head.


“You’re quite right, of course, Spike. It’s just hard for a watcher to not want to know everything there is to know.”


Buffy stood up and stretched, saying, “Well all you need to know now, is what the future is like in our time, and what we might have to do to get back to anything like it.” She went to the small kitchen and got herself a glass of water.




 By the time she got back, Winston was repeating to Giles what he’d already told him about his own timeline, and that he couldn’t imagine returning to something so different he wouldn’t recognize it.


He glanced up as Buffy returned, saying, “I don’t believe it’s a great deal different from what Buffy left— except for the things you know about that were changed very early on. Giles, you are still the head of the new Slayers and Watchers Council, there are still multiple slayers all over the world. One of the differences is that the coven and I are very much a part of the Council. Willow is the head of the magic department, although she consults us as needed. You are responsible for identifying and recruiting the newly activated slayers, and Buffy had been working to set up a training facility—until you decided to send her back to try to prevent the rise of the First Evil and the subsequent loss of the Council building and it’s centuries of records. As well as the many friends and acquaintances we both have there.”


“And where was Spike?”


“Trapped in the amulet he used to close the hellmouth,” Buffy said. “And then he was at Angel’s new office in Wolfram and Hart, but he was a ghost.” She glanced at Winston. “Was that the same in your time?”


“As far as Spike goes, I’d assume so. However, Wesley was spending more time at the new Council headquarters than he was with Angel. He did admit to sending Spike back to try to avert your death and/or resurrection, but he was not comfortable working in Wolfram and Hart, and he didn’t like what he was seeing in Angel, so he wasn’t spending as much time there as he apparently did in yours.”


“Okay, well, then you both know what we did and why we did it. The question is, is the First still going to try to come into our world, and is he planning to do it by raising an army of Turok-hans? Can he do that now? Without my resurrection throwing the balance off so badly, will he still have that kind of power? And without Caleb, will he have a human to meld with?”


“And will there still be Bringers goin’ after potentials all over the world?”


Buffy nodded. “That’s going to be pretty important. If they’re all still in danger, we’re going to have to do something to keep them safe.”


“Well, you can’t stash them all over your mum’s house now,” Spike said. “And as nice as our apartment is, I don’t see us keeping them there.”


“Giles, can you find out from the Council if they know of any potentials that have been killed? Other than the ones Caleb got, I guess.” She bit her lip. “I guess we need to figure out a way to warn them about the bomb… not that we know if it’s going to happen now, since Caleb seemed to think he was supposed to do it….”


Winston spoke up before Giles could answer. “I feel quite certain that Caleb was not the only weak-minded, inclined-toward-evil servant the First has managed to find. Who’s to say he doesn’t have another Caleb in London, planning to blow up the building?”


Buffy sighed. “But we can’t very well tell them that without revealing…. And I’m pretty sure if we tell them they’re all going to die and Giles and I are going to be the head of a Slayer and Watcher Council…. Yeah. They’ll either have us committed, or killed.”


Winston made a face. “I see your point,” he said.


“I’ll ask about any missing or murdered potentials,” Giles said. “Perhaps, in the process of that conversation, there will be an opportunity to mention taking precautions. Aside from the loss of so many lives, many of them friends or former coworkers of mine, the loss of all those records and research materials would indeed be a disaster all by itself.”


“Maybe just tell them we went after Caleb because he’d been killing potentials, and he mentioned the Council?  Can we do that without actually telling them anything else?”


“Possibly.” Giles shrugged. “We seem to have a better working relationship with the current Council—or they with us—than seems to have been the case in your time… times?” He glanced at Winston, who nodded his head.


“In my time, the Council had the benefit of working with the coven for several years, and they are—were— slightly less set in their ways than appears to have been the case in Buffy’s time. Even Travers was known to speak highly of Buffy from time to time.” He frowned. “But we don’t have that going for us this time, do we? I have encouraged the Coven to provide support to the Council, but I’m not aware of their having established a good working relationship.”


“What if the Coven went to the Council and said they’d seen… stuff?”


“Something else to think about,” Spike said quietly. “If they don’t blow up, and Buffy doesn’t do the spell to activate all the potentials, we’re going to be completely lost when we finally get back to that point in this time. Buffy and Rupert won’t be in London, tryin’ to put together a new Council, you won’t be part of the Coven or the Council, and I won’t be popping out of a piece of ugly jewelry in the poof’s new office.”


He waited for them to think it over. Buffy’s face paled as she realized what he was saying.


“You mean we won’t… but then how… are you saying we won’t be here? None of us?”


“Don’t know, do we? I’m just sayin’, we’ll be flyin’ completely blind by then.”


Giles and Winston both shook their heads, but Giles spoke first.


“I cannot, in good conscience, condone allowing an entire building full of people to die.”


“No, of course not!” Buffy frowned. “How about just Travers?” she said, smiling to show she was kidding.


“As much as I can appreciate that thought,” Giles said with a wry twist of his mouth, “I have no desire to take over his job.”


Winston gave Buffy a grin, but shook his head. “I can sympathize with Buffy. I’ve had a few moments with the man myself. However, I agree that we cannot allow all those people to be put to death when we may be able to stop it.”


“Don’t forget about the potentials and their watchers,” Buffy said. “They got killed too.”


“And them. In some way, we are going to have to at least warn the Council about things that could happen.” Winston looked around the table. “I do think the Coven is our best bet. I can be a bit more forthcoming with them without endangering anyone else. They already suspect I’m not the innocent mage they’ve been allowed to think I am. I think I can get them to accept where I’m from—and that it was they who sent me back—without sharing that information with the Council. If I limit my contact to the two oldest coven members…. it should be all right,” he said. “And if it isn’t, the worst thing that will happen is that we will have to let the head of the Watcher’s Council know what is what.”


Buffy blew out an explosive breath, but nodded her head. “I like it. Covens have seers and things. It was a seer who called us about Amanda… I forget her name, but—”


“Althenea,” Winston put in.


Buffy nodded and went on, “It’ll be believable if they tell Travers they think he needs to protect all the potentials and their watchers. That’s a good start.”


“Between that, and Rupert telling Travers that Caleb threatened the Council itself, I think we will have done our best to help them be safe.”


“In the meantime, we’re still here, and still ready for the First to stick it’s ugly head up.”


“Exactly.” Winston looked at Giles. “What do you think? Can we get away with that much information?”


“I don’t see why not. I’d like to offer another thought, if I might?” He looked from Winston to Buffy and Spike, who had pulled their chairs closer together. “If worse come to worst, it may be that we will have to take, not just the coven, but the Council itself into our confidence. We are now very close to eliminating the worst of the events in your timeline. And in Winston’s. Surely by this point, allowing a few others to learn about your history, and how you’ve changed it, would be a safe thing to do?”


“Not until we’re bloody sure that the First has been put back in its cage,” Spike growled. “We need to know it’s a thing of the past, before we start actin’ as if it’s time for a victory parade.”


“I agree with Spike. We’ve disrupted the timing with finding the scythe so early, and getting rid of Caleb, but there might still be Bringers out there trying to kill potentials slayers. And we don’t know who put out word in LA about Abby being a potential. Maybe it was Caleb, but maybe it wasn’t. And I still don’t know what I want to do about the spell to activate everybody.”


“It is a bit of an either/or situation, isn’t it?” Giles said with a sigh. “And not one the Council is likely to approve of.”


Spike snorted. “Yeah, they like to be in control of their cannon fodder. Can’t see them being happy if they’re outnumbered by a bunch of violent little chits, some of them not even knowing the Council exists, never mind that it thinks it can tell them what to do.”


Giles rolled his eyes at Spike, but Winston laughed, and Buffy looked thoughtful.


“What?” he asked her.


I’ll tell you later.


“So. What do we think? Tell the rest of the Scoobies tonight?  Or just put it off until we’ve decided what we need to do?” Buffy looked back and forth between Giles and Winston.


“Why don’t we wait until Winston has spoken with the Coven, and until I have spoken with the Council. As much as we may dislike them and their methods, they do have access to information we don’t. Information that could help us make good decisions going forward.”




Chapter Fourteen



Winston nodded his agreement with Giles’s plan to wait until they heard back from the Coven and the Council before deciding what else to tell the Scoobies, and when. 


“I’d suggest we also wait to tell your…. friends—” 


Buffy’s unladylike snort and “Just can’t get the word Scoobies out, can you?” interrupted him, and he had to wait until they stopped snickering to continue.


“That we wait to tell them, just in case there will be information shared that needn’t be, because it may cause some… unhappiness.”


Spike spoke up. “That’s fair. We’re more than a bit ahead of the game so far, and we’ve already eliminated a few possible problems—”


“Besides Caleb?” Giles looked at him expectantly.


Buffy and Spike exchanged a long look and a quick conversation.


Tell them about me, love?


I dunno. It’s not important now. You aren’t crazy, the First doesn’t have anything to work with….


“Something you’d like to share?” Giles’s expression had gone from expectant to suspicious. “I thought we were past keeping secrets?”


“It’s just another one of those it-isn’t-going-to-happen-this-time things that might…. I dunno…. Help?” She looked to Spike for assistance.


Spike glanced at Winston to see if he might know what they were talking about. To his surprise, Winston nodded his head.


“I think it would be fine. The fact that you are willing to share, would indicate exactly how much it does not apply to this timeline.”


“So you knew about it?” Spike studied Winston’s face for some sign of fear or suspicion, but all he saw was the normal friendly affection he’d grown used to.


“Yes. It really was a fairly minor issue—” He frowned. “Well, not for the ones you—But it didn’t change the actual outcome, so it wasn’t a secret, and it didn’t work as well as the First had hoped it would.”


Buffy glanced at Giles, who appeared to be getting angrier by the moment. “Guys, either we tell Giles what we’re talking about, or he’s going explode. And that could be messy.”


With a grin, Spike said, “Is that right, Rupert? Are you going to explode all over us?”


“I’ll endeavor to keep the mess to a minimum, but since it seems the information everyone except me is aware of pertains to you, I suggest you enlighten me. Just in case…” He glared at Spike, who flashed his fangs in reply, but acquiesced.


“Long story short, I was more than a bit barmy for a good while after I got my soul. And the First was able to use my lack of… faculties… to worm its way into my psyche and install a trigger that would bring out the demon I used to be. Any time I would hear a line or two from an old song my mother used to sing, it would be lights-out for souled, chipped, white hat Spike, and hello, evil demon Spike.”


“You killed? The chip didn’t stop you?”


Spike shook his head. “Whatever happened when I got triggered, the chip didn’t have any effect on it at all. I don’t think it even registered what I was doing, being as how I wasn’t exactly in my own mind during those times.”


Giles stared at Buffy. “Surely you knew about this at some point. Why didn’t you stop him?”


“I did,” she snapped. “As soon as I knew he was doing it. But I didn’t dust him because I saw him when he was under the First’s influence, and I could tell he didn’t know what he was doing. That he wasn’t himself, and that there was somebody… some… thing… else in the room talking to him. So we chained him up until we could get it figured out.”


“It was actually Harris who brought up the idea of something external triggering the demon,” Spike said, then glanced at Winston. “But wouldn’t have been him in your time, I reckon?”


Winston shook his head. “No. I don’t know who figured it out, but it played out about the same way as far as I know. Anyway, the point is, you’re free of it now and have been for years, and it’s unlikely you’re going to become mentally or emotionally vulnerable this time, so it can’t happen again.”


Spike looked stricken. “What if it could?” He stared at Buffy. “What if it can make me dangerous again?”


Buffy grabbed his arms and shook him. “Then we know exactly what we need to do to snap you out of it.”


“I don’t see how it could,” Winston said, adding his soothing voice to Buffy’s. “You’re not the same confused, newly souled vampire you were four years ago. I believe the idea was probably to take you out of the equation completely, preferably by having Buffy stake you.”


“Which would have taken care of both of us,” Buffy said, with sudden understanding. “He would have been gone, so no using his soul to close the hellmouth, and I would have been…. I would have lost my main support system. And, I would have dusted the man I loved.” She shuddered. “It would have changed everything.”


Giles looked back and forth between Buffy and Spike, both wearing expressions of horror at how close they might have come to losing, not just each other, but the battle itself.


“The rift between us. I’d almost forgotten what I told myself about it,” he said slowly. “That it was about trusting Spike.”


“It was,” Buffy said tersely. “But it’s over and done, and you’ve apologized for doubting him… and me…. Don’t worry about it. None of that stuff is going to happen this time.”


Winston made an obvious attempt to break the tension by reminding them of the subject at hand. “In the interest of knowing what we do want to talk about this evening, what do we think we should worry about?”


“Well, you know about the Council building blowing up, we can talk about that; lots of potentials and their watchers being killed and the ones who haven’t been killed showing up here so I could protect them, I guess they should know that could happen; breaking Faith out of jail so she could come to help—”


“Faith is in jail?”


“We’ll have to ask Wes. She was in our time, but everything went a little different here when she woke up from the coma, and we don’t really know where she went or what she did there.” Buffy shook her head. “He did say she was there and helping last year when Angel did whatever he did that rattled their cages, so we don’t know. Maybe she turned herself in, maybe she didn’t…. I probably should have followed up on her more than I did.”


“Not your job to babysit her, love. She’s either reformed and easy to find, or she isn’t, and we’ll just have to hope she doesn’t show up here again at an inconvenient time.”


“I think the most important thing to decide is what to do about the spell that activated all the potentials,” Winston said.


Buffy nodded. “I think I still want to do it. But I’d like to find a way to give them a choice if they want to be active slayers or not. Maybe we can think about that for a few days before we tell anybody about it?  You and Giles can brainstorm the pros and cons, maybe get some input from the Coven? And even from Max? There might be a way to tweak the spell so that it isn’t quite as big a deal.”


“Agreed. As far as the others are concerned, we could limit the conversation this evening to a report on the fight with Caleb, and why it’s important that he has been eliminated so early on. We may want to mention the possible danger still existing for other potential slayers…. if nothing else, we should warn Abigail and her mother.”


Spike snorted. “Between the way we met her and the wedding, I think she’s got a bloody good start on that.”


Buffy nodded her agreement, saying, “I think maybe Abby should be at the meeting?  Or do you think she’s too young?”


“She’s as old as you were when you and the Scoobies—” Spike snickered in Winston’s direction “—were foiling my every scheme.”


Giles shrugged. “Spike has a point. She is young, but she’s learned a tremendous amount since they moved here, and her mother had already provided an amazing level of training, considering it was all done without any weapons knowledge or mention of vampires and demons.”


Winston added, “She has a right to know what could happen, and what the consequences may be.”


“Okay, so adding ask Abby to the meeting tonight to the list.  Anything else?”


“Let us make our phone calls, and we’ll talk again this evening, either before or after the meeting. Is that all right with you, Rupert?”  Winston’s native tact made sure he always acted as if Giles was in charge of things, even though, by this point, there was no question that the three immigrants from the future were calling the shots. The snort from the former watcher made it clear he wasn’t fooled, and Spike smothered a grin.


“Time to go, love. Let the brains make their calls and have their discussions while the brawn has some lunch and goes home for a nap.”


The mental image he sent Buffy made if very clear what he meant by “nap” and she blushed as she got up to leave with a “Sounds good. We’ll be back before the meeting. Call us if you need anything.”





When Buffy and Spike got home, they found a dark-haired girl sitting on the curb, looking like she was trying not to cry.


“Are you okay?” Buffy asked. “What’s wrong?”


The girl tried not to sniffle as she replied, “I was told to come to this address to find Buffy Summers, but something is keeping me from getting close enough to knock on the door, and there’s nobody in the office, so I couldn’t get in there either. And I’m tired and hungry and almost out of money, and I don’t know what to do!”


Buffy and Spike exchanged looks that didn’t go unnoticed by the girl.


“What? What do you know?”


Buffy sighed. “I’m Buffy Summers. And who sent you here to look for me?”


“My wa—my guardian. He said to find you and you would help me.”


“Terrific,” Buffy muttered. “Your watcher told you to find me, but he didn’t tell you how to find Giles or the Magic Box?”


“Who? What box? And no. He just said to find you.” She stared at Buffy dubiously, then glanced at Spike and his white blond hair and leather jacket. “Why? How are you going to help me?”


Instead of answering her, Buffy asked, “Why do you need help? What kind of help? Why isn’t he helping you?”


“I think he’s dead,” she said dully, hanging her head. “I tried to save him, but there were too many of them, and he told me to go.”


“Bugger!” Spike growled, causing the girl to give him another look. She tensed, then glanced up at the sun, not yet sinking into the west, and relaxed again.


“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, giving Spike a glare. “Come on in, and tell us all about it.”


“But I can’t—”


“You can now,” Buffy said as she began to walk around the building toward their apartment. “Follow me.” She led the way, saying over her shoulder, “What’s your name and where are you from?”


“Melinda. But most people call me Mel. We live—lived—outside San Francisco.”


Buffy didn’t say anything else until they were inside and seated on the couch. Spike went to the fridge and took out a diet coke for Buffy and raised an eyebrow at Mel, who nodded her head.


“Yes, thank you,” she said. “I’m really thirsty.”


“Runnin’ for your life can be thirsty work,” he said with a nod as he handed her the can.  He then retreated to one of the stools in the kitchen and let Buffy take charge.


“You said there were ‘too many of them’. Too many of what, or who?”


Mel shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know if they’re whats or whos,” she said. “They wear like… cloaks… and when you see their faces, they look weird.”


“Bringers,” Spike snarled. “They’re still in business, then.”


Mel turned a hard look on him. She seemed to have gotten over her damsel in distress attitude now that she’d met Buffy and found that Buffy understood her. She narrowed her eyes at Spike, who obliged by flashing his fangs and letting his eyes go amber. Even without going into full vamp face, it was clear what he was, and she jumped to her feet, a stake in her hand.


He let his face go back to normal, and shook his head at her. “Good instincts, pet, but I’m on your side.”


Mel looked back and forth between the obviously unperturbed vampire and an equally unperturbed Buffy.


“I don’t understand. Isn’t he…?”


“He is,” Buffy said. “But, like he said, he’s on our side.”


“But he was….”


“Not your average vampire, luv,” Spike said with a smile.


Mel shook her head. “My watcher sent me to somebody who hangs out with a vampire… what was he thinking?”


“He was thinking that the best place for a potential slayer who was being hunted by Bringers was with the real thing. That’s why he sent you to Buffy.”


“Real thi—Are you the Slayer?”


“Guilty,” Buffy replied. “And this is Spike. AKA William the Bloody. My partner in world save-age, and my husband.”


Mel sank back onto the couch, shaking her head. “I’m confused.”


“It’s a lot to take in and catch up on,” Buffy said sympathetically. “I think you should come to the meeting with us tonight and meet Giles.”


“Who’s Giles?”


“He is—was—my watcher. I’m surprised your watcher didn’t send you to him rather then directly to me.” She smiled encouragingly. “Doesn’t matter, though. We’re all going to end up on the same team eventually.”




Mel’s arrival having put an obvious end to Spike’s plans for the afternoon, he fixed himself a mug of blood and retired to the bedroom for a real nap. Buffy smiled her thanks at him as he closed the door, saying he was going to “leave the violence-prone females” to their conversation.


“Have you eaten?” Buffy suddenly remembered that Mel had been travelling while she was having a nice lunch at Spike’s favorite bar, and that she’d said she was hungry.


Mel shook her head. “No. I didn’t want to take a chance on stopping, and I used most of my money for the ticket to get here.”


“Okay. Let’s see what I can find…” Buffy rummaged around in the fridge, muttering to herself about trying to remember to buy real food next time they went to the store.  “How about a sandwich?” she asked, taking out a loaf of reasonably fresh bread and some deli meat. She just set the bread, meat, several condiments, a knife, and a paper plate on the counter and told Mel to help herself.


Which she did. Showing she had a true slayer metabolism, she fixed and ate three sandwiches before pushing to plate away. “Wow. I really was hungry. Hope I didn’t take all your food!”


Buffy shook her head and laughed. “We don’t actually eat here all that often,” she said. “Just breakfast usually.” She pointed to the cereal boxes on the top of the fridge. “Someone needed to eat that stuff before it went bad.”  She walked to the couch and sat down. “So, come on over here and tell me about yourself and your watcher.”




By the time Spike emerged at sunset, Buffy and Mel were chatting like old friends about what it was like to grow up as a potential slayer with and without a watcher.  Mel glanced up and squirmed anxiously as he went directly to the kitchen.


“Is that where the bathroom is?” she whispered to Buffy, pointing to the bedroom.


“Oh my god, yes. I’m sorry! You must be dying to pee by now. You should have said something! It’s right in there.”


Mel bolted for the bathroom, blushing as the sound of Spike’s laughter followed her.


“Poor little chit,” he chuckled. “Was she too afraid to come in, or just being polite?”


“Probably both,” Buffy admitted. “That was dumb of me. I should have realized….”


“Don’t go all mother hen on me now, love. She’s gonna be a slayer. She’ll be able to take care of herself.”


“It’s starting, isn’t it?” she sighed.


“Might be,” he allowed. “But the First is in for a rude awakening if it thinks it can get away with everything it did in our time. Come on, love. We did for the Frankenstein monster early on, got rid of Glory with minimal loss of life and limb, and took care of Mears without Willow having to go all world-ending witch on you. This non-corporeal git will be a piece of cake.”


Buffy laughed. “You know if I said that, you’d tell me I was jinxing us!”


“Was a bit of challenge, wasn’t it?” He glanced upward. “Just kidding there, Powers That Be. Just kidding!”


Mel came back into the room and stared at him.


“Who is he talking to?”


Buffy laughed. “Did your watcher ever tell you about the Powers That Be?”


Mel shook her head. “Should he have?”


Buffy shook her head. “I dunno. We’ll ask Giles if he thinks you need to know about them. They kind of mess with us sometimes, so it couldn’t hurt to know who to yell at about things.”


Buffy called Giles and told him she was bringing a “guest” and that he should order pizza for before the meeting. She also called Abby and reminded her that there was a Scooby meeting to which she was invited. When she hung up, she giggled at how excited Abby sounded when she yelled to her mother that she was invited to the meeting. She also made a mental note to find Amanda and explain to her why she might be in danger. She groaned at the idea of having to explain about slayers, but knew she was going to have to tell her sooner or later.





Chapter Fifteen




 Spike took them to the meeting in his car, leaving early enough that they could show Mel some of the sights of Sunnydale. Said sights included the new high school which they assured her really was located over the actual hellmouth.

“But it’s way down in the old basement, and there’s a seal on it now. At least we think there is….” Buffy muttered under her breath, remembering that they hadn’t checked it for a while.

They rode past the Bronze, in which Mel seemed much more interested than she had the high school.

“So, it’s a club? With music? And you don’t have to be twenty-one to get in? Cool!”

After cruising past a few of the busier cemeteries, and laughing at Mel’s astonishment at how many there were in such a small city, they pulled into a parking place in front of the Magic Box.

“I wonder if Winnie has anything to do with parking always being available on meeting nights?” Spike wondered aloud as he held the door for the girls.

“Wonder all you want,” Winston said with a grin. “It’s a secret.” He raised his eyebrows as Mel entered the room, hiding somewhat timidly behind Buffy.

“Is this your guest?” Giles asked, giving Mel a warm, if puzzled, smile. “How do you do? I’m Rupert Giles, and you are?”

“I’m Melanie,” she said, shaking the hand he held out.

Buffy interrupted to say, “Mel was waiting on the sidewalk when we got home this afternoon. Her watcher sent her to me.” She put an arm around Mel and added, “He was killed by Bringers trying to get to her.”

“Oh dear,” Giles gasped, then pulled out a chair for Mel. “Please sit down and tell me about it. Who is-was your watcher? What was his name? When did this happen?”

Spike rolled his eyes and said, “Can you cool your research jets there for bit, Rupert? Let the poor chit meet Winnie, have some pizza, and relax for a few.” Without waiting for Giles to respond, he pointed to Winston, saying, “This is Winston. He’s not really a Scooby, but we let him hang out here because he’s a dab hand at magic and comes in handy sometimes.”

Winston favored Spike with a rude British gesture, but turned a warm smile on Mel.

“I’m pleased to meet you,” he said. “Although I’m sorry it is under such unfortunate circumstances. My sympathy for your loss.” As usual, his smooth charm worked its magic and Mel relaxed, eyeing the pizza that had just been delivered.

Over slices of pizza, Mel told Giles who her watcher was, where they’d been living, and agreed that there might be books worth securing in the house she’d left behind. She looked a little apprehensive at the idea of returning to the house containing what she expected would be her watcher’s body, and Giles reassured her.

“You can just give us the address and some directions if you think we’ll need them, and Buffy and Spike can make the run.” He glanced at Buffy and then Winston. “Perhaps Willow could accompany you. She’ll have a better idea which books will be the most valuable.”

Buffy shrugged. “Sure. If she wants to. She’ll be better at it than either one of us will.”


 As had become their custom, Xander had brought both Willow and Anya in his car, picking them up at their respective abodes, to which he would be returning them at the end of the evening. He seemed to have resigned himself to losing Anya, although no one was sure if he actually knew she was dating Giles, which made for some awkward conversations from time to time. Buffy wondered, as she watched them all come in and find seats, whether he was just telling himself Anya just spent so much time with Giles because of the shop, or if he’d figured out that they were well on their way to being a couple.

They had no sooner arrived and been introduced to Mel, than Abby and her mother entered and introductions began again. As Lois prepared to leave, insisting that she’d just come in to say hello to everyone, Giles suggested she might want to join them for the meeting.

She might want to, or you think you might need help to cope with two potentials?” Buffy asked with a snicker.

Lois glanced at Mel in surprise, studied her for moment, then nodded. She glanced at Buffy, who had told her about the possibility of there being more danger to Abby someday, without telling her why she knew those things. 

“Is there something we need to know?” she asked.

“I’m afraid so,” Giles said, frowning at Buffy. “Please sit down and let us tell you about what Buffy—and Spike and Winston—have been able to do recently, and why it seems it was not enough.”

When everyone was seated again, except Spike, who was in his usual place leaning against a wall, Giles looked to Buffy for guidance. 

“Do you want to talk about it, or shall I?”

To his surprise, Buffy asked him to take the lead. “Why don’t you do it? I can fill in if details are needed.”

“Very well. The bottom line is that we had information about a minion of the First Evil, who was killing girls in Los Angeles, including at least one potential slayer. Based on what Buffy and Spike have already told us about—”

He stopped, obviously realizing he was going to have to be careful how he explained why they knew as much as they did. He gave Buffy a brief glare as he understood why she’d let him do the talking, but she just grinned back at him and made “go on” motions with her hands.

“The point is, it appears that potentials are still being targeted, and that taking Caleb out of the equation, while very helpful, has not been the magic bullet we had hoped it might. We’re waiting for more information from both the Council and the Coven that Winston works with to find out if this is happening everywhere, or just in this part of the world. However, since Melanie here lived some distance away, it appears not to be limited to Los Angeles or Sunnydale.”

Lois raised her hand almost apologetically. “I suppose it’s none of my business, but I’m curious what you mean about ‘taking… Caleb?... out of the equation’? And, of course, I’m wondering what the rest of the equation looks like.”

“As yes. Excellent questions. Once we ascertained that Caleb was in fact doing the First Evil’s dirty work for him, and had a good idea where he probably was hiding, Buffy, Spike, and Winston drove to Los Angeles to meet a former watcher friend of ours. They found his hiding place, which, as we’d feared, was guarded by Bringers. While Spike and An-another souled vampire, and Wesley were fighting with the Bringers, Buffy approached Caleb and found that he’d already been given some extra strength by his alliance with the First Evil. However, with the help of her new weapon…”. He gestured at the scythe resting against the wall behind Buffy’s chair. “…she was able to defeat him and prevent him from being of any more assistance to the First.”

He beamed at Buffy proudly, causing her to blush lightly, and making Winston and Spike snicker.

Lois however, did not give up. “And by ‘defeat him’ you mean….”

Buffy stood up and held the scythe in one hand. “I slayed him,” she said firmly. “With this. It’s what works the best against the First’s minions. But Bringers can be killed other ways.” She sighed. “Right now, it looks like the First is still targeting potential slayers. It’s possible Mel will be the first of many to be sent to me to keep safe. I hope that’s not true, but if it is, we need to find a safe place for them to live. So far, I’ve only had to fight one Turok-han, and I had the scythe, so it was a lot easier than the—than it could have been.”

“Who or what is ‘the First’?” That question came from Mel, who was looking at all of them as if she had landed in a group of lunatics. “And why does he hate us?”

“The First Evil,” Giles explained. “Pure evil, that’s always been in existence. Just as there has always been Good to balance it and keep it from taking over the world. We’d hoped that balance was sufficient to keep it incorporeal and confined to the underworld, but it is beginning to seem that may not be the case.”

“Well why not? Why is Good falling down on the job?  And what is ‘Good’ anyway?”

“We are,” Buffy snapped, pointing between herself and the two surprised girls. “Does ‘Heaven’s Chosen One’ ring a bell to either one of you? We’re the forces of good that stand against the evil things.”

The girls sat back, equally shocked expressions on their faces.



“You’re both potential slayers. You’re one mistake on my part away from maybe being the next Chosen One.” She ignored Spike’s growl behind her. “The more of you that get killed, the fewer there are left to fill my shoes. If the First is planning something big, the fewer possible replacements I have, the less it has to worry.”

There was a soft “Oh” from Abby, and a “Well that sucks!” from Mel.

“It does. But we’re a little bit ahead of the game now with Caleb gone, so with luck, we only have to worry about the Bringers trying to do the First’s dirty work.”

“What about ‘without luck’?” Lois asked shrewdly.

“Then I’ll—we’ll—have to fight some really nasty vampires. Which is doable with this.” She held the scythe over her head. “But even without it, they’re dustable, just a little—You know what? We’re not gonna worry about Turok-hans unless we have to.” She sat down and stopped speaking.

Giles sighed and said to the two wide-eyed girls and Lois, “I’ll give you a book with information on Turok-hans. As Buffy has indicated, if all goes well, that will be as close as you ever need to get.”

He turned back to Buffy. “Didn’t you mention another potential living in Sunnydale?”

“Yes, Amanda. Dawn knows her. I need to talk to her, and isn’t that going to be fun….”

“Why? Shouldn’t she be here, with us?” Abby looked bewildered.

Buffy sighed. “You two know what you are. Mel had a watcher, and you were raised by a well-trained former potential. You’re trained, and you know about vamps and demons and other evil things. Amanda has no idea….”

Willow interrupted. “Are you sure? I mean, yeah, she might not  know what a slayer is or that she could be one, but if she grew up in Sunnydale, she might know something about vampires and demons. Even Xander and I were taught not to invite strangers in after dark. Although we didn’t really know why until we met you, I guess….” she finished in a mumble.

“That’s an excellent point, Willow.” Giles shifted his gaze back to Buffy. “She may be easier to talk to than you think. Particularly if she’s a friend of Dawn’s. No doubt she may have some idea what you are.”

Buffy made a face. “Yeah, Dawn’s probably bent her ear about what a pain it is to be the Slayer’s little sister. Okay, I’ll get with her soon.”

Breaking his normal silence, Spike said, “What do you want to do about Wood? Didn’t the Bit say he wants to meet you?”

“Wood? Isn’t that what we use for stakes?” Mel frowned at him.

Abby shook her head. “Do you mean our principal? He’s a Mr. Wood.”

“Yes, he is your principal. He’s also the son of a slayer who was raised by her watcher. And in—” She broke off before she could finish “in my time”.

“And he knows what Buffy is. What we don’t know, is if he knows he has some history with me. But he will know it, sooner or later.”

“The First!” Lois said, clearly remembering Buffy’s speech about the First and its ability to appear to you as anyone dead.

“Exactly. It got to him in—I mean—it could appear to him as his mum, and then he’d know….”

Mel’s eyes got big.  “You killed his mother!  You’re William the Bloody! I had to learn about you.” 

Lois’s eyes got big as she obviously remembered her early training about the world’s most dangerous vampires. She stared from Spike to Buffy.

Spike was still looking at Mel. “Pretty sure the Slayer told you that when she introduced us, luv. Weren’t you paying attention?”

“Yes. No. I mean, I heard her say it, but I… It didn’t register.”

Buffy took over the conversation. “Okay, let’s get this over with. Yes, Spike is William the Bloody, who killed two slayers. One of them was a really long time ago when he hadn’t been a vampire very long, and the other one was still before any of us were born…. Well, maybe not Giles and Winston, but the rest of us. He was evil then. Now he isn’t. He has his soul back, which he went and got himself because he wanted to be a better man. But even before he got it, he was helping me and taking care of my sister, and—” She seemed to run out of air, and Winston broke into the silence.

“And we’ve all had years to get to know him and to understand how much he has changed from the demon he once was. Rupert and I, and Buffy, trust him completely.”

Spike slid his eyes to the side, to see Giles give a short nod. Buffy snorted at Spike’s obvious surprise and then gave Giles her own grateful smile.

“The point is,” Buffy continued, “that Robin Wood is sooner or later going to figure out that Spike is the vampire that killed his mother. And there’s a good chance he won’t take it well.”

“Which means,” Winston said with his usual tact and gentleness, “that at some point it may become necessary for everyone to help Spike watch his back.”

“Can’t he just stay away from Principal Wood?” Abby asked.

Buffy shook her head. “He already told Dawn he wants to meet me. I’m not planning to hide who I’m married to. And I think he’s too savvy not to realize Spike is a vamp pretty quickly. The issue will be if he can figure out which vamp Spike is. For all we know, her watcher might have told Robin who killed his mother, if he knew.” She raised an eyebrow at Spike, who shrugged.

“No idea, love. We fought more than once, so she could have talked to her watcher about me and he may have figured it out, but I don’t know. It’s not like we were formally introduced.”

“But if he doesn’t know, the First will make sure he does. It’s what he does. Gets into people’s heads by pretending to be somebody they trust, and tells them things that will make them doubt the people around them. So, just be aware of it, and suspicious of anyone you know is, or has been, dead. Including me,” she added for Mel’s benefit.

“So, what else do we need to worry about?” Willow got a grateful smile for her attempt to change the subject. “I’m going to go to Mel’s house to see what research books we might be able to use. Maybe Winston should help me because he’ll know even more.”

Giles, Spike, and Buffy all tried to hide the surprise they felt at hearing Willow ask for Winston’s help, but Winston just smiled and said, “It would be my pleasure. I’m even willing to drive.”

“And he can drive,” Willow added.

“Well if you both go, you probably won’t need us,” Buffy said. “Even if there are Bringers hanging around, you two can just set them on fire.”

“Yep. We can.” Willow smiled her agreement, and Buffy struggled not to roll her eyes.

“I suppose the next order of business is deciding where Mel is going to spend the night while we assess where she will live permanently,” Giles said. He’d barely stopped speaking before Lois spoke up.


“She’ll stay with us of course,” she said with finality. “I have plenty of room, and Abby would be happy to have the company.”

“Thank you, Lois,” Buffy said. “That’ll be great. Once we know if we’re going to have more girls showing up, we can start looking for a safe place that we can make into a dorm.”

“If you’re supposed to keep us safe, shouldn’t we be wherever you are?” Mel asked, smiling at Abby and her mother to show she appreciated their offer, but was concerned.

“If we have to go that route, we will,” Buffy said with a sigh. “But we’ve got more than a bit of magical muscle on our side, and I’m pretty sure whatever house we find to use can be protected from just about anything the First can throw at it, right, Winston?”

“I don’t doubt it,” he said with a nod.

“Well, if that’s all then, I guess we can call it a night. We’ll meet again once Winston and I have obtained more information from our various sources about the other potential slayers in the world.” 

Willow, meanwhile, was talking to Mel about where her watcher’s home was located, and also what, if anything, Mel would like her to bring back from there in the way of clothes and keepsakes. Willow told Mel to make a list for her to take on the day trip to her former home.


As everyone began to head for the door and home, Anya announced that she had ‘business to discuss’ with Giles, and would be remaining behind.

“Somebody will give me a ride home, Xander. You and Willow can go on without me.”

Xander just snorted, “I’m sure somebody will,” he said under his breath as he held the door open for Willow. 

There was a moment of silence after it closed behind them, then Spike said, “Don’t think you’re foolin’ anybody, Anyanka. Why don’t you just tell the poor sod that you’re seeing somebody else and make it a clean break?”

Why don’t you tell him? You’re friends now. You could do it.”

He glared at her. “Because it’s not my place. It’s yours. Man…er… woman up, and do it.”

Anya just gave an offended sniff and stomped back to the office area.

“Let’s go before you get yourself in trouble,” Buffy said, laughing. She began to tug him toward the door, then paused to say to Giles and Winston, “Give me a call if you learn anything important for me to know right away, okay? Either one of you.”

Neither man questioned her right to be giving them directions, just nodded and said their goodnights as Buffy and Spike went out the door together.


Chapter Sixteen



Buffy called her mother’s house before Dawn could leave for school that morning, to ask her what Amanda might know about Buffy’s night job. After some evasive coughing and throat clearing, Dawn finally understood that Buffy was asking a serious question, not trying to find a reason to yell at her, and she admitted that Amanda knew not only that Buffy was the Slayer, but that Spike was an unusual vampire who didn’t kill people and could walk around in the daylight.


“Oh. Well, that’s good then. Will you tell Amanda that I need to talk to her about slayers? Sooner rather than later?”


“Okay. I’ll talk to her at lunch. Maybe we can meet somewhere after school.”


“Sounds like a plan. Oh, by the way, give your principal my cell number and tell him to call me if he wants to meet sometime today. ‘K?”


“Sheesh! What am I, your social secretary?”


“Just do it. Please and thank you.”


“I’ll bet people with normal big sisters don’t have to do stuff like this….”




The call from Robin Wood came rather quickly. Buffy hoped that was a good sign, not a bad one. They had a short, pleasant conversation as was appropriate for two people who were going to be meeting for the first time, and agreed to meet in his office at 1:30 when the lunch shifts would be over and he would be off duty.


When it was time to get ready, Buffy dressed in a manner that she hoped was appropriate for meeting her sister’s principal, but that also made her look older than he would expect her to be. Spike was amused.


“Tryin’ to make sure the wanker doesn’t ask you out this time?” he said, rolling his eyes when she added a blazer to her more conservative than usual outfit.


“No, smartass,” she said, glaring at him. “I want to look like a serious person, who he should pay attention to and believe what she says.”


“Got a plan, then, have you?”


“Sort of?  Depending on what he has to say first. If he admits right up front that he knows who I am, and that his mother was a slayer, then I can tell him some stuff about the First and the hellmouth. If he doesn’t…. then I don’t have a plan.”


“Well, good luck with it, then. Give him my best.”


“Not funny, Spike,” she growled. “What are you going to do today?”


“Think I’ll chat with Max for a bit and warn him Mel might not be the last wayward potential to show up on our doorstep.”


“Good idea. He really hasn’t been part of most of our discussions…. I mean he saw the Bringers go after Abby, and he heard my speech about the First, but we haven’t really talked to him about a lot of it.”


He walked to the door with her, stopped her before she could go out, and kissed her long and hard before letting her go.


“What was that for?” Buffy asked, somewhat breathlessly.


“Just a reminder that you’re married,” he smirked.


“Consider me reminded,” she said with a shake of her head. “As if I needed it.”


She left the apartment and heard the door shut behind her.


“It’s not like I’m going to forget his kisses are one of the reasons I fell in love with him,” she muttered to herself as she started down the sidewalk. “Dumb ass vampire.”




“So you’re Buffy Summers,” Robin Wood said, taking Buffy’s extended hand and shaking it. “Ever since I saw how you handled that incident at the beginning of the year, I’ve been dying to have a chance to talk to you.”


“That’s kind of an unfortunate choice of words in this town,” Buffy said, smiling broadly, in case he genuinely had no idea about her. However, it was immediately clear that he did.


“I suppose it was,” he said. “It was my less-than-subtle way of suggesting that I know who and what you are.”


“And you know that because…?” Buffy had to keep reminding herself to be careful not to give away how much she already knew about him.


“Because my mother was a slayer,” he said, as he closed the door to his office. “She died when I was quite young and I was raised by her watcher. A good man. He saw to it that I got an education… in more ways than one.”


“Apparently he did. What brings you to Sunnydale?”


“Honestly? A rumor that the vampire that killed my mother might be here. Although, from what I’ve heard about you, it seems unlikely. Your reputation as a slayer is incredibly impressive. If he really was here, you’ve probably long since dusted him.”


Buffy wasn’t able to get out much more than an “Ulp!” although she tried to keep her face impassive, as she struggled to say something coherent.


“I have a reputation?” she finally managed to get out.


“Oh yes. You killed the Master when you were just a sophomore in high school, you prevented the famous Angelus from ending the world, you left William the Bloody to burn to ash, their female companions have disappeared, so the assumption is that you slayed them too, you beat a hellgod….stop me when I get to something that isn’t amazing.”


“Oh, wow,” Buffy said as she sank into a chair.


“Are those things not true?”


“Yes… and no,” she said. “But I can’t fill in all the blanks right now. I will say that Angel—Angelus with a soul—dusted Darla. Not me. And I had all kinds of help with Glory. You have no idea.”


“Help? Slayers fight alone. That’s what I was always told.” He frowned at her as if she was trying to trick him.


“Heh. Well, that’s the thing, see. I kind of do things… my way? And my way means friends who can help me if and when I need it.”


“How fascinating! I’d love to meet these people.” He smiled eagerly, almost too eagerly, and she narrowed her eyes at him.


“I’ll talk to them. Maybe we can arrange that. Anyway, the real reason I wanted to meet with you was to tell you about the First Evil. Since you already know about vamps and demons and things, that makes it a lot easier to do without sounding like a lunatic.”


“The First Evil?”


“I can get my watcher to give you the big researchy explanation, but the important thing for you to know right now is that—” She paused. “Did you know this office is literally right over the hellmouth? It’s straight down there.” Buffy pointed to the floor. “Just in case you get any weird vibes from time to time, that’s probably where they’re coming from.”


“The hellmouth? Here?” He stared around his office, eyes wide.  “I mean, I knew it wasn’t a normal building, but….”


“Uh, yeah. Why do you think the Slayer is stationed in Sunnydale?”  She took a deep breath. “Anyway, sorry to get distracted, but it kinda all ties together. The hellmouth, the First….  The important thing you need to know, is that the First Evil will probably try to control or manipulate you. And it does it by appearing to you as somebody you trust…. Somebody you trust, who is dead.  Like… like your mother, for instance. Or me—Don’t ask,” she said quickly when he visibly startled. “I’ll explain that some other time. The important information you need to have is that you are sitting on the hellmouth, and that the First Evil seems to be trying to get a foothold up here in this world, and that it will try to manipulate you to help with that, if it can. And that it might appear to you as your mother to do it.”


She paused to get more air, then stood up. She smiled tentatively at Wood’s expression that was somewhere between disbelief, curiosity, and suspicion.


