Author's Notes: Your (much appreciated and consistently kind) reviews have left me with the nagging worry that many of you may be expecting definitive relationship statuses between the travelers and the Scoobies to emerge quickly and cleanly. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Every Scooby relationship is actually two intertwined ones: personal and professional. While Buffy and Spike are juggling that with each other, don't forget they are doing the same thing (plus time travel hindsight complications) with the entire gang. Each of those relationships will evolve differently, and at a different pace.
The good news is that we're finally getting to the part where this story starts getting fun. Enjoy!
Chapter 7: Precious Gifts
When Tara arrived at the Summers' residence, she was greeted warmly by Buffy. “Tara, hey! I'm glad you could get here early. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Buffy led her through the living room, where Spike was playing cards with Dawn. “Spike!” Buffy admonished. “You are not teaching my sister to play poker!”
“Girl's gotta learn sometime. Best it be from someone who's not gonna cheat her... much.”
Tara’s giggle grabbed Dawn's attention. “Hi, Tara! Can we deal you in?”
“Sorry, Dawnie. Buffy needs me right now. You can teach me to play later, ok?”
Dawn nodded cheerfully and returned her focus to the game. She was in the best of moods. Buffy had not only invited her to this Scooby meeting, she had said she was an important part of it. Dawn had no idea what that meant, but she liked it. It was about time her sister realized she wasn't a baby anymore.
Buffy and Tara moved toward the kitchen, where Joyce was piling cookies onto a large tray. They waved to her from the hall and stepped into the basement stairwell, Buffy closing the door behind them. “Could you do a glamour-type thingy over the house that would last a couple of hours?”
“How do you mean?” Tara tilted her head in question. “Like, make the house look different?”
“Like make it look like we're having a fun little party, or something. So anyone looking in the windows or passing by hears and sees that, not a serious conversation.”
Tara shook her head. “I'm sorry, Buffy. I think that's a bit beyond me. I could do a sound-proofing spell, though, so no one overhears us.”
Buffy nodded. “Good enough. We'll close the curtains, too. That should be alright. What do you need?”
Tara smiled. “For that? Nothing, really. I learned that one young. My brother snored and his room was right next to mine. I just need a little help to make it strong enough cover the entire house. When Willow gets here, we'll do it.”
“Thanks. Really.” Buffy smiled.
“It’s no problem.” Tara reached for the door. “I'm going to go see if Dawn can teach me what a royal flush is. That will give you and Spike a few minutes to talk.”
Buffy's eyes widened in surprise. “Um, Tara, since when can you read minds?”
“I can't,” she laughed. “I can see it. You’re reaching out for him across your bond. You make it light up whenever you're thinking about him.”
The slayer blushed. “Oh.”
Tara laughed again. “Don’t worry, Buffy. It's not like everyone can see it.”
Spike found Buffy pacing the basement floor a few minutes later. “You drawn to dank, dark places, now? Thought I was the cellar-dweller.”
“I just needed a quiet place to think. Our basements have been my go-to for that for a while.”
“Worried about how the Bit will take it?”
Buffy stopped pacing. “I've thought of nothing else! If I don't say it right, she'll freak out. I already talked to Mom, so she won't go crazy in front of Dawnie. I don't know if that will help or not. All I know is that one wrong word from me could make this all blow up on our faces.”
Spike stepped toward her. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he looked into her eyes. “It's gonna be fine, love. She's a smart li'l bird, and strong like her big sis. Don't worry.”
Buffy held his gaze for a minute, her expression fading from anxious insecurity to an unspoken question. Then suddenly, softly, she tilted her head up and kissed him.
It was the briefest of moments, but Spike reveled in that kiss, in the gentleness and surprise of it. When she pulled away from him, he could only whisper, “Buffy...”
“Thanks, Spike. I needed the pep talk.”
Her business-like tone and abrupt step away annoyed him. He responded bitterly. “Saying 'thanks' the same way you say 'hello,' now, General?”
“What? No! That's not what I meant.”
“Oh, so it's normal for you to kiss a bloke like you mean it and then blow it off like it's nothing? Oh wait! I almost forgot; that is normal.”
“And what the hell is your idea of normal? Every kiss leads to either loud, raunchy sex, or a declaration of some kind, or it's just not worth even starting? Why can't a kiss just be a kiss with you?”
