“Speaking of trying anything else, what does Max know about this year?” Winston asked.
Buffy raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Don’t you know?”
“Only what little I’ve told him about my own time line, which he actually didn’t know anything about until we connected here. He was apparently doing his hiding-in-plain-sight thing somewhere else in my time, so he had no knowledge either of you or how close the world came to disaster. I cannot imagine, if he was living here, that he wouldn’t have offered his services at some point, no matter how much he prefers to remain anonymous.”
“Wow. I don’t think we’ve even bothered to wonder where he was in our time!” Buffy shook her head at herself. “Of course, he must have been living somewhere else. If he was here, even if he didn’t leave when everybody else with an ounce of sense did, he couldn’t have stayed. He’d have gone down with the town when Spike closed the hellmouth.”
Spike look as amazed as Buffy. “So, something we did almost immediately, changed the timeline to bring Max to Sunnydale, instead of wherever he was hiding out in Winnie’s.”
“To be fair, I had assumed he was dead, not hiding,” Winston said with a frown. “I suppose it’s possible that he made the move after I’d been sent back.” He paused, his eyes widened, and he muttered, “Or he removed himself from an unpleasant situation a long time ago by coming here, leaving us to assume he’d died.”
Winston’s expression was suddenly much chillier. “Nothing any of you need to know about. Events that happened a long time ago in a vastly different place. Master Maximillian did what he needed to do to save the world, and then he disappeared. We’d all assumed he’d been killed in the process. We were so sure he’d perished… but what if he just hid himself, then moved to a safe place and made it difficult to find him?”
“He picked Sunnydale as a safe place?”
Winston shrugged. “If he moved himself to Sunnydale a sufficient amount of time after the event, he still would have had many years to become comfortable, learn how to live with a hellmouth, and watch the city grow up around him.” He frowned. “No, that doesn’t work, does it? If he’d already been here, he surely would have made himself known to you at some point…. Unless he made the move back in time after I was sent back. Perhaps he was somewhere else for a while….” He shook his head. “I’ve really no idea. But I intend to ask him!”
“So, you’re saying he doesn’t know anything about the First other than whatever we’ve talked about in the past few years?” Buffy looked dismayed.
“Well, clearly he knows something about it, just based on what we’ve said about the reasons for preventing Buffy’s death and resurrection. But perhaps not the details of what happened that year, because he has not yet lived it. It may have been something that my coming back to this time caused that change, not your earlier trip.”
“I reckon we’ll be needin’ to have a little chat with our landlord,” Spike said. “He’s got a right to know what we’re up against, in case he wants to take a powder if and when it becomes necessary.”
“I can’t imagine that happening,” Winston said, shaking his head. “He’s already shown how willing he is to step in and assist us with problems. I doubt that’s going to change now.”
“What about his not-wanting-anybody to know where he is?” Buffy asked. “The more he helps us, the more people are going to know about him.”
“I’m quite sure his personal wards, as well as what he has on that building, are more than sufficient to maintain his anonymity. That he has allowed us to know about him is a sign of how much he trusts us—you. If you think about it, the only ones who are aware of him at all, never mind that he’s anything other than your charming landlord, is a very small group. Even your friends in L.A.—” He paused when Buffy made a face, laughing before he continued, “—your ex-friend, and your other friend, don’t know anything except that Max can make strong wards on a building. Many sorcerers can do that, and I doubt either of our visitors would have been able to recognize the knowledge required to be as subtle as Max has been with them.”
Spike had been staring at Winston as he spoke, absorbing what he was not saying about how long ago the “event” had been, as well as the information about how Max might have shown up in this Sunnydale. He cocked his head at Winston, saying slowly, “Somehow I get the feeling I’m not the oldest one in the room….”
Winston blinked innocently. “No idea what you’re talking about,” he said. “And just so you know, Max is much, much older than I am. I was only a callow youth when I met him and he took me under his wing. So to speak,” he added, making a face. “Trust me, the gentle man you know him to be now was a very stern taskmaster.”
Spike laughed. “Don’t doubt it. But I’ll wager you earned every one of those stern reprimands.”
“I was a bit of a work in progress,” Winston admitted, trying to hide his grin.
“The real question here is, which one of us is going to clue Max in?” Buffy said, bringing the conversation back to the original discussion.
“Reckon it should be all three of us,” Spike responded. “What do you think, Winston?” His use of Winston’s full name leant a serious slant to his words, and Winston nodded.
