“How do you think it’s going?” Joyce asked after a few minutes of peaceful contemplation of the yard.
Buffy shook her head. “It’s a lot to take in. I mean, it’s better that we tell her now, so she can be careful and maybe not take it so hard, but when she finds out what happened in our time, and why we have to stop it….”
“She’s going to think it was all her fault that you died.”
“She felt like that anyway. Spike told me. Between the two of them I think they were carrying around enough guilt for ten people. He thought he should have been able to stop Doc from cut—from opening the portal, and she thought it was her fault for being the Key in the first place. They did a lot of wallowing before I came back.”
“I guess they were glad to see you.”
“Well, Dawn was, for sure. At least until my depresso-girl behavior made her hate me. She had no idea where I was while I was gone, but Spike did, so as glad as he was to see me….” Buffy paused, remembering. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on his face when he realized I was me and not–” She coughed.
“But he’s a lot older and a little smarter about magic then they were, so he knew there were probably going to be complications from that dark magic Willow tapped into. When he found out where I’d been…. We had a lot of arguments about whether or not I should tell Willow and everybody that they pulled me out of Heaven, so they’d stop expecting me to be happy all the time.”
Joyce shuddered. “I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around that. You were dead, buried, and Willow resurrected you? And pulled you out of Heaven?”
“I guess that’s where I was. All I know for sure is that I was warm and happy and at peace. And I felt loved. It’s all pretty much a faded dream now. If I didn’t have to tell someone about it every once in a while, I’m sure I would have completely forgotten what it was like. Except for the clawing my way out of a grave. That’s harder to forget….”
“That must have been quite a shock. To be at rest and then—”
“You have no idea,” Buffy said through tight lips. “Let’s not go there.”
“And Spike’s job is to see that you don’t go back?”
“Well, not this year anyway. Not for a long time if he has his way, but I am still the slayer, so he might or might not get his way. But for now, it’s that or make sure I get to stay dead, if that’s how it goes. But I don’t think it will. I’m not stupid enough to take Glory on by myself, and my backup is a little stronger and more aware of what needs to be done. And more able to do it.”
“Why won’t you tell me what that is?”
“Because you don’t need to know, Mom. And it wouldn’t make you any happier if you did know.”
It wasn’t long before the kitchen door flew open and Dawn was standing on the porch staring at Buffy.
“Youdied? You died so I wouldn’t have to? Are you nuts?” Her shriek made both Joyce and Buffy cringe.
Buffy sighed and stood up.
“Did you let Spike get to the rest of it?”
“What else is there? Are you some kind of ghost?”
Spike appeared in the doorway behind Dawn. “C’mon back in here, Bit, and let me finish the story.”
“Go on,” Buffy said. “Let him finish, then I’ll come in and you can ask your questions”
Casting dubious looks over her shoulder, Dawn followed Spike back into the house, muttering, “My sister is a ghost. Or a zombie. Or something.”
“That doesn’t seem to be going well,” Joyce said with a worried frown. “Why are you having Spike do it?”
“He was the one who made it up the tower first and tried to keep Doc from….” Buffy trailed off as she realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to share exactly how Doc had used Dawn to open the portal. “He was the one who tried to keep her safe up there, and then, after I… after that, they kind of bonded over their… mutual grief, I guess. So, he really knows her a lot better than she knows him, and I just figured he’d do a better job helping her understand… stuff.”
“My mind is still boggled at the idea that Willow was able to bring you back from the dead. It just… it doesn’t seem possible.”
“Well, it had something to do with the magic involved, I think. Probably wouldn’t have worked if I’d been hit by a truck instead of falling through a magic portal. And she had to get into some seriously dark magic to do it. It kinda messed her up mentally for a while.” Buffy gave Joyce a rueful smile. “If we can’t fix things this time around, you might be wishing you did die,” she said. “But we’re going to,” she added quickly at seeing the expression her mother’s face.
She continued in a firm voice, “You aren’t going to die, I’m not going to die, and next year is going to be… really, really different. But better! Much better!”
Joyce frowned and bit her lip. “It just hit me, that if I’m still alive by the time Glory opens her portal, I might have to watch you die. That’s not acceptable, young lady!”
Buffy gave a short laugh at Joyce’s indignation. “Yeah, it’s not high on my list of things to do this year either. Don’t worry about it, Mom. It’s why we’re here. To see that it doesn’t happen.”
