They all looked up as the door opened and a much quieter Willow preceded Winston into the room. Buffy was surprised to see traces of tears on Willow’s face, but her glance at Winston earned her only a headshake.
Trying to pretend nothing had happened, Giles said, “I suppose, given that Buffy may be compromised at any time now, we should work on coordinating our spells as often as we can.”
“Indeed,” Max said. “We’ll have to work quite closely together in order for this to work. It will be… challenging.”
“Aren’t you going to practice on those freaky knight guys?” Xander’s question seemed innocent, but Willow gave him a glare.
“That would give us a chance to practice working together, but Winston and I are hoping to avoid a direct confrontation by implanting the idea that they are in the wrong place.”
“But they know Glory’s here,” Xander protested. “She’s been sucking knightly brains right and left.”
“That’s quite true. All the more reason to send them away quickly, rather than confront them. They are not likely to leave in the face of such strong opposition if they think we are protecting the Key from them.”
“That makes sense,” Buffy said. “The sooner the better.”
“We’ve actually begun working on it already. Willow has been very helpful with her computer skills in assisting us to learn who the leaders are.”
“The Knights are online?”
Willow smiled and sat up a little straighter. “Well, not ‘on line’ as in they have a web page—‘We’re the Knights of Byzantium, ask us how’—but I was able to find enough information about them to figure out they’ve probably sent their big guns here, and that they call the head knight a general.”
Buffy nodded her agreement. “We’ve met,” she said tersely.
Willow continued, “These guys have to eat and live somewhere, so I found where they get their food and camping supplies. I hacked into the store’s records and got the names on the credit cards to give to Winston.”
Winston smiled at her. “She did. Willow saved us a great deal of legwork. Having their names allowed us to…. well, let’s just say they are already wondering if they are in the right place. Since Glory obviously doesn’t have her Key yet, and Buffy doesn’t seem to be protecting anything but her family, they are open to suggestions that the news from Asia could mean they are searching in the wrong place and allowing Glory to weaken them by remaining here.”
“We’ll give another strong push tonight,” Max said. “Perhaps one that can include lower ranked officers also. With luck, they will leave within a day or two to seek the Key in another part of the world.”
“That would be wonderful,” Buffy said with a sigh. “One less enemy trying to kill Dawn to worry about.”
“It would be best if you could hold off on your plan to let Glory capture you until we know they’ve left the country.” Winston said.
“I’ll do my best not to be Glory bait for a couple of days,” Buffy agreed. “But I want to get this over with before something goes wrong.”
Spike cocked his head at Max and Winston. “How long will you two need to recuperate from whatever you’re doing to the costumed twits?” he asked. “Don’t want you weak when we have to go after Buffy.” He shook his head. “Don’t want you hurtin’ yourselves either,” he added. “In the long run, this is our problem—the slayer’s and mine. Won’t turn down the help, but don’t want anybody else risking their lives for us.”
Buffy took his hand and stood beside him proudly.
“What he said,” she affirmed.
Giles and the two older mages exchanged looks before Giles said, “This was obviously going to happen anyway. Your coming here to try to prevent Buffy’s death has nothing to do with the Key being here, or the danger Glory is to the world. If anything, the knowledge you’ve provided has given us an edge we clearly didn’t have in your timeline. We would be very foolish not to do whatever we can to bring about a different conclusion this time.”
“Exactly,” Max said. “The knowledge you two have shared with us has given us a better than fighting chance against a danger we might otherwise not have recognized in time to do anything about it. Please do not concern yourself with our welfare.”
“I was sent here to help you,” Winston said. “Please remember that.” He sighed. “Having said that, what we’ve been doing recently, and will continue tonight, is quite different from the kind of work we will have to do against Glorificus. We’re merely providing some mental suggestions to the General and his underlings. It doesn’t require the same level of effort as will the spell we’ll be using against Glory. If we get a day to rest, we will be fine.”
He smiled at Spike. “But I do thank you for your concern.”