“I believe that to be the best course of action. As soon as we can make arrangements to have a chat with him. I’ll leave that up to his favorite tenants.”
That settled, the conversation drifted into other areas, one of which was Robin Wood.
Who chose that moment to walk into the Magic Box.
Wood paused inside the door, having not noticed the people at the table, somewhat hidden by the screen Anya had insisted upon. Rather, he focused on Anya’s question about how she could help him. He gotten no further than, “I’m looking for Rupert Giles….” before Giles was walking toward him, hand out to be shaken.
“I’m Rupert Giles. And you must be…the new school principal.” At the last second, he decided not to let on that he knew Robin’s name, as well as his mother’s name.
“I’m Robin Wood,” he said, shaking Giles’s hand. “And you, I understand, are Buffy Summers’ watcher.”
“Former watcher,” Giles corrected, “but yes, guilty as charged. What can I do for you?”
“To begin with, you can explain why your slayer is living with the vampire that killed my mother.” Robin’s face held nothing but curiosity, but his eyes were cold. “And why you permit him to accompany her when she’s performing her duties.”
“Ah.” Giles stalled for time. “You’re Nicky Wood’s son.”
“I am. You know of my mother?”
“I was a watcher for many years.” Giles’s response was intentionally ambiguous. “May I ask where you obtained your information about Buffy and her husband?”
“Husband?” Wood seemed taken back at hearing such a normal term applied to what he’d assumed was a dangerous relationship.
“Yes. While Buffy and Spike—William—have been together for many years now, they made it official in human terms relatively recently.”
“He’s a vampire! What’s wrong with you?”
Before Giles could answer, there was the sound of whispered curses and scuffling from behind the screen. Buffy’s “Dammit, Spike!” could be heard clearly as he stepped out and approached Giles and Wood.
“I am a vampire,” Spike said, rather unnecessarily as Wood had flinched back and produced a stake that he held in what was clearly an experienced grip. “Have been for much longer than you’ve been alive,” he added. “I’m William the Bloody, and there was a time when I was known for fightin’ slayers. I’ve killed at least two of ‘em.” He met Wood’s angry gaze firmly. “One of them was your mum. Didn’t know she had a kid, and if I’m being honest, I’m not sure it would have mattered back then. It’s who we were—she was a vampire slayer. I was an old vampire. It was her job to kill me if she could; it was mine to keep that from happening.” Spike shook his head and smiled in obvious admiration.
“She was something, your mum was. One of the best I’d ever gone up against. She knew what she was chosen to do, and she was bloody good at it. That last fight could have gone either way, right up to the end.” He paused and shrugged. “But it went my way, and I can’t apologize for that. I know you prob’ly think I robbed you of life with your mum, but if it hadn’t been me, it would have been something else. She was a slayer, through and through. They have expiration dates… all of ‘em do. I can appreciate your feelin’ you need to avenge her, but it’s not a good idea. And not just because you couldn’t do it without a lot of help.”
By now Buffy had recovered enough to step between them. “You were doing okay until you got to that comment,” she said, pushing Spike away. “Go sit down so we can explain who you are now.”
She waited until he walked away to lean against the wall near Winston, then turned a slayer’s hard glare on Wood. “Okay, Let’s get this out of the way. Spike killed your mother. You have every right to hate him. But before you decide he needs to be dust, let me fill you in on who he is now. He’s been helping me save the world more often than not for a long time. Longer than you know.” A quick glance at Giles and Winston told her they were all on the same page in terms of keeping important information about where and when they came from a secret from someone they didn’t know and who might be ripe for the First to exploit.
“Sometimes he helped me because it was something he wanted, sometimes he did it… he did it because of me. Because he loves me. And also because he loves me, he went to Africa and got his soul back. It didn’t make him less of a vampire, and he’d already stopped eating people anyway, but it does change things as far as how safe you are around him.” Buffy fixed a hard look on the astonished man. “The question is, can I trust that he’s going to be safe around you?”
“I should give him a pass for killing my mother, because you say so?” Wood’s anger was palpable.
Buffy sighed. “I’m sorry. This just got too confrontational too fast.” She shot a glare at Spike, who managed to look unrepentant and ashamed at the same time. “Here’s the thing. Spike is, and has been for a long time, an important part of my support system. Since long before we were married. He’s a strong fighter, and he’s been a big part of helping me deal with our annual spring apocalypses. Some of them we’ve even been able to shut down before spring actually gets here. Which is what we’re trying to do this time.”