“You have my cell number. I’ll talk to Giles—my watcher, you can find him at the Magic Box—and the others and we’ll find a time for you to meet them.” She smiled at him. “If we really do have fight the First, we can probably use the extra help.”  She held out her hand again, which he shook without actually seeming to be aware of it as he continued to stare at her. “It was nice to meet you.”




He watched her leave, and walked to the door to close it. When he turned around, Principal Snyder was standing by the desk.


“That girl is trouble,” Snyder said, glaring at the door. “She always was. She was a terrible student, always missing school and getting into fights. You shouldn’t listen to her.”


Wood stared at the apparition of one of his predecessors. An apparition he’d become used to talking to since he opened the school. He frowned, remembering Buffy’s warning.


“Maybe it’s you I shouldn’t be listening to,” he said, walking toward Snyder.


“Hey! What kind of an attitude is that? I’m just trying to help you out. It was my school first, you know. Show a little gratitude!”


Snyder disappeared with a loud pop, and Wood sat in his chair, frowning at the floor under his feet. After several minutes of thought, he decided upon a course of action and went back to his school duties until evening.




Buffy’s talk with Amanda went better than she’d expected. With Amanda being Dawn’s friend, and already knowing about slayers and vampires, she took the news that she was a potential slayer herself better than Buffy had expected.


“Well, that’s kind of cool,” she said. “I mean, there’s never been anything special about me… except for being tall and skinny, I guess. And now there is.”


“Did you miss the part about that specialness meaning your life could be in danger?” Buffy said, more harshly than she’d intended. She sighed. “I’m sorry, Amanda. It’s just that, you can ask Dawn what it’s like to have a target on your back. You’ll have to be even more careful than you probably already are just because you know what Sunnydale is like. You’re probably still okay in the daytime, but only because the Bringers would be too weird looking to be able to walk around in the daylight. Even in Sunnydale.”


“Abby is a potential slayer too,” Dawn said, trying to be helpful. “And now there’s a new one, but I haven’t met her yet.”


“Mel was raised by her watcher, so she’ll know more slayer stuff than even Abby does. The three of you should probably try to hang out together as much as you can. It’ll be easier for me... and Spike… to protect you if you’re usually in the same place.” Buffy thought for a minute. “I guess we need to have Willow or Winston do some wards on your house like they did on Abby’s. I’ll talk to them about it when they get back from Mel’s.”




Having already warned Robin Wood about the First, and told him where he could find Giles for more information, Buffy thought she’d done all she could for the time being. Although, the fact that Robin’s stated reason for coming to Sunnydale was to look for Spike was more than a bit disturbing. A concern she shared the next time they were all together.


“I kinda gave him a heads-up about the First, but if it pops up as his mom and points him at Spike, I doubt he’s going to care that it’s evil and trying to win a battle Robin doesn’t even know he’s in yet.”


“I was correct then,” Winston said, “when I said we all need to watch Spike’s back?”


“Probably, maybe? I mean I don’t think he can be dusted, but I’d rather not test that if we don’t have to.”


Everyone just nodded. Even though they hadn’t actually told Willow and Xander that Spike had the Gem of Amara, they knew enough to have figured it out by themselves, and everyone was used to Spike’s relative invulnerability to things that would end most vampires.


“I believe the question then becomes, will he allow his anger at Spike to make him vulnerable to the First’s influence in other ways?”


“You mean, will he go all evil on us?” Buffy looked shocked. “His mother was a slayer! He was raised by her watcher.”


“Who, well intentioned or not, has instilled in the man a strong opinion about vampires as a species, and one particular vampire in particular.”


Buffy sighed and gave Giles a smile. “Good point. Not all watchers are as perfect as mine is.”


Behind her, Spike coughed, earning a rueful smile from Giles. “I’d like to think I’m a bit closer to perfect than I was in your time, although it seems I regretted some of my actions before Buffy was sent back.”  He shook his head and continued, “The thing, I believe, for all of us to remember, is that the man is looking for Spike. Whether he knows that’s who he’s looking for yet or not, he isn’t likely to be happy to learn that an old vampire is one of us.” Giles glanced at Buffy. “I take it that in your time I was more than willing to assist the man in his vendetta against Spike?”


“You did,” she said shortly. “It took me a long time to forgive you for almost getting Spike killed.”


“And yet, he survived to be around to close the hellmouth.”


“I was a bit harder to kill than Wood expected,” Spike muttered. “He was too angry for his own good, and took the time to enjoy what he was doin’. Turns out we both had some mummy issues, but his were harder to live with than mine, and that gave me time to snap out of my inability to fight back. I survived. And so did he,” Spike added, in case there was any doubt.


“You didn’t kill him?” Winston looked surprised.


Spike shrugged. “Man had—has—a right to hate me. I wasn’t kind to him, but I left him alive. The soul’s a bitch like that….”


“And now we all know why he’s here and what he wants to do, so he won’t be able to turn anybody against Spike, and I won’t let myself be distracted….”


“Did he become an ally? Or did he remain an enemy?”


“No, he was right there fighting with us.” Spike shook his head. “Once he recovered from—once he was able to participate, he was right back in the mix. I’m not saying he forgave me, but between knowing we were all on to him, and that Buffy wasn’t going to protect him if he went after me again, he sucked it up and stayed on the right side.”


Buffy said, “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens this time. It really is very different. He wants to meet everybody—which he did then too. But we were in a little deeper by then, and we already had potentials at the house….” She sighed. “I’ve got no idea how it’s gonna go.”


She turned her attention to Winston. “How did your talk with the Coven go? And what did they think of our idea?”


“They were surprisingly accepting of what I told them about me. I’ve only spoken to the two oldest members about it, and I’ve left it to their discretion as to what they tell the rest of the coven. They hope to be able to come up with a cohesive opinion of what we should do, and some suggestions for how to achieve it.”  He shook his head. “They did say it may become necessary to share with at least the top echelons of the Council, but they are hoping to be able to put them on the alert without being too forthcoming about why they think there may be danger to them.”


Buffy nodded and sighed. “I guess that’s the best we can hope for right now. Were they hard to convince that you’re a time traveler?”


“It seemed not. They have been able to sense some distant rumblings of evil, and weren’t all that surprised to learn that in my timeline they had become part of the Council. Although the idea that it happened because the building was blown up and there were a lot of vacancies to be filled was upsetting to them.”


Winston glanced at Giles. “I suppose you should tell her how you fared….”


Giles nodded. “I did, indeed, get disturbing information about attacks upon potentials in other parts of the world. Mostly it seems, the result of attacks by Bringers, but one or two others targeted by vampires or demons. They didn’t seem surprised to learn that we’d had attacks here, but seemed shocked that I thought they should have been sharing the information with us.” He grimaced. “It was a bit difficult to get across the idea that it was important for the current slayer to aware of anything outside her immediate purview without telling them why it was important.”


“Wankers,” Spike snorted. “Are we sure we don’t want to let them all blow up so we can replace them with a Slayers and Watchers Council?”


Buffy snickered while Giles looked annoyed and Winston shook his head.


“As much as I would like to find myself in a world I can recognize, I can’t really approve of allowing an entire building full of people to be destroyed.”


“Not to mention the library and records it contains!” Giles said, his horror more than evident.


“So you didn’t tell them they might blow up?” Buffy asked with an innocent smile.


Giles flashed her a glare, but said, “I did my best to get them to take seriously the semi-threat Caleb made, but I didn’t make much of an impression, I’m afraid. I was only speaking with a few lower-echelon members of the department that oversees potentials and assigns watchers. Neither Wesley nor I are very popular with that group.  It was difficult enough to explain why Buffy was going to another city to slay what they assumed was an evil, but human, man. Fortunately, I had Wes’s information about the girl they’d rescued from Bringers, as well as the report of those Spike and Angel had to fight their way though, and that distracted the person I was speaking to enough that he seemed to forget to ask how we knew to look into Caleb.”


“What about you, Winston? Is the Coven going to say their seer knows to watch out?”


“They’re going to endeavor to get that message across, without, one hopes, having to divulge exactly who the “seer” is, or how they know the Council may be in danger.”  Winston frowned. “In my time, I’ve worked closely with the head of Council Security. A good man, open-minded and sharp. However, in this time, he’s still very subordinate to others, and of course, doesn’t actually even know me yet. I’m hoping Althenea will be able to speak to him at some point and offer some strong hints of what’s to come.”


“Perhaps we can approach him? Even if he doesn’t know you yet, if he’s as competent as you say, we may be able to mitigate some damage?”


“Something to think about. Let’s see what sort of success Althenea has before we try anything else.”




Chapter Seventeen




“Speaking of trying anything else, what does Max know about this year?” Winston asked.


Buffy raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Don’t you know?”


“Only what little I’ve told him about my own time line, which he actually didn’t know anything about until we connected here. He was apparently doing his hiding-in-plain-sight thing somewhere else in my time, so he had no knowledge either of you or how close the world came to disaster. I cannot imagine, if he was living here, that he wouldn’t have offered his services at some point, no matter how much he prefers to remain anonymous.”


“Wow. I don’t think we’ve even bothered to wonder where he was in our time!”  Buffy shook her head at herself. “Of course, he must have been living somewhere else. If he was here, even if he didn’t leave when everybody else with an ounce of sense did, he couldn’t have stayed. He’d have gone down with the town when Spike closed the hellmouth.”


Spike look as amazed as Buffy. “So, something we did almost immediately, changed the timeline to bring Max to Sunnydale, instead of wherever he was hiding out in Winnie’s.”


“To be fair, I had assumed he was dead, not hiding,” Winston said with a frown. “I suppose it’s possible that he made the move after I’d been sent back.” He paused, his eyes widened, and he muttered, “Or he removed himself from an unpleasant situation a long time ago by coming here, leaving us to assume he’d died.”


“Unpleasant situation?”


Winston’s expression was suddenly much chillier. “Nothing any of you need to know about. Events that happened a long time ago in a vastly different place. Master Maximillian did what he needed to do to save the world, and then he disappeared. We’d all assumed he’d been killed in the process. We were so sure he’d perished… but what if he just hid himself, then moved to a safe place and made it difficult to find him?”


“He picked Sunnydale as a safe place?”


Winston shrugged. “If he moved himself to Sunnydale a sufficient amount of time after the event, he still would have had many years to become comfortable, learn how to live with a hellmouth, and watch the city grow up around him.” He frowned. “No, that doesn’t work, does it? If he’d already been here, he surely would have made himself known to you at some point…. Unless he made the move back in time after I was sent back. Perhaps he was somewhere else for a while….”  He shook his head. “I’ve really no idea. But I intend to ask him!”


“So, you’re saying he doesn’t know anything about the First other than whatever we’ve talked about in the past few years?” Buffy looked dismayed.


“Well, clearly he knows something about it, just based on what we’ve said about the reasons for preventing Buffy’s death and resurrection. But perhaps not the details of what happened that year, because he has not yet lived it. It may have been something that my coming back to this time caused that change, not your earlier trip.”


“I reckon we’ll be needin’ to have a little chat with our landlord,” Spike said. “He’s got a right to know what we’re up against, in case he wants to take a powder if and when it becomes necessary.”


“I can’t imagine that happening,” Winston said, shaking his head. “He’s already shown how willing he is to step in and assist us with problems. I doubt that’s going to change now.”


“What about his not-wanting-anybody to know where he is?” Buffy asked. “The more he helps us, the more people are going to know about him.”


“I’m quite sure his personal wards, as well as what he has on that building, are more than sufficient to maintain his anonymity. That he has allowed us to know about him is a sign of how much he trusts us—you. If you think about it, the only ones who are aware of him at all, never mind that he’s anything other than your charming landlord, is a very small group. Even your friends in L.A.—” He paused when Buffy made a face, laughing before he continued, “—your ex-friend, and your other friend, don’t know anything except that Max can make strong wards on a building. Many sorcerers can do that, and I doubt either of our visitors would have been able to recognize the knowledge required to be as subtle as Max has been with them.”


Spike had been staring at Winston as he spoke, absorbing what he was not saying about how long ago the “event” had been, as well as the information about how Max might have shown up in this Sunnydale. He cocked his head at Winston, saying slowly, “Somehow I get the feeling I’m not the oldest one in the room….”


Winston blinked innocently. “No idea what you’re talking about,” he said. “And just so you know, Max is much, much older than I am. I was only a callow youth when I met him and he took me under his wing. So to speak,” he added, making a face. “Trust me, the gentle man you know him to be now was a very stern taskmaster.”


Spike laughed. “Don’t doubt it. But I’ll wager you earned every one of those stern reprimands.” 


“I was a bit of a work in progress,” Winston admitted, trying to hide his grin.


“The real question here is, which one of us is going to clue Max in?” Buffy said, bringing the conversation back to the original discussion.


“Reckon it should be all three of us,” Spike responded. “What do you think, Winston?” His use of Winston’s full name leant a serious slant to his words, and Winston nodded.


“I believe that to be the best course of action. As soon as we can make arrangements to have a chat with him. I’ll leave that up to his favorite tenants.”


That settled, the conversation drifted into other areas, one of which was Robin Wood.


Who chose that moment to walk into the Magic Box.


Wood paused inside the door, having not noticed the people at the table, somewhat hidden by the screen Anya had insisted upon. Rather, he focused on Anya’s question about how she could help him. He gotten no further than, “I’m looking for Rupert Giles….” before Giles was walking toward him, hand out to be shaken.


“I’m Rupert Giles. And you must be…the new school principal.” At the last second, he decided not to let on that he knew Robin’s name, as well as his mother’s name.


“I’m Robin Wood,” he said, shaking Giles’s hand. “And you, I understand, are Buffy Summers’ watcher.”


“Former watcher,” Giles corrected, “but yes, guilty as charged. What can I do for you?”


“To begin with, you can explain why your slayer is living with the vampire that killed my mother.” Robin’s face held nothing but curiosity, but his eyes were cold. “And why you permit him to accompany her when she’s performing her duties.”


“Ah.” Giles stalled for time. “You’re Nicky Wood’s son.”


“I am. You know of my mother?”


“I was a watcher for many years.” Giles’s response was intentionally ambiguous. “May I ask where you obtained your information about Buffy and her husband?”


“Husband?” Wood seemed taken back at hearing such a normal term applied to what he’d assumed was a dangerous relationship.


“Yes. While Buffy and Spike—William—have been together for many years now, they made it official in human terms relatively recently.”


“He’s a vampire! What’s wrong with you?”


Before Giles could answer, there was the sound of whispered curses and scuffling from behind the screen. Buffy’s “Dammit, Spike!” could be heard clearly as he stepped out and approached Giles and Wood.


“I am a vampire,” Spike said, rather unnecessarily as Wood had flinched back and produced a stake that he held in what was clearly an experienced grip. “Have been for much longer than you’ve been alive,” he added. “I’m William the Bloody, and there was a time when I was known for fightin’ slayers. I’ve killed at least two of ‘em.” He met Wood’s angry gaze firmly. “One of them was your mum. Didn’t know she had a kid, and if I’m being honest, I’m not sure it would have mattered back then. It’s who we were—she was a vampire slayer. I was an old vampire. It was her job to kill me if she could; it was mine to keep that from happening.” Spike shook his head and smiled in obvious admiration.


“She was something, your mum was. One of the best I’d ever gone up against. She knew what she was chosen to do, and she was bloody good at it. That last fight could have gone either way, right up to the end.” He paused and shrugged. “But it went my way, and I can’t apologize for that. I know you prob’ly think I robbed you of life with your mum, but if it hadn’t been me, it would have been something else. She was a slayer, through and through. They have expiration dates… all of ‘em do. I can appreciate your feelin’ you need to avenge her, but it’s not a good idea. And not just because you couldn’t do it without a lot of help.”


By now Buffy had recovered enough to step between them. “You were doing okay until you got to that comment,” she said, pushing Spike away. “Go sit down so we can explain who you are now.”


She waited until he walked away to lean against the wall near Winston, then turned a slayer’s hard glare on Wood. “Okay, Let’s get this out of the way. Spike killed your mother. You have every right to hate him. But before you decide he needs to be dust, let me fill you in on who he is now. He’s been helping me save the world more often than not for a long time. Longer than you know.” A quick glance at Giles and Winston told her they were all on the same page in terms of keeping important information about where and when they came from a secret from someone they didn’t know and who might be ripe for the First to exploit.


“Sometimes he helped me because it was something he wanted, sometimes he did it… he did it because of me. Because he loves me. And also because he loves me, he went to Africa and got his soul back. It didn’t make him less of a vampire, and he’d already stopped eating people anyway, but it does change things as far as how safe you are around him.” Buffy fixed a hard look on the astonished man. “The question is, can I trust that he’s going to be safe around you?”


“I should give him a pass for killing my mother, because you say so?” Wood’s anger was palpable.


Buffy sighed. “I’m sorry. This just got too confrontational too fast.” She shot a glare at Spike, who managed to look unrepentant and ashamed at the same time. “Here’s the thing. Spike is, and has been for a long time, an important part of my support system. Since long before we were married. He’s a strong fighter, and he’s been a big part of helping me deal with our annual spring apocalypses. Some of them we’ve even been able to shut down before spring actually gets here. Which is what we’re trying to do this time.”


She gave him a sympathetic smile. “Do you remember what I told you about the hellmouth and the First Evil? We’re trying to shut it down and make sure he­­–it stays in the hellmouth. Trust me, you don’t want to meet its minions…”  


She narrowed her eyes at Wood.  “Unless you already have… Want to tell me how you knew about Spike and me? Or should I guess?”


“I’ve… I’ve been watching you. After your former principal told me—” 


Buffy threw her hands in the air and looked for something to hit.  “Snyder!” she spit out. “That miserable little rat has been dead for years and he’s still being a pain in my butt!”


Wood blanched, clearly remembering that she’d warned him about the First Evil’s ability to appear as dead people.  “I… I thought he was just a ghost or spirit or something. Hanging around his old school, trying to give me advice.”


“We should get so lucky,” she muttered. “Not that ghost Snyder wouldn’t be bad enough, but you do get that that’s not who’s been talking to you, right?”


His shoulders slumped and he sighed, the stake still dangling from his hand. “Assuming you’re telling the truth about this First Evil thing, I guess it wasn’t.” He straightened up. “But it was telling me the truth about you… and him.” He gestured toward Spike. “He is the vampire that killed my mother, and you are living with him. Maybe that makes you the evil one.”


Buffy shook her head.  “Giles, you’re up. And you too, Winston. Talk to him. If you think he’s evil, or being influenced by the First, let me know.”  She started toward the door leaving Wood staring back and forth between her and the two men, only one of which he’d met yet.


“You think I’m evil?


Buffy shrugged before ducking under Spike’s arm holding the door for her. “Don’t know. But we have to consider that possibility. Maybe you can convince Giles and Winston you aren’t evil; or maybe they can convince you that Spike and I aren’t.”


Wood was speechless as he watched them walk out into what was still a rather sunny day. He whirled to stare at the two men watching him.


“As you can see. Spike is not exactly your normal vampire,” Giles said dryly.  “Would you like to have a seat while we talk?”





“Did you do that on purpose?”


“Do what? Leave? Yes, why?”


“Because the bloody sun is still shining and I don’t even have my big hat on. Now Rupert and Winnie have to explain to him that having my soul means I can walk around in the daylight.”


“Oh… crap. I never even… I’m so used to everybody seeing you outside….” She sighed. “I’m sure one of them will come up with a really good explanation. I kinda like the idea that your soul means the sun can’t kill you. That’s a good explanation!”


“Yeah, well, let’s hope they clue us in on whatever they say to him before we have to talk to him again, so our stories match up.”


“Good idea. We should call one of them in a while to find out what they said.”


As they walked aimlessly, having no real destination in mind, Buffy found herself thinking about Sara Johnson and her bridal shop. She began walking faster, towing Spike along behind her. When they reached the street where the shop was, she slowed and walked along as if window shopping. Spike rolled his eyes at her, and tried to keep to whatever shadows he could find.


“You know your chances of foolin’ that bint that you just happened to be passing by aren’t worth a bloody fig.”


Buffy sniffed. “I don’t know what you mean. We were just walking, and then we were walking here, and… Oh, look, Spike! It’s the bridal shop!” 


Spike looked up to see Sara Johnson standing in the doorway of her shop and smiling at Buffy’s feigned surprise. He exchanged amused smirks with her as he followed Buffy into the shop.


“It’s a bit bright out yet for someone of your… persuasion, isn’t it?” she asked as she waved him past her.


“Not like other vampires, am I?” he said, grateful nevertheless to be able to hide from the sun. While it couldn’t kill him or set him on fire, it was still a little uncomfortable sometimes for someone who’d spent most of his life avoiding it. And they’d been walking around for quite some time. He gave her a grateful smile as he stepped into the cool interior.


“And what brings Sunnydale’s heroes back to my humble shop?  Not looking for something else to wear, are you?”


“Uh, no… I mean, unless you have other, regular clothes made out of that wedding dress cloth? Because it would be awesome to feel that comfortable all the time….”


Sara laughed gently. “I’m sure it would,” she said. “Trust me, if it was available all the time, I’d be wearing it myself.” She gestured to her own tasteful, wrap-around dress that managed to look casual and expensive at the same time.


“It does look like you’re wearing it,” Buffy pointed out. “That dress looks like it was made for you.”


“That’s because it was made for me by someone with excellent skills. And it is also a very fine fabric, not your average polyester blend.” She managed to appear to sneer without actually doing so.  “However, it is in no way as wonderful as the dresses you tried on for your wedding. Nor should it be, that fabric’s not for everyday use.”


She smiled. “Is that why you came by? To see if you could find something else made from that cloth?”


“No, not really. It just hit me when we got here that it would wonderful to have a few things made out of wedding dress material to wear every day.” Buffy sighed. “I really wanted to ask you how you knew what we were looking for and where to find it. I don’t care how long you’ve been in Sunnydale, that’s not something anyone should know about.”


“Even someone whose role it is to ensure that the Slayer has her weapon when she needs it?” Sara waited patiently for Buffy to understand what she was saying.


“Wait? What? You’re a Guardian? I met the Guardian in my—I mean, I met one before and she was all….” Buffy gestured at Sara, waving her hand to include her polished make-up and hair, as well as her beautifully tailored dress. “She didn’t look like you,” Buffy finished. “Not even a little bit.”


“More of an Earth Mother type?” Sara asked with a wry twist to her mouth.


“Yeah, I guess so. Plus she was hanging out in some old temple or something, not a store full of frilly dresses.” She stared hard into Sara’s unperturbed eyes. “Caleb killed her,” Buffy said. “Before she could tell me anything.”


“That is quite upsetting,” Sara said, not looking particularly upset, but her mouth in a tight line. “I presume that is not something I will need to worry about?”


“No. Not him, anyway. But you should probably be careful. The First might have another minion.”


“I suppose that’s true. Although it may find me a bit less trusting and vulnerable than the Guardian you met before.  After all, what good would a Guardian be if she wasn’t able to take care of herself?”


Spike gave her an admiring grin. “Now that sounds more like someone who should be lookin’ out for a Slayer.”


“I have my moments,” Sara replied. “And duties, other than just seeing that the Slayer looks lovely on her wedding day.”


“How come the Council doesn’t know about you?” Buffy looked almost offended on behalf of the Council of Watchers.


“They’re merely watchers,” Sara sniffed. “Iam a Guardian. I watch the watchers.”


Spike laughed out loud, earning a smile from Sara and a glare from Buffy.


“Aren’t they allowed to know about you? Are you a secret?”


“From them? Yes. We’ve always felt it was best that they not know of us. Unfortunately, that means we haven’t been consulted when we probably should have been. And we aren’t always aware of what they’re doing. I much prefer working with a slayer.”


“So, if I consult you now, I can’t tell Giles or Winston about it?  Or Willow? She was really sorry she never got a chance to meet the Guardian in our­—I mean the one I met before.”


Sara sighed. “Buffy… I’m not oblivious to where you seem to have come from. I don’t know how it was done, but it appears to be working out well. I’ve felt no need to make myself known before, even when you were facing a hellgod. You have excellent help. Help I am assuming you did not have in your own time, even though you seem to have survived whatever the apocalypse was that made them send you back to start over.” She shook her head. “I will have to think long and hard about whether or not I want to make myself known to the watcher in your life.”


“Okay. Well you think about it and let me know, ‘k? Cause I really want to sit down and pick your brain—with or without anybody else. Except Spike,” she added. “I don’t keep secrets from him.”


“And what has he done to earn that level of trust?” Sara’s gaze wasn’t hostile, but there was no unnecessary warmth in it either, and Buffy was reminded that, in spite of her seeming acceptance of Spike, Sara’s position wasn’t likely to make her fond of vampires.


“He got a soul for me, and then he used an ugly amulet to channel it, destroy an army of Turok-Hans, and, oh yeah, burn to death in the process of closing the hellmouth. He literally saved the world.”


“Burned to death?”


Spike shrugged. “As much fun as it was raining sunlight on all those ugly buggers, and pulling the town down around my ears, it was a bloody unpleasant experience to find myself doing it in reverse and then popping up in the Poof’s office as a ghost.”




Buffy waved her hand. “He means Angel”.


Sara gave Spike a small smile as she nodded. “Ah yes. The other souled vampire.” 


Just then, a woman and two giggling girls entered the shop, and Sara’s demeanor changed immediately.


“Well, that’s all fascinating. I hope we can get together again soon and fill in the blanks in this charming story. Do stop in again when you have more time.”


She smiled them out the door and turned to her customers.


“Now then, ladies, which of you is going to be the beautiful bride?”





Chapter Eighteen

At the conclusion of Ch. 17….


Spike shrugged. “As much fun as it was raining sunlight on all those ugly buggers, and pulling the town down around my ears, it was a bloody unpleasant experience to find myself doing it in reverse and then popping up in the Poof’s office as a ghost.”


 Buffy waved her hand. “He means Angel”.

 Sara gave Spike a small smile as she nodded. “Ah yes. The other souled vampire.” 

 Just then, a woman and two giggling girls entered the shop, and Sara’s demeanor changed immediately.

 “Well, that’s all fascinating. I hope we can get together again soon and fill in the blanks in this charming story. Do stop in again when you have more time.”

 She smiled them out the door and turned to her customers.

 “Now then, ladies, which of you is going to be the beautiful bride?”





We’ve been handled again,” Spike muttered as they started down the street.


“I guess she has to make a living,” Buffy said, smiling her agreement. “Anyway, now I know what she is and why I was picking up those vibes from her.”


“And why she knew where you could find your slayers-only weapon.”


“And that. This time, I hope I can talk to her about it before something kills her.”


“I’m guessing she’s not gonna be as easy to sneak up on as the last one you met.”


“Yeah, she definitely gives off more of an I-can-take-care-of-myself vibe.”


They walked in the general direction of their home for a while longer, before Spike said, “Wonder how the chat with Wood is going?”


Buffy waved her hand. “Winston probably just did his thing and convinced him you walk on water and he should be your new best friend.”


“Don’t need a new best friend,” Spike muttered, even as he agreed with her. “But you’re prob’ly right, love. Winnie will have him eating out of his hand.”


“Let’s to find out,” Buffy said, making an abrupt turn in the direction of the Magic Box.




They got to the shop just in time to see Giles locking it up.


“Going out of business already?” Buffy said, laughing when he jumped.


He shook his head, saying, “I sincerely hope not. However, I have dinner plans for the evening. I’m sure if anyone wishes to make a purchase, they will return tomorrow.”


“Anya’s letting you do that?” Both Buffy and Spike stared at him, earning themselves an embarrassed glare.


“Let me remind you that this is my shop,” he huffed, then admitted, “And since I am taking Anya out to dinner to celebrate her remaining human in this time line, she is fine with it.”


Neither Buffy nor Spike was able to completely hide their laughter, adding to his disgruntled expression. 


“Was there something you needed?”


“No. Not really. I was just curious about how you and Winston got along with Robin after we left.”


“Did Winnie work his magic on him?”


“I believe they’ve gone off to spend some time talking about magic and souls. Perhaps over beverages.”


“Well, I hope Winston can convince him to leave Spike alone.”


“I don’t think you should count on it, although I’m sure Winston will do his best to let him know that Spike has done a lot of good and that we will not support any vendetta he may have.”


“’Preciate that, Rupert,” Spike said. “Not like it was in our time.”


“So you keep telling me,” Giles grumbled. “If I apologize to you… again… would you consider apologizing to Robin Wood?”


“Already told him I wouldn’t, didn’t I?”


“You said you wouldn’t apologize for winning the fight. That’s fair. But suppose you expressed some sort of remorse for having murdered his mother?”


“I didn’t ‘murder’ her!  We fought to the death and she lost.”


Giles sighed. “You’re right. It was a poor choice of words. However, I’m quite sure that is how he sees it right now. Anything you can say or do to soothe his anger and perhaps turn him into an ally rather than a potential enemy could be very useful to all of us.”


“I’ll think about it,” Spike mumbled. “He’s a good man in some ways… just a bit too focused on making me pay.”


“Please do think about it.  If that was all you wanted, I’ll just be on my way.”


“Have fun,” Buffy said, barely managing to hide a smirk.


Spike didn’t even try to hide his, just said, “She’ll be expecting orgasms you know.”


Giles sent Spike a look that had him stepping behind Buffy, even as he laughed at the reaction.


They stood on the sidewalk and watched Giles leave to get his car.






The talk with Max began pleasantly. He and Winston had joined Spike and Buffy in their apartment for drinks and snacks.


“I like what you’ve done with it,” Max said as he gazed around. While he lived in the building, and could go wherever he chose to, his preference had always been to give his trusted tenants as much privacy as possible. So, he very rarely used his ability to drop in on tenants unnecessarily, and he hadn’t been in Buffy and Spike’s basement apartment in some time.


“Thanks,” Buffy said, gazing around at the newer furnishings and art that they’d added. “Too bad it’s not related to that place we spent our honeymoon… then we could make it bigger.  Not that it needs to be!” she hastened to add when Max look slightly perturbed. “It just right for us. I didn’t mean we aren’t happy here!”


“That’s good to know,” Max replied with a gentle smile. “I was beginning to fear you’d brought me here to tell me you were leaving.”


“Ohmigod, no!” Buffy said, while Spike growled his agreement. “No, that’s got nothing to do with what we need to tell you. I was just…. Buffy foot-in-mouth disease is alive and well.”


Spike came to her rescue. “What this little meetin’ is about, aside from just enjoying the company of one of our favorite people, is to fill you in on what happened in our time. It looks like keeping Buffy alive and well, wasn’t quite the silver bullet we hoped it’d be, and some of the same things are goin’ on again, so we want you to know what’s what.”


“Will you need my assistance again, then?” Max asked with mild curiosity.


Buffy shook her head. “We hope not. I mean, the wards you can put up, yeah, probably life-savers, but the First Evil is—”


“Is it raising its head again? In spite of your current state of uninterrupted life and health?”


“Uh. Yeah. Kinda? I mean, we took care of Caleb, so he’s not killing any more potentials, and he won’t be here to kill anybody else…. But the First is still popping up pretending to be dead people and trying to start trouble. And when I went to get my scythe, I had to fight Bringers and a Turok-Han to do it. So, we just don’t know. In our time, things got so bad here that everybody left town—even non-evil demons. We just thought you should have a heads-up in case you want to…. I dunno. We just wanted you to know.”


“Well, I would think engaging with the… Turok-Hans? and Bringers would be much more in Winston’s area of expertise than mine, but of course if I can be of any assistance….”


“We just don’t want you getting blind-sided if things get really bad again.”


“And I appreciate that thought. I do. But I suspect I’ll be just fine. I have a great deal of faith in you two… and Winston.” He beamed at them.  “If you don’t mind sharing, what about the time you came from is different from this?”


“Oh. Wow.”  Buffy blinked. “Well, for starters, Sunnydale is just a big hole in the ground, with the hellmouth buried under all the debris.”


“Oh dear. And how did that happen?” Max looked surprisingly not surprised, but whether it was because of Sunnydale’s demise, or because he’d already known about Spike’s role, it was hard to tell.


Spike raised his hand without looking up at Max. “Had a little help from an amulet from Wolfram and Hart that the poof brought Buffy.”


“I see,” Max replied, shooting a look at Winston. “And in your time?”


Winston peered at him suspiciously, but it seemed like a genuine question.


“As far as I know, pretty much the same thing happened. Buffy and Spike, with the assistance of Willow and the activated slayers, closed the hellmouth down for good.”


“But at the cost of a whole city?”


“Had to keep those ugly buggers in there somehow,” Spike said as if he’d been accused of being irresponsible.


“Oh, indeed. I didn’t mean to imply that you did something wrong, only that it was quite drastic. Perhaps you can avoid quite such a calamitous remedy this time around—given the steps you’ve already taken, and that you’re so much better prepared now.”


“Considering that Spike burned to crisp to do it, and I thought he was gone forever… yeah, I’m all in favor of doing it some other way,” Buffy said wryly, moving closer to Spike and putting her hand on his leg.


“And there you may have it,” Max said. “Without the extra boost the First had from the imbalance between good and evil, it may well be reduced to sending minions in hopes of simply overwhelming you.”


“You mean, with Caleb gone, all we have to worry about is an army of Turok-hans? Oh yeah. No problem.” Buffy rolled her eyes, but gave Max an apologetic smile.  “Sorry, Max. I didn’t mean that.”


“Of course you did,” he said, laughing softly. “As well you should. What I’m suggesting may be happening doesn’t mean that you aren’t still going to have a struggle on your hands. Or that Evil will not continue to be rampant in the world. But you now have some tools you lacked until almost too late in your time, as well as some knowledge you didn’t have then. Whatever decisions you have to make, you will already know what things worked and what didn’t, and what else you need to watch out for.”


Buffy shook her head. “You make it sound so simple. Like we can do this without anybody pulling the town down around his ears.”


“Was a bit of fun, actually….” Spike’s quiet aside to Winston had them smiling at each other while Buffy and Max glared their disapproval.  “But much too harsh and unnecessary,” Spike added quickly. “I’m sure we can find a better way this time.”


“Almost a nice save,” Buffy muttered. She stared at them hard. “If we can find a way to do it without mass destruction, that’s going to be the plan,” she said. “Have you two got that?”


“Yes, love,” Spike sighed.


Winston just schooled his face into serious lines and nodded his agreement.


Max’s quiet chuckle did nothing to improve their moods, but with Buffy glaring at them the way she was, neither Spike nor Winston was inclined to argue with her.


“I feel quite sure that if an army of Turok-hans is somehow released on Sunnydale, you will both have quite as much mayhem and destruction as you desire,” Max said. “In fact, if the First Evil has somehow managed to raise such an army, you may have to think seriously about that spell Willow has mentioned that activated all the potential slayers all over the world.”


“She told you about that?” Buffy asked. “I mean, it was great, and it worked and all, but….”


“But you aren’t sure you want to do it this time?” Max asked. “I would think you’d be quite happy to have an easier life.”


Buffy made a face. “I’m not sure how easy a life it is when you’re supposed to be in charge of a gazillion teenage girls who all just got superpowers.” She sighed. “But you’re right. There’s something to be said for not being ‘the one girl in all the world’—or even one of the two, if we count Faith. If there was a way to tweak that spell and weed out the ones who won’t make good slayers, or who really don’t want to be slayers…. Something to worry about later, I guess. Right now, I need to start training the three I’ve got, while making sure the Bringers don’t kill them.”


Max raised an eyebrow at Winston. “Surely they are as well protected as possible?”


He nodded, saying, “Yes, their homes, parents’ cars, and to some extent the school itself, are all warded. And Willow is working on wearable amulets that should help keep them safe.”


“You warded the school? With the hellmouth under it?”


Winston looked embarrassed. “I did what I could. Obviously, the hellmouth is what it is, so the protections I could offer were very limited. Only Amanda and Abby actually spend time there. Mel was home-schooled by her watcher and has no desire to attend high school. She’s a little older than the other two, so we’ve allowed her to make that decision for now.”


Max stood up. “I appreciate your taking me into your confidence and sharing so much with me. And I will certainly be giving some thought to the current and potentially future situations. Obviously, if I can be of any assistance, I am at your service, but I suspect you will all do just fine without my interference.”


“So, you don’t want to go live somewhere safer?” Buffy stared at him dubiously.


He smiled gently. “I truly like Sunnydale. Even when that nasty old man was running it and hoping to move on to a higher level of demon-hood, I still liked it. I have my friends here, my home,” he gestured at the building above their heads, “and the run-of-the-mill vampires and demons that make life dangerous for so many denizens simply do not worry me. I feel quite safe here.”


With another smile at everyone, he let himself out and pulled the door shut behind him.


“Nice to know Max isn’t worried about what comes next. Not sure if I’m chuffed that he thinks so bloody highly of us, or worried that if we yell for help, he’s going to brush us off and tell us to handle it.”


“Yeah. He thinks we won’t need him. No pressure there!” Buffy exhaled and stared at Winston who was still looking at the door out of which Max had left.  “What do you think, Winston?”


He brought his attention back to them. “I think we have some high expectations to live up to,” he said. “Welcome to Master Maximillian’s school of hard knocks.”




It wasn’t more than a week later that Buffy returned from a training session with the three potentials, stopped in to say hi to Max, and found Robin Wood standing in the office.


She greeted him politely, but with suspicion. “Did you need to see me for some reason? I’m pretty sure my phone is on.”


He looked slightly uncomfortable, but stood his ground. “I was just checking with the building management to see if they were aware that a vampire lives in the basement.”


“We’ve lived here for more than three years. Don’t you think he would have noticed by now?” Buffy rolled her eyes while Max hid a small smile.


His smile changed to a small frown as he realized that he may have been taken in by Robin’s friendly demeanor.


“Buffy? Is this a problem?”


“It’s fine, Max. Mr. Wood here is just a little confused about Spike and how evil he is now compared to what he was a few decades ago.”


“Should he go on the not-a-guest list with the other ones?”


Buffy stared at Robin, who was obviously trying to make sense of what he was hearing. She sighed and nodded.


“That’s probably the safest thing to do for now,” she said. “We’re still working on sorting things out, and having to worry about him trying to stake Spike is a distraction I don’t need.”


“No problem,” Max said with a smile. He turned to Robin. “If you’d asked your question, I would have told you that not only am I well aware of what Spike is, but he and Buffy are among my favorite tenants. I’m sorry to hear that you might wish to harm one of them.”


“C’mon, Mr. Wood. I’ll walk you out,” Buffy said, holding the door open. Her intent was clear, and Robin reluctantly followed her out.


“Call me Robin,” he muttered as he walked down the stairs behind her.


“Okay, Robin,” she said, turning when they reached the sidewalk. “So, does this mean you still want to dust Spike? ‘Cause, you know, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, and it would be better to know we had another soldier if or when we might need one, rather than that we’ve got another enemy to watch.”


“When my own mother is telling me I need to stake the vampire that killed her, I tend to take that pretty seriously.” Robin attempted to defend himself.


“You do remember what I told you about the First, don’t you? That isn’t your mother. It might look like her, and sound like her, and even know things you think only she would know, but it isn’t her. It’s the First Evil trying to use you as one of its pawns.”




“There are no ‘buts’, Robin. It’s trying to use you. Spike is an important part of what I need to keep the First Evil in hell where it belongs. I’d love to think you were on our side, but he’s more important to the mission than you are.”


“Is that a threat?”


Buffy shook her head. “It’s just a fact. Do with it whatever you want to. But stay away from Spike. For your own good and everybody else’s.”


“You can’t protect him forever. Whatever this unnatural thing is between you, you can’t protect him from me.”


Buffy shrugged. “I probably don’t need to,” she said without explanation. “It will just be easier on everybody if we don’t have to watch his back all the time.”


Everybody? We?”


“Everybody who understands how important he is to this year’s mission, yes. Everybody.” She turned her back and continued around the side of the building to her own door.


Robin watched her go, frowning when he couldn’t seem to follow her. He turned to look back up the stairs to the main office, but found he couldn’t go back up there either. With a curse, he began the walk back to his car, vowing to do more research on the First Evil and William the Bloody, as well as look into the owner of the building he now seemed to be barred from entering.






Chapter Nineteen


Previously, on And I Do Still (love you):  Max has made it clear he isn’t afraid to remain in Sunnydale, and that he has perfect confidence in Buffy, Spike, and Winston’s ability to keep both the town and the world safe. Robin has tried to create problems for Spike with Max, but to no avail. Time has passed with no startling events for a week or so….






When a bewildered-looking girl entered the Magic Box and tentatively asked to talk to Giles, Buffy sighed and shook her head.


“It’s starting again, isn’t it?”


“Sounds like it, pet,” Spike said, his hearing having allowed him to hear the brief conversation.


Giles walked the girl over to the table and introduced her.


“Buffy, this is Roxanne. Her watcher sent her to me because they’d had two run-ins with Bringers, and when he called the Council for advice, they told him to bring her here.”


Buffy gave her the warmest smile she could come up with while mentally cursing the Council of Watchers for being less than helpful, but expecting her to keep the potentials safe.


“Hi, Roxanne. It’s nice to meet you. Did your watcher come with you?”


Roxanne shook her head. “Everybody calls me Rocky,” she said. “And no. He just dropped me off and went back to make it look like I was still around.”


“Good thinking, I guess. But I wouldn’t count on it being helpful. Hiding out over the hellmouth probably isn’t the safest place to be.” Buffy forced another smile. “But, here you are, so let’s see if we can figure out the best place for you to stay..”


It turned out Rocky’s belongings were in two large suitcases just inside the door, and she sat down on them to wait to be told what to do.


Buffy and Giles walked back to the office where they couldn’t be heard.


“I can’t ask Lois to take in another girl,” Buffy sighed. “I guess it’s time to start looking for more room.”


“What about your building? That’s probably the safest place in Sunnydale.”


“It is. But I can’t ask Max to give up his privacy and move a bunch of teenaged girls in with me. I’m pretty sure he’d lose his mind….”


Giles nodded and grimaced. “Indeed. Understandably so.”


“Hey! You only had to deal with me!”


Giles just looked at her until she blushed.


“Okay. But just because these other girls are potential slayers, doesn’t mean they’d be just like me.”


Giles sighed and shook his head. “If they were, the First would run away and hide in the center of the earth for the foreseeable future,” he said, giving her an affectionate smile.  “I wouldn’t have traded you for any other slayer on earth, believe me.”


“Oh.” Buffy felt a bit nonplussed. “Well… Thanks, I think.”  She shook herself. “So, anyway, we need to think about this some more. In my time, I had Willow and Xander and…. and other people helping me, but I was still responsible. I don’t know how I can do that if they aren’t living with me. They’re going to need a house mother of some sort.”


“Buffy, you’re speaking as if you know for sure that these girls are going to keep coming here—”


“Did or did not the Council send this one? Do you think they’d do that if they didn’t think there will be more?”