“But you don’t want to tell me how you intend to stop it….”
Buffy sighed. “I’d rather not. We all—Giles, Winston, Spike, and me—we all know what we can do to stop it, but we’re hoping to come up with another way that doesn’t involve…. Something I’d rather not do.”
“I don’t care what you’d rather do, I care that you don’t have to jump off a tower, or into a portal, or whatever it was that killed you before.”
Buffy gave a short laugh. “I’ll tell Spike he can probably add you to the list of people who’ll do it if I won’t,” she said, only half-seriously.
“If it means what I think it means, you probably can. If it’s a choice between losing my daughter or killing some random stranger, I’m more than willing to do what I have to do.”
“Don’t doubt that for a second, Joyce.” Spike’s voice preceded him out the door. “I’ve always said you were a potential slayer who didn’t get called before she aged out of the window. Got that protective instinct, without the pesky ‘no killing humans’ hangups your Chosen daughter does.”
“That is what she’s trying so hard not to tell me, isn’t it? That she might have to kill a human?”
“You’re entirely too smart,” Buffy grumbled. She glanced up to where Dawn was staring at her with her mouth open. “And you probably didn’t need to hear that either.”
Dawn shook her head. “Spike already told me Glory has a human host. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if somebody kills her host, she probably disappears too.” She glared at Buffy. “I think that’s what you should do. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.”
“I don’t kill humans, Dawn,” Buffy said. Remembering the possibly still-to-come fight with the knights, she added, “Not intentionally, anyway. It would be murder. Not in my job description.”
“You do know your boyfriend is a vampire, right? He probably kills lots of people.”
“Not now, he doesn’t!”
“But he could, right?” Dawn turned to Spike. “You could, couldn’t you?”
“Could. Will if I have to. That’s why I was sent back.”
“And Winston? Why is he here? Who sent him?” Joyce reminded them that she was as much a part of this as her two daughters.
Buffy shrugged. “He was sent back by the council just like I was, except that I never knew him. Something Spike and I did when we first got here last year changed the future enough that he’s now part of that Council, and they decided to send him back to help us.”
“How could he help?”
Buffy and Spike exchanged glances.
“You’ve seen how powerful a mage he is,” he said. “He’s not a healer, but he was able do it anyway. Seems he has other magical talents that he doesn’t need to work quite as hard at.”
“Can’t he just magic Glory out of existence like he did Mom’s tumor?” Dawn was wearing her “adults can be so stupid” expression.
“Just like us, Bit, he’s trying not to do anything that might totally change the future world as we know it. Healing your mum was already a pretty big piece of magic to throw into the timeline.”
Buffy added, “I’m pretty sure if he could send Glory back to hell with magic, he’d have done it already. There has to be a reason why he hasn’t.”
“Maybe he just hasn’t seen her yet,” Dawn said hopefully.
“Maybe so, Bit, but just in case, you need to be bloody careful where you go and who you’re with. And for the love of … whatever… don’t tell anyone what you are.”
“Not even Janice? Or Willow or Tara? Or Xander?”
Dawn flinched as all three adults shouted the same word, Spike’s roar almost overpowering her mother and sister’s voices, but not completely.
“All right, all right. Sheesh! I’m not stupid, you know.” She relaxed and sat down on the steps, glancing up at Buffy and Spike. “It might be helpful if I knew what she looks like,” she said.
“Bloody hell. We’ve been forgetting you haven’t seen her yet.”
“In our time, she didn’t know you were the Key, but she knew I had it, and she was coming after me all the time. So you saw a lot of her. That probably won’t happen this time since we won’t have to hang out at the hospital, but when she does that locating spell with that snake thing….”
“Snake thing?” Dawn jumped to her feet. “You didn’t mention any snake things.”
“You don’t have to worry about it yet. We’ll probably have taken care of her before she gets around to that.”
Dawn ignored Buffy’s attempt to blow her off.
“What did it do?”
“It came into the Magic Box and saw you, knew you were the Key, and then tried to go back to Glory to tell her it found you.”
“And I killed it,” Buffy said firmly. “It never got back to her. And following it allowed me to figure out where she was living when she had Spike, so we knew where to go to… rescue him.”
Dawn looked at Spike. “What was she doing with you?”