Spike shrugged. “Saw what you looked like after taking care of Joyce’s tumor. I’ve got some idea what it can take out of you.”
“In that incidence, I was doing something somewhat against my… natural abilities. Counteracting Glory’s power will be more….” He cleared his throat. “More in my wheelhouse, so to speak.” Winston looked somewhat embarrassed, even though he was only hinting at what his ‘wheelhouse’ might be. “It will be taxing, without a doubt, but not in at all the same way that was.”
Buffy stared at him with new understanding. “Were you risking your life for my mom?”
“No, no. Not at all,” he hastened to assure her. “I would never have mentioned doing it if I thought there was any chance of that happening. But I did have to work at it much harder than someone who was a natural healer would’ve. My magical talents lie in a quite different direction, and it was necessary for me to work harder to focus on destroying a tumor inside a living person than it would be if I were to de—”
Max’s “Ahem!” brought Winston’s explanations to an abrupt halt.
“I believe what Winston is trying to say is that he was perfectly safe and so was your mother, even though he is not a skilled healer. Tara, with her natural affinity for healing, wouldn’t have been as stressed by it. If she was trained in the proper techniques, it would’ve been much less taxing for her,” he added with a smile in her direction.
Tara blushed and tried to hide her face, but she looked very happy behind her hair, and Willow stared at her with new respect.
Spike leaned in to whisper to Buffy, “Don’t know about you, but I’d love to’ve heard the rest of Winnie’s explanation.”
Buffy didn’t answer him, but the look she gave Winston said she felt the same way. However, instead of asking for more about his innate talents, she turned to Max. By now it had become clear that, while he and Winston seemed to be equals in many ways, Max had become the de facto leader of their magical assistance group. She smiled at him.
“So, you guys need two more days, and then I can actively start looking for Glory?”
“You could make yourself more available to her at that time,” Max agreed. “Once we know you’re putting yourself in a position to be captured, it will become important that we all be in the same place—possibly here—so we can follow Spike to your location as quickly as possible.”
Buffy nodded her agreement. “I can’t hide between now and then, though,” she said, “so let’s hope she doesn’t come looking for me. We still don’t know if the little creep was acting on his own, or if she sent him after me. In our time, when they kidnapped Spike, they did it on their own because they thought he was the Key. With luck, that’s what happened this time and she isn’t looking to capture me… yet.”
After another round of discussion about the knights and where they might go, and some more uncomfortable Angel-bashing on Xander’s part, Buffy was anxious to leave. While she was happy that it had taken his attention away from the announcement of her “marriage” to Spike, she was getting more than a little tired of hearing how hard he’d tried to “warn” her about her relationship with Angel.
“You know what? If we’re done here, I think we’ll hit some of the cemeteries we missed last night. Just because I have to worry about a hellgod, doesn’t mean the ordinary vampires and demons are taking a break. If anything, they’ve gotten busier lately.”
“Undoubtedly attracted to the hellmouth by the same forces that brought Glory here to open her portal. Evil calling to evil, so to speak,” Giles said.
“Speaking of evil….” Spike looked at Xander. “In our time, you and I thought we’d taken out Doc. Turned out we were wrong, and he’s the one that threw me off the tower and bled Dawn. Any chance you’d want to come with me one day and see if we can make his demise more permanent this time?”
Xander blinked in surprise, then nodded, clearly pleased to find himself with more of a role than he’d had so far. “Yeah, sure. I’m always up for slaying evil-doers. Why didn’t it work the first time?”
“Didn’t cut the bastard’s head off,” Spike said tersely. “Won’t make that mistake this time.”
Xander nodded. “Ready when you are, Fangface. I’ll bring my favorite sword.”
“No rush. If we take out his boss, he won’t be a factor. We can get him whenever.”
“Then why bother?” Tara asked quietly, earning a smile from Max.
“I owe him.” Spike’s abruptly different expression had all the humans cringing away. Even Max and Winston seemed somewhat taken back by his suddenly menacing demeanor, although Max nodded his head.