“Excellent point,” he sighed. “All right, I will be giving it some thought and I’ll discuss it with Winston.”


“I’m going to go talk to the Guardian. Maybe she’ll have some ideas….”


He frowned. “Is that wise? Are you sure she is what she says she is?”


Buffy’s brow wrinkled briefly as she gave it serious thought, then she nodded and smiled. “Yes,” she said. “I do. She’s very different from the one I met in my time, but I get that same vibe from her.”




Instead of just dropping by the shop again and taking a chance that Sara would be busy, Buffy went online and found the phone number, using it to call and ask for Sara. The Guardian came to the phone immediately.


“Buffy! I didn’t expect to hear from you again so soon. Is everything all right?”


“I think we need to talk,” Buffy said. “I need to know what you know, and you need to know what… what I know.”


“All right. That sounds reasonable. I’m closing the shop at six this evening. Why don’t you drop by then and we can have a chat.”  She paused. “Will your husband be with you?”


Buffy thought for a second, then said, “Not if you don’t want him to be. This is just Slayer­—Guardian stuff I want to talk about.”


“Then we should probably keep it between the Slayer and the Guardian, shouldn’t we?”


“I guess so. I’ll see you later, then.”


“Till then,” Sara replied.




Spike was surprisingly willing to agree that Buffy should go by herself to talk to the Guardian. When she gave him a suspicious look, he laughed.


“Not steppin’ out on you, love. Winnie and I are going to look around at some possible places to stash the potentials, and see how many Bringers we can scare up and eliminate. Might check out the hellmouth again, too. Just to be on the safe side.”


“Oh, okay then. But be careful!”


He rolled his eyes. “If I didn’t know you were sayin’ that because you love me, I might be offended. On Winnie’s behalf, if not my own.”


“Neither one of you might be looking out for Robin… or any other human.”


“Right you are, love. I didn’t mean to mock you. It’s a right treat to know you worry about me.”


“I always worried about you,” she mumbled. “I just didn’t think I should let you know about it.”


Always? We’re going to talk about that when you get home.”


“No we aren’t,” she said briskly as she picked up her scythe. “See you later.”




Buffy arrived at the bridal shop just as Sara was putting the “closed” sign in the door. She smiled and held the door open until Buffy was in, then closed and locked it.  When Buffy raised her eyebrows, Sara said, “We don’t want to be disturbed, do we? And I leave through a back door.”


She led the way past the dressing rooms, down a small hallway, and into a room that seemed to be half office and half comfy living area. She gestured for Buffy to sit on one of the overstuffed chairs, and walked to a tiny kitchen area to make tea.


Buffy gazed around, noting the very business-like looking desk and file cabinets on one side of the room, and the elegant and comfortable furniture on the other. Even the walls were different, on one side painted a very plain cream color with nothing but a few sketches of bridal gowns and a business license hanging there; and on the other side, a cream-colored wall paper with a very subtle floral pattern to it, and a couple of lovely watercolors.  A few houseplants with their own grow lights to make up for the lack of windows, completed the abrupt change from office to living room.


Buffy smiled her thanks for the mug of tea Sara placed on the table beside her, and set her scythe down at her feet. As she sipped the delicious tea, she watch Sara fold herself into the other chair and curl up with her own mug. They exchanged warm smiles and sipped in silence for several minutes before Sara finally said, “So, what is it we need to talk about?”


Buffy sighed and set her mug down. “Let’s start with me telling you how and why Spike and I got here; and when we came from, ‘k?”


Sara nodded and continued sipping. She was silent the entire time as Buffy explained the world they’d left, and why they were sent back. She raised a groomed eyebrow from time to time, but didn’t comment or register any surprise until Buffy talked about her resurrection.


“I think I’d like to meet this witch,” she said, interrupting without apology.


“Um, actually, you already have,” Buffy said. “Do you remember the redhead who came with my sister to get a bridesmaid dress?”


“Well that explains a lot,” Sara said without going into detail. “Now I really want to meet her. Again.”


“She wants to meet you too–now that she knows what you are. It’s okay that I told her, isn’t it? In our time… well, I guess I didn’t really have a chance to find out if the Guardian wanted to be a secret…”


Sara sighed. “I’m not sure. But if she already knows, then she knows, so…. Just go on with your story while I think about it.”


Buffy hesitated a few seconds, wondering if she should tell Sara that the entire group knew about her, then decided not and continued her tale. She talked about how unhappy she’d been, and made sure that Sara understood how important Spike had been to her recovery from the resurrection. She glossed over the end of the year, saying simply that Spike had gone to get his soul for her.


“Well, that makes him rather unique,” Sara said, with a trace of admiration. “I assumed you wouldn’t have married someone evil, but to seek out a soul….”


“Spike’s not like any other vampire, anywhere,” Buffy said, not trying to hide her pride.


“So I see.  Not like that other one….”


“The less said about him, the better,” Buffy growled. “I’ll tell you why some other time. Let me finish up with our last year in our time, so you’ll understand what we’re dealing with now.”


She went on, hitting the low points and then the even lower lows, of the following year and the gradual deepening of her concern as more and more potentials arrived and she struggled to keep them safe. When she got to the point where she had Willow use the scythe to do the spell, Sara actually gasped.


“Oh my god… you…all of them?”


“Yep. Every single one that hadn’t aged out of the window.” 


“Who took charge of them?”


Buffy raised her hand and waved it back and forth, then dropped it into her lap.


“We had to do it,” she said. “There was an army of Turok-Hans trying to come out of the hellmouth, and I only had one scythe.”


“So, your little army of slayers beat them back?”


Buffy shook her head. “It helped, but we were still losing. There just weren’t enough of us here in Sunnydale, and many of the girls weren’t even trained except for the little bit we could manage in the backyard.” She sighed. “And Turok-Hans are harder to kill than the average vamp. The girls just weren’t ready for that, even once they got their slayer powers.”


“But here you are, so you obviously survived. I presume this is where your amazing mate comes in?”


“He did. I already told you that last time we were here. He wore an amulet that was meant to be worn by a champion, and it used his soul to kill the Turok-Hans, and in the process, bring Sunnydale down around his head.”


Sara blinked. “Sunnydale? The town, not just the high school to close the hellmouth?”


Buffy snorted, and continued, “In our time, Sunnydale doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just a big crater filling up with water.”  She sighed. “I was in England with Giles, trying to put together a Slayers and Watchers Council to replace the one lost when Caleb blew up the Council building.” At Sara’s gasp, Buffy laughed. “Yeah. The First wasn’t just trying to take out all the slayers, he went after the Council too. And Caleb killed the last Guardian. So Spike, me, and all the potentials who we activated were what was left. And Giles and the Scoobies. I didn’t mean to forget them. While we were all down in the hellmouth, the others were fighting off Bringers in the high school so they couldn’t attack us from the rear.” Buffy’s expression darkened. “They didn’t all make it out.”


“What have you managed to change so far?” Sara’s expression was sympathetic, but she didn’t ask who had died.


“Well, the biggie is that I didn’t have to die and be resurrected—” She grinned at Sara’s wide eyes. “That was the main reason we were sent back here. To make sure I either didn’t have to jump, or that I stayed dead. Dying and coming back to life months later upset the balance of Good and Evil. At least, that was thinking when we got sent back here. 


“Keeping me alive helped, but it didn’t stop the First as…emphatically… as everybody hoped it would.  But, thanks to you, I’ve already got my scythe, and I’ve already used it to send Caleb and the Turok-Han that was guarding it back to hell. The First is still trying to come up here anyway, though, and we don’t know how many human minions it has. Giles tried to warn the Council, but he wasn’t talking to anybody important, so we don’t know how seriously they’re taking the danger. And Winston is talking to the Coven about himself and us, so they can say they talked to a seer or something. We’ll see. Maybe they can keep all those important records and books safe.”


“And the people who work in the building?” Sara asked with a slightly disapproving raised eyebrow.


“And them,” Buffy agreed with an embarrassed shrug. “I didn’t mean they weren’t important… it’s just that in my time, they’re gone, you know? And we’ve been working our butts off since we got out of the collapsing hellmouth to make a new Council that includes slayers. But then, if things really are totally different…” She shook her head.  “Spike and me… we know we’ll be okay now. I mean we’ll still be us. We weren’t sure about that when we first came back. If we changed everything that made us fall in love, would we still—but we aren’t worried about that anymore.”


“I imagine not,” Sara said with a wry smile and a glance at Buffy’s neck.


Buffy laughed softly. “Yeah. Anya thought of that, and she bugged Spike about so much I thought he was going to bite her.”


Sara joined her in laughing briefly. “So, in addition to pushing this First Evil back where it belongs, you are worried about the world you’re creating and where you will fit into it.” 


Buffy nodded at her. “Pretty much. I mean, shutting down the First is the mission, but we’re all a little worried about what we’ve done to the world we came from and where we’re going to fit in there.”




“Yeah, Winston too. You haven’t met him, I guess. He was sent back to help us, so something we did or didn’t do when we first got here changed things enough that the Coven was a bigger part of the Council than it was in our time. And they thought we would need him.”


“And do you?”


Buffy rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah. You have no idea…”


“So, I gather the question becomes, with the addition of such a strong magical presence on your side, do you still need or want to activate all the potentials in the world?”


Buffy frowned. “When you say it that way, it sounds like such a really bad idea….”


“It’s certainly one that hasn’t occurred to anyone before, I’m quite sure.” Sara looked thoughtful. “I can understand the advantage of having more than one active slayer at a time. I think there’s something to be said for that…. but an entire world full of untrained girls with super powers that they have no idea how to control or why they have them….”


“Yeah. Not as much fun as you might think,” Buffy said dryly.  “On the other hand, being the one girl in all the world was getting a little old. If it wasn’t for the headaches involved in trying to find them all and get them all trained….” She heaved another sigh. “Well, let’s just say I’m not anxiously waiting to go back to being Buffy the-head-slayer-school mistress-head trainer-whatever else Giles comes up with for me to do.”


“That is a good bit of responsibility.”


Buffy rolled her eyes. “Ya think?”  She shook her head. “Faith helps in my time. I guess since I’m not there right now, she’s the boss. But mostly she was sitting on the small hellmouth in Cleveland and training the girls we sent there. It took a little bit of the pressure off, but we really needed to get a school set up near London with dorms and stuff.”


“In your time, did Faith not abandon her calling then as she did here?” Sara’s expression said she already had an opinion of the other Slayer.


“She did. But stuff happened to her after she woke up from the coma and went to LA. I’m not sure what, but she ended up having a change of heart and going to jail. Wesley broke her out for us when I told him we needed her, so she was here to help me with the potentials and their training. She’s turned into a really good head slayer. I think the girls like her better than they do me.” Buffy shrugged. “She’s the fun one, I’m the bossy one.”


“Will she be here this time?”


Buffy shrugged again. “No idea. We haven’t kept track of her since she left Sunnydale. I guess I need to ask Wesley if they’ve seen her. Maybe she’ll show up, maybe she won’t.”


Sara stood up and carried her mug to the small sink. She smiled at Buffy when she did the same.


“I know you came here looking for advice, and I intend to offer it. But I really need to have a good long think about all the ramifications of activating all the potential slayers in the world, as well as what it would mean to be a Guardian to so many slayers.”  She gave Buffy a warm smile as they walked to the back door and out into the alley behind the shop.


Buffy couldn’t stop herself from taking a quick glance up and down the alley, and then at Sara’s car.


“Is it safe?” Sara asked with some amusement.


Buffy flushed. “Force of habit,” she said. “I’m sure you’d be perfectly safe without me.”


“I‘m sure I would be,” Sara said with a small laugh. “But you would have no way of knowing that, so I appreciate your concern. It’s what makes you such a good slayer. Always worrying about other people.”


Buffy blushed again and coughed. “Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Anyway, if you have any questions, or want to talk some more, let me know. And please think about what I’ve told you and give me your opinion about it.”  She paused. “That’s assuming, of course, that I have choice. If things get really bad….” She shook her head. “In the meantime, I need to figure out where I’m going to put all these girls that are obviously going to keep arriving.”


“Understood. I’ll let you have my thoughts on it when I’ve sorted them out for myself.”  She got into her car, and with a wave, drove away leaving Buffy staring after the tail lights.






Chapter Twenty





With the arrival of the two new potentials, it was soon obvious that some sort of housing was going to be necessary. Buffy ruled out her mother’s house, even though Dawn pointed out that there was a vacant bedroom and Joyce had already said she would help in whatever way she could.


“No. Mom has a business to run and I can’t make her responsible for taking care of total strangers. If these girls are going to keep arriving, I’ve got to have a place to put them. A Slayer House, just like we’ve been setting up in our time in the cities where we have enough trained slayers to do that.”


“Yeah, well, good luck with that. Not that Sunnydale doesn’t have plenty of vacant houses, but they aren’t in very nice neighborhoods, most of them.”


“No, they aren’t… and you know that exactly… how?”


Dawn rolled her eyes. “I’m not a kid, Buffy. And I’m not stupid either.”


“No. No, you aren’t. Well anyway, like you said, Sunnydale has plenty of vacant houses, so we’ll find one that isn’t in a lousy neighborhood and turn it into a dorm of some sort.”




Spike and Winston seemed quite pleased with their evening out, although Spike admitted they hadn’t yet identified a suitable place for the potentials to live. When Buffy asked about any Bringers they might have found, she rolled her eyes at their identical smirks. 


“So, do those expressions mean you found them but they aren’t going to be a problem?”


“Think you could safely say that, love,” Spike said, sharing a snicker with Winston.


“I don’t think I want to know.”


“Excellent thought,” Winston said. “We also checked the hellmouth…”




“That’s where the Bringers were,” Spike said. “The seal is in place, but it looked like they were tryin’ to rig up a way to suspend some poor sod—that will not be me this time—over it.”


“Well crap!” Buffy said. “I guess we’re going to have to check it every day now.” She glared at them as if it was their fault.


“True enough,” Spike said, smiling at her in spite of the glare. “But Winnie did some warding around it to try to keep people out, so that might help. At least it will if they try to use a human as the sacrificial lamb.”  He stopped smiling and added, “You might want to talk to Wood about it. Make sure he knows to stay away and to keep kids out of the basement.”


“That’s a good idea,” Buffy agreed. “Since we haven’t seen much of him since he tried to get Max to throw us out, he probably doesn’t know anything about the potentials and other stuff.”


“I’m not sure exactly how much ‘other stuff’ you should be sharing with him just yet,” Winston said. “We still don’t know much about how strongly he feels about Spike’s continued existence, and if he’s listening to the First every day….”


“He could be being lured to the Dark Side,” Buffy sighed in agreement.  “Okay. I’ll be very careful what I tell him, but I want him to know we’re watching the hellmouth, and why.”


“That should go well,” Spike muttered. When she glared at him, he added, “Not sayin’ don’t do it, love. Just that he might not take it as well as you hope he will.”




Spike’s words proved to be prophetic as Robin’s reaction to Buffy’s gentle suggestion that people stay out of the school basement as much as possible was met with an irritated frown.


“Are you telling me what I can and can’t do in my own school?” he demanded. “And what do you mean Spike and Winston were there?”


“I’m reminding you that your school is located directly over the hellmouth. A place where bad things tend to happen.” Buffy’s tone was sharper than she’d intended, but Robin’s apparent unwillingness to cooperate with them was making her angry. “I understand how you feel about Spike, but like I told you, he’s an important part of my team and he’ll go wherever he needs to, to get information for me.”


“I’ve learned some interesting things about you… and your pet vampire,” Robin said. “Very interesting things.”


“Really? And who would have shared those interesting things?”


“Well, aside from your former principal—” He held up a hand when she started to interrupt him. “Okay, not him, because I concede that you are probably right about what that actually is, but I also had a visit from your former vampire boyfriend.”


Buffy gasped. “Angel? He was here again? I’m going to kill him!”


“He said you’d be angry about it, but he felt I needed to know more about Spike….”


“All you need to know about Spike—and Angel—is that I’m married to one of them, and still pissed off at the other one for trying to claim me when I was unconscious. Nothing Angel tells you about Spike is going to be anything but jealous vampire crap. I dated Angel when I was very young. It didn’t go well. He left. He’s a jerk. End of story.”


“So you’d like me to think.”


Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “Exactly when was Angel here sharing all this ‘valuable’ information?” she asked, doing some mental arithmetic.


“He’s actually visited several times,” Robin said. “I guess you weren’t on the list of people he came here to see.”


“Good thinking on his part,” Buffy growled, but remembering what she wanted to know. “So, when was the first time?”


Robin frowned. “It was actually a few weeks ago. I don’t remember the exact date. It’s not important… We’ve spoken a few times since then.”


“It could be important,” Buffy said. “If the first time he showed up here happened to be while we were in LA taking care of one of the First’s evil minions.”  She waited for Robin to consider what she was saying, smiling when uncertainty flickered across his face.




“Because I saw Angel while we were there. He and Spike fought the Bringers together while I tackled Caleb. If it was the same day, then you weren’t talking to Angel.”


“But he—” She could see when he remembered that vampires were just as dead as his mother and Snyder. He shook himself. “You’re just guessing.”


“I am. Based on experience. But I can look into it. I can ask Wesley where Angel was every day for the past several weeks and see how many of the times he was with people in LA he was also popping up here to say hi to you. That’s a lot of traveling for somebody who needs to stay out of the sun.”


Robin sat down abruptly and rubbed his forehead. “But you did have another vampire boyfriend. It’s something you do.”


“It is—was. Angel was sent here by the Powers to help me. We weren’t supposed to…to fall in love. And Spike and I… we have history I don’t think I trust you enough to tell you about. If I had to, I could ask Wes about any sudden trips Angel may have taken, but I’m not going to bother because I’m confident that’s not who you’ve been talking to.” 


She turned to leave, saying, “Think about it, please. The First is playing on your need to avenge yourself on Spike to remove him from where he needs to be. With me. Helping me to save the world. Something he’s already done or helped with several times already, including back when he was still evil. I’m not asking you to like him, just to let yourself believe that he is not the stone-cold killer he was twenty years ago.”


She walked out of the office without looking back, leaving a bewildered, but still angry man pondering her words.  He waved his hand dismissively when Snyder appeared in front of him to repeat that Buffy was a troublemaker and a liar. “Get lost,” Robin said. “You, at least, I am sure about.”


“That hurts my feelings,” Snyder/First said as he disappeared.





By the time they held the next full-fledged Scooby meeting, they’d acquired one more potential slayer and the search for somewhere to put the girls had become more urgent. There were now two living with Lisa and Abby, and the latest arrival was temporarily living at Amanda’s.  They all looked at Buffy expectantly as she announced they were going to have a visitor later in the evening.


Giles frowned and glanced around the table. “Who is that, Buffy?  And do you know where Winston is?”


“Winston is bringing the surprise guest,” she said.


“Is it Max? Not that he isn’t welcome here, but I thought he’d planned to sit this one out?”


“It isn’t Max, although the guest will be here because of Max… sort of. I think she’d do it anyway, but the fact that she and Max are old friends has a lot to do with it.”  Buffy turned her gaze on Giles. “And you’d better be damn nice to her, or I’m going make you take all these girls home with you.”


Given that Lisa was already there with her girls and was clearly as confused as everyone else, Giles quickly dismissed her as a source of information. He frowned at Buffy. “When am I ever not nice to someone?”


Willow’s eyes got wide and she gasped, “Is it—” before Buffy shook her head, saying “Surprise, Willow. Look it up.”


Willow rolled her eyes, but acquiesced and never finished her question, although she had a whispered conversation with Dawn, who had become an unofficial Scooby just by right of birth.  When the door opened and Sara Johnson walked in, smiling her thanks at Winston for holding the door for her, Willow smirked in satisfaction. “I knew it! I knew you were going to be the surprise guest.”


“Very perceptive of you, Willow,” Sara said with a small smile. “I’m so glad you’re here, and Dawn also. I’ve been wanting to get to know you both better.”


“Oh, me too!” Willow said. “I mean, wanting to get to know you.”


With Giles and everyone else except Winston and Spike waiting expectantly, Buffy introduced Sara. “This is Sara Johnson. She is responsible for my wonderful wedding dress.” She waited as Lisa and Abby murmured their admiration, then continued, “She is also a Guardian. That’s a very special job, and not one the Watcher’s Council knows about, so I just met her this year.”


“What does she guard?” Mel asked, frowning at the perfectly made up and dressed woman, who seemed completely at ease with both the scrutiny and the question.


“Guardians watch over slayers,” Sara said with no change in her pleasant expression. “I’m probably the only one left now, but at one time we were more numerous and we watched over not just the current slayer, but many potentials also.”


“How could we not know that?” It was Lisa who asked the question this time, her tone somewhat disbelieving. “Why didn’t my watcher tell me?”


“The Council of Watchers,” Sara paused to gaze at Giles who was staring at her with narrowed eyes, “is not aware that we exist and have existed for generations.” She met his suspicious gaze with her own quiet confidence. “While I’ve no doubt it seemed like a good idea at the time, it is possible that such secrecy may not have been in the best interest of these very wonderful girls with whom we are both charged with caretaking.”


“Indeed,” Giles muttered.


“Giles…” Buffy warned, but Sara just gave one of her serene smiles, saying, “I’m actually quite eager to talk to someone of your experience, not just with the Council, but as someone who has had an active slayer for so many years. Perhaps we can make arrangement to meet for tea… or a drink… one evening.”


Spike exchanged looks with Winston when Giles relaxed and seemed to preen under Sara’s gaze.


“Now you know what it looks like,” he whispered, causing Winston to snort.


“I’ll never be able to work magic the way a beautiful woman can,” he whispered back. “I wish I could.”


Spike gave an appreciative chuckle as they watched Giles immediately agree that it would be an wonderful idea. Everyone except Anya was smiling in relief as the tension in the room broke.


“Please,” Giles said as he stood up. “Forgive our manners. Let’s find you a seat and then I’ll introduce everyone… or Buffy will,” he corrected himself as remembered who had been responsible for bringing Sara in.


Xander stumbled to his feet, insisting that she take his chair next to Willow. He went to sit on a stool next to Anya, who was standing rigidly behind the counter. Her expression made Buffy very glad Anya was no longer a vengeance demon, and she exchanged a worried look with Spike, who promptly nudged Winston. With a sigh, Winston nodded and went to stand with Xander and Anya, speaking quietly to them until Anya had visibly relaxed.


Buffy looked around the small meeting area and shook her head. “I think we’re going to have to find a bigger place to meet,” she said, smiling at the younger girls to assure them she wasn’t complaining. “So, as you already know, this is Sara and she is a Guardian. I’m just going to go around the room and point, and you can raise your hand or something, ‘k?” 


She began with Lisa, explaining that she’d been a potential and that Abby was one also. Then she introduced the other four girls, including Rosita who was the latest arrival. When each of the girls had greeted Sara with expressions ranging from curiosity to suspicion, Buffy gestured to Xander and Anya.


“And that’s Xander. He and Willow are my oldest friends in Sunnydale, and they’ve helped me a lot. And that’s Anya, she’s—” Buffy decided not to mention Anya’s former profession, settling for saying they’d know her since high school also.


Sara smiled at the last two to be introduced, rendering Xander speechless and Anya without an excuse not to be polite. She gritted out a ‘nice to meet you’ and then walked over to stand behind Giles and rest her hands on his shoulders. It was the only pubic physical contact anyone had seen yet, and all eyes went to Xander, but he was very busy staring at the floor, whether on purpose to avoid seeing her, or because he didn’t want to keep staring at Sara, Buffy wasn’t sure.


By the time Buffy was ready to let Sara talk about why she was there, Anya had relaxed a little and was sitting on one of the stools in front of the counter.


”Here’s the thing, girls,” Buffy began. “We don’t know how many more of you there might be on their way here. We hope, not very many, but obviously the Bringers are still trying to kill potentials, and even though Caleb is out of the picture, being a potential slayer is still not a safe thing to be right now. We need some place where you can all stay and still be safe. Abby’s mom has been really great about it, and Amanda’s parents haven’t quite figured out yet that they have a new dependent not just a guest, but we can’t keep stashing girls any where we can. Not and keep you safe. That’s where Sara comes in….”


Sara smiled and took over. “Many, many years ago, there were a lot more guardians, some actively working with slayers or potentials, some just in training. And they needed a place to live, just as you do. It happens that I live in one of those places. It’s quite big, has lots of rooms and… bathrooms,” she added, making the girls giggle. “And I’m just rattling around in it all by myself.”  She gazed around the small group of potentials. “Do any of you see where I’m going with this?”


Roxanne raised her hand cautiously. “We’re all going to come live with you?”


“If you’d like. I know Abby and Amanda have their own homes that are well protected from danger, but if you others would like to have your own rooms and closets, you are more than welcome to live with me.”


“We can’t go?” Abby and Amanda looked distressed. Lisa bit her lip, but waited to hear what Sara said. Their eyes met and held briefly, then Lisa nodded.


“You are all welcome there,” Sara said. “I just thought you might prefer to stay with your parents if possible. Especially you, Abigail, as your mother is also your watcher.” She smiled. “You have time to think about it. I’m not going anywhere, and neither is the house. You can think about it. Perhaps your mother might drop in from time to time to offer some training and wisdom?”


“Of course,” Lisa said quickly. “Whatever I can do… although I do have a job….”


“As do I,” Sara said. “Being a Guardian isn’t a paying position. Although Watcher is,” she said brightly, smiling at Giles. “Surely the Council would be will to pay Lisa to join you in Watching these girls?”


Giles coughed, then said, “You would think so, but I wouldn’t count on it.”


“What are we gonna do in there?” Mel asked. “Abby and Amanda go to school with Dawn, but I don’t, and neither does Rocky. And we don’t even know about Rosita yet.”


“I’m sure we can find something for you to do. Perhaps we can find a tutor so that you girls don’t fall behind in your studies.” Sara smiled sweetly, but there was a hint of steel behind it, making Mel blink and realize she was not going to be on her own or setting her own hours.


“Will it be safe, like Abby and Amanda’s houses are?”


“I assure you, it is a very safe place to live. I would never put anyone as valuable as a potential slayer in danger. Both the house and the rather large property are very well protected from just about anything. The man who put the wards up is very skilled. In fact, he was the teacher of the man who did the wards for everyone here.”


All eyes turned to Winston, and Giles was the first to speak. “Max did the wards on a house for Guardians?”


Before Winston could respond, although he looked as surprised as everyone else, Sara answered for him.


“In a manner of speaking,” she said. “It was, of course, well protected already and had been for a very long time. However, my old friend Max was gracious enough to take a look at it for me some time ago and reinforce what was already in place. I believe he may have added some embellishments also.”


“I don’t doubt but he did,” Winston said with a chuckle. “He loves his embellishments.”


They exchanged smiles over their mutual friend’s magical skills, then Winston settled back in his chair.


Giles spoke up, visibly trying not appear annoyed at having been relegated to the position of onlooker.


“So, it’s settled then? The girls who wish to will live with you in a well-protected dwelling, and Lisa and I, and Buffy, will continue their training there.”


He managed a smile at Sara. “I’m looking forward to learning more about Guardians and their history, as well as how we can incorporate that with what we learn as watchers.”


While the girls chattered among themselves about who was going to live where, and how to move their things from where they were to Sara’s, she and Giles made arrangements to meet the following afternoon at the Guardian’s  house for tea and conversation.  Sara then turned to Willow and set a up a time to meet with her during the day when she had no classes. She also asked Dawn to find a time to speak with her about her future.


My future? Me? I’m just Buffy’s little sister. I mean, yeah, I’m a key, I guess, but—”


“When you can,” Sara said. “No rush. You still have school and your life as a teenager, but I would like to talk with you at some point.”


Chapter Twenty-one




When Buffy and Spike went home from the meeting to change clothes before going on patrol, they saw Max just getting out of a taxi, and waited for him on the sidewalk.


He met them with a questioning look. “Good evening,” he said with a smile. “I hope the fact that you’re obviously waiting for me is due to your enjoyment of my company and not something more dire and less happy.”


Spike snorted, and Buffy looked embarrassed. “You know we love you, Max. Even if we didn’t have something to talk about, we would have waited for you.” She sighed. “But we do. I do, anyway.”


He waited with his usual patience.


“I guess I should have taken you with me to meet Sara after all,” she said finally. “I mean, not that you’d be meeting her meeting her, ‘cause you already know each other, but then she might have told me what she is sooner.”


“I had assumed that what she was, was retired,” he said with an apologetic sigh. “I honestly had no idea that the woman you were speaking of was my old friend. Not until the next time I spoke to her, and she told me she’d met you. It took no time at all to put two and two together, and I’ll admit to being quite appalled at myself for not realizing it when you first talked about her. I should have realized, but she rarely talks about her status as a Guardian, and with you not knowing anything about them….” He smiled again. “I promise we weren’t trying to hide anything from you.”


“It’s okay. We were just surprised… and so was Winston.”


“Ah yes. Well, as close as Winston and I seem to have become once again, he’s really become closer to you and your friends, and hasn’t had any reason to meet many of mine. The fact that there was a retired Guardian living in Sunnydale has simply never come up.” He sighed softly and shook his head. “I’m assuming that ‘retired’ is no longer the proper word to use?”


“I guess not. I mean, she helped me get my scythe, so I knew something was up, and now she’s gonna let the potentials stay at her house….”


“For which I must remember to thank her,” Max said, almost under his breath. But Spike heard him.


“No worries, Landlord. We’d already decided we couldn’t inflict them on you.” He grinned at Max’s embarrassed expression.


“And that level of thoughtfulness is why you remain my favorite tenants,” he said. “Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take my crotchety old self to bed.  You two, I presume, are just beginning your evening?”


“Kinda, yeah? We’re gonna patrol and see what we can scare up.”


“Well good hunting. As always, let me know if there’s anything I can do.”


“Just keep your head down,” Spike said.


“I’m actually quite skilled at that,” Max replied as went up the stairs to the front door.


Buffy frowned as she watched him unlock the door using a normal key.


“I wonder why he doesn’t just use magic like Winston does?”


“No sense upsetting his other tenants,” Spike said. “They don’t have their own outside doors like we do. I think some of them enter through the office.”


“Hmmm. I guess so, now that I think about it. I’ve seen some of them going in and out. I just expect most of them to use the back door where they park their cars.” As she spoke, they walked around and down to their own door.


“Most do. But probably not everybody. Don’t know that they all have cars—” He grinned at Buffy’s shocked expression that someone could live in southern California and not own a car. “If they live on the main floor, it’s probably just as easy to walk up those few steps and down the hall to their apartments as it is to come in the back.”


Buffy acknowledged his grin and raised eyebrow by muttering, “I’m an exception. And everybody thinks I’m weird anyway.” She went back to her original point. “But we’ve seen him put spells on the front door.”


“Have. But we don’t know what those spells did, do we?  For all we know, they didn’t apply to anyone living here.”


“Good point. Okay, I’m just gonna change, and then we can go kill things.”


“That’s my girl.”


Buffy rolled her eyes and went into the bedroom to get some older clothes on.




As they were leaving Restfield, Spike stopped, put his hand on her arm, and frowned toward the gate.




Heartbeat. Not yours. And somethin’… else.


Moving silently, they crept closer, finding Robin Wood in deep conversation with Angel. Spike made no attempt to muffle his growl, but only Robin appeared to hear it. He whirled in their direction as they emerged from hiding and began stalking toward him and Angel.


“What did I tell you about listening to him?” Buffy demanded, walking right up to Angel and swinging her fist at his face. As she’d expected, he disappeared with a popping sound, leaving Robin staring mutely at the empty spot.


“But, he knows things!” Robin insisted. “Things about you, and about Spike. Did you know your husband used to rape slayers before killing them?”


Spike’s snarl split the air, but Buffy put a restraining hand on his arm.


“That was Angel who did things like that. Don’t forget, I’ve fought with Spike a lot. That’s the farthest thing from his mind when he’s fighting a slayer. Trust me. Spike is not a rapist. Angelus is—or was. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because you were listening to the First and it lies! When are you going to get that? It isn’t Snyder, or your mom, or Angel, or anybody else it might show up looking like. If you don’t want to believe me, try to touch it like I just did. You won’t be able to because it isn’t….” she hesitated.


Word, Spike.    




“… corporeal. That’s all you need to do if you aren’t sure. Just try to touch it.”


They turned away, Buffy stomping off angrily, but Spike paused.


“You don’t have to like me,” he said. “Wouldn’t expect you to. But I can’t let you do anything that might hurt my wife.” His eyes flared yellow briefly. “Don’t try it.”


He joined Buffy who gave him an insincere glare as she scolded him for threatening Robin.


“Way to remind him of what you are,” she said.


“He knows what I am, Slayer. He just needed a reminder that you mean more to me than his need to believe everything he’s told.”


“I guess I’d better remind him that the First can look like either one of us too. I’m not sure that really registered when I was first telling him about it. He’s been pretty good about the girls, though. Not bugging me about the ones that aren’t in school or anything. Or asking for a lot of records we don’t have for some of them.”


“Can’t wait till he finds out you’re pulling them all out of school for a while,” Spike said with a laugh. “He really will believe that you’re a troublemaker then.”





Sara’s home proved to be easy to find, as it was in the same part of town as Angel’s abandoned mansion, as well as the former Mayor’s also abandoned home. On Sara’s street, however, the few widely spaced homes were all occupied and well-kept. As was the rather large one in which she lived. It had obviously been built with its use as a place for multiple women to live in mind, and Sara had simply closed off the unneeded rooms and made herself a lovely home in the main part of the house. The grounds were also extensive and beautifully landscaped, with a large lawn, ornamental shrubs and flowers, a vegetable garden, and a swimming pool below the patio just outside the back of the house.


The girls’ eyes lit up when they saw the pool, and it was obvious both Abby and Amanda wanted to live in the “Slayer House”. Lisa, who had driven the girls there, rolled her eyes and admitted defeat. “You can stay here for the rest of the fall, but once the First has been put out of our misery, you’re coming home, young lady. You have to finish school.”


In spite of Robin’s reservations about Spike and Buffy’s real motives, he had agreed to allow the potentials who were enrolled in his school to take a leave of absence for a few months. He’d even met briefly with Sara, who assured him she would see to their education along with their slayer training if he would provide the appropriate study plans and assignments. His only attempt to question her about how he could have grown up with a watcher and not have known of her existence was, “I am a Guardian, he was only a watcher,” in her haughtiest voice. Buffy’s had to turn away to hide her giggle at his shocked silence.




The girls had only been living there a few days when they had a chance to see the property’s defenses in action.  A knife-wielding Bringer tried to stab Mel as she chased a soccer ball toward the edge of the property. He ran in her direction, knife raised, then suddenly was flung backwards and into the street. She stopped to watch as he got up and shook himself. When she just stood there, he ran at her again, only to be flung back into the street—this time right in front of a bus. 


As the other girls ran up to see what was going on, they all watched the poor bus driver try to figure out not only what he’d hit, but if it was really dead or injured. When it began to crawl away, the Sunnydale born and bred driver just shrugged and got back on his bus. “Wasn’t human,” he said to the bewildered passengers as he pulled away.


“What the frilly heck was that?” Rosita’s question had them all turning to look at her.


“It was a Bringer. You know, those things that are trying to kill us?”


“I’ve never seen one,” she said with a shrug. “I was just told I had to stay here with Buffy because it was safer than home.” She frowned at the creature still moving slowly away. “That didn’t look very safe to me.”


“Well, considering that it couldn’t get to me, I’d say we’re pretty safe as long as we stay in here.” Mel shrugged off the close call. “Maybe we should ask Sara if we can keep some weapons outside—just in case we need to chase a ball into the street….”


“That’s an excellent idea, Mel.” Sara’s voice floated to them as she walked across the lawn to join the girls still staring at the bloody spot on the street. “I guess it’s time to open up the old armory and show you girls where it is.”


“We have an armory?”


“The Guardians have an armory,” Sara corrected. “You may choose some weapons from it to keep nearby. You’ll need them when your training continues, anyway.”


“Hey, most of us are trained,” Roxanne said. “We all had watchers except Amanda.” She smiled at Amanda to indicate that she wasn’t denigrating her background.


“A slayer’s training never stops,” Sara said, narrowing her eyes. “Why do you think you continue to have watchers even after you’ve been called? Why do you think Buffy, who has been the Slayer for many years, continues to consult with Mr. Giles? And none of you have ever faced a real vampire or demon, so you will definitely need practice there.”


Mel spoke up. “I just faced some kind of demon-thing.”


“You didn’t have to face it. The wonderful and powerful wards on this house and property took care of it for you. That, obviously, will not happen when you are elsewhere. There are very few places in Sunnydale as safe as this.”


“Why don’t we all just stay in the safe places until the First gets bored and goes away?”


“We can only wish that will happen,” Sara sighed.  “But we need to be prepared if it doesn’t.”





Sara sat on her patio, relaxing with Willow, while Buffy demonstrated sword work for the girls, and ran them through some exercises to practice before the evening.


“She’s quite good at this, isn’t she?” Sara said, watching with a critical eye.


“She’s been here before,” Willow responded. “In her time, she had like… I dunno, twenty or thirty girls? Maybe not that many. But a lot. And she had to get them ready to fight Turok-Hans. She’ll be taking them out to slay regular vamps pretty soon.”


“Is that safe? They don’t have any powers yet.”


“They won’t be alone. Buffy and Spike will be with them, and I’ll be there too. And there are six of them now. Seven if you include Dawn…”


“Ah yes, Dawn. I suppose it’s a good idea for her to get the same training, although her talents will certainly lie in another direction.”


“What other direction? I mean, yeah, her blood could have opened Glory’s portal, but it didn’t, so that’s that, right?”


“Possibly.” Sara sipped her iced tea and didn’t say anything else about Dawn. She set her glass down and smiled at Willow.


“And what about you? Have you given any more thought to becoming a Guardian?”


Willow squirmed uncomfortably. “You know I like the idea. I mean as soon as I heard about the Guardian in Buffy’s time, I thought, how cool would it be to do something like that…. well, not the neck broken by crazy, eviled-up preacher, but you know, alive and knowing secrets about slayers.  But, the thing is, I… I like doing magic. And now that I can control myself, it seems like I should be using my magic to help. You know, like Winston does. In Buffy’s time, I was the head of the magic department in the new Council.”


She looked at Sara apologetically. “Not that what you do isn’t totally awesome, but—”


Willow blinked when Sara waved her hand and created a bubble in which they could see the Magic Box and Giles and Anya in deep conversation. When Giles glanced around the empty store and then kissed Anya, Sara said, “Oops!” and flicked the scene away.


“That’s what I get for trying to be clever instead of just telling you that magic and being a Guardian are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some knowledge of and talent for magic is an important component of the job.”


“Huh. I didn’t think of that,” Willow said. “Those dresses you sold us for the wedding felt like magic.”


Sara laughed softly. “No doubt they did, but only the Slayer’s dress and shoes had any sort of enchantments on them. Yours and Dawn’s were simply very well-tailored and of very fine fabric. Nothing that can’t be bought with money, if one knows where to look.”


“Well, if the coven doesn’t get blown up, I guess I won’t be the person in charge of magic this time around, so I’ll have to think about it a little harder. Maybe I can hang out here and learn more about being a Guardian?”


“Absolutely you can. In fact, I have a rather extensive library that includes a lot of history about Slayers and Guardians, and also some books with spells that can be useful to someone who is trying to keep safe a young girl whose job puts her in danger every night. You’re welcome to come here and use the library any time you’d like.”


Willow’s eyes lit up. “A library? Oh, that would be wonderful. Giles will be so jealous!”




After another week of relative quiet, and the arrival of a few more slayers, including, Buffy wasn’t thrilled to see, Kennedy, there was a flurry of activity and information that required a full meeting. Winston had information from his friends in the Coven, and Giles and Wesley had been reaching out to friends at the Council.


Due to both the number of potentials who now needed to be protected, as well as Sara’s growing involvement in the regular discussions about what was happening, the meeting was being held in the large common area of the Guardian’s home.  Giles, Winston, Buffy, Xander, Willow, Anya, Lisa, and Sara were sitting in a loose half-circle facing the potentials who were either sitting on the floor or sprawling across the small sofas and chairs in the room. Spike was leaning against a wall, almost blending into it. Dawn was seated with the other girls, seemingly quite comfortable at being treated as one of them. She hadn’t yet talked with Sara, who assured her there was no rush, and she should continue to train with the potentials.


Buffy started the meeting off by making sure everyone had met. She had to introduce Xander and Anya as the newer arrivals hadn’t met them yet.  Winston got a lot of curious stares as he was introduced simple as “part of the team”, at which Spike snorted, bringing attention back to him. Buffy watched as Kennedy narrowed her eyes at him, obviously studying him intently.


“What did you say his name was?” she asked, pointing at Spike who had straightened up and was holding her hostile gaze with his own chilly eyes.


“I didn’t say, Kennedy,” Buffy said. “But since you asked so nicely, this is my husband Spike. Also known as William the Bloody. And yes, he is a vampire. However, he has his soul and is perfectly safe to be around.”


Behind her back, Spike let his eyes flicker to amber and his fangs drop just a little as he held Kennedy’s glare. His attempt to rattle her cage failed when Dawn stood up and threw a decorative pillow at him. “Behave yourself!” she said, and sat back down.


“You’re no fun, Bit,” he growled, relaxing his face and posture, and smiling at the giggles from the girls who’d known him longer.


“I could be, if you didn’t keep trying to scare off my boyfriends,” she huffed.


“If you two are through being childish…..” Buffy glared at Dawn and then turned to glare at Spike.


“Right you are, love. We need to behave. See that you remember that, Dawn.” He sniffed his disdain for her behavior, bringing on another flying pillow that hit him in the face.


“Do you both need time-outs?” Buffy’s voice had gone into her I’m-in-charge-here range, and they both subsided quickly.


She took a deep breath and continued: “Okay, here’s what we know so far. The Bringers are still trying to kill you, which makes me think the First is worried about all of you for some reason. As if you might somehow get your powers suddenly or something.” She was choosing her words carefully as she danced around the idea of what the future might hold. She made a mental note to include Lisa, at least, in those in the know about her and Spike. Telling the potentials still seemed like a very bad idea, as they really hadn’t had much of a chance to get to know them all yet. She knew Abby and Amanda could keep secrets, but had no idea about the other girls, or which ones might be susceptible to the First’s appearances as someone they knew.


“Not that you would, but there has to be a reason it’s so dead set—” Spike’s cough made her rephrase her comment. “… so determined to see that none of you live long enough to be called. So, caution is still the word of the day. You’re safe here, and I know it’s boring, but I can’t watch you 24/7. Once we’ve gone out a few nights, and you’ve got some actual fighting under your belts, you can probably start going out in small groups in the daytime. Just be sure you’re armed with something inconspicuous but lethal.”








Chapter Twenty-two




The next meeting of the adults involved, was all about what Winston and the Coven had been able to achieve, as well as what Wesley had shared with Giles. With the addition of Lisa and Sara, it was a bit crowded in the Magic Box, so they were spread out around the training room with Giles and Winston standing near the door.


