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Echoes of Beljoxa by myrabeth
Porcelain Translations
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Chapter 27: Porcelain Translations

February, 2001

“You're sure the DeSoto is up for the trip?”

“You're a bloody mother hen, you know that? The car's fine. Been working on it some. 'Sides, it's not that far to the next station south.”

“And you know what you're going to do when you get there?”

“Keep her from boarding the bloody train. What's with the interrogation, Glinda?”

“It's just... she's a seer, Spike.”

“Pretty sure I caught that memo, 'bout twelve decades back.”

“She's probably going to know everything.”

“And it'll be so garbled in her head it'll come out gibberish, like most everything else.”

“What are you going to say to her to keep her off the train?”

“Whatever it takes.” Spike leaned forward against the back of the vanity chair he was straddling, taking a closer look at the woman sitting across from him on the bed. “You're worried about me.”

Tara's gaze drifted to the blue striped walls. “It's just, with you and Buffy in such a weird place right now... You might want to take the opportunity...”

“To take my past out for a spin? Is that it? Glinda, you know better.” He stood up. “As for me and the slayer, contrary to what you may think, it's alright. It's not exactly new territory. Just gotta make it through to the happy ending this time. Wasn't much hope of one before.”

She stood to join him. “And you still held out for one. There are no guarantees, Spike. Better odds, but no guarantees. Do neither of you ever learn from your mistakes?”

He pulled her into a hug. “Be home as soon as I can, pet. And thanks for worrying.”

He left Tara's room and went downstairs, grabbing his coat from its hook by the door and walking into the living room while he slipped it on. “Gotta go, Mum. Might be a day or two.”

Joyce looked up from the television. “Where are you going?”

“Leaving your daughter for an older woman.” He kissed her cheek. “Take care.”

“I'm going to pretend I know you're joking, and not try to stake you. Does Buffy know about this?”

“Has for years.”

“Oh.” Joyce nodded. “This is one of those things. Ok, well, be careful.”

He went to the dining room. “Gimme a hug, Bit. Headed out of town.”

Dawn frowned as she looked up from her homework. “Where are you going?”

“Got a li'l errand to run, is all. Vamp stuff.”

She put down her pencil and stood to hug him. “You'll stay out of trouble, right?”

“If I can. Be safe. Listen to your sister.”

“Just hurry home. You're a much more fun babysitter. Tara can keep her.

Spike's laugh carried him out to the back porch, where Buffy and Giles were talking. “Love, it's time I headed out.”

Buffy stood up. “I knew it would happen eventually. Giles, my husband is leaving me for his ex.”

Spike's laughter renewed at the look on Giles' face. “Glinda certainly acts like it. Worried I'll take the chance to relive some other memories.”

“Yeah, sure. Like that goth girl you brought to Xan and Anya's non-wedding. I could tell by the look on your face you weren't going to sleep with her.”

“Was I that obvious?”

Giles' eyes went wide. “Xander and Anya's...?”

“Total train wreck. I'll tell you about it sometime.” Buffy turned back to Spike. “Speaking of trains, you'd better get going.” She gave him an evil grin. “Tell Dru your missus says hello... And you'd better call me if you feel like chaining her up. I'd hate to be left out.”

That earned her a smirk. “Could be worth repeating.”

“The time travel in-jokes are getting rather tiresome, you know.”

“Sorry, Rupes.” Spike gave Buffy a quick kiss. “Call you tomorrow.”

Giles was still shaking his head when Buffy rejoined him on the steps. “He's going to see Drusilla?”

“He's going to stop her from massacring a train full of people on her way to see him.”

“And you aren't at all worried about them... reconnecting?”

“I'm not dumb enough to think a long history doesn't mean anything. It means a lot, actually. But it'll be fine.” Buffy shrugged away his concern.

“You're very confident.”

“I have reason to be.”

Giles hesitated, trying to decide if he should ask the other question on his mind. “...And if she entices him with something else? Human blood, perhaps?”