“Me play fair? Seriously? You're blowing this all out of proportion!”
“Then tell me I'm wrong!”
“So that's it, huh? You're picking now, right fucking now, to give me an ultimatum. Who deserves to be handed an ultimatum, Spike? 'Cause I'm pretty sure it isn't me. There's nothing new here. You know exactly where we stand, so why the anger?”
“'Cause I don't know where you stand. I never do. I just sit and wait. You're the one who knows how things stand. All I know is, that felt an awful lot like your little 'hello' to Angel looked.”
“You weren't supposed to see that. And if you hadn't been following me, you wouldn't have!”
“No, I would have just gotten to smell it when you came home. Like that's so much bloody better. And I was following you in case you needed help!”
“Well thank you, Riley Finn! You sound just like him.”
“Finn couldn't have dealt with any of that mess, and you know it!”
“Finn wouldn't have gone on a mind-jacked murder spree, either!”
He punched her in the shoulder. She countered with a blow at his face. He ducked, and swung around to kick her in the side. In a matter of seconds, they were giving each other the kind of fight they hadn't had in a long time. Rage, frustration, and the tension of their present situation fueled every strike. Some blows made contact, but most missed. They knew each other's moves too well not to avoid them.
Finally, Buffy managed to sweep Spike's feet out from under him and he landed on his back with a thud. She rested a boot on his chest and stood there for a moment, catching her breath. “I meant that kiss, you moron. I think you should know that.”
He grabbed her foot and pulled her off balance, knocking her to the floor as he rolled out of the way. He stopped beside her in a crouch, pulling her up into a loose throat hold, facing her toward the wall where his cot would later be. “And I meant everything that happened there.” He pointed with his free hand. “You should know that, too.”
He released his grip and she pushed him away. They were sitting a few feet apart on the floor, glaring at each other, when a cough on the stairs grabbed their attention. They looked up to see Giles sitting on a step, having come down just far enough to see what was going on and staying to observe.
“Fine friends you are, certainly.” He gave Spike a pointed look. “All of this is quite interesting, but don't you have more important matters to attend to just now?”
Buffy's eyes went wide. “Um, how loud was that?”
“Loud enough to draw attention, though the words themselves were mercifully muffled. The remainder of our party should be here any moment. You two had best make yourselves presentable.” Giles stood and climbed the stairs, slamming the door behind him.
At first, Buffy and Spike remained perfectly still. Then they made the mistake of making eye contact, and broke into laughter. “I feel like I just got caught with my hand in the cookie jar and sent to my room!” Buffy giggled. “He's really got that 'angry parent of a five year old' look down pat.”
“The man's a watcher, love. That's what they do: manage children.”
Proving his point, she stuck her tongue out at him. Then her smile faded as something occurred to her. “See where you're sitting right now? That's the spot.”
“Eh? What spot?”
“That's where I was standing when I had that last conversation with the First, right before you woke up.” She jumped to her feet and stepped over to pull him to his. Standing beside him, she continued, her voice soft and low.
“This is where I was standing when I saw that you -and everything you had said to me- held the answers I was looking for. I watched you as you slept and the First talked in my ear. It called you my lover -present tense- and I didn't argue the point, even to myself. But it didn't know what you really are. You're the entire inspiration for this trip. You were my strength that night, and have been quite a few times over the years. I appreciate that, but I don't usually say so. Hence, thanks for the pep talk.”
Spike turned her toward him and returned the kiss she'd given him earlier, making every effort to match the sweet, gentle brevity of the previous kiss. Then he pulled away, and looked her over critically. “You're a mess, love. You go upstairs like that, people are gonna talk.”
Buffy ran her hands through her hair and brushed the dust from her clothes. “You're the soul of romance, Spike. You might want to fix yourself up a little, too.”
He took off his coat and shook the dust from it. “You know I followed you with good reason.”
“Yea, I know. But you do remember that I came home to you, right?”
“I noticed. Still smelled like him, though.”
“It won't happen again. I promise.” She crossed her heart for emphasis.
“Thanks for the pep talk.”
As they climbed the stairs, Buffy returned her focus to the mission. “You understand your role in this, right?”
“Keep my bloody mouth shut and don't let Nibblet run off into the night?”
“Pretty much, yea.”
Buffy stepped into living room to find it full of Scoobies and family. “Hi, guys. Thanks for coming by tonight. Tara, can you take care of that little sound problem for us before we get started?”