Winston went first. “As most of you know, the older women in the Coven are now aware of, not just my little adventure, but also Spike and Buffy’s unusual arrival. Our goal being to keep the First Evil and its army of Turok-Hans safely sealed into the hellmouth. However, while keeping Buffy alive and un-resurrected has made some major changes for the better, it has not been enough to prevent the First from attempting to manifest into this realm. The Coven is working more closely with the Council and trying to help them recognize the danger and be alert for any sign of the First’s minions.”


Giles picked up the thread. “Wesley has been talking to his contacts at the Council headquarters. He’s added his voice to mine when it comes to the importance of keeping all potentials safe, as well as increasing security in their building. At this point, we can only hope that those measures will be enough to keep the Council building and its people safe from an explosion. But we cannot assume it’s going to work. Even if we had any sort of specific information to give, it would be difficult to do so without explaining how we came by it.”


Buffy could see Lisa’s forehead wrinkling as she tried to understand what the men were talking about, and knew she was going to have to explain about herself, Spike, and Winston sooner rather than later.


Winston was saying, “Wesley has made some inroads as far as contact with the man I know well in Council Security, and it’s possible we may be able to convince him to be suspicious of anyone wandering around the complex who may be an intruder. Of course, if the First has got to someone within the Council, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to notice until it’s too late.”


“Oh wow,” Buffy said. “I always assumed it was Caleb, or some other evil minion that set that bomb. It never occurred to me that the First could have gotten to somebody who works there.”  She frowned. “I don’t know why not though. I’ve always thought some of them were evil….”


“Yes, well, your opinion of Travers aside…” There were matching snorts from Spike and Giles. “… a  complex that large has employees that no one notices. Cleaners, maintenance staff, minor clerical workers…. While I’m sure the initial hiring process is fairly rigorous, who knows what may have happened in their lives since then that may have made one vulnerable. No one would think twice about seeing some of those people in most parts of the building.


“The premises are warded fairly strongly, and the Coven has increased those to the best of their ability, but, again, they would be warding against intruders, not someone already permitted there.” Winston exchanged guilty looks with Giles.


“We should have thought of that before. An employee would be the most likely culprit.” Giles said in rueful agreement, obviously dismayed at not having thought about that possibility himself.


“They could check auras!” Willow spoke up quickly, eager to be helpful. “The coven has people who can read auras like Tara can.” Willow sighed lightly, but shook her head when Xander patted her hand. “I’m fine,” she said. “Just haven’t said her name in a while.”

“That’s an excellent idea, Willow.” Winston beamed at her. “I’ll call Althenea immediately and ask her to send her sensitive members around the building to read staff auras. It would have to be subtle, they’ll have to have a legitimate reason for wandering around, but they could….” He walked off, pulling his phone out and muttering to himself.


“Thank you, Willow,” Giles said. “I’m not sure that would have occurred to me.”


Willow shrugged. “When you’ve lived with somebody who sees auras the way the rest of us see what people are wearing, you get used to it.”


Sara beamed at Willow. “A perfect blending of magical talents and instinct to protect the slayer line.”


Willow flushed, trying ignore the way Giles was staring at her. “Well, that particular talent isn’t one I’m very good at, but I know there are several women in the Coven who are.”


Lisa raised her hand somewhat timidly, but with a serious expression on her face. “If Winston already knows someone in Security really well, why is he going through Wesley? And what does Buffy not dying have to do with it?”


Buffy glanced at Spike, and then around the room, realizing that this was the perfect time to let Lisa in on where they had come from… and why. She exchanged looks with Giles, who gestured to the floor in front of him. With a sigh, she stood up and walked closer to Lisa.


“Okay, it’s time we let you in on something—”


“Is this where you explain why you know so much about things that might happen if you don’t do one thing or another?”


Buffy rolled her eyes and asked imaginary people on the ceiling, “Why do we even bother to try to be secretive when we’re surrounded by smart people?”


There were understanding snickers all around, including from Lisa. “So, are you from the future or something?” She waited, her smile saying she was expecting to hear “or something”. It faded as Buffy just stared at her silently, then nodded her head and sat down again.  “Wait? What? You’re from the future? All of you?” Lisa stared around at the small group of people she thought she knew.


“No, not all of us,” Giles said quickly. “However, Buffy, Spike, and Winston are. They were each sent back­—separately and by different people—in order to prevent their future world from coming to pass. In that world, now barely more than a year from now, the First was eventually defeated, but not until several months from this date, and at great cost. Its minions were quite active all over the world, killing potential slayers wherever they found them. We assume it was in an effort to end the slayer line. Among the terrible things that happened was the almost complete destruction of the Council of Watchers. So our problems are two-fold—”


When Spike coughed, he paused. “All right, it’s possible our problems are many. However, we’ve been able to change so many things in the past several years, including removing Caleb from this earth so early, that we cannot be absolutely sure of what will come next.”


He paused again. “Buffy, would you like to continue?” She sighed again, but nodded and joined him in the middle of the room.


“Here’s the sitch, Lisa. Everybody in the room knows some of this because we’ve had to explain why we do some of the things we do, but nobody knows all of it. And I hope you never have to…. But, to bring you up to speed: I was sent back to try to keep from dying in a jump from Glory’s tower.” She shook her head, “Giles can fill you in on that later. It’s over and done with this time. The point is, the Giles who sent me back, the people who sent Spike back, and the almost-but-not-quite-the-same Giles and the Coven that sent Winston back a little later, all thought that the First was able to become so strong because I… died, but then was resurrected months later.”


“One hundred and forty-seven days….” Spike could be heard whispering.


She sent him a warm smile, then continued. “So, we were kinda counting on that not having happened this time to mean the First wasn’t going to be able to get so strong. It was all about keeping the balance between Good and Evil, and if I wasn’t resurrected, the balance would be okay.” She made a face. “It looks like it wasn’t quite that simple. The First is still trying to rise into our world, its creepy minions are still killing potential slayers, it still gave Caleb some powers he didn’t need to have, and when I went to get my scythe—” She sent Sara a smile. “It was being guarded by Bringers and a Turok-Han. And the First is already talking to people, trying to start trouble.”


She walked over to stand by Spike and take his hand.


“In our time, it was so strong that what it took to shove it back where it belongs was for Willow and me to use the scythe’s power to activate every potential in the world, including the ones down in the hellmouth with me, fighting all the Turok-Han’s the First was releasing. And we were losing…. until Spike, who was wearing an amulet that we don’t have this time, was able to channel sunlight through his soul and destroy them all.”


She beamed at him, squeezing his hand tightly. “He was my champion, and he saved the world.” She turned her gaze on the people staring at her in various degrees of shock. “And he died doing it. The light destroyed him along with the Turok-Hans, and it also destroyed Sunnydale.”  She waved her hand around to indicate the shop and the surrounding town. “In our time, all of this is nothing but a big crater in the desert.


“That’s not gonna happen this time,” Buffy said firmly. “I’ve got the scythe, Caleb is history, and we’re trying to keep as many potentials alive as we can. But make no mistake, if I think we’re going to need them, there are going to be a lot more slayers in the world. And sooner than a last battle. I’m not losing Spike this time….”


She stopped talking and waited while the conversations flowed around her. While Giles knew most of what had happened, and why, and Sara had been told about Spike’s world-saving sacrifice, it was the first time most of them had heard about what led to their future in quite so much detail. She walked over to stand by Giles in case he wanted to ask her anything.



Winston returned from his phone call and stared around at the whispered conversations going on.


“Did I miss something?”


“Slayer laid it out for them as to what led to the futures we came from, and how she’s not goin’ to allow it to go that bloody wrong this time. Think some of it was news to more than just Lisa.”


Winston nodded. “I imagine it was. I’m not sure even Rupert has truly grasped what sort of disaster we are trying to avert, nor how hard we’ve been working to replace all that was lost and changed.”


“I wish Wes was here to have heard all that. It would have answered a lot of his questions.” He glanced at Winston. “So, how’d the phone call go?”


Winston winced. “I forgot what time it was there, so I had to begin with an apology, but once she was awake, Althenea thought it was an excellent idea and she will implement it forthwith.”


“Forthwith, huh?” Spike snickered.


“Mind your manners, William Pratt, or I’ll tell Xander about your poetry.”


Spike just laughed and waved Willow over so that Winston could tell her how her idea was received.


He joined Buffy and Giles, who were explaining to Lisa why they didn’t want to share the information with Abby or the other potentials just yet.


“It’s not that we don’t trust them… but we don’t really know them all yet, and in our time, the First was able to appear to them as another potential and get everybody all worried. Some of the girls can handle things better than others…. That’s something I have to work out before I think about doing that spell again. Just because somebody can be a slayer, doesn’t necessarily mean she should.


Lisa frowned. “How did the First appear as one of the girls?”


Buffy sighed. “She was dead, but we didn’t know it yet. So, they had no reason not to listen to her.”


“It sounds like there was a lot of dying going on….” Lisa said.


“You have no idea,” Buffy said tersely. “No idea at all.”


She took a deep breath and shook herself.


“This time, I’ve got more help—” she gestured at Winston “—and the girls that are here are very well protected. And the watchers of other potentials have been warned about Bringers and anything else that might be targeting their girls.”


“Like the vampires that attacked Abby,” Lisa said, frowning.


“Like them. Somebody in LA put out word it was open season on potential slayers and we don’t know yet if it was Caleb or somebody else.”  She smiled around the room. “We’ve come this far, we’ll take care of this. It might be an all hands on deck thing like it was for Glory, but we can do it. Beginning with keeping a close eye on the hellmouth.”





“You know who was really responsible for William the Bloody, don’t you?”


Robin rolled his eyes, but couldn’t resist indulging himself with the sight of his mother and the sound of her voice. He tried to remember it wasn’t really her.


“Whatever vamp bit him,” he snapped. “Why don’t you leave me alone?”


“Because, baby, you promised to avenge me. And if you can’t or won’t do it against the vampire that did me in, you could go after the next best thing—his sire and the one who talked him into going after slayers.”


“I thought he was sired by Drusilla the Insane?” Robin reluctantly responded, wondering where this was going.


“Who was made insane first, and then sired by Angelus. And he took over William’s training because Drusilla was too flighty to make a good sire. Make no mistake, Angelus was the reason Drusilla and Spike turned out to be such powerful and evil vampires. Or, Angel, as he calls himself now when his soul is there,” his mother finished with an uncharacteristic sneer.


Suddenly she was gone, and in her place was a dark-haired woman in a flowing white gown, spinning around him. “My William was a good boy who loved his mother,” she cooed. “He even wanted to bring her with us! But Angelus took him in hand and taught him how to be the best vampire. Taught him to rip and tear and make the dollies bleed….”


Robin gawked at her. “Are you….?”


“I’m Spike’s sweet princess. Or I was until that nasty Slayer took him away. But Angelus made us both what we were. If you want to know who was really responsible for your mother’s death, look at the Slayer’s first vampire lover….”


Drusilla disappeared just as his mother had, and Robin sat down and shook his head. With daily visits from the First as his mother or Snyder and the visits as Angel, he was struggling to remember that he was having conversations with only one being, and that it was Evil personified. He pulled his laptop toward him, and began researching Angelus.  An hour later, he pushed it away, convinced that, in this case, the First had not been lying, and that Buffy’s first vampire lover had indeed been something she shouldn’t have allowed to live.





Wesley delivered his next report in person. Winston’s attempts to keep him up to speed with phone conversations had turned out to be frustrating for both them, and they determined he needed to be where he could ask questions of whomever he needed to. With Sara’s permission, he joined them at the Slayer/Guardian house for a relaxing drink near the pool.  He’d watched in wonder as the group of potentials splashed and frolicked before settling down on big towels to work on their tans in the still-warm autumn sun.


“I admit to feeling more than a bit gobsmacked to learn that Guardians have existed all this time without the Council knowing anything about them. It doesn’t seem possible.” He seemed offended on behalf of the Council he hadn’t worked for in years.


“The Council of Watchers isn’t quite as infallible as they’d like to think they are, and the fact that they initiated and continued to practice that barbaric test is proof positive of why Guardians were needed. However, once there were so few of us, we had to go into hiding, which meant we could no longer exert even moderate influence there.”


“But you did at one time?”


“Many generations ago, there was always one Guardian who was a member of the Council of Watchers, but of course it was difficult to explain when she didn’t age at the same rate as her colleagues, and eventually we weren’t able to continue to replace people before they could attract the wrong kind of attention. Suspicions were raised, and we had to keep a low profile after that. It’s much more difficult to guard your potential or your slayer when you can’t be around her, and our numbers gradually dwindled until I was the only one left.”


She sighed and shook her head. “It was, it seems, even worse in Buffy’s timeline. I’m not at all clear on why it was different there, or why I am now the remaining Guardian rather than the woman she met so briefly in her time, but perhaps that’s just one of the things that changed when she didn’t die.”


“Did you know that woman?” Winston asked.


“Perhaps,” Sara said somewhat sadly. “I certainly knew one or two like her. But none of them was able to live long enough to be active in this time.”  Her eyes flashed briefly. “Had Caleb encountered a younger version of a Guardian, he might not have found it so easy to disable her.” Her expression didn’t bode well for anyone attempting to harm any of the girls she was currently watching over, and Winston smiled at the contrast between that look and her normal, smoothly sophisticated and unruffled appearance.


“I don’t doubt he could have found her a more formidable challenge,” he said, nodding his head at her.


“Indeed,” Wesley said. “If I were still a member of the Council, I would apologize on their behalf for driving you into hiding.”


Sara smiled at him, but shook her head. “It was our choice. Perhaps not the best one, given what Buffy’s time seems to have been like, but what’s done is done and we have an opportunity to make things better now.”


“Speaking of the Council,” Winston said. “What do you have to tell us?”


Wesley took a deep breath. “Between what your Coven friends have been discussing with Council Security, based on what their ‘seer’ has told them, and the information I’ve managed to share with my own Security contact—”


“You’ve spoken directly to them?” Winston interrupted.


“Your future friend has. He’s been able to convince his superiors that there is a viable threat to the safety of the both the artifacts and the personnel in the complex and many of the books and records are being moved to a more secure place that will protect them in the event of a fire or something else. So, we’ve done what we can there. They seem confident that they can keep the personnel safe, but they are working with the Coven’s aura readers just in case.” He shook his head. “It’s really been quite difficult to emphasize the danger without anyone catching on to our knowing things we really couldn’t possibly know. But we’ve made progress.”


“That sounds very positive, why did you feel you needed to come here in person.  Not that we don’t enjoy your company and aren’t glad to see you,” Winston hastily added, “but it seems there might be more?”


Wesley shook his head. “Can’t put anything past you, can I?” He smiled. “And yes, there is a bit more. But it is still just an excuse to come for a visit. Angel is… it’s more than a bit tiring being around him all the time. I could use the break to speak with more reasonable people.”


“Don’t tell me he is still obsessing over Buffy’s marriage to Spike. It’s been years since he first learned they were living together, and almost as long since she found out that he’d claimed her so long ago. Surely, he understands her very justifiable anger at him?” Giles stared at Wes in disbelief.


Wes sighed. “I’m sure he does. But somehow, the idea that she is with Spike just infuriates him, and he is convinced that Spike has done something reprehensible to cause her to prefer him. I almost think we should bring him in on their secret just to shut him up.”


“That would have to be a decision for Buffy and Spike to make,” Winston said. “And if they don’t trust him….”


“I don’t blame them, to be honest,” Wes said. “Sometimes I’m not sure I trust him….” He glanced at Winston. “Didn’t you say that in your time you see a lot of me?”


“We do. Or, at least we were seeing a lot of you before I left. Apparently you were apprehensive about Angel’s actions and his takeover of Wolfram & Hart’s Los Angeles office.”  He smiled. “Although you did seem quite impressed with the resources you found there.”


Wes shook his head.  “I don’t doubt they have resources that could be very useful, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that Angel would accept that deal, nor that Gunn, Fred, and I would be willing to go with him. It’s just mind-boggling to think he would make that kind of deal with what is basically our nemesis.”


“I wonder if Buffy’s defeat of the First Evil might have had anything to do with it?” Giles offered. “Or the sudden presence of slayers all over the world? Perhaps the minions of evil might have found themselves spread too thin, and hoped that making a deal with a vampire, even one with a soul, might buy them some leverage?”


“That’s certainly an interesting thought,” Winston said. “It’s going to be fun watching how things play out in this time line—and where the Pratts and I will find ourselves fitting in to this new future.”




Chapter Twenty-three



You mentioned the Coven’s aura-readers,” Giles said. “Have they learned anything?”


“Well, yes and no. They’ve learned that there are more than a few employees at the Council complex with troubling auras. Many of them work for the… less scholarly and visible departments and in more physical areas.” Wesley looked slightly uncomfortable as he tried to avoid mentioning Council departments that Sara might not be familiar with.


“You mean the bodyguards, the weapons and self-defense department, and the ‘wet teams’?” Sara said, without her usual serene smile. “Employees whose job description might include causing harm to other humans?”


“Yes,” Wes said with relief, nodding his head at her. “The Council does have some employees whose job descriptions may require them to be willing to harm other humans…. However, their auras, while not as bright as they could be, did not indicate any really deep evil influence.”


“So no one who might be willing to set off a bomb that would kill many of their co-workers?”


“Not that they’ve noticed so far. There have been a few people who recently quit, but the Coven isn’t sure how they can observe those former employees without giving it away that they are looking for someone. They’re working on it, though. And Winston’s future friend in Security is also looking into their employment records and reasons for leaving.”


“We’ve allowed the leaders of the Coven to know about those of us who know exactly how bad it can be, I wonder if we may want to consider if and when to think about letting the upper echelons of the Council—Travers, for sure, and my friend’s superior officer—know how we are so confident there is something to worry about?” Winston raised an eyebrow at Giles.


“Again. We cannot make a decision like that without input from Buffy and Spike.” Giles spoke even more firmly than he had the last time it was mentioned. “We should probably bring it up when we see them later tonight. We’ll need to all be in agreement as to who we tell, what we tell them, and which of us does it.”


“In the meantime,” Wes said, “I’m not sure that Angel isn’t thinking about coming up here again. I’ve told him what a bad idea it would be, but all that’s done is make him stop talking about it. I’m fairly certain he’s still planning a trip, although I’ve no idea what his intent might be.”


Sara gave an unladylike snort. “Whatever it is, it can’t possibly be a good idea. William has been surprisingly patient with him, in my opinion.”


There were murmurs of agreement from the men present.


Winston said, “Angel should probably be grateful that Spike lets Buffy make the decisions for them. And, if I’ve understood her correctly, that she feels it is her right to stake Angel if it comes to that.”


Giles nodded. “Yes, when Spike and I expressed our anger at Angel for the silent claim he’d put on her, I remember quite clearly her saying the line formed behind her. She is the injured party, after all, and is more than capable of making him pay for it.”


Wes laughed. “She definitely is. When we came up here so that he could ‘sort her out’, she gave him a good reason to get into the car and leave, now that I think about it. I don’t think he’d realized how strong she is now. Or how angry she was at him.”


When the girls moved out of the sun and into the house to change, the three men realized they’d spent most of the day enjoying the pleasant surroundings, and with apologies for taking so much of Sara’s time, they excused themselves and left to have some dinner before meeting Buffy and Spike later in the evening.




Let me think about this for a while,” Buffy said, after Giles mentioned what they’d been discussing earlier in the day. She glanced at Spike who was nodding his agreement. They both turned to Winston. “What do you think?”


He shrugged. “I come from a future sufficiently different from yours to have more faith in the Council’s basic interest in fighting evil than you and Spike may have. However, I agree that telling Travers and others a great deal about your timeline, including that Rupert is now head of a Watchers and Slayers Council, might not be in anyone’s best interest. Not unless we can find a way to do it without telling them that you’ve replaced them and are using the Council’s resources as your own. If we can do that, it should be all right.”


“If we succeed in keeping them from being blown to pieces, that change in leadership won’t actually happen this time. That could be a strong selling point,” Giles pointed out.


“If they don’t disappear,” Buffy said thoughtfully, “there also won’t be any change in the way the Council is run. Whether I activate all the slayers or not, they aren’t going to want to suddenly make it into the Slayers and Watchers Council. If it’s just me, they’ll probably go back to wanting to get rid of me, and if there are suddenly hundreds of slayers, they’ll just want to make more watchers so each one has somebody telling her what to do.” Buffy’s face took on a doubtful expression.


“Remind me again why we don’t want them to blow up?” she asked no one in particular. Only Spike was grinning at her.


“I thought we’d settled that we couldn’t allow all those deaths when we could probably prevent them?” Giles said with a worried frown.


“I know, I know,” she grumbled, then sighed. “I don’t really mean we shouldn’t try to save them, but I’m seeing a downside I hadn’t thought of before. I don’t necessarily want to go back to being in charge of that many other slayers, but I don’t want a bunch of tweedy old men to be in charge either.” She smiled around the table. “No offense to any tweedy old men currently present.”


“None taken,” Winston said with a small smile, which grew wider when he caught the disgruntled looks on Giles’ and Wesley’s faces.


“The Slayer has a fair point,” Spike said, his words and the expression on his face indicating whose point of view he was taking.  “She and future you and Red were working on setting up something that was going to benefit the slayers and the world. Same thing in Winnie’s future world, except with the Coven added to the mix. If the current Council of Wankers can’t see the good in that, we might not be creating the best future we could.”


Giles and Wesley exchanged frowns.


“It is a fair point,” Wes said. “There’s much to be said about having a functional Council with all its resources, but there’s no question that it isn’t fair to the girls it uses up.”


 “It isn’t,” Buffy said firmly. “And I don’t intend to go back to a world where that is still happening. I don’t want to destroy the Council and kill all those people, but we’re going to have to come up with something to get them to see sense. That might be the best reason I can think of for activating more slayers—they’d have to listen to me—us.”


Giles shook his head. “In all honesty, I cannot imagine the Council agreeing to your activating all the potential slayers in the world.”


“We’re gonna work on that part of it. I don’t want any girls who don’t want to be slayers, or don’t have what it takes to be a good slayer. Maybe we can come up with something—only the ones I’m training maybe, or only in small groups. So other slayers aren’t called unless there’s a vacancy? I dunno. I’m thinking about it, and you guys should think about it too. Think about what kind of tweaks would be needed to make it workable.”


She fixed Giles and Wesley with a Slayer’s steely glare. “And I’m not planning to ask permission, if it comes to that. In the meantime, I don’t want them to know about me if we can avoid it. That’ll just lead to questions about our time, and they aren’t going to like the answers.”


The men all nodded, Winston said, “Once we’ve talked about it what the spell needs as much as we can here, I’ll take it to Max and see what the magical parameters will need to be.”


“Let’s make it a priority, okay? Just in case things go to hell in a handbasket sooner than we expect them to. And make Willow a part of it. She knows she did the spell in our times, so she’ll be expecting to be included in planning the spell.”




As had become a habit, Robin was driving around Sunnydale, holy water and stakes in his car, looking for vampires. If he was hoping to find Spike alone, he was disappointed every time. The few times he saw the hated vampire at all, Spike was in Buffy’s presence or with someone else from her unnatural assortment of friends and helpers. He still couldn’t decide how he felt about that. If nothing else, the idea that his mother may have lived longer had she been able to surround herself with normal humans or witches to assist her when needed bothered him more than he wanted to admit. “The Slayer works alone” was something he’d heard his whole life, either from his mother herself, or after her death, from her watcher. He had a vague memory of accompanying her one night, perhaps not when she was patrolling, but for some other reason.


But he did remember that a vampire had found them, and his mother had fought with it briefly after hiding him behind a trash can. She soon grabbed him by the arm and hustled him out to where there were more people. When he asked if she’d dusted the vampire, she just shook her head. “I’ll get him next time, baby. Don’t worry. He’s way too cocky for his own good.” As it turned out, the “next time” came much too soon, and didn’t go her way.


He shook the memories off and continued his slow ride through town, slowing even more when he saw Buffy emerge from a cemetery gate by herself. He waited, but when she continued down the sidewalk without any sign of Spike or anyone else, he pulled up beside her.


“Buffy? What are doing out here alone?”


“Uh…. patrol? Slaying? You know, those things I do?”


“You don’t usually do them alone.”


“Well, not now I don’t, that’s true. But I did, and have for years. Sometimes the Scoobies are with me, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes Spike is with me, sometimes he isn’t. I still patrol by myself sometimes. Can’t afford to get lazy or careless.”


“If he’s not with you, then where is he? How do you know he isn’t killing people?”


Buffy rolled her eyes. “I’m his wife, Robin, not his personal guard. I know he isn’t killing people because I know him. Even if he didn’t have that soul, he wouldn’t be killing people, because he’s one of the good guys now. He’s a champion who helps me save the world.”


“He’s a killer. Who you allow to live and walk around innocent people. You should have dusted him years ago, along with your other vampire boyfriend.”


“What do you know about Ang—oh, that’s right. You think you’ve been talking to him, but it’s been the First.”


“I looked him up. He was a monster.”


“He was. You have no idea how much of a monster he was—speaking of times Spike helped me save the world….”


Robin frowned, but didn’t ask her to explain, just continued speaking. “And yet he walks the streets of Los Angeles. He’s never had to pay for his crimes.”


“Actually, he has. That was the point of the soul the gypsies cursed him with. As long as he has the soul, he’s sorry about all the things he did. He can never be happy.”


With that, she clearly tired of his disapproving look and his words, and she waved good-bye to duck into another cemetery, leaving Robin to stare after her.




“We’re taking the girls out tonight. They need some real-life practical work.”


Spike raised an eyebrow. “Fine with me, love. What brought that on?”


“If and when I have to activate them, I want them to be trained and experienced. They’ll be way ahead of the game if they’ve already staked a few vamps.”


“You want me along? Was in our time, usually, but—”


“Of course I want you along.” She giggled, remembering feeling him for broken ribs in front the potentials who had thought she was putting her hands where she shouldn’t.  “I promise not to molest you in front of the girls this time.”


He chuckled along with her. “Oh, I dunno. Could be they’d learn even more from seeing you feeling me up now.”


“Yeah. No. Not happening this time. You don’t have sore ribs for me to worry about, and these girls already know about us, so no need to make sure they know how important you are to me.”




“That’s disgusting,” Angelus snarled, watching Spike joking and laughing with the potentials as they took turns trying to stake an unfortunate vampire they’d caught just emerging from the grave. When the vamp shook the last attempt off and tried to move away, Spike, Buffy, Willow, and Winston blocked all his possible escape avenues long enough for Mel to drive a stake through his back.


With a triumphant “whoop”, she accepted the congratulations of her fellow potentials. Unaware of the onlookers, the girls crowded around Spike, looking for praise. While he went over with them what they’d done well, and what could have been better, Angelus continued to snarl.


“What’s disgusting?” Robin had long since given up trying not to engage with the First. He just accepted that some of what it said probably wasn’t true, but enough of it was that he should pay attention.


“I didn’t raise him to be the Slayer’s lapdog. Look at him! The Slayer of Slayers, reduced to congratulating normal human girls for dusting a fellow vampire. I’m ashamed of all the time I put into making him the killer he should be. If he could just get rid of that soul he picked up somewhere, he could go back to destroying slayers as he’s supposed to….”


With a small popping sound, Robin’s companion vanished and he was left by himself in a Sunnydale cemetery watching the vampire that had killed his mother trailing after Buffy and her girls as she led the potentials deeper into the graveyard in search of more new vampires to practice on.


It occurred to him that, in spite of the stake in his pocket, it wasn’t a very good idea for him to be hanging around where he could encounter vampires before Buffy’s eager potentials did. He turned and went back to his car, still contemplating how to make Spike’s sire and mentor pay for the sins of his children.




“How did the girls do last night?” Giles asked Winston as they relaxed over coffee.


Winston shrugged. “If I’m honest, I don’t have anything to compare it to. I know Buffy’s been working with them, and even the previously untrained ones seem to have some ability with weapons and self-defense. But without her speed and strength…. I don’t know. They all seem perfectly willing to attack vampires, but of course they usually have numbers on their side, as well as those of us with other skills standing close by in case anything goes wrong.”


“There’s nothing like knowing you have supernatural and magical backup to provide confidence and courage,” Giles said with a wry smile.




“Plans for the day?”


“I believe when Spike gets here, we will—ah, there he is.” Winston stood up as Spike emerged from the stairs to the basement.


“Am I late?”


“No, no. I was just telling Rupert that we were planning to recheck the hellmouth today.”


Spike cocked his head at Giles. “You’ve got Anya to run the shop for you. Why don’t you come with us? It’ll do you good to get out and about.”


Giles was obviously trying to hide how pleased he was to be included.


“I suppose it might, at that. Although I’m not sure that visiting the hellmouth in the basement of the school could be considered ‘out and about’.”


“We’ll stop at my favorite bar on the way back,” Spike said. “Your treat.”


Grumbling about mooching vampires, Giles went to tell Anya he was going out for a while. She pouted briefly, but was quickly distracted by a customer who needed a dozen big candles that evening. While she was trying to talk the woman into buying matching candle holders, he slipped out the back door with Winston and Spike.




Angel glanced up from his desk to see Dru seating herself on the leather sofa across the room.


“Dru? Drusilla? What are you doing here?”


“I’m here to tell you that your precious slayer is refusing to let my dark prince come to me. I want you to fix it.”


“Refusing how?”


“She let him trick her into a claim, and now she thinks he’s hers. He was just being a bad doggy and trying to make her weak, but she worked her wiles on him, and now he won’t leave. Or kill her. He was supposed to kill her.”


“He tricked her into the claim? I knew it! I knew she couldn’t have changed that much in just a few months. I’ll kill him!” 


“I don’t want you to kill him, Angelus. I just want you to make him take the enchantment off so he can come away with me.”


“He’s going to die, Dru. I’m sorry, but this is too much. Go turn yourself another prince. This one’s going to be dust.”


He stood up and left his office, telling Gunn he was going to be gone for the rest of the night, and possibly the next one. And that he should get Drusilla some blood from the refrigerator so she wouldn’t try to eat him. He was muttering about how long it would take him to get to Sunnydale, and missed Gunn’s bewildered, “Drusilla? Sunnydale?” as he headed for the alley where he parked his car.


Gunn frowned, but peered cautiously into the office, seeing no one and shaking his head. He said “hi” to Wes as he entered the lobby, but told him to be careful in case Drusilla was in the building.


“I thought Angel wanted to see me about something. And what would Drusilla be doing here?” Wes took out a stake and stared around the hotel lobby.


“Well, he just left in a hurry. And he said he won’t be back for another day or so.”


“Where was he going?”


“He said something about Sunnydale and Spike, but he also told me to get blood for Drusilla, and I haven’t seen her, so I don’t know what he’s doing.”


Rather than clear anything up for Gunn, Wes ran to the door of the office, glanced in, asked, “Did you see her go in or out?” When Gunn shook his head, Wes ran out of the lobby, already dialing his phone.


There was no answer at the Magic Box, and he knew Giles rarely took his phone with him, saying if he wanted to talk to people while he was out, he wouldn’t go out, he would just stay home where they could find him. He dialed Spike and Buffy’s number, but got no one there either. Finally, after another fruitless call to Winston, he reached Willow.


“Oh, thank God, I thought the entire town had turned off their phones!”


“What’s up, Wes? Do you need me for something?”


“I need to warn Spike and Buffy that Angel’s on his way there, and it looks like the First may have been pretending to be Drusilla. I’ve no idea what she could have said, but whatever it was, it can’t be good.”


“I’m right here, Wes,” Buffy said as she took the phone from Willow. “He’s on his way here?”


“That’s what Gunn heard him say when he left. He said Angel was in a hurry and muttering about Sunnydale and Spike.”


“Okay, thanks for the heads up. I’ll get hold of Spike and make sure he stays close to me until we find out what’s going on.”


“Be careful. If Dru, or whatever it was, said the wrong things, he may think he’s rushing up there to save you from something Spike did or is going to do. I’ll leave now, so I can help you calm him down, but he’s going to be there long before I will. ”


Buffy sighed. “Maybe we should have told him about us, just so something like this couldn’t happen. Oh well. We’ll deal with it when he gets here. Thanks, if you decide to come, just go to the Magic Box. We’ll probably all end up there at some point.”


She hung up and shook her head. “Just what we need right now, a jealous Angel who thinks he’s riding to the rescue.”


“Do you need me?”


“Thanks, Will. I think we’ll be all right. Winston’s with Spike, and it’s going to take Angel a while to get here. You might want to check with Giles and wait with him in the Magic Box.”


Knowing Spike didn’t have a phone with him, Buffy sent a message the only way she could.


Spike?  Spike! Answer me. Where are you?


What’s wrong, love? Winnie, Giles and I are just leaving the school. We were checking out the hellmouth again. Now we’re going to take Rupert to our favorite bar.


What’s wrong is that Wes called to say he thinks the First was there—as Dru—and whatever she or it said to Angel, he took off for here in a big hurry.


All right. It’ll take him a couple hours. I’ll meet you at home.


Okay be careful.




More like never, but this time, do it!


She felt his chuckle and relaxed a little.


“I guess they’re okay. They were checking the hellmouth again. Maybe the First is trying to get Angel to kill Spike, or something. I don’t know. It’s so hard not knowing what’s going to happen now.”


“Guess you got kind of spoiled the past few years, huh?” Willow said, grinning. “Now you’re just like the rest of us.”


“Very funny, witchy woman.” Buffy shared a soft laugh with Willow. “I guess I’d better get home. Oh, by the way, Max is working on some tweaks, so if you have to do the spell to activate the slayers, it won’t hit anybody who isn’t mentally or physically able. So, you might want to talk to him about it and see how it’s coming. Just in case we end up needing it.”


Willow made a face. “I think Max still doesn’t like me. I can’t blame him, but….”


“I don’t think Max holds grudges, and he knows how far you’ve come. It’ll be fine. And Winston’s going to bring you into it. But I’ll talk to Max first if you want me to.”


“It’s okay. I’m a big girl now. And Sara is his old friend, so she can put in a good word for me.”


“Sounds like a plan.”




Chapter Twenty-four



Bringing Winnie home with me, love. Don’t be naked.




Without explaining why he was laughing, Spike held the door for Winston, then followed him into the apartment, where Buffy greeting Winston warmly, and then punched Spike on the arm. Rubbing his arm and still laughing, Spike went to get two beers from the fridge, leaving Buffy to explain what was going on.


“Spike has confused me with some 1950s housewife who’s been told that greeting her husband wearing nothing but an apron might be good for her marriage,” she said, rolling her eyes. “So he felt he needed to warn me before he brought you in.”


Winston laughed heartily. “I can assure you I am grateful for Spike’s thoughtfulness.” The two men raised their beers in mutual toast. Buffy just shook her head.


“You’d think at least one of you two older-than-dirt guys might be a little more mature.” In spite of her words, she gave a reluctant laugh before joining them in sitting down.


“So, Wesley thinks Angel is on his way here… to what?”


Buffy sighed. “I guess that depends on what the First said to him.  Wes is pretty sure it wasn’t really Dru because nobody saw her go in or out of Angel’s office or the building. And it’s got some kind of alarm system for vamps and demons, just because Angel and his people have pissed off so many of them.”


“Got to assume he’s rushing here to rescue Buffy from whatever the First told him I’ve done to her. Wouldn’t be a bad way to get rid of me. Looks like countin’ on Wood hasn’t worked out for him, so now he’s hoping Peaches will do it for him. That’s my guess, anyway.”


“But you’ll be alright?”


“Have been so far. The Gem hasn’t let me down yet.” Spike wiggled his hand at Winston.


“You know, if you were smart, you’d find a way to put that thing somewhere it can’t be taken from you.”


“I’ve given that some thought, to be honest,” Spike said, smiling when Buffy gasped. “But I’m not sure if vamp healing would allow me to keep something inside my body. If I thought it would, I’d just stick it in there somewhere, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t just pop right back out.”


“Too bad,” Winston said, shaking his head. “But you’re probably right.”


“That’s something to think about,” Buffy said, visions of a ringless Spike making her shudder. “We’ve all gotten so used to you being invulnerable to everything, not just the sun, that if you didn’t have it….”


“Not going to happen, love. Not unless my finger goes with it.”


“Just so you know, I’d have been more than willing to do that in our time, if I’d had a knife with me…”


Spike just laughed at her and blew her a kiss. “That’s my bloodthirsty girl!”


“On a less speculative note,” Winston said, “what might we expect from Buffy’s former would-be claimer?”


“I’d wager just tryin’ to get rid of me. He doesn’t know about the Gem, and he’d just assume he could stake me. Or behead me, maybe. Think he knows he’d lose a fight, but if he really wanted me gone, he could get bloody creative.”


“I think, if that’s what it is, we might just as well tell him about us. Even though it’s been three years since we told him we were together, and two years since we got rid of his stupid claim, I can kinda understand why he thinks there has to be something magic going on for us to from hating each other, to being in love, almost overnight from his perspective.”


“Well, if he gives us a chance, we can think about doing that. I’m in favor of just kicking his arse….”


“We’ve had this conversation. His ass is mine to kick.”


“Not if he’s trying to kill me!”


Especially if he’s trying to kill you!”


Buffy and Spike were on their feet, glaring at each other while Winston looked on in bemusement.


“Or,” he said quietly, “we can just find him first and I’ll make sure he listens to reason.”


“Or that,” Buffy muttered, sitting down again.




Angel arrived in Sunnydale with no idea how to find Spike just then, or how to separate him from Buffy if he found them together. He parked the car and began walking toward the nearest cemetery, thinking they might be out patrolling already. He was visibly taken aback when Robin walked up to him fearlessly, and said, “Haven’t I told you I was working on it?”


Angel blinked at him in surprise.


You’re working on it? Who are you, and how do you know why I’m here?”


Robin narrowed his eyes and stepped even closer, reaching out one hand to poke Angel in the chest. He recoiled in shock and fear, as Angel’s eyes flared yellow.


“What the hell? And don’t touch me again.”


“You’re real. I mean you’re really Angelus. Here. In Sunnydale.”


“I’m Angel. And yes, I’m here to take care of a little problem.” He glanced at the stake Wood was holding. “I don’t suppose you know where I can find Spike?”


“That would be Spike, the slayer-killing vampire you created,” Robin said. “The one you’re responsible for turning lose on the world.”


Angel sighed. “Probably guilty of that, but I’m here to take care of the problem.”


“And then you get to back to L.A. and go on with your life? I don’t think so!”


Robin stepped back and watched as several Bringers leapt upon Angel and forced him to the ground where Robin could taser him until he stopped twitching and was still.  The First, now looking like Robin’s mother, said, “That was wonderful, baby. Now lets get him trussed up.”


The Bringers picked up the unconscious vampire and carried him off, with Robin running behind.


“Wait for me! I’m supposed to be one to kill him!”


There was no reply from the rapidly disappearing group, and he soon gave up the pursuit, panting as he stopped. He noted the direction in which they were going and continued, walking as fast as he could while he got his breath back. He paused as he realized where they were probably going, and shook his head.


“Relax, mate. You got what you wanted, didn’t you?” Suddenly Spike was in front of him, and Robin flinched back before realizing what it was.


“I’m guessing I got what you wanted,” he said with a frown. “What are you going to do with him?”


“Watch and learn, angry man.” Now it was Drusilla spinning around him. “Maybe you should tell the nasty slayer where her lover is? She’ll want to rescue him.”  With that, Dru disappeared and Robin was left staring in the direction in which the Bringers had carried off Angel. He bit his lip, then took his phone out and dialed Buffy’s cell.




Winston was just saying his good-nights when Buffy’s phone rang and he waited with Spike to hear who it was calling so late.


“You did what? The Bringers took him where? Oh my God. It’s going to use Angel instead of Spike….  No, I don’t have time to explain that.” There was a pause. “Of course, it’s a trap, you idiot! What did you think you were doing?” She closed the phone and glared at it.


“Bloody hell,” Spike said. “Did I get the gist of that right?”


“If by gist, you mean Robin distracted Angel so the First’s minions could taser him and drag him off to the hellmouth, yep. You got it.”


“It’s probably is a trap, Buffy. The first wants to get you and Spike in there.” Winston frowned, and shook his head. “Maybe you shouldn’t—”


“And he’s going to get us,” Buffy said, picking up her scythe. “Let’s go, Spike.”


“I’ll drive. It’ll be faster,” Winston said with a small sigh.


“Are you sure?”


“Didn’t expect it yet, but I wouldn’t miss it,” he said, a gleam now visible in his eyes.


Winston had them back at the school he and Spike had left only hours ago in a very short amount of time. They jumped from the car, and studied the building. 


“Do you think they took him straight to the hellmouth?” Buffy asked.


“I’d guess so. I don’t remember any side trips when those ugly wankers dragged me off. Seems like it was no time at all before I was dangling over the seal and being sliced and diced.”


“Let’s get down there, then. Maybe give Giles a heads up so he knows what’s going on? And that Wes is on the way to the shop.”


“Good idea.” Winston took out his phone and left a terse message for Giles.




After Winston had unlocked the door that he and Spike usually used to access the old basement, they all trooped down the stairs and toward the hellmouth. They made no attempt to be silent, only pausing to remove any Bringers that tried to slow their progress. The light coming from the area surrounding the hellmouth made it very easy to see what was going on.


Robin was facing the First, that once again looked like his mother, from the opposite side of the sealed hellmouth, over which a bleeding Angel had been suspended. The vampire’s blood was dripping steadily onto the seal beneath him, as she praised Robin for doing a good job.


“Oh look. Here comes the cavalry,” the First sneered, switching from Nikki Wood to Spike as he’d looked in the 1970s. He frowned briefly at Winston, but broke into a smile when Angel’s rapidly dripping blood began to open the sealed hellmouth. “And here we go. You can be the first to meet a real vampire, Slayer.”


Buffy shifted her grip on the scythe. “Bring it on,” she said, rolling her shoulders in anticipation.


“Be careful what you ask for, little girl,” Spike/First growled, seeming confident that she would be frightened by what emerged. She wondered briefly if the First wasn’t aware that the scythe had been guarded by a Turok-Han that she’d slain.


In spite of knowing what was coming, even Spike and Buffy recoiled briefly at the sight of the creature now crawling from the opening. Robin, having had no idea what to expect, blanched and retreated from the edge.


“What is that?” he gasped.


“That’s your future,” the First said.


Winston narrowed his eyes and flicked a ball of fire at the First/Spike, causing it to disappear with a laugh.


A bleary-eyed Angel seemed equally confused by the creature now climbing out and staring around as if to pick his first victim. His gaze slid over Spike, paused at Buffy, and then settled on Robin, still trying to retreat. He snarled and covered the few feet between them before anyone had moved. Spike was the closest, and he leapt upon the Turok-Han’s back, pulling him away from Robin before he got anything worse than a ripped shirt and a scratched arm.