“You do realize he still has a pint of O Neg at Willy's once in a while, right? Spike's got his cravings under control, Giles. All of them.”

“But no one has Drusilla under control, not even a little.”

Buffy smiled. “Only two people have ever been able to claim to come close: the psychopath who turned her in the first place, and the idiot who took care of her for over a century. The psychopath hasn't returned my calls, so I'm sending the idiot.”


“You were right,” Giles said after a long silence, staring out into the back yard.

“About what?”

“Spike being reformed isn't the point.”

Buffy was very still, waiting on him to continue.

“His history, the changes in him, aren't what matters. What matters is that you trust him and I didn't.”

“Past tense?”

“I'm getting there. I'm taking it all in steps. I knew him to be your time travel companion, your wartime lieutenant, and a romantic attachment. That was enough. Too much, if I'm to be frank. And now, after Lydia's letter...” Giles trailed off. “I learn that it wasn't reform at all. Something about you brings out the human side of him, makes him more of a man than a demon. It was always there, wasn't it?”

“Giles, the truce wasn't that earth-shattering. It was just a deal we made, as much for his benefit as mine. He's loyal to a fault. Dru played around on him, but he still wanted to protect her, still wanted her back... With a side order of 'please don't let Angel destroy the world,' of course.”

“But through that truce, you acquired his loyalty, his trust, for yourself. That's why he came to you after the chip was installed, wasn't it? He trusted you.”

“And I blew it. I've taken his trust and stomped on it a lot over the years.” She looked down at her hands in her lap. “I told you, he's very forgiving.”

“Because he's in love with you.”

“Yes.” She kept her eyes lowered.

Giles frowned at her. “You've never said it to me. With Angel, you were very open about your feelings. With Spike, you're a closed book. I understand I may not be your first choice of confidante, and you have matured beyond high school romances, but... you married him, Buffy. I believe it's socially acceptable to state your feelings about him.”

Buffy struggled against the impulse to lie. “My feelings for Spike... are kind of a mess right now. We--” Her head shot up as a powerful vampiric signature came into her range, a signature very similar to Spike's. “She knows.”

“Who knows what?” Giles followed her gaze to the open gate, watching for movement in the darkness.

Lydia walked slowly into the yard. Behind her, Drusilla danced in, humming to herself.

Buffy jumped up and ran toward her new watcher. “Lydia! Are you alright?”

Lydia didn't respond. Giles came down the porch steps, but kept his distance. “Buffy, be careful.”

The slayer looked toward Drusilla, who had stopped dancing and stood at Lydia's side, smiling softly. “Dru, cut her loose. She's not why you're here.”

“The stars told me the truth. You've come to change the world.” Drusilla stroked Lydia's hair, her nails pulling tendrils from the woman's bun. “Such a pretty dolly.” Her eyes drifted to Giles. “Prettier than the one you used to keep.”

Buffy dared to make eye contact with the vampire. “Dru, please. Let the watchers go into the house, and you and I will go someplace to talk. I really can't have you hanging around here right now.”

“Ooh! A secret rendezvous!” Drusilla clapped her hands together excitedly. “Must avoid the eye of the Key Hunter. Mustn't make her think I know.” She tilted her head. “Mustn't learn to fly again.”

Buffy glanced over her shoulder. “Giles, go inside. Dru, Weatherly Park. I'll be right behind you.”

Drusilla snapped her fingers in front of Lydia's face and danced back out of the yard.

Lydia came back to her senses with a gasp. “Buffy!” She looked around. “How did I--? Mr. Giles? Oh, my.” She rubbed her forehead. “I believe I've been put in a thrall.”

Buffy put her arm around the woman's shoulders and led her to the porch. “Yeah, that's what she does.”

“Was that Drusilla? Spike's...?”

“That's her.” Buffy and the watchers went into the house. “For future reference, don't ever look into her eyes. Giles, back me up on this.”