Tara nodded, taking Willow with her to the front door, where they could soon be heard chanting softly.
Meanwhile, Anya was looking Buffy over, her nose wrinkled in distaste. “Did you just come back from an early patrol? You look terrible.”
“What?” Buffy ran her hands over her hair again and glanced at her clothes. “Oh. Um, it was nothing. Just a vampire.”
“Like that one?” Anya asked, pointing over her shoulder, where Spike had just stepped into view.
Buffy tried to look irritated rather than amused. “Yea, that one.”
Xander jumped to his feet in alarm. “The chip isn't working!”
“Whoa, Xan! Don't freak...” Buffy thought fast. “Slayers aren't as human as they look, you know. The chip doesn't work on me... consistently.”
“What? How do you know this? Are you sure that's normal?”
“Uh, yea, Xander. I’m sure. Slayers are made from the essence of demons. Or did you think my power came from fairy dust?”
Spike hid a snicker as he slid by her and into the room. He grabbed a cookie from the tray on the coffee table and stepped toward the far doorway, hoping to be viewed by the assembly as out of the way and unimportant.
Tara and Willow brushed past him as they returned to the living room. “All set, Buff. No one can hear anything from outside, even if they cut a hole in a window. So what's so important?” Willow asked.
Buffy took a deep breath and stepped closer to the group. “Dawnie, will you come stand with me, please?”
Dawn complied happily. She was glad to be needed, even if she had no idea how.
Buffy took her sister's hand. “What I'm about to say is going to sound crazy, but I promise it's true. It's been researched and … verified. I can't explain how I acquired all of this information, so please don't ask. I will tell you eventually. I just can't right now. Right now, all I can do is ask that you trust me and never let any of this information out to anyone else. Our lives depend on it.”
She paused to look at each person in the room in turn, watching for nods of assent. She finished with her mother and sister, who followed the lead of the Scoobies, and agreed. She took another breath.
“Ok. Here goes. All of us, and many other people, have had our memories altered. This is not something we are going to fix. We're not even going to try. What we gained in exchange is far too precious.” She held up the hand still interlinked with Dawn's. “This is far too precious to lose. And that's why I need your help.”
To a sea of confused faces she briefly explained what she knew of the Key, its purpose, its keepers, and the Hellgod that sought it. “Apparently Glorificus is too strong to be contained. She's able to escape her human prison for short periods. The monks had to find a way of protecting the Key when she came looking for it, so they sent it to us. The weight of the world falls on us, guys. We protect the Key.”
“You have it?” Willow asked.
“In my hand this very moment.” Buffy held open her empty right palm. All eyes drifted to her left hand, still gripping Dawn's.
“Wh-what?” Dawn sputtered. “I'm a key?”
Buffy gave Spike a surreptitious glance for support. This was the trickiest part. She turned to Dawn, holding her hand tightly in desperation. “Dawnie, I'm not completely human. Slayers were made by infusing some demon essence into a human girl. It's dark, scary stuff that I sometimes wish I didn't know about myself. But it's in there, in my blood, a little bit of demon I carry with me. In your blood, there is another kind of magic, the kind that makes portals to other dimensions. I don't know if it will be something you can tap into when you're older. We'll have to look into that later. But right now, it's something that needs to be protected. It's too powerful for us to let a crazy Hellgod have. And she would kill you to take it.
“The only difference between us -besides that we have different magic in our blood- is that I was already here, and already a slayer. But I was an only child, and they meant this plan for my sibling. So they made me one. They altered everyone's memories -so no one would know that I hadn't always had a sister- and they gave you to the world. And they gave us the task of protecting you from Glory.”
Dawn tried to pull away, but Buffy held her firmly. “They made me?” she cried. “No, No. I'm real. I'm a person! Mom! Tell her!”
Joyce looked at her elder daughter. “Buffy, are you absolutely certain?”
Buffy nodded. “I wish it wasn't. I always thought of Dawn as your normal daughter, your reward for getting stuck with raising a slayer.”
Joyce tilted her head. “You were sort of right, just not how you thought. Dawn is our gift.”
Buffy smiled and cupped the teary young face before her lovingly. “Yea, that's how I see it, too.”