Buffy hovered over the snarling tangle that was Spike and the Turok-Han, afraid to swing the scythe and hit the wrong vampire. Winston seemed to be having the same issue with being reluctant to set the ancient vampire on fire while it was rolling around with Spike. When it sat up on Spike’s chest with a triumphant roar, Buffy immediately took its head off with the Scythe. She smiled in relief when Spike sat up, shaking his head to clear it and snorting the dust away.


“Ta, love. I don’t think I was winning that round.”


“Are you all right?” Winston stepped forward and offered Spike a hand to get to his feet.


“Not really,” Spike said, wincing as he tried to raise his left arm. “But I will be shortly.” He switched arms and allowed Winston to pull him to his feet. He swayed for a second, then shook himself and smiled. “All good, now,” he said.


They all turned to stare at the now-open hellmouth.


“We should look in, just in case that isn’t the only one,” Buffy said, without making any move to do so. Spike and Winston nodded in agreement, but remained behind her.


“Get me down from here, and I’ll tell you what I can see,” Angel growled, his blood still dripping into the dark hole.


“Oops,” Buffy said. “We forgot about you. What can you see?”


“I can see that you need to get me out of this contraption so we can get the hell out of here,” he snarled. “What’s wrong with all of you? First some guy I’ve never met accuses me of setting Spike loose on the world, and tasers me so his minions can carry me off. Then I wake up hanging over the hellmouth and bleeding like a stuck pig. And now you want to have a conversation before anybody gets me out of here?”


“What do you think, guys?” Buffy looked at Spike and Winston, who both pretended to be in deep thought.


“He can probably talk just as well if he’s standing up,” Spike said reluctantly.


“True. But we don’t know why he’s here yet, or what it might have to do with you….” Winston cast a glance at Angel who was glaring at them as if he’d like to tear them apart.


Spike glanced at Robin, who was nursing his scratched arm and staring at them from a safe distance from the hellmouth.


“What did you want with the poof?” Spike asked. “Thought it was me you were carrying a grudge against.”


“He made you,” Robin mumbled, sparing a glance at Angel who had transferred his glare to him.


“He made Dru. She made me.”


“He taught you to be evil, and sent you out to kill slayers.”


Spike rolled his eyes. “The First played you again, you git. I’ve got a demon. I am a bloody demon. I was evil as soon as I opened my eyes. And Angelus hated that I sought out slayers. He and the whore that made him didn’t like drawing that kind of attention to us.”


Robin frowned, looking back and forth between Spike, Winston, Buffy, and then at a still-snarling Angel.


“But my mother said—” He stopped himself when he was met with equally incredulous looks from them all, even Angel. He sighed and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I know it wasn’t my mother, or Spike, or Angel or anybody else… but… so much of it is true….”


“Probably none of it was true,” Spike snorted. “Any more than whatever it told Peaches when it was talking to him as Dru.” He shot a quick glance at Angel, smirking when he saw the flinch as the light dawned. “But it got what it wanted. Got the great poof to come riding in to the rescue, and got you to help get him to take my place over the hellmouth.”


“Your place?”


“Spent my share of time dangling over that door to hell,” Spike snapped out without thinking.


“It did that to you? When?” Robin stared at Spike.


“Nothing you need to know about,” Spike said quickly, shooting a plea at Winston. He sighed, but nodded his willingness to make a save.


Before he could speak, however, Buffy said, “I had a slayer dream last night. We were just talking about it when you called, so we kinda have an idea what’s going on. Except in my dream it was Spike that needed rescuing, and now it looks like it’s Angel who needs it.”


You have hidden depths of deceit, love. I think I like it.


Good thing for you and your big mouth that I do.


“Speaking of rescuing him….” Spike gestured to where Angel had stopped snarling and was just waiting with ill-disguised impatience for them to decide to let him down.


Buffy started examining the crude mechanism that was holding Angel in place, but Winston stopped her before she could decide what to untie or move.


“Let’s do it the easy way,” he said, then paused. “If you’re sure you want to get him down….”


“He’s here to stake Spike,” Robin spoke up, surprising everyone. “That’s what he told me.”


“Don’t doubt it,” Spike said. “Whatever Dru told him was whatever he needed to hear to make him sure I’m holding Buffy in some kind thrall. He’s come to get rid of me. He can’t do it, for a number of reasons, including how weak he probably is just now, and after we talk to him, he won’t have any reason to.”


Angel made a sound somewhere between a growl and a whimper. Winston raised an eyebrow at Buffy, and she nodded. With a flick of Winston’s hand, Angel found himself untied and standing somewhat unsteadily near Robin.


“Spike killed your mother?”


“My mother was Nikki Wood,” Robin said. “She was a slayer.”


Angel nodded. “I remember it. Word travels fast when a well-known slayer gets killed. She made Spike’s reputation.”


Robin didn’t seem to know whether he should be proud or angry, so he settled for, “You’re still the bigger monster, aren’t you?”


Angel shrugged. “Angelus is or was.” His tone changed to a snarl. “You should be very grateful I’m not him right now,” he said, gesturing to his still oozing wounds.


He stared at Robin with amber-tinged eyes until he saw that his message had been received, then turned his attention to Buffy and Spike, now standing close together.


“Is this when I finally get a truthful explanation?” he asked.


“Well, not right this second. And definitely not here where the First has minions with ears, but yes, I guess we have to. Let’s get to the Magic Box and patch you up. Wes should be here by then.”


Before Angel could ask what Wesley had to do with anything, there was a sound from the hellmouth that had Buffy spinning around, scythe poised to strike. A clawed hand appeared over the rim just as the apparatus toppled forward and fell on to the hole, effectively blocking it temporarily.


“Let’s go,” Winston said. “I’m going to try to contain it, but we it won’t be a permanent fix until we know what we’re facing.”


When they had all retreated to the stairs, including Robin who was doing his best to keep Buffy between him and the two vampires who snarled at him from time to time, Winston began a low chant that concluded with a two-handed gesture. Flames surrounding the hellmouth rose to form a wall around it, but without continuing to the roof.


“Let’s go,” he repeated. “That won’t last forever, but it should give us some breathing room.”


The little group hustled up the stairs, through the old part of the school basement, and out the door, where they stood around staring at each other as Robin checked the door lock. He turned around and addressed his question to Buffy, although he glanced at Spike briefly.


“I’m assuming I’m not included in the group being asked to accompany you for an explanation of whatever it is that needs explaining,” he said, flinching when Buffy exchanged looks with Spike and Winston before answering.


I’m thinking we still can’t trust him.


Right there with you, love.


As if he’d been party to the silent conversation, Winston nodded in agreement.


“I’m sorry, Robin. It’s pretty obvious that the First is playing you. Maybe this was your wake-up call, maybe it wasn’t, but until we’re sure that you aren’t playing on the wrong side, the less you know about us and our plans, the better.” Buffy’s expression was sympathetic, but firm.


“But I warned you!” he protested.


“You did as it asked and got us to come to the hellmouth where it was releasing a Turok-Han. Knowing, as you said when you told me about it, that it was probably a trap.”


“And now it knows more about us and what we can do than it did before,” Spike growled when it looked like Robin was going to argue.


Without another word, they left him standing in front of his school, mulling over the events of the evening and trying to fit the actions of the two souled vampires into his firmly held opinions about them.






Chapter Twenty-five



They made the trip to the Magic Box in uncomfortable silence, Angel sitting in the passenger seat, with Buffy and Spike behind him. By the time they got there, the lights were on and Giles, Willow, and Wesley were seated at the table. They all immediately looked at Angel, with varying degrees of anger and concern.


“Not a full Scooby meeting, then?” Buffy poked Spike, but Giles responded anyway.


“No sense telling everybody about it until we know what damage has been done,” Giles said. “I gather it was what you’d expected?” He looked at Buffy, but Spike answered for her.


“Pretty much. Different blood donor, same result. We got the first ugly bugger, but we could see there was at least one more trying to come out.”


Spike turned to ask Angel, “Could you see down in there from your vantage point? Are there more?”


Angel shrugged. “I couldn’t see much, but there are definitely more than the two we saw. And more of those things that we fought when you came to LA.” He shook his head. “The opening isn’t that big yet, but who knows how much room there is down there?”


“I know,” Buffy said flatly. “And Spike knows.”


“I guess this is more of Spike’s ‘seer’ stuff?” Angel sneered at the reminder of why he was there, and Buffy narrowed her eyes as she gave her response..


“Actually, it isn’t. It’s something he knows from experience. Sit down so we can tell you about it, and you can go back to LA and get out of our lives.” Buffy pointed to a chair.


Angel’s gaze was now riveted on Wesley. “You know what they’re going to tell me, don’t you? That’s why you aren’t as worried as I am about Spike’s hold on Buffy. You already know what’s going on.” The tinge of anger in his voice was easy to hear, and Spike and Winston both stepped closer to Wes.


“I do. And if I were you, I’d stop referring to it as ‘Spike’s hold on Buffy’ and acknowledge what you can easily see, which is that it is a mutual, and quite happy relationship.”


“Sit down, Angel,” Buffy repeated, doing so herself on the other side of the table. Spike walked over to lean against the wall behind her chair.


“Does he have to be there?” Angel grumbled. “Is he there to make sure you say the right things?”


“Oh, for the love of—somebody tell him, now!” Spike’s amber glare made it very clear he was reaching the end of his patience, and Buffy reached back to give him a calming pat on the leg before she responded.


“Angel, Spike and I have been together, as allies, friends, slaying buddies, or… lovers, in one way or another for over seven years, almost eight really. We’ve known each other for ten years, if we count from when we first met in our timeline and formed a truce to save the world from Acathla, plus the four years in this one.” She waited a few seconds while Angel frowned, watching him try to work out the math, and then realize what she’d just said.


“In this timeline? Meaning there’s another one?”


“Another two, actually,” Winston spoke up. “Theirs and mine. Very similar in most respects, but not exactly.”


“You’re saying you’re from the future? How far in the future? How did you get here? When did you get here?”


“Our future’s not far at all, now. It’s only a bit more than a year from now, I reckon. But it isn’t likely to be much like what we left four years ago. When we were sent back here—separately, I might add—it was from a good four plus years ahead of this timeline. Winnie, here, got sent back to help us out a few months later.” Spike waited to hear Angel’s response.


He stared at them, his gaze going from Spike to Buffy to Winston.


“Eight years….”


“And countin’,” Spike replied.


“So, when I showed up four years ago….”


“We’d already been here long enough to find each other and figure out what happened. And to decide that we were going to take advantage of the time we’ve been given to have the life we never had a chance to back in our time.” Buffy sat back and waited for his response.

“So, in your time, you aren’t married, or mated, or any of the things you are now. If you were sent back separately, then you weren’t together at that time.” Angel nodded to himself as if having suspicions confirmed. In spite of the eye rolls around the table, he persisted. “What changed that in this time?”


“I thought he was dead in our time,” Buffy snapped. “He died, in case you’re curious, saving the world from an army of Turok-hans trying to come out of the hellmouth. I was heartbroken, but very proud of him,” she added, casting a glance over her shoulder to smile at Spike. “I was all kinds of happy to have another chance for a life together.”


“And I was just a ghost, in LA. As soon as I was solid enough, you and Oxford here, decided to send me back. Never had time to contact Buffy to let her know I was alive…so to speak.”


“I’m confused. Why did I think it was a good idea to send you back? And why was Buffy sent back by whoever sent her back? Don’t tell me it was just so you two could shack up?” He ignored Spike’s growl, but cringed from Buffy’s narrowed eyes.


Winston spoke up. “Because in both their time and mine, the First Evil got a much stronger toe-hold on this plane, and was well on its way to destroying the world as you currently know it. Spike’s sacrifice in the hellmouth managed to save the world, but at tremendous cost of life and property. Both Wesley and what was left of the Council had determined, separately and without speaking to each other about it, that they knew what allowed the First to become so strong, and they sent Spike and Buffy back, again, separately and unbeknownst to each other, to correct that situation and prevent the First Evil from rising again. I was sent back from a slightly changed Council a few months later to assist them.”


Buffy glanced at Wes to see if he was surprised to hear that it was his idea, but the calm expression on his face told her that at some point either Spike or Winston had told him at least something about the part he’d played.


Angel shook his head. “I feel like I’m missing an awful lot here.”


“Because you are,” Wes said, speaking for the first time. “But I can fill you in on a lot of it when we get back to LA.”


Angel looked back and forth between Buffy and Spike, who gazed back with quiet confidence.


“You’ve really been together for eight years?”


“Longer than that if you count from when I began to fall in love with her. Took her a bit longer to warm up to the idea of havin’ another vamp in her life, after what you did to her.” Spike’s eyes flared yellow just long enough to make his point. “But we’d found our way together by this time in our world. I ‘died’ knowing she loved me, so when we found each other here, in Rupert’s living room…” He rested a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “We picked right up where we left off—just with more shaggin’.” He leered at Buffy, who huffed angrily, but didn’t correct him as she expanded on what he said.


“Angel, the point is, we’ve had way more than the four years we’ve been together here to learn to care for and trust each other. We were friends and slaying partners before we were anything else. But our world was too…. it was hard to be a couple back then. I always thought we’d have more time. And then he died on me. These four years of living together and being…”


“Mated” Spike muttered under his breath.

“… mutually claimed,” Buffy said with a glare, “and now legally married in human terms, have only made us more sure of what we’ve always had. Mutual respect and trust, things you and I never had.”


Angel looked like he was going to object, then shut his mouth and nodded. “I can see how you’d think that.” He visibly shifted his train of thought. “So, this First Evil. Will you need our help again? Is the man who tasered me a minion like the one I watched you kill in LA?”


Buffy shook her head about Robin, saying, “He doesn’t seem to have any powers. I think he’s just a handy puppet for the first to use. Not like Caleb, but obviously not harmless.” She sighed and answered the first part of his question.


“Even if you got hold of the amulet Spike wore in our time, I won’t let him burn up again, so that’s out. I guess the main thing is to be aware of what’s going on here and be ready to form a second front if we somehow don’t succeed.” She smiled at Winston and Spike. “I kinda think we’re gonna be okay, though, even if I have to bring the other girls into it. I’ve got help I didn’t have back in our time.”


“Not to mention, Max thinks we can do it,” Spike snorted while Buffy and Wes laughed softly.


“There is that,” Winston said with a straight face. “Master Maxmillian expects us to ace the final.”


Willow giggled, while Giles smiled in agreement. Buffy gave him a grin before turning her attention back to Angel.


Angel frowned, not having any idea what they were laughing about, but he seemed to have calmed down in the face of indisputable proof that Buffy had known what she was doing when she and Spike mutually claimed each other. Without any more protesting, he turned to Wesley, asking in an aggrieved tone, “Why did you know about this before I did? And why did they tell you not to tell me?”


Before Wes could respond, Spike did. “Because he’s a lot smarter than you are, and he figured it out by himself a long time ago. And we didn’t tell you, or anybody else who didn’t need to know about us because we were tryin’ to prevent making any changes that could mess up the future we knew was coming.”


“But you have made changes!”


“We have. Turned out we never knew when or if something we did changed things, so eventually we just stopped worrying about it and fixed the things we knew needed fixin’.”


“You could have told me then,” Angel said with glare. “You could have let me in on it.”


Buffy rolled her eyes, but let Spike respond.


“You might recall that the Slayer was a bit brassed off at you by then…” Spike said mildly, moving back beside Buffy, who reached for his hand and held it while she waited for Angel to remember why she was mad at him.


He growled, then sighed. “I did it because I loved—love you and wanted to keep a connection between us so you would always trust me. It was for your own good. But I understand that I should have told you about it.”


“If that’s your idea of an apology…” Buffy began, stopping herself and sighing. “Just go home Angel. Try to do good. And leave us alone.”


Wes stood up, touching Angel’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Angel. You got your answer. I’ll drop you off wherever you left your car.”


To everyone’s shock, Angel snarled at Wesley and shook his hand off. “I can’t believe you kept something like this from me. I don’t think you really want to be a small space with me just now.” He stood up, fangs dropping.


Buffy tensed, wondering if she was going to have to interfere, and mentally preparing to throw Angel out into the street. She felt Spike tensing beside her, then heard Winston slide back his chair. He didn’t say a word, just waved his hand and froze Angel in place, leaving his head free, but his mouth shut, just the tips of his fangs still showing.


“Did you just threaten my friend?” Winston asked softly, moving to stand in front of the immobile vampire. “For not telling you things you had no need or right to know?”


He never raised his voice, but the menace was palpable, making Buffy wonder what, if anything, she could do if he decided to set fire to Angel. But he continued quietly.


“You need to think long and hard about how much trouble you’ve already caused here with your arrogant insistence that somehow what Buffy does and who she does it with is in any way your business. You’ve forced us to give away valuable information about some of our weapons and capabilities. For no better reason than you aren’t willing to believe Buffy prefers a man who loves and respects her to the one who claimed her without permission and tricked her into unknowingly maintaining it.”


It was a long speech for the normally more taciturn Winston, and there was silence as everyone absorbed what he’d said. Angel’s facial expressions were a mixture of rage at his inability to move, and just a tinge of regret and fear at this proof that Winston’s abilities far exceeded anything he was familiar with. It was apparent that he’d just put himself into a life or death situation. The rage faded from his expression as he began to understand exactly how badly he’d behaved in the eyes of everyone now staring at him. Even Willow, who had moved up behind Winston, had visible energy at the ends of her fingers as she glared at him.


“Wesley is our friend,” Winston repeated. “And not one of us here wouldn’t be extremely angry should anything happen to him. Are we clear about that?”


He released Angel with another wave and waited. Angel gazed around the room, obviously seeing nothing but complete agreement on all the faces except Wesley’s. His expression was one of gratitude to everyone else in the room, and a narrow-eyed reaction to Angel’s implied threat. It wasn’t lost on Angel or anyone else, that Wes’s response to the threat was not fear, and Buffy remembered when they’d seen him stake an attacking vampire without even breaking a sweat.


Wes sure doesn’t seem worried about him.


Rogue demon hunter. Think Angelus might have bitten off a bit more than he can chew there.


Angel sighed deeply. “I’m sorry, Wes. This is what you’ve been trying to warn me against, and I’ve been ignoring your advice the whole time.” He turned to Buffy and Spike, still standing close together as if poised to fight. “Buffy, I… I apologize for what I did to you. Please believe me that my original intentions were… well, if I’m honest, the demon was trying to claim you. And I should have had more control than that. But maintaining that weak connection was my own selfish idea, and you have every right to be furious about it. As does Spike.” He threw a quick glance in that direction, but glanced away again too quickly to read Spike’s expression.


“I’m just going to head home to think about what I’ve learned tonight—about myself, as well as about you two and your very powerful friend here. Wes, if you trust me enough, I’d like to take you up on the offer of a ride to my car. It’s not all that far away, but it will give us a chance to talk.”




Buffy watched them walk out together, noting that Wes did not turn his back on Angel.


“What do you think?”


Spike shook his head. “Not sure. If Wes was walking out with Angelus, I’d say he needed to be ready for anything. But the souled up poof is probably feeling pretty broody by now and just wants to be told he’s not quite as big a wanker as he knows he is.”


“In the meanwhile,” Giles said, “How much damage do you think was done tonight? What do we know?”


“Well, we know the First knows something about Winston now,” Buffy said. “And we know that there was at least one more Turok-Han in there trying to get out, and Angel says he saw more than that. And that the seal is now kaput. So as soon as Winston’s magical fire wall dies down, we’re going to have to be very careful.”


“And watchful,” Spike added. “Once those things were being released, back in our time, things got too bloody real.”


Buffy shuddered. “That’s for sure. If they start coming out in big numbers, I’m going to have to activate the other girls.” She turned to Willow. “Have you guys figured out a way to do it that won’t activate every potential in the world?”


Winston and Willow exchanged glances, then she sighed and let Winston answer.


“Max has been advising me, but it’s tricky designing a spell to activate all potentials, but omit individual girls. We think we can come up with something that won’t affect anybody not mentally or physically capable of handling a slayer’s strength, but eliminating those emotionally unprepared for dealing with a slayer’s life is more difficult.”


Buffy nodded. “Maybe we can work on how we recruit and train them. Maybe when we find them, instead of just saying ‘Hey, you’re a slayer now. Come with me.’ we can explain what’s happened, and why. And then give them a choice? Maybe if the whole idea doesn’t appeal to them, and they don’t get any training, they can just go through life being a little stronger and faster than other girls?”


“I wonder if Sara might have any ideas along those lines?” Willow said. “She must know of some potentials who never wanted to be called….” 


Buffy shook herself.  “We can worry about those details later. Right now, I need to know I’ve got an army of slayers ready to meet the First’s army if that’s what it comes to.”








hapter Twenty-six





In addition to the First’s minions being out and about, the normal vampire population was increasing. After Buffy had dispatched another Turok-Han, and Winston’s ability to set fire to things had prevented a group of Bringers from throwing a net over Spike, they made some changes in how and where they took the potentials out at night.

The girls had enjoyed multiple opportunities to practice their slaying skills, and even though they didn’t have any powers, their numbers made up for it. So far there had been no casualties except for Roxy’s arm, which was raked by Amanda’s stake as they both struck at an unfortunate vampire’s heart at the same time. However, concern about the chance of having to face multiple Turok-Hans at once made them more cautious.


They started splitting the girls up into squads so as to cover more ground. Buffy took half of them with her, bringing Willow along as magical backup; and Spike and Winston took the other half.

The first time Buffy’s squad encountered a Turok-Han, the girls huddled together at first, more than happy to follow instructions to “stay with Willow”. However, as they watched Buffy squaring off with the ancient vampire, they began to remember what they were, and moved to where they could see what was happening.

“Why don’t you throw fire at him?” Mel asked, just before Buffy took a hit from the Turok-Han, fell backwards, flipped over, and came up stake end first to turn him to dust.

Willow just smiled and said, “That’s why.  Did you know in her—I mean, I’ll bet she could beat one even if she didn’t have the scythe.”

“I want one of those,” Kennedy grumbled. “I could handle it just as well as she can.” She smiled up at Willow. “Don’t you think so? I mean, especially if I had you backing me up.” She winked as Willow blushed, and Mel turned away, rolling her eyes.

Buffy walked back to the  cheering potentials, smiling and shaking her head as they congratulated her. She looked right at Kennedy as she said, “The scythe helps a lot. But they can be dusted other ways. Cutting their heads off works, it’s just a little harder to get into position to do it because they are so fast and strong. But any time you have help, one of you ought to be able to get a chance to whack a head off. Stakes are trickier. This one­–” she held up the scythe so they could all see the wooden stake at the end–“is stronger than most wood, and maybe has some magic to it. I don’t know exactly, I just know a regular stake doesn’t usually work. Those ugly uber-vamps are just too tough.”

“You can do it because you have that special slayer weapon.” Kennedy pushed to the front of the group. “You should allow us to take turns with it so we know how to use it.”

Buffy studied Kennedy through narrowed eyes, then said, “Oh sure, here you go” and tossed it to her. Surprised by both the toss and the weight of the weapon, Kennedy dropped it with a curse, shaking out the hand she’d tried to catch it with.

“Oh, sorry. I forgot you aren’t as strong as me.” Buffy smiled innocently as she picked up the scythe with one hand and twirled it. “And you don’t have slayer skills or reflexes.”

“Let’s get you home, girls. I need to talk to Spike and Winston to see if this was the only one out tonight.” She paused. “Until we know for sure, nobody goes out alone at night. Or at all….”


They caught up with Spike’s group as they turned down the street Sara’s house was on. The girls ran to each other, comparing notes about what adventures they’d had. As it turned out, Spike and Winston had also met a Turok-Han, which Spike was happy to allow Winston to set on fire.

“Well, we know Winnie’s fire can dust them. If he can teach Willow how to do that, you and I can handle the Bringers.” He sighed and grinned at Winston. “I really want to see if I can beat one of those ugly wankers by myself. Always happy for the save,” he said, as Buffy started to speak, “but I really need to know I can kick one’s arse when I need to.”

“The girls can help with Bringers,” Buffy said quietly, as she smiled her understanding. “I need to be where I can use the scythe. That’s what it’s for.”

They watched together as the group of chattering potentials walked toward their temporary home. Suddenly, there was a grinning Turok-Han between them and the safety of the grounds. The girls hesitated, but hefted their swords and stakes.

“Bring it, you ugly… bad person!” one of the youngest said, raising her stake.

The Turok-Han appeared to blink in surprise, but his grin never faded as he stalked toward them. He was just reaching for Abby, who held her ground with her sword, when Spike flew past her and tackled him to the ground.

“Get behind the bloody barrier,” he grunted, struggling to hold on to the snarling vampire as the armed potentials obediently ran into the yard and then turned to watch.

In spite of the Turok-Han’s obvious advantage of speed and strength, it didn’t have a hundred plus years of fighting and brawling experience to call on, and Spike, now wearing his vamp face, was able to hold his own better than he had in his previous encounters. Buffy ignored the Bringers trying to keep her away from the snarling tangle, except to behead any that actually got in her way. Behind her, she was confident that Winston and Willow were using fire to hold off any others.

Spike broke free of the Turok-Han’s grip and flipped over its back, landing with one arm around it’s head and one on it’s chin. With a roar that had the potentials cringing away, he wrenched as hard as he could and there was an audible “snap” as he broke his opponent’s neck.

“Bollocks,” he muttered. “I was going for ripping his head off.” He gazed down at the still snarling creature that, while clearly paralyzed, seemed to have no sense of its own impending demise, but kept snapping its teeth at Spike.

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked, although she could see that he was already healing from the damage caused by the Turok-Han. He shook off his demon face and smiled at her.

“You know I’m fine, love. Just need to put this thing out of our misery.” He turned to look at the old vampire and narrowed his eyes. “I would swear this was the one….” Conscious of the girls now moving closer and listening, he didn’t finish just turned to Amanda asking, “May I borrow your weapon, pet?”

She nodded and handed him the sword she’d been carrying. He walked closer to the Turok-Han, watching carefully for any sign it might be recovering from its paralysis. He stared into the furious eyes and whispered, “I owe you more than this, but it’ll have to do.”

He swiped the sword through the Turok-Han’s neck and watch impassively as it crumbled to dust.

“Thank you, luv,” he said, handing the sword back to Amanda. She gave him a small smile and nodded as she took it back.

The few Bringers that hadn’t been beheaded or set afire ran away as soon as Spike had clearly conquered the Turok-Han, so the girls slowly stepped out of their safe area. They milled around, not sure what to do, but being too hyped up by the night’s activity to go quietly to their beds. Before Buffy could order them into the house, Sara came out and called to them.

“Why doesn’t everyone come in to relax for a bit and tell me what happened tonight?”

“Good idea. Let’s go, girls.” Buffy herded the girls ahead of her, frowning when Kennedy hung back to walk with Willow.


What do you think? Is she gonna talk Red into it again?

I don’t know. I kinda hope not. I’d like for Willow to be happy, but Kennedy is just….

Were they still together where you were?

Yeah, but I don’t think it was going well. I’d be surprised if it lasted.


Winston stepped up beside them. “Something I should know?” he asked softly.

Spike shrugged. “Looks like that Kennedy bint is putting the same moves on Willow that she did in our time.”

“She’s a bit full of herself, isn’t she?” Winston said with more tact than Buffy would have expected.

“You have no idea,” she sighed. “But in our time, she helped Willow get over Tara’s death. I guess if she’s important to Willow’s emotional… happiness, we’ll have to live with it for as long as it lasts.”

She laughed at the expression on Winston’s face.

“Relax, Winnie,” Spike said, slapping him on the back. “Maybe Willow won’t be as interested this time. Tara’s not dead, just away. And Red’s got you to help her see what an obnoxious bint Kennedy is. If they weren’t together in your time, she probably isn’t interested.”

“We can hope,” Buffy muttered. “I don’t want to be any nicer to her than I absolutely have to.”

Spike and Winston both snickered as they followed her into the house.

It took a little while to calm the girls down after their adventure with the Turok-Han. Rosita, especially, seemed very bothered by the sight of the old vampire.

“So, is Buffy’s scythe the only thing that can kill them?” she asked in a tentative voice. “How are we supposed to protect ourselves?”

“Okay, listen,” Buffy said. “I killed my first Turok-Han before I had the scythe. It wasn’t easy, and the first couple of times I fought him it didn’t go all that great for me. But I survived it, and I learned, and eventually I was able to remove his head with a piece of wire. And you all just watched tonight as Spike fought one vamp to vamp, and beat him. So, are they tough and scary? Yes, they certainly are. And I have no intention of sending you girls out after one. But, they aren’t invincible. If they can make you afraid, they’ve already won.”

“But you and Spike have, like… powers. We don’t have them… yet,” Kennedy said. “And we won’t unless something happens to you.”

Buffy gave a short laugh. “Even that wouldn’t help you out,” she said without explanation. She saw Sara’s eyes widen and realized she’d never told her that the line seemed to run through Faith now, not Buffy.

“Look girls, the point is, we’re not going to let them at you. If it turns out that there are more Turok-Hans than just the two or three we’ve seen, then….” Buffy sighed. “Then I might have to go to Plan B. But we’re not going to worry about that right now. All you need tonight is to get some sleep and be ready for tomorrow. We’re going to teach you how to kill Bringers.”


Buffy and Spike walked home together, taking their time and watching carefully for any other Turok-hans that might be lurking.

“You know what Winston said about putting that Gem someplace safe?” Buffy said, not looking at Spike as she tried to be casual.

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Is it the ring that keeps you safe, or is it the Gem itself?”

“Dunno, love. Always assumed it was the Gem. It’s why it was so hard to figure out which piece of jewelry to grab. If Harm hadn’t had such bad taste in rings…. no tellin’ how long it would have taken me to find it.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You probably shouldn’t be reminding me that you actually tried to stake your old girlfriend.”

“Prob’ly not,” he laughed. “But I know you don’t care what happens to her, so…. just goes to prove that I loved you already.”

“You tried to kill me! That’s what you wanted the ring for. Don’t hand me any how-much-you-loved-me crap.”

She stopped walking and stood there glaring at him, hands on hips.

 Spike sighed and shrugged an apology. “I’m sorry, love. Been awhile since my mouth got me into that much trouble, hasn’t it? Reckon I was due again.”  He nudged her arm, but carefully, in case she really was as angry as she seemed.  “What can I do to make it up to you?”

“I’ll have to give that some thought,” she said, hiding her smile. “I’ll come up with something. Meanwhile, you don’t really know if it has to be in that ugly ring, or if it’s just the Gem you need?”

“Not for sure, no. What are you thinking?”

“I’m just wondering if something as small as the Gem would be rejected by your body. It seems like it should just heal over it.”

“Could, I reckon. If you want me to try it, I will. Maybe before I pry the stone out of the ring, we could try it with something else small and see what happens.”

“Let’s do that. Winston’s right. The Gem is just too easily taken away or lost from that ring.”

“Alright, love. I’ll find something else that size to use and I’ll stick it in my arm. If it stays there, then we can do it with the Gem.”

She sighed in relief. “I won’t worry about you nearly as much if I know you can’t lose it somehow.”

Spike put his arms around her, pulling her into a tight embrace.

“If I thought for one minute it would work for your demon as well as mine, I’d stick it in you somewhere in a heartbeat.  Speaking of worryin’….”

“It’s for vampires. I’m sure if there was anything like that for Slayers, the Council would have destroyed it years ago.”

He sighed. “I reckon you’re right at that, love. It’s not like you’d be high on their list to receive it if they did have such a thing.”

“I think the Guardians were probably the closest thing to Slayer protection we ever had. Maybe Sara and I can bring that back….”

“You’ve got an almost undustable vampire, and a former Guardian on your team.  Maybe that will be enough.”

Buffy shrugged. “Maybe. I hope so. At least until I die of old age….”

“Bite your tongue, woman!”

“Isn’t that your job?” she said with a giggle as she ducked under his arm and into their apartment.

He slammed the door, not bothering to lock it, knowing a normal lock would be the least of the obstacles facing anyone or anything trying to get in. He paused for a second to appreciate the relative safety of their ordinary-looking apartment before licking his lips and prowling after Buffy.


Chapter Twenty-seven




Buffy spent much of the following morning talking with Max about the spell Winston and Willow had worked on to make less all-encompassing.


“They think they’ve tweaked it enough that it won’t activate anybody not physically or mentally able to be a slayer. No more crazy slayers…..” She shuddered before responding to Max’s questioning look. “A potential in our time who’d already been having slayer dreams. She was in an institution because she’d been permanently traumatized when she was younger. Then, when the dreams started, she got worse, of course, because now the memories of what happened to her were full of slayer memories of monsters. And some time after she got her powers, she was able to break out of the hospital. Fortunately, we already knew about her, and we managed to pick her up before she could hurt too many people. It wasn’t her fault. She thought they were all monsters. Now she stays drugged most of the time so she won’t hurt herself or anyone else.” Buffy shook her head. “I’m sure she’s not the only potential out there with mental problems, just the first one we learned about.”


“What about girls who don’t have the desire for violence they need?” Max asked gently. “Or, does that come with the whole slayer package?”


“It kinda does,” Buffy admitted. “But I don’t think everybody gets it. Some girls just aren’t brave enough, or, as Spike would say, bloodthirsty enough, to make good slayers. I’d kinda like to be able to weed them out too, but if we can’t do it with the spell, I’ll have to come up with a way to figure out who they are before we start training them. I’ve already seen too many girls get hurt just because they don’t have the same violent streak most of us have.” She sighed. “One of the potentials we have right now doesn’t seem very inclined to want to get any powers. And she was raised by a watcher, so she should be all hot to be Chosen.”


“That may be more difficult than simply weeding out those who are unqualified to be good slayers. Chances are, left to normal circumstances, those girls would never be called anyway.”


“Probably not. I mean if they were, they wouldn’t last a day, probably. Some vamp or demon would kill them as soon as they realized what they were. But the girls who just aren’t suited for a slayer’s life don’t last long either. They just don’t have the confidence or courage to face what they have to face every night. I really don’t want to be asking girls like that to go out and get killed. There’s got to be a way to let them do something else.”


“Perhaps, if they don’t accept the role when it’s offered, those powers will fade and they can go about their normal lives?  I’m not sure we can incorporate that into the spell to activate everyone, but Willow and I may be able to come up with a counter spell to offer any activated slayers who would rather be doing something else. The population of your slayer army would be a bit smaller, but perhaps all the more powerful for not having any weak links.”


“That’s brilliant, Max! I love that idea. Not as many slayers, but all of them capable, focused, and willing. I like it!”


“I believe Winston and Willow are planning to drop by later today to discuss what they have so far to see if I can add anything. As they think the main spell seems to be ready to use, I’ll suggest the counter spell to them, and perhaps assist Willow in constructing it.”


“That would be awesome,” Buffy said, relaxing the tension she didn’t even realize she’d been holding in her shoulders as she discussed the spell with Max. She smiled at him. “You know, Willow was almost afraid to come over. She thinks you don’t like her.”


“She’s come a very long way,” Max said diplomatically. “And Sara seems quite taken with her. Helping to renew the Guardian line may turn out to be just the thing to give Willow something to do with all the power she has.”


Buffy nodded. “I think Willow is really interested in it. I hope it works out for her.”




When Buffy got to the Magic Box, she was surprised to find Giles frowning at a bottle of Scotch and holding a half-full tumbler.


“Kinda early, isn’t it?”


“It’s already evening in London,” he replied, taking a big gulp.




“There was an attack on the Council today. Fortunately, most of the records are fine, as they’d been moved to a safe part of the building after our insistence on it. However, the explosion destroyed the nearly-empty Library and the offices in that area. They were able to contain the damage and the fire to that wing of the building, but of course now there are concerns about where else bombs may have been planted.”


“In our time, it was only one bomb. But it pretty much destroyed most of the main Council building. And the Council.”


“There were casualties today,” Giles said. “They’re still searching for bodies.”


“Oh…” Buffy said softly. “So we haven’t saved anybody….” She bit her lip. “Maybe we needed to tell them….?”


Giles shook his head. “All things considered, we did what we could. Travers actually thanked me the other day for putting them on the alert. It’s possible the extra security measures meant that the bomb could not be placed any closer to the main facility, and that has saved many lives. The Library is located in its own wing of the Council complex, and is the most accessible to the outside. And possibly least carefully watched now that so much has been moved to the more secure area. Perhaps the lack of steady visitors made it easier to slip in and out without being observed. Who knows?”


“Does Wes know about it?”


“Yes. He’s on his way here to assist us in assessing the damage and help us determine what to do next. He’s already spoken to his contact in Security and will probably have more information for us by the time he arrives.”


“So, we didn’t handle all the First’s minions,” Buffy said with a sigh. “And now there are Turok-hans coming out every night.”


“Turok-hans, plural?”


“’Fraid so. Only a couple at a time so far, but they keep cropping up. I think we’re going to have to find a way to shut them all in the hellmouth. Without, I hope, pulling the whole town down to do it. And the damn Bringers are everywhere. I’m going to get the girls up to speed on how to behead them and let them get to work.”


“Without their powers?”


“Don’t know yet. The spell is almost ready, and it’s got the changes I asked for. I think most of the girls we have now are ready and willing to get to work with or without their powers. They’re getting tired of hiding behind Sara’s wards.”


“You haven’t told them?”


“No. I’m still trying to decide what to do. But if the First is making more big moves….”


“Travers will be livid.”


“Travers can suck it up. Feel free to tell him I’m the only reason he didn’t get blown to bits, and he can help or he can be replaced.”


“I’m sure that will go over well,” Giles said, taking another drink.


“It is what it is.”


“Quite.” Giles looked around. “What is Spike doing today?”


“He’s just doing some experimenting,” she said vaguely. “I’ll tell him what’s going on.”




You tried, baby. Wasn’t your fault my killer and his maker had magical assistance.”


Robin rolled his eyes at the apparition in front of him.


“I’m tired of being played by you. Either have the guts to be seen as yourself, or get lost.”


Nikki Wood morphed into a succession of forms, some human, some not, ending with Robin’s mother’s watcher. He flinched and shut his eyes briefly, knowing what that meant about the man who’d raised him.


“Trust me,” the First said, morphing into Caleb as he’d looked when he was powered up, black eyes and sneer in place. “You don’t want to see the real me.”


“Why don’t you leave me alone” Robin sighed. “I’m not going to kill for you. Give it up.”


“Not even if I can deliver your mother’s murderer to you? Without the Slayer around to save him?”


Robin tried to remind himself that he was being manipulated, but it was an offer he found hard to ignore.


“How can you do that?”


“Leave it to me… just be sure to keep a stake with you all the time.”




When Wes arrived, it turned out he had even more information to share. With the potentials still not in on the secret of Buffy and Spike’s background, the adults all gathered in the Magic Box training room again. They tried to limit the discussion to small talk until Sara could arrive and join them.


Sara had left the girls with firm instructions not to leave the premises, or even get near the edge of the property. A reminder about the Turok-han Spike had dusted within a few feet of the boundary was all it took to get the would-be slayers agreeing to remain indoors where they would be safe. Even Kennedy restricted her complaining to muttering about how they’d be safer if Buffy’d left the scythe for them to use. Most of the girls rolled their eyes at her, but Sara narrowed hers to an intimidating glare. She held Kennedy’s eyes until the cocky potential looked away.


“If that’s settled, enjoy your evening. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”


She left, using her own well-protected car to get to join the others.




When they were all settled on mats and chairs around the training room, Wes spoke first.


“It’s both a little better, and a little worse than we thought,” he began. “Winston’s friend in Security is every bit as smart and savvy as we’ve been told. Which means he is becoming quite persistent about knowing what else I know and how I know it. To the point that he is planning to talk to his superior and to Travers.” He paused. “As soon as Travers is able to communicate again.”


He gazed around at the confused expressions. “The truly bad news is that the property damage and casualties, while still nowhere near the complete destruction that occurred in your time, were still quite great. Parts of the main building remain shut off until all the structural damage has been assessed. And the Head of the Council was one of those injured in the blast. He will live, and is, of course, receiving the best of care, but it will be a few days before he will be able to resume any sort of duty.

“Which gives us just a couple of days to decide what we want to do,” Winston said with his usual quiet confidence.


“Indeed. At this point, Travers is well aware that the Coven’s “seer” cannot be produced to speak with him, and that his Security staff has been operating on information for which they can’t vouch. He has, however, already made the connection between Sunnydale, Buffy and me. I expect he will be insisting upon explanations immediately.”


“Of course he will,” Giles muttered, not quite to himself.


“Well, crap!” Buffy said with a sigh. “I was hoping we could avoid telling whatever’s left of the Council anything about us until after we shut things down here.”


“Unless that happens within the next few days….”


“Yeah, I get it. If we can’t get it done, we’ll have visitors here demanding answers.” Buffy sighed again and looked around the room. “Okay, here’s the deal. Willow and Winston, be prepared with that spell. If we need it, I want it to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Giles and Wes, see what you can do to calm everybody down over there in Merry-old, and have them tell Travers you’ll meet with him when he’s all better.” She gazed at Sara. “You and I need to talk about slayers and their future. Willow should probably be part of that conversation too.”


“And what role do I have?” Wes asked with frown. “Surely you’ll need all the help you can get?”


“I guess that’s up to you,” Buffy said. “If I activate the girls, I’m really hoping I can avoid using anyone who doesn’t have special powers of some sort in the actual battle. Obviously, if that doesn’t happen, then I will need you and Giles to organize and help the potentials to protect our backs. They’ll need someone to tell them what to do and how and when to do it. We may need that anyway, now that I think about it….” She shook her head. “I guess all that old watcher training is going to get put to use.”


“I can do more than be a watcher,” Wesley said, glancing at Giles. “No offense, Rupert, but I’ve picked up a few tricks since last I was here with you.”


“We’re well aware of your activities since then, Wesley,” Giles said. “I’ll be glad to have you, whatever your role.”


Buffy smiled her agreement, adding, “Spike and I saw you dust a vamp without half trying. You’re good with me.”


“And me?” Spike said, almost twitching in his eagerness to finally do something.


“You and I, and Winston, are going to try to provoke the First into jumping the gun. See if we can get him to make a big move before he really has all the warriors he’s going to need, and hope we can shut him down for good.”


At the skeptical looks, she growled, “Okay, maybe not for good. But we can send him back to hell where he belongs, and close up his front door.”


“What about me, Buffy? Do I play a role, or are those reserved just for official slayer sidekicks?”


“Oh, Xander, nobody’s more official than you are! And you’re not just a sidekick. In our time, you played such an important role in keeping everybody safe and….” She paused, realizing what she’d just said. “I haven’t given you a lot to do this time, have I? It’s just that things are so different…”


“So different that you don’t need me. I get it.” He sat back in his chair, his shoulders slumped, ignoring the way Willow was patting his hand and whispering to him.