“Eye contact with her is extremely dangerous,” he agreed with a shudder. “Buffy, you aren't thinking of actually meeting with her, are you?”

“If you don't mind staying here while I'm gone, keeping an eye out for trouble.”

“Of course. I'd be glad to... to step in for your lieutenant.”

“Good. Thanks.” Buffy pulled the stake out of the back of her waistband placed it on the kitchen counter. “The weapons chest is in the living room. The twins are in their case downstairs.”

He grabbed her arm to stop her as she headed back toward the door. “You are not going to face Drusilla unarmed. I may no longer be your watcher, but--”

“I am,” Lydia said. “I would not recommend such recklessness, Buffy.” She squinted at her charge. “She didn't put you in a thrall, too, did she?”

Buffy shook her head and pulled out of Giles' grasp. “She didn't need to. I know what she wants. Me.”

“And you think you ought to give her what she wants?”

“She could have killed you, Lydia. Easily. She didn't. She brought you here as leverage, without a scratch on you. She clearly wants to talk. I'm game.”

“Buffy...” Giles rubbed his forehead. “What do you think Spike is going to say about this?”

“He'll have a fit. And that's why we aren't going to tell him.”

“And if he comes home to find you've been killed?”

“Bigger fit. Also, tons of Jack Daniels. Buy stock.”

“You're being flippant.” Giles picked up the stake and held it out to her. “At least prepare for the possibility that she means you harm.”

“That who means harm?” Tara asked, walking into the kitchen. “Lydia? I didn't hear you come in.”

Buffy pushed down the hand that offered the stake. “Giles, I'll be fine. Tara, don't let him follow me.”

Tara frowned at the tense faces. “Buffy, what's going on?”

“Spike's gone to catch the wrong train.” She walked out into the night, unarmed.


Buffy sat in a swing and pushed off, trying to match the rhythm of the swing beside her, already in motion. “I thought you'd want to see him, but you showed up pretty much the second he left town.”

“Family I know. Family I don't. Past time to greet the new one.” Drusilla frowned. “But my prince is untasted. His bride unmarked. Pixies tell me lies.”

“Your pixies are just a little off schedule. Or maybe we are. Either way, I've not been claimed into the family yet, Dru.”

“You mean to be. You mean to bring light to shadow, shadow to light. Be of us, be as a daughter.”

“Can I just say, phrasing it that way is a little creepy?”

Drusilla brought her swing to an abrupt stop. She giggled. “Human mind, demon heart. So alike, light and shadow. Demon mind, human heart.”

Buffy slowed her swing. By the time she stopped it, Drusilla was spinning her own around, looking up at the twisted chain with an expression of pure glee. Sh watched as the vampire lifted her feet suddenly, throwing herself into a wild spin in reverse, laughing as she went. “Sometimes, I think you can't be as crazy as I remember you being. And then you remind me.”

The laughter died as the spinning swing jerked to a stop. Drusilla stepped off the swing and knelt in the sand in front of it. “Come to me, daughter to be.”

Buffy frowned. “You're not planning to kill me, are you? 'Cause I was kind of banking on you... not.”

Drusilla shook her head and patted the ground before her.

“Alright, but if I end up dead, you're the one who has to face the wrath of Spike.” She knelt in the sand, nearly knee to knee with Drusilla.

“I made him for me, but I've known he could never be, since long before Jamaica fell.”

“Kendra,” Buffy whispered.

“Not the one I wanted. Time flies, to and fro on the shuttle, unwoven on the witch's loom.” Drusilla swayed in time to her words. She stopped, and looked into Buffy's eyes. “It couldn't be undone. What is bound to be bound, is bound to be. Daughter of Henry. Son of Anne. Called at the christening.”

“You've always known it would come to this.”

“Not always. Miss Edith withheld her secrets until Stockholm fell. The prince wished for west. I begged for east.” Drusilla shook her head. “Prague was a mistake.”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “Stockholm? The slayer before me? You're saying Spike wanted to come to California as soon as I was called? But he never even met the Stockholm slayer.”

