Buffy sprayed the table with coffee, sputtering and coughing as it came out her nose. There was a tense silence while she wiped her face and attempted to clean up the table with the small napkin that had been wrapped around her cup. She looked to Giles and Winston for help, but they were obviously as dumbstruck as she was.
“How…. why…. who….” Buffy shook her head and stopped her efforts to mop up. “I don’t remember you being this smart,” she finally said with a sigh. “What gave it away?”
“Actually… you did, just now. You and these other two, who apparently also don’t think much of my IQ.” Wes glared at Giles, who managed to look somewhat apologetic.
“If you’re really as intelligent as you think you are,” Giles said stiffly, “you will understand why we’ve tried to limit the number of people who know about Buffy and Spike.”
Wes blinked in surprise. “The vampire also?” He turned his attention back to Buffy. “So, you were serious when you said you and Spike know each other much better than I would have expected?”
Buffy nodded. “Yep. We’ve known each other for….” She paused to count up the years in their time plus the two years they’d already been in this one. “Um… something like… um… eight years. Give or take,” she added, deciding he didn’t need to know about their respective temporary deaths.
“You’ve been together for eight years? How is that possible?”
“I didn’t say we were together all that time, just that we met that long ago and have had that long to get to know each other.” She grimaced. “It was a work in progress for most of that time.”
“So, the claim Angel put on you….” Wes frowned. “It didn’t stop you from forming a relationship with William the Bloody?”
“I don’t know.” Buffy shook her head as she tried to answer honestly. “It didn’t stop us from becoming close, or… anything else that’s none of your business… but I think it kept me from being willing to admit to myself that I was in love with him.” She bit her lip. “It probably caused us both a lot of unhappiness and… pain… that might not have happened if I didn’t—hadn’t had that feeling that Angel was the only one in the world for me. He was still pulling that ‘my girl’ stuff even after—”
Giles cleared his throat and Winston interrupted. “It’s one thing to let Wesley understand why you know what you know and why you and Spike are so close now, it will be quite something else if you throw at him things you know about a future that we sincerely hope will not happen now.”
Wesley nodded in reluctant agreement. “As wildly curious as I am about that future, I understand why it wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest for me to know more about it than I do now.”
“Whew!” Buffy mock-wiped her brow. “So, we’re okay then? You understand why Spike and I were so willing to be bonded? And you don’t think it’s weird?”
Wesley’s expression said he thought that would be going a bit too far, but he didn’t argue with her, only turned his attention to Winston who was speaking again.
“I don’t think it would be sharing too much information if you tell Wes that what led to the bonding was in large part your mutual fear that you might not remember your relationship once the future was changed so radically. And that it had been a shared fear right from the time you first arrived and discovered each other’s existence in this timeline.” He glanced at Wesley, who was frowning. “There was also the thought that the resulting close connection between you and Spike would offer some communication assistance if we needed it in our fight with Glorificus.” Winston smiled at Buffy who put her hands on her hips.
“Don’t try those Jedi mind tricks on me,” she grumbled, even as she smiled back.
“Jedi mind tricks?” Giles snorted. “I believe you may be spending too much time around Xander.”
“Don’t kid yourself, Giles, I live with a geek. He’s just not as open about it as Xander is. It would be bad for his image.”
“What image is that, love?” Spike’s voice preceded him into the room.
Wesley stared at him, then said, “I’m sure I requested that Buffy come without you.”
“She did come without me,” Spike said, meeting the challenging look with his own steady gaze. “I came by myself.”
Tiring of the staring contest, Spike shrugged and turned to Buffy. “What image is it you’re accusing me of, Slayer?”
“Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me, bat ears,” she said with a sniff. “And don’t try to deny it.”
He laughed and shook his head. “So, I’ve been outed because I like the Star Wars movies. I’ve been accused of worse things.”
“Um… that’s not exactly all you—we’ve been outed about.” She pointed at Wes. “Mr. Smartypants there guessed about me… and he knows about you too.”
Spike turned his suddenly less-amused gaze back to the ex-watcher. “Is that right?” he said. “The both of us?”
“Yes,” Wesley said. “And now I find myself even more curious about your nickname for me and how you came to know me.”
Before he could say more, or Spike could respond, Buffy gestured to Winston and Giles, explaining, “They think it’s okay for him to know how long we’ve known each other, ‘cause then he can stop worrying about whatever it is he was worrying about when he thought we’d gone from sworn enemies to….” She paused, unsure of what to call their new relationship.