Buffy bit her lip, but couldn’t think of anything to say to him just then. Spike walked over and flicked him on the back of his head.


“Have you forgotten your job already? You’re supposed to study this plan from all angles and then tell us what we forgot, or what could go wrong. You were the one who “sees” in our time. The one who keeps everybody else honest by speaking up and saying what we’re doing wrong.”


“Who’s going to listen to me this time?”


“I am, you berk. You’re my friend, and it’s your job to keep me out of trouble.”


“I’m not sure I’m up to that job,” Xander said, rolling his eyes. “But I guess somebody’s got to do it.” He sat up a little straighter. “So, the plan is to provoke the First into attacking? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just catch it by surprise? You know, like attack first?”


Buffy’s eyes got wide. “That’s what we did in our time! We took it to him instead of hunkering down and waiting for all those things to come out of the hellmouth. We were just in time, too. They were already coming up.”


“Who was ‘we’?” Wes asked.


“Oh, it was all hands on deck. Faith and I took the potentials down to the Hellmouth entrance while Willow did the spell to give them all their slayer powers. Everybody else, Giles, Anya, Xander, Dawn, Robin, even Andrew stayed upstairs and kept the Bringers from attacking us from behind.”


“And you kicked its butt?” Xander looked pleased with his assessment.


“Uh, no. I got kinda… stabbed. But it pissed me off, and I got back up. We were holding our own for awhile, I guess, but there were always more of them fighting to get out of the hellmouth to us.”


“So, what made the difference?” He seemed honestly curious, as if he didn’t really understand what he’d been told about Spike.


Buffy smiled over her shoulder, then turned back to Xander. “Spike did. He made the difference. Angel brought us an amulet he’d gotten from W&H. It was meant to be worn by a champion, and Spike was my champion, so he wore it.  It used his soul to channel the sunlight and burn up all the Turok-hans.” She shook her head. “Of course, it also burned him to a crisp and collapsed the whole building and then the whole town on top of the hellmouth. All things considered, not something I­—”


“So, job well done,” Spike said briskly. “All you need to know now, is we don’t have that amulet, and my wife wouldn’t let me wear it anyway, so we have to do this the hard way. One ugly bugger at a time.”


“No fire?” Wesley asked, glancing at Winston, who cleared his throat, but didn’t respond.


“We do have our own amulet replacer,” Buffy said, smiling at Winston. “I think it’ll be fine.”


“Uh, who were all those other people?” Xander asked. “I know I didn’t hear you say ‘Andrew’!”


“In our time, Andrew got… I dunno… religion or something. He was sorry for everything he did when he was trying to be evil, and he ended up with us, fighting against Bringers over the Hellmouth. And Robin Wood… he wasn’t quite as useful to the First as he’s tried to be this time. He did try to kill Spike, but when that didn’t work out for him, he remembered he was the son of a slayer and he came to fight with us.” She stared around the room. “I’m not expecting that to happen this time, just so you know. So you shouldn’t trust him, even if he says he wants to help. I’d like to think he’ll come around, but we only have a few days, and working on him isn’t a priority.”


“So, the plan is….” Xander waited.


“Give me a day or two to work out all the details, get another look at the hellmouth to see what’s going on there, and we’ll set a day for the attack. We’ll do it in daytime so they can’t be out and running around town yet. In the meantime, everybody needs to be very careful. And don’t forget the First can look like anybody’s who’s been dead, which includes Spike, Angel, and me. Unless you see us together, don’t believe your eyes or ears until you’ve tried to touch one of us.”



Chapter Twenty-eight
Spike and Winston took advantage of the morning daylight to run by the hellmouth to check on it. They let themselves in and hurried to the unsealed opening. As expected, the fire was long gone, and the ashes of the device for holding Angel had apparently fallen into the large hole in the floor. Moving extremely carefully, they approached the edge and peered in.
“What are you two doing back in my school?”
They whirled to see Robin standing at the entrance to the area. He was staring at them, anger and curiosity clearly visible on his face.
“Checkin’ to see what’s going on here,” Spike said. “Buffy needs to know if there are any more of those ugly buggers tryin’ to get out.”
“This is my building,” Robin said with a stubborn glare. “You have no right coming down here.”
“Your building is up there,” Spike replied, pointing overhead. “This sub-basement belongs to your best mate, the First Evil. You remember it, don’t you? The one trying to get you to kill me so I’m not around to help Buffy?”
“I doubt a slayer of Buffy’s obvious talents needs help from something like you,” Robin sneered. He turned his attention to Winston. “And what about you? Did you come back to set my building on fire again?”
“If that’s what’s required,” Winston answered in his usual calm manner. “With luck, it won’t come to that.” He glanced at the ceiling of the cavern and asked Spike, “Did you say it was straight up?”
Spike nodded. “Was a mite busy at the time, but according to Buffy it’s a straight shot from here to his office.”
“Hmmmm.” Winston gazed from the open hellmouth to the ceiling. “So, nothing between here and the sun but one room and the roof?”
“I see where you’re going with this,” Spike said with a grin. “And, yeah, pretty much. The new basement is between here and there, but I don’t believe there’s much in there to worry about. Not as I recall, anyway. We could take a look on the way out, just to be sure.”
“I want you both out of here. Now.” Robin said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t sound like anything I want to see happen in my school. Hellmouth, or no hellmouth, this is still my building to protect.”
“Yeah, well, I’d say you’ve done a bloody lousy job of it so far,” Spike said, gesturing to the large hole in the floor with the charred edges. “If you’d left that sealed up, we might not be in this fix.”
“We’ve seen all we need to see,” Winston said, turning his head as he did so and flicking a ball of fire toward the hellmouth. The flame dropped into the hole, disappearing from sight, but bringing outraged snarls from the opening. “Let’s go.”  He pointed at Robin. “You may want to remove anything you really care about from your office. And try to keep this area locked… from the outside.”
Without explanation, they went past Robin and up the steps to the main basement. Robin shrank back when Spike gave him a toothy grin, then recovered himself and glared back. He pulled out his stake, but quickly saw that Spike was not going to turn his back on him, and that Winston was waiting at the top of the steps where he could watch. Spike was up the steps and following Winston out of the building before Robin could recover enough to reply.
“You missed your chance, Baby.”
“He was expecting it,” Robin replied, not bothering to pretend he didn’t know what was actually speaking in his mother’s voice. “And the man who throws fire was watching me.”
“Ah yes. Him. He may turn out to be more dangerous than the Slayer and her undead consort. You need to find out more about him.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that? And why should I? I’m not one of your minions.”
“Don’t count on that,” the First snarled, morphing into Caleb again.
Robin spun around and went back up into the school, hesitating briefly at the entrance to his office, but then shrugging and entering. He remembered Buffy telling him it was directly over the hellmouth, but aside from making it easy for the First to speak to him, he couldn’t see how that was relevant to the mysterious conversation between Winston and Spike.
The vampire continued to puzzle him as he seemed to come and go with no regard for the sun that should have been so fatal to him. Buffy’s hurried explanation that Spike’s soul meant he didn’t catch fire as easily as most vamps was only semi-convincing, but the fact that Spike seemed to be close friends with a powerful magician did more to convince Robin that Spike had some sort of mystical protection.
In spite of himself, he began to imagine ways he could learn more about Buffy’s companions, particularly the one who could apparently control fire.
Buffy’s conversation with Sara about eliminating any girls who weren’t physically, mentally, or emotionally slayer material went better than she might have expected. In spite of her initial shock at hearing that in Buffy’s time there were multiple slayers, she seemed to have given it a lot of thought since then.
“And you were training all these girls?”
“Well, yeah. I mean so far, it’s just me and Faith. Oops! I guess it’s just Faith now. Oh well. She knew what the plan was, so she must have been okay with being the head slayer….” Buffy gave herself a little shake. “Too late to worry about it now. Anyway, Giles was working on finding us a place to put everybody and also be able to train them. Apparently the Council has a lot of money, so he was looking into some old schools that might be available, and he said something about a castle in Scotland….” At Sara’s raised eyebrows she said, “No idea. I think because it was kinda remote, and big enough to stash a lot of people and with lots of room? Anyway, the idea was to have a centralized place to bring the new slayers, get them trained, continue their educations if they were still in school, and then find good places for them to live once they were ready.”
“Do we know how that worked out?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nope. It was still just a plan when they sent me back. We were making do with whatever we could find close to London for training, and more girls were being found all the time. I guess by now, there are trained slayers stationed all over the world. But that’s not exactly what I’m thinking about doing. I mean, it is, but I only want girls who want to be slayers. Max is going to help Willow design a spell to use for any girls who don’t want to be, or that we can tell won’t be very good at it, even if they’re pretending to want it.”
“Do you have any girls like that in your current group?”
“Probably. I don’t think Rosita is very interested in getting her powers or killing vamps and demons. She knows her stuff—her watcher did a good job—but she really doesn’t like the idea of fighting and killing things. I think she’d be a candidate for the spell to remove her slayerness.”
“It’ll be important that the spell removed any hint of her ‘slayerness’ as you put it. If it doesn’t, those girls will still attract vampires and demons, but they’ll have no idea how to defend themselves…or they’ll be incapable of doing it, even if they were already trained.”
“Oh my god! I didn’t even think of that! That needs to be part of the spell for sure!”
“Yes, an important part. If you don’t mind, I’ll call Max immediately and explain why it’s so important.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, sure. Go ahead. It’ll probably sound better coming from you anyway.”
While Sara went to her office to make the call, Buffy smiled at the sales clerk and wandered around the store, wondering how someone trained to be a Guardian of slayers ended up running a bridal shop.  She turned when she heard her name, and responded to Sara’s beckoning hand. They remained standing in the hallway where Sara could keep an eye on the store, but they wouldn’t be overheard by her sales staff.
“We’re all set. Max completely agrees that the girls who don’t want to be slayers need to be given that choice, and to be taken out of the pool of potentials or activated slayers in such a way that their lives won’t be in danger.”
Buffy nodded. “I guess the trained ones will be a little different from normal teenagers, just because of what they know about vampires and the weapons training they’ve had. But they should be able to adjust.”
Sara took a deep breath, exhaling with a sigh. “If you actually do activate all the potentials, we’ll need more Guardians and watchers. I can’t handle hundreds of girls, even with Willow’s assistance, nor can Rupert manage that many, even if the Council has some trained watchers they can put into the field.” She cocked her head at Buffy. “What are they doing about that in your time?”
Buffy frowned. “Well, Guardians, nothing. As far as I know, the one Caleb killed was the last one. But watchers, yeah. Giles is planning for the school to train watchers as well as slayers. He seems to think he can find them somehow. And he’s rounded up all the ones he could find, that weren’t at the Council building when it blew up, to help train them.”
“If I might suggest—and I’m saying this only in the event that you do the activation spell—someone with slayer training, but who does not care for a, possibly very short, life of violence, might make an excellent Guardian or watcher.”
Buffy stared at Sara with admiration. “That’s a great idea! They’d be perfect for it. Maybe not the ones who weren’t being raised by watchers, but some of them might want to be part of it anyway. I love that idea!”
Sara stared hard at Buffy. “You’re expecting to do this, aren’t you?”
Buffy gave a guilty shrug, then admitted, “Yeah, I guess I am. I just don’t want to change the future as much as I would be if I didn’t do it. I mean, what if I get killed in a couple of days? We don’t even know where Faith is right now, and I totally forgot to ask Wes or Angel if they’ve heard from her. There wouldn’t be an active slayer!”
“So, you didn’t mis-speak when you said if you died, it didn’t mean one of the girls would become chosen?”
“Nope. That first time I died sent the line off in a different direction. We got Kendra, who Dru killed, and then Faith. And nobody else was called when I jumped off Glory’s tower, so Giles is sure it goes through Faith now.” Buffy frowned. “And, come to think of it, I probably was technically ‘dead’ for a few seconds when Warren shot me. Willow pulled the bullet out and healed me up. And it still didn’t activate anybody else, so….”
Sara appeared thoughtful. “That does put a different face on things….”  She took her attention off Buffy as she noticed two different girls and mothers entering the shop.  “But I have to get back to work now. I’ll give this some more thought.”
With her usual ability to quickly switch from Guardian to bridal consultant, she walked down the hall, her smile already in place as she greeted the first pair of shoppers. Buffy left by the back door, confident that Sara would be on her side if and when they did the spell.
When she got home, she found Spike and Winston sharing a beer with grins on their faces.
“What did you two blow up?”
“Nothing!” Spike said. “And we’re shocked that you think we would do something like that, aren’t we Winnie?” Spike put on his best hurt expression, but Winston’s snicker spoiled his attempt at innocence.
“Right. Because creating mayhem isn’t what usually makes you two happy.”
“I think we should probably be offended,” Winston said, but his smile spoiled it.
“Just for that, we aren’t going to tell you what we did,” Spike sniffed. “You’ll just have to guess.”
Buffy rolled her eyes as she went to the fridge and took out a yogurt. “Whatever.” She turned to look at Winston. “I thought you’d be upstairs with Max and Willow?”
Winston finished his beer and stood up, putting the bottle on the kitchen counter.
“I should probably go back up. I’m giving Willow a ride home. They didn’t need me while they were working on the spell to take the slayer powers and auras away from girls who shouldn’t have them. Or don’t want them, I guess. Or both. Anyway, it didn’t involve me, so I came down to help Spike with his little problem.”
Buffy glared at Spike, who was waving his hand at her. “What prob—where’s your ring?” Her eyes widened in fear.
“It’s right here, love,” he said, holding up the ring that was conspicuously missing its gem.
“Where’s the gem?” Buffy’s expression was softening as she began to suspect what they’d done.
“It’s right in here. All safe and sound.” Spike pointed to his side. “Tucked behind a rib and wrapped in something that isn’t fat.”
“It’s fat,” Winston said, laughing.
“Not fat. Vampires can’t get fat.”
“Vampires can have fat if it was there when they were turned,” Winston said a straight face and the air of someone who has peered inside many vampires.
“You’re full of shit,” Spike growled, but he laughed at the same time.
Buffy interrupted the banter to ask, “So Winston put it inside you?”
Spike nodded. “First we checked it out by putting a few little things in other places. When they all stayed put, Winnie magicked the gem out of the ring and put it where it isn’t likely to get cut off or lost.”
“Thank you,” Buffy said simply, smiling her gratitude at Winston.
“My pleasure,” he responded. “Don’t want to lose my mayhem-creating partner. And now I’d best get back upstairs. Do we have a plan for this evening?”
“Just regular patrol, I guess. I want to see how well the girls do against Bringers if we find any. And I want to dust any Turok-Hans we find too. We got three last night, so I’ll be curious how many come out tonight. If the numbers keep going up, then we’re going to have to move soon.”
Winston nodded and waved as he went out the door and around to the back of the building to meet Willow.
“So, you’ve decided to do the spell, have you?” Spike kept his question casual, but he watched Buffy carefully.
“I think so. I don’t want to go back to the way the world is now—with just me and Faith, wherever she is, all that stands between it and evil. This is the major hellmouth, but it’s not the only one. There are small ones all over the world, and when we close this one up, who knows where else Turok-Hans might start popping up? We’re going to need slayers. Instead of activating one girl and putting her where the main action is, we can have groups of girls living near hellmouths, all ready to send any ambitious demons right back where they belong.”
“You’ve given this some thought.” He cocked his head at her.
“A little, maybe,” she mumbled. “I have ideas. The Council isn’t going to like my ideas, but if I have a whole bunch of slayers behind me, they’ll have to listen. The Coven already likes Winston, so they’ll be on our side.”
“You’d think by now the Council of Wankers would know better than to argue with you.”  He grinned at her proudly.
“You’d think,” she agreed with her own grin.
That night’s patrol and training session was going really well until the Bringers the girls had been fighting quite successfully suddenly disappeared, leaving an ominous silence behind.
“Slayer….” Spike said, staring into the darkness.
“I feel them,” Buffy responded, hefting her scythe.  “Girls, get behind Willow, back-to-back in a big circle. Use your swords and aim for their necks. Or just try to keep them away from you. Work together and don’t get in Willow’s way.”
“Not a good time for Winnie to take off.”
“It’s his night to have dinner with my mom. I guess he and Giles decided to try to keep up appearances. We’ll be all right. We’ve got Willow, you’ve got a sword, I’ve got the scythe, and the girls know what to expect.”
Buffy’s words were more confident than she was actually feeling, but she stepped forward, weapon at the ready. Spike was at her left, game face on, but a sharpened sword in his hand.  The five Turok-Hans they’d sensed appeared quickly, two circling around to attack the potentials while the other three charged Buffy, Spike, and Willow. The one that chose Buffy seemed to have some knowledge of what the scythe could do, as it worked harder to lure her away from her place in front of the potentials than it did to getting close enough to actually engage her. 
Spike’s weapon seemed to be unexpected by his attacker, who snarled in surprise and rage when Spike lopped off the arm reaching for him. He followed up quickly, taking off the creature’s other arm before swinging the sword through its neck. He took a brief moment to savor the dust, before glancing toward Buffy, who had already backed her opponent away from the potentials and into a space where she could quickly decapitate him. They turned their attention to the situation behind them, to see Willow sending flames from her finger tips, trying to keep the attackers there away from the sword-wielding girls. She was able to keep them at bay, but not to set them completely on fire as Winston would have, and she was having to protect herself at the same time.
The remaining Turok-Hans seemed oblivious to the fact that Buffy and Spike were now free to join the fight. In their fury at Willow, they now concentrated on getting to her. Suddenly, one of them broke off and, moving so fast as to seem to be teleporting, it was behind Willow and leaping at Kennedy, who, to her credit, met the attack with her sword. However, the Turok-Han’s speed and strength was more than a match for Kennedy’s normal human responses, and she went down with a cry, the Turok-Han reaching for her throat in spite of the sword he’d impaled himself on.
Kennedy’s cry distracted Willow, who turned to look, giving the remaining attackers a chance to leap at her. Spike was already there, pulling one creature off before it could do any damage, and throwing it far away, allowing Willow to concentrate on the other one and throw all her power at it. With being able to concentrate her power on one place, she managed to send the Turok-han to the ground, writhing in an attempt to smother the flames licking around its body. It was soon surrounded by angry potentials who quickly realized the flames were too low to put them in danger and they egged each other on until Abby reached forward and cut it’s head off to the accompaniment of cheers..
Spike saw that the one he’d tossed away from Willow appeared to have been weakened by all the flames it had been subjected to. He ignored his weapon in favor of going vampire to ugly vampire with it. With the experience he’d already had of using his fighting skills and wits, he was soon able to break it’s neck with a satisfying crack! and leave it on the ground for one of girls to slice it’s head off.  Which Mel did, with great glee and a triumphant shout.
Spike gave her a thumbs up as he turned back to see what Buffy was doing. As he’d expected, she’d pulled the Turok-Han off Kennedy, sword still in his chest. Buffy grabbed the sword’s hilt and twisted the blade, trying to cut the vampire’s heart out. She wasn’t able to fully remove it with the awkward long sword, but she did manage to do enough damage that the Turok-Han’s roar of rage was cut off when it crumbled to dust.
“Huh,” Buffy said, handing the sword back to a shaken Kennedy. “Good to know.” She ignored Kennedy’s staring and walked back to Spike.
“Job well done,” she said. “But let’s get the girls home so we can talk about what just happened here.” 
He nodded his agreement and trailed behind as Willow led the potentials back toward the Guardian house with Buffy.
Chapter Twenty-nine






“We’re going to have to go in tomorrow, or the next day at the latest.  There were five of those things last night, and they knew who to target.”


“Is anyone injured?” Winston frowned his dismay at having missed the excitement. He glanced around the table at Buffy, Spike, Giles, and Xander.


“Not really. Kennedy’s been taken down a peg or two—almost dying can do that to you—and Willow’s probably going to sleep most of today. But no, no one got badly hurt. And there are five less Turok-Hans to worry about when we attack.”


“So, they’ve increased in numbers every night.” Giles sighed. “I believe you’re right, Buffy. We need to move against them before there are so many above ground that we can’t get to the hellmouth to close it.”


“Exactly,” Buffy said. “If we have to fight our way into the hellmouth, we won’t be able to close it without getting people killed.”  She smiled at Winston. “The good news is, Winston thinks he can shut it without bringing down the whole town.”


“Or even the entire building,” Winston said with a shrug. “If I’m able to do what I think I can, we can fill the hellmouth with so much sunshine, nothing that can be harmed by the sun will survive.”


“Are we sure we can do that, even in the daytime? It’s pretty dark in the sub-basement, isn’t it?” Xander’s question had Spike beaming at him and sending him a thumb’s up.


“Harris has a point,” Spike said. “Just because they weren’t out when we were there yesterday, doesn’t mean they can’t be all over the lower floors of the high school. Even the new basement where all the storage and equipment is doesn’t get any natural sun. In our time, while I was livin’ down there, I was all over that part of the building.”


“Hmmm. I didn’t think of that. They could be waiting for us almost anywhere.” Buffy exhaled with a frown. “All right, then, we need to go in with the girls already powered up. Waiting until we’re already there and fighting them doesn’t make sense. Wish I’d thought of that…. well, doesn’t matter now. This time, we’ll do the spell before we leave the house. We’ll be going in with fully functional, armed slayers.” She smiled at Xander. “Thanks, Xander. You always think of the right thing to do.”


“I’m pretty sure I don’t,” he said with an embarrassed shrug. “But this one seemed kind of obvious.” In spite of his embarrassment, he seemed to relax and bask in the general approval.


“All right. I’m thinking we should go in tomorrow. We just can’t afford to wait any longer. I’ll have to think of some way to get the building cleared out…. just in case.”


“Fire drill,” Xander said firmly. “Just pull the fire alarms and all the kids will run outside.” He paused. “I know where the main switch is located,” he said. “I can throw it from there, in the basement.”


“Sounds like a plan. Now to share the happy news with the about-to-be slayers and Sara. I’ll do that later today. And Wes, I guess. Is he planning to be here, Giles?”


“Actually, he’s on his way. He drove back to LA to pick up his preferred weapons, and expects to be at my place in time for tea.”


“Anybody have anything else?” Buffy looked at Winston.


Winston spoke quickly, “We’ll want to make sure Willow is sufficiently recovered from last night’s work. The spell is going to be quite draining.”


“I thought you were going to help her?”


“I helped her design it, with a little assistance from Max, but she really needs to do it herself. Both because that sort of magic is more her area than mine, and also because she needs to make that sort of contribution for her own self-image. I want her to see herself as the good person and hero that I know she can be.”




Spike decided to walk Xander to his car, allowing Buffy to start walking home herself.


Don’t be long.


Not to worry, love. Be home before you’ve had time to undress… although if you want to be naked when I get there….


Her mental laugh made him smile, leading Xander to ask, “Something funny?”


Spike shook his head. “Nothing you want to know about,” he said, giving Xander’s arm a shove.


“Ah, more x-rated mental telepathy stuff,” he said with a shudder. “You’re right. I don’t want to know.”


A momentary bolt of alarm from Buffy had Spike freezing in place. Buffy? Slayer? What’s wrong? Talk to me!


It’s okay. I was just startled for a second. It was the First… looking like you. I guess it doesn’t know I don’t have to see you to know you’re okay.


And vice-versa. What did it want?


I don’t know. When it could tell I knew it wasn’t you, it swore and disappeared.


“What’s wrong?” Xander frowned at Spike’s expression.


“Seems like the First popped up pretending to be me. Disappeared as soon as it figured out she wasn’t being fooled.”


“Maybe it was hoping to keep you two apart for a while for some reason…. Like that, for instance?” Xander pointed to Robin Wood who had stepped out from behind a van with a cocked crossbow pointed at Spike’s chest.


“Bugger!” Spike hissed. “If he shoots me with that thing, it’s going to be one more secret we’ve let out too soon.”


“I don’t suppose you can teleport?” Xander moved to step in front of Spike, but before he could put himself in danger, he felt the air movement as Spike leapt from the ground to the roof of the car, and from there to land behind Robin. While Robin was still searching for him with his eyes and the crossbow, Spike reached around him and knocked it from his hands. Xander ran to pick it up, and retreated out of Robin’s reach as he disarmed it.


“Almost as good as,” Spike said, responding to Xander’s remark about teleporting. “Had to stop you from doing something stupid, didn’t I?”


“He wasn’t going to shoot me… I don’t think so anyway.” He stared at Robin. “Would you? Have shot me to get at Spike?”


Robin didn’t respond. Having heard Spike’s voice behind him, he whirled around, pulling a stake from his sleeve and stabbing at Spike’s chest. Spike caught the hand holding the stake and began to squeeze until, with a curse, Robin dropped it. Spike immediately let go of him and stepped away after kicking the stake some distance.


“That was really stupid,” he growled. “You were a lot more clever in—” He shook his head. “Guess we know now why your boss was hoping pretending to be me would keep Buffy away long enough for you to make me disappear.” He glared at Robin. “That’s your one pass on account of I killed your mum. Don’t try it again.”  He cocked his head. “Told you before, your mum was a hell of a slayer. And all about the mission. You might want to ask yourself how she’d feel about you letting something like the First Evil talk you into doing its dirty work. I’ll bet she’s spinning in her grave about now.”


With that, he deliberately turned his back and walked over to look at the roof of Xander’s car.


“Looks like I put a little dent in there. Maybe I can push it up from the inside.”


“We’ll worry about it later,” Xander said. “You probably need to get home to Buffy and show her that you’re in one piece. And without having to let on about…. anything the First doesn’t need to know about.”


“Good point. In you go, then.”


Spike waited until Xander drove away, then turned back to Robin Wood, who remained standing where he’d been left, his face a study in confusion.


“You think on what I said about your mum,” Spike said. “And ask yourself if this is what she would be wantin’ you to do.” With that, he left, moving almost as quickly as he had to avoid being shot, and leaving Robin to stare after him.




He tried to what? I’ll kill him!”  Buffy started toward the door, stopping when Spike put his arms around her.


“Didn’t happen, love. He didn’t even come as close to it as he did in our time. And I gave him a little something to think about….”


She stiffened. “How bad did you hurt him?”


“Didn’t lay a fang on him.” He opened their link to show her what happened. Might have made his hand a mite sore, but, that’s all I did. I just reminded him of who and what his mum was and asked how she’d feel about him trying to sabotage your mission.


“Oh. Well, who knows? That might work.” She relaxed against him. “I’m sorry. I know you weren’t going to do anything stupid.”


“Wasn’t,” he said with a low growl. “But Harris almost did. Bloody fool!”




“Tried to step in front of me so the First wouldn’t learn about the Gem and my lack of cooperation when something tries to kill me.”


“Is he okay?”


“He’s fine. I was a lot faster than Wood expected, and he didn’t have time to shoot before I knocked it away. But it was still a bloody stupid thing to do.”


“Xander’s courage is sometimes bigger than his sense of self-preservation. Always has been.”


“I told him it was his job to keep me out of trouble. Not step between me and something that he knew couldn’t kill me anyway,” Spike grumbled into her ear as he nibbled on it.


“He’s your friend now,” Buffy said softly. “And he protects his friends… and the mission.”


“Boy’s come a long way,” Spike agreed gruffly. “From thinkin’ I had no right to exist, never mind be with you, to almost getting himself killed.”


Buffy nodded and turned around to face him, putting her arms around his neck. “Well, I’m glad you’re both all right. I think we should celebrate it.” She grinned up at him. “I told Sara I was coming over late this afternoon to talk to the girls about the plan. But we’ve got time to kill until then.”


“I married a brilliant woman,” he murmured against her mouth. “Absolutely brilliant, you are.”


Buffy deepened the kiss and jumped up to wrap her legs around him so he could carry her into the bedroom.





When Buffy and Spike got to the Guardian/Slayer house, they found Sara and the girls all waiting in the lounge. Although Sara assured Buffy she hadn’t told the girls anything except that they were going to discuss the plan, Buffy could see that some of them were almost quivering with excitement.


She looked around the room, smiling at Wes and Winston, as well as Giles.  Willow was standing with Sara, seemingly completely recovered from her exertions the night before.


“How do you feel? All good again?”


Willow beamed at her. “Of course I am. I was just a little tired last night, but I’m all me again now. Ready whenever you are.”


Buffy shot a glance at Winston, who shrugged an apology. “Fair warning seemed like a good idea,” he said.


“It probably was. Okay then, let’s get this show on the road.”


“Does that mean you’re going to tell us what the plan is?” A girl Buffy barely remembered seeing before stared at her eagerly as the others murmured their agreement. Before Buffy could answer her, Spike touched her shoulder.


No heartbeat. She’s not human, and not even non-human, I’m guessing. Without speaking, he walked slowly toward the smiling girl, whose smile began to fade as he approached her.


“Get away from me!” she squeaked. “You’re a vampire! Somebody stop him. He’s going to hurt me!”


Kennedy made a half-hearted move toward impeding Spike’s progress, but Mel grabbed her arm. “Don’t be stupid,” she hissed.


Spike winked at Mel, then closed the gap between himself and the new girl, who was now looking very worried. With a very unladylike roar, she morphed into a giant mouth before disappearing with a loud pop.


In the uproar that followed, Winston and Willow began a rapid tour of the big building, checking the wards. Sara wore her own expression of grim determination as she walked around the large open room, chanting to herself.  When Willow got back, she looked at Sara who nodded.


“My mistake. I left this room less well protected than the rest of the place because we do have occasional visitors. It didn’t occur to me that the First might be able to get in.”


“Who was that girl?”


“Her name was Lucy. She got here a couple of days ago, then disappeared yesterday. She showed up this morning, somewhat the worse for wear, but said she was fine. She said she was afraid to try to come home at night, so she stayed at a friend’s house and came back this morning.”


“I’m guessing her actual body is out there somewhere,” Spike growled. “The First was able to waltz right in here.”


Buffy sighed. “I should have warned you about that. The same thing happened in our time. It killed a girl and pretended to be her.”


Sara shook her head. “I should have been more suspicious. The wards wouldn’t have allowed a vampire in here, but the ones on this room aren’t complex enough to keep out a fake potential.”  She smiled at Spike. “Good thing we had someone here who can hear heartbeats.”


“It has its uses,” he agreed, staring around the room as if listening to everyone. The girls squirmed uncomfortably, but met his gaze with determination. “I think we’re all right now.”


“All right, ladies. Are you ready to be strong?” Buffy stared around the room, watching their expressions carefully.


“Huh?” “What?” “How…?”


Buffy quickly summarized the spell Willow was going to do, and what it would mean to them. “If anybody doesn’t want to be a slayer, let Sara know before tomorrow. Willow will have another spell to take you out of the mix and Sara will see that you’re safe. We’ll do the activating spell first thing in the morning before we take the battle to the First. Any questions?”


Kennedy eyed Buffy’s scythe. “Do we all get one of those?”


“Nope. Sorry. As far as I know, it’s one of a kind. And it’s mine. And after me, it’s Faith’s… if she shows up here.”


“Well what good are our powers going to do us, if we don’t have the right weapon?”


Before Buffy could respond, Spike stepped up and looked Kennedy in the eye. “She wasn’t using it when she ripped the heart out of the one trying to have you for lunch last night, was she?  And have you forgotten what she told you about the first Turok-Han she dusted? Did it with her bare hands and piece of wire. Didn’t even know yet that there was such a thing as a weapon meant for the Slayer.”


“Just when did she do that? We’re out there all the time with her.” Kennedy cringed a bit from the low growl rumbling in Spike’s throat, but stood her ground.


“And that brings us to something else we don’t want the First to know….” Buffy said, moving up beside Winston and tugging Spike back to her.


“You’re going to tell them now?” Sara asked.


“I think I should. Mel’s already half-way there, I think.” Buffy paused to send Mel a reassuring smile. “And they need to know. If nothing else—” she glared at Kennedy, “—it should stop a few of the questions. And if it doesn’t, well, ‘because I said so’ always worked for my mom.” She gazed around the room, making eye contact with each girl, one at a time, until she’d satisfied herself that they were all paying attention.


“Spike and I came here from the future. A future not very far away now, but a different future than what you’re going to have. Our world was very different from what this one has become. We were sent back here several years ago, to try to prevent the First from becoming so strong. In our timeline, we didn’t know to prepare for it, and it was much more powerful and did a lot more damage before we could drive it back and close the hellmouth.” Ignoring the murmurs and gasps, she pointed to Winston. “And Winston here, comes from a just slightly different future, in which he was sent back to help us out. We do some of the things we do, because we’ve already done them before. Or, because it’s something we didn’t do in our timeline, but know we should have done to prevent some very bad things. The most important of those bad things is the First becoming so powerful that Sp—we had to destroy the town of Sunnydale in order to stop the Turk-Hans from coming out and swarming the whole world.”


She gave a tight smile at their shocked faces. “We don’t want to do that this time. We’re way ahead of things in terms of getting the jump on the First and his army of uglies. And if we can knock them back and close them up without pulling the whole town down, then the future is going to be different, not just for Sunnydale, but for all of us. And better. I hope.”


She stopped talking and just let them chatter among themselves for several minutes.


Willow stepped up beside her. “Well, that should give them something to occupy their minds tonight,” she said with a giggle. “And I think you’re right, Mel was already figuring it out. Look at her.” They watched Mel rolling her eyes and shaking her head at some of the more ridiculous comments, and then quietly responding to the more sensible ones.


“Yep. She reminds me a little bit of Faith, and a little bit of me.” Buffy glanced at Willow. “If something happens to me, give the scythe to Mel. I think she can handle it.”


“Not to Kennedy, huh?” Willow asked, her expression belying her casual tone. Buffy sighed.


“I don’t think so. She’ll probably make a decent slayer, but I think she’d be too busy being bossy to really think things through.”


“Is that the voice of experience speaking?” Willow asked shrewdly.


“Could be.” Buffy smiled at Willow. “I thought Faith was going to cut her off at the knees more than once. It’s a good thing she had… somebody on her side.”


“Somebody. Was that me?”


“It was. But to be honest, I don’t think it was going well by the time I left.”


“Just checking. It’s probably not going anywhere this time either. She’s just too different from Tara. And anyway, it wouldn’t be appropriate for a Guardian to be having a thing with one of the slayers.”


Buffy beamed at Willow. “So, you’re going to do it? That’s awesome. After we send the First back to hell, we’ll all need to sit down and figure out what we’re going to do with this different world.”


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Chapter Thirty




After assuring the girls that she would be back with the scythe early in the morning, and that they should not worry about that night’s patrol, but prepare themselves mentally for the battle, Buffy ran through what she’d planned so far, and why they shouldn’t be too worried.


“We’ve got weapons, we’ve got magical backup, we’ve got experienced fighters, and we’ve got numbers on our side. You’ll be fighting in pairs whenever you can, and with luck, only against Bringers. But, you need to be ready for anything. Once you have your powers, those evil creatures won’t seem so intimidating, and you’ll find yourselves eager to dust them. I’ll be back first thing in the morning. Be ready to be strong.”


Without waiting to answer any questions, Buffy and Spike left with Giles and Wesley, leaving Winston to chat with Willow about the spell. To her surprise, Wes asked Buffy to come with him to his car.  She shrugged and followed him, sending Spike a quick I’ll be right back.


Wes opened the passenger door, and Faith slid out to stand beside the car. Her expression indicated she wasn’t sure what her reception would be, and the tension was apparent in every line of her body. Her wary expression changed to obvious shock when Buffy grabbed her in a hug, saying, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you!”


“Huh?” was the inarticulate response as Faith seemed bewildered by the warm welcome. Buffy let her go and stepped back, still smiling.


Wes stepped into the awkward silence, saying, “Faith said she knew that in your time she came back to help, and she thought she probably should do that.”


“Especially after some random bitch tried to gut me with a knife,” Faith said. “I remembered what you said about the First trying to kill all the slayers, and figured that was my clue to leave where I was and join the fight.”


“Where were you?” Buffy frowned, remembering that in their time, Faith had been in jail.


“Not in the pokey,” Faith said quickly. “And not in trouble, either. Seems like something you did here made those charges go away. It made me re-think a few things…”


“So, you’re here to help?”


“If you’ll have me.”


“Oh, I’ll have you,” Buffy said, flushing when Faith raised a ribald eyebrow and drawled, “Oh really….?” 


“You can help with the new slayers tomorrow, and after we kick First butt, I’ll tell you about what we’re going to do later.”


Faith’s lack of surprise at Buffy’s comment about new slayers, made it obvious that Wes had been filling her in on what was going on. He nodded at Buffy.


“I’ve told her as much as I can about the plan… and what you’ve told me about the future. But I wanted to make sure she was welcome before springing her on everybody.”


Buffy grimaced in agreement. “Yeah. Let’s wait until after they’ve seen her in action before we tell Sara we have another slayer for her to guard.” She turned back to Faith. “You’re welcome to our couch,” she said.


Faith shook her head. “My man, Wesley, got me a hotel room. Just tell me where to be and when to be there. You can make introductions after we send the devil back to hell.”


“Okay. If you’re sure. Willow’s going to power up the girls tomorrow morning at the Guardian house, and then we’ll all meet near the new high school. Xander will go in with us to set off the fire alarm and empty the building. He could probably use a bodyguard…”


“Got it. And then?”


“I’ll going to tell the other slayers about you before we leave the house. As soon as you’ve got Xander safely in and out again, you’ll take one squad of newbies and I’ll take the other. We’re going to make sure the building is clear of Turok-Hans and Bringers. The Bringers, we slay, the others, we either slay or drive back to the Hellmouth.”


“Sounds like a plan. See you tomorrow, then.” Without another word, Faith got back in the car and waited for Wes to drive her to the hotel.




Buffy rejoined Spike and Giles, nodding when Spike asked, “Was that who I thought it was?”


“Yep. It was Faith. I didn’t ask her what she’s been doing, but she said she didn’t break out of jail to get here, and she wants to help. I gave her body-guard Xander duty to start with, and then she can take half of the slayers while I take the other half.”


“Do you trust her?” Giles asked, his own views strongly influenced by the things Faith had done in this time.


“I think so. She is a slayer. And in our time, she came back to help. As far as I know, with me not there, I’d guess she’s in charge of slayer training in our time.  Or would be, if that time line still existed….” Buffy stared back and forth between Spike and Giles, her eyes wide.  “Wow. I just realized. It doesn’t exist any more, does it? I mean, we’re here, and so is Winston, but the world we left doesn’t exist yet. And when we get there, it’s going to be way different.”


“That was the goal, was it not?” Giles said with a wry smile.


“Yes. Yes, it was. But now we’ve got to figure out what to do all over again.”


“I suggest we worry about sending the First back to hell before you start hyperventilating over what comes after that. We’ll figure it out, Slayer.”


Giles nodded his agreement with Spike’s words.


“Indeed. The First Evil must be our priority for now. We’ll deal with what comes after later.”


“You’re right. I’m worrying about stuff I don’t need to worry about yet. All I need to worry about right now, is taking a bunch of brand new slayers into the mouth of hell and getting them all back out again. Easy peasy.”


“Piece of cake,” Spike agreed. “See you in the morning, Rupert. Buffy needs her sleep, and I’m taking her home now.”





“Are you really taking me home to sleep?” Buffy asked as they walked past Shady Pines Cemetery.


“Well, I’m takin’ you home to bed,” he said, nudging her arm. “Sleep could happen…. eventually.”  He stopped and snarled. “Looks like we’re goin’ to have to earn that rest,” he went on, stepping slightly to the left and bringing out his sword. Buffy gave her own annoyed growl as she brought the scythe where she could use it quickly.


They were facing two Turak-Hans, backed up by Bringers carrying nets.


What do you think?


To be honest, love, this might be one of those discretion-is-the-better-part-of-valor situations.




Run like hell and live to fight another day.


The mental exchange hadn’t taken much time at all, and without further conversation, they spilt up and bolted from the area, using their mental link to keep each other aware of what was happening.


I’m home. Where are you? Buffy’s thoughts were tinged with anxiety as she’d been expecting Spike to get there first.


Bit busy. They all took off after me for some reason. I’m bringin’ ‘em to you. Be ready!


Buffy waited anxiously for some sign of Spike, but when he didn’t appear soon enough to suit her, she left the safety of Max’s property and went down the street, staring in both directions. Spike hadn’t sent any more coherent thoughts, but he did send a brief image of a building one block over. She sprinted in that direction, to find him slashing at the net over him and snarling at the remaining Turok-Han that was circling him warily. Buffy didn’t even slow down, but ran into the old vampire stake end first. She didn’t wait to see the dust fall, just barreled into the Bringer closest to her and broke its grip on the net.


Spike immediately took advantage of the unsecured corner to roll out from under the net and to his feet. The Bringers, now facing both Buffy and Spike, and without their bodyguards, all turned to flee, but they didn’t get very far. A furious Spike, and an even more angry Buffy were on them so quickly, they were down to only two before they even had a chance to fight back. Which did those two no good, as they were quickly dispatched, Buffy using the scythe, and Spike using his bare hands to wrench the head off the last one.


“Let’s get home,” Buffy said. “Just in case….”


They jogged toward their apartment building, stopping when they were safely on the small patch of grass in front. They smiled at Max, who was coming down the steps with a frown on his face.


“Are you all right?” he asked looking back and forth between them.


“We are now,” Spike admitted. “Wasn’t going well there for a bit, but my wife came to the rescue and sorted them out.” He beamed at Buffy.


“It looked like they were trying to capture Spike, like they did in our time, but I don’t know why. The seal is already open, so they don’t need him for that.” She looked at Spike and added,  “Unless the First somehow found out about what you did in our time, and figured you were the one he had to get rid of.”


“Don’t know how he’d do that,” Spike said. “Nobody we know would tell him about it.”


“Not on purpose, of course not. But accidentally? Especially if he got to one of the girls….no, they’re all safe with Sara.”


“Worry about it later, love. As long as that’s all he knows, then he won’t be expecting what shows up tomorrow.”


“If he knows about you, he may know more about Winston,” Max said. “Not that I expect it will help him, but if he targeted you….”


Buffy already had her phone out, dialing Winston’s number. He answered on the first ring, saying, “I think I’ve got it, but feel free…” The call ended abruptly and Buffy grabbed Spike’s hand.


“They’re after him too. Let’s go!”


“Be careful,” Max said. “If he has to throw up shields, they may prevent you from getting close enough to help. Please call if you think you will need me.”


Without acknowledging Max with anything but a wave as they took off down the street in the direction of the Guardian house, Spike and Buffy ran as fast as they could, only to arrive on the scene to find Winston surrounded by piles of ash and a few still-burning corpses. He glanced at them, his eyes hooded and his face blank. Then he visibly shook himself and relaxed his face and body.


“You missed all the excitement,” he said, gesturing around him. “It was good practice for tomorrow.”


“We had our own excitement,” Buffy said. “But it’s good to know you didn’t need us.”


“To be honest, I wasn’t sure for a while there,” Winston said with a grimace. “I knew I could destroy them, but I didn’t want to damage anything… or anyone… else. It was trickier than I expected.”