“The time had come. Westbound trains to the new frontier. The singing of the rails, vibrating bone deep. He couldn't know he'd lose me here, lose me to his own road.” Drusilla took Buffy by the shoulders. “The bloodline, tainted with light. Requires shadow in payment. Be as you're called.”

“Ok, I think you've officially lost me.” Buffy didn't fight the vampire's grip, only held her gaze, studying her. “Spike might understand you, but I haven't had a century or so to learn.”

Drusilla slid one hand up to the slayer's neck, stroking the faint scar of Angel's bite. “Lose one. Gain another. Father for son. One lighted Aurelian warrior for another. Only one gives rise to the Aurelian Slayer.”

“Aurelian Slayer? Well, technically, yeah. I kinda killed the head of the family... Oh. That's not how you mean it. You mean me as an Aurelian. Claimed to the clan. Gotcha.”

“The mighty, the dangerous. The three, the many...” Drusilla dropped her hands to Buffy's lap, and took the slayer's hands in her own. She swayed to music only she could hear, moving their hands in time to it. “A waltz, a timeless dance.” The silent music stopped, and she frowned tilting her head to the side. “From beneath you, it devours.”

Buffy jerked her hands free. “What do you know about that?”

“Yearning for it, for the battle that never began. As good as dead.” Drusilla grabbed her hands again. “Stop seeking it,” she growled, her fangs suddenly bared. “That's not your road to take him down.”

Buffy took a deep breath. “I'm not seeking it, Dru. Really. It's just sort of... there.”

“Be as you're called! Home is in the bloodline!” The demon face slipped away into the smooth lines and soft smile of the human mask. The growling voice was as sweet and whimsical as it had been before the display of temper. “Be as a daughter. ...Little flowers on a farm, where memories grow.”

Buffy gave the hands that held hers a reassuring squeeze. “I will, Dru. Eventually. But you know what I have to ask in exchange.”

“Distance from the lost prince. Distance from the sharp ends.” She tilted her head again. “From the twins?”

“I can't have you anywhere near where I might have to stake you. Low profile and far away. That's the only way this works.”

Drusilla looked up at the sky. “Lost love. Lost bride,” she sighed. “Such funny, pretty sparks.”

“I'm sorry. You know that's how it has to be. I know there's no stopping you from popping up occasionally, but it has to be rare, and the body count has to stay low.”

The vampire's eyes came back to Buffy. “Face of his salvation, is it?” She grinned. “Red blood will change. Blue eyed cherubs will question. Green blades will promise. Bright sparks will ensure. ...One day, it will be time, and glad welcome, as when you once knew flight.” She shook her head solemnly. “Only once. Anchored in blood soon. Clipped wings for longer travels.”

Buffy broke their joined hands again, dropping onto her back in the sand. She rubbed her eyes, then stared up at the stars. “I feel like I've just lost a few million tons of pressure off my shoulders... But I think translating you is starting to give me a headache.”

Drusilla crawled up beside her and fell onto her back as well, studying the stars. “Hear them speak?”

“No, Dru. I hear you speak. And I'm pretty sure that's enough.”

“Blurred lines,” Drusilla whispered. “You talk like your mate.”

Buffy gestured vaguely to her neck. “Do you see a claim mark anywhere? I don't have a mate. Not yet.”

“You will, daughter of the blood. Your demon chose. Your demon waits. As impatient as his.”

“I know, I know,” Buffy sighed.

They fell into silence, staring up at the stars together.


There was a screech of tires in the driveway. A few seconds later, the front door flew open. “Buffy!”

Giles stopped his pacing and came into the hall, Tara and Lydia on his heels. “What's wrong?”