“You appear so human and… likeable… most of the time, it’s very easy to forget what you really are,” he said without any trace of judgement.
“Right, and on that cheery note, we’re off to slay things. Regular, non-magical evil things.” Buffy tugged on the sleeve of Spike’s coat and pulled him toward the door.
As they walked out, Spike’s ears picked up Xander’s “Did anybody besides me get the feeling we should be glad he’s on our side?”
There was a murmur of agreement that left Spike with a grin on his face.
“Well, your mood sure improved,” Buffy said, able to feel his delight as well as see it. “Is it because you scared them all silly?”
“Could be,” he admitted, putting his arm around her. “Could also be I’m just enjoying walking around with my girl.”
“Nice try,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty sure you’re just happy because you scared them”
“A vamp’s gotta have some fun, Slayer,” he said. “Let’s go kill things.”
“I probably shouldn’t like that suggestion as much as I do,” she said. “But let’s do it.”
As they wandered home after a satisfactory couple of hours of fighting and slaying, including removing the heads of several of Glory’s minions with the swords they no longer went anywhere without, they were surprised to see a car parked in front of the apartment building. The residents all had parking areas in the back, and, possibly due to Max’s less noticeable wards, very rarely did anyone park in front any longer than it took to pick up or drop off something at the office.
“Looks like my message was too subtle for Angelus,” Spike growled as they got close enough to see Angel standing on the sidewalk and obviously berating Max. It took Buffy a moment to recognize the tall slender man trying to get Angel’s attention.
“Wesley? Is that you?”
Wes whirled around, as did Angel, but Buffy’s eyes went to Max first.
“Are they giving you a hard time?” She transferred her gaze to Angel and Wesley, narrowing her eyes in a glare. “Are you two being jerks to our landlord?”
“It’s not a problem, Buffy,” Max said with a smile. “Your old… friends… here were upset that they couldn’t get any closer to your apartment than where they are standing.”
“What the hell kind of wards do you have that could stop us at the curb?” Angel glared at Spike as if it was his fault.
“Good ones, seems like,” Spike said with a smirk at Max, who smirked back at him.
“If you’ve got this, I’ll just go lock up and retire for the night,” Max said, including Buffy in his questioning glance.
“Oh, we’ve got it,” Buffy said. “Trust me.”
They all waited in silence until Max had returned to his office and closed the door.
“What are you two doing here?” Buffy included them both, but her glare was aimed at Angel. “Didn’t you get Spike’s hint?”
“I got it,” Angel growled, “but I don’t understand it.”
“Neither do I,” Wesley put in. “He insisted you must be in danger and that he had to see you and get you away from….” He turned to Spike. “William the Bloody, I presume?”
Spike reminded himself that this Wesley had never met him and probably knew nothing except what he’d heard from Angel.
“Wouldn’t be presuming anything just now, Oxford,” Spike said. “But you can just call me Spike. Who knows? Under other circumstances we might be friends.”
Wesley frowned in confusion, as did Angel, who growled. “Just what circumstances might that be, Spike?”
Spike shook his head. “Probably not gonna happen. I was just trying to break the ice.”
“Nice save,” Buffy muttered, sending him a glare before turning it back on Angel. “And you,” she said. “You can’t even imagine what a bad idea it was to come here.”
“I’m here because you might be in danger.”
“Might be?” Buffy’s laugh had no humor in it. “Angel, I’m the Slayer. I’m always in danger. This week, I’m battling a hellgod who wants to end the world. Unless you have information to contribute to that fight, or you’re planning to be here to fight with us….” She watched him exchange glances with Wes and shake his head.
“Didn’t think so. You might as well go home then. We have important things to do in the next few days and neither one of us has the time or can afford to take a chance on giving you the ass kicking you deserve. And I can’t promise you that an ass kicking from me wouldn’t end in dust. Your dust,” she added in case he might be confused.
“I don’t understand, Buffy.” Angel gave her his best bewildered puppy eyes. “Why would you want to dust me? Aren’t you my forever girl?”