“Not used to being so careful, are you?” Spike said with a grin. “I’m sure the surrounding homeowners appreciate your restraint.”


“Max warned us to be careful,” Buffy said. “I guess he knew you might….”


Winston nodded and looked mildly abashed. “I should call him, I guess. Let him know we’re all okay, and I didn’t accidentally fry you.”


“You should. I think he was worried… about all of us.”


“I’m sure he was.”  Winston dialed and waited. “We’re fine, you old worry wart. We’ve got this.”  He paused and grinned. “They’re here. But I didn’t leave them much to do. No. Nothing is damaged. I did. Yes. You should apologize.” He sighed. “Yes, Master Maximillian. Yes, I will. Thank you.”


Winston put away his phone and shook his head. “You’d think I was some twenty-year-old novice,” he grumbled, then noticed their curious faces. “It’s fine. He’s happy we’re all okay, and he suggests we get to our own safe places as soon as we can.”


“We were in our safe place,” Spike said with a smirk. “Until we thought we might need to rescue you.”


Winston rolled his eyes, but said, “Thank you for that. It wasn’t necessary, but it’s good to know you had my back.”


“Always,” Spike said.


As they began walking back toward where they could see Winston’s car, he asked, “So what kind of excitement did you have?”


Buffy filled him in, adding that since they were clearly targeting Spike, the First must have somehow learned that he might be the greater danger.


“Of course, that’s not true now, because he doesn’t have that amulet to wear, and I wouldn’t let him do it anyway.”


“Yes, you would, love,” Spike said, pulling her against his side. “You’ll always do what you need to do to save the world. And I wouldn’t have you any other way.”


Winston frowned at them. “I wonder if he somehow heard you yesterday?”


“Heard me what?”


“Talking to Joyce about what happened in your time. She said you stopped by the gallery.”


“I didn’t see Joyce yesterday….” Spike said slowly. Sudden understanding dawned on all three of them.  “Bloody, buggering, fuck!” Spike snarled. “That bastard went to her as me.”


“I wonder what else she told him?” Buffy was near tears as she realized what had happened, and that her mother was going to be devastated.


“We need to find out,” Winston said, his own unhappiness clear. “I hate for her to know she may have caused a problem, but we need to know what she said.”


Buffy was already on the phone. “Mom? Are you still up? Okay, good. We’re coming over to talk to you—Spike, Winston, and me. Unless you see all three of us together, don’t talk to anybody, okay? Yeah, I’ll explain later. We’re on our way.”


“She’s gonna figure it out, love,” Spike said, as they got into Winston’s car. “Joyce isn’t dumb. By the time we get there, she’ll already have figured out what probably happened.”


Buffy gave a low moan, but was otherwise silent.




Spike was right. As they walked onto the porch, Joyce threw open the door and, in near hysterics, she asked, “What did I do?” She turned an anguished look on Spike. “I thought it was you!”


“We know that, Mom,” Buffy soothed. “We’ve both been there. It’s hard to tell when it’s not the person you think it is.” Buffy hugged her mother tightly, walking her back into the house. “We just need to know what you talked about, so we don’t get any surprises.”


Joyce sat down on the couch, wringing her hands and still visibly upset. With Buffy on one side, and Winston on the other, she took some deep breaths until she could talk.


“I don’t remember exactly,” she started. She looked up at Spike, standing in front of them.  “You—it—talked about what you could do to help Buffy, and I guess I just said something about using your soul to close the hellmouth, like you did before. We didn’t really talk for very long. After I said that, you—it—said it had to go, and it left.”


“Okay, so you just said “like you did before”. You didn’t actually say anything about the future? Or about me, or the other slayers?”


Joyce shook her head. “No, it didn’t ask about the other girls, so I didn’t mention them. The only thing we talked about was how much help Spike could be to you.” She glanced back at Spike. “I mean, I thought I was talking to you, so it’s not like I thought I needed to tell you why you can walk in the sun or anything like that. I just thought you were worried about not having an amulet this time, and I…. I gave away the whole plan, didn’t I?”


She started wringing her hands again, only stopping when Winston took them in both of his and began whispering to her. She stopped fretting, but glared at him.


“Don’t try to magic this away,” she said. “I screwed up. I have a right to be upset with myself.”


“You do,” Winston soothed. “You let out some secrets we’d rather the First didn’t have. But there’s no harm done. They came after Spike tonight, but he got away. And what you think you told him isn’t any part of what’s going to occur now. And they came after me, just because when we had to go rescue Angel, it saw a bit of what I can do.  It doesn’t know about the small army of slayers going in with Buffy tomorrow. In fact, as far as we know, it doesn’t even know that we’re planning our attack then. All it knows for sure, is that somehow Spike used his soul to close a hellmouth. That’s all.”


“The worst that could happen now is that it figures out we’re from the future. And I don’t think that’s going to help it much at this point. Knowing we survived it in our time, just means it can’t be so sure it’s going to do what it thinks it can.” Buffy added her own soothing words. “If it knew about us a few months ago, that might have caused more trouble, but all it does now is give it something to worry about.”


Buffy squeezed her mom again. “But just in case, you need to be someplace safer tonight. Dawn’s at the Guardian House, but you need to be someplace we can protect you. I guess we can—”


Winston interrupted. “She can come home with me. When we meet at Sara’s tomorrow, I’ll bring her with me to stay there while we shut this thing down.”


Joyce blushed, but without meeting Buffy’s eyes, she nodded. “That sounds good. Just let me grab a few things, and I’ll be ready.”


Spike was smirking at Buffy’s expression, but sent her a quick, Easy there, love. Your mum’s entitled to a life, and it seems like she has one. Just be happy for her.


Buffy nodded, remembering that in her own time, aside from one disastrous relationship years ago, her mother’d had time for just one date, before the aneurysm that took her life prevented her from having another.


They saw Joyce and Winston out to his car, watched it drive away, then turned toward home.




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Chapter Thirty-One


The walk home was without incident, and they were soon back in their own apartment. Spike went directly to the fridge and took out a carton of blood. Buffy frowned, as they’d eaten before they went out.


“What’s up?”


“Nothing, love. It’s just that I burned up a lot of energy tonight and I don’t want to go into battle not being up to snuff. It’s just insurance.”


“I never thought of that. I wonder if the Gem pulls energy from your body when it heals you so fast?”


He shrugged. “Prob’ly does. A lot of it is magic, but sometimes magic needs something to work with. Seems like I sometimes need to eat more often than I did before I had it, but it’s been so long now I can’t be sure. Might just be my imagination…” He took his blood from the microwave and chugged it down.  “Might not,” he said, as Buffy stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Either way. I’m good to go, now.”


“Doesn’t this seem like something you might have mentioned before… like, oh, I dunno, four years ago?”


“Why?” He seemed genuinely perplexed. “The important thing is that it keeps me safe. If I have to eat a bit more often, seems like a good trade-off to me.”


“It just seems like something I should have known,” she muttered. “A good wife would have noticed that before now.”


“You are a good wife, sweetheart. The best wife I ever had. And if you give me a moment to rinse the blood out of my mouth, I’ll be happy to express my appreciation for you as often as I need to until you believe me.”


Buffy laughed at him, even as he went to the sink and swished a handful of water around in his mouth.


“I thought the idea was to come home to rest up for tomorrow….”


“You can be lying down restin’ while I appreciate you,” he said, putting his arms around her and nuzzling her neck. “In fact, that’s probably exactly what you should be doing. Starting now.”


He picked her up, smiling when she automatically put her legs around his waist, and carried her into the bedroom. He leaned over the bed and encouraged her to drop her legs. When she was lying there, smiling at him, he began to remove her clothes, beginning with her boots and socks. He worked his way up her body, tugging off her jeans and underwear, but only pausing to drop a quick kiss on the exposed flesh before continuing his journey, pulling up her shirt as he did so. When he had her completely naked, he stood at the foot of bed, beaming.


“There she is,” he said, his expression cocky, but his voice full of wonder and affection. “My perfect wife, my mate, my love.”


“I’m down here, naked, and you’re up there, still dressed,” she said with a small pout. “What’s wrong with this picture?”


“Nothing from my point of view,” he leered, even as he started shedding his own clothes. He kept his gaze on her until he had dropped all his clothing on the floor with hers. “It’s a perfect picture,” he insisted, as he crawled up the bed until he was hovering over her, their bodies just barely touching.


“I love you, Mrs. Pratt,” he whispered. “More than you can imagine.”


“I love you too, Mr. Pratt. I’m glad we got this chance for me to show you I do.”


“Do you think this means we can stop worryin’ about us in the future?”


Buffy frowned a little and nudged him with her nose. “I stopped worrying about that years ago,” she said. “Don’t tell me you still aren’t sure?”


“I’m sure about me. I knew when we first started talking about it that I would still have loved you, even if we didn’t remember being us.  It was you, wasn’t sure we’d still be us.”


“But we are us,” she breathed against his neck, pulling the skin into her mouth to suck on it.


“We always will be.” He growled at the sensations she was causing, and when her legs went around his waist again, he groaned and slid into her.  “Had planned to spend some time appreciating you,” he murmured. “But this works too.”


Buffy began to move in rhythm with his slow thrusts, sighing, “I’m feeling pretty appreciated right now.”


“That’s the plan….”




Although they’d spent more time than they’d expected appreciating each other during the night, Buffy still woke up early the next morning. She was too wound up about the day’s events to sleep in. She let Spike stay in bed with a pillow over his head while she showered and got dressed for the coming battle. In spite of having the scythe and intending to use it, she also spent some time lining up other weapons she might want to have with her. A sharp hunting knife, several stakes, and newly sharpened sword all went onto the chair the scythe was leaning against. She frowned, then began an additional pile of weapons for Spike to take with him.


She ate some cereal—only enough to have fuel in her body, not enough to be able to cause any problems later—then decided it was time for Spike to be up. But before she could do anything about it, she heard him muttering to himself about “ungodly hour for a vampire” and “the things I do for her…”.


He stumbled to the kitchen, naked, his hair still mussed. She grinned as he grabbed his blood and put it in the microwave before he turned to greet her.


“Mornin’, Slayer.”


“Good morning,” she said, giving him a quick kiss and an even quicker grope. “Are you hungry again?”


“Somebody made me expend a lot of energy last night,” he said, grabbing her hand and putting it back on his cock. “Look at this poor thing… all worn out and—” He had to stop, both because he couldn’t maintain his grumpiness with Buffy’s hand stroking him, and because his cock responded immediately and made a liar out of him. Her giggle made him smile in spite of himself.


“Don’t be starting something you don’t plan to finish,” he said, pulling her closer. In spite of his words, he used his free hand to reach for the warmed blood in the microwave, and she laughed and moved away.


“Just hold that thought until we’ve kicked evil ass.”


As he tipped up his mug and guzzled the blood, rather than sipping it like coffee as he normally would have, she frowned, while he put the empty cup in the sink.


“Should we not have done that last night? Are you going to be too—”


“Bite your tongue, woman! Not too anything. Just wanted to get that out of the way so I can get myself ready to go.”


“Okay, well get dressed then. I want to get to Sara’s in time to answer any questions the potentials might have, and also give the ones who don’t want to fight a chance to talk to Willow about the other spell.”


“I’ll just get my kit on and we can head over there.” He gestured at the piles of weapons on the chairs. “Do we need to take the car?”


“Nah. Whatever we can’t carry can stay here. I just wanted to give you some choices.”


“My first choice is always with me,”  he said, going into game face briefly.


“Yeah, yeah, you’re all ‘I’ve always got my weapons’ guy. But you’re going to have some extra help whether you want it or not.”


“Yes’m, General Buffy, sir,” he said as he went into the bedroom, his laughter floating behind him.




By the time they’d sorted out which weapons to take, and hidden them around their bodies well enough for the walk to the Guardian house, their short trip got them there just around the time Buffy had told Sara to expect them. So, it was no surprise to find the girls all milling around the big common area. Most of them had already chosen weapons from the armory and were comparing notes. Buffy went to talk to Sara and Willow, leaving Spike to observe how the potential slayers interacted and how many seemed eager to get their full powers.


In addition to noting how well Mel did reassuring some of the less eager ones, and also how Kennedy seemed to mistake bossiness for leadership, he nodded his head as if he’d suspected it all along. He wasn’t at all surprised to see Rosita off by herself, clearly doing her best to appear as eager as the others, and just as clearly not eager at all. As casually as he could, he wended his way between the armed potential slayers, and leaned against the wall near Rosita.


“Did you talk to Sara, yet?” he asked, smiling when she flinched and gave him a guilty shrug, shaking her head “no”.


“You should to that,” he said, carefully keeping any trace of disapproval from his voice. “Once all these girls get powered up, she’s going to need a lot more help than just Willow. She’d be happy to have you joining her as a Guardian. Much happier than she would be to send you into a fight you don’t want to have, and that might end up with you or someone else getting killed.”


She flinched again, and he rested his hand on her shoulder. “Nobody’s going to think less of you,” he growled. “And if anyone gives you a hard time about it, you let me know and I’ll sort ‘em out.”


She glanced up at him. “But, they’ll be slayers. Won’t you… I mean, I know you’re old, but…”


“Appreciate the concern, luv, but I’m not worried about a newbie slayer. For more reasons than you need to know.  Just go have your talk with Sara and Willow before Buffy starts her meeting.”


With a resigned sigh, Rosita nodded, then stood up and walked over to where Buffy, Sara, and Willow were still talking.


Heading your way, love. She needs a bit of encouragement to do what she needs to do.


Got it.


Buffy whispered to Sara, who greeted Rosita with a smile and an arm around her shoulders.


Spike grinned to himself, knowing Sara would work her own version of magic on the girl. He went back to studying the other potentials, but didn’t notice anyone else not fully participating in the excitement.




The arrival of Winston and Joyce, who refused to meet Buffy’s eyes and looked away quickly when Spike grinned at her, gave everyone a chance to settle down and prepare for what would be next. Sara took Joyce to the kitchen for coffee, and left her there to chat with Rosita and Dawn, while she went back to join Willow and Buffy. Winston and Spike were off to the side, ready to answer questions if needed, but clearly leaving the proceedings to the women in charge.


Buffy stared around the room at the girls who were about to have their lives changed completely. Almost all of them, even those who hadn’t had watchers in their lives and were not as skilled as those who had, looked ready for what was going to happen to them. She nodded and waited for them to stop talking among themselves.


“All right, Slayers,” she started. “Let’s get this show on the road. Here’s what’s going to happen….”


She quickly, but thoroughly, ran through the plan for the attack, and who would be responsible for what. There was a gasp when she told them that there was another slayer in town, one almost as old as her, and that she would be joining them at the high school. 


“Faith will be guarding Xander at first, but as soon as he’s pulled the alarm and emptied out the building, she’ll join us and be in charge of half of you. She’s an experienced slayer, and you should follow her directions as much as you can. We’ll worry about introductions later.” She paused, then reminded them, “The First can look like anybody who is, or has been, dead. Please remember that. If Spike or I suddenly appear in front of you, telling you to leave or do anything else that doesn’t make sense, take a swing at us. Chances are, it’s the First and it will disappear just like it did the other night.”


She glanced at Spike, then back at the girls. “When we first go in, our job is going to be to make sure the school is empty of civilians, and that we’ve cleared it of any lurking Turok-Hans or Bringers. You’ll be spreading out in pairs to be sure we’ve covered the whole building and it’s safe for others to come in. Giles and Wes will be in charge of a small group intercepting Bringers, because they can come from anywhere, and the sun doesn’t necessarily keep them from being out and about. The two experienced watchers can hold their own, so I’ll probably only leave one pair of slayers with them, but if you have a problems or questions, they’re the ones to ask.


“Once the building above ground is clear and we’ve moved on to the basement and secured it, we’ll move to the sub basement, which is probably where we’ll find the most Turok-Hans. With luck, there won’t be many out this early, but we don’t know that. I’m sure the First is on guard now, even if it doesn’t know we’re planning to hit it today.”


She paused again, then said, “At that point, our main goal is to see that Winston can get to the hellmouth without having to waste magical energy fighting his way to it. That will be our job. Spike and me,” she said, pointing to him. “We’ll be clearing the way in front of him. Faith, and… Mel—” She waited for Mel to get over her surprise and nod. “—will be in charge of the two groups that are doing clean up of the area around the hellmouth. Your job will be to take out any Turok-Hans or Bringers that might be trying to get at us from behind. Are there any questions?”


Kennedy’s hand shot up. “Who is this ‘Faith’ person, and why are she and Mel in charge?” Unspoken was the obvious “Why am I not in charge?”


Buffy bit back the comment she wanted to make, settling for saying, “Like I said, Faith is an experienced slayer. In our time, she and I were in charge of training all the new slayers. She also was there helping when we took the First down that time. And Mel has impressed me—us—with her leadership abilities.” She looked around the room. “I didn’t have a chance to stay in my own time for very long after we closed the hellmouth, so I don’t know everything happened there later, but I was there long enough to learn that just giving a girl super powers doesn’t automatically make her a good slayer. There’s a lot more to it. I’m having to rely on my instincts…and on Spike.”


She narrowed her eyes at the girls. “For those of you who might not know, he’s pretty famous for having killed at least two slayers. And since in our time, he had a chance to help me train potentials as well as fight beside them in the hellmouth, he’s a pretty good judge of who will and who won’t be a good one.” She hastened to add, “I’m not saying any of you will be bad slayers. Being a slayer is a pretty special job, and all potentials are chosen for their… potential. But we’re still human, and some of us learn faster than others. And some just….”


Spike broke in. “What Buffy is trying so hard not to say, is that there isn’t going to be a one of you that can or will match her. But it doesn’t mean you won’t be brilliant at being a slayer. Or that the average vampire shouldn’t be afraid to be in the same city as you.”


“Are you afraid of us?” Kennedy asked, less belligerently than he might have expected. He just gave her a toothy grin.


“Not the average vamp, am I?”


“That’s enough,” Buffy interrupted. “Are there any other questions? Or are we ready to do this?”


There were murmurs of assent and nodding heads all around the room.


“Alright then,” Buffy handed the scythe to Willow. “Do your thing, magic woman.”


Willow nodded and took the weapon with her as she settled herself into a small study area adjacent to the main room. She sat down with the scythe in her lap, and began the spell.


While Winston watched Willow, clearly pleased with the confidence she’d shown by not looking at him when she began, Buffy and Spike (and Sara) watched the potentials absorbing their new powers. Seeing them, one by one, sit up straighter and glow with power and confidence was fun to watch. In her time, Buffy had been too busy fighting to watch the spell take effect. She beamed at her new ‘army’, even as Spike cringed away from the power in front of him.


“A bit much, isn’t it?” Winston murmured.


“You feel it?”


“Can’t not feel it. Are you all right?”


“I will be. Was a bit too busy back in the day to worry about how scary it was to be surrounded by slayers. May take some getting’ used to.”


“Good thing they’re going to have plenty of other evil things to take out their new need to slay things on, isn’t it?” Winston said with a grin.


Spike grinned back. “I do seem to find myself hopin’ for more evil in need of slayin’ than I did a few minutes ago.”


They stared at the new slayers, now flexing and stretching, testing their new strength and abilities. Willow had come back and returned the scythe to Buffy. Her hair was still white from the effects of the spell, but she was beaming and assured Sara and Buffy that she was fine. Sara murmured to her that Rosita was in the kitchen, and Willow nodded. As she turned to go offer Rosita the de-slayer spell, she whispered, “Good luck” to Buffy.


“We’ve got this,” Buffy said. She raised her voice to get the new slayers’ attention. “Let’s go, Slayers. We’ve got evil butt to kick.”


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Chapter Thirty-two





Buffy watched as Winston put a little glamour on them, so that the new slayers wouldn’t be seen carrying weapons as they marched after her through Sunnydale in the middle of the day.


“I’ll pick up Giles and meet you at the back of the school,” he said when they’d been sufficiently disguised as a group of visiting teenagers. Buffy rolled her eyes at his description.


“Yeah, because making a class trip to the hellmouth is on every school’s list of important experiences,” she said with laugh.


He left with a wave, arriving at the agreed-upon staging area in the rear of the school just as Wesley drove up with Faith. Buffy walked to the car to make introductions and talk about the plan.


She’d worried briefly about Faith and Winston’s ability to work together, but as it turned out, the only awkwardness was between Faith and Giles. He had only his memories of what she’d been like years before to go on, in spite of Buffy having filled him in as to how differently it had gone in her time, and he was visibly unsure of how to respond to seeing Faith again.


When Giles fumbled for words as he tried to thank her for coming, Faith grinned and said, “Don’t hurt yourself there, old man,” Which did nothing to change his opinion of her, and he moved as far away as he could get without looking foolish. Buffy rolled her eyes at both of them, and stepped on Spike’s foot when he couldn’t hide a snicker.


“Can we all behave like grown-ups for at least for now?” Buffy asked in exasperation. Without waiting for a response, she quickly filled Faith in on the plan. She’d just finished when Xander arrived.


“So, you’re my bodyguard?” he said, before an image of the two of them from years ago made him want to bite his tongue.


Faith looked him up and down, smiling when he blushed. “Looks like,” she said. “Seems there’s a little more body to guard than there was back when.”


“I was a boy then. I’m not a boy anymore.” He met her eyes with his own challenging stare, neither of them aware of the amused onlookers.


“I can see that,” she said, licking her lips lasciviously.


Bloody hell! Where did all that come from?


I think they had a very short thing back in the day. It didn’t go well for Xander. She might have tried to kill him or something.


Looks like he’s up for trying again. This could be fun to watch.


Buffy just shook her head at him and waved the slayers over to meet Faith. She’d already split them into two squads, one for Faith and one to be taken over by Mel as soon as Buffy and Spike were needed to get Winston to the hellmouth. So, the introductions were very short, just a “This is Faith. She’s been a slayer for five years. She’s going to take squad A when she’s finished getting Xander in and out. You’ll have plenty of time to get to know her later. All you need to know right now is, she knows more than you do, so listen to her.”  She paused. “Except for Abby and Amanda. They go to school here, so they might be the experts on how to get around.”


Spike shot Faith a quick look to see how she was reacting to Buffy’s speech but she kept her face expressionless. If he hadn’t heard her heart rate go up, he would never have known she had any reaction at all. She took a quick glance at the two girls Buffy had pointed out and smiled briefly.


“Are we all ready?” Xander was moving from foot to foot, clearly anxious to do his part. He had a crossbow and a sword, causing Faith to lift an eyebrow.


“Isn’t keeping you in one piece my job?” she asked with a smirk.


“It is. And I’m counting on you to do it,” he said. “I just like to be prepared…”


“If you’re ready, go on ahead,” Buffy said. “As soon as that alarm goes off and the kids start leaving, the First is gonna know something’s up, so we need to be in position and ready to go in.”


Xander nodded and headed for the building. “What if the door’s locked?”


“Not a problem,” Faith said, holding up one boot-clad foot.


Buffy looked at Winston, who nodded. “I’ll give her one shot at it first,” he said quietly. “Then it’s going to be open.”


Faith’s foot seemed to be more than adequate, and she and Xander quickly disappeared into the basement of the school. Knowing the students would be running out only the front and side doors, Buffy moved her girls into position, ready to go in as soon as it was clear enough. Spike stepped up beside her, saying, “Why don’t I follow them, just in case? Can start checking it’s clear as soon as they’re on the way out.”


“Okay. Just be careful. We don’t know what Wood might do if he sees you prowling around his building.”


“Got it, love. Get your troops ready to go.” He entered the building, and Buffy turned to the new slayers, reminding them to go in pairs and to clear all the classroom floors before they started on the basement.




Xander and Faith made it to the control box without incident, but before he could pull the switch, a Bringer appeared, wielding a big knife.


“All yours,” Xander said as he opened the box.


Anticipating a normal human girl, the Bringer swung the knife at Faith, only to find her no longer there, but gripping his arm and twisting it behind his back.


“You have to behead them to kill them,” Xander said calmly, as if they discussed how to dispatch supernatural creatures every day. 


Faith nodded, shoved the Bringer off balance and pulled out her sword with one motion. She removed its head quickly and shuddered.


“Man, that’s one fugly bad guy.”


“Just wait till you meet his friends,” Xander said as he pulled the switch and alarms and bells began ringing all over the building. “Oh look, here comes one now.” He pulled out his own sword and put his back against the wall. Faith squared off against the snarling Turok-Han that had appeared behind her.


“Holy shit,” she gasped. “Wes wasn’t lyin’ when he said it was mean and ugly.”


“And fast and strong. And stakes kinda bounce off,” Xander offered helpfully.


“Huh.” Faith tried to stab the Turok-Han, but it laughed off the wound in its side and knocked her to the ground. Only her slayer strength and speed allowed her to kick it off and roll out of reach, only to find it already on her again. Giving a credible growl of her own, she tried to pin its arms, but quickly realized that it was too strong.


“Little help?” she grunted, surprised when instead of Xander, Spike pulled the snarling vampire off her and shoved it away.


“Take its head off,” he said, blocking the Turok-Han’s exit from the room. Faith obeyed immediately, whacking through its neck with one swipe of her sword. “Don’t even try to do anything else. Unless you can’t reach it, then start taking off body parts if you need to. That works for me.”


Faith shook her head. “Sounds like we needed to bring a guillotine with us,” she growled. “All these things need their heads removed.” She glanced at Spike. “How does Buffy handle them?”


Spike smiled. “The first one she ever fought, in our time, she took its head off with a piece of wire. She doesn’t recommend it, though. The first couple of times she fought it, she came out of it pretty battered.”


“But alive.”


He nodded. “But alive. Not sure how she survived, but she did, and she got smarter and figured out a way to kill it.” He shrugged. “Now she’s got the scythe, so it’s a lot easier.”


“That’s that fancy axe she doesn’t let go of?”


He nodded. “That’s the one. She didn’t get that in our time until almost the last minute, but once she had it, it changed everything.” He looked at her calmly. “Something happens to her, it’s yours,” he said. “Something happens to you, she wants it to go to Mel.”


“Who’s Mel?”


“You’ll meet her later. She’s going to have Buffy’s squad when we go in with Winston. Just got her powers, but she’s got a good head on her shoulders and she’ll make a decent head slayer.” He stopped and cocked his head, listening. “They’re comin’ in. Get Harris out of here and then find Buffy. She’ll tell you what to do next.”


“Where are you going?”


“To clear out the room Winston needs to use.” He whirled and disappeared in the direction of the stairs.


“Okay. Let’s get you out of here.” Faith pushed Xander in the direction of the door through which they’d entered, passing groups of slayers splitting off into pairs as she did so.


She left him outside to join Giles and Wesley and assist them in guarding against Bringers, then returned to the building to find her squad of slayers.




Spike paid no attention to the other slayers spreading out around the building. His ears told him that they were encountering resistance of some sort from time to time, but it didn’t sound as if anyone was being hurt badly. He made his way to the principal’s office and stepped in, snarling at the startled secretary to “get the bloody hell out of this building!” as he entered. Without checking with her boss, she bolted out the door and to the nearest exit.


Spike continued on into Robin’s office, halting when he saw him holding a crossbow.


“You need to get out of here,” Spike said, as calmly as if there wasn’t a weapon dangling from the hand of the man who hated him. “I wasn’t kidding the other day when I told you to get whatever you cared about out of this room.”


Robin didn’t respond to his words, just saying, “I’ve been thinking about what you said about my mother.”


Spike lifted an eyebrow. “And….”


Robin raised the crossbow, but swung it slightly to the right, putting a bolt through the chest of a Turok-Han that had been reaching for Spike, who spun around and removed its head while it was still snarling at the bolt.


“And I decided you were right,” Robin said, rearming his weapon. “She wouldn’t have been very proud of me for doing the First’s work for him.”


“Good for you,” Spike said. “Now get outside. If you want to help, find the watchers; if you don’t, just make sure nobody goes back into the building until somebody tells you it’s safe.”


Without another word, Spike turned and went to find Buffy.


Where are you?


Just checking the last classrooms on the main floor. Ready to start clearing the basement and moving toward the hellmouth.


On my way.


He found her quickly and glanced around at the dusty basement.


“I take they aren’t all hiding down in the hellmouth?” he said wryly.


“Nope. But the girls are getting pretty good at this working together stuff. One squad will spread out on this level watching our backs, and the other will follow us into the sub-basement. Winston’s ready anytime we are.”


“No time like the present. Let’s go get our wizard.”


They glanced out the door to find Winston waiting impatiently. Behind him, Giles, Wes, and Xander had formed an arc to prevent anything from sneaking up on them. Blood on Wes’s sword indicated it had seen some action.


Spike looked at Winston with an amused question, but didn’t say anything when Winston shook his head. A few piles of ashes around the door indicated he’d also had something to do.


Once they’d entered the building, Winston breathed a sigh of relief.


“I appreciate all the extra concern,” he murmured. “But I am perfectly capable of setting fires from time to time without wearing myself out. They were getting on my nerves.”


Spike laughed. “No worries, mate. We’ll let you set fire to as many ugly buggers as you want to.”


“Is the pathway clear?” Winston asked, all business now that his time was near.


“Yeah. I think the good principal is having second thoughts about how his mum would feel about him working for the wrong side. Once he gets his kids away from here, I wouldn’t be surprised to find him out there with the other brave, but foolish, humans watching our backs.”


“Let’s do this then.” Winston took the by-now familiar wide hallway to the sub-basement and the hellmouth.


Buffy’s squad of slayers, led by Mel, spread out behind them, still checking for lurking Turok-Hans or Bringers. The occasional shout of triumph made it clear they were still finding them. As they started down the steps, Buffy signaled for Mel to follow them.


“Faith’s squad is going to keep the basement clear. And Giles and Wes are guarding the door. You and your girls need to stay behind us and make sure nothing gets by us or escapes.”


“Escapes?” Mel looked incredulous as so far everything they’d faced had been trying to kill them.


“Sooner or later—probably sooner—the First is going to figure out what we’re doing, and it’ll try to get its minions to move away from the hellmouth. We want to shove them all in there with it.”


“So, don’t slay them?” Mel seemed disappointed and Spike laughed.


“Spoken like a true slayer,” he said. “Slay away, luv, just don’t worry if they retreat from you in this direction. It’s where we want them to go.”


“Got it. Kill ‘em or drive them into the hellmouth.”






Winston neared the bottom of the steps and stopped. Clustered around the bottom were enough Turok-Hans to give even him pause.


“I hope no one minds if I thin the ranks a bit before we step in,” he said. Without waiting for a reply, he pointed at the snarling group and set them on fire. All of them. When there was nothing at the bottom of the steps but piles of ash, he smiled. “That’s better.”


He stepped into the large area, Buffy on one side and Spike on the other. The slayer squad behind them spread out in a line to prevent anything from getting up the stairs.


As they advanced toward the hellmouth, the flames Winston continued to throw out ahead of them drove the waiting Turok-Hans back. They retreated to the safety of the hellmouth, in spite of the exhortations to “Get them!” coming from an open, roaring maw hovering over the big hole in the floor. They continued to fall back, diving into the hellmouth as soon as they were close enough. The occasional brave one would try to sneak past the flames and Winston’s lethal bodyguards to get behind him, only to find himself facing sword-wielding slayers arguing over who was going to kill him.


Once there were no more Turok-Hans visible, Winston nodded to Spike and Buffy. “I’m going to be busy now.”


“Got your back,” Spike said.

“Go for it,” Buffy added. They each faced away from Winston, watching carefully for any sign of danger to him.


For his part, Winston looked from the hellmouth to the ceiling and pointed at a spot right over it. The slayers in the school basement had been warned to avoid that area, so there were no issues with them, just surprised shouts as the floor disappeared and the shaft of fire went up and through that ceiling and into Robin Wood’s office. His desk came crashing through, falling all the way down into the hellmouth, but Winston never took his eyes off the opening he was creating. As he broke through the roof of the building, clay tiles rained down into the hellmouth as well.


The ray of sunlight that fell through was cheering, but hardly enough to close a hellmouth. Making a grasping motion with his hand, Winston seemed to be pulling the light down into the room, focusing it on the hellmouth. Snarls and roars from below the floor faded when the sunlight poured into the hole as if it was a stream of golden water. It kept pouring in and gradually there was nothing but silence below. As pieces of the rim began to crumble into the hole, so did the edges of the hole in the ceiling as well as bits and pieces of debris from the roof.


Spike and Buffy had not had much to do, as the slayers behind them were intercepting any remaining Bringers that attempted to get to Winston. They had only the occasional Turok-Han that preferred facing them to becoming a torch.  When pieces of the ceiling began to fall in, Buffy looked at Spike with wide eyes.


“Isn’t this how…” she began, stumbling when the floor rocked under her.


Spike cleared his throat loudly. “Um… Winnie?  Not to criticize, but we did promise we wouldn’t destroy Wood’s building….”


With a full-body shudder, Winston lowered his hand and both the sunlight and the crumbling around them seemed to stop. Only a normal amount of light was visible through the large holes leading to the open sky. He stood bent over, hands on his knees, taking deep breaths until he stopped trembling, then raised his head and stood up slowly.


“I hope that got them,” he said. “I couldn’t have kept that up much longer.”


“Oh,” Buffy said, eyes wide. “You mean you could have hurt yourself? Or died?” She looked horrified that she was relatively unscathed and that someone else might have sacrificed himself.


Spike, on the other hand, just studied Winston’s face. “Is that right, Winnie? You might have died if you didn’t stop?”


Winston exchanged a knowing look with Spike, then nodded. “Yes. Let’s go with that, shall we?” He looked around what was basically an underground room. “What can we seal this with? Or could we just seal off the staircase?”


“I’d rather seal the hellmouth,” Buffy said. “But I’m not sure how to do it. Spike pulled down the whole city, but that probably isn’t a good plan this time.”


“Xander Harris to the rescue.” They whirled to see Xander standing with Faith. “I can have a cement truck in here tomorrow. Maybe two or three cement trucks. We’ll pour it in there until it won’t go any more.”


They all stared at him. 


“What? The company I work for is going to be back here tomorrow, trying to repair the roof and the floors. Nobody’s going to notice a few extra cement trucks backing up to the basement door.”


“You have hidden depths, Harris,” Spike said, beaming at him.


“All right. Let’s get out of here, and make sure everyone’s accounted for.” Buffy threw one last glance at the hellmouth, which now appeared to be just a large hole in the dirt floor, then led them up the stairs. “I wonder if I should leave a few girls behind just to make sure nothing crawls out of there?” 


Spike assured her he hadn’t heard a sound from the hellmouth, even when he was standing close to it. And Winston just rolled his eyes when she asked him if he thought there were any Turok-Hans left.


With the exception of a few stray Bringers that were easily and quickly disposed of by the eager new slayers, they was no sign of what had gone on under the new school building. If, that is, you didn’t notice the hole in the roof, or try to enter the room below it. Xander went to find Robin and let him know that the building was going to require some repairs, and he should probably send the students home rather than allow them to go back inside.


Robin nodded and turned away to let his deans know to tell the students school was out for a few days. He watched Xander putting up hazard warning tape on the doors, then his gaze flickered briefly to Spike and Buffy, then to Winston. He shook his head but didn’t ask them what happened, just went back to his job. He frowned briefly at the sight of so many teen-aged girls leaving with Buffy, but it was obvious from the weapons they were carrying that they weren’t his students, so he just sighed and turned away.


“I guess he’s going to be okay with it,” Buffy said as she watched him turn his back on her small army of slayers.


“Not got much choice, does he? His building has a big hole through the middle. Someday we need to share with him how bad it could have been.”


“Someday,” Buffy agreed. “But not anytime soon. We’ve got too much to do now to worry about talking to him. I’m grateful he decided to play on the right side at the last minute, but he’s not high on my list of people to make friends with.”


“I wouldn’t mind making friends with him,” Faith said, frowning when Buffy choked and coughed.  “Something you need to share?”


Buffy shook her head. “I’ll share it later, I promise. When we have a chance, I’ll catch you up on anything I think you need to know from how things went in our time. But right now I’ve got to get these girls back and then meet Giles for a recap.”




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Chapter Thirty-three



By mutual agreement, Spike accompanied Giles, Wes, and Winston back to the Magic Box, while Buffy returned to the Guardian House with Faith and the other slayers.  Assuring the men that she would be back with Sara and Willow as soon as they got the girls settled and had gone over what had and hadn’t worked well, Buffy waved and walked off with her new army of slayers.


Sara and Willow were waiting for them at the door, with Dawn and Joyce hovering in the background. Buffy could see that Dawn was trying to hide her disappointment at not having been there with the girls she’d been training with for so long. As soon as she could, she found an inconspicuous way to get close to her and whisper, “I don’t know what Sara thinks she sees in your future, but I’m sure it’s something pretty special.” Dawn flinched at having been found out, but quickly put a big smile on her face and began sincerely congratulating the girls.


“Nicely done,” Joyce said, putting her arm around Buffy. “I think she was really upset when nothing happened to her.”


Buffy sighed and shook her head. “Yeah, in our time she thought for sure she was a potential. But she was a good sport about it when it turned out to be Amanda, not her.”


“Is it wrong of me to be glad that only one of my daughters has to risk her life all the time?” Joyce said with a wry twist of her mouth.


“No, Mom. It’s not wrong.”  Buffy smiled at Joyce and hugged her back. “But I hope Sara tells her what she has in mind for her pretty soon.”


“Is it safe for us to go home now?”


“I don’t know why not.” Buffy frowned. “I guess Dawn should go home too. These girls are going to be… different… now, and I don’t know if she’ll be as comfortable around them as she was before.”


“She’s lived with a slayer her whole life!”


“I know, Mom. But I was just a potential for a lot of that time. By the time I got my powers….” She shook her head. “It’s so easy to forget those aren’t real memories. I was already the Slayer when she showed up, but to her, I’m just her big sister. She doesn’t have that with all these new slayers. Even the ones she’s become close friends with.”


“Well, as much as I’d like to have at least one of my girls at home, I think we should leave it up to Dawn to decide what she wants. As long as it’s okay with Sara,” she added quickly, remembering that the Guardian house, in spite of its current status as a dormitory, was also someone’s home.


Buffy sighed. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. At least for a few days until we sort out what’s going to happen now. I need to take Sara and Willow with me when we talk about what’s next.”


To Buffy’s surprise, Sara shook her head when the idea of going to the Magic Box came up.


“No, I think Willow and I need to remain here with the new slayers. They have questions to which I may or may not have answers. I think our time is better spent thinking about the future and what it’s going to mean when the Council suddenly finds itself inundated with brand new slayers who have no watchers.”


“Ugh. Don’t remind me. I’m going to have to deal with Travers pretty soon.” She wrinkled her brow, channeling her mother to ask, “Is it wrong of me to hope he’s still too banged up to talk to me?”


Sara laughed. “It’s perfectly understandable,” she said, still smiling. “But he’s a tough old bird, so I wouldn’t count on it.”


“Oh joy.”




Buffy entered the Magic Box to find less celebrating than she’d expected. All the men had glasses of something amber in front of them, but the expressions on their faces as they drank didn’t improve with the alcohol.


“Well, this can’t be good,” she muttered to Faith, who snorted her agreement.


“What’s up guys? We did it…. didn’t we?” Buffy looked from one to the other, waiting for an answer to her question.


Seems like the head wanker is on his way here already. He’ll be in Sunnydale by tomorrow afternoon.


Buffy rolled her eyes and groaned. “I don’t even get one day to enjoy our success?” she said aloud.


“Alas, not,” Giles said, not bothering to question how she knew about Travers. “This should be even more fun. Explaining that there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of slayers in need of watchers and training.”


“Not to mention, the existence of Guardians, time travel, Winston, and Spike.”




“I don’t suppose there’s any chance he’s coming here just to tell us ‘job well done’?” Buffy said, only half-hopefully. 


Giles just snorted, as did Wesley, who shook his head.


“I’d offer to run interference, but I’m not on his list of favorite ex-watchers either. And if I had been, finding out I knew about you three all this time would destroy whatever rapport may have existed. I suggest we spend our time determining which of us will say what…. and who’s going to explain to him that in your time, it’s the Slayers and Watchers Council.”  He smirked at Giles. “And that Rupert here is the boss of it all.”


“As entertaining as I’m sure that will be,” Buffy said with a sigh, “Giles is not the boss of it all. I am. He’s in charge of finding more watchers and training them… and stuff like that. But I’m in charge of the slayers… well, me and Faith.” Buffy glanced quickly at Faith’s shocked expression. “Actually, with me being gone for the past three or four years, I guess she’s been in charge all this time. At least until the things we’ve changed lately have made that future go away, anyway.””


“I don’t do ‘in charge of’’.” Faith’s dismayed expression made Buffy laugh. “You didn’t tell me that was part of the deal!”


“I was getting to it,” Buffy said with a smirk. “Like it or not, you’re the head slayer in my timeline.”


“A timeline that no longer exists,” Winston said with quiet firmness. “Nor does the one I came from. We are, quite literally, back to our future now. Or close enough to it to have changed it completely. This is now what it is, and if we want to have some control over it, we need to be ready to present a united front to Quentin Travers.”


“Oh joy.” Buffy repeated her feelings about the upcoming visit.




The discussions went on well into the evening, with everyone taking a turn to say how they thought the conversation should go. Finally, Buffy raised her voice and said, “Who does he think he’s coming here to talk to? Is he planning to yell at Giles? Or Wes? Or me? Or Winston?” She turned to him. “Has he seen you with the coven? Have you met him in this time?”


Winston shook his head. “I only met with Althenea and one other older coven member. And we did it away from the Council Building. Anything he knows about me is through them.”


Giles sighed. “I believe he will expect me to field most of his questions. However, I have every intention of turning things over to Buffy as quickly as I can. Travers is not a stupid man, and he is well aware that we’ve been hiding things from him this year—”


This year?” Spike scoffed.


“He has no frame of reference for previous years, so has had no reason not to take my reports at face value. However, with everything we’ve tried to do this year to prevent the disaster that we knew could take place in London, he’s become much more suspicious of us. All of us,” he added, with a hard look at Spike.


“Hey! I’ve never even met the wanker,” Spike said, offended in spite of himself. “And I know I never tried to eat him.”


“You have, however, killed at least two slayers,” Giles reminded him. “I’m quite sure he knows a great deal about you, and not just that you and Buffy have been a couple for the last few years. ”


Spike grinned. “I’m guessing he’s the kind to carry a grudge?”


“You have no idea,” Giles replied wryly, to the sound of snickers from Wes, Buffy, and Winston.


Buffy looked at Faith. “Have you met him?”


She shook her head. “Never had any reason to. He just kept sending me new watchers every time one got him or herself killed. Present company excepted,” she added, with a wink at Wes.  He cleared his throat and looked away.


“So, he doesn’t know anything about you after the coma?”


Faith shrugged. “I don’t know what he knows. Wes and Angel knew where I was, or how to get hold of me, anyway. I did what I needed to do to help keep the streets of L.A. safe, but I never checked in with anybody as a working slayer.”