“I was too late. Couple of bodies at the train station. A doll wearing a blindfold. Dru's gotta be in town by now.” Spike looked at the worried faces of the watchers and witch. “Rupert,” he said slowly, a feeling of dread creeping over him. “Where's my wife?”

“Wife?” Lydia squeaked.

The men took no notice of her. Giles gulped. “Weatherly Park.”

The front door slammed closed.

Joyce came to the top of the stairs, looking sleepy. “What's going on? Is everyone alright?”

Tara bit her lip. “We don't know.”


Drusilla's humming came to an abrupt halt. “Shh! Stop the music. The prince rides for his bride, as in tales of old. Fear in the roar of the engine.”

There was no reply.

She lifted her head to look at her fellow star-gazer. “No rest for the wicked.” She kissed Buffy's forehead and climbed to her feet. She was almost to the street when the DeSoto pulled up to the curb.

Spike jumped out of the car and ran to her. “Where is she?”

Drusilla tilted her head at him, curious. “Too much time in the light, sweet William? You expect nightmares in place of dreams.”

He took her by the shoulders. “What have you done, Dru?”

“Told a bedtime story. Told the bride of happy endings and sad ones. She understands, now. Hears the stars with me.” She turned her head and nodded in the direction of the swing set.

Spike followed her gaze to a still body in the sand in front of the swings. His knees weakened. He held onto Drusilla's shoulders to keep himself upright. “God, no...”

“She sleeps now, better for the dreaming.” She took his hand to lead him to the swing set. “Eased her worries.” He allowed himself to be numbly dragged along, too shocked to notice the heartbeat he was hearing as they neared the body. When they were only a few feet from the swings, Drusilla left him to resume her place at Buffy's side. She whispered in the slayer's ear. “Come back, come back, Daughter of Henry.”

Buffy's brow furrowed. “Dru? Sorry, I must have dozed off on you.” She raised one hand to rub her eyes, the movement pulling Spike from his stupor. “I had no idea how tired I was.”


“Spike?” Buffy lifted herself up on her elbows. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“You're alright?”

“Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Just... sleepy.” Buffy took in the look on his face, then frowned at Drusilla, who was giggling. “Dammit, Dru. You actually let him think... That was evil. The giggling intensified. “You really are mad as a hatter, aren't you?” She fell back onto the sand. “I just don't get how I managed to fall asleep.”

“No more worries,” Drusilla said, still giggling. She stroked Buffy's hair. “You'll be as you're called.”

Spike, regaining his composure, came to stand over them. “Should stake you both.” He held out his hands to pull them to their feet.

With glances at each other, the women accepted the offer. Buffy tried to brush the sand from her clothes. She turned her back to them. “How bad is it?”

“Ooh! Like beaches! Will there be a picnic?”

“Thanks, Dru. That's really helpful.” She tried again to brush at the back of her shirt. “Spike?”

Spike's eyes were on the waistband of her jeans. “Lesson the first, Slayer.”

She turned back to face him, noting the angry amber glint in his eyes. “Oh, boy. I'm going to be hearing about this one for centuries, aren't I?”

Drusilla started to back away, but Spike's arm shot out and he grabbed her by the shoulder. “Dru, stay. I wanna know what the hell you two have been up to.”

The women exchanged looks again. Drusilla's attempt to look meek sent Buffy into giggles, which were soon joined with the vampire's own.

Spike was not amused. “What?” he roared.

Buffy struggled for air. “What... What you're so freaked about is... She told me... what Althenea and the Guardian wouldn't say... Bonus of a seer without ethics, I guess. Dru said...” She gasped. “You're pissed off about the best news ever... She told me... I won't have to jump.”

“Anchors. Not flight,” Drusilla agreed.

Spike took a step back, absorbing this information. He addressed his long time lover in a low, gentle tone he knew to be effective. “Drusilla, princess, did the pixies tell you that?”

“Messages from all, pixies and stars. Miss Edith has always known. Your chosen would be of The Chosen, would see Miss Edith's last days.”