Dawn stilled for a moment, looking from her mother to her sister, then broke free of Buffy's grip and fled upstairs. Every eye in the room followed her out of sight. When they looked back toward Buffy, Spike took the opportunity to slip quietly upstairs.
Dawn was at her bookshelf, pulling her journals from it and tossing them to the floor. “Go away!”
“No.” Spike came into the room and sat on the bed.
Dawn stood up, surrounded by the paper records of her life. “It's all fake.”
“Those monks wrote a blueprint. You get to do the building.”
“From what? Lies?”
“They gave you people that love you, brains, looks, health, and a mostly happy childhood. It's a better start in life than most people get, Bit.”
Dawn thought about that for a moment, then stepped over her mess to sit beside him. “What am I supposed to do now, Spike?”
He put an arm around her. “You just be Dawn and let Big Sis and me keep the monsters away.”
“Yeah, right. Like she's going to let you hang around to play bodyguard.”
“She'll surprise you, li'l one. Buffy will do anything to keep you safe. Anything.”
“Yea, ‘cause I’m her job.”
“’Cause you’re her blood, Bit. You’re family and she loves you.”
In the living room, Buffy was getting tired of saying “I can't answer that” to questions about her information sources.
Finally, Tara broke in. “Uh, guys? I think what Buffy needs is help, not bibliography requests.”
Xander, Anya, Willow, and even Joyce fell silent, feeling reproached.
“No to the second one, Giles. She has a masking spell in place. Anyone who finds out immediately forgets. It doesn't work on demons... or slayers. I know. Spike knows. But I could tell all of you right now, sing it in a song, hang banners from the ceiling, and you'd still forget you were ever told. You can see the transition in person, and it still doesn't help.
“As for helping with other stuff, I'd love it. The first things we need to do are practical. I need to move out of the dorms and be home. I'm going to drop out for the year. Mom, don't look at me like that. I promise I'll get my degree eventually, but this is not a time when I can focus on school. I'll need some help with leaving UC Sunnydale. Then I need Willow to lead a research team on a defense idea I've got. Wils, Giles has your prototype at his place. Also, I'm going to need backup for keeping an eye on Dawn. We can't shadow her at school or her friends' houses, but we can make sure she's never without someone to watch her back when she's at home or out in town. To that end…” Buffy braced herself for shouting. “Mom, I'd like to ask Spike to move in with us for a while, for extra security. We can fix up the basement for him.”
“What!?” Xander and Willow shrieked in unison.
Anya shrugged. “That makes sense. He's the only one of us as tough as Buffy. You couldn't fight off a Hellgod, Xander Harris. But Spike might have a chance.”
“Ahn, that's not the point. He's not to be trusted.”
“I think that's for Mrs. Summers to decide,” Tara said, just as footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs.
Spike and Dawn appeared in the living room doorway. Dawn -her eyes still red-rimmed- shrugged into her jacket. “Ask for me,” she whispered with an elbow jab to his side.
“Joyce, mind if I take the Bit out for ice cream?”
Joyce smiled and waved off the request casually. “So long as Dawn remembers it's a school night. And we'll have a little mother-daughter chat about all this tomorrow?”
Dawn nodded. “Ok. Thanks, Mom. I won't be late.”
“No Key talk in public, Dawnie. Glory's minions are everywhere.”
Dawn glanced at Spike, who nodded. “Slayer's not being paranoid. Gotta watch what we say.” he looked up at Buffy's worried expression. “Safer with me than you.”
Buffy sighed sadly. “I know.” She waved them off. “Just be careful.”
“Have fun!” Joyce called after them.
They left with a wave to the rest of the room. Xander and Willow seemed stunned.
Joyce laughed. “Close your mouths, kids. It's not as if they've never gone out for ice cream before.” She glanced at Buffy. “Well, I guess they haven't, but I remember them doing it a couple of times.”
Buffy tried to explain. “I invited Spike into this house long before the chip. And he kept coming to visit, mostly when I wasn't here. He's been a friend to my family even when he wasn't a friend to me. I've learned most of this... recently.”
Xander frowned. “And why exactly is Dawn safer with a vampire than with you?”
“Glory knows I have the Key. If she figures out that I'm being protective of one particular person, that person will be on her suspect list. She's not watching Spike. She's watching me.”
“So he's the perfect choice for live-in protection: Strong, already a family friend, and under the radar.”