She gave him a sympathetic smile. “Do you remember what I told you about the hellmouth and the First Evil? We’re trying to shut it down and make sure he–it stays in the hellmouth. Trust me, you don’t want to meet its minions…”
She narrowed her eyes at Wood. “Unless you already have… Want to tell me how you knew about Spike and me? Or should I guess?”
“I’ve… I’ve been watching you. After your former principal told me—”
Buffy threw her hands in the air and looked for something to hit. “Snyder!” she spit out. “That miserable little rat has been dead for years and he’s still being a pain in my butt!”
Wood blanched, clearly remembering that she’d warned him about the First Evil’s ability to appear as dead people. “I… I thought he was just a ghost or spirit or something. Hanging around his old school, trying to give me advice.”
“We should get so lucky,” she muttered. “Not that ghost Snyder wouldn’t be bad enough, but you do get that that’s not who’s been talking to you, right?”
His shoulders slumped and he sighed, the stake still dangling from his hand. “Assuming you’re telling the truth about this First Evil thing, I guess it wasn’t.” He straightened up. “But it was telling me the truth about you… and him.” He gestured toward Spike. “He is the vampire that killed my mother, and you are living with him. Maybe that makes you the evil one.”
Buffy shook her head. “Giles, you’re up. And you too, Winston. Talk to him. If you think he’s evil, or being influenced by the First, let me know.” She started toward the door leaving Wood staring back and forth between her and the two men, only one of which he’d met yet.
“You think I’m evil?”
Buffy shrugged before ducking under Spike’s arm holding the door for her. “Don’t know. But we have to consider that possibility. Maybe you can convince Giles and Winston you aren’t evil; or maybe they can convince you that Spike and I aren’t.”
Wood was speechless as he watched them walk out into what was still a rather sunny day. He whirled to stare at the two men watching him.
“As you can see. Spike is not exactly your normal vampire,” Giles said dryly. “Would you like to have a seat while we talk?”
“Did you do that on purpose?”
“Do what? Leave? Yes, why?”
“Because the bloody sun is still shining and I don’t even have my big hat on. Now Rupert and Winnie have to explain to him that having my soul means I can walk around in the daylight.”
“Oh… crap. I never even… I’m so used to everybody seeing you outside….” She sighed. “I’m sure one of them will come up with a really good explanation. I kinda like the idea that your soul means the sun can’t kill you. That’s a good explanation!”
“Yeah, well, let’s hope they clue us in on whatever they say to him before we have to talk to him again, so our stories match up.”
“Good idea. We should call one of them in a while to find out what they said.”
As they walked aimlessly, having no real destination in mind, Buffy found herself thinking about Sara Johnson and her bridal shop. She began walking faster, towing Spike along behind her. When they reached the street where the shop was, she slowed and walked along as if window shopping. Spike rolled his eyes at her, and tried to keep to whatever shadows he could find.
“You know your chances of foolin’ that bint that you just happened to be passing by aren’t worth a bloody fig.”
Buffy sniffed. “I don’t know what you mean. We were just walking, and then we were walking here, and… Oh, look, Spike! It’s the bridal shop!”
Spike looked up to see Sara Johnson standing in the doorway of her shop and smiling at Buffy’s feigned surprise. He exchanged amused smirks with her as he followed Buffy into the shop.
“It’s a bit bright out yet for someone of your… persuasion, isn’t it?” she asked as she waved him past her.
“Not like other vampires, am I?” he said, grateful nevertheless to be able to hide from the sun. While it couldn’t kill him or set him on fire, it was still a little uncomfortable sometimes for someone who’d spent most of his life avoiding it. And they’d been walking around for quite some time. He gave her a grateful smile as he stepped into the cool interior.
“And what brings Sunnydale’s heroes back to my humble shop? Not looking for something else to wear, are you?”
“Uh, no… I mean, unless you have other, regular clothes made out of that wedding dress cloth? Because it would be awesome to feel that comfortable all the time….”
Sara laughed gently. “I’m sure it would,” she said. “Trust me, if it was available all the time, I’d be wearing it myself.” She gestured to her own tasteful, wrap-around dress that managed to look casual and expensive at the same time.
“It does look like you’re wearing it,” Buffy pointed out. “That dress looks like it was made for you.”