“Buffy, love, don't take this the wrong way.” He took Drusilla in his arms and gave her a tender kiss. When he pulled away, he whispered, “Thank you.”

Buffy returned to her swing. “I should have known you two had unfinished business.”

Spike opened his mouth to argue, then closed it when he saw the playful grin on her face.

Drusilla returned to her swing, too. “Catch stars with me?”

“Sure.” They pushed off together, and began swinging in time. “And I'll pretend you aren't in such a good mood because you just got kissed by lips that belong to me.”

“No marks, she says. Not yet.”

“Ok. I walked right into that one.” She looked down at Spike as her swing rose higher. “I'm going to have to fix that, aren't I?”

“That depends,” Spike said with a wry smile. “Dru, how long you staying in town, pet?”



The second time Spike came home that night looked much like the first, with the addition of Joyce to the group who met him at the front door.

“Did you find her?”

“Is she alright?”

“Where's Drusilla?”

He held up his hands. “It's fine. They're just talking... mostly about me, I expect. Dru says she'll be out of town by morning. Something about catching a boat to China. Buffy will be home soon.”

In the flurry of commentary about the dangers of leaving Buffy with Drusilla, Spike caught Tara's eye and gave her a significant look. Tara slipped off to the basement.

Spike joined her a few minutes later. He fell into the chair adjacent hers, and read aloud from one of the prints on the wall over the bed. “'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.'”

“What happened at the park?”

“They had a talk that relieved Buffy of so much stress, she fell asleep star-gazing. Dru says the jump isn't gonna happen.”

“Do you think she's right?”

“That's been the plan all along.” Spike ran a hand through his hair. “But yeah, I think she's sure. Leastways, she's made Buffy sure. That's good enough for me.”

“Why would she come here just to reassure the slayer she wasn't going to die?” Tara looked confused. “That's not very evil of her.”

“Evil is meeting me a bit too far away to sense anything and pointing out Buffy's body on the ground.”

“She didn't!” Tara shuddered. “That's cruel!”

“And this is Dru on a good day. She's even nearly coherent.” Spike sighed and looked back at the prints on the wall. “Suspect she came 'cause I never chose to continue the bloodline. Was always too fixated on her. I'm finally gonna add someone to the clan, just in a different way. So she's doing for Buffy what Angelus did for me... albeit in the most twisted ways he could think of.”

“Welcome to the family?”

“More or less. As in less torture, more giggling.”

Tara smiled. “And apparently good news.”

“My guess? Dru sees the change in the family happening, that's been happening since Peaches first came to Sunnyhell to put on a white hat and Buffy took out Old Bat Face. Then we came. I dusted the Anointed, met the slayer, and all hell broke loose. Dru knows the line's shifted in our branch of the clan, and she's the one on the outs. Wants to get in good with the next member, earn herself a little leeway.”

“She's kissing up to Buffy before the claim even happens.”

“Seems like. Thing I don't get is, she could do that without encouraging it. She's pretty strongly in favor.”

“She's a seer, Spike.”

“Told you, I got that memo.”

“She's known this was coming, and she probably knows there was no way it wasn't going to happen, even if you guys stuck with Plan A instead of coming back in time.”

Spike turned to look at her. “What do you know about Plan A?”

Tara blushed. “Oh, dear. I've stuck my foot in it.” She tilted her head toward the ceiling. “Whistler! A bail out would be nice right now.” Nothing happened. The blue eyes bored into her with intensity that made her squirm. “He picked a fine time to stop swinging by for visits.”

“Glinda...” His tone was low with warning, edging on a growl.

“Whistler told me what the game plan was, and that you and Buffy would eventually end up mates, no matter how the war with the First played out.”

“Not bloody likely. Plan A included a probable one way ticket to hell, for me.”

“You mean the weapon Angel brought?”

“That li'l demon's been telling a lot of tales, has he?” Spike shook his head. “It was an amulet.”