“Those ugly little buggers that work for her thought I might be her bloody Key, so they broke into my crypt and dragged me off. Didn’t take her long to figure out I wasn’t what she was looking for, but might know where it was. She tried her best to get it out me. Was just trying to escape when your sis and the Scoobies came ridin’ in like the cavalry.”
“Aw. That was sweet. You came to rescue Spike.”
Buffy coughed and exchanged a glance with an amused Spike before she tried to answer.
“Yeah. Something like that. I couldn’t leave him there, in case she was able to torture the information out of him.”
“You didn’t sell me out, did you?” Dawn demanded.
“No, love. I didn’t sell you out. Wouldn’t have done that to your sis–or to you, for that matter. But it took a bit of doin’ for Buffy to believe it.”
“Really?” Dawn turned to stare at Buffy. “Why wouldn’t you believe he would keep my secret? And what changed your mind?”
Buffy and Spike didn’t even have to exchange glances to mutually agree that neither Dawn nor Joyce needed to know about the Buffybot if it could possibly be avoided.
“Well, you know, he was still evil then. And I didn’t really believe that a soulless vampire could love, so…. Anyway. I figured out that we could trust him, and then he was just part of the gang when things got… worse.”
“Worse than a snake thing looking for me?”
Buffy glared at Spike. “I thought you told her?”
“He did. I just wanted to hear you tell it. So, you were fighting Glory on the ground, and I was tied up on top of some rickety tower and some creepy guy stabbed me to make the portal open.”
Joyce turned an icy stare on Buffy. “I think you left that out of your version,” she said through tight lips. “That Dawn was stabbed.”
Buffy sighed. “It was her blood they needed to open the portal. And since she was made from me, we have the same blood. So, my blood was what I used to close it before all the monsters on the other side could come through and destroy the world.”
She looked her mother in the eye. “It’s what we do, Mom. Slayers. It’s what we do. We stand between the world and evil things that want to destroy it. Sometimes it doesn’t go great for us.”
Joyce’s face was pale. “I guess I never really… I don’t really understand what it means to be you, do I?”
“The only one who can understand what it means to be the Slayer is another slayer.”
Spike walked up behind Buffy, putting his arms around her. “And this one is the best slayer that ever lived. Even other slayers don’t know what it means to be her, because they aren’t her. She’s very, very special.”
Buffy blushed and shrugged, turning her head to rest it against his chest in thanks.
“The point is,” she continued, “being the Slayer means being in danger all the time. It’s our job to see that the Big Bads don’t win.” She shrugged again. “Sometimes they do, and, as someone who knows about it once said to me, sometimes slayers are just tired and ready to lose that last fight.” She felt Spike’s arms tighten around her as he realized who she was quoting.
“But I’m not,” she said briskly, shaking him off. “So, this time we’re going to take Glory down before she ever gets that tower built. And before she can figure out that her Key is a fourteen-year-old girl.”
There was a moment of silence before Joyce stood up and said, “Well on that cheery note, I think I’ll start dinner. Will you two be staying for it?”
“Sure, Mom. We’ll have to leave in a couple of hours for a Scooby meeting, but dinner would be nice.”
As they walked through the now-dark streets to the Magic Box, Buffy slipped her hand into Spike’s. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it, just giving a little squeeze and a barely-hidden smile.
“Maybe I shouldn’t do this,” she mused, without releasing his hand. “The more important Glory thinks you are to me, the more likely she is to try to capture you again.”
He shrugged. “There could be worse things to happen, love. If she has me, and she changes while I’m there…”
“We’re not using you as bait!”
“We’ll use me however I need to be used to keep you and the Bit safe,” he growled, growling even deeper when she yanked her hand out of his.
“The idea is that we both survive this time. Nobody dies! I don’t jump off a tower, and you don’t burn to a crisp saving the world from the First Evil.” She stopped and turned to glare at him. “And we live happily ever after!”
“I thought you gave up on fairy tales when you had to send the great poof to Hell,” he snapped back, frowning at the expression on her face.
“That was before I died and came back… and you died and came back. And then we both got sent back in time to the same time and place. We’re not exactly living normal lives, are we?” She glared at him, daring him to argue with her.
“Good point, love. Happily ever after, it is.”
He opened the door and followed her into the Magic Box.
“Or not,” he said as they met the hostile stares from the people sitting around the table.
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