“That’s because it was made for me by someone with excellent skills. And it is also a very fine fabric, not your average polyester blend.” She managed to appear to sneer without actually doing so. “However, it is in no way as wonderful as the dresses you tried on for your wedding. Nor should it be, that fabric’s not for everyday use.”
She smiled. “Is that why you came by? To see if you could find something else made from that cloth?”
“No, not really. It just hit me when we got here that it would wonderful to have a few things made out of wedding dress material to wear every day.” Buffy sighed. “I really wanted to ask you how you knew what we were looking for and where to find it. I don’t care how long you’ve been in Sunnydale, that’s not something anyone should know about.”
“Even someone whose role it is to ensure that the Slayer has her weapon when she needs it?” Sara waited patiently for Buffy to understand what she was saying.
“Wait? What? You’re a Guardian? I met the Guardian in my—I mean, I met one before and she was all….” Buffy gestured at Sara, waving her hand to include her polished make-up and hair, as well as her beautifully tailored dress. “She didn’t look like you,” Buffy finished. “Not even a little bit.”
“More of an Earth Mother type?” Sara asked with a wry twist to her mouth.
“Yeah, I guess so. Plus she was hanging out in some old temple or something, not a store full of frilly dresses.” She stared hard into Sara’s unperturbed eyes. “Caleb killed her,” Buffy said. “Before she could tell me anything.”
“That is quite upsetting,” Sara said, not looking particularly upset, but her mouth in a tight line. “I presume that is not something I will need to worry about?”
“No. Not him, anyway. But you should probably be careful. The First might have another minion.”
“I suppose that’s true. Although it may find me a bit less trusting and vulnerable than the Guardian you met before. After all, what good would a Guardian be if she wasn’t able to take care of herself?”
Spike gave her an admiring grin. “Now that sounds more like someone who should be lookin’ out for a Slayer.”
“I have my moments,” Sara replied. “And duties, other than just seeing that the Slayer looks lovely on her wedding day.”
“How come the Council doesn’t know about you?” Buffy looked almost offended on behalf of the Council of Watchers.
“They’re merely watchers,” Sara sniffed. “Iam a Guardian. I watch the watchers.”
Spike laughed out loud, earning a smile from Sara and a glare from Buffy.
“Aren’t they allowed to know about you? Are you a secret?”
“From them? Yes. We’ve always felt it was best that they not know of us. Unfortunately, that means we haven’t been consulted when we probably should have been. And we aren’t always aware of what they’re doing. I much prefer working with a slayer.”
“So, if I consult you now, I can’t tell Giles or Winston about it? Or Willow? She was really sorry she never got a chance to meet the Guardian in our—I mean the one I met before.”
Sara sighed. “Buffy… I’m not oblivious to where you seem to have come from. I don’t know how it was done, but it appears to be working out well. I’ve felt no need to make myself known before, even when you were facing a hellgod. You have excellent help. Help I am assuming you did not have in your own time, even though you seem to have survived whatever the apocalypse was that made them send you back to start over.” She shook her head. “I will have to think long and hard about whether or not I want to make myself known to the watcher in your life.”
“Okay. Well you think about it and let me know, ‘k? Cause I really want to sit down and pick your brain—with or without anybody else. Except Spike,” she added. “I don’t keep secrets from him.”
“And what has he done to earn that level of trust?” Sara’s gaze wasn’t hostile, but there was no unnecessary warmth in it either, and Buffy was reminded that, in spite of her seeming acceptance of Spike, Sara’s position wasn’t likely to make her fond of vampires.
“He got a soul for me, and then he used an ugly amulet to channel it, destroy an army of Turok-Hans, and, oh yeah, burn to death in the process of closing the hellmouth. He literally saved the world.”
“Burned to death?”
Spike shrugged. “As much fun as it was raining sunlight on all those ugly buggers, and pulling the town down around my ears, it was a bloody unpleasant experience to find myself doing it in reverse and then popping up in the Poof’s office as a ghost.”
Buffy waved her hand. “He means Angel”.
Sara gave Spike a small smile as she nodded. “Ah yes. The other souled vampire.”
Just then, a woman and two giggling girls entered the shop, and Sara’s demeanor changed immediately.
“Well, that’s all fascinating. I hope we can get together again soon and fill in the blanks in this charming story. Do stop in again when you have more time.”
She smiled them out the door and turned to her customers.
“Now then, ladies, which of you is going to be the beautiful bride?”
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