While Buffy sputtered incoherent curses, Spike spoke up. “I reckon you didn’t do that long hard think I told you to? If you had, you’d be in that car and on the way out of town before the Slayer stops swearing and decides to end you.”
“Stay out of this, Spike,” Angel snarled. “I don’t know what you’ve done to her, but–”
Buffy had stopped her profane threats, and said, “This is what he’s done to me. And I did it right back to him.”
Angel froze as Buffy bared the new mark on the left side of her neck, holding her head to the side and pulling her collar away. When she was sure he’d seen and recognized it for what it was, she twisted her head and presented him with the almost pristine right side, now missing any vampire scars or marks except the almost faded ones left by the master.
She waited quietly while he processed what he was seeing.
Wesley approached Spike cautiously and whispered, “What’s going on here?”
“Wait for it,” Spike whispered back. “And there it is!” he said aloud as Angel roared.
“No! That’s impossible! You would never let him…. No! We can fix this, Buffy. Come to LA with us. Wes can start researching immediately. I can fix this.”
“You can fix it?” Buffy said, false sweetness in her voice. “You mean without my knowledge or permission? The way you claimed me in the first place? And kept me on a leash for years by getting me to say I was your girl? Is that how you’re going to ‘fix it’, Angel?”
The fierce look she fixed on him so was obviously unlike anything he’d ever seen from her that it seemed to penetrate his rage and disappointment even better than her words. He flinched away in spite of himself, staring at her with a frown that grew deeper the longer he stared.
“You don’t sound like my Buffy,” he blustered. “What’s he done to you?”
He switched his intent stare to Spike, then back to Buffy, who was still giving him a cold, angry slayer’s glare. “Exactly how long have you two known each other?” he asked suspiciously. “And when did Spike find time to get that soul you say he has?”
“Not as dumb as he looks, is he, love?”
Buffy rolled her eyes at Spike, but nodded. “Apparently not,” she said, then turned back to Angel. “And I’m not that dumb either, Angel. I can’t believe you did that to me.” Her voice had more sadness than anger for a moment, then tightened again. “But it’s gone now. And so is any chance I will ever answer that question with anything but a loud no.”
“Did she say you claimed her? Without her permission?” Wesley was staring at Angel as if he’d just grown a set of horns.
“It’s all sorted now, Oxford. Over and done with. And you now know a bit more about your boss and what he’s capable of.”
“The more I learn, the more I….” Wes shook himself. “Why do you keep calling me that? Have we met before?”
“You and me? Nope. I missed your short stay here as a watcher. But I know you.”
Rather than answer Wesley’s question to him, Angel turned his glare on Spike, his fangs dropping as he said, “I don’t know how you did this, Spike, but you don’t get to—”
He didn’t finish, but launched himself at Spike, who’d correctly read his intentions and was ready for him. Before Angel had done more than throw one punch, which Spike successfully evaded, Buffy was on him, grabbing him by his belt and collar and throwing him into the street with an ease that wasn’t lost on anyone.
“Touch him again, and you’re dust,” she said, a stake clenched in her hand as she stalked toward the former love of her life. “That leash is gone and you’re just another vampire to me. And one I don’t like very much right now.” She gestured to the car. “Go away. You can check back with me in a couple of years to see if I’ve cooled off. Right now, you need to get as far away from me as you can, as fast as you can. Am I making myself clear?”
“Let’s go, Angel,” Wes said, getting into the driver’s seat of the car. “You can explain to me what she’s talking about on the way home.”
With a final glare at Spike, who met it with his own cold amber-eyed stare, Angel got into the car. With one last look at Buffy and Spike, now standing side-by-side, he sank down in the passenger seat and let the car carry him away from Sunnydale.
“You okay, love?”
Buffy stared at him with wide eyes. “Of course, I’m okay. When you claimed me, that string broke. I wasn’t kidding when I told him he was just another vampire. Didn’t you believe me?” Jackass, she thought at him.
He grinned at her. But I’m your jackass.
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