“He has to know you’re still alive,” Wes said quietly. “Given that no one else has been called. But he’s never asked me about you.”


Spike snorted. “The wanker was perfectly happy to know Buffy was here, guarding the hellmouth and preventin’ apocalypses. Typical Council lack of interest in who is the current cannon fodder as long as somebody’s doing the job. If something happened to her, you can bet they’d’ve been lookin’ for you.”


“One way or another,” Buffy muttered, remembering the wet team she had to fight to get away from when she was in Faith’s body. Faith frowned at her and Buffy shook her head. “I’ll tell you about it later.”


“Will he be coming here, I wonder?” Wes said, gesturing around the rather small area they were sitting in.


Buffy got a speculative look in her eye. “I think I’ve got a better idea. Just let me run it by Sara first….”




By time Travers had arrived and Giles had made a hurried phone call to let Buffy know that he’d come with an entourage, she was very glad Sara had agreed to the use of her large gathering room.


“But this is as far in as they come,” Sara said emphatically. “I don’t want a bunch of ignorant watchers poking their noses into my business and property.”


“Got it. Don’t worry. Let’s just figure out where to put them. Giles said Travers had someone from the Coven, someone from Council Security, another watcher or two, and maybe somebody else? I dunno. Let’s just figure on six extra people that we don’t want to allow to wander around.”


They waved Mel over and told her they needed two girls on each room exit. The others were to space themselves around the edges of the room, casually, but where they could see and be seen. They’d just gotten the girls in position when a knock on the closed main door announced the arrival of Giles with Travers and company.


“Welcome to my home,” Sara said formally when she’d opened the door. She stood to one side, ignoring the curious looks from the Council members as they entered.  “Please have a seat and make yourselves comfortable.” She led the way to the sofas and chairs arranged in a semi-circle facing Faith, Buffy, Winston, Wesley, and Spike, who was leaning against the table behind Buffy. 


Faith snickered, and Buffy had to smother her own smile at the expression on Traver’s face when he recognized her.


“Is this what you meant by I would be meeting more slayers?” he demanded of Giles. A titter went around the room, quickly silenced by a glare from Sara.


“Nice to meet you, too,” Faith drawled. “And no, that’s probably not what he meant.”


“Please sit, Mr. Travers,” Buffy said. “We have a lot to tell you, and you’re going to want to be sitting down when you hear it.”


In spite of his obvious reluctance to appear to be obeying her, Travers chose a comfortable place to sit and gestured for the other to do so also. A large man who was staring very hard at Spike, stood behind Travers’ chair rather than sitting down.


Spike stared back, allowing his eyes to flicker amber, and earning a back kick from Faith.


“Shame on you,” she whispered over her shoulder. “Scaring them is my job.”


He snorted, then nudged Buffy.  Bodyguard, Slayer. Somebody doesn’t trust us.


Yep. Council muscle always looks the same. Like most of the people in this room couldn’t bend him like a pretzel.



Giles walked up to join them, taking temporary charge of the meeting. “Let’s get introductions out of the way, shall we? I believe you all know who Buffy and Faith are, and this is—"


“William the Bloody,” Travers said coldly.


“Council Wanker,” Spike replied just as coldly.


Shaking his head, Giles continued. “I believe you all know Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, at least by reputation and name. He and I have been the primary contacts with the Council throughout this looming apocalypse period.”


Wesley nodded to the Security man he’d been communicating with and smiled at Althenea, as Giles continued.


“And this is Winston.” Giles left off the last name Winston had been using since his arrival. “Of course, Althenea knows him. Winston, for those of you who don’t know him yet, is a powerful mage and is greatly responsible for our having closed the hellmouth with so little loss of life.”


Winston looked around the group, smiling at Althenea, nodding at Travers, and smiling again at the Security Assistant Chief. “Hello, John,” he said cheerily.


“Have we met?” John frowned and looked at Wes for more information, but Winston replied, “Yes and no. We’ll explain that shortly.”


“And this is Sara Johnson,” Giles said, as Sara joined them, bringing Willow with her. “She has a rather unique role here, and one none of us was aware even existed until this year.” There was a cough from Buffy, and Giles frowned. “Very well, yes, one of us was aware of the position already, but none of us had met Sara until lately. And we had no idea she was fulfilling that role.”


“And what is that unique role?” Travers asked. “Other than having a rather unusually large home in which Buffy could keep the potentials she was protecting.” His expression indicated he was expecting to be unimpressed.


“Actually, Quentin,” Giles said, “Sara needs little help from Buffy or any of us. She is capable of protecting the girls all by herself. Sara is what used to be known as a Guardian. Something the Council seems to have been unaware of.”


Travers face reflected his surprise, but his response was calm. “Guardians no longer exist,” he said firmly. “If they ever did exist, they’ve been extinct for generations.”


Giles gawked at him. “You’ve heard of them? Why didn’t I know?”


“The Head of the Council has access to records and information that field watchers have no need of. That would include knowledge of possibly mythical slayer guardians.” Travers barely concealed a disdainful sniff, sparking much glaring and grumbling, and causing Buffy to take a step toward him.


Before any of the angry people in the room could do or say anything else, Sara smiled at them and shook her head. She waved her hand at the slayers around the room, touched Buffy’s arm and said, “I’ve got this, ladies.”  She walked gracefully over to Travers, looking every inch the elegant woman she was, smiled down at his admiring expression, and smacked him hard on his ear. She froze his startled bodyguard with a look. 


“Does that feel mythical to you, you pompous ass?  People like you are the reason Guardians had to go underground and eventually lost touch with slayers.” She whirled away and went back to stand by Willow. As she walked away, her back to Travers, she shared a quick wink with Spike, who was making no attempt to hide his laughter as the Council Head held his abused ear and almost audibly gnashed his teeth. His bodyguard couldn’t seem to decide what to do and settled for glaring at Spike as if it was his fault a beautiful woman had assaulted his boss.


Spike sent a rude British gesture at the bodyguard, but stopped laughing when Buffy poked him.


“Well then,” Giles said, coughing to hide his own laughter, “we can talk about Sara and her role later. After we’ve established what else it’s important for you to know. Buffy?”


“My turn. Okay, well lets start with… Ugh…” She threw her hands up and stared at Giles. “I don’t know where to start!”


“All right. Let me set the stage for you.” He stared at Travers, who was looking impatient and angry. “Several years ago, Buffy was hosting a Thanksgiving meal at my apartment, when Spike—William the Bloody—came to the door asking for shelter. To my surprise, although he was at that time one of Buffy’s sworn enemies, she immediately invited him in. Before I could admonish her, and throw him back out, they got into a verbal altercation that led to face-to-face arguing. Which resulted in a sudden cessation of hostilities between them, and some very difficult-for-me-to-understand actions and dialogue.


“To make a long story short, it turned out they were both time travelers who’d known each other for years in their own timeline, and become quite close… friends… there. They had each been sent back to our earlier time by people who were hoping to avoid the rise of the First Evil by eliminating the situation they thought was responsible for it.”


He waited for the shocked reactions to fade. Althenea, of course, already knew about Winston, so she just smiled and nodded while Travers and his other companions sputtered and insisted it wasn’t possible. When they had stopped telling each other it wasn’t possible, Travers fixed a hard eye on Buffy.


“Can you prove that?” he challenged.


“You mean doing everything we could to keep you from getting blown to smithereens—which, by the way, is what happened in my time. You’re dead, and have been for a while—isn’t good enough for you? How about sending the Coven to look at employee auras and try to find the bomber before the bomb could go off? Or all the nudging Wes did to John, trying to keep you and all your precious records safe from something we knew was going to happen?”


Clearly unwilling to give up, Travers glared at Giles. “And you just accepted her word for this?” 


“Hers and Spike’s, once they’d convinced me. And then I took Winston’s word for it, once he arrived with a written message from my future self. All three of them were sent back to try to avoid what almost happened anyway. Between the three of them, we’ve been able to eliminate, or at least mitigate, a number of potentially world-ending events over the past several years. Things you know little about because we dealt with them before they could become apocalyptic.”


“If that’s so, which one of you can tell me what’s going to happen next week? I’ll allow you to pick the subject—a sporting event result, some celebrity’s life event, whatever you choose.”


Buffy rolled her eyes, Spike snarled, and Winston just walked over and focused his eyes on Travers.


“Are you truly that stupid? We weren’t sent back to play parlor games or tell the future. Not one of us was. We don’t know any of those things because, right now in our timelines, we were still up to our eyebrows in murdered potentials and watchers, and just learning exactly what sort of evil we were going to be facing. We weren’t taking notes on celebrity weddings.” He shook his head. “And I shouldn’t even be saying ‘we’ because that was Buffy. And Rupert and Spike and Willow. I was in London with the Coven, attempting to pull together some semblance of order after the destruction of the Council building, the most senior watchers, and all the records. You have no idea how easily you got off this time, thanks to the information we were able to give you.”


As had happened to Angel when Winston lit into him, Travers was immobilized. Although in his case, by shock not only due to Sara’s having boxed his ear, but by Winston’s words and the idea that someone he had just met, but who apparently worked for the Council, would speak to him so harshly. He was silent for a full minute before shaking his head as if to clear it. He exhaled loudly, nodded to Winston, and then to Buffy and Giles.


“My apologies. To all of you. I’m well aware that you have prevented a potential world-ending event. I did not mean to denigrate either your actions or your character. Please. Let’s begin anew with each of you telling me when and how you got here… if you know how it was accomplished.”


Somewhat mollified, Buffy said, “It’s going to be hard to do that without jumping into something else you don’t know yet. But I’ll try. Like I said before, in my time the Council that you know is… gone. Blown up by the First or one of its minions. What was left of it… well, the people trying to put something back together after we defeated the First decided they knew what happened to allow it to become so powerful, and they thought they could avoid it by sending me back to… to do something different about Glory. Something different from what I did in my time.”


Spike took over, even though Travers hadn’t included him. “And I was sent back from a different group of fighters on the side of good for the same reason. I was meant to keep Buffy a—from doing anything that might mean we would go down that same path. Was sent back by… Angel and Wes.” He shot Wesley an apologetic smirk. “You’d have to ask Wes about the how, but since he hasn’t done it yet in this time….”


Travers sent Wesley a wide-eyed stare, then turned his attention back to Winston. “And you? Who sent you back?”


“The Coven did,” he said simply. “As they’d helped those who sent Buffy, several months earlier. Something that happened—we have no idea what—after Buffy and Spike arrived, changed the world just enough that the Coven had become an integral part of the Council, as it is now. The conclusions reached about what needed to be done were the same, but they felt my… special skills… could be very useful to Buffy, and to Spike, who we then knew had also been sent back to Sunnydale for the same reason.”


“Special skills?” Travers asked, raising an eyebrow.


“Trust me, mate, you don’t want to know.”


Travers shot a glare in Spike’s direction, but didn’t respond directly. Instead, he looked back at Giles. “I presume you have kept good records of the events of the past few years? As well as a record of what occurred in Buffy’s timeline?”


“I have all my records. I believe I’ve kept you aware of most of the major activities here. The only information I didn’t share with you, aside from what you just learned about them, is what I know of what was different in the other timelines. Buffy and Spike, and Winston when he arrived, have, quite wisely, only told me what I needed to know to help them decide what to change and how to do it. I will say that it appears to us that sometimes important things can be changed, but not necessarily avoided completely. Winston and I will continue to study….” 


He shook himself. “However, I believe we’ve been able to either avert or seriously reduce the severity of a number of potentially apocalyptical events. Including the current one, which I understand in their time, ended only when….“ He glanced at Spike, who was shaking his head.  “…. the final solution resulted in the entire city of Sunnydale collapsing into the hellmouth. It is, as I understand it, in their timeline, a large crater in the desert. We have managed to avert that situation and push the First and its army of Turok-Hans back where they came from with very little disruption to the everyday lives of the residents.”


Travers stared at Buffy. “You destroyed an entire city full of people?” He made no attempt to hide his horror and anger.


Buffy shook her head. “By the time we were ready to take on the First and his army of ugly old vampires, there was nobody left in Sunnydale. Even the demons who normally live here took off for safer places. All that was left was me… and my slayer army. And Willow, who is more amazing than you know. And Faith. And Spike. And Giles, Xander, Anya, Dawn, Andrew, and Robin Wood. I think that was it. An army of slayers, a powerful witch, a souled vampire, and a small group of normal humans.”


“Your ‘army of slayers’. You mean an army of potentials? There must have been quite a few of them here by then.” He glanced around the room at the girls leaning against the walls. “Did you take these potentials in with you to fight Turok-hans?”


“No. I meant an army of slayers. That’s what I had in my time, and that’s what I have now.”


He narrowed his eyes and peered around the room again. The slayers all straightened up and stared right back at him, their expressions challenging.


Buffy smiled to herself. Even the girls who’d been raised by watchers had little or no idea about the Council and its hierarchy. Their allegiance was to Buffy and Sara, not some old man they’d never seen before.







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Chapter Thirty-four




“You’re going to have to explain that, Ms. Summers.” Quentin Travers looked at the girls again, from the ones no longer leaning casually against the wall, to the ones quite obviously guarding the exits to other parts of the house. He studied them with an old watcher’s eyes, then nodded.


“Indeed. It seems you are correct. You do seem to have a small army of slayers at your disposal. May I ask what you propose to do with them? What did you do in your time?”


Buffy walked closer to him, pulling a chair with her. “I’m going to tell you, but first I think you need to know that these are not the only potential slayers to be activated. If you have a list of, and a way to contact, all the other potentials out there—at least the ones who have watchers—you’re going to want to warn them—in case they haven’t already figured it out for themselves. But they need to know that they haven’t become the next Chosen One, they’ve become one of the Chosen Many.”


Travers’ face paled. “There are more?”


“All over the world,” Buffy said. “We made a few tweaks to the spell, based on what I’d experienced before I was sent back here, but basically, every mentally and physically qualified potential who is old enough to be called is now a fully functional slayer. Not including the ones who’ve already aged out,” she added.


“What in the name of God will I do with them….?” he said, mostly to himself.


“That’s what we need to discuss,” Buffy said. “Let me tell you what we were doing in my time….”


While Travers listened with rapidly increasing horror on his face, Winston was shaking hands with the Security Chief and explaining to him that they’d become good friends in his original timeline. Wesley was renewing his own, more recent, acquaintance with John, and vouching for Winston as the source of much of the information Wes had been sending him. Althenea had gone to Willow and hugged her, and been introduced to Sara. The three of them wandered into the kitchen for tea and chatting about Guardians and how they could work with the Coven.


Temporarily at loose ends, Spike, Faith and Giles remained where they’d been standing, although Faith was now sitting on the table and Giles had pulled out a chair. Spike leaned against the wall behind them. Although only Spike could clearly hear the conversation, they all watched with interest as Buffy described the Slayers and Watchers Council, the training facility they were trying to set up, and how the trained and experienced slayers were being posted around the world at known demonic hotspots. When Travers whipped his head up to glare at Giles, they knew she’d told him who was running the new Council.


“Oops!” Faith said. “Doesn’t look like he approves of your promotion, boss man.”


“And I’m shocked and surprised,” Giles mumbled. “Not that I want the job, but…”


“But you know you’ve already done it,” Spike said. “As Buffy is making clear to him right now.”


They watched with interest as Travers and his two companion watchers learned about slayer-training, the need for good watchers, and Buffy’s plans for the future. Only Giles muffled his laughter at the range of expressions on their faces; Spike and Faith made no attempt to hide their enjoyment.


“You cannot imagine this is possible without the Council of Watchers,” Travers exploded. “You’ll have chaos.”


“And you won’t have anything to watch if we don’t like the arrangements,” Buffy said firmly, standing up and stepping back. “You think about that, and let me know what you want to do, so I can make my own plans.”  She fixed him with a stern glare. “And I will be making my own plans for these girls. With or without you.”


Obviously recognizing dismissal when he heard it, Travers stood up and gestured for his companions to leave with him. Althenea shook her head, saying she wanted to spend more time with Willow and Sara before going back to the hotel. 


Meanwhile, John and Winston shook hands and made arrangements to get together over drinks and talk about additional security measures that could be taken to protect what was left of the Council complex.




“What do you think?” Buffy’s question was addressed to everyone, but only Giles spoke up.


“I imagine Quentin Travers is going have a very long night ahead of him. And not just because his body is insisting it’s bedtime.”


“Did he believe us?” 


“I think so. Between Winston’s normal powers of persuasion, and the rather unshakeable proof of what you and Willow were able to do staring at him, he really has little choice.  I’m sure he’s burning up the international communication paths to London in order to obtain information about Guardians, the First Evil, and time travel. The question is, what will he decide to do about it? Will he accept your role as the Chief Slayer and allow you to set up training and handle assignments, or will he think to make his own ‘army’ of slayers?”


“Not gonna happen,” Buffy vowed. “I didn’t give all these girls power so that Quentin Travers could try to run their lives for them. I’ll talk to Willow. We need to get the slayer website up and running as soon as possible so we’re ahead of the game.”




A call from Giles before noon the next day had Buffy sighing and shaking her head as she ended the call.


“Problems, love?”


“I dunno. Giles said he and Travers have been talking for a couple of hours, he wants my permission to tell Travers about some of the things that happened in our timeline so he can understand the changes we made and how and why we made them.”


“I heard you say it was alright.”


“Yeah, I did. If it gives him an idea of what we’ve been through, and how much we’ve tried to make life better… for everybody… now…. I think it might help. I mean he is a pompous pain in the ass, but he had to do something right along the way to become the boss of everybody.”


“Maybe he’s just a good tactician. Lots of scheming that goes on in organizations like that. What comes out on top isn’t necessarily the best man for the job. Or the one most qualified.”


“Well, if he’s smart enough to finagle his way to the top job, he should be smart enough to pay attention when I tell him what I want to do with my slayers.”


Spike laughed heartily. “Even in this somewhat less contentious timeline, I’m sure by now he knows better than to think he can tell you what to do.”


“We’ll see, I guess.”



Two hours later, she did see… or hear, as Giles called back to request her presence and Spike’s.


“What does that wanker want me for?”


“He probably wants to know about the soul. Or how Wes sent you back. I don’t know, but Giles distinctly said both of us.”


“I’m not some tweedy nancy boy to come when he calls,” Spike muttered, even as he shrugged on his coat. “Reckon I’d best get there the old-fashioned way. No sense letting him in on all our secrets.”


Buffy just rolled her eyes and walked out the door.  “See you there, nancy boy.”




To her surprise, Travers’ greeting was cordial and almost warm. His bodyguard, however, stood up immediately and glared at Spike when he emerged from the basement. The bodyguard’s fingers twitched, as if wanting to reach for a stake. He’d been sitting by himself away from the men at the table, but they could easily see him and his reaction to Spike.


Spike bared his teeth, then strolled past the table to lean against the ladder as he usually did. Buffy shook her head at him, then turned a slayer’s hard stare on the bodyguard.


“If you keep looking at my husband like that, I might have to ask you to leave.” Her expression made it very clear that the asking could be painful, but before she could say any more, Travers spoke up.


“Stand down, Charles. I invited Mr. Pratt to join us. I feel sure I’m in no danger from him.”


Buffy sent Spike a warning glare when he coughed and seemed to be about to say something.


Wanker tried to kill you. I’m not forgetting that.


You don’t need to forget it, but this is not the time to make a big deal out of it.


She turned her attention back to Travers. “So, what do you need from me? Giles filled you in, right?”


“He did indeed ‘fill me in’,” Travers said. “Please join us while we talk about the things I’ve learned today.”


When she was seated, he continued, “If half of what I’ve learned about the things that occurred in your time are true, then you are truly a remarkable slayer. Please believe me when I say that I have nothing but admiration for you and the way you have focused on your mission for so many years.”


“Really?” Buffy said, her doubt more than obvious.


“Really,” he said firmly. “I know we have had our differences about your methods, but I cannot in good conscience fail to acknowledge your success in the face of great personal loss.” He shot a glance at Spike. “Including, if I’ve understood Rupert correctly, the loss of your husband. Who, I must say, appears quite healthy for a dead man.”


“Did Giles tell you about what we had to do in our time to stop the first?”


Travers shook his head. “Only in very general terms. Which is one of the reasons I chose to speak with you directly. I really need some explanations for how you survived some of the things you apparently endured in your time.”


“You’re assuming, she did survive them,” Spike growled from his spot by the book shelves. “And I am a dead man, and have been since long before you were born.”


Travers glanced from Spike to Buffy. “I’m aware that you survived your brief encounter with the Master when you were very young, but I’m not sure what the vampire is suggesting.” He smiled at her inquiringly.


Buffy exchanged glances with Spike, and then with Giles. She sighed and nodded her head.


“Okay, then. Just listen up and you can ask questions later, ‘k?” She took a deep breath and then began her recap of the way the past four years had gone in her timeline, skipping quickly past the Initiative except to make sure he knew about the chip that had allowed Spike to become part of their lives. He interrupted her there to say, “You should have called us.”


Switching  his attention to Giles, he said, “The Council has contacts and influence many places, including the US military. It’s possible we could have shut them down before it became so difficult.”


“I’d like to remind you that is what happened in Buffy’s original time. In our own, as you well know from my reports, Willow was able to use a spell to destroy Adam before he could be become the danger he was in Buffy’s time. And with the arrival of Winston, we were able to convince Willow to give up the otherwise unfortunate spell before there could be any unforeseen consequences for anyone else. I can hardly be responsible for decisions I made in a situation I’ve never encountered.”


Giles’s expression indicated he wasn’t happy about the implied criticism. 


Buffy spoke up quickly. “To be fair to my Giles, things escalated pretty fast in my time. Even if he had been on better terms with the Council and still employed by you then, I’m not sure there would have been time for the Council to pull any strings before we had to shut Adam down to stop him from taking over the town and then the world.”


Well done, love. Good job reminding the wanker that you had good reason, including in this time, not to trust them.


Yeah, like he would have done anything to help us when nothing would have made him happier than knowing I was dead and gone.


She gave Travers a few seconds to understand the true message, then said, “You said you’d hold your questions until I was done.”


“I did. My apologies, please continue.”


“Well, you know about Glory. We did contact you about her, although I already knew from my own time that she was a hell-god, and who she was when she was in human form.” Buffy shrugged. “As far as how it was different from our time… the extra magical help and the fact that we knew about Ben meant that we stood a better chance against her. We still weren’t able to keep her from getting her hands on Dawn, but we ganged up on her and managed to kill her anyway.”


She took a deep breath, then added, “And without me having to jump through a portal to hell to stop the demons and other nasty things from pouring through it into this world. It took Dawn’s blood to open the portal, and mine to close it.”


“And again, I’m amazed at the things you’ve survived,” Travers said, his skepticism of her story plain to see.


“She didn’t fuckin’ survive, you bloody wanker! She died!” Spike’s outburst brought Charles to his feet, stake in hand. Rather than retreating, Spike let his fangs show and he snarled. “You want a piece of me, bodyguard? I’m right here….”


“Spike….” Buffy’s voice was quiet, but her meaning was clear. He shook himself and went back to his place against the ladder.


“She bloody well died,” he muttered, even as he turned away.


Travers looked back and forth between Buffy, Spike, Giles, and over to Wes, who was nodding his head.


“Well, clearly that is not true, so—”


“It’s true,” Buffy said quietly. “In my time, there was a grave in the back of Restfield Cemetery with a headstone with my name on it.”


“But, you’re here.”


“Yes, yes I am.” Seemingly apropos of nothing they’d been discussing, she said, “Willow is capable of a level of magic you can barely imagine.” She waited for him to think about that for a moment, then said, “And now we’re at the reason we were all sent back here.”


Proving his position as the head of the Council of Watchers wasn’t only because he was a good politician, Travers said, almost under his breath, “She brought you back to life? A young witch, barely out of her teens, performed a resurrection spell….”  He blanched.  “That requires incredibly dark magic! How did it not consume her?”


“It almost did,” Buffy responded. “In both our time, and Winston’s, she became very dangerous for a while.”


“And you’ve put her in charge of the new slayers?” Once more, Travers glared at Giles as if he was totally responsible for everything in this time and the others.


“As you know,” Giles spoke up, his anger clear, “she has had to spend some time with the Coven, learning to control both her temper and her power. In this time line, as well as theirs. With their help, she has become a competent and trusted practitioner of magic. With the knowledge Buffy, and Spike and Winston, have of the situations that created those conditions in their time, they’ve been able to avoid much of it this time. Not all of it, to be sure, but with Winston’s help and the aid of time spent with the Coven, there was much less damage this time from her brush with dark magics.”


He silenced Travers’ intended interruption by continuing quickly. “And, by keeping Buffy from sacrificing herself to save the world from Glory, and thereby avoiding a reason for anyone to bring her back to life and possibly throwing off the balance between Good and Evil, we’d hoped to prevent the rise of the First Evil into this world.”


“But it did rise,” Travers said, glaring around at them as if they’d failed miserably.


There was a steady rumble coming from Spike’s chest as he crossed the room to stand behind Buffy’s chair.


“We did the best we could,” he snarled. “Buffy did the best she could. We couldn’t keep it down completely, but it didn’t become as powerful, it didn’t blow your bloody useless Council into soddin’ oblivion, and she saved the lives of countless potentials by taking out its main minion before he could become a host for the First in this realm.”


Buffy reached back and patted Spike on the leg, helping him subside into a barely-heard growl.


Giles cleared his throat. “As I believe I alluded to yesterday, Winston and I have concluded that some events can be changed in some way­—often for the better—but it seems that if they are important in the overall scheme of things for some reason, they will still occur in some fashion. He and I will be writing up our findings and our hypotheses, and making our experiences available for anyone who cares to explore the ins and outs of time travel more closely.”


Travers was silent for a time, waving Charles, still hovering over him, stake in hand, back to his seat. 


“I see there is still much to understand about the time you left behind,” he said finally, turning to Buffy. “I would like very much to have a written account from you of both your life as it was up until the time you were sent back, as well as what you know of the structures left in place and how they were being reconstructed.” He shot a look at Spike, who stared back calmly. “You’re free to exclude any personal details you feel would be unnecessary, but a brief explanation of how William the Bloody went from a killer of slayers to married to one would be useful. I presume you were already together in your time? Although I’m a bit confused about how and why you were sent back from a different place.”


“I thought he was dead,” Buffy said quietly. “You didn’t let me finish about what we did in our time to stop the First.”


Travers frowned. “I just assumed it was the same as what you did here. You activated the potentials and attacked with a small army of slayers, backed up, to be sure, by a powerful wizard, a witch, a master vampire, and a small group of normal humans?”


Buffy shook her head. “Not quite. You remember Angel, right?”


“The other souled vampire with which you had a relationship when you were very young?”


“Yeah, him. Anyway, in our time….” Buffy quickly ran through what little she knew of Angel’s problems with, and eventual take-over of Wolfram and Hart. Travers frowned deeply when she said the amulet had come from them, but at a glare from Giles, he held his tongue while Buffy explained about giving the amulet to Spike. Reminding Travers that it had been much later in the year by the time they were ready to take on the First and its army of Turok-Hans, and that Winston had not been a member of the team in either his timeline or theirs, she quickly recapped the fight in the hellmouth, including her being stabbed, but getting up to continue fighting. She took a deep breath.


“And then, the amulet lit up. And Spike was channeling sunlight through his soul. He was mowing the Turok-Han’s down with fire coming from his chest, and the roof started collapsing, and things were shaking, and he was on fire, and….” She stopped and turned her head to look up at Spike, who smiled down at her and nodded. “And he told me to get out while I could. So, I told him I loved him, and I ran like hell.” She glared at Travers. “When I left, he was on fire from the inside and burning to ash. I never expected to see him again.”


Travers looked at Winston, who nodded his head. “That’s what happened in my time also, I just wasn’t there to see it or participate.”


Both Travers and his bodyguard stared at Spike. Clearly as alive as a dead man could be, and also not on fire. He shrugged and tried to answer the unspoken questions.


“No bloody idea,” he began. “All I know is, I came to myself in the poof’s fancy office at Wolfram and Hart, on fire, then not on fire. Also not solid. I was a ghost, trapped there for a long time after I popped out of the amulet when it fell out of an envelope mailed to Angel. Didn’t let Buffy know, on account of I couldn’t dial a phone, and I didn’t know how long I’d be around. Kept fadin’ in and out for a while. Then another mysterious package came in to the office and presto! I was solid again.”


“And then you came to Buffy?”


“Not exactly, but in a way, I reckon. Before I could do anything about finding Buffy, Angel and Wes, here—only not this Wes, obviously—had reached the same conclusions as Rupert and friends. That if Buffy didn’t die and get resurrected, the balance wouldn’t be off and the First wouldn’t become so powerful. So they sent me back to her to make sure she didn’t die.”


“Or, if I did, that I’d stay dead. Don’t leave out that part.”


“Right. Or that she’d stay dead. I was to stop Willow from doing her resurrection spell if that was what needed to happen.” He rested his hands on Buffy’s shoulders, smiling when she clasped her hands on top of them. “Didn’t happen this time.”


“No. No it did not.” Travers frowned. “I would like a full report from you also, if you don’t mind. Everything you can remember about your time, right up until you were sent back.”


Spike cocked his head at the man he knew had made Buffy’s life harder in her time, and had tried to eliminate her via a Cruciamentum in all three timelines.


“You do get that we don’t work for you, yeah? Not a one of us. Rupert and Wes are fired watchers, I’m a bloody vampire, and this Buffy is one of the two heads of the Council of Slayers and Watchers in her time. You can ask for all the reports you want, but whether or not you get them could depend on what we think you need to know, and how nicely you ask.”


Having said more than he usually did at meetings, Spike gave Buffy’s shoulders a little squeeze before going back to his place by the books. He flashed some fang at Charles when he went by, disappointed when the man didn’t rise to the bait.



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Chapter Thirty-five



Travers glared at Spike, but didn’t miss the approval on the faces of the others in the room. He sighed deeply.


“I don’t doubt that you all feel quite justified in your ability to make this work without the benefit of the Council of Watchers. But given that we still exist in this time, and that we have resources about which you have no idea, surely you can see the wisdom of making use of what is already in place? I am more than willing to permit Buffy to be in charge of much of the training of all these newly-called slayers—”


“And Faith,” Buffy said. “She was my second-in-command, and after I left, it was all on her.”


Travers visibly struggled to control his expression, but failed miserably.


“I’m serious,” Buffy said. “In my time she had to break out of jail to come help us; this time, she came just because she knew we might need her. She’s a serious slayer, and the only one with almost as much experience as I have. And the girls will like her. They did in our time. I’m a little too…. rigid… for some of them.”


You? You are too rigid?”  Travers almost scoffed aloud.


“I’ve had to be the grown-up in the room a little too much of my life to remember what it’s like to have fun. And, slayers or not, teen-age girls need fun in their lives. Faith is fun. I’m not. Dying can do that to you. It’s not a big deal, but she can sometimes reach them when I can’t. And she’s a good slayer. She’ll be helping me with the girls,” Buffy finished with a finality that wasn’t lost on anyone in the room.


She and the others watched with interest as the Head of the Council of Watchers absorbed that the two oldest slayers, who intended to be in charge of training new recruits, were also two of the most rebellious and disobedient slayers on record. Spike was openly grinning at the visible battle being waged inside the man’s head, while Giles and Wes did their best to hide their own amusement.


“I see,” Travers finally managed to choke out. “And exactly how do you and Faith plan to do this training and overseeing of these hundreds of slayers?”


Without missing a beat, Buffy said, “In our time, Giles was still looking for a permanent site to put our slayer school and the Slayers and Watchers Council Headquarters we’d set up. Turns out the old Council of Watchers had a lot of money squirrelled away….” She blinked innocently at Travers, then continued, “He’d found an old school of some sort, and was about to buy it for us. It would have been big enough for both the slayers and watchers in training, with lots of room indoors and outdoors; and it was close enough to a small city to give the girls something to do on their time off, as well as provide a few cemeteries to patrol.”


She paused to let that sink in.


“The plan was to provide the world with small groups of slayers anywhere there was a need, and with at least one watcher to assist them with research and planning. We’d already put a few squads of experienced and trained slayers in places like Cleveland—”  


She grinned at Travers’ obvious surprise that she was aware of the much smaller and less active Cleveland hellmouth.


“—and two other places where there seemed to be enough vampiric activity that they could use some relief.  We had a few experienced watchers who survived the destruction of the Council buildings, so we could give them a little adult help while they were getting set up. You know, find a safe place to live, set up a bank account for the squad—things like that.”


Buffy looked at Giles and said, “We’re going to want to get on those places right away, now that we’ve got some experienced slayers to put out there.”


Ignoring Travers’ frown, she added, “Of course, now we’ve got Sarah, so I need to get her thoughts on how we put a Guardian into the mix.”


“You cannot do this without the Council!” Travers finally exploded in anger.


Buffy frowned at him. “Well, it’s going to be harder, now that we don’t have access to the Council’s money, so no way to pay the girls, but—”


Pay them?” 


Keep it up, love. You’ll cause him to have a stroke yet.”


His tone was amused, but Buffy knew Spike could tell from Travers’ heart rate and breathing how close the man was to having some sort of medical event. Buffy persisted, but in a much more conciliatory tone.


“Well, yes, pay them. It’s not like they’re going to be able to hold down real jobs, even minimum wage ones.” She stopped talking and frowned.  “And I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, speaking of things Giles might have mentioned I had to do in my time….”


Travers nodded his head, indicating he knew at least something about her financial issues in her own time.


“By that time, you had already outlived most slayers to have been called that young. No one ever expected slayers to have to support themselves, never mind take care of younger siblings. Hence the placing of as many potentials as possible with watchers, who are paid rather handsomely to take care of their charges. I’m sure, if I’d had any idea you were in such dire financial straits….”


You didn’t expect her to live past her 18th birthday, you bloody hypocritical bastard,” Spike snarled, ignoring Buffy’s silent Spike…   “You had plenty of opportunities in our timeline to offer her a salary, or some help. You knew about Dawn, you knew when Joyce died, and after Buffy was dragged back from her reward, you bloody well knew when Rupert left her here to cope on her own while he scampered back to the Mother Country!”


Travers flinched, seemingly as much from Spike’s words as his visible fangs, but he waved a restraining hand at Charles. Turning his gaze on Giles, he said, “You left her here alone? With her mother dead, and with her undoubtedly traumatized by being pulled from her well-earned rest to continue fighting? How could you, man? You were a watcher!”


There was a complete, shocked silence in the room as everyone stared at the man they’d all thought was a heartless, power-hungry, potential thorn in their sides. Only Winston, who’d known a slightly different version of Quentin Travers was nodding as if not surprised.


In a quiet voice, he said, “You must remember that this Rupert Giles did not leave Buffy, but remained here to support her and Spike as they went about trying to avoid some of the deaths and other unfortunate events that occurred in the original timeline. Just as you seem sure you would have responded appropriately to Buffy’s situation, it’s only fair to point out that in both her time and mine, you did not do so. Nor did you object to Rupert’s returning home in order to encourage Buffy to be less dependent upon him. It certainly didn’t occur to me to wonder at it.” He shook his head, adding, “I think we should all be grateful that we’ve been given this chance to be appalled at ourselves, and an opportunity to behave differently.”


Buffy looked around the table, taking in the ashamed expressions worn by everyone except Wesley and Spike. She felt mildly embarrassed at being the object of so much sympathy and pity, but smiled at Spike when he sent her a satisfied smirk.


You did that on purpose, didn’t you?


Maybe? He had it comin’, acting all self-righteous and whatnot.


Travers heaved a large sigh before responding to Winston.


“Quite right you are. For whatever reason, in their timeline I was apparently as unconcerned about Buffy’s well-being as anyone. All I can do now, is offer my sincere apologies for my behavior in your time, and my promise to make up for it when and how I can.” He frowned.


“If you don’t mind, how did you manage to cope? If I understood what Willow was going through, it doesn’t seem as if she would have been able to offer much support, financially or otherwise. Surely you had someone you could rely on?”


Buffy’s gaze went immediately to Spike and remained there until she was sure everyone had received the message. Then she smiled and nodded.


“I did. And he did his best to be there for me. Unfortunately, I was so sure a soulless vampire couldn’t love—even though his behavior while I was dead was proof that he could—that I didn’t allow him to help me financially. But I survived, and I got better mentally because he was there for me—even when I didn’t want him to be.”


She walked over to Spike and put her arms around him, smiling up at his surprised face.


“He was my way back into the world when I just wanted it to go away.”


She gave them some time to absorb that, then, with a light squeeze, she let go and turned around.


“Now where were we… oh yeah. We were talking about making sure the new slayers have somewhere to live and money for food and stuff, weren’t we?”  She beamed at the men around the table, ending with Travers.  “All we have to worry about right now, is Cleveland. I was thinking I’d let Faith take a group of slayers there and help them get settled in and figure out where the hellmouth is. So, they’ll need a place to live, and travel expenses, and—”


Travers held up his hand to stop her. “Due to the hellmouth there, we have both a potential—now an active, I presume—slayer and an experienced watcher already there. I will contact him immediately and have him find a place for more slayers to stay.” With an expression that might almost have been called amused, he added, “And that he is now responsible for several more of them.”


“Sounds good,” Buffy said. “So, if you don’t need me any more, I want to go back to the Guardian House and go over some things with Sara and Willow.”


As she started to walk away, leaving Spike to return to the basement and his implied mode of daylight travel, Travers cleared his throat.


“If it is all right with Mr. Pratt… and you, I should like very much to speak with him. As the only person in the room who was a witness to the events leading up to his rather spectacular demise, I’m sure he can fill in some missing information for me, freeing you to attend to other things.”


Buffy glanced at Spike, who shrugged. “You go on, love. I’ll catch up later.”


Shooting Charles a slayer glare in case he was thinking about taking advantage of her absence to try to stake Spike, Buffy nodded and continued toward the door.


“Call me if you have any questions Spike or Winston can’t answer.”




Spike pulled out a chair and straddled it, facing the table with his back to the room. He exchanged a quick look with Winston, who nodded that any hostile move on the part of Charles would result in his sudden inability to move at all. Comfortable he wouldn’t have to make use of the Gem to remain undusty, Spike relaxed and waited for Travers to proceed.


“You are a very unusual vampire,” he said finally. “Completely atypical.”


“Always have been.”


“I find it quite intriguing that a member of the Scourge of Europe, steeped in the depravity and horror for which they were famous, could become someone a slayer could find comfort in and rely upon.” The look on Spike’s face was not hiding his impatience, and Travers continued on quickly.


“I’m curious as to what behavior of yours while she was dead, should have made her realize your devotion was real, soul or no soul.” He waited for Spike to answer.


Somewhat reluctantly, Spike said simply, “I made a promise, didn’t I? Told her I’d protect Dawn until the end of the world. Didn’t really expect Buffy to die, though. I thought it would probably be me… but it wasn’t.” A look of pain flashed across his face before he continued. “And after I sobered up, I remembered my promise. The Bit, and Buffy’s mum, had always been on my list of people I care about. Probably would have hung around to take care of her anyway, promise or no promise.”


“And how did you do that? Take care of her, I mean.”


Winston spoke up when it seemed Spike wasn’t going to respond. “If I might add to Spike’s story, he took over patrolling for Buffy, keeping, not just her sister, but her watcher and her brave, but foolish, friends safe as they tried to keep her death a secret from vampires and demons by keeping the numbers down.” He smiled at Spike. “He could have left town, found himself a doctor to remove the chip, or minions to kill for him, and gone back to being who and what he was before he fell in love with Buffy. But he didn’t. He stayed, and by patrolling with her friends, he protected them and, by extension, the entire human population of Sunnydale.”


Even Charles looked impressed when Winston stopped talking. Spike cleared his throat in embarrassment.


“Yeah, well, somebody had to see that they didn’t get themselves killed every night,” he muttered. “I mean, it’s not like I knew she’d be back to take over Dawn’s care, or like the Scoobies were doing all that good a job. And Rupert didn’t hang around, so—”


Before Travers could berate him again, Giles said, “I believe, in spite of my no longer being in the employ of the Council, you essentially ordered me to leave the hellmouth, saying I no longer had a slayer to watch, and that her sister was not my responsibility. At least, that’s what Buffy seems to think happened.”


Spike’s growl was audible to everyone. Then he relaxed. “Sorry, Rupes,” he said. “Wasn’t you. And leaving the Scoobies on their own is what gave the witch the freedom to carry out the resurrection.”


Spike stared at Travers, who was making to attempt to hide his astonishment, and gave the man a rueful smile.


“That resurrection was just as hard on Buffy as you’re thinkin’ it was. I never wanted to see her as unhappy or lost as she was after being pulled out of Heaven. But I’d be lying through my fangs if I said I was sorry it happened. She was here. Pulled out by her best friend, and brought back to a world that had already asked too bloody much of her, but she was here. Could never be sorry about that.”


“You weren’t expecting it?”


“Red didn’t share her plan with Dawn or me. Probably didn’t want to disappoint Dawn if it didn’t work—and knew I’d understand what dark magics would be involved in something like that and was afraid I’d try to stop her.”


Travers nodded his head. “It could have gone incredibly wrong. For everyone.”


“Could have. Didn’t. The only person it was wrong for was Buffy. And she was able to get over it… eventually.”


“With your help,” Travers said.


“Did what I could. Wasn’t enough all the time, but I did what I could.” Spike stood up and blew out an explosive breath. “Think I’ve had about all I care to with reminiscing about bad times. Winnie here can tell you more about what happened after we closed the hellmouth. Setting up the Slayer and Watcher Council and what not. Was pretty much the same in his timeline as mine, and he was there to see it.”


Without more of a good-bye, he waved a hand and disappeared down the stairs to the basement, leaving the head of the current Council staring at Winston.




Meanwhile, Buffy had gone back to the Guardian House to find the slayers gathered around Faith and listening to her tales of Kakistos, Trick, the Mayor, and assorted demons and vampires she’d found in LA.


Buffy rolled her eyes, but laughed as she walked past them to find Sara and discuss how they were going to incorporate guardians back into the world of slayers.  She found Sara smiling indulgently at Willow, who was looking positively giddy.


“Whoa, witchy lady! What’s up?”


Willow beamed at Buffy. “I just talked to Tara!”


Buffy wanted to frown, but forced herself to look more pleased.  “Did you?” she said. “How is she?”


Buffy knew full well how Tara was, as Max heard from her frequently, but she expressed polite interest as if Willow didn’t know that.


“She’s great. She’s really happy, loves the coven, and feels like she’s learning to be an awesome healer.”


“Well, that’s… that’s great.” She cocked her head at Willow. “I think it’s wonderful that you can be so happy for her.  You’ve come a long way. I’m proud of you.”


Willow flushed and looked away for a moment before turning back to Buffy.


“Yeah, well, I am happy for her. She sounds very enthusiastic about all the thin