“Mates?” Spike said with a grin. “C’mon, Slayer. You can say it.”
“We are not wolves,” she growled, but with a resigned eyeroll. “We’re partners for life.”
“She’s quite correct about my concern,” Wesley said, ignoring the byplay. “My fear was that you had put her under some sort of spell that was allowing you to control her behavior.”
“Control her—” Spike’s surprised gasp was genuine, before he began to laugh. “You really don’t know Buffy very well, do you?” he managed to say before Buffy punched him in the arm.
Wes looked from them to the obviously snickering Giles and Winston, then shook his head. “Now that I think about it…. I suppose my brief experience as her watcher is probably what led to me believe it had to be a spell that allowed her to suffer a bite from you. I couldn’t fathom…. and Angel seemed so sure….”
Spike’s snarl put an end to all the laughter. “Knew that had to be behind this. Sent you here to find out what I did to her, did he?”
Wes shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“In all fairness to Angel, I had the same concerns about Buffy’s willing participation. In my case, it was my lingering sense of responsibility from my short time as her intended watcher that led me to feel I should make sure she was not somehow in thrall to a master vampire. In his case, it was his disbelief in—”
“It was his bloody need to control her himself that made him not want to see the claim broken.”
Spike took a deep calming breath and exhaled. “Wish I’d picked up on the reason I stayed away from that side of her neck a long time ago. I should have noticed.” He gave Buffy a glance from the corners of his eyes. “Doubt she would’ve welcomed the news back then, or even believed me, but I’d have at least—”
“We can talk about this in private,” Buffy interrupted. “Nobody here needs to listen to us talk about that time.”
He nodded his agreement. “So, where does that leave us then? We don’t want Wes going back and telling everybody in L.A. we know what’s going to happen, because we bloody well don’t know. We’ve made some major changes in this time line, even not counting the big one we were sent back here for, so we’ll be winging it from here on out just like everybody else.”
“Well, I don’t believe that’s exactly so. Your worries about the three young men trying to summon demons is clearly based on something they did in your time. And I’m sure you have knowledge of many other events.” Wesley frowned at them, his reluctance to remain in the dark clear in spite of his saying he understood.
“Don’t know yet, do we? Those wankers seem to be on the same path, but most other things are different enough that it’s possible nothing else will be the same.” Spike exchanged glances with Winston. “At least we can hope not.”
“Indeed,” Winston agreed, causing Wes to heave a big sigh.
“I’m not going to learn anything else, am I?”
“I do think that’s best,” Giles said, giving Wesley a sympathetic smile. “Although I must admit I can empathize with the need to know more.”
“Once a watcher….” Buffy said, but gave Wes her own understanding smile.
“Alas,” he said, his lips twitching as he tried not to smile back at her. “It is our curse.”
Spike snorted, then said, “Thing is, anything we could give you in the way of a warning or some such, might be complete bollocks now. And it could make things even worse for you... and anyone else you care about.”
Wes nodded. “I do understand that. It’s just the researcher in me is gnashing his teeth at knowing there is so much to know that I never will.”
Buffy, Spike, Giles, and Winston exchange glances before Giles said, “We could always just see how things go, and as a danger passes or is handled, they could tell you what happened in their time. Assuming it was any different.”
“I suppose that’s the best I can hope for just now,” Wes said, barely smothering a sigh. “Can you at least tell me how many of the people I’ve spoken with here are aware of your situation?”
“If, by situation, you mean that we came back from our future so we could try to fix a big thing that really needed fixing…. pretty much everybody you’ve seen knows that. My mom, Dawn, Willow, Tara, Xander, Anya. It was just too hard trying to fix things without changing too much and without telling them who we really were. They needed to know why we were behaving so….not like they expected us to.”
Buffy gave Wes a tentative smile. “Does that make sense? I mean, we kinda had to. We see them every day and they needed to know why we were doing the things we were doing and why I was so different all of a sudden. Telling Angel—or you—about it… it just seemed like a good idea not to.”
Spike added, “Even they don’t know everything. We tell people what we have to when we have to, and the rest of it we keep to ourselves. All we shared with everybody was what they needed to know.” He shrugged. “And now you know that I don’t have Buffy under some sort of thrall or spell, so you can go back and tell the big poof that we’re mated, it’s alright, and he can soddin’ well butt out.”