“He said Buffy might have decided to take it from you and die in your place. But the PTB had plans for bringing back whichever one of you went, and eventually, you'd claim each other.”

Spike sank down in his chair. “Never had a chance, did I? Powers had plans. Dru knew. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if even Peaches... Bloody hell.” He sat upright. “Whistler's the one brought Buffy to Angel's attention in the first place. If Angel hadn't been around when Dru and me came to Sunnyhell, everything would have gone differently. And things with me and Buffy, if they'd ever even started, wouldn't have been the same at all. ...That sneaky son of a bi--”

A blue flash came into the room, and bells began to ring all over the house. “Hey, now! My mother was a good woman. A touch too fond of swatting me with the broom handle, but she was alright.”

Tara murmured a few words, silencing the bells. She ran to the base of the stairs and shouted, “False alarm! Sorry, everyone!” She returned to her chair in time to see Spike glaring at Whistler.

“So how far back does it go?” he asked, his jaw clenched. “You get involved earlier than that?”

Whistler leaned against the foot board of the bed. “Not me. I can't speak for anyone else, but my assignment began right before Buffy Summers became the Slayer.”

“And where exactly does it end?”

The demon shrugged. “We're all playing a long game here, not just me.”

“Dammit. I was having a pretty good night,” Buffy grumbled as she came down the stairs. “Who summoned the cryptic asshole?”

Tara and Spike pointed at each other.

“Ok, so both of you.” She sat on the bed and kicked off her boots. “What are we talking about?”

“Angel, sort of,” Tara said. “You know, how Whistler brought him to you and triggered pretty much everything involving you and the Order of Aurelius.”

Buffy took off her socks. “Yeah, we never have really talked about that...” She stood up and faced the demon. Then she punched him in the face. Hard. “Was that really necessary?”

Whistler nearly lost his footing from the unexpected blow. He pulled himself upright with the corner of the foot board, rubbing his jaw with the other hand. “I could ask the same thing. Holy shit, Summers! You been holding on to that one for a while?”

“Yeah, like six years or so.” She punched him again. “And my name isn't Summers!”

Spike grinned and leaned back in his chair, enjoying the show. He caught Tara doing the same and winked at her. “This could be fun,” he whispered.

“Alright, fine, Mrs. Pratt. Yeah, it kind of was. That cheesy-ass Romeo and Juliet thing yo two had going put a lot of stuff in motion, not the least of which is your new name. It was a necessary evil.”

“Evil, I'll grant you. But there had to have been a better way for Spike and I to find each other that didn't start with me being lucky number three on his slayer wish list.”

“Yeah, I mean, it wasn't impossible...”

“So why did I have to go through all of that, then?”

“It wasn't done for you, genius. It was done for him.”

She took a step backwards. “Huh?”

“Angel needed ties to the human world. You were just the ticket. I didn't know exactly how deep the plan went at the time. I just got told he needed to be close to you before Acathla was dug up, to stop its rise. I didn't find out until later he could trigger it, and what was expected to happen if he tried.”

“The truce. The trip to Hell. The decision to branch out on his own.” Buffy tapped her forehead with the base of her hand. “Of course! You and your bosses used me to turn Angel into an active asset. And you thought I'd accept in the long run because I got Spike out of the deal.”

“Greater good?” Whistler asked with a meek smile.

“To hell with the greater good.” Buffy threw another forceful punch. “I don't like being used, Whistler.”

“Some things are luck, kid. And some things aren't.”

“So let's talk about what isn't. What's the real game, here?”

Whistler vanished.

The three time travelers stared at the space he'd occupied in silence.

Finally, Spike whispered, “If that much planning went into setting up that Acathla business...”

“Then none of what it triggered was an accident. And not just Angel going to LA.” Tara looked back and forth between the two of them. “There's a lot more going on than we know about, isn't there?”

“Uh-huh.” Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. “We're being played. I don't know what that little weasel is up to, but he's definitely up to something. And it's big.”

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