“That’s true.” Joyce agreed with Tara. “Have you talked to him about this, Buffy?”
“No. I didn't want to spring it on him without asking you first. He's not going to see this coming.”
“Do you think you could keep the arguing to a minimum?”
When Spike and Dawn walked into the kitchen through the back door, they found Buffy sitting quietly on a stool, her elbows on the counter, and her chin cupped in her palms.
“Slayer? You alright?”
Buffy smiled a little. “Just thinking. Did you two have a good talk?”
“Yea,” Dawn sat down beside her. “I'm still a little freaked out.”
“You have every right to be. But I'm glad you didn't do something crazy.”
“Spike wouldn't let me.”
“Yea, he's good for that. He likes to save doing stupid and crazy things for himself.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Anything, Dawnie. But like I told everyone tonight, I may not be able to answer.”
“What did they make me out of?”
“Me. They used me as a … template, I guess? I don't know exactly how it worked. I just know they made you genetically my sister. You weren't whipped up out of thin air.”
“Hmm.” Dawn looked thoughtful, but then abruptly changed gears. “Did mom go to bed already?”
“Yea, as soon as everyone left. She had a headache. I’ll go get her prescription filled in the morning.”
“Is she gonna be alright?”
Buffy tried to look reassuring. “I hope so, Dawnie.” She glanced up at the wall clock. “You should get to bed. School tomorrow.”
“One more question: How old am I?”
“You are a fourteen year old human.”
“But how long have I actually been alive?”
“About a month. But the Key is thousands of years old. So I'd say fourteen is a better age, either way.”
Dawn nodded and slid off her stool. “OK. But I want to know more later.”
“Dawnie, when all this is over, you can spend the rest of your life studying the Key if you want. I'll even help. But right now, this is a protection detail.”
Dawn gave a mock salute. “Yes, Captain!”
“That’s General, thank you.”
Dawn saluted again. “Yes, General. Goodnight.” She gave her sister a hug and then turned to give one to Spike before heading upstairs.
Buffy jumped to her feet. “Ok, Smooth Talker. How exactly did you do that? No screaming, no fire-setting, no running away, no bleeding on the carpet. She's taking this better than if I had told her she couldn't watch TV for a week.”
Spike shrugged. “You did most of the work.”
“I just tried to tell her she was special and not a freak, at least not much freakier than a slayer.”
“And that helped. I told her she's got a life to live, no matter her past. And that you and me would do anything to protect her - which I happen to know is true.”
“Yea, I guess I can't argue that point.” She led him toward the basement door. “Let's talk downstairs.”
Once in the basement, Buffy turned and looked him in the eye. “We need to fix something.”
“We've got a problem. We keep almost talking about it, but then we end up dancing around it… You've been living alone, with no one to talk to, after you'd gotten used to a house full of people. I call our crappy safe house home sometimes, and you don't really like that. You never call your crypt home, either. Well, it's high time you got to go home, Spike. There won't be as many people around this time, but there are still a few.”
He looked around the basement, remembering it as it was in years to come. “You asking me to move back in, love?”
“Yes.” Buffy suddenly looked shy. “If you want to, that is.”
“What's your mum say?”
“If she doesn't have to listen to us yelling at each other too much, it's ok with her.”
“And your mates?”
“Xander and Willow nearly had a shared heart attack at the idea, but I think their girlfriends will talk some sense into them. It's good for Dawn to have extra muscle around. There's really no arguing that.”
“And you? This just for protection, 'til Glory's done with?”
“Things could be different by then. With Mom... you know. I'm hoping you'll want to stay with us.”
“Not what I was asking.”
Buffy took a slow, deep breath, gathering her nerve. “I want you to come home, Sparky. For me.”
Spike grinned. “Then I guess I'd best pack up the old place.”
“Nah, keeping that. Just started work down below. I think I can make it exactly what we need. Should clear out of the safe house, though... And why are you looking so surprised? You thought I'd say no?”
“Not really. It’s more relief than surprise. It's just that with Xander catching me walking toward downtown in the middle of the night, and all the sneaking around to avoid getting caught by anyone else, that place is getting to be exhausting. Also, that's a long way to walk for a little sleep.”
“In other words, you got spoiled to having me just downstairs.”
She gave him a meek smile. “Maybe a little?”
“It's alright, love.” His gaze wandered around the basement once more. “I'll be home soon.”
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