Wes shook his head, saying with a wry twist to his mouth, “My common sense tells me you’re quite right to protect your secrets, but the researcher in me is having a bit of a problem with it.” He gazed around the table, focusing on Giles and Winston. “I presume you both know what it was they were sent here to fix?”
“We do,” Giles said shortly. “And, to the best of our knowledge, it has been. It remains to be seen how that has changed things going forward.”
“I see. I don’t suppose you could share with me exactly what that was?”
Winston spoke smoothly. “The short, simple answer is that Glorificus did not succeed in opening that portal. It took the combined efforts of all of us, including Buffy’s friends, to destroy her and prevent it from happening this time. However, we succeeded, and now, in some ways, the world is a very different place from the one Buffy and Spike left.”
“And is there a longer, more complicated answer?” Wes asked with a shrewd look at Buffy.
Wes waited, but it became obvious no one was planning to elaborate on Spike’s terse response. With a snort, he shook his head and stood up.
“All right. I do appreciate how forthright you’ve all been… as unsatisfying as I may have found it. I will take myself out of your hair for the time being.” He frowned, hesitated, then said, “It’s possible I’ll have to rethink my relationship with Angel, based on his obviously prejudiced views of both Buffy’s proper relationship with him, and Spike’s right to have replaced him in her affections. As well as some of the things he’s done to have his way elsewhere. I will be watching him more closely from now on, and if I don’t care for his actions, I may take myself out of the picture.”
He glanced at Winston and then at Giles. “I trust I may keep in touch with either of you if I need information or have a question?”
“You may,” Giles said quickly.
Winston nodded and smiled, standing up and holding out his hand. “Anytime,” he said.
Wes gathered his notes and gazed at Buffy and Spike. “You have no idea how hard it is for me to leave two time travelers without learning everything you know about the future.”
Spike shrugged. “We only really know about the next couple of years or so, and even that’s suspect now,” he said. “It won’t be long before you know just as much as we do.” He paused then added, “Might want to stay away from any nefarious law firms if you can.”
“Spike…. “ Buffy’s voice held a warning, but he just turned away.
“Nothing Rupert might not have said himself, love. It’s just generally good advice. Isn’t that right, Watcher?”
Giles glared at him but agreed. “It is, indeed, good advice in general, but I don’t believe any of us are stupid enough to think that’s how you meant it.”
“Good advice is always appreciated, no matter how it is meant,” Wes said, nodding to Spike. “I’ll definitely try to follow it.”
They watched as he left the training room and offered Anya his appreciation for the use of her shop.
“What do you think?” Buffy asked the room in general. Nobody said anything for a moment, then Winston spoke up.
“I think he’ll be back at some point. We talked quite a bit yesterday evening and not just about Buffy and Spike. He’s sometimes not comfortable working for Angel, even though he says he believes Angel is trying to do good to atone for his years as a killer. However, learning that Angel claimed Buffy without her knowledge or permission, and allowed her to reinforce it by asking her a question she wasn’t aware she was really answering has put a rather major crack in his admiration for his boss.”
He smiled at Spike. “Learning that you have your soul, and that Angel knows it but continued to rant about how evil you are has added to the width of the crack. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t become at least a frequent visitor here. I won’t be surprised if he becomes something of an auxiliary member of the Sunnydale ga—gathering of world-saving people.”
“You almost called us a gang, didn’t you?” Buffy gave Winston a mock glare. “You could have just said Scoobies.”
He laughed. “Well, even if I knew what a Scooby was, I cannot fathom myself referring to your circle of friends as ‘the Scoobies’. I need a concise word to indicate your little group of world-saving people.”
“It’s not my group, Winston, it’s ‘our little group’. You’re just as much a part of us now as Giles is.”
“I think Winnie’s first act as an official Scooby should be to buy drinks for everybody tonight.” Spike grinned at Winston who made a rude British gesture at him.
“And on that note….” Buffy rolled her eyes and walked toward the door. “I told Mom we’d come by the gallery to help her unload and set up some big sculptures. Let’s go, Spike.”
“Yes, dear,” he muttered, loud enough for Giles and Winston to hear, but not Buffy. It didn’t help him. She turned around to glare at him. With a sigh, he followed her out the door, the sound of muffled laughter behind him doing nothing for